On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees kick off their respective Spring Trainings with an exhibition game against each other. A team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1992, matching up with a team that has 17 playoff appearances and 5 World Series championships in that span. However, putting the past aside, it appears that the future is much brighter for the Pirates than the Yankees. They are young and quickly improving. Meanwhile, the Yankees are old, regressing, and in arguably the toughest division in baseball. But after this offseason, perhaps people should wait before jumping off the Yankees bandwagon and joining the Pirates’.

Let’s start with the Pirates. After making the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, it was expected that they would enter the offseason looking to make a splash and cement themselves as a contender. Their three biggest offseason needs were at starting pitcher, shortstop, and a third outfielder. To fill those needs, the Pirates could have signed Masahiro Tanaka, Jhonny Peralta, or Jacoby Ellsbury: all of whom are better than who the Pirates have going into the 2014 season. The Pirates signed zero of those players. The Yankees signed two.

2013 Player (WAR)

2014 Player (WAR)

Free agent (WAR)

A.J. Burnett (1.7) Charlie Morton (0.5) Masahiro Tanaka (R)
Clint Barmes (1.1) Jordy Mercer (2.0) Jhonny Peralta (3.3)
Marlon Byrd (5.0) Jose Tabata (1.2) Jacoby Ellsbury (5.8)

The chart above details who the Pirates had at starting pitcher, shortstop, and in the outfield last season, at the beginning of this season, and who they potentially could have signed in free agency. By looking at the statistic Wins Above Replacement (WAR), it is clear that the Pirates have regressed in two of those positions after missing out on the opportunity to sign players of much higher caliber at all three. In total, the Pirates lost 4.1 wins this offseason.

As a team, the Pirates (94-68) overachieved by 6 wins last season according to Bill James’ Pythagorean win percentage. Meanwhile, the two teams competing with the Pirates for the NL Central title – the Cardinals and Reds – had higher Pythagorean win totals, at 101 and 93, respectively. To add to that, the Cardinals went out and signed Jhonny Peralta, a potential target for the Pirates at shortstop.

One argument for the Pirates not signing any of the players named above is that they don’t have as much money as other teams. However, while the Pirates are busy shelling out $13.5 million and $7.5 million to Wandy Rodriguez and Russell Martin respectively this season, Peralta is making only $6 million for the Cardinals. For the right player, and all three of the ones listed above certainly qualify as such, the Pirates could have dug in their pockets and come up with enough money to make a signing. The Pirates were only a wild card team last season and needed to improve this offseason in order to take the next step in winning a division title. Simply put, they did not.

As for the other two players the Pirates should have been after – Tanaka and Ellsbury – they were signed by the Yankees in part of a great offseason haul. While the Yankees did lose out on the Robinson Cano sweepstakes, they were able to overcome the loss by bringing in Ellsbury, Tanaka, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Brian Roberts. Heading into the offseason, the Yankees needed to sign a quality starting pitcher, a catcher, and at least one outfielder. They accomplished all of those tasks and more, signing two All-Star level outfielders in the process.

2013 Player (WAR)

2014 Replacement (WAR)

Phil Hughes (-0.7) Masahiro Tanaka (R)
Vernon Wells (-0.3) Jacoby Ellsbury (5.8)
Ichiro Suzuki (0.4) Carlos Beltran (2.4)
Austin Romine (-0.4) Brian McCann (2.2)
Robinson Cano (7.6) Brian Roberts (0.7)

As shown in the table above, if Tanaka plays only at replacement level, the Yankees gain 4.5 wins from last season’s total. However, Tanaka, while never having played an MLB game, is projected to find a lot of success after coming off an undefeated season in Japan. And after the return of Mark Teixeira, who himself is worth around 3 wins, it’s easy to see the Yankees being a much improved team in 2014.

This Yankees team has far fewer holes than last year’s version, both in the lineup and the pitching rotation. The lineup is filled with potential All-Stars, the only glaring weak spot being Eduardo Nunez (-1.5 WAR in 2013) at third base. As for the pitching staff, they replace a struggling Phil Hughes with Tanaka, which will almost certainly result in a huge payoff.

What the Yankees did is even more impressive when considering the fact that Ellsbury was at the core of two Red Sox championship teams. As the defending World Series champions, the Red Sox are the team the Yankees are chasing for the AL East crown this year. Poaching one of their star players was a great first step in accomplishing that. Plus, remember what happened the last time the Yankees signed a Red Sox All-Star centerfielder (Hint: Johnny Damon and the franchise’s 27th title in 2008).

Based on the last 20 years of baseball history, the results of this last season concerning the Pirates and Yankees were certainly unusual. For the Pirates to continue their upward trajectory, and the Yankees to get back to their winning ways, both teams had things they needed to accomplish over the offseason. On Wednesday, we will get our first look at each of these teams and get the first clues as to whether they are truly contenders this year. Going into the offseason, it was expected that one of these teams could be playing deep into October, while the other could miss the playoffs altogether. But don’t be surprised if in October it’s the Pirates who are watching from home as the Yankees inch closer and closer to championship number 28.