If anyone has a little extra time on their hands, and is somewhat of a glutton for punishment, take a trip down the rabbit hole that is Pirates Twitter and Facebook to find out when fans, amateur bloggers and media experts alike believe this team will be competitive again. Opinions range from the 2023-24 group based on the prospects in the system and a young core to the 5 to 7 year club that doesn’t see anyone other than Ke’Bryan Hayes and maybe Bryan Reynolds or Mitch Keller as a part of the future. And then you have the “Spend Nutting Win Nutting” gang that doesn’t see a positive outlook for the Pirates until Bob Nutting sells the team or is removed from his duties for refusing to spend money on the product on the field. Honestly, all of these people with different points of view probably have the same chance of being right as they do of being wrong because in baseball there is nothing harder than that projecting; whether it be for prospects, current players or even a GM’s ability to produce with limited resources.
When Ben Cherington took the job as Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager during the 2019-2020 off-season he had one tradable asset in Starling Marte, which he turned into two high ceiling prospects in the forms of RHP Brennan Malone and Liover Peguero. He also had a young core of players; including Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman and Josh Bell that he reportedly planned to build around. All three had just come off very successful years in 2019, so the expectation was that this process would not take as long as originally expected. Reynolds and Newman were both in the conversation for NL Rookie of the year, as well as a batting title and Bell had made the All-Star Game as well as being invited to participate in the Home Run Derby. Flash forward to the present day after each of these players had the worst seasons of their professional careers. Is there still that same optimism? For some there obviously still is, as they believe the Pirates are only around three years away from competing.
As I stated before most of this optimism surrounding the 2023-24 window is not only built around this young core that showed signs of cracking, but also the ETA of some of the Pirates top prospects. If only it was this simple. I would advise anyone that is a part of this group to go back and look at the Pirates top prospect lists from a couple of years ago, focusing on the players that were expected to arrive in the majors in 2018 through 2020. You will find that all of them are already here, have moved on or never made it; sometimes due to performance, other times injures and in the worst case scenario, ill advised trades. However, it doesn’t change the fact that even with a number of these top prospects making it to the big leagues, the Pirates were a 19-41, last place team in 2020 and aren’t projected to do much better in 2021. You can argue that this next crop of youngsters will be better or do better, but in the end you don’t know.
After looking at this next wave or crop of prospects the only thing I have truly become aware of is the fact that there is a huge gap between the current batch of supposed MLB ready or impact players and the next. The blame for this issue lies solely on one man’s shoulders, Neil Huntington. His ability to identify, acquire and most importantly develop talent was clearly lacking, even if you only pay attention to this one aspect of the organization. Over the past week or so myself and Gary have written articles about the position battles that exist at First Base and the Middle Infield, options for Right Field and the Pirates looking for a 4th Outfielder, and some of you have probably seen the comments from Ben Cherington about there being an open competition at shortstop and compiling a revolving door of relievers . All of this articles and comments point to a lack of depth and options at the AAA level, as well as the reality that many of the prospects people are hanging their hat on have yet to play at a meaningful game above High A ball, with some not participating in anything other than activities at the Alternate Site in Altoona or the Instructional League. It’s extremely hard to predict success based on all these details, but it is not to say it won’t happen.
At this point in time the 5 to 7 year club is probably feeling pretty good about themselves, however this isn’t guaranteed either and honestly would be even harder to predict. Also I feel like most of the time these guesses are hedged by the words at least or could be before the 5 to 7; leaving room to still be kind of right. Nevertheless, these opinions are usually rooted in fact about the normal length of a rebuild, so they can’t totally be ignored. If this is truly becomes a tear it all down, no pieces of the future at the major league level type of situation, this estimated timeline could be closer to being a reality.
As for the “Spend Nutting, Win Nutting” gang I really have no words of advice other than the ones I have given many times before; maybe it is time to find a new team to get behind. Until a salary cap is implemented I don’t see any hope on the horizon for you. Unless the Pirates somehow become the Rays or the A’s, but even then I’m not sure any of you will be happy.
Now some of you may wonder what group, club or gang I belong to. The easy answer is none of them. I don’t want to put all of eggs into one basket or no basket at all by thinking that you can only draft one type of player because it’s what seems to fits into Cherington’s supposed timeline, they are 5 to 7 years away based on observations of a 60 game season or a new owner would do something completely different than Nutting. I find it much easier to enjoy the ride, write and talk about the Pirates and look forward to a season when hopefully 162 games will be played.