Baseball is team sport; always has been and always will be. And as a team sport, a ball club can only be as good as their weakest link or in the Pirates case this year, links and one great player, no matter the position, can’t carry his team to a World Series alone. A starting pitcher can keep the opposing team off the scoreboard, while the defense plays flawlessly behind him and the batters hit the ball over the place to give their team the lead; only to have it all fall apart when the closer loads the bases and gives up a game winning grand slam. Things like this happen all the time. Just like Mike Trout has been one of the best, if not the best player in Major League Baseball for the past eight years; compiling 74.3 WAR during this time, yet the Angels have only been to the playoffs once in his career and were immediately bounced by the Royals in three games. However, this doesn’t mean that Trout is not a great player or that they haven’t had any other great or even good players on these teams with him. It just means that collectively they haven’t done enough to put together a winner.
When you look at a team like the Pirates that finishes dead last in MLB with a record of 19-41, it is evident they are nowhere near competing, much less winning anything. Does this mean that individual performances should be ignored because they couldn’t help Pittsburgh win more games? Of course not. Especially when it’s not like the Pirates were trying to put together a World Series caliber product on the field; which is exactly what the Angels tried to do this past off-season by adding players, including Anthony Rendon, only to finish 4th in the AL West, 8 games under .500 and 10 games back of the 1st place Oakland Athletics. Does it mean that they should allow players to regularly take the field if they are severely underperforming and are essentially the weak links; costing the team wins or at least making this a little more difficult? Absolutely not. A baker wouldn’t continuously put moldy bread on the shelves with his finest pastries and expect to make a profit, right?
So, what should the Pirates, and specifically Ben Cherington, be doing in the first days of this off-season and beyond? Simply put, they need to be carefully assessing and evaluating every single player; looking for the individual efforts, that when strung together or traded for more valuable pieces, could eventually lead to more wins, while checking the shelves for moldy bread that can be thrown away to make room for his eclairs and cannoli.
Luckily for Cherington and the Pirates there is some low hanging fruit in each of these categories. Ke’Bryan Hayes was the NL Rookie of the Month for September, his first in MLB; posting a .376 AVG, a .682 SLG and 1.124 OPS with 5 homers and 14 total extra base hits. Joe Musgrove earned a 3.86 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP while striking out 55 batters in 39.2 innings. On the other side of the coin were Trevor Williams and JT Riddle. Williams had a 6.18 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP and gave up a MLB worst 15 homers across 55.1 innings of work. Riddle slashed .149/.174/.224 at the plate and earned a -3 OAA in the field. You could probably plant Gregory Polanco’s flag in this camp, but in some ways it’s a whole different story thanks to the contract that Neil Huntington strapped him with.
After evaluating these few players, Cherington’s job gets a little bit harder as so many Pirates fill up the middle ground in between, with some closer to either extreme; causing the question marks to pile up. Is Bryan Reynolds more of the hitter he has always been or did this season expose some holes in his game? Can Colin Moran maintain the power he displayed, hitting 10 homers in 178 plate appearances, which can be extrapolated to approximately 26 over a full season? And this is just the tip of the iceberg!
For those of you who might think that Cherington and crew have plenty of time to answer these and countless other questions; they truly don’t. The World Series is set to wrap up between October 24th and 28th. Exactly five days after this decisions concerning picking up options and making qualifying offers for arbitration are due; not to mention this is also the start of free agency.
It is clear that things are going to start moving sooner rather than later and when they do it is going to be fast and furious, so GMBC and the Pirates better come prepared.