With a 50-90 record and the 2021 season quickly coming to a close, it’s never too early to begin looking towards next year. For as bad as the Pirates have been this year, they carry a decent amount of intriguing players who are deserving of being a part of next year’s team, but they also have quite a few players whose Pirates’ tenures might be coming to a close.
The Pirates face big decisions this offseason to add guys to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft in December. Travis Swaggerty, Liover Peguero, Mason Martin and Diego Castillo are among the many notable prospects that will need to be protected to keep them in the organization.
Looking at the Pirates’ current 28-man active roster, as well as a few guys currently on the injured list, let’s take a look at 31 players and examine who might make the Bucs’ 2022 Opening Day roster, and who might be wearing a new uniform come March.
There are five designations that I will be using to classify each player: Lock – There is a 100% reason (barring injury) this player will still be in Pittsburgh, Likely – This player will probably be rostered, but it is not a guarantee, 50/50 – This player could go either way for multiple reasons, In Jeopardy – This player is at risk of losing their roster spot, Impending Free Agent – This player is not under contract for 2022.
- David Bednar – Bednar’s first season pitching for his hometown team as been very successful. With a 2.18 ERA/2.69 FIP in 58 appearances, Bednar seems to be the front-runner for the 2022 closing job.
- Ke’Bryan Hayes – No explanation necessary. The Pirates could even extend him this winter.
- Mitch Keller – Like it or not, Keller is going to get his shot in the Pirates’ rotation again in 2021. The former top prospect might be facing a sink or swim-type year but Keller will continue to get his opportunities for the rebuilding club.
- Bryan Reynolds – *See Ke’Bryan Hayes explanation*
- Bryse Wilson – The Pirates need arms in the rotation, and Wilson has looked pretty good since coming over from the Braves in the Richard Rodriguez trade. Wilson will turn 24 in December, and has upside.
- JT Brubaker – This is close to a lock, but Brubaker gets likely for me. Brubaker’s 2021 season has been the tale of two halves after scuffling since June after a hot start. Brubaker is expected to be back in the rotation next year.
- Wil Crowe – Crowe’s first season with the Pirates has been disappointing, pitching to an ERA just shy of 6.00. While I’m expecting Crowe to be back with the Pirates in 2022, I’m not sure his role will be in the rotation, with a long relief role a possibility.
- Ben Gamel – Since being claimed off waivers from Cleveland, Gamel has been pretty successful with the Pirates. A team might try and acquire him this offseason, but I don’t really see it. Gamel will likely been on the Opening Day roster, and probably starting next to Reynolds in left or right field.
- Colin Moran – Moran is as close to a lock as there is but a trade does remain a possibility. He probably doesn’t have a ton of trade value as a 1B/DH who hasn’t hit for a ton of power.
- Kevin Newman – This might be a bit controversial, but I think Newman will be on next year’s Opening Day roster. Though he has been bas offensively, his defense has been quite good and the Bucs may give him one more shot in 2022.
- Hoy Park – I think Park makes the team next year as a utility-type player that will have a similar role to what Wilmer Difo did this season. If a guy like Newman is a surprise cut, Park could get a chance as the starting shortstop.
- Jacob Stallings – The only reason Stallings is not a lock is because a trade always remains a possibility. Stallings, who will be 32 next season, is a very attractive trade candidate and teams will be interested, like Miami who had interest in him in July. The Pirates may decide to move the most-senior player on their active roster, but his value working with a young pitching staff cannot be overlooked.
- Steven Brault – The only reason Brault is 50/50 and not likely is because of a potential trade. Left-handing pitching is at a premium, and while he struggled in his last two outings, Brault has been quite good overall dating back to 2020.
- Chad Kuhl – Kuhl finds himself here due to a combination of a trade possibility or an under-the-radar non-tender candidate in his last year of arbitration. Kuhl has pitched out of the Pirates’ bullpen and could entice another team to use him in that role if he does well down the stretch.
- Nick Mears – Mears very well could open the season coming out of the Pirates’ bullpen, but with minor league options remaining, he could easily start the year in Indianapolis as well. Mears has not gotten good results with the Pirates or in Triple-A and could be a sneaky DFA candidate.
- Chris Stratton – Stratton has put together his third straight quality season in Pittsburgh. With two years of club control remaining, Ben Cherington could look to cash in and trade him while his value is high. If no trade, Stratton will be a big part of the Bucs’ 2022 bullpen plans.
- Duane Underwood Jr. – I was torn between “50/50” and “Likely” for Underwood Jr, If it were my decision, I would keep him around as he has had a solid yet unspectacular season. However, the front office may think his roster spot should be used on someone else.
- Anthony Alford – It’s fitting that Alford is at the top of this section because he is pretty close to being 50/50. Alford is someone Cherington liked while he was in Toronto, and might give him a longer leash. While he has been pretty good since being recalled by the Pirates, the strikeout percentage may be too big to ignore.
- Anthony Banda – Banda has gotten nice results pitching to a 2.40 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 15 innings with the Pirates, but a 4.76 FIP indicates he’s had some good luck. A career journeyman, Banda might not be worth the roster spot that could be used to protect a prospect.
- Wilmer Difo – Difo has had a pretty good season, especially coming off the bench for the Bucs, but as a career light-hitting utility player, his roster spot is probably better served for someone younger.
- Sam Howard – Like Brubaker, Howard has scuffled after getting off to a good start and has been bit by the injury bug. Howard has a 5.37 ERA/4.96 FIP in his two years with the Pirates, and they may move on in the offseason to clear up a roster spot.
- Kyle Keller – To me, Keller’s days in a Pirates’ uniform are coming to a close and he’s just about as good as gone before next season. He’s had an extended look with the Pirates pitching 25 innings, but he hasn’t gotten results, pitching to a 6.84 ERA/7.36 FIP.
- Luis Oviedo – Oviedo will very likely not be pitching for the Pirates come Opening Day 2022, but he also will not lose his 40-man roster spot. Instead, he will be pitching in the minor leagues, likely as a starter after fulfilling his Rule 5 requirements this year.
- Michael Perez – I can’t really envision a scenario where Perez is back next season unless Stallings is traded and another vet is brought in and Perez is kept as a backup. Perez has had an unproductive season at the plate, hitting just .146 with a .537 OPS.
- Dillon Peters – If Peters continues to pitch well down the stretch, he may force the Pirates’ hand, but for now, the 29-year-old is in jeopardy of losing his roster spot in favor of a prospect.
- Cody Ponce – Ponce’s roster spot is in serious hot water and I think it’s very likely that he will not be with the Pirates in 2022.
- Chasen Shreve – Shreve has helped to anchor the Pirates bullpen, but like some others his 4.87 FIP indicates some good luck. Still, I’m not necessarily expecting him back next season.
- Cole Tucker – While Tucker has not received much consistent playing time in his career, the track record is long enough to indicate that what he has done is more or less what he is. It might be time to pull the plug on the Tucker experiment.
Impending Free Agent
- Shelby Miller – Miller was an interesting September call-up considering he’s the most veteran guy on the team. I can’t envision Miller being re-signed by the Pirates in the offseason.
- Yoshi Tsutsugo – Tsutsugo has been really good at the plate since joining the Pirates and has shown the power potential he was heralded for in Japan. With the possibility of the DH coming to the National League next year and how he’s performed, I’d say he is the most likely of these two to be back next season, though that is just speculation.