Let me start by saying this, it’s not all about money. Certainly some of it is but even the Dodgers would take two looks at this roster and turn it over. Now, they wouldn’t go about it in the same way, but they certainly wouldn’t rest on this roster believing they were close.
Close is an Important Word
It’s important because they aren’t close. And they’d need to be to hold onto this many players running out of control. If the Pirates were in the exact same position with their roster and the team was truly poised to make a run, none of this happens. They hold their cards, maybe even try to add, but the reality is they have much work to do.
Bluntly, if they were truly close, Neal Huntington would still be here. Note that the one draft Ben Cherington has participated in and his two trades have immediately placed 8 players in their top 20 prospects list. That could speak highly of his moves, but it almost speaks louder to the overall lack of talent in the system.
You can blame Nutting, he certainly is responsible for making this job harder by not spending but all the money in the world wouldn’t make this system put out what a club like this needs it to.
So Who is On Their Way Out?
Well, nobody has to be right now. The Pirates have nobody else who will expire before the end of 2022, meaning they aren’t forced to make moves right now but value in baseball is multifaceted. First you have years of control, this factor allows buyer and seller to trade in potential and cost assurance. Next you have actual statistics, this is where most focus but without the first factor it largely means nothing unless the stats are undeniable. Injury history plays in too, for instance how much potential Jameson Taillon has and his actual stats are both damaged by his injury history.
The players to watch right now based purely on timing are Frazier, Musgrove, Kuhl, Gonzalez, and Taillon. All of them are under team control through 2022 meaning they have 2 seasons left.
Yes, they just signed Gonzalez buying out his arbitration but that means nothing more than they didn’t want to negotiate and he and his camp agreed. It certainly doesn’t mean they wouldn’t trade him.
Gregory Polanco who just broke his wrist in Winter Ball would have to set the world on fire in the first half of the season or have the Pirates eat money in order to move him this season, but rest assured this is probably it for him here in the Burgh.
Now, can they extend any of these guys? Sure, and maybe they should if only to take some pressure off what the system will be asked to deliver. But who? Frazier is a no for me, if there is one thing this club has coming it’s middle infielders and Frazier stands to probably bring the biggest return of anyone not named Joe.
I could see Musgrove, he’s not in my eyes a top end pitcher but there is something to be said for having a veteran as an anchor in your rotation to help the youngsters along.
Taillon might be someone they could get far cheaper than his talent suggests simply because of the injury history, but it’d be risky. Cheaper doesn’t mean cheap and at some point the guy is going to want paid.
Who is the Core They’re Building Around?
Well, that kinda depends on whether you believe they’re here already or not. Ke’Bryan Hayes will come up and he certainly was impressive in his rookie campaign although it amounted to little more than a September call up and he is under team control through 2026. Bryan Reynolds could be, he’s locked up through 2025 and many of us have put as much weight on his awful 2020 as we did his breakout 2019. Mitch Keller is a possibility, he profiles as a middle of the rotation arm and also is under control through the 2025 season.
After that you have to start digging into the system and it won’t take long to see what they don’t have, yet. The focus thus far has been adding pitching, and that’s a good place to start. If everything goes right they have a really nice crop of pitchers working their way through, but if you’ve learned anything watching baseball over the years, rarely does everything go right.
As excited as I get watching Brennan Malone clips or Quinn Priester tape I have to remind myself there is nothing that guarantees they both arrive unscathed. I say all this because while you think they’re adding pitching and saying to yourself ‘hey how many pitchers do they need’ the answer is more. We love to blame injury for our issues here in Pittsburgh when we talk about the team being better than their record but reality is they had zero depth.
They’ve got some power coming up. Cal Mitchell, Mason Martin and even Nick Gonzales all have the ability to hit the ball over the fence but how many good teams have you watched with 2 or 3 guys who can hit the longball? They need more, and they need these three guys to pan out.
All of this is why they must make moves to continue to stock the shelves.
While we worry about obvious holes in the system like catcher, realize for what this team is trying to do, they need a whole lot more than just a quality backstop prospect. In fact the Pirates have gone out and got their last two quality catchers in Russel Martin and Francisco Cervelli. That’s not to say they shouldn’t try to acquire them, but they also don’t need to reach for one, all that’ll do is add congestion to the system and they have enough other needs that they don’t have to take a lesser prospect based on position.
A Bad Team With No Push
What do I mean? We’ll be heading into Spring training this season with not one prospect likely to head north.
A team that finished last in the league doesn’t have one prospect who is a lock to make a push to crack this roster, and that’s even with trades.
There is nothing more powerful I can write to illustrate just how deep the hole is. Before you start screaming about O’neil Cruz, look at his numbers from Winter Ball and realize he hasn’t played one game in AAA yet. And I’ll readily admit he’s the most prepared position player they have right now.
Take those expiration dates I spoke to earlier and factor in what’s coming and when, yeah, these moves are to save Nutting money, keep telling yourself that. It’s a mess, one that was created in part by Nutting being cheap and the former GM trying to keep the wheels on the cart when he should have pulled the rip cord.