Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10-11-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Watching playoff baseball reminds you just how far the Bucs were from being where they need to be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the record was enough, and I know what good baseball looks like, but one thing that really struck me this year so far is just the offensive depth and the continuation of bullpenning. Let’s dig in on some thoughts and see where we go.

1. Managing Inning to Inning

Baseball playoffs have been fun so far but one thing I can’t get past is how every manager is micromanaging every inning. Last night I heard Adam Wainwright in the booth calling the White Sox – Astros game and he said something interesting to me. “In the playoffs, you have to be prepared to do something you’ve never done” That seems counter intuitive to me.

He said this after Arron Bummer was asked to go beyond 1 inning for the first time this season, and Zach Greinke was asked to pitch from the bullpen.

I mean, he’s right of course, and honestly, he’d know. That said, I also found it hilarious that even Adam had no clue what Tony LaRussa was doing last night.

We used to call this over managing, now we call it bullpenning. It’s a softening of language to explain something we don’t like, and I’ll tell you what, sans having good options, it’s very much so what the Pirates are gearing up for. The game just simply isn’t going to go back to what we all used to identify with, 7-8 innings from a starter and an inning or two from your bullpen is a formula that just feels as dead as disco.

2. Joey Cora is Gone, After Doing Arguably His Best Job Here

Because of how the Pirates split Cora’s responsibilities, it’s hard to not have a mixed opinion on how he did as a Pirates coach. He’s been in charge of coaching third base (so of course he should be fired) and the infield defense (so why the hell would you fire him now?).

I know most of this fan base has hated Joey’s sends or holds at third for the best part of 3 years, and the results this year were pretty stark. The Pirates had a lot of players thrown out at home, and for a team that didn’t get many guys there in the first place, that’s a bad thing.

They also improved on defense to a remarkable level. Hayes is Hayes, Newman increased his range and arm strength, 2nd base has been a revolving door but everyone handled it relatively well, Moran learned a new position really and did reasonably well.

And when you ask who was responsible, to a man including the Manager, you’d be told Joey Cora.

The Pirates could have done some different things here, one, they could have relieved him of his 3rd base coach duties but retained him as the fielding instructor/coach. Maybe they tried and Joey said no, in all sincerity Joey is a baseball guy and probably doesn’t fancy a position in the background.

He won’t be unemployed long I’d wager.

Really got me thinking, Justin Meccage is the only one left from the previous regime, and while I understand they have no desire to move on from Oscar Marin at this time, why not just make that change too? Or even better, get a real assistant pitching coach in here in addition.

I’m not upset or ecstatic about the Cora firing, I’m also not going to just quote the Pirates having fewer errors than anyone else and act like he was untouchable. I will say this, it’s pretty clear when looking for scapegoats the holdovers are going to be chosen, so why keep them in the first place?

I guess what I’m saying is if you want to fire coaches for handling poor talent poorly, who’s really safe?

3. Drastic Overestimation

First let me say this, it’s not your fault.

As the Pirates started this rebuild, a ton of people who have really only ever covered the MLB level turned their gaze to the minors and started filling your head with visions of scores of players coming up and supplanting the existing roster in one swoop.

It’s also led to many believing because they watched like 20+ tweets of Mason Martin hitting homeruns that he’s a lock to be protected on the 40-man or even ready to step in as a DH, maybe even replace Colin Moran, like right now.

I use Mason as an example, not to pick on him. I’m still seeing people believe Nick Gonzales is going to jump up and snag the 2B gig this Spring.

Listen folks, I’m really happy so many of you are paying attention to the minors now, I’m even happy they’re being covered so aggressively, but please do understand if it was this easy way more teams would do it, even the high payroll clubs.

Fact is, there are gonna be guys you’ve been told were going to reach the bigs in 2022 that simply won’t, in fact since many of them stopped covering players like Martin aggressively when the homeruns dried up a bit and the K/BB rate stayed as alarming as it was to begin with, many of you didn’t even know his progression was stalled a bit.

This doesn’t mean that Mason won’t show up in Spring fresh with a new approach, additional patience, but it does mean just because you heard of them doesn’t mean they’re the next big thing. Even a guy like Oneil Cruz came up and looked good, well, and bad too. The homerun he hit in his last at bat was a swing you really don’t want him taking, mostly because it’ll lead to more strikeouts than homers. He has an issue double clutching on throws, even if his cannon of an arm masks it at times.

Again, this point is exactly why you tend to only hear the ups, without the downs. Cruz is a fabulous talent, one with the potential to really impact this club for years and years, so merely mentioning his shortcomings, even while acknowledging his ability to improve on them, comes across as “not believing in” or “slamming” a kid. That’s not what it’s about, it’s simply about understanding where guys are, what’s in front of them, and why they may or may not be ready.

I know right now, as we sit here on October 11th, that when and if Cruz doesn’t make the opening day lineup the immediate reaction will be the team is manipulating his service time. I’m not here to tell you it doesn’t happen, because it certainly does, but sometimes the seasoning is legitimately needed.

We’re all tired of waiting for things to come together, but rushing it would be like running a marathon and then on the last mile stopping at the bar for wings and beer, you still might get there, but you certainly aren’t going to look as good when you do.

Be balanced in your observations and you’ll be balanced in your expectations.

4. Plenty of Room in the Budget, but Maybe Not the Roster

Let’s be honest, the Pirates could sign anyone they want. Really.

The payroll even for this club is beyond low, they have plenty of space. Now, if they’re going to do it the only place I’d advise it is the pitching staff.

Part of this process is building up talent in the system, which tends to lead to said talent making it’s way to the Majors right? So you don’t wait until you have them on the doorstep to go fill the roster with blockades of players.

