8-31-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
It’s been a while, and we’ve been very busy, but I haven’t forgotten the questions that keep coming in. Figured I’d knock out a few of these and to be honest, I share some of these questions myself, writing about them helps me answer for myself too.
Why Do the Pirates Think Shelton Should Keep His Job?
Well, this one is a frequently asked question in every sense of the phrase. The answer for someone in my position who typically doesn’t feel like bothering with something that just isn’t happening is, TIME.
It’s only been two seasons. In fact, he’s not even surpassed the number of games in his career to make up an entire season yet. Much like saying things like “Bryan Reynolds stunk all of 2020” you really have to say, Bryan Reynolds wasn’t good for those two months of what we called a season in 2020.
He’s 54-97 as a manager, not good, but it’s hard to look at what they’ve done and think the team expected better.
I honestly think most of you get that stuff, I really do. I also think most of you simply don’t like a bunch of the answers they’ve had for COVID ball, especially when coupled with an already sure to be cautious approach to pitching.
2020 was weird, for everyone. Pitching was a problem because most arms didn’t get the buildup they have practiced for years to get ready. On top of that the staff they trotted out there in 2020 was brutal, BEFORE they got injured.
So when the calendar flipped to 2021, many of us expected to see a different handling of the staff. Many of us disregarded Ben Cherington telling us from his own mouth that they’d use a TON of pitchers and watch innings very closely.
That my friends is a directive.
A directive he’s executed.
Bosses like being listened to.
I’d also add here this management group, meaning all of them from Cherington to Jonathan Johnston in Bradenton, are of the belief that starters don’t need to go super deep into games. At least that’s what they’re saying now, and before you attribute it to the pitchers they have in MLB not being good enough, it’s exactly how they’ve handled it all up and down the system.
They’re hardly alone, but I’m not blind, I too have watched opposing pitchers go 8 against the Pirates on the reg.
Long way of saying, pulling guys early is a philosophy, and one that’s not likely to change when and if the manager does.
What else do we got? How about making bad choices when he does change pitchers? Well, that one I will say I’ve seen and agree with. Again, I hate to provide him cover, but the organization wants to see if Kyle Keller can handle leverage innings, guess what they’re going to see?
My main beef with him has been constant lineup changes, but he’s explained that as only feeling the need to lock in one guy, Reynolds. This leads me to believe when he gets more players who earn it, they’ll lock in a bit more, but personally, I’m a fan of continuity in a lineup. Guys like routine and bouncing people all over tends to not provide that.
Resting guys is another thing most people hate, me included. But again, this is what they want to do. Personally, I say go back to the old Sunday lineup method where you rest 3-4 guys on one day instead of sprinkling 1 here and 2 there so that the team is short handed an entire series or even week at some point.
Let’s sum this up.
He’s not getting fired, not even close. His players do play hard for him and don’t quit. They wanted to improve defensively and absolutely did. Even John Russell the worst manager I’ve personally witnessed got almost 3 full seasons. Calm down a bit. There are much bigger issues to tackle first.
Do they think he’s the “right” guy? Well, I think I’d have to leave it at they don’t think he’s not, yet.
When Will the Pirates Stop Being a Farm System for the League?
Well, unless baseball’s system changes, never.
That doesn’t mean they won’t extend guys, or that they’ll always trade everyone as soon as they have a year or two left of team control, but that’s reality.
Want to say that’s because of Nutting? Sure, why not. If he upped the yearly payroll to say 130 million, a completely fair number that everyone can agree would be both him spending, and trying I’m sure. They’d still have to trade some guys to keep the number there.
In fact, by 2025 or 2026, they’ll probably be close to that figure just through arbitration and extensions. Not coincidentally, probably will have a pretty damn good team too.
At some point though, those players will want big money. Some might get it, all definitely won’t. Even if they extend Reynolds to 2030 as I’ve suggested multiple times, he’ll be traded in 28 or 29.
Just like the Rays traded arguably their best pitcher Blake Snell right after making the World Series to receive a return at his peak value, the Pirates will also look to never let their system return to the depths it reached.
This is what baseball looks like under an unbalanced system. The owner doesn’t help, he could do more, but he, Mark Cuban, Michael Keaton, Billy Gardell, whoever you think wants to buy them and used to live here, would be faced with the same boundaries.
His personal wealth has almost no place in this conversation. Not one owner in any major professional sport here in North America is spending from their own pocket. It’s the system, and his unwillingness to ride close to the top end of the budget for any length of time is the real issue.
Even if Ben Cherington does everything absolutely right, they’ll literally never stop moving guys who are expiring.
Say it’s 2026 and Ke’Bryan Hayes is in his last year with the Pirates because they failed to extend him. He’ll probably be making 13-15 million via arbitration if he’s done well enough to care he might be almost gone. If they feel they have a real shot at the playoffs or even the series, he’ll stay, and walk away in free agency.
That’s the only time you won’t see a trade, and it still won’t stop you from thinking they’re the farm system for everyone else.
Me telling you it’s this way in 20 of the 30 cities MLB has a franchise won’t change that feeling either.
To me, it’s better to admit this is the case, rather than tell a ton of people who say it they’re wrong, only to have it crop up again in a couple years.
I get this isn’t fun to hear, but when you see me fight for a Salary Cap system, it’s to make things possible. Sidney Crosby isn’t a Penguin right now without a salary cap, hell there might not even be a Pittsburgh Penguins. Big Ben has long since been in LA or NY without a cap.
Reality isn’t pretty, but I’d rather arm you with it than placate you by lying that this time will be different. If it feels different, it’ll be because you actually want to see who’s next due to a thriving, actual, farm system. That’s what guys like me hope for.
Why Won’t the Pirates Promote Players Faster in the Minors?
Well, it’s first of all important to say there isn’t a one size fits all approach here. For instance I can’t sit here and tell you Matt Fraizer deserved to get promoted but Nick Gonzales needs to get seasoning.
Injury has played a role for so many guys that most people have eyes on. Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, and more, have all been touched by the injury bug. That alone isn’t an answer, but it is part of the equation.
I’d also say numbers aren’t what they’re looking for. Every prospect has a list of check boxes, things they’re looking to see them master or at least show a competency for before bumping them up.
I’ll also say, Cherington has a history of feeling AA and AAA aren’t really that much different. One has former MLB players or AAAA players, the other has prospects and when it comes time to look at his depth chart, guys in AA aren’t necessarily below AAA. Sure if it works out that way, great, but it isn’t always a necessity.
We’ve seen that with Rodolfo Castro this year.
Another factor is that some of these teams like Greensboro are in a playoff race, and while that doesn’t mean anything to the organization or the success of those prospects, it is an opportunity to let some of these guys grow together and fight for a championship together.
In fact the last stretch of really good baseball here in Pittsburgh was largely fueled by the Altoona Curve championship season. That group largely came up together and man they were tight. We’re already seeing Peguero and Gonzales become brothers, and as a DP combo we hope to watch play together one day, that’s not a bad thing.
So should Gonzales be in Altoona? Well, he sure could be, but what he’d gain out of it vs what he could gain out of staying, eh, I’ll just say, I get it.
Big jumps are always going to come in the off season, and after the All Star Break. Again, this year most of those candidates were injured for the first landmark, so it stands to reason they stay.
We also tend to forget guys can’t move up until someone above them moves up, down or out. Expect a TON of that this offseason as the Pirates look to make room for graduates from the DSL and places to put draft picks they haven’t placed yet.
That’s it for this edition. Even when it feels like I’m ignoring questions, I’ll get to them. Have a great night everybody and Lets Go Bucs.