If you watched a decent percentage of the Pirates Spring games or even just followed along, it’s pretty hard to weigh results next to expectation and be upset. These games of course don’t mean anything tangible but let’s just say if they only had 6 wins and five of them were against the Orioles and Tigers, those 120 loss predictions might have a leg to stand on.
Think back to 2020, ew that sounds like an awful idea actually for so many reasons. OK, let’s think specifically about the final decision on cuts for the 2020 team. The only really tough choice was Jose Osuna. That’s right, the same Jose Osuna who is now playing ball overseas. The same Jose Osuna who this season would have been just as close to making the team as Will Craig.
Last year we were twisting our brains around how the Pirates could really be giving Neverauskas yet another shot. We sold ourselves on a year of evaluation and it started to become a joke, that is until we came all the way around to the tender deadline this year.
That’s when we saw for the first time that all the evaluation talk wasn’t just blowing smoke, they were actually evaluating. They moved on from several perennial players who floated around the fringes of the roster and identified players that were more valuable for what they could bring back to the organization than what they could give as their service time wound down.
This Spring we’ve already seen 10-15 players sent to minor league camp who last season would have had no problem making the club.
The bullpen alone will face some very difficult decisions in the coming days. Sam Howard, Geoff Hartlieb, Chason Shreve, Clay Holmes, Edgar Santana and more could all not make the club. In fact Santana has already been reassigned. That’s not what we’ve seen here in Pittsburgh, this is different.
See last season Neverauskas made the club and it wasn’t just because the club wanted to take one last look at the guy, it was because looking around at what was there he legitimately had a better chance of performing well than the alternatives.
This season, the Pirates are cutting players who would have been some of the best options available just the year prior.
Overhaul improvement like this in any one area comes directly from the evaluation last season and flooding that aspect of the team with far more than the team needs at the outset. Last season the Pirates managed to cobble together a bullpen that looked ok on paper save one or two, but even that needed almost total health, obviously not attainable as a goal, so having almost a complete bullpen worth of qualified backups already in the organization is a step forward.
I focused on the bullpen here, but you can certainly look all over the field and see tough choices. The outfield leaves us with a choice between Goodwin and Fowler. One is a veteran who could help and the other is a talented and unfortunate player who arguably has more to give in the power department. One they could keep if they cut him and one they’d lose. Tough choice.
The infield we already saw the decision to let Todd Frazier walk and they still have tough decisions like Difo and Evans. Even that choice leaves Rodolfo Castro out of the mix and that kid is ready. Oneil Cruz had a rough Spring and has work to do in AAA but he too is not miles away. And how could you forget Cole Tucker who never really figured out the bat this Spring and was hindered by an injury for part of it.
Starting Pitching is the area that really lacks faith from me and even there I see this rotation improving from April to August. No, I don’t expect players to improve that drastically, but as the Pirates continue to move players I think they’ll get the higher upside talents like Wil Crowe, and Miguel Yajure into the mix which will again show progress. Before this off season began the Pirates were staring down the barrel at praying Cody Bolton jumps from AA to MLB sometime this year.
I’m not here to tell you he couldn’t do it, but I’m much more comfortable knowing he doesn’t NEED to. Sometimes depth and options do more to prevent poor development than they do to create wins. If all the depth provides is a logical and earned ramp up for a pitcher like Bolton, it’s a win for this franchise.
Let’s backtrack to a couple players I glazed over on the way here, Anthony Alford and Phil Evans. Last season they were brought in to evaluate as possible players who could help fill out the roster, and both looked like they were well on their way to proving it was a worthy opportunity. Both stricken by season ending injuries in 2020 they didn’t come into 2021 as locks in any way, but Alford took CF by the horns and Evans beat out Todd Frazier who almost everyone thought was a lock, including all the broadcasters.
This is different. If you need to see a .500 record to believe that, hey, I get it, but I think you’re robbing yourself of a chance to really see an overhaul taking place before your very eyes. Again, maybe that doesn’t matter to you unless it comes with a winning record, that’s your prerogative and I’ll not tell you how to fan, but for me I’m already looking at some of these roster decisions becoming even harder in 2022.
That’s where this is headed. Hard decisions not based on who sucks less, but instead who has the best chance to help the team. It’s time to stop viewing this management team as though they need to own the failures of the past, because they’ve spent precious little time showing they don’t have the same philosophy or skill set.
Different is the theme in 2021, Better is the leader in the clubhouse for 2022’s, and that’s the Point.