10-19-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
For any current Pittsburgh Pirates Fan over a certain age, 2010 seems to be somewhat of a distant memory. However, recently I have seen the 2021 team being compared to this ball club more and more; not simply on account of their nearly identical 100+ loss records, but because of what would soon follow a mere three years later. The Pirates 20 year losing streak would be broken, and they would return to the playoffs for the first time since 1992; repeating this feat during subsequent 2014 and 2015 campaigns in the Neal Huntington Era Rebuild-one that was five years in the making.
Since this time, and even prior to it thanks to former General Manager Cam Bonifay’s declaration on the subject, five years has been cemented as the timeline for any rebuild; which, if we are sticking to this strict schedule-I am not-2021 would actually equate to 2009 in this parallel universe. This would also mean that the Pirates would not be in line to be competitive/make the playoffs until 2025.
Now, for those not old enough to remember 2009, and us who would like to forget it, this was the season where the Pirates went 62-99, saw Cutch make his near full season debut and welcomed Neil Walker to the Majors with a September cup of coffee. The starting rotation was filled with a bunch of 25 to 27 year unproven question marks, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sánchez were sent packing around the trade deadline (Nate McClouth had been traded to Atlanta earlier in the year.), a youngish closer in the form of Joel Hanrahan headlined the bullpen for a portion of the year and an outfielder named Garrett Jones mashed 21 homers.
As far as the Minor Leagues were concerned the Pirates had reinforcements on the way, and a few prospects a little further down; including Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln, Tim Alderson, Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez, Rudy Owens, Robbie Grossman and Zac Von Rosenberg. Looking back it’s undeniable that this batch of players did not universally live up to the promise of success imbedded within their rankings; yet several did, at least to some degree in a few cases.
Following the 2009 season, Neal Huntington would pretty much stand pat; rolling with the nearly the same lineup, while waiting for the internal options to arrive at PNC. It would be another couple of years before he would finally start to push his chips in after a surprise showing-somewhat ruined by a late season collapse-in 2011; first acquiring AJ Burnett prior to 2012 and then adding Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano heading into 2013.
Flashback to present day as the Pirates just got done wrapping up their most recent 100 loss season: one in which the starting rotation was made up of many unproven players-some as young as 23-with question marks, Adam Frazier was sent to San Diego mid-season (Josh Bell was traded to Washington before the season even began), a young reliever-local boy David Bednar-lead an otherwise struggling bullpen and All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds crushed 24 homers. At third base Ke’Bryan Hayes continued his rookie year and Oneil Cruz got the late season call up.
In the Minors, the Pirates have Henry Davis, Quinn Priester, Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Carmen Mlodzinski, Canaan Smith-Njiba, Mason Martin, Matt Fraizer and Jared Jones. With prospects such as these it’s almost irrefutable that there is more depth at certain positions, yet the fact remains that they are similar to that group back in 2009 in that their ultimate futures in Pittsburgh are unknown.
This time around, Pirates Fans are looking to speed up the process; suggesting the addition of a Burnett-like pitcher to the starting rotation, filling at least one outfield spot with a capable veteran that would cost up to four times the amount allocated to free agents at the position over the past two seasons and bolstering the bullpen along the way.
I get it. Pirates Fans, myself included, want winning baseball back at PNC Park; especially without having to go through another season like the past two. Or seven, or twenty-seven or forty-two; depending on how jaded of a Pirates Fan you have become. However, from the mouth of General Manager Ben Cherington, it seems as if he is more concentrated on building from within and letting players/prospects develop, instead of simply writing check(s) to fill the holes through free agency.
This isn’t to say the Pirates won’t add anything in the off-season, and stand pat like Huntington did after 2009. They undoubtedly will, like they have done each year under Cherington; not that another Jarrod Dyson or Brian Goodwin signing would make fans very happy. But, maybe a Tyler Anderson type acquisition would.
Still, in all honesty, I don’t look for much movement on this front until they get through decisions concerning arbitration and Rule 5 eligible players; all while hiring a new hitting coach, some one to stand in the third base box-plus instruct the infield-and a skipper down in Indianapolis.
So, buckle up for another busy off-season.