Back in 2020 when they started moving guys, it would have made sense to bring in some guys on 2 or 3 year deals to bridge the gap, now you’re to the point where the Pirates have 4 guys by my count who have a legitimate chance to play outfield for the big club this year. Swaggerty, Cruz, Mitchell, Smith-Njigba minimally, so this isn’t the year to go get some big free agent outfielder, at least not one who’ll be here and signed longer than say 2023.

Pitching is different, and while I think they probably won’t do what I’m suggesting, but something that could really help the MLB product this year and not get in the way of what’s coming would be on the mound. Go get a Dellin Betances for 3-4 years, 8-10 per. Look at a Michael Pineda for a few years at 12-14 per. Hey I wanted James Paxton last year, check in on him for 11-13 per.

Point is, there are some really good options, and in the rotation or pen these types of signings could have major impact. Think of it as nothing more than replacing Polanco’s salary if you simply can’t bring yourself to believe they’ll pay it.

I do believe they have room and need to improve the corner outfield position too, I just don’t want them to do it for more than a year or two, because anyone they can reasonably sign, isn’t going to have the talent of what’s coming. The options are out there, Archie Bradley, Jon Gray, even Michael Lorenzen. You’re paying for experience, and steadiness.

It’s the one area this team can quickly improve without building roadblocks that make much of the work they’ve done pointless.

Spare me the Bob won’t pay stuff, I’ve lived here too.

5. Good, Not Great

Watching the Rays vs Red Sox series one thing is painfully clear, the Sox have more impact players.

Oh don’t get confused, the Rays may very well have a better team, and I’m very aware of their regular season record, but nobody on the team had a WAR above 5.2 Brandon Lowe, now that’s good, but for perspective the Pirates have a player higher in that category, Bryan Reynolds hit 6.0 this season.

The Rays have a roster filled to the brim with positive WAR players, not Hall of Famers. I mean Wander Franco certainly could be that, but right now they are simply better than the sum of their parts. More so they compliment each other. Their success is cumulative, not based on a few guys being better than anyone else has.

Here’s the kicker, they’ll be good again next year, but expect them to keep the machine churning, moving on from players that really matter to what they do. It’s soulless baseball business and while the market doesn’t make a big stink it’s the answer for baseball’s economic system. You can’t praise how this organization operates and cry about trades at the same time.

It also should be noted, it hasn’t amounted to the ultimate prize as of yet, (kinda looks like it won’t this year either). Maybe it never will, but they’ve been better than competitive, they’ve won their division, played in a World Series, and generally been the poster child for all this nonsense being ok in MLB.

I’ve said this before, it’s a winning formula, just don’t buy jerseys. Don’t get too invested in anyone being there for any extended amount of time, and more importantly remember the best time to trade a player is when they’ve looked like the very best version of themselves and you have a reasonable replacement ready.

Churning machine. Certainly not Fam-a-lee.

6. Bonus: Arbitration Projections

Chasen Shreve – 2.3 MM – Easy choice for me, he had a good season and when it comes to Pirates Pitchers, he’s in rare company.

Chad Kuhl – 3.0 MM – Tough, see he hasn’t done enough to earn 3 mil, but he might just be worth keeping if only to move him. Think back to Chris Archer who clearly stunk here, his Option number was 9 Mil, it was an easy choice for me to not pick up the option, but many made the argument that he could be trade bait. Both have that evil word attached, IF, and the thing is, the money shouldn’t scare anyone, it’s more about the roster spot. I lean non-tender here if only to protect another prospect.

Ben Gamel – 2.9 MM – Obvious, easy choice. There is simply no way you enter 2022 without someone just like him, so don’t mess around, just keep him. He’ll more than earn that even off the bench if it came to that.

Wilmer Difo – 1.1 MM – I think as much as Wilmer was a positive influence and valuable off the bench you simply can’t keep him over Tucker or Newman. What I’m saying is out of those three, two roster spots is the max. In this case, I probably lean youth.

Colin Moran – 4.0 MM – No brainer. There isn’t a bunch of push for first base, at least not yet and Michael Chavis could be a nice platoon when he isn’t playing elsewhere. No matter what, he needs to be tendered if only because it would be foolish to let him walk for free. I know a lot of you would cut him, but I sincerely doubt there’s more than a handful of GMs who’d agree.

Chris Stratton – 2.2 MM – Oh yes, can’t even think of a snarky way to make it controversial.

Steven Brault – 2.2 MM – Not sure. I don’t think he’s been able to stay on the field enough to be valuable (hence the 2.2 Mil valuation). I’m legit torn on this one, I don’t think he brings back enough in a trade to be worthwhile, I don’t like dropping a vet when the staff is sorely in need of them, but man I don’t want to spend another year pretending the team can rely on him. I’d strongly consider non-tender.

Jacob Stallings – 2.6 MM – C’mon. Yup, all day and twice on Sunday. In fact don’t even make him deal with Arbitration, just give him 3 and call it a day.

Kevin Newman – 2.2 MM – Hey, call me crazy, but hell yeah. The defense is a real plus, he’s a positive WAR player and I can’t see any reason why you’d cut ties, at least not at this point. Keep in mind, this decision doesn’t equal believing he’s here in 2025, it just means he’s going to be here next year.

Michael Perez – 900 K – I think you know my feelings here, even if this incredibly low figure is at least partially why they grabbed him in the first place. Sure would be nice if they replaced him, wish I could bet on it.

Bryan Reynolds – 4.5 MM – Umm, of course. But I’d never let it happen. I’d extend him this off season, period, pay more now and keep this star in town, not just into the window, through it.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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