We’ve all heard the names like Glasnow, Cole, Meadows, Morton, the bigger the playoff field the longer the list becomes. How good would those guys look in Pittsburgh right now? How bad was that trade? Nothing puts Pittsburgh fans into a tizzy more than seeing former hometown players become stars after leaving town.
It’s not always about stardom though, sometimes it’s a player like Sid Bream who left Pittsburgh to very little fan outrage only to land with the Atlanta Braves and eventually culminate in one slide that broke the hearts of an entire city. Sid was different, nobody spent much time talking about the tremendous talent the Pirates let go, for him it was more about seeing ghosts.
We watched Aramis Ramirez get moved for nothing that panned out. He certainly continued to put up solid numbers, not hall of fame numbers most likely, but solid. Rarely did we have to watch him do it on a playoff stage however. Kris Benson never achieved the greatness of his pedigree in fact his wife Anna probably achieved more notoriety once he went to New York appearing on the Howard Stern Show than Kris did on the mound.
Denny Neagle was traded for primarily Jason Schmidt and we didn’t watch him succeed in the playoffs until the 2000 World Series with the Yankees. Schmidt himself never tortured the Pirates the way today’s crop has.
Gerrit Cole wanted out of town, that’s not some revelation, we all know that. He wasn’t going to get the kind of money he was entitled to anywhere outside of New York or LA, yeah, the Pirates could fit his AAV on their roster and still have the lowest payroll in the league, but let’s not pretend that changes anything. We often forget these guys want to win too, not just get paid, and Cole has a much better chance of getting paid and surrounded with talent in NY or LA. He knew this, you knew this and most certainly his agent knew this.
Now, none of that means the Pirates had to execute a trade of Mr. Cole so early, especially didn’t need to try to get MLB ready talent in return. In other words, knowing they weren’t going to entertain or be entertained by Cole and his camp for extension, didn’t need to mean they had to make the trade they did. They could have used capital like that to help rebuild the system.
Charlie Morton was always talented, had scary stuff. Atlanta knew that too, but he struggled to trust his stuff and control it. He ran into injury trouble in Pittsburgh and when he was let go, outcry was minimal. Sure there were some of us who really wished the Pirates had found a way to keep the intriguing righty in town, but most felt it was best to just let him go. He had spent 7 seasons in Pittsburgh including playing his extension years with the Pirates but he rarely stayed healthy even when he did he showed flashes of brilliance, sprinkled with frustrating struggle.
When he signed with the Phillies the Pirates looked like they had pegged him right. Charlie fell to injury again and only threw 17 innings for Philadelphia. It wasn’t until he showed up in Houston that something clicked, and that continued right into his tenure with Tampa. It was with those two clubs that Pirates fans started to experience sour grapes on the Bucs losing Morton.
Revisionist history is of course every sports fan’s birthright. We remember things as cut and dried when nuance was very much involved. We claim we were mad from the first time the transaction news hit the wire even as we sat in the bar high fiving the move as it went down. A broad brush won’t do this subject justice, there very much so were folks who did see the talent coming back for Andrew McCutchen and probably were even vocal about it.
I’m not always right on these types of things, but I didn’t always write about them either. For instance, when the Chris Archer deal went down I liked it. I didn’t like losing Meadows, felt it was wholly appropriate to give up on Tyler Glasnow and most of the time the PTBNL is nobody I’ve ever heard of. Archer came with control and he was the most coveted starter on the trade block.
Now that I write, let’s just say I am a little more careful about my opinion. If that move happened today I’d at least toss in worry about who that PTBNL would be, but I still would have never assumed it would be the number one pick they just made. Meadows was a great prospect, I didn’t understand why the Pirates didn’t want to play him but it was the price of doing business.
It’s rare to make a trade for a veteran and see the ‘prospects’ you give up immediately jump in and look like your front office had no clue. That certainly happened here, and Neal paid for it, rightly so. There is much to blame Bob Nutting for through the years, but in this case, he and the team ate salary in exchange for three top prospects with almost full compliments of control for one pitcher. In other words, this ain’t on Bob.
The Pirates have paid for it ever since. Both on the field and in the hearts and minds of the fan base. Deservedly so, but we also shouldn’t pretend we saw a future champion when we watched Glasnow bounce fastballs 5 feet in front of the plate. We don’t need to act like we knew all along Tyler was going to figure it out. Young guys get better, but here was a guy who was handed a starting role more so because there was nothing more he could show in AAA. Even Tampa used him creatively by utilizing an opener when he pitched at the beginning.
Huge mistake. Huge understatement. Ultimately, a fire-able offense.
There will be more moves coming, and more players who end up performing like they never did in Pittsburgh. When and if the Pirates move on from Josh Bell, we needn’t even discuss the return, chances are the Bucs believe that nobody will be able to truly unlock the raw talent Bell possesses. Most fans (at least if you look at social media during games) will be more than ready to say Bell needed to go. He struggles to make contact consistently, is streaky to a detrimental level and a butcher at first base. So when he’s belting homeruns for someone in the playoffs come 2023 and it isn’t Pittsburgh, remember what you thought of him right now.
Do I know the Pirates are never going to unlock what Bell has to offer? Of course not, but if they don’t and someone else does, lets see it for what it is, a team that failed to develop someone and had no vision for how to get it done.
Rather than pining for what might have been, let’s pine for how the other teams have taken what the Pirates couldn’t unlock and helped it flourish. Let’s hope the changes being made as we speak to the development and scouting departments take the Pirates from a club that gave up too soon to a club that squeezes every ounce out of the talent they cultivate.
That’s the goal. Take someone like Clay Holmes and his huge frame and rather than eventually give up on the obvious talent, find a way to help him use it to better the club. When you start seeing things like that happen, you’ll know it’s working.
None of this means the Pirates will keep everyone and we’ll never watch what we’re seeing in this year’s playoffs again, but it sure would be nice to see the Pirates be the club flipping an Archer type for two or three big pieces that their system converts into realized talents.
Team building on a budget is a tight rope act, one the Pirates have played with a ten pound ball bearing in one pocket. Time to cast away the dead weight of past failure and affect change, above all else, translating talent from raw to realized is job number one for the new organization. If not, the next bad move we’ll be kicking ourselves over will be this front office.