8-27-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
When all this started back in 2019/2020 everyone started taking cracks at building out a timeline for when things would start to come together. Optimists almost universally went with 2023, pessimists, er, um you call yourselves realists I think went with something like 2027. The Nutting else matters crowd simply said never.
I’ve been hesitant to put a real timeline together beyond saying 2022 would start to be more fun, so on and so forth.
That’s not to say next year I expect this team to do any real damage in the NL, but next year we really get to start seeing some of these young guys arrive. These are guys that Huntington drafted, players that Cherington acquired, and more than anything guys with higher ceilings than much of what resides in Pittsburgh right now.
What’s important to keep in mind is the team only gets to keep 26 guys on the active roster, so when they’re ready to move a guy up, someone is going to have to go. I’m not breaking news here, but you’re absolutely not going to stop hearing the ‘we trade everybody’ thing.
For instance, the Pirates will have some easy holes to fill next season. They can reasonably bring in some lower level free agents, they could go with prospects from the jump to fill them, but guys that are here right now by in large, won’t be here when it matters.
Next year Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Travis Swaggerty, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njiba, Shea Spitzbarth, Max Kranick, Cody Bolton, Rodolfo Castro, Hoy Park, Tucapita Marcano, Omar Cruz, and maybe even more will at least start to push their way toward MLB.
Now I just listed 13 players, exactly half of a full active roster, all of whom in a vacuum, meaning absence of being blocked at the MLB level should feasibly play in the league next year. Sure, injury will afford some opportunity, always does. We’ve just seen this season how easily a team can just run through pitchers like grain through a goose, they’ll find room and they’ll use a bunch of these guys.
When they do, decisions are going to start being made for different reasons than what we’ve seen these last two seasons. For instance, let’s say the Pirates open the season with a rotation of Bryse Wilson, Steven Brault, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller and Dillon Peters. If that’s the way it shakes out, and this is just an exercise not a prediction, they’d still have other options like Cody Ponce, Chase De Jong, Chad Kuhl, Wil Crowe, before they even hit that prospect list.
Hey, this isn’t a strong enough rotation to feel you have to fear losing someone too awful much but the point remains, for Yajure to start up here, someone who truly should push, probably would have this year had he stayed healthy, someone has to go, either to the bullpen or down to AAA or even traded. For this thought exercise, try to stop yourself from screaming that I put Keller in the opening day rotation, it’s just a name at this point, toss Crowe in there instead if it makes you feel better. This is still a conversation worth having.
It’s worth having because next year the conversation starts to switch from woe is me we stink but nobody is ready, to woe is me we aren’t very good, time for this guy, he’s a beast.
If Kevin Newman starts out bad again next year, we won’t look down and see Cole Tucker fluffing his hair and failing to get on base, instead we’ll see Marcano, Cruz and Castro nipping at his heels.
If Swaggerty doesn’t look like a number one pick from the moment he arrives, we won’t look down and see a struggling Jared Oliva standing there with his hand up. We’ll see Smith-Njigba and Mitchell, maybe Matthew Fraizer making sure he knows they’re there.
This isn’t to make you think the team arrives next year. This is to make sure you understand my definition of “getting fun”.
If they choose to trade Steven Brault or Chad Kuhl it won’t just be because they want more prospects, it’ll be because they’re ready to make more room for the prospects they already have.
Some teams at this stage go all in on a youth movement. They’d deal Moran, Kuhl, Brault, maybe even Stallings, Stratton. Kevin Newman is a guy some would put in this borderline category. I personally don’t like this approach, it creates a roster that should those youngsters succeed, they all expire at the same time. It’s also moving on from veteran presence in a time when you plan to inject mass amounts of youth. Staggering makes much more sense. Even for the return on moves, you don’t want to just clog up a system with guys who aren’t going to return top talent.
That said, moving guys won’t be over this year, but the reason is going to change a bit. This is also a year where you can start having more serious conversations about holding some of your cards. Reynolds and Hayes are the easy ones, but a guy like Chad Kuhl could return next season as a bullpen arm and they could legitimately like what they see enough to extend him a bit rather than move him. I don’t see that as likely, but it’s a lot more plausible than last off season when people thought they might extend Bell.
The conversations start changing because the plan is starting to have time catch up with the mindset.
This isn’t even the wave of prospects we’ve been talking about driving this truck in the right direction, it’s just the next wave. Good baseball teams are built with players from multiple GMs, multiple drafts, multiple moves and while that whole list I put up there won’t ultimately pan out, enough will that they’ll make it tough for the guys who follow them.
A healthy system does this. A healthy system doesn’t put forward 2 or 3 guys who might help if they were forced into action. Instead it puts forward 10 guys who you actually aren’t pleased to be forced to hold back.
By the end of next season, I think the vision will start to make itself apparent, the holes will too.
It isn’t going to show up in the record, but next year has the potential to be the first year you finish feeling like next year could be different, well, since the last time in 2012. The difference is this time we’re waiting on more than a couple high end pitchers and a couple infielders. This time almost every position has some push coming.
And they’ll do it with an incredibly low payroll, again.
Next year this thing transitions from theory to execution. It won’t be all at once like a light switch, but it certainly will shed light on something that up until now has been little more than lists and dreams.
Let yourself enjoy this. It’s the reward for the pain we’ve watched and next year you finally get a taste.