Every Pirate fan shares one top wish, to win. Expecting to see that in 2021 is probably premature especially since I just can’t see Ben Cherington being done moving players from the roster. Everyone who spends time commenting and questioning about the direction of the club has a take as unique as a snowflake and I thought as we sit here in between important dates on the calendar perhaps we should address a few.
10. Trade for a Top Prospect Catcher
The reason none of these will be as simple as yes or no is because each has an almost equal amount of reasons why it will or won’t work. One thing to keep in mind here is catchers are hard to come by, at least when you’re looking for the next Realmuto. The Bucs could find a defensively reliable catcher available, and they might very well happily grab him, but it will be hard to upgrade from Stallings in that regard. If you really want a top end catching talent who can hit and defend you’ll be hard pressed to find a team that themselves isn’t anxiously awaiting their arrival.
The position the Bucs are in right now would either force them to look in the lower levels to pick up an option further away or make it the focus of a major trade. They have precious few options who could return such a player, at least right now. One of their starting pitchers might get the job done but pitching prospects is another commodity they’ll need to find in return, so we’ll quickly start to see the priority list.
9. Cut Polanco
Seems too easy to just say no, but no. 11.6 Million reasons why. The reality is, even if he is just as bad as he looked in 2020, he’ll hit 20+ homeruns and while nobody will trade for him to play like that at his full season figure, even a decent start could make him an attractive deadline piece for someone. If that doesn’t happen, the buyout will still be there, and I have no doubt they’ll exercise it, but right now you’re asking the club to say, nah, we don’t need those 20+ homeruns and we don’t need it so much let’s pay 11.6 million dollars to get rid of it. Just not going to happen. 1 more year, unless he has a Jose Bautista style breakout.
8. Put O’neil Cruz in Right Field!
Maybe. I certainly can’t tell you that isn’t the plan. Cole Tucker never played the outfield before they plopped him out there in 2020 and that came with zero warning. Not even a whisper they were thinking about it. My answer on this is always the same, right now the team has shown no interest in moving him from Short Stop, but as I just referenced, that means little. He’s an athlete, and he’ll catch on somewhere, and it will be in 2021 at some point.
7. Where Will Cherington Spend the 5 Million He Saved With DFAs?
I doubt he will. The payroll is going to go down this season and I think it would even if baseball didn’t just undergo a financially crippling 2020. OK, at least they say it was financially crippling.
It’s where they are in the rebuild more than being cheap. Note that I say ‘more than’ because we shouldn’t pretend it’s not a little of both. I’ve said before that I’d like to see them go buy a piece like a corner outfielder or a solid reliever because even if they don’t expect to win right now, and they shouldn’t, those players could turn into chips they can flip for prospects to accelerate the build.
More likely we’ll get a list of Phil Evans type players and Derek Holland style rehab projects.
If they’re to be believed they’ll spend when it matters, but anyone not taking that with a huge grain of salt probably just jumped on the bandwagon in 2013 and don’t fully understand what many of us have seen.
If you’re looking for different, Neal said we had to come to games so they had money to spend, then didn’t. Ben is saying when we are in striking distance we’ll spend and have been assured we can. It’s all words until we see it.
6. Almost Everyone Should be Available to Trade
Every time this is uttered it’s followed with ‘excepts Keller, Hayes and Reynolds’. That’s true, they should be open to anyone else, but that doesn’t mean they want to move everyone. Some of these guys could very well be part of the make up when the team starts to get the window open and there isn’t a glut of young players being held back, blocked in the minors waiting for the parent club to make room. Yeah Will Craig, but that isn’t worth moving either Moran or Bell below market value, or at least he Pirates perceived value.
So, yes, almost everyone is technically available, but it’s fair to say some they’d be less anxious to move than others. Next off season when all the guys with two years of control turn into guys with one year left, the Bucs will have to get more serious about deciding on extension versus trades, but the hope would be more youth is making a push at that time. It’s a balancing act and unless Ben has a DeLorean hanging out in his garage with a flux capacitor we need to realize it took some time to create this situation and it will take some time to get out of it.
