Off Season Priorities for the Pirates

10-13-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Of all the deadline driven decisions the Pirates will have to make with the 40-man and arbitration, there are a few things the Pirates in my mind absolutely have to nail right on the head. Swing and miss here and this whole thing doesn’t come together the way we hope.

I still don’t see 2022 as a winning season, I see it as a step in the right direction, even while I ultimately see payroll overall going down marginally.

Let’s talk through some of these priorities and why they’re so important.

Hire the Right AAA Manager

Back in 2019, Michael Ryan was a stunning removal as the AA Curve manager. He had done nothing but rise through the system year after year from the WV Power, to the Marauders and ultimately to the Curve. I was shocked he was let go, I know damn well Craig was really taken off guard, and the Cubs organization happily snapped him up, because one thing you could say about Ryan was everywhere he went in the system, players got better.

But Ryan did something the last regime, specifically Kyle Stark couldn’t deal with, he told them they were wrong and pushed back against their methodology.

Fast forward to last week…

Brian Esposito was relieved from the AAA Indianapolis Indians. Way back when, Craig and I both asked, how could you fire the undeniably successful Michael Ryan, and keep Esposito. When Ben Cherington was brought in, we both expected Esposito to be one of the first let go, the evidence was just too in your face.

COVID took away 2020, and last year they finally saw him coach a season.

Here’s the thing, players would do very well through AA, then seem to stall at AAA. I’m not in that room, and I’m not going to pretend Esposito was doing something specific that stunted talent, all I can really say is results matter, and for these two old writers, long time coming.

This is going to be a hire that isn’t met with much fan fare, but when you decide to build through the draft and development system, it’s pretty important your gatekeeper to the majors has a key. I honestly place more importance on this hire than the 3rd base coach.

I don’t have names for you, but I’ll say this is a hire they can’t miss on and unlike the past few seasons, talent will be in place. Not every player will make it, but certainly a higher percentage than we’ve seen must make it.

Extend Bryan Reynolds

The Major League Club depending on who’s projection you believe could have a payroll as low as 39 Million or 48 and it’s wholly about the 40-man decisions they make. Take it a step further with some free agents or moves that bring back spending and I still don’t see it touching even 55.

Bryan Reynolds estimated arbitration figure is around 4.5 million.

It’s no surprise that I think he should never have to hear his team try to talk down his game to save money, and I’ll be honest, if they want to really piss him off, go ahead and make him sit there listening to a chapter and verse recollection of his 2020. He’s moved on from it, and it’s just not something to bring up.

To me, this is the year to get this done. And even if for some reason you can’t get the whole thing done, make sure this process doesn’t play out. There is plenty of room to do the right thing with this player, look at the estimation, walk in the room and offer him 6 right now to just avoid it and put some good faith on the table. Put it side by side with a multi year extension that starts at 7.5.

This can, and much more importantly, SHOULD, be done.

Literally every action taken by this new front office has been an effort to cultivate stars, not just good players, stars. That’s why you acquire lottery tickets and covet top end draft talent, to get stars. Well, here’s one that the previous regime put on a tee for you, be smart enough to recognize it, and more importantly, be smart enough to realize by the time everything else you brought in really touch this league in force he’ll only have 2 years left of arbitration and if he keeps playing like this, that figure will probably reach the 15-18 range by the end.

An end we’ll never see mind you, because if they let it play out, Bryan Reynolds will be traded before it ever reaches that point. There’s no grey area here. You know this as well as I do. The Pirates either have everything come together in 2025 and are forced to let him play out his last year and walk for nothing, or they move him after 2024 or the middle of 2025 for, yup, more prospects. That’s reality, and a reality they have every capability to avoid.

He likes Pittsburgh, he likes the team, likes the coaches, appreciates the market (this isn’t a guy who wants to be in a NY or LA) and he happens to be easily the best player this team has produced since the guy who was traded to get him.

Do this, and do it right. Every climb starts with a solid foothold, for the Pirates, that is Bryan Reynolds.

Starting Pitching

I just told you how low the payroll would go, in fact I started telling you how low it would likely be back in March, because this stuff is eminently predictable really. For some of you this is more evidence of a terminally cheap owner, for me it’s the culmination of exactly what I’ve been telling you was happening for going on 3 years now. It took a while to trade off most of the players who could pass as veterans and as soon as buying out Polanco was solidified it became a guarantee.

Now, just because that’s the projection for next year, doesn’t mean that’s where they’ll land.

It’s impossible for me, and I pray the Pirates, to think entering 2022 with the crop of starting pitchers they have in house right now, and I’m not even saying they have to go buy a name. For instance, I didn’t really know anything about Tyler Anderson last year, in fact I think I called him a reclamation project when he was signed. Turns out he was just a solid pitcher who needed an opportunity.

Point is, take that incredibly low payroll, and get some pitching in here.

Look, Roansy Contreras could be great, he could even be ready next season right out of Spring, but that’s not a bet I’d play on purpose. In other words, I’d like Roansy to be a force of nature that can’t be held back, rather than a rookie forced into action because of course he’s better than Wil Crowe.

We spend so much time looking down at the minors we often forget teams don’t tend to do well when they depend on a large amount of prospects to make a miraculous jump. It happens to be sure, but for a team like this to really take a step and by that I mean make sure 100 losses isn’t even in sight, pitching will need brought in.

Hitting Coach

The Pirates removed Rick Eckstein from their staff about a month before the season ended and because of course, the offense took off. I’m not naïve enough to believe this was some light switch that got flipped or just having one guy removed from the room allowed all these guys to suddenly unlock things, but it can’t be denied, the approaches improved, the aggressiveness improved and overall the offense put runs on the board.

I never understood keeping a hitting coach on a team where the new manager’s area of expertise was hitting. Clearly he had his own ideas and there aren’t many employees in any profession that are going to enjoy being told they’ve been doing things wrong before and effectively change to meet the new boss’ vision.

So here we are, blank slate. Now go and get someone who can execute, and implement whatever vision Derek Shelton has.

Again, I could give you a wall of names, probably some from the Red Sox, Cubs, Blue Jays because we have to pretend everyone brought in will be from one of those clubs right? Point is they need to just get the right guy, and more importantly, they need to get a guy who doesn’t think one size fits all. I’m a huge believer that diversity of approach is something that makes offenses dangerous. Nothing helps a pitcher settle in faster than facing 9 guys who are thinking the same way up there. If you know everyone is looking for this little box on the inside to middle of the plate and they’ll happily take a strike on the outer third, and you’re adept enough to learn it quickly, you’ll wake up in the 5th tossing a shutout much of the time.

Diversity of thought, diversity of approach, tailored to each individual talent with a few overriding concepts. That’s what works, not a one size fits all.

Closing…

Keep in mind, the goal next year isn’t to find a way to force this team into contention, it’s simply too far away, and the prospect cost it could take to bring in a ton of MLB ready talent would simply wash away much of the work that was done.

Take care of what is right in front of you, improve the obvious holes that don’t have anyone coming to fill them and take the cheap, incremental improvement that is sure to come.

Make some moves to eat salary from other teams looking to shed contracts if you don’t want to play in the FA market. Be creative.

Just don’t be foolish.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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