You know what they say about opinions right? Well, its absolutely true, but after you spend so much time critiquing and or commenting on the actions of a franchise, there comes a time when you have to put your path down on paper, or, virtual paper as the case may be.
Today is that day for me. Today I’m going to be outlining the steps I’d take to keep the ball rolling and position the Pirates to reach the next phase.
We should start with a basic map, after all it does little good to tell someone how to find the fish market in San Francisco if you haven’t first explained how to get to the Bay Area. The way I see it, the rebuild process can be broken into multiple zones.
The Bottom Rung Zone
This one doubles as a “You Are Here” tag on our map because this is ultimately where the Pirates find themselves. The bottom rung is typically after you’ve moved as much of your moveable talent as possible in an effort to acquire prospects and to bottom out the payroll so that you may spend later. For the time being we’ll ignore that we can’t trust spending later will happen and that they can and should still make moves to get those prospects. Even if it isn’t a perfect fit, they come closest to this zone.
The Youth Movement Zone
You could argue the Pirates are here already, and you might be right. I happen to think they have just a bit more veteran presence to move before this totally takes hold and some of my suggested moves will take the team into this zone by the time they’re completed. While others might not look like that’s the case. You’ll see with my signings I’m more or less trying to build a bit of a bridge (I know this gives you flashbacks) to the next pool of talent.
The Crack in the Window Zone
Remember 2011-2012? Yeah, like that. Things starting to take shape, stars emerging, youth stepping in to bigger roles, extensions being worked out, big time first round picks entering the stage. Sometimes this is defined as ‘arriving early’ but it’s really just starting to see the signs that things are improving. This is the zone my plan will resemble but it’s very much so a false window, again, it’s a bridge. You can’t be married to any of my signings, if any are here for the real window it would be at least a slight shock.
The Wide Open Window Zone
You go into the season expecting to win, rather than being pleasantly surprised and the impending doom of losing players that helped make it happen aren’t there quite yet. It’s what every rebuild shoots for and in no way does it guarantee a championship but it sure as hell means you are in the conversation.
After these zones you tend to decide if you can at all continue to live in the wide open window zone but you have to have been developing all along the way and pull the trigger on moves that can sometimes feel uncomfortable. It’s a dance few can pull off and outside a few top notch organizations can resemble a white guy dancing at a night club. That’s exactly why I recommend signing a couple players to allow the talent to evolve a bit more.
All that being said let’s move into the plan.
I start here because it comes up early in December and to make the type of moves I want to pull off I need to make decisions here. There are only a few worth mentioning as the rest are also rans really, I’d move on from Trevor Williams and Dovydas Neverauskas. Dovydas is a no brainer as he just clearly can’t repeat his performance from AAA. Some guys can’t bring it on an MLB mound and no matter how attractive that 95+ fastball can be, he’s never been consistent enough to spend another minute on him. Trevor is a little tougher but when I make up my roster I have to ask myself, is he a better option than at least 6 in my organization? If that answer is yes, ok you keep him and hope he shows something. If no, which for me is the case, you cut ties so as to not block the youth movement.
For me this is as simple as this. Would you start Trevor Williams over any of the following; Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, JT Brubaker. That leaves room for Taillon to get hurt, or Joe to get moved and still leaves Trevor on the outside looking in for me. Unless the Pirates want to pay 3.5 Million for a long man in the bullpen, I suggest Trevor’s time has come. If I thought someone would trade for him I’d recommend picking up the tender sheet but I just described how I don’t see him cracking the starting rotation for the last in almost everything pitching staff of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I’ve gotten this far and not even mentioned buying out Chris Archer for 250K. We can overthink this but I just don’t see this as something I’d see enough upside in taking the opposite approach with. Best case scenario he’s a number one pitcher on a team not ready to really get into the race and I don’t see it as worthwhile cost for a prospect or comp pick.
Identify who is ready to take the next step. This is easy because there aren’t many if we’re honest. O’neil Cruz should he avoid any legal trouble, and we have little reason to believe he won’t, Jared Oliva and Blake Cederlind. That’s one bullpen arm and a middle infielder who might be able to play the outfield as well as a pure outfielder.
Specifically we’re talking here about players who could be ready to make the jump at the beginning of the season, by the end we could be looking at Bolton too. If it seems like I’ve forgotten all about Will Craig, well I just think they have too many pieces they need to move to make room. And I see this getting pushed back another year, plus I just don’t think he’s all that impressive yet.
