Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10-18-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I love Fall, all the major sports are going on and when covering a team not involved any longer, the questions start to shift from what is to what could be. After 101 losses, could be is a lot more comforting than is to say the least.

Let’s dig in.

1. Olive Branches & Groundwork

Prior to most CBA negotiations you start to see posturing, and most of it will come from the league, AKA the owners. See, they don’t need the players for some things and they like to use this time to make sure they build up some goodwill and potentially fix some issues they just know are going to come up.

OK, fix is a strong word, let’s go with address, even if inadequately.

First up for me was the announcement by MLB that starting next year the parent clubs would provide housing for all MiLB players. For some of you this will come as a bit of a shock, but not every team did this already. Now, that’s either because you don’t pay attention to this stuff, or even because you only pay attention to the Pirates farm system, and this is one of those things the Pirates were already doing right, well, mostly, Indianapolis covered this up until 2019.

There was a movement called #FairBall that gained some traction this year and largely because MiLB is looking to be more involved in the CBA this year, MLB knows this is an issue someone could hold their feet to the fire over, so why not knock it out.

It’s good progress, I’m not here to discount it, or minimize the importance. It’s also not the total solution that MiLB players were looking for, like a living wage in many cases, but a step forward nonetheless. Negotiations will tell the story of how far they go but the owners doing something here says they know they’d at least lose the public portion of this discussion.

Next up MLB is proposing a new regional streaming package for cord cutters. This would eliminate the blackout situation that currently plagues the game. It also would set up a new nationalized bucket for TV revenue. Baseball is more reliant on regional TV deals than the other major sports and when it comes to economic imbalance the individual deals are culprit number one.

So in short, here’s what makes this hard, and some of how it could work. MLB would probably have to pay local cable companies a percentage of the fees they charge to use their presentation and account for subscription losses (if there are many, this really targets younger people who have long since cut the cord). The cable companies don’t have streaming rights but they could punch back by paying less to broadcast games if they aren’t happy.

There is also talk that MLB could partner with the NBA and NHL to make this a one stop shop type service, which makes a ton of sense, but there is much to be discussed.

More than anything, I’m interested in the framework this starts to build, national streaming, means national money, means true revenue sharing. Before a true cap system could ever really be instituted, this is and was one of the hurdles MLB would have to jump. Looks like that is at least being broached and they’ve already fought back a powerful cable company Sinclair in the run up, so at least that says they’re deadly serious.

2. At This Stage, It’s the GM Who Doesn’t Want to Spend, More Than the Owner

I don’t know how many ways this concept can be explained. I’ve tried multiple ways to illustrate why the Pirates probably won’t look at their incredibly low 2022 payroll projection and start tossing around fliff not even counting it.

For one thing, the GM isn’t asking for it, not yet.

The most simple way I can put it is to tell you to look at this team, and I mean really look at it. Watch a playoff game or two and really get comfortable with exactly how far away the Pirates are from being in a situation like that.

Look at these lineups that are 9-10 deep with viable bats. Look at these pitching staffs who have no more than 1 or 2 guys you’d consider mop up types.

They just aren’t there.

Realistically, the Pirates could sign anyone they want, they have the room in the budget to do so and could easily overpay for anyone they want. Hey they could probably do it a couple times and still not crack 100 million. I mean to tell you if Ben went into Bob’s office and said, ok boss, we have the pieces in place, I’m going to spend 100 million this year to put us over the top, we’ll be in the playoff race all year, I’d have to imagine there’d be some questions about how we go from 101 losses to contention by spending another 60 million.

I can’t make that math work. I also can’t see a path to spend on the now, while the next wave is so close to having an impact.

For this to work the Pirates and specifically Ben Cherington tore it to the studs, those studs are named Reynolds and Hayes. They brought in a whole bunch of talent with high ceilings and need to see about 5-6 of them really hit or pitch before adding makes sense in any measurable way.

There just isn’t a quick way to do it. There isn’t a path to the upper echelon of MLB for a club in this market that doesn’t involve most of their talent being young and homegrown. The last window was exactly that way too, and they augmented it with veterans to fill the holes, just not enough of them to win it all. They extended players like Marte, Cutch, Polanco, Harrison, Mercer, Cervelli, Liriano and augmented.

This formula can work, it just can’t be rushed.

Arguably the best pitcher on the market next year who isn’t in his late 30’s is Kevin Gausman, and he’ll rake in something like 22 million. Could the Pirates afford that? Absolutely, especially where they are right now, and based on projections they could give him 3-4 years easily too. But he’s one guy. That’s it, just one guy making about 16 million less than his entire team.

I can make a case for doing something like this because you need a shepherd to help bring the flock along, but when this team is good again, it’ll be because they developed 80% of a solid team, not because they went and bought the 20%.

I’m much more interested in answering questions on guys like Reynolds and putting a lock on his rights. Put a foot down and say the foundation is right here, we found one brick, let’s build on it. Next year you do the same with Hayes, maybe Cruz, perhaps a Contreras and you start to see the payroll naturally rise.

Things like that will go a lot further than temporary patches and praying for performance so you can move a guy.

