There was a time when I had time to sit down and seriously try to answer as many reader questions as possible. Oh, I don’t mean things like why is Erik Gonzalez playing first base or why can’t the Pirates just cut Polanco, those are quick and easy. I’m talking about the questions that take more thought and explanation to do them justice.
If you’re a person who has been invested fully in the process some of this is going to be obvious or even redundant, but we must remember not everyone has been on the train the entire time and leaving them behind or getting frustrated isn’t going to help.
So let’s tackle a couple of these and see if we can’t explain and expand a bit on some subjects that many have asked about. If yinz like this maybe I’ll do this again.
Explain How the Team Gets Better by Moving Good Players Like Frazier
First of all, this is normally asked in a non serious way. Most of the people remember trading Andrew McCutchen is how the team acquired Bryan Reynolds so it’s not a stretch to say they are as we speak seeing why teams do it.
On occasion though, this question is asked by what I consider to be top level fans, meaning they watch the MLB club fairly regularly and don’t get involved in prospect hauls, or have a real understanding of team control. In that case the question is pretty genuine and in an attempt to be fair let me take a crack.
Depending on what stage of building your team is in, the return you’re looking for is determined. And it’s really more about what stage your GM thinks the team is in.
For instance, when the Pirates traded Gerrit Cole he still had two years of team control, meaning he had two years left in which all the team had to do was take him to arbitration and he’d be a Pirate. They knew they weren’t going to sign him, there are only about 6 teams in MLB who could afford that 300 million dollar price tag.
Now Neal Huntington thought even without their Ace pitcher the Pirates were in a stage where they needed to get MLB or close to MLB level players back. So he targeted that commodity. He brought back a reliever named Michael Feliz, an OF prospect named Jason Martin (who the team believed to be a better prospect than Reynolds), a Starting pitcher named Joe Musgrove who couldn’t crack Houston’s starting 5 and Colin Moran, a third baseman with potential and pedigree.
This is what I like to call a “Floor Trade” Meaning the floor for all four of these guys was close to replacement level and they were all ready or very close to ready to jump in.
What you see Cherington doing are “Ceiling Trades” in other words he is acquiring players for the most part who have high ceilings but much less established floors. They could be great, but there is still a big possibility that they simply don’t pan out.
Now, on the surface, it sounds like Neal’s plan was better right?
Problem is, Neal was masking a problem, the Pirates had next to no talent in their own system close to ready to make the jump to the majors, the Gerrit Cole deal and the return he got was a direct answer to that issue. Trying to mask that by plugging holes at that level.
Now turn to a Cherington deal. Starling Marte to Arizona for Liover Peguero, Brennan Malone and International Pool room. Peguero and Malone have much higher ceilings than any of the players in the Cole deal, but they also are much further away. It’s possible only one of them ever gets here, but it’s also possible that one will be an actual difference maker as opposed to pretty good.
The methods speak to the timelines of each GM and you’ll see them change this philosophy when needed. For instance when the window starts to open, you’ll see Cherington call on some of his high end prospect talent to go get pieces he needs to plug holes he couldn’t develop. Maybe that’s how they get a piece for the rotation, or that catcher we all know they need.
Neal tried to do this too, problem was he gave way too much of it for a player he was in love with from his time in Cleveland, yup, Chris Archer.
Let’s move to today.
Why trade Adam Frazier, he’s awesome? We can’t get better if every time a player gets good we trade them right?
Well, Adam is 29, has one more year of team control. The Pirates could extend him but from Adam’s perspective he knows this is the only time in his career he’ll be able to get a contract with any length, meaning 4-5 seasons. The Pirates could afford him, and I think he’d probably be open to signing here, thing is, do you believe Frazier will be playing like this when he’s 34, how about 35? Maybe, but they know for sure he hasn’t ever played like this before. The packages of prospects that teams will offer for him coupled with that simple fact will make it very difficult to decide not to move him.
This team that you’re watching right now, no, they aren’t getting better. This team will take a hit, but they also might just be laying the foundation for being really good or more importantly sustainable by making it.
