Big Joe Returns – With Memories and Second Guesses

Joe Musgrove was a good pitcher here in Pittsburgh. Well, by the end he was a good pitcher. The road to that moniker, ‘good’, was a familiar one for Pirates fans. We’ve watched countless prospects or trade pieces come to the Pirates and start out slow or at the very least take more time than we hoped to blossom.

Joe was a bit different than that, because at every stage of this process he would show you what was there. He’d put it all together sometimes for one great night and he looked like a young Justin Verlander with less velocity.

Bottom line, the Pirates traded what had become a good pitcher for a bunch of prospects and David Bednar who I guess you could also still consider a prospect as well. Because we’re Pirates fans, of course he pitched a no-hitter almost immediately for his new home.

Of course the Pirates and Padres were scheduled for an oddball early season West Coast team matchup.

And of course, Joe Musgrove did the whole “we weren’t far off from being a competitive team” jig and the “We would have enjoyed to stay here and try to compete as a group” referring to himself, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell and Adam Frazier.

Most of this is standard fare for athletes returning to town. What some read as a dig to Pirates management, I saw as more about a player who genuinely embraced the city and culture of Pittsburgh wanting to make sure his fans and former fans knew leaving wasn’t his choice.

I’m not even going to punt him around for pretending those four players he was referring to including himself were actually close to putting together a winning team.

Here’s why, he isn’t wrong. This team could have kept everyone they moved, Ben Cherington himself has said they had to budget to keep them together if he so chose.

He’s not wrong to assume the team could have been better.

See, that’s not the goal though.

The goal is championships.

I get it I’m writing about the Pirates and I actually said out loud the goal is to win a championship. Look, I’m a fan too, I read a ton of Pirates content. Rarely does anyone mention a championship. We talk about good. We talk about winning a playoff series. Division championships I’ve heard for sure.

But when it comes to talking about the goal of winning a World Series Championship it’s something most fans or writers won’t broach because it comes across as the ramblings of a mad man.

If the goal were to be better and try to sneak into the playoffs, Joe and company had a point, that goal was in sight. He’s dead on that injuries got in the way.

But if he’s honest, I mean really honest, Joe also knows that he himself probably wouldn’t have accepted a moderate extension offer. Joe knows beyond a shadow of doubt Josh Bell wouldn’t have, at least his agent wouldn’t. Joe knows that Jameson staying healthy for the remainder of his contract wasn’t a given and what it would do to them “getting better” if he didn’t.

The stated goal is a championship.

That can’t be done the way the Pirates were headed. There was almost no impact prospect aside from a sparing few and on top of that what they had wasn’t enough. This would have required something else being brought in. See the outfield you see today is still the outfield that would be here unless they did something.

I’m also not sure how a new GM who presides over the team with the worst record in baseball returns the same team with a smile and assurance they were “close”.

The plan was for a near total teardown. Anyone with less than 3 years left of team control on the table. This was done to target high ceiling prospects and to develop the prospects they already had.

You can feel it won’t work, or that Nutting won’t spend when he is asked, or that they had more than I put forward, but you can’t deny this was the plan. It’s been stated, it’s been pushed, it’s been executed in part.

It’s emotional when former players return, especially players like Joe. As I said, he was just starting to put it together, and being a late bloomer on the mound isn’t a great fit for Pittsburgh. I would have been a proponent of extending Joe so the team had some veteran presence for the rotation, but when I look around at what the Pirates had to move to get the much needed prospect depth I can’t say the bridge I’d want him to provide would lead anywhere.

The bottom line is I don’t buy what Joe was selling, as much as I know the actual team in 2021 would be far better than it is. Because I want more than a dropped ball in a Wild Card game, I want it all.

Maybe that makes me an idealistic fool, but I’ve followed this team my entire life and I’ve never seen them try to build like this. Everything in me says this is the only way to overcome the system and give this franchise a shot.

I’ve called for this type of build for years, even as Andrew McCutchen helped bring them out of the dark ages with almost no depth behind him in the system. And after the previous regime traded for ready to play talent and further bankrupted the system it became even more clear this was the only real path forward.

All we needed was someone willing to push the plunger and stop believing they were “close”.

These years of a build aren’t fun for most, I get that. It’s not as much fun, it’s not as exciting, but it is the right way to go.

Unless one night in a Buctober long ago was enough for you, wish Joe and the others well and stop pining for a return to “close”.

Stop buying into impossible rotations of people who were traded for one another.

This is the plan. It’s not changing. It’s already in motion. You don’t have to enjoy the journey as I do, I fully admit I’m weird, but if it works, I guarantee you’ll like the destination.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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