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Gorman: Pirates must buy at trade deadline

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, July 12, 2017, 7:08 p.m.
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is eligible to return next week, and his addition should provide a huge boost in the second half.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is eligible to return next week, and his addition should provide a huge boost in the second half.
Pirates center fielder Starling Marte connects on a base hit during the third inning against the Reds Tuesday, April 11, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Starling Marte connects on a base hit during the third inning against the Reds Tuesday, April 11, 2017, at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese reacts after striking out to end the game against the Giants Saturday, July 1, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese reacts after striking out to end the game against the Giants Saturday, July 1, 2017, at PNC Park.
Pirates reliever Tony Watson delivers during the eighth inning against the Rockies on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Tony Watson delivers during the eighth inning against the Rockies on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, at PNC Park.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen singles during the sixth inning against the Marlins Sunday, June 11, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen singles during the sixth inning against the Marlins Sunday, June 11, 2017, at PNC Park.

The Pirates have problems, and their 42-47 record at the All-Star break is the least of them.

They open the second half of their schedule with a seven-game homestand, against two teams ahead of them in the NL Central standings.

The Pirates have a chance to make up ground on the Cardinals, who they trail by 1 12 games, and the Brewers, who have a seven-game lead.

Doing so would go a long way toward determining whether the Pirates are contenders or pretenders, whether they are buyers or sellers at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

That's where the problems come up. The Pirates don't look much like a playoff team, let alone a division champion — which is the only way they can make the playoffs at this point — without addressing some issues.

First off, instead of focusing on enlisting the help of MLB and the players association to get a visa for Jung Ho Kang, the Pirates should be solving the hole he left at third base.

That's a position the Pirates need to address. Kang isn't likely to return to the Pirates this season, if ever, and the front office standing pat in the first half cost the team dearly.

David Freese has played well at third but is showing signs he's better suited to a platoon or backup role. After batting .321 in March and April, Freese is hitting .217 in 50 games since.

That has forced the Pirates to go patchwork in replacing Kang and Starling Marte, who is serving an 80-game suspension for using PEDs.

If nothing else, Josh Harrison deserved his All-Star selection for attempting to fill both voids. He started 46 games at second base, 29 at third and six in left field.

Marte's return Tuesday should bolster the batting order and left field.

No other team can add an All-Star outfielder and two-time Gold Glove winner without giving up anything in return.

Yet you have to wonder how Marte will be received in the clubhouse after keeping his suspension a secret in spring training from the front office, coaching staff and his teammates.

The hope is Marte's return will bring a boost, as well as consistency, to a team that has had 77 batting orders in 89 games.

There is talk the Pirates, if sellers, could trade anyone from ace Gerrit Cole to franchise face Andrew McCutchen, whose resurgence has made him more valuable. Given their trade history, getting a fair return would make such moves a major gamble.

The Bucs should be buyers.

They should be looking to add an everyday third baseman and either a starting pitcher and/or relievers to boost a bullpen that likely will see Juan Nicasio and Tony Watson dealt because of their expiring contracts.

With all of those problems, why do I have a feeling the Pirates will be in the thick of this division race?

This season reminds of 1997, when the NL Central was up for grabs. After 89 games that year, the Pirates were 44-45. They finished five games behind the Houston Astros, who won 84 games.

The Pirates play 44 of their final 73 games against division opponents, including 28 consecutive from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24.

They don't need to make major moves to fill the holes and improve this team, but they can't stand idle.

The Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs certainly won't.

Some say Kang and Marte sabotaged this season. But their absences saved on salary, and the Pirates should be putting it back into the payroll to make a run at the division title.

Of all their problems, the Pirates have to prove they are willing to part from their penny-pinching ways.

After all, the Pirates promised to deliver a championship-caliber team but have yet to win a division title or playoff series, let alone a pennant or World Series under the ownership of Bottom-Line Bob Nutting.

They already disappointed many fans by following a 98-win season with the now-infamous “bridge” year.

Unless the Pirates sink money into improving this team and making a run at a division title that's for the taking, it's looking like a bridge to nowhere.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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