The Pirates have options and I don’t think they have to burn this to the ground. As I wrote a few days ago the club is already young, tearing down to the studs is usually done to get to where they are right now.
I’d trade Adam Frazier. I like Adam’s game and love the position flexibility but he doesn’t have an outfielder’s arm. He can go get it but playing left field in Pittsburgh is almost like center in other ball parks. I choose Adam because I choose to keep Kevin Newman and want to make room for O’neil Cruz. He plays two positions that need freed up if Cruz is going to crack the lineup. I think there will be takers for the back to back gold glove finalist and with every MLB club looking to save money, Frazier’s low payroll figure will make him affordable, at least more so than a similar player in the free agent field.
I don’t think there is value for Josh Bell right now, at least not enough to pry him away from the Pirates before the season starts. The two most attractive things about Josh right now are his raw power and his control. The control gets smaller every passing game but the Bucs desperately need Bell to figure it out if they want to get anywhere close to what makes moving him make sense. He is a deadline deal if anything.
I’d try to move Colin Moran, like him or not, Colin showed a pace that would put him near 30 homeruns this season and he, unlike Bell, presents more potential partners as he can play first base at a higher level. He’s not Al Oliver over there but he eclipses Bell in the field by a healthy margin.
I hold onto Joe Musgrove for right now, hear me out. Those two games at the end of 2020 alone aren’t enough but he has shown me enough to think he’ll be an effective starter in this league. Keep in mind, effective doesn’t mean I think he’s a perennial All-Star, it means I think he can hold down a slot in the rotation and at times shine. He and Jameson Taillon are the best bets for veteran pitchers who this team should consider extending, and I use this season to decide which. If someone will overpay for Joe, do it, but I don’t see it. The Bucs have some young pitchers in the system but if Mitch Keller is your elder statesman come window time, I worry about the makeup of the roster.
This is what I’d do to jumpstart the team a bit and it starts in the bullpen. Blake Treinen or Liam Hendricks. This is not the Pirates way mind you, they’ve almost always relied on young guys or resurrection projects but a legit top notch reliever will cost far less than a starter and potentially effect more games than one too. This will put less pressure on the rotation to deliver game in and out and improve the overall landscape of the pitching staff. This also turns into someone that can be flipped in a year or two for more prospects so it’s not a waste. Part of the Pirates development problem on the mound has been the very real necessity to bring up kids who aren’t quite ready, signing at least one bullpen arm helps mitigate that a bit.
I’d go after Joc Pederson. I don’t think he’ll struggle to find a job but that .190 average in 2020 and the Dodgers choice to not use him much might just keep him under the radar a bit. Joc could have something in Pittsburgh he hasn’t had in LA, a chance to play more and a place of prominence in the lineup. Yes, I know he doesn’t hit lefties, that gives them room to continue to work in youngsters. This gives the Pirates a bit more pop which they sorely need. More than anything, he is a drop in replacement for Polanco. You could easily argue they’re the same player, but Joc has put it all together more than once and I’m a firm believer in getting a champion to help change the culture on this ballclub.
I’m not trying to force this team to arrive in 2021, I’m trying to show steps in the right direction. I also don’t expect them to do this, the club has already stated publicly they expect the payroll to actually creep down further. This is probably due to buying out Archer and after all the arbitration signings they’d probably come out a bit lower. To me though, I’m not looking for a false window, that timeline doesn’t change here, but I see no reason to not fill holes that exist and can’t be filled better internally. These are essentially future trade chips, think of them as a down payment that buys you time to get your pipeline in order. Stalling the need to force players up is essential when most of the top end talent is entering their first or second season in the organization.
Turning a franchise around isn’t easy, but despite having zero faith in ownership Cherington could get this done. I believe by spending a very moderate amount of money right now as I’ve suggested, and let’s be clear, we’re talking about no more than an 17-18 million dollar per year spend, would help provide the team some swagger and a better overall environment for growth and evaluation. The Bench gets stronger too which becomes much more important in a no DH league.
In short, go get a real bullpen arm with a track record (the names I put forward are irrelevant), and take a veteran outfielder off the board if you can. These two moves alone change the picture entirely.
The alternative is hope, I propose the Pirates give hope a hand up.