The Pirates have been boxed into a corner and while this regime didn’t create it, they’ll be tasked with working around it. See, the Pirates have an impossible amount of arbitration ready players next season, and 2022 is even more frightening.
Make no mistake, if this situation came up and you had a roster that added up to playoff contention you’d be up for GM of the year, in fact in that case Neal Huntington would still be delivering his weekly double talk session to Greg Brown or Joe Block.
Problem number one for Ben Cherington is to understand who is part of the problem, and who is part of the solution right? Well, when a vast majority of your team is populated with arbitration players, out of options, and some of those answers are even younger players like Mitch Keller or Ke’Bryan Hayes you’re going to face some very difficult choices.
Before we get into this too far, most teams in MLB outside of the top tier are predicting budget reductions for 2021, believe it or not the Pirates could actually have a lower payroll as well. Of course, people will say this is Nutting’s wet dream, but not even Bob can make a situation like this come to life, only ineptitude can create it, but I’ll get back to that.
The problem is really this in a nutshell, the Pirates will have to choose to non-tender some players and let them walk in favor of younger players. Sounds nice on the surface, but all the players they’ll have to make a call on aren’t those you’d like to let walk. Want to trade them? So would Ben, but the league isn’t ignorant to the situation the Pirates are in. They know Ben can’t keep all his options, so why pay for what will very soon be free? If Ben wants to take on salary in exchange, that could actually be a nice play, but it won’t solve his problem of making room.
Lets really dig in here, because if I don’t this is just going to be met with a whole bunch of so what’s and spend nutting get nuttings.
They’ll have issues just getting down to a forty man so let’s start there.
Right now, the Pirates project to have 49 players on their 40-man. Injuries will do that and a few of them can be trimmed super easy. Archer, Kela and Holland will all be gone which will bring the number down to 46 if I’ve counted correctly. Then you move on to a list of players you have to choose from to get the rest of the way home. I believe we’ve seen the last of Neverauskas, Bashlor, Davis, Rios, Waddell and then one of the remaining options which would be Holmes, Turley, Fulmer and Alford.
I guess I’d pick Turley, but we have a month left for those guys not named Holmes to show what they have.
So that solves one problem, getting down to 40. Then the real fun comes, nearly half of those 40 players are arbitration eligible and those cuts won’t be nearly as simple but will come with non-tenders galore.
Young players will force their way onto the roster, we’ve all given Keller a spot even though he has yet to really stake claim, but the talent is there, and he represents rotation improvement. We’ve all decided Hayes is here to stay and he probably is, but the move to youth when you already have little else will cause you to pull the rip cord on players you might not be ready to say goodbye to. Osuna is a guy who might not make it, and as much as many of you won’t like to hear this Nick Burdi is a real possibility to not make it. It would be hard to toss one of these spots at a guy who at the very least is a low percentage shot at staying on the field. No matter who they choose, someone talented will walk away.
In fact, as you call for more youngsters like Cruz, Oliva, Swaggerty, Cederlind or Bolton realize what that means. I personally see no reason to hold Cederlind back and need positions matter, but if you feel you need to see Cruz start out of Spring, based on how the roster sits he could hit 10 homeruns in his first 15 at bats and they still might start him in AAA.
This situation is not the goal, you want young controllable players, but not this many that time up together. Left unchecked that number of Arb players will jump from 20 to nearly 30 in 2022. Some guys will be extended or moved obviously but if you are shooting for a window this sets up as one that will slam shut. And they can’t set themselves up for it again.
If you believe they should trade every player on the roster (OK most) and fill the roster with all the young guys, all they’d do is start the process again. To build the roster properly, they need to stagger the youth infusion. This very situation is exactly how the Pirates were able to pick up a player like Alford to begin with, it may lead to losing him as well.
This will start to become clearer as we enter the off-season and moves start being made but realize if it comes down to trading a guy because they want to keep another from walking away for nothing Ben may have his hand forced. Again, other teams aren’t stupid, they’ll understand the situation and have at least a pretty close idea as to the options. This could find a player like Adam Frazier being moved below market value. It could mean a player like Cole Tucker being moved to get something for someone and solve some spacing issues. Ben may not look smart making some of these moves, and I may be first in line to point it out, but we should at least understand he didn’t create this situation.
Now, neither of those are a prediction, I’ll get to that later when we start to really see the options on the table, but suffice to say, it’s nowhere near as simple as trading everyone, or calling up all the young guys. This, despite the belief if was coming at the past deadline, is really where Cherington starts affecting change. We won’t like all the moves, and he’ll let someone go who ends up flourishing elsewhere, too much young talent for that not to be the case, but the construction of this roster is not sustainable and its issue number one for this management team.
Back to that ineptitude I spoke about earlier. How did we get here? Well, who is the last prospect who really forced their way onto the roster through performance rather than necessity? Reynolds? He came here out of necessity and stayed because of production, but he hadn’t forced the club to take notice and make room, not yet. Keller? No, not Keller either, in fact they ignored the necessity and kept him down. Maybe that was Super-2 BS, but it also could be he simply wasn’t making himself impossible to ignore. Now he’ll be entering his third season (yeah, not service time wise) of trying to plant his flag in the rotation.
Realistically, Gerrit Cole or Josh Bell were the last prospects who just could not spend one more day in the minors. So that leads to a team full of projects and spare parts. Controllable yes, but ready for the show, maybe not. Regardless, once you start the clock, and or start using their options in masse you have begun the process of painting yourself into the corner.
You can say Hayes is one of those guys, that’s fine, but because of past sins and miscalculations, he will add to the pile up too. The reason this past deadline would have been a great time to make some moves almost had more to do with making room than it did procuring some spring of youth to “rebuild” the team. It’d be nice to get some of that back and I’m sure they will, but the immediate problem is room. See, young players will tend to get better, Cole Tucker is not what he will be, he’s still a kid relatively speaking. Despite a stellar first game, Hayes is not near the top of his game either. If the Pirates had spent money on say Josh Donaldson last off season, they still wouldn’t be good enough and you’d continue to block one of the very few prospects you don’t want blocked. They’ll get better because that’s what young players tend to do, it’s more about what their top end realistically looks like, and that isn’t quite up to par, especially on the mound.
The Miami Marlins are doing their damnedest to avoid a situation just like this. That’s why they have so many veterans on their club. None of those players will still be there when the next window opens, but it allows them to stagger the youth injection. The alternative is to force young players who probably aren’t ready onto the roster, sure three or four years from now that crop of young players could really look like something, but just as surely they’d all be up for arbitration and ultimately free agency together too. Again, this simply isn’t the goal. Once you’re there though, you can’t backtrack and take that route, you have to be proactive.
Right now someone has only read the headline and have commented that they should trade Nutting. Or even someone as prominent and respected as Bob Pompeani is suggesting the Owner just won’t spend. That’s been true, but look at this roster and ask yourself who goes for every player you think they should go get. If they were one player away, again, Neal would still be here. The Pirates can’t buy themselves out of this situation. Talk to me about Nutting when they get close and he says no to getting what they’re missing. Assuming he will drop the ball is totally fair, but right now his wallet would actually create more issues.
Going to be a wild off season for the Pirates, and that’s not a guess.