Pirates Aren’t Tanking, but the Result Might Be the Same

Very rarely does a sure fire, step right into the majors prospect crop up in the Amateur draft for MLB. When it looks like one is potentially there like Kumar Rocker many in the fan base believe a team not on the upswing should actively try to acquire him. You know, tank.

To be honest, it matters little to me how fans take in the game and their opinions mean even less to a newly formed front office. Maybe fans are on to something, it certainly wouldn’t be bad to get a talent like that in the system, but it simply isn’t something baseball teams do often, and its anything but a sure bet this year in particular.

I say this year because back in March Rob Manfred was given some unique power, the ability to do anything he likes to the draft order, or for that matter how it’s carried out. Many of the issues experienced in MLB so far have made the possibility of a draft lottery more plausible. A very real possibility that not every team will play all 60 games could at the very least prompt a draft order based in winning percentage, but a lottery could be considered fairer. Manfred could even decide to base the order on averages of the combined 2019-2020 seasons.

You can think all of these are idiotic ways or unrealistic, but the point is, we don’t know, and more importantly, not one team knows either. This is where the goal post gets moved the first time. Bring this up and those adamantly advocating for the tank being underway change it to “trying to get one of the top three picks”.

Teams do tank, it happens, and leagues have done their very best to legislate it out by introducing lottery systems. Even last year in the NFL the narrative was that the Miami Dolphins were tanking for the number one pick, problem is you still have to field players. Players who want to win. Maybe they know they can’t win as a team but individually they still give it their all. There’s a reason the league’s don’t want to see it, and it’s all about integrity. Something this season, many feel, is already threatened.

MLB is no different with the possible exception of the draft being less of a sure thing. Again, it doesn’t mean that some form of being bad on purpose isn’t happening. The Marlins have pulled this act off multiple times under multiple ownership groups, but it’s rarely led to anything before they pull the plug again. When they burn it down, they leave no stumps untouched. Christian Yelich to Milwaukee with 3 years of control left is a perfect example and if you want an equivalent, it would be like the Pirates moving Bryan Reynolds or Mitch Keller, now.

The Pirates could very well lose 40 games this year, if you want to call that a tank it really has no bearing on what is actually happening. It’s up to the Pirates to decide where the line is, more to the point, who the line is. When does Ben Cherington think this team can be competitive? If the answer is 5 or 6 years from now, we’ll find out fairly quickly because if not this trade deadline, this offseason will show a movement of players off this roster in place of prospects.

If on the other hand, Cherington looks at his roster and sees a rotation next year featuring Taillon, Keller, Musgrove, Brubaker and Kuhl, with a Quinn Priester or Malone making noise for 2022, he’ll need to decide if that is good enough.

Here’s the part that sucks to hear, either one of those could be wrong. Neither one will make the payroll go up. That’s the job, identifying when a window could open with what you have, or deciding there won’t be a window unless you make changes.

Rarely does intentional losing cross the mind of anyone involved. A first-year manager isn’t looking to post a bad record. A brand-new pitching coach who skyrocketed up the ranks doesn’t want to look like he can’t mold young pitchers or maximize their talent. A second year hitting coach doesn’t want people to think his recently departed partner in crime had more to do with his success than he himself.

I could go on, as players like Musgrove try to put their foot down and stake claim to their position in the rotation and set themselves up for possibly the only big contract they’ll ever sign. Even before that, soon to be arbitration players won’t want to lower their number.

None of this means they’ll win, but say the plan is to keep everyone but Bell and Frazier, just picking two likely trade candidates here not predicting. Everyone else on that club is part of that window Cherington sees. Now does the large majority of that remaining roster feel they were part of an organization that isn’t interested in winning, or do they feel they are part of the building process?

Shelton is doing his damnedest to make tanking viable. Again, I don’t think hiring a coach for his first gig and asking him to tank is reality, but the alternative is dark, he just isn’t a good coach. That’s the scariest part to be honest, he might actually think he’s been doing the right thing. If you want to hire a guy to shepherd a tank season, you’d go after a Dusty Baker type, someone who doesn’t list one year of coaching as his only example on his resume.

To believe Shelton was that hire, it means within one month he was convinced that he should come in here and put up a mind boggling case for his ouster, but trust these guys he just met will keep him around to actually coach who he’s tanking for. Cherington must trust his scouting department, most of whom he’ll replace at season’s end, that there is someone at the top of the draft so good, so can’t miss that any scout would agree.

If they are tanking and it comes from the top, boy, Cherington isn’t very good at it. He kept Bell, Frazier, Musgrove, Williams, and Moran. Minimally those five should be gone if losing big was the goal. I know, move the goalposts, he wanted to build value for them, by putting them in situations to lose all year?

Again, if tanking is what you truly believe is happening, I disagree. I have a feeling at the end of the day the definition of tank is really what’s up for discussion here, and I have no doubt the goalposts will move on that clarification as the next phase plays out.

Its quite possible this club is bad enough to tank without tanking. Its possible the coach was a bad hire. You can also blame Bob Nutting and believe he signed off on this plan because with no fans he couldn’t lose money based on plummeting attendance, but even that ignores at some point they’re going to want you, me and the players who stay to believe winning is the goal.

Are the Pirates tanking? You tell me, I think its incredibly unlikely, too many people, with too much to lose. If rooting for Kumar helps you get through this mess, have at it, hey, they might just get it done, but it won’t be a plan, it’ll be an already bad team, coached badly.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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