Usually, when a major-league team wins 98 games in one season, they handily win their division and often will earn home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs. Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2015’s National League Central was anything but usual, and 98 wins earned the Pirates nothing but a one-night stand with the Chicago Cubs and eventual Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, who powered through the Pirates’ offense en route to a 4-0 Chicago victory and a one-and-done playoff appearance for the team with Major League Baseball’s second-best record.
With the Cubs’ franchise on the rise after years of “rebuilding” and stockpiling young talent, and the St. Louis Cardinals posting a winning season for the 15th time in 16 years (including eight in a row back to 2008), the Pirates and General Manager Neal Huntington face the challenge of remaining competitive in what appears to be MLB’s toughest division in 2016. Working with a significantly smaller payroll than St. Louis or Chicago, Huntington had his work cut out for him, especially when Chicago went all-in for former Atlanta Braves and Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward in free agency. Luckily, Huntington has arguably one of the best young outfield cores in the league, with former MVP Andrew McCutchen, Gold Glover Starling Marte, and former top-10 prospect Gregory Polanco all under 30 years old and under team control through at least 2017.