Fantasy baseball preview: Trades take wind out of Pirates’ sails

Outfielder Starling Marte had his streak of four consecutive seasons with at least 30 stolen bases snapped in 2017, but he still managed to steal 21 in 77 games.

As the 2018 fantasy baseball season approaches, we take a look at the biggest news and story lines from each club. We’ll feature one team each weekday … And we’ll finish up on Feb. 16, the first day all teams will have their pitchers and catchers on the field for workouts.

Series index: Schedule for all 2018 team previews.

With the window for contention seemingly slammed shut, the Pirates accelerated their rebuilding phase this offseason by trading away star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and ace pitcher Gerrit Cole.

They may struggle to score runs even more than they did last season. And they’ll need some of their young players to step forward into everyday roles.

2017 at a glance.

Record: 75-87 (4th in NL Central)Hitting: 28th (4.12 R/G)Pitching: 13th (4.22 ERA)Park Factor, scoring: 20th (0.948)Park factor, HR: 23rd (0.860).

Arrivals.

OF Corey Dickerson3B Colin MoranSP Joe Musgrove.

UPDATE: Tampa Bay’s loss was Pittsburgh’s gain. (Although it did cost the Pirates reliever Daniel Hudson.) Dickerson gives them a power bat (27 HR) and an outfielder to take McCutchen’s place.

Arriving from Houston in the Cole trade, Moran and Musgrove — both 25 — will be pressed into immediate service. Moran, a first-round pick of the Marlins in 2013, had his 2017 season end two games after being called up when he was hit in the eye by a foul ball. He hit .306/.373/.543 at Class AAA and should be the Pirates’ everyday third baseman.

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Musgrove floundered in the Astros rotation (6.12 ERA in 12 starts), but was thrived when he was moved to the bullpen after the All-Star break (1.44 ERA in 31 1/3 innings). The Pirates want to use him as a starter and will hope he can carry over his second-half momentum.

Players to watch.

OF Starling MarteRP Felipe Rivero.

Marte was suspended 80 games for a positive drug test and didn’t hit the 30-steal mark for the first time since his rookie year of 2012. His slash line was equally disappointing. He’s yet to reach 20 homers in a season, but his speed and ability to hit for average make him a fantasy asset.

Rivero took over the closer’s role in June and became one of the game’s best. He converted 21 of 23 save chances and struck out an impressive 10.5 batters per nine innings.

Sleepers.

SP Jameson TaillonOF Gregory Polanco.

Taillon missed a month during the season to undergo cancer treatment before returning and making a total of 25 starts. He was understandably less effective after coming back, but having an entire offseason to recover will be helpful. A 3.52 FIP (vs. 4.44 ERA) indicates there’s rebound potential.

Polanco had a power breakout in 2016 with 22 homers — to go along with 17 steals. But hamstring issues plagued him all last year and his numbers suffered. However, a major dip in strikeout rate (to 14.6%) offers hope for the future.

Bullpen.

Closer: Felipe RiveroNext: Daniel Hudson.

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Rivero, 26, was one star the Pirates didn’t let get away, signing a four-year contract earlier this month. He’ll be one of the few closers with near-guaranteed job security this season.

Hudson (or Michael Feliz, who was also part of the Cole trade) will be asked to protect leads and get the ball to Rivero.

Position battles.

Moran doesn’t have much of a track record in the majors, so veteran David Freese could get starts at third vs. Left-handers. Veteran utilityman Sean Rodriguez may also be in the mix or move to the outfield occasionally.

Prospects.

SP Tyler GlasnowOF Austin MeadowsSP Mitch Keller.

The Pirates have said they plan to use Glasnow (1.93 ERA in 15 Class AAA starts in 2016) and lefty Steven Brault (1.94 ERA in 20 AAA starts) out of the bullpen to start the season, with an eye toward moving them into the rotation later. Both have struggled in their brief opportunities in the MLB rotation.

Meadows, 22, battled injuries last season and hit just .250 with four homers in 284 at-bats at Class AAA Indianapolis. McCutchen’s departure could open a spot for Meadows sooner than later.

Keller, 21, has an electric fastball that makes scouts salivate. He reached Class AA last season, making six starts and posting a 3.12 ERA and 11.8 K/9. He could get a September call-up with an eye toward a spot in the 2019 rotation.

Projected batting order.

1. 2B Josh Harrison2. RF Gregory Polanco3. CF Starling Marte4. 1B Josh Bell5. LF Corey Dickerson6. C Francisco Cervelli7. 3B Colin Moran8. SS Jordy Mercer.

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Projected rotation.

1. RHP Jameson Taillon2. RHP Ivan Nova3. RHP Chad Kuhl4. RHP Joe Musgrove5. RHP Trevor Williams.

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