Pirates Positively Have an Optimism Problem

The biggest problem with being positive about the Pirates is probably the simple fact that its always about the future. That was one of the biggest issues with Neal Huntington and his regime, even if you saw potential in the future, trusting they’d make it to the Pirates as a fully developed and ready to contribute player was a fool’s errand more often than not.

Suddenly a new regime takes over and some felt a little more comfortable to dip their toe in the prospect pool. Now it was ok to think Quinn Priester would get here on time and contribute. I mean it was based in nothing more than blind faith for most, but it didn’t matter why. The unknown is better than what we knew.

I could list out a potential rotation for 2022 that would look pretty good. Some would jump on with enthusiasm and find a way to watch the journey with that in their mind as a coping mechanism.

All that positivity, no matter how based in reality, is undermined by the failings of this ownership. Sure, you can point out how the payroll rose when the team was in contention last decade, and how they added at the deadline. Those are facts, not the musings of blind optimists. They also happened to be ever so little less than they ultimately needed to do.

For some coming so close actually seemed to make it worse. When the window closed it slammed shut and not for the reason a small-to-mid sized market should. Pulling the McCutchen and Cole deals should have brought about the tear down, instead they tried to sell us a continuation of competitiveness. We weren’t blind, there was no replacement for Gerrit Cole really. Even if you want to blame stupidity like Marte getting dinged for PEDs or injury like Jameson Taillon, moving right on to ‘the next window’ wasn’t likely. Nobody likes to stick their fingers in to have them slammed after the first time.

So, you get a whole new management group, took a few years too long in my opinion but it happened and as I said earlier, it opened a crack for people to let themselves believe someone new would finally do this right.

There are very real reasons to believe. Travis Williams left a good job with a rising program; hell, he left a sport he was fully immersed in and a reputation built up in an incestuous industry where reputation alone can almost guarantee work for life. He grew up in a winning organization and was helping to build another and somehow, he believed this owner, with his track record would give him what he needed to continue being successful.

Ben Cherington has done the job before, but he did it in a market that has money in Boston. He’s not the choice I had in mind, I wanted someone with small market experience like Milwaukee’s number two Matt Arnold. Even so, he has experience building through the draft and developing his own talent, so I’m on board.

Let’s take a break right here to jump back into the reasons that positivity is hard though, and here’s the good news, you can rightly blame Nutting.

Bob Nutting eventually did the right thing, credit where due, but he took too long to get there. In the long run this won’t matter, but it hampered a few things. It prevented Cherington from rebuilding the organization in one clean sweep. Many of the figureheads we knew from the Huntington era were moved with a few exceptions but beyond that the foot soldiers remain by in large. By the time he was hired and finished focusing on the most important task at hand, finding a manager, organizational musical chairs around the league had already pretty much ended. Scouts were working, evaluations were taking place for the draft, and all he could really do was enhance the training plans and increase the tools for development in the organization’s levels. Toss in an additional stable of analytics wonks and you have the list. He managed to get one trade done when he moved Marte for prospects.

What I’m saying here is really this simple, he hasn’t completed phase 1 of what he wants and needs to do.

If you expected him to come in and immediately clean house, you were disappointed. If you expected him to come in and add, again, disappointed. He’s explained this as needed evaluation, time to see who he has and what they can do.

I always took that as essentially saying he thinks the coaching was really bad here in Pittsburgh and new coaching might really bring out hidden talent already on the roster. OK, I thought, but what more could you need to see from some of these guys. Hey, he knows more than me I figured.

My questions only grew because if you just want to see what you have here, why go get a Riddle, Heredia, Dyson? This was explained too, wanting to emphasize defense as a way to improve pitching numbers and get better. Get better is really as close to a mantra as this management team has. Again, OK I said, it doesn’t hurt to have a veteran on the team who can still play a mean center field. I question how this jives with the manager starting a guy who never played the outfield in center but more on that later.

Derek Shelton came here from a successful rebuild. I won’t say successful club because that would denote, they’ve won anything. I mean, in a way, they won a division title, that would be nice but no success in the post season. We’re told he is analytics believing coach and he’ll embrace what the newly expanded nerd squad would provide. He hires a young but promising pitching coach in Oscar Marin and brings home Don Kelly as his bench coach.

Nice guy, clicks with the players, involves himself in the community.

Spring training was pretty normal all in all, until COVID.

Fast forward to today, a weird season, only 60 games long. Work stoppages hang over your head just about every day. At anytime your best player could call and tell you he has a tickle in his throat, and you know right then he’s out for 3 or 4 days even if he’s ok.

You never got to build up your pitchers as you wanted to. Your hitters haven’t faced live pitching in anger in four months and on top of all that many players you’d really like to have in the mix were injured, tested positive, or whatever happened to Kela.

What do we have to judge Shelton on after eleven games with all those factors involved? Three things, line ups, in game decisions and overall progression of players.

All three categories have ranged from odd to outright inconceivable. You know, you’ve watched.

Now I’m not talking about using Cole Tucker in the outfield, told you I’d get back to it, if anything this is something that gives me hope they’ll do the same with Oneil Cruz next season and not allow being blocked at a position to keep their best, or at least perceived best players off the roster.

Its more about ignoring statistics to not intentionally walk a batter. Ignoring statistics and sitting Osuna against right-handed pitching even though he faired better against them last year. Ignoring the real need for consistent at bats and a feeling of place in a batting order that comes with some level of ‘This is our best order’. Maybe we’ve seen it once, probably not, the way it’s going we’ll see about 49 more before we wrap things up on 2020. I kid, I’m not doing the math to see if it’s possible. Having an experienced reliever available yet bringing Del Pozo in to hold a lead only to later turn to that experienced reliever when the lead is gone.

Point is when it comes to optimism, nothing more tangible than believing in the manager and his ability to use what he does have effectively will crop up. Right now, he’s left me lacking. Doesn’t mean he won’t turn it around or improve, just means as of right now, I’m unimpressed.

Want to be mad and say same old Buccos? You can, I won’t argue with you. Until they actually do something different anyone who does is only arguing with hope. Want to assume it just can’t be done with Nutting as the owner? OK, again, it hasn’t been, you aren’t wrong. I’d ask why the hell you read all this first of all, and then I’d say with no satisfaction he isn’t going anywhere.

If you really want to understand why positivity has already waned its simple. First and most obvious, they’ve lost, and looked bad doing it. Worse they’ve managed their way out of at least two games, that shouldn’t happen even when your team is bad. Second, nobody was right. Everyone likes to be right and in this case nobody has been. People who predicted an immediate fire sale went ahead and just mentally postponed it until after 2020. People who predicted Cherington would patch holes to at least have fun on the way to retooling very quickly saw that wasn’t going to happen. Folks who believed Hurdle and Searage were driving a Porche with a blindfold and Shelton and Marin would rip that thing off and show what this puppy could do have been quickly brought back to Earth.

I personally find comfort in understanding. I understand there are some good pitching prospects in the system, but I also understand pointing to their projected arrival date is wrought with Jameson Taillon type journeys and believing that future rotation is already all present and accounted for in the system belies the reason Huntington was let go.

The best I can say is let them work, see what they do. The only one of the three new figureheads actually, visibly working is not making that easy.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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