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2019 Pirates will Be Intriguing, Even Though We Know the Ending

Despite the lack of a competitive payroll and established stars, the players aren't listening to the naysayers.

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The season that opened Thursday in Cincinnati is accompanied by an all too familiar refrain.

The Pirates don’t spend enough money to contend.

For the Pirates, that’s become the defining characteristic of what was once a proud franchise and is now an industry punchline.

You hear as much nationally as well as locally. You hear as much from experienced analysts as well as frustrated fans.

They hear it in the clubhouse, too.

But the 2019 Pirates aren’t listening.

“It’s kinda noise for us,” Opening Day starter Jameson Taillon insisted during a visit with the DVE Morning Show this week. “On the inside, we’re all professionals and we’re all baseball players and we know what it takes and we know what it’s supposed to look like. And when you’re in that room and when you’re working out with the guys you can see that we do have a really strong, good group of guys.

“Sure, it’d be nice to have, I don’t know, Manny Machado on our team. But then I’ve gotta go up to somebody and look them in the eyes and say, ‘He’s such a big upgrade over you and you need to go kick rocks and get lost.’ So for me, it’s a tough one to kind of even talk about.”

Machado, 26, is a four-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner who played in the World Series for the Dodgers last season.

He’d have been a great addition to the Pirates this season.

The 10-year, $300 million contract he signed with the Padres precluded any chance of that happening.

The Pirates don’t play that game.

But Taillon isn’t complaining.

“Yes, we believe in the guys we have, but I’ll take it even a step further,” he continued. “It’s kinda personal, because then you’re constantly talking about upgrading over guys that are on the team. That’s what we’ve got and that’s what we’ve got to work with and I’m actually really excited about the guys we’ve got.

“It’s kind of a tricky subject but yeah, it definitely brings guys together. It’s not something we ‘one, two, three, break.’ and scream about and go to war over. We’re aware of it but it’s not something we’re all talking about. It’s not consuming our days 24-7.”

So they’ve got that much going for them, a rallying cry and a collective desire to do what conventional wisdom and the economics of the game maintain they can’t.

What the Bargain Basement Bucs also have to work with in lieu of a slew of established stars making top dollar –– or even one such player –– is potential.

Their every-day lineup is littered with it.

So is the back end of their bullpen.

And it’s especially recognizable in the starting rotation thanks to Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and Chris Archer.

But with potential comes questions.

And the Pirates have too many of those to expect all of them, or even enough of them to be answered in the affirmative.

Can Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Jung Ho Kang and Erik Gonzalez all establish or re-establish themselves as viable, big-league regulars?

Can Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco (once he returns from injury) stay engaged and on the ball long enough to become the players they’re capable of becoming but haven’t yet?

Can the pitchers stay healthy and stay on the rise or, in Archer’s case, recapture what once was?

The biggest question marks are Bell and Kang.

The biggest upside belongs to Taillon.

The biggest problem remains the payroll.

The 2019 Pirates will be good enough to work around that some days.

Just not often enough.

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