Tomorrow begins the International Signing Period, which was postponed from its originally scheduled start date of July 2, 2020. Prior to the delay, and even since then, the Pirates have found themselves linked to Former Top 10 International Prospect, #11 OF Shalin Polanco, who is estimated to receive a $2.5 million signing bonus. There have also been reports attaching Pittsburgh to Darlin Diaz, a right handed pitcher from the Dominican, along with five other outfielders and a left handed pitcher. Other than Polanco, Diaz is the only other player with a potential signing bonus listed; coming in at $500,000, although Ruben Vizcaya, an outfielder from Venezuela, could also command a fairly hefty price tag.
For the Pirates these types of signings are not historically the norm, as the $850,000 spent on right handed pitcher Christopher Cruz to lead off the 2019-20 period was seen as the exception and not the rule during then General Manager Neal Huntington’s time with the ball club. This type of signing and the ones projected for current General Manager Ben Cherington over the next couple of days are clearly a step in the right direction, however, they are not the complete answer to what has been an ongoing issue for the Pirates; creating a pipeline for foreign born players to enter the organization. Just look at the Chicago White Sox, who have been all but guaranteed as a landing spot for the Top 2 International Free Agents in this class; one of whom,Oscar Colas, could be waiting an entire year for Chicago to have the funds available to sign him. This shouldn’t be an aspiration for the Pirates, it is a need, or absolute must if I am being totally honest. It is one of, if not the only option to acquire players on an almost level playing field with the other 29 teams around Major League Baseball, without having to lose an exorbitant amount of games to make it become a reality.
Of course there are alternative paths for teams like the Pirates, that obviously aren’t going to bring in a high profile free agent, two of which are usually frowned upon by many within the fanbase. This was evident by the reaction to Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Troy Stokes Jr. off of waivers from the Detroit Tigers, as well as the Andrew Benintendi rumor that began to circulate, Josh Bell’s recent trade to the Nationals and the possibility of Joe Musgrove being moved before the beginning of the season.
In the first instance the Pirates claimed a 24 year old Minor League outfielder from the Tigers, while choosing to DFA 31 year old left handed relief pitcher Nik Turley, who posted a 4.98 ERA , a 1.108 WHIP and a 90 ERA+ with 20 strikeouts in 21.2 innings of work. To his credit Stokes Jr. was a MiLB Gold Glover in 2018 when he was with the AA Biloxi Shuckers in the Milwaukee Brewers Farm System. During that season he also blasted 19 home runs and 48 extra base hits, including 6 triples. This was a nice encore after hitting 20 homers between Advanced A and AA the previous year; so there is obviously some power potential. Unfortunately struggles in 2019, while with AAA San Antonio, and a broken right hand with the Tigers in August of 2020 led to him being waived.
Now, I will concede that the addition of Stokes Jr. is not one that has anyone dancing in the streets or planning a parade as Dejan Kovacevic jokingly alluded to in his Daily Shot of Pirates. However, it isn’t a bad move either, and is most likely the type of move Cherington will continue to make. In all actuality this is very similar to the manner in which Anthony Alford was brought to the club and not that far off from how Phillip Evans became member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both players were castoffs from their former teams and are now penciled in by many as contributors for the upcoming season, and possibly beyond.
The other three transactions, only one that has officially come to fruition, involve a dreaded concept among Pirates Fans, which I can’t totally blame them for. The idea of trading brings back a flood of terrible memories, mostly due to the success that former Pirates players have experienced in different uniforms, as well as the sometimes less than ideal returns. Nevertheless, I am more than fine with Cherington listening on every offer and/or proposal, including Benintendi, and pulling the trigger when he feels he has the best offer that benefits the future of the Pirates; and I sure won’t snap to a judgement on a move that hasn’t even been made. This is especially true with the Benintendi rumor since no one can know for sure if he is the only piece that is a part of the potential offer from the Red Sox, who the Pirates would have to give up, what Cherington’s ultimate goal for Benintendi would be or how realistic this possibility is. People automatically assume the Pirates are going to get burned or already have been in the Cherington Era, with no way to change their minds.
This feeling and others, justified or not, are unfortunately part of the culture that surrounds the Pittsburgh Pirates; at least for now. Only time will tell if Ben Cherington and the rest of the Pirates Front Office can help make a change by searching for new approaches to acquiring players, improving on the old ones and attempting to build a channel in the international market; while ultimately implementing a different organizational philosophy that will hopefully take the team in a unfamiliar direction for many Pirates Fans.