Pirates Outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Time For Marte & Polanco To Step Up

Chris Mack
March 29, 2018 - 12:41 am

“The Face of the Franchise.”

Are you as exhausted of that term as I am? And the discussion as to who will be the next one for the Pirates?

Don’t get me wrong. I think the discussion of who will be the star at the core of the Pittsburgh Pirates in a few years is a conversation worth having. With the trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole this offseason, looking forward to when Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon may be the All-Stars at the core of the club is a worthwhile endeavor.

If you have no interest in 2018, that is.

While some geniuses in the local media would try to tell you there’s nothing at all intriguing about the 2018 Pirates, I’d contest that the very nature of this team and who we should be focused on now – rather than focusing on who will be the future – is the most important factor for a team that could surprise just as the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers did last year, or could sink the same way the San Francisco Giants or Detroit Tigers did.

Quite simply, this is the year Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco either prove they belong at the core of a contending team, or the year they continue to disappoint and drag down a young, talented team that should be ascending again, the same way it did in 2011 and 2012.

Marte and Polanco are being chased on the outfield depth chart by Adam Frazier, Jordan Luplow, and the eventual arrival of Austin Meadows. They have relatively affordable contracts, but option years not too far in the future.

And they were both horrible disappointments in 2017.

There are question marks littering the Pirates’ lineup, from Colin Moran’s development to their young rotation, from Francisco Cervelli’s health to Corey Dickerson’s defense, from the middle of the bullpen to young starters-in waiting Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow.

But none of those question marks are nearly as big as Marte and Polanco. And none of them will have the same impact on the 2018 season as those two will.

If they both produce as they’ve shown they’re capable of doing in the past, it could keep the Pirates in contention for a Wild Card spot beyond the first week of September, and perhaps right down to the final days of the 2018 season. It would give the organization the luxury of time in bringing along Meadows, who despite a great 2016 at the minor league level and 1st Round pedigree, is unproven following an injury-riddled ’18.

If they both crash and burn the way they did last season, it could spell an early end to any hopes for competing this year, and with those hopes could go the futures of Marte and Polanco in Pittsburgh.