Manipulate This

The Bucs in the Basement Podcast is Craig’s baby, I’ve up until very recently been 100% on the writing side and he’s always manned that part. In fact, I was a fan of Craig’s broadcast before we even started writing together.

As happens on occasion a point brought up on the show really smacked me in the face so of course poor Craig had to endure a back and forth with me about it via text while he no doubt tried to bathe his kids or something important.

Chris Lunati, Craig’s co-host, brought up the subject of the now former president of baseball operation for the Seattle Mariners, Kevin Mathers. The man uttered the unspoken words about manipulating the service time of two top prospects.

Now, Chris didn’t have a problem with the action, he had a problem with the stupidity of thinking you could say it out loud and it led him to suppose the Pirates could and potentially should do the same with Ke’Bryan Hayes this year should he not sign an extension. Give it a listen either on our Podcast tab on the homepage or HERE.

Let me start with this, none of us, not Craig, Chris or myself, want them to do this, but you’d be a fool to ignore the possibility.

Let’s lay it out.

The Pirates won’t be good this year, and a simple delay of Hayes to MLB by a couple weeks could buy the club an extra season of service. A month or two could get the club Super-2.

Now, do I personally think the club would do this? No, I think the second they brought him up last season this ship sailed. Make no mistake though, they could.

If something were to happen like a small blister or hamstring pull in Spring Training you could easily see that turn into a bit of an extended rehab start. Aside from that, I think they play it straight.

I know, I know, fans would riot right? Nobody would buy tickets! Bob Nutting is so cheap! This management group is worst than Neal Huntington was!

Reality is, you’d get over it. OK, maybe not ALL of you, but most of you would.

Let’s say the window for this club opens in 2024 and stays open fully through 2027. Deciding what to do with Hayes right now, dictates whether he’s here for that full window or not. If they extend him, no biggie, he’s here. Get that extra year by not starting his clock yet and you just might cover the window with him in black and gold. Start him now with no extension in place and he could very well be on his way out smack dab in the middle.

It’s the very pinnacle of jaded viewpoints, but being a well rounded observer means taking in the entire picture along with every distasteful possibility.

This isn’t even necessarily about Bob paying up, reportedly there is an extension that has already been offered along with ongoing dialogue. Fact is, the longer he goes in his career without signing one, the more likely it becomes he doesn’t.

It’s not fair to the players! I can hear some of you pounding your fists and screaming at the screen as I type some of these paragraphs. True, but it’s also the rules. It’s also not fair that some teams can afford 260 million dollar payrolls while others realistically can’t sustain 150.

The players union will undoubtedly target these rules in the upcoming CBA negotiation and that factors in as well. Especially with the smoking gun that was just handed to them by the loose lipped former Mariners president. This comes on the back of the Kris Bryant lawsuit and every other disgruntled player caught up in a situation where they lose a year of free agency by having their service time manipulated.

Nobody knows the outcome of those negotiations. Maybe it will be a situation where everyone currently in MLB lives under the rules of the previous CBA. Maybe it’ll just restructure the entire system immediately. We don’t know, and when you are trying to build a team like the Pirates are, there is nothing more crucial than understanding your windows for control.

It’s clear to me though at this point, this aspect of the game is going to change, and rightfully so. Thing is, you can’t keep taking arrows out of the quiver of the already under armed small to mid market franchises. If you think baseball is unbalanced now, and by all means please remove your blindfold now if you don’t, wait and see how it looks when teams only get 4 years of control once the clock starts.

Again, I don’t think the Pirates will do this. They have already put Hayes into overdrive on the PR front. He’s front and center on every team image, highlighted for showing up early to camp, pictured on every press blast. It’s clear they recognize he’s the face and I doubt they want to repeatedly punch him while hoping you don’t notice the shiner.

That said, you can’t ignore the reality of where this club is and the meaninglessness of having him on the club if it costs him being here when it counts.

I wanted to scream at my phone when I heard Chris bring it up, but I also had to sit back and realize he’s completely right to think about it.

He also rightly points out that everybody’s small market darlings the Tampa Bay Rays every single year offer extensions to qualifying players like Blake Snell, gently reminding him that under the CBA the club has the right to pay him 10% less than the previous year before he reaches arbitration.

They do this all the time. You can simply marvel at what they’ve done in Tampa, but don’t look too close or you just might see how distasteful and terrible for the few fans they do have to run a club that way. As a Pirates fan I’m certainly not talking from a high perch, but pulling every trick in the book is just as ugly as never getting the job done.

These are conversations every team in baseball is having, even the Dodgers aren’t immune, it’s just a whole lot more critical for teams of a certain economic standing.

Bottom line, I think Hayes sticks and quite possibly the Pirates make a decision they’ll live to regret. That doesn’t make it the wrong one though, at least not from the fan’s standpoint.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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