The 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates are undoubtedly having one of the worst seasons in Major League Baseball this year.
After 77 games, they sit well out of the divisional race at 16 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers.
With their 29-48 record, they currently have the third-worst mark in the entire league.
This is not just a one-year anomaly, as Pirates fans have become accustomed to poor play year after year.
— Bobby Nightengale (@nightengalejr) June 17, 2021
They have finished in last place of the division in each of the past two seasons, not making the postseason since a Wild Card appearance in 2015.
Their last full playoff series came in 2013, where they broke a 21-year playoff drought that came before.
Because of this, it would be tough to find an MLB organization that has consistently underperformed like the Pirates over this span.
Why are the Pirates unable to get over the hump?
Here are two decisions the team has recently made that were terrible, leading to their struggles today.
2. The Rays Robbed The Pirates
Prior to the trade deadline in 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays were looking to move their former All-Star pitcher Chris Archer.
The Pirates, who were still in contention for a playoff spot at the time, emerged as the suitors for the trade.
This led to a deal that sent a three-player package back to Tampa for Archer.
Though Glasnow struggled in Pittsburgh, he blossomed into a true ace when he joined the Rays.
Before suffering a partially torn UCL this season, he was on pace to compete for the Cy Young Award.
2021 Strikeouts Leaderboard
t-1) Shane Bieber • 130 K
t-1) Zack Wheeler • 130
t-3) Trevor Bauer • 129
t-3) Gerrit Cole • 129
5) Clayton Kershaw • 124
6) Tyler Glasnow • 123
7) Jacob deGrom • 122
8) Max Scherzer • 119
— Jim Passon (@PassonJim) June 28, 2021
Meadows also found his stride when he entered Tampa, becoming an All-Star in 2019 and slugging 33 home runs.
— MLB (@MLB) June 23, 2021
Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, Archer posted a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts as the Pirates eventually faded from the playoff picture.
This trade marked an important moment for both franchises: The Rays became one of the league’s best teams, while the Pirates became one of the worst.
It fundamentally shaped the future of the Pirates organization, leading to where they are today.
1. Gerrit Cole Trade
Another significant mistake was in the Gerrit Cole trade.
While the decision to move Cole out of Pittsburgh was not horrible, the franchise’s choices after the move stand out.
Cole went on to become arguably the best pitcher in the American League with the Astros, later commanding a contract over $300 million.
However, unlike the Archer trade, the Pirates got critical pieces back.
Joe Musgrove, for example, has shown that he can potentially be a dominant starting pitcher.
The only problem is that he is now doing this in San Diego, not Pittsburgh.
Rather than hanging onto Musgrove, they packaged him into another trade for four prospects.
The #Padres have acquired Joe Musgrove from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a seven-player, three team trade.
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) January 19, 2021
While it is yet to be seen how the prospects will turn out, it reflects a common flaw from the Pirates.
They have an inability to hang onto their proven talent and build a team around them.
Instead, the franchise opts to trade their proven talent in hopes that they can develop younger prospects that they bring in.
They decide against hanging onto these players and then crafting the rest of the team around them.
In this case, they could have hung onto either Cole or Musgrove and had one of the two headline their rotation for the future.
Because of this, they are not able to maintain success on the field, as there is a constant rotating door of players on the field.
While there is no immediate fix for this, the franchise will have to readjust their approach to building their team moving forward.