Pirates in turmoil as season comes to a close

Mitch Hoy

The Pirates are on pace to finish the 2019 season last in the NL Central. In what will be considered one of the worst second half performances in team history, the Pirates managed to go from a .500 ballclub and 2.5 games out of first place, to a nauseating 21-46 record after the All-Star break. The team struggled on and off the field this year, enduring multiple altercations between teammates resulting in fines and public statements.

While the team played its worst baseball since 2011, perhaps the most concerning element of the year was the arrest of Felipe Vazquez, the Pirates All-Star closer. Vazquez faces a bevy of felony charges including soliciting a child, corruption of a minor, unlawful contact with a minor and statutory sexual assault of a minor. The charges stem from an alleged sexual relationship Vazquez maintained with a 13-year-old girl beginning in 2017. The allegations leave the future of one of the league’s most coveted left-handers doomed if/when convicted.

Among other less serious problems needing addressed by the ballclub are that of the ever-growing amount of long-term injuries and the future of management. Jameson Taillon, the Pirates would-be ace, is staying optimistic regarding his second surgery. “I can compare it to my first one. So I know my fingers aren’t as swollen this time. My arm’s not as sore,” the Pirates pitcher said. The injury will keep him out of play for the entirety of the 2020 season. The Pirates do anticipate the return of players such as Chad Kuhl, Gregory Polanco, Chris Archer, Kyle Crick and Starling Marte by next season, if not earlier.

As for what the Pirates will do with starting pitcher Chris Archer, it is a high probability the organization will keep him around. The team holds a $9m club option for Archer’s 2020 season, which is anticipated to be exercised.  The situation with management is similar. Clint Hurdle’s contract pays him through the 2021 season, and it is extremely unlikely for the Pirates to relieve Hurdle and swallow the $6mm still owed to him.

While the organization will surely have a busy offseason filling gaps in both the pitching rotation and on the field, a non-player issue that arose this year was the Pirates’ abysmal attendance.  According to ESPN, the team currently ranks 26th out of the 30 teams in attendance, averaging 18,627 attendees per game. The team’s turnout made national headlines this month when photos of an empty PNC Park went viral during a Thursday night game against the Miami Marlins. With baseball’s popularity decreasing, it has not been made clear how the Pirates intend to keep Pittsburghers coming to the ballpark.  The Pirates play their final game on September 29 against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park.