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Demilio: Pirates Offseason Has Quickly Gone From Hopeful to Nightmare

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Endy Rodríguez

There was a little bit of extra juice heading into this year’s offseason after the Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up their 2023 season.

Sure, the Pirates again had a losing season and failed to make the postseason, but the lengthy rebuild started to come to fruition. A handful of the organization’s top prospects either made it to the big leagues for the first time or received their first extended look in Pittsburgh.

When the dust was settled on the 162-game slate, the Pirates saw a 14-win improvement from their 2022 season. Their 76 victories were the most they had in a season since 2018.

For the first time since owner Bob Nutting cleared house and brought in a new team president, general manager and manager, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

As Ben Cherington and the front office were preparing for the offseason to begin, the feeling was the Pirates would spend more than they have in previous offseasons. No, they were never going to be in the Shohei Ohtani market, but the general consensus was that the Pirates would be shopping in a different aisle this time around.

While that still hasn’t happened, it very well could as the winter marches on. So far, the Pirates have made tepid additions in left-hander Marco Gonzales, first baseman/designated hitter Rowdy Tellez and catcher Ali Sánchez.

The additions to the club up to this point fill some needs, but have not inspired much confidence. As it turns out, that’s the least of the Pirates’ concerns.

The initial blow to the offseason came when starting pitcher Johan Oviedo underwent Tommy John surgery. The procedure will keep him out for the entire 2024 season and based on the recovery timetable, he could still be out to start the 2025 season.

Oviedo was coming off of his first full-season as a big league starter  in 2023. It was a fine season for the big right-hander, who finished the year 9-14 with a 4.31 ERA (103 ERA+) over 32 starts.

More importantly, Oviedo was one of two reliable starting pitchers to finish the season in the Pirates’ rotation, alongside All-Star Mitch Keller.

As bad as losing a key member of an already-thin rotation is, the Pirates received another detrimental blow on Tuesday.

Former top prospect and projected starting catcher Endy Rodríguez underwent elbow surgery of his own on Tuesday. As is the case with Oviedo, Rodríguez will miss all of next season. He is expected to return to baseball activity in 10-12 months.

Rodríguez’s surgery was the result of an injury that took place during an at-bat in a winter league game in the Dominican Republic on Nov. 13. After multiple examinations, the 23-year-old had reconstructive surgery on the UCL and a repair of the flexor tendon.

As a result, the 2024 Pittsburgh Pirates will be without a key member of their starting rotation and one of their better young players at a key position on the field.

The Pirates’ rotation? Still thin. Keller and Gonzales are joined by wildcards in Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz, Quinn Priester, Bailey Falter and Andre Jackson.

Behind the plate? That’s also suspect — at best. The current crop of catchers on the 40-man roster includes Jason Delay, Henry Davis and Sánchez. Delay and Sánchez profile as backups. Davis was drafted first overall as a catcher, but logged a mere two innings behind the plate with the Pirates last season. There are questions over Davis’ abilities behind the plate. The Pirates will now need him to put those questions to bed.

If there is any silver lining for the Pirates this offseason, it’s that it is still fairly early in the offseason. There are still plenty of free agents and trade targets the Pirates can look towards to help soften the blows they’ve received.

Even so, it’s impossible to argue that the Pittsburgh Pirates are better on paper right now than they were when the season ended on Oct. 1. With their spending habits over the years, it’s fair to question if they will even be better when spring training commences in two months.

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