5. This Team Won’t Ever Win Until They Spend
Well, probably true, but not next season. This team couldn’t possibly buy their way out of this situation. Let’s say Ben was just reckless and took whatever he could get for anyone to make room for signings. Say he takes the payroll down to 20 million which would be Polanco and everyone else on rookie deals. His top end would be somewhere in the 130 to 140 range, and trust me when I tell you, that better be a playoff team. They’d need at least 3 starting pitchers, one outfielder, a first baseman and at least a chunk of bullpen arms. That’s a ton to ask for on the free agent market for 100 million.
They will need to spend, but most of that needs to come from discovering and extending their own discoveries. They just can’t play in the deep end of the pool, they don’t swim well enough.
4. We Can’t Trust Taillon to Be Healthy
True. How could you? This isn’t about this guy being made of glass or trainers mishandling him. It’s about a guy who has a violent delivery and on top of that was blessed with ligaments and tendons that want to be human, not an MLB starting pitcher. You simply can’t count on him to anchor the staff but you also can’t relegate him to the bullpen without seeing what he can do.
First, he’s worth more as a starter and both he and team still want him there. Make no mistake though, this is his last chance. Doesn’t mean if he goes on the IL with an oblique strain he’s done, but another arm injury and he won’t be part of this club’s plans.
As it stands now, he doesn’t have enough control left to prove he’s past the issues. If he pitches a clean 2021 it’ll help and the Pirates could either extend him reasonably or move him but the history of his struggles won’t just go away.
The only person not questioning what Taillon can provide for the club is probably Jamo himself.
3. What is the Worst Outcome for 2021?
Easy, anything that alters the timeline. The top of the food chain here is Bryan Reynolds showing that 2020 was not a blip. If Reynolds isn’t an answer the club is further away than they think. Same goes for Hayes and Keller.
If any of those three fail to either continue to improve or continue to devolve the club loses what few anchors they have to opening the next window. The window would shift from a possible 2023 crack to maybe 24-25. It’s that drastic.
If they all perform well they become the elder statesman on a young team with the arrow pointed up, fail and they add to the list of questions this club has to find a way to answer. Hayes alone carries the weight of there being no real parachute at third beyond him in the system.
No, the record isn’t paramount. Marginal improvement would be nice but it also wouldn’t shift the overall picture.
2. Who is the Most Likely Candidate to Take a Big Step Forward in 2021?
I’d have to go with Mitch Keller. Hard to imagine Hayes looking better than he did in his 2020 cup of coffee, but Mitch should really establish himself this season. He doesn’t have to be in the Cy Young conversation, but he needs to show he is one player that this rotation can build around.
The best thing is, if he’s healthy, that’s exactly the track he’s on. Last season he needed to establish he could control his stuff and hunt outs and he showed he could miss more bats than any of us projected.
He may not be the best pitcher in the rotation next season, but he sure as hell has the most upside, time for it to show.
1. What is the Most Exciting Possibility for 2021? AKA Why Should I Watch?
Well, if you don’t want to watch until the team is in the hunt again, probably nothing. If you’re willing to try to enjoy the process a bit, ask yourself questions about who is here and watch for them to be answered. For instance, 2021 is a key year for Kevin Newman. He was in the conversation for ROY in 2019 and last year he fell off the table. With what is coming up behind him he won’t be able to hide under the mantle of first round pick much longer.
He doesn’t need to be a .300 hitter but he needs to become more consistent and it wouldn’t hurt if he recaptured the bit of pop he added in 2019. He’s going to get a shot, but he needs to capitalize on it or he’ll quickly be passed as he plays one of the few positions with surging pressure behind him.
Can Jacob Stallings become a little more consistent with the bat? At 29 years old he is never going to become the young future backstop this club ultimately needs but he could become one hell of an option if he can just get his average around .260.
Things like that start to paint a picture and the questions you ask yourself will start to give you focus as the overall picture might not be pretty.