There are many things that have surprised me since I started doing this job. First of all, it shocked me people actually cared what I had to say, now I’m surprised people think part of my job is to convince them to care about the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I can’t do that, simply put.
For many of you nothing they do matters because Bob Nutting is at the end of the road waiting to not pay, and even that supposes you’ve bought in enough to understand why they aren’t spending right now.
I say this all the time, but how you connect or don’t with the team to a large degree is entirely on you, and the Pirates.
One thing I think the team is trying to do is to get you to pay attention to what’s going on in the system.
That’s awesome, really. They’ve started the Young Bucs Social media handle and they spit out highlights on there, but they also do very little to help people understand why seeing those 4 homeruns from that High A prospect doesn’t mean he’ll be here next season.
That said, it’s a good start.
Pirates fans can’t be expected to go out and find ways to watch games from all the affiliates, and aside from that most of the people covering these players might as well just give you links to the stat pages on MiLB.com.
Prospects are absolutely a big part of the connection, but again, you must not fool yourself into thinking the top 30 will all be part of the winning team here. That’s so far from the reality of how development plays out I can’t even elaborate. It would lead me into giving examples of players who may never get all the way here and I don’t want anyone to confuse my examples with predictions of failure for some of these guys.
Suffice to say, they don’t yet have enough.
The draft will provide more, and that’s great but the team itself needs to still make more difficult decisions.
I’ve talked to you both here and on my podcasts about the importance of making decisions and when they need to be made. Let’s take two players and talk about the differences in the decision making process.
Adam Frazier, 29 years old, one more year of control with the Pirates via salary arbitration. Right now he makes 4.3 Million dollars, a bargain by anyone’s standards. We can’t possibly know what he would be awarded next year but somewhere in the 6 Million plus range is likely. The Pirates as we sit here don’t have anyone threatening to push him out of second base.
Sure they could play Newman there, or Gonzalez (also only 1 year left) but prospect wise, unless Cole Tucker figures something out, you’re waiting on Nick Gonzales or Ji-hwan Bae, maybe Rodolfo Castro.
The decision is this, we can extend Frazier for 3 or 4 years beyond his current control which would make him 34 or 35 by the time it ends, or trade him for prospects, which the system clearly still needs, especially in the form of bats.
Keep in mind, from Frazier’s point of view, he’s 29, this is the last and first time he’ll really be able to cash in. That certainly doesn’t mean he thinks he’s Jeter, but it does mean he might not want to just take a couple years for an extension.
Again, the Pirates have real choices to make. If you truly buy into the build, you have to understand who does and doesn’t fit into it. Now, I’m not going to tell you that means Adam needs traded or they have to keep him, but you certainly have to see there isn’t just one answer here. Will a trade take an already putrid offense and make it worse, oh hell yes, but you already bought into this not mattering right?
Let’s move to Jacob Stallings, another veteran player, well at least age wise. He’s playing on his Arb 1 contract and was handed Super-2 status meaning he has 4 arb years. He’s currently 31 years old and will be 35 before the Pirates have to do anything more than argue with an arbiter to retain him.
He’s arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball, and he’s pitched in on offense probably more than we expected. He’s a tall guy who’s body type doesn’t scream he’s going to thrive into his 40’s like Yadi.
Now, teams are going to come calling on Jake, teams need what he brings, but so do the Pirates. Young pitchers will be a theme for several years and having someone like Jake is akin to having an extra coach on the field.
If you’re the Pirates, you have to listen on calls, but you also have to decide what matters more, getting a couple prospects or potentially damaging some you already have by not having his presence behind the plate.
Decisions decisions. None of them easy.
If either of these decisions come out on the side of trade, it’s going to rattle off a few people who stood by the club through the last wave. So if you’re Ben Cherington, you have to say to yourself, yup, I’m going to lose some fans, but they’ll be back when this all comes together.
That’s what he has to think, but it’s certainly not an easy decision. You certainly don’t have to agree either, again, it’s on the Pirates and you to decide if the Bucs are acting in good faith. I can say for both the guys I mentioned, money isn’t an issue, even for Nutting. Cheap and effective might be on their business cards if they carried them.
There will come a day when this team has to say, enough. They’ll have to say ok, this guy is where this all starts, he’ll be here. Is that Reynolds? Is it Hayes? I think so, but Ben might think it’s really guys in Greensboro now, or Altoona.
Until such a time as the Pirates actually lock in salary, and remember, the only actual commitment they have is the likely 3 million dollars to buy out Gregory Polanco in 2022, we won’t know when they see the window.
Ambiguity may help protect baseball executives from being wrong, but it doesn’t help a fan base understand where the team is trying to get to, or when. Don’t get me wrong no team exec is going to come out and say, hey, we’re going to be good from 2023-2027 and then suck real bad again for a couple years. But by some of the decisions they make on players like Frazier and Stallings, we’ll be able to start to piece together what they’re thinking.
Discussing trades isn’t the same as suggesting them. For what I do both here and in podcast form, I can’t pretend these things aren’t real. These subjects need broached, and even if it’s not what you want to hear, I’d rather be part of the reason you aren’t caught flat footed.
This process is not one that comes painlessly, and I’ll be very blunt, of all the moves they’ve made the only one I didn’t see coming was Taillon, and that was more about thinking nobody would pay for him with his history. There will be more, there were always going to be more.