As a lower revenue team, even in good seasons the Pirates don't have much separating them from a nosedive in the standings.
|Pirates Midseason Top 10|
|1. Mitch Keller, RHP|
|2. Austin Meadows, OF|
|3. Kevin Newman, SS|
|4. Shane Baz, RHP|
|5. Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B|
|6. Steven Brault, LHP|
|7. Elias Diaz, C|
|8. Steven Jennings, RHP|
|9. Cole Tucker, SS|
|10. Clay Holmes, RHP|
Early this year, that was obvious as the Pirates' limited depth was stripped away.
Infielder Jung Ho Kang has missed the entire season and his return remains in doubt after he was sentenced in a driving under the influence case in South Korea. So far, he's been unable to get a work visa to return to the U.S. With Kang sidelined, 34-year-old David Freese was pressed into everyday duty at third base, where's he's hitting .244/.374/.362.
Outfielder Starling Marte was lost for 80 games after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. With Marte out, Andrew McCutchen moved back to center field while the Pirates have been left without an everyday left fielder.
And righthander Jameson Taillon was lost for nearly half of the first half of the season as he battled testicular cancer. Thankfully Taillon recovered and is back in the rotation, but in his absence, Tyler Glasnow struggled to his fill role.
The result is a team that is sits on the periphery of the wild card race, although a recent hot streak has given Pirates fans some hope. But even without its July surge, the Pirates were not an obvious teardown candidate.
No significant Pirates regular hits free agency after this season. Even McCutchen, long rumored to be a trade candidate, has a team option for 2018 on his deal. McCutchen has had a bounce back year, posting a .900 OPS. Righthander Gerrit Cole, the other big-name Pirate rumored in trade talks, doesn't hit free agency until the 2019 season.
So much like last year, the Pirates hit the trade deadline with the option to sell off valuable pieces, but they aren't in dire shape. The emergence of Taillon and the development of relief ace Felipe Rivero, an astute trade deadline pickup last year, has given the team a pair of low-cost building blocks.
But Pittsburgh does have plenty of decisions to make. Austin Meadows, McCutchen's likely long-term replacement, has battled a hamstring problem for the third time in four years, clouding his status. Control problems have kept Glasnow from joining Taillon as a young arm to stabilize the rotation for years to come, although Glasnow has pitched better in a demotion to Triple-A.
The farm system is still very solid, but after two years of setbacks in the wake of 2015's 98-win season, the window on the current club might be starting to close.