If they were to add 20 million, I guarantee it won’t be on one player, and I also can say it won’t be to get butts in seats, they knew what would be the product when they started this project and much like resurfacing the Liberty Bridge brought great pain to commuters, it took as long as it was gonna take.

3. Speaking of Realistic Free Agents

Might as well get into this a bit right? I get tired of just laughing at and saying no to people who have suggestions for who the Pirates might sign this off season so I figure I should probably toss out some targets who really could be looked at seriously. Prepare to be underwhelmed, but also remember you didn’t know who Tyler Anderson was last Spring either.

Starting Pitchers – Zack Davies, James Paxton, Dylan Bundy, Jon Gray, Steven Matz These guys are a step above what we’ve seen in these parts recently but easily upgrades for what they have internally, at least from an experience standpoint and all are affordable, meaning under 10 million AAV. None of them are world beaters, but each are capable of providing stability and leadership. That’s what the Bucs desperately need next season. There are other names out there, I’m not pretending it’s a closed list, but these are the types of guys you could reasonably expect to be on the shopping list.

Hell Tyler Anderson himself could be on that list, maybe a step lower, but the point is, if the Pirates go into 2022 with no outside additions I’d be shocked, and I certainly couldn’t sit here and tell you they got priced out of the market.

No, if they don’t add, it will be purposeful and willing on the part of the GM. Brett Anderson from Milwaukee could net somewhere in the 7 million dollar range, nobody can tell me they can’t or shouldn’t add something. One or two guys like this change the outlook next year more than almost any one other thing they could do and more importantly they provide cover to properly develop prospects rather than force them into service.

You’d probably call every guy on that list a Five, I know you love your labels folks, but those fives have something the current team’s fives don’t, experience.

Experience pays dividends on the mound and in the clubhouse, let’s not have the guy with the most on the club be a guy who is arguably a better show tune singer than pitcher.

4. When the Rays are Ready to Let Go of a Guy….

Less than a day after getting bounced from the playoffs, the list of Rays that are thought to be on the block started leaking, boy they don’t waste any time do they?

The list featured Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, Brandon Lowe, Kevin Kiermaier and I’ve started hearing Mike Zunino.

Really got me thinking, if they honestly want to move all these guys, they certainly will find buyers, but each of them has to a degree reached their top of the mountain at least in the Rays usefulness. See they don’t move guys when they have to, they move them when they want to.

Austin Meadows has never figured out the glove and despite hitting homeruns the average isn’t great. Tyler Glasnow made people look silly, then the sticky stuff ban came and he got hurt, even blamed the new rule to a degree. Zunino strikes out too much and the other two are expensive.

I have no doubt the Rays will move at least some of this list, and I have almost just as little doubt they’ll wind up being good next year again.

The Rays are a machine, a churning machine of development and deals. If they’re ready to give up on Glasnow, something tells me other teams should head the warning, but the chance of finding magic beans is just too great for some teams to avert their eyes.

Remember Blake Snell? Well it turns out the Rays knew more about managing his success than the Padres didn’t it. Crazy how that works right? The A’s used to be really good at this too, they’d find a way to make Barry Zito a star and when it was time to let him go he was never going to be the same pitcher again.

It’s not fun for fans, but they barely have any so it just keeps churning. What a weird league this is, and it really drives home the point that you have to willfully not want to see how imbalanced it actually is.

5. Stand Up for Something

I often hear the question, why doesn’t Bob Nutting loudly stump for a salary cap in baseball. The simplest answer is none of the owners like to loudly stand up for anything. They don’t want to be seen as a group that engages in a ton of infighting and for the most part they tend to take care of their own. It would take a hell of a lot more owners than one to push through something like that and one outlier would be seen as an annoyance more than a leader.

That’s not to say he shouldn’t be pounding his fist railing for economic balance in the game and if some reporters are to be believed he is quite passionate about it, still, don’t expect to see him delivering some big speech.

An area he better be prepared to defend like his baseball life depends on it though should be any concessions to the players involving arbitration.

And I’ll admit, I’m conflicted here, personally I don’t think baseball’s system for young players is fair, in fact I think it’s downright part of why young athletes don’t look to baseball as a path.

That said, for a market like this, under this system, baseball can’t afford to further cripple teams like this. If you’re now only guaranteed 4 or 5 years of service rather than the current 6 or 7, well that changes the feasibility of building through the draft and development system. It at least changes how much it’ll cost, and again, if the economic system remains unchanged it’ll make a damn near impossible task that much harder.

Maybe something like 2 years of rookie contract and 4 years of arb could suit both needs, but straight up scratching a year would absolutely demolish much of what Ben Cherington is trying to do here.

Again, I’m conflicted. The players on the young side of the scale aren’t being treated fairly, but it also isn’t fair that only 6 or 7 teams can afford to reward past performance and pay far past prime for players who might only help for a couple years at best.

If Nutting is to stand up for anything it should be that this system can’t change without meaningful economic changes to the game. That’s got to be the breaking point for he and others like him.

The game has much to deliberate in these negotiations, but at some point someone needs to be the voice for fans in markets like this, I highly doubt that’s Mr. Nutting, but maybe if he gets in the right group a true leader will emerge.

I want a cap system, I think the game needs it, but I’ll settle for not making it even harder to push the boulder up the hill.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

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