In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates stood pat at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. By Aug. 31, the team had made a few waiver trades to improve the roster—acquisitions that ultimately helped the organization earn its first playoff appearance since 1992.
2014 seems eerily familiar. The non-waiver trade deadline came and went with only whispers of interest in certain players. With glaring weaknesses in various spots around the roster, the organization will need to address several areas before the waiver trade deadline if it is to head into September with a viable roster built to contend in October.
Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and, to a lesser extent, John Buck, helped the Pirates secure one of the NL Wild Card spots last year, and the Pirates need some reinforcements yet again. Last year, one of the best bullpens in the league gave the team the opportunity to build up its offense.
This year, things are different. The Pirates bullpen has an ERA of 3.51, which ranks 15th in the majors. Last year, the Shark Tank finished with an ERA of 2.89, which ranked third in MLB. An addition at the back end could help to breathe life into a tired bunch of arms.
One name that the Pirates were linked to in July was Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Antonio Bastardo. The 28-year-old has struggled mightily at Citizens Bank Park, a known hitters' park, but he has sparkled on the road. The lefty is 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA on the road this year. Opposing hitters are batting .118 in their home parks against Bastardo. According to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, he is open to a trade, and the Pirates are one of the teams that were noted to be interested.
The rotation has also been taxed.
With injuries to Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, though, the lefty has since returned, the Pirates have thrown together a group of pitchers that would be overmatched in any postseason series. General manager Neal Huntington missed his opportunity to find an ace for the staff at the non-waiver trade deadline, with names like David Price and Jon Lester going elsewhere, but there are other names that could fill the need.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel noted that the Phillies' Cole Hamels, the White Sox's John Danks and the Mets' Bartolo Colon are among the potential options.
But while the Pirates have transformed from their pitching-dominant makeup of last season, the rest of the division has evolved, too.
The St. Louis Cardinals are a different team when compared to a year ago. Offensively, the Redbirds were a juggernaut last season when put side-by-side against the current roster. The 2014 version ranks 29th in the league in runs scored (third in 2013), yet the pitching is in the top half of the league in most categories. The addition of John Lackey to the rotation will also bring an edge down the stretch.
The Milwaukee Brewers are balanced and continue to lead the division after a dismal season a year ago while injuries have taken their toll on the Cincinnati Reds this year in their struggle to keep pace with the rest of the division.
The Pirates rank in the top 10 in runs, OPS and hits, as well as a number of other categories. If they are to find success during the remainder of the season and in the postseason, however, the pitching staff needs reinforced. The staff falls near the middle of the pack in terms of ERA and WHIP, but more importantly, it is last among the four teams in contention in the NL Central.
An acquisition in August to complement the current rotation and bullpen would go a long way in reassuring that postseason baseball in Pittsburgh will occur for a second consecutive year.