The Calendar turned and no new moves were made to the Pittsburgh Pirates Roster but activity still swirls around the league.
1. Emotionless Business
Every small to mid market looks up to the only team that has truly created sustained competitiveness, the Tampa Bay Rays. National writers year after year chastise them for ‘blowing up’ their roster or ‘shedding salary’ and the narrative tends to last until sometime in May or June when they look up and see them 2 games in front of the Yankees for the AL East Title.
The latest move was Blake Snell to San Diego for a bunch of prospects and the reaction was pretty evenly split between those waiting in line to bask in the brilliance of the Friars ongoing collection of players and those wagging a finger at the Rays for doing their fans dirty.
At some point the law of averages will catch up to the Rays, eventually they’ll make a bad move, but I find it incredibly disingenuous to find fault in how a franchise in their position have mastered a system to work within baseball’s unfair economics while ignoring the environment itself.
Many like to think they would be happy if the Pirates eventually got to this point and ran the organization like the Rays but the reaction around here to moves that very much so look like Tampa moves have brought venom typically reserved for Nutting himself. It takes real guts to run a system like Tampa and more importantly it takes moving pieces that haven’t exhausted their usefulness to keep the shelves stocked. It takes the logo coming first, no matter what the player has done for you.
Hate the game, not the team that figured out how to work within it. More importantly if you envy them, understand what that looks like, not just the record. And it still won’t equal many, if any, championships. Baseball has a problem.
2. The Exodus
Names started leaking out early in the off season of players accepting offers to play in some of the Asian pro ball leagues. Sure Jose Osuna and Dovydas Neverauskas were a couple of them but now names like Justin Smoak are starting to see they may very well be left out in the cold if they wait for an opportunity in MLB.
I don’t think any of the top tier guys will end up going this route, but things are trending toward a bunch of free agents having to accept minor league deals or these alternate leagues.
Part of me believes the teams want to save money, of course, but another thing that might be at play here is the contraction of MiLB teams and last season’s expanded rosters starting the clock on some players not planned to begin in 2020.
Truth is we won’t fully understand all the things that the 2020 season caused for years.
3. Future Congestion
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is that players from the 2019 and 2020 draft classes have had their separation stolen from them. I wonder the impact this might have on MLB clubs in the future. The Pirates are actually a pretty cool case study here and it will be interesting to see where they place players come February to start.
For instance, Nick Gonzales was already thought to be a pretty advanced prospect and he trained last season with the team in the Altoona site. Now, did he learn or show enough to skip A ball altogether or will they still begin his career there as even a formality?
We really just don’t know, and we’ll learn a ton from where they place guys and I expect ETAs to be adjusted up and down the ranks.
4. The Pirates Aren’t Moving Players ‘just to move them’
I know many of you believe that’s what they’re doing but honestly, it’s just silly bitterness. Nutting has given you plenty of reasons to question his willingness to spend but the man isn’t making trade suggestions. We’ve told you before that the team only had Polanco’s contract and Archer’s buyout as actual commitments for 2021, but it actually means something. None of these guys walk if they don’t get trades done.
None of these guys have to be traded to meet some imaginary payroll figure. If they don’t get a prospect package they’re looking for, expect them to all play.
But, but, why are they only trying to trade the guys who make the most then Gary! Well, simple, they’re the guys on Arb 2. After this season their most expensive player (and only committed money) Polanco will most likely be gone and if they’re still in the process of moving players take a stab at which guys will be on the block again. The Arb 2, and any hold over Arb 3 guys.
You can hate it, but please stop acting like it doesn’t make sense. White knuckling to a roster that lost 2/3 of their games in 2020 makes about as much sense as pretending they’re a signing away.
5. Number 4 System in Baseball?
I trust Fangraphs, they do great work and for how they measure systems in baseball I can’t argue with the ranking they bestowed on the Pirates system, but don’t let that lull you to sleep or believe it’s mission accomplished time here in Pittsburgh.
Before the Pirates can truly look to the system as the talent factory it needs to be they’ll first need to actually show they can develop. Through no fault of their own we haven’t seen any players move period and pretending that the top 100 in MLB pipeline is static will get you nowhere.
You’ll know the system is truly healthy when you start seeing 5-7 Pirates Prospects consistently listed as top 100 players and that kind of constant presence takes time to create. What should scare the entire league is the fact that the Dodgers look like they do and still always have a top 5 system. Excellence at every level.