Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10-25-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The 2021 MLB season is nearly over, one more major event now as the World Series is set to get underway tomorrow. The off season