Nobody really knows anything right now. We sit here trying our best to be good citizens, waiting this virus out. Watching the news hoping for someone to focus on answers and being disappointed that only more politics come.
Every team in MLB will face many questions about what all this means for them. Will Mookie Betts ever take a swing in a Dodgers uniform or did they just give away a good young player and eat a bunch of salary for a few years of David Price on the back end of a great career? This is probably the most in your face example, but in the end, the Dodger can afford for this entire thing to blow up in their lap.
The Pirates have a laundry list developing, not all bad but answers to some of these questions will determine the path forward, let’s dig in and think through some of them.
Rule 5 players like Nick Burdi, picked up in 2019 should have long since been through the process. Of course, we all know he was injured last year and never was able to reach the threshold for eliminating the status. He should have been able to do that by the early part of this season; I can find no reference to any answers on how this will be handled. As is stands right now, I’d have to assume if there was no season this year, he would return in 2021 under the same status he started in 2019. If it changes, will he become a free agent, or will he automatically become arbitration eligible for the Pirates? This is a talented young fireballer, I’d hate to see the Bucs lose him through some event out of their control.
Players with options left such as Chris Archer or Gregory Polanco present another puzzle. Heading into this season the Pirates chose to exercise the option on Archer. As I wrote way back when, it was the only choice to be made. He is incredibly affordable, and that fact almost more than his track record made him an attractive trade chip the Rays used almost every season to dangle in front of the league. I’d imagine the Bucs would have to do the same if only, so they didn’t let him go for nothing. If you thought they had a hard time trading him this season, or talked yourself into believing he was here because the Pirates felt he was ready to look like Drabek, I’m afraid it isn’t going to get easier after even more time away from the game. He’d need to be a trade deadline move and with Jameson Taillon potentially back, what if he is essential to the rotation?
Polanco was set to prove himself this season, ready to show he was healthy and able to anchor a weakened lineup that just lost arguably their best offensive weapon in Starling Marte. The Pirates might need to take a flyer on him as well for many of the same reasons as Archer.
I’d love to tell you someone like Jared Oliva will be ready to patrol Center next season for the Bucs but if there is no development this season, 2020 will become akin to suspended animation. Some things will move forward of course, but its hard to say Oliva wasn’t ready to contribute this season but after a year of no baseball he’s ready in 2021.
Josh Bell will enter another year of arbitration. Others of course will as well, but none will make the money Bell will. Question is, will he get more than he accepted this season? If so, based on what? Could the Pirates perhaps take some kind of advantage of this situation and offer a contract when transactions are opened back up?
As I said at the beginning, every team in baseball will face questions just like these, but the Pirates can afford less mistakes than many teams and how they answer these questions and prepare for uncertainty will be key moving forward.
A shortened draft will surely put a kink in Ben Cherrington’s plan to continue to infuse talent into the system, it also will provide a thesaurus full of excuses as to why his plan hasn’t worked a couple years from now. While I’m excited about quite a few prospects in the system, I can’t believe he or anyone else believes there is enough to create a contender with. If so, why fire Neal Huntington? It’s possible this ‘lost’ season creates an environment that forces a change in the plan. Say the plan was to keep Bell until his last season under team control. Now you have this very real situation where you are only bringing 5-10 new players into the system via the traditional draft, well, prospects have to come from somewhere, maybe this gets accelerated.
As things shake out and plans get firmed the entire puzzle will start to take shape. Right now we’re building with the box top turned upside down.