It is very rare that the Pittsburgh Pirates are ever in the running for top free agent players during the offseason signing period. Though they have one of the lowest payrolls in the game of baseball, it is possible that the organization might have had the most underrated offseason based on who they acquired and the influence that they have had up to this point in the season.
It may be a surprise to most, but utility infielder and outfielder Sean Rodriguez currently leads the Pirates in hitting with a .351 batting average. Now, he does only have 37 at bats in 27 games this season, but he has made the most of the opportunities that he has been given. Rodriguez, who was acquired in the offseason after spending the last few seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, has played at four different positions this season for the Pirates. While having success at several positions around the diamond, Rodriguez has also been able to find consistency at the plate when getting the chance. With the combination of versatility on defense and his strong presence at the plate, it is a definite possibility that Rodriguez can continue making an impact as the season goes on, while also seeing his name on the starting lineup card more often.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli was another one of the Pirates key offseason acquisitions, coming to Pittsburgh from the New York Yankees in a trade for reliever Justin Wilson in November. Cervelli’s role with the club has been simple, yet very important based on the fact that he is replacing Russell Martin, who is arguably one of the best catchers in the game. Thus far, it seems as if Cervelli has been up to the task. Aside from being in charge of a talented pitching staff, Cervelli has also held his own at the plate. Though his power numbers aren’t exactly decent, the 29 year old backstop is hitting .279 in 26 games this season and has driven in four runs in the process. Although the task of replacing one of the top catchers in the game is a hard one, the Pirates have received solid production from Cervelli, backup catcher Chris Stewart, and even Tony Sanchez, who was hitting .375 in three games before being sent down to Indianapolis. The fact of the matter is that this certain scenario is a work in progress. It is yet to be seen whether or not this current group of catchers can help lead the Pirates to another playoff run as Martin was able to do in each of his two years in Pittsburgh, but they are surprisingly looking impressive in the early parts of the season.
Arguably the biggest acquisition the Pirates made during the offseason was the signing of South Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang. Despite not knowing how his successful career playing in South Korea would translate to the Major League level, the Pirates signed the 27 year old to a four year, 11 million dollar deal in January. After starting the season off of the bench and playing occasionally at various positions around the infield, Kang has found playing time more easy to come by lately with the recent struggles of Josh Harrison. With the woes of star players including Harrison and Andrew McCutchen, Kang has made a huge impact for the Pirates at the plate, which has prompted Manager Clint Hurdle to continue placing his name in the starting lineup. This season, Kang is hitting .298 with two home runs and nine RBI in 23 games. It was expected that Kang was able to give the Pirates depth when it came to their infield, both on defense and at the plate, but the fact that his success has translated well to the Major Leagues means that he can provide a lot more to an offense that is struggling to find any type of consistency at the moment.
It is not always the big names that make the biggest impact. Every team needs depth in their starting lineup and within their bench. It was Josh Harrison last year who surprised the baseball world with the success he had when given the opportunity to contribute in the lineup every day. Each of the new Pirates acquisitions have made an impact in various ways throughout the first 35 games of the season. It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how good this team can be once the star players heat up and if the Pirates underrated offseason acquisitions can continue to make an impact as the season progresses. If these certain things happen, it is not unrealistic to think that the Pirates can overcome their current struggles and eventually finish off the season by making a deep run into October.