Wins and losses are never irrelevant. Sure, I’m guilty of saying nothing record related matters in 2021, and from a purely long term building perspective it doesn’t mean anything changes with the plan.
That doesn’t mean it won’t matter to the players, coaches or GM. In baseball once you’ve decided to embark on an aggressive and focused build based on young, high upside talent, you know you’re in for a long haul.
It’s going to take time because quite honestly, some of the people they traded for can’t even have a legal sip of alcohol. They’re little more than children in some cases and the Pirates may play upwards of 350 games before any of them start sniffing MLB.
Along the way, those 350 games will show themselves important if only by identifying the wave of prospects who happen to be closer than that already. Identifying current contributors who the club wants to be here when the time comes is important too. After all, those players have already done something a decent percentage of those just acquired never will, made the big leagues.
That doesn’t have much to do with Cherington’s ability to identify talent, as much as an acknowledgement of how damn hard it is to progress through MiLB just to get to Pittsburgh, let alone do so as a star player.
It doesn’t matter what Jonathan Mayo says about you, where you land on the pipeline, who’s blocking you, where the club assigns you to start 2021. What matters is learning, improving and being part of an organization for the first time in my observable time watching baseball finally rowing in the same direction.
Building a safety net of talent to always have an eye toward improvement, and ultimately, winning.
When you build from the very lowest levels of your farm system, it’s important the culture overhaul starts there. Nobody wants a team full of players entirely numb to the act of losing baseball games.
You want Quinn Priester to be mad he couldn’t get through the 6th. You want Mason Martin to go 3 for 4 and obsess over the one pop up with a guy on third. You’re looking for Nick Gonzales to take his base when being pitched around because he trusts that Cal Mitchell will make it count.
Losing is like acid in many ways. If used properly it can power your batteries, but if you handle it carelessly it can just as easily blow up in your face and leave you a shell of yourself.
So how can we expect players on the current squad to endure what could easily be a 100 loss season and come out on the other side intact?
Well it’s all about using the losses properly. Learning. Feeling it fully, embracing that feeling and doing everything you as an individual can to avoid feeling it again. If you lose 100 games in 2021 but come out of it knowing Mitch Keller learned how to keep part of his repertoire to himself the first time through the lineup so he could go deeper and fully embraced throwing the ball where Jacob wants it. Trusting that the coaching staff will execute the shifts effectively.
It’s worth it if Bryan Reynolds doesn’t feel like he has the entire team offensively on his shoulders and instead focuses on getting on base to let Hayes and Moran get the RBI. If the players who will be here start to come together and form the edge pieces of the puzzle you’re trying to build you just might not be asking the youngsters of the future to bring their own glue. Instead they’ll walk in to a fully formed and functioning group who know those young men are there to help make them better, rather than to steal their job.
Those youngsters are there to help experience that losing feeling less. The more you help them along, the more effect they’ll have.
These relationships start to form right here, in Spring Training. This is where organizations come together to lay out the plan.
Some people hearing that message today know they won’t be here to taste the fruit of the trees they’re planting, but most of them have been there before and realize how they can help just like someone once did for them.
Brian Goodwin probably remembers when Adam Eaton came in to eat into his playing time in Washington. Probably remembers how it stung and how he could have handled it better. Maybe even looking back he learned from how Eaton handled it, good or bad, and has learned himself how to be better at it.
Having guys who have played in winning organizations like Goodwin, Difo, and Frazier can provide a rudder for some who have no idea where to start.
Everything, no matter how insignificant can help create the culture. Winning and Losing cultures tend to be the two options people refer to, and that’s certainly part of it, but the culture doesn’t have to match the outcome. You can win on talent alone and overcome not really being a team. Likewise you can lose even while fully embracing the tenants of a club on the upswing but suffer from still missing pieces.
For the Pirates, 2021 will be crucially important to deciphering the type of organization this is going to be, and you won’t be able to tell from the record. Instead it will be who took a step during the season. Who became a player not only you believe in, but they themselves believe in.
The record is destined to be poor in 2021, but not for one second does that mean these games don’t matter or that there is nothing to be gained.
It might not be the most enjoyable season to watch, but 2021 will set the timeline for this franchise. They either have answers here already in need of ensuring they’ll still be here, or they don’t. If they don’t, the road get’s longer, if they do the upswing has already begun.
Avert your eyes if you must, but please don’t say it doesn’t matter.
Trust me the players don’t feel that way.