You’ve watched this team, they aren’t a stellar Adam Frazier away from being good and the difference makers already in the system aren’t really going to get here before 2022 (you know what would be Frazier’s last year of team control) and I stress here, they’ll just START to get here in 2022.
If this happened in say 2024 they probably hold onto a player like Frazier and let him leave via free agency instead as they try to win. You can get a comp pick for such a move. What can you get with a comp pick? Well, you’ve met Mr. Hayes right?
Bottom line, to get the type of prospects this team is looking for you have to trade actual players other teams want, meaning you probably want them too. Nobody is giving you a high ceiling guy for Erik Gonzalez.
Why Does Anything Matter if Nutting is Still the Owner?
Hoo Boy, this one is loaded but I get this at least once a day.
First of all, I don’t trust Nutting to do much more than he ever has. Doesn’t mean he won’t, doesn’t mean he’s currently lying or that he hasn’t learned a lesson from his last management group. Just means I don’t trust him. Trust is earned.
Now, why does it matter? Cherington.
His method for this build as I just explained in the previous answer is why I’m able to at least somewhat push Bob to the background.
Cherington’s method is to stack prospects. Essentially, remember how I said one of Malone and Peguero could very well never make the show? Well, what he’s trying to do is have 7 Peguero’s and 8 Malone’s tossed in with a Gonzales and a Cruz and a few Priester’s to give the Pirates a much better chance of internally developing just about everything they’ll need to be in the conversation.
The more he adds, the better the odds.
Instead of making a couple moves and going all in on 22 black, he’s making a bunch of moves and trying to make the bet more like all in on red, or even.
Reality dictates he’ll need Bob to throw in on an extension of two, might even need him to support paying for that piece they need and couldn’t develop like a catcher who rakes.
Both are things Nutting has supported in the past so it’s not unreasonable to expect he’d again do so.
Another reason to allow yourself to let go a bit is that Cherington isn’t just lining up for a window that closes, he’s bringing in talent at all levels and that will lead to an environment where hopefully they can move players strategically and replace them with upcoming prospects.
These are all words. A written down way to explain the concept, but it still has to work.
The reason it matters at least to me, what he’s building won’t require a financial investment of any note before at least 2024 and even that would be extensions for Reynolds and maybe Hayes.
None of this means I am in lockstep with how they’re handling the entire operation. I’ve been a proponent of bringing in real MLB talent to fill current holes while they develop prospects, they would provide even more opportunity to bring in even more possibilities, and the only real excuse for not doing so is to remain bad enough to get into the top ten of the draft board for a stretch of years.
I mean lets face it, that’s what we’re watching.
The job isn’t done. Colin Moran will be in the same spot as Frazier next season. We’ll have the same conversations. Should we extend him or move him. Why would we want to move a good player for prospects? How can we get better if we trade all our good players?
Well, Colin is only going to be so good, and his age and control are working against him, and the Pirates. Next season Mason Martin will probably be in AAA playing first base, by mid season there will be a good chance people want to see him up here anyway, so maybe in that regard it’s a slightly different conversation. there is nobody to replace Frazier close to ready beside Cole Tucker and let’s face it, he’s been underwhelming.
Regardless, that’s the idea. Every player that gets moved will have gone through all these same questions and sometimes they are going to take a step back to improve the chances of stepping forward.
I’ve been a Pirates fan since the mid 80’s, so when you say they’re always telling us to look to the future, I 100% know what you mean. I’ve been here watching too. The difference right now is I’ve never seen this level of talent brought in with the potential they have. Having 5 of MLB’s Top 100 and about to add another isn’t an accident. 3 of those five being brought in by this GM isn’t an accident.
I always tell people if they need to look away, I get it, but I figure if you’re asking me you are cracking your own window to belief.
Let’s see how this plays and if it’s something you guys like I’ll try to do these more often. You can also always comment on the piece on the site to ask more too. We don’t do this just to make people fully invested in the process happy, we want to provide every type of Pirates fan with as much information as they want to see.
We’re doing the work, help us make sure it’s the right work.