The Pirates went through a nearly complete upheaval of the management team after the 2019 season as everyone knows, and they continued that process last week as Ben Cherington cut ties with many front office employees that were extended prior to the ousting of Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly.
Because Bob Nutting remains the Owner, believing real change is here has become impossible for many. Worsening the situation, this new management team has been handed an untouched frontier as their first assignment. We may never know what the plan was for 2020 fully. Did they plan to move Chris Archer, Adam Frazier, Josh Bell, Keone Kela? The chances of any of those happening under these circumstances range from no to maybe to hell no to impossible.
So, I ask myself, what could this leadership group do to show they are different rather than just sound like it? Not to placate the fans, that’s never a way for a GM to operate, but to show a real willingness to operate in a different way.
Here are some things that, for me, would show the kind of willingness to invest and put a foot down, even in these times.
- Sign Josh Bell to an Extension – Overpay if you must, but get it done. I hear frequently that Josh isn’t that good in reality and the Pirates should definitely move him for prospects. I find that more as a symptom of how this team has been run than reality. There are exactly 29 other teams, especially with the DH being universal, who would love to have Josh on their roster. To assume the Pirates should be the one who think he’s more valuable as a trade chip is just so Buccos. Not to mention, signing him to an extension doesn’t exactly prevent his movement later, but it would show the days of automatically playing your way out of town because you picked a certain super-agent are at least less certain. Players and people like Josh don’t come along every day, we should stop trying to make losing them ok by diminishing the talent level of them when they do here in Pittsburgh and more so we should expect that keeping them on occasion occurs more than once every three decades.
- Sign a Free Agent Who Was Actually Coveted- The Pirates have not signed a free agent anyone else drove the bidding up on since Russell Martin. Part of that is certainly the economics of baseball, part of it is of course the way Bob Nutting has run this club. Perpetually signing “Diamond in the Rough” type free agents or those who are past their prime but might be ok again works on occasion. Melky Cabrerra comes to mind, Francisco Liriano last year as well, but is it too much to ask that they fill a hole with more than a bucket of question marks? Catcher was the most obvious hole this season and sure the two they signed could very well out perform their track record, but there were several options who would have cost no more than 5 or 6 million who would have provided something the guys they got can’t, an absolute upgrade. I’m not advocating this club try to truly be in on the monster contract guys, but a 15-million-dollar starter could really change the entire dynamic and still leave them near the bottom with payroll. The Bucs should know well how easy moving a pitcher like that can be as well should they not be happy.
- Trust Developed Players- Here is a great for instance, if the Pirates believe Ke’Bryan Hayes has learned all minor league ball can teach him, he’s either not good enough or he’s ready. Same with Will Craig. Get them involved and let them continue to develop. What I’m suggesting here is not to push all your chips into the middle and lift your hands, its more to do what the Cubs have done with players like Ian Happ, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber. None of them were polished diamonds when they came up, but they allowed them to find a role and contribute rather than waiting for the perfect storm of need and service time to line up. It’s better to find out what you have than it is to hold them in some kind of prospect purgatory where they serve to do little more than win MiLB championships. Far too often the Pirates find themselves in a situation where they create a do or die situation with prospects. Holding them in the minors until they’re hand is forced. Another side effect, say Josh Bell gets injured and the Bucs need a first baseman, would Will Craig be the first guy on the scene? Probably not. Moran or Osuna would get a shot first and I couldn’t even argue with it, because organizationally they have never allowed Craig to really take a crack at the next level, of course I trust the two guys who have been here more. That’s what the Buccos failure to launch culture has spawned.
None of these things make the Pirates a contender today. In fact, nothing short of the 60-game schedule will do that this season. But the real change we hoped Cherington would bring is simply not going to show itself until they actually do something different. Ben is not responsible for 99% of the players on this club or in the system, so the talent level is therefore also not his fault. Failing to make changes and do something different as we move into next season will be, I trust what he says and believe him when he says he has the tools at his disposal. I trust because he’s had no real clear-cut opportunity as of yet. Once he has a real chance, my trust switches to expectation, here’s hoping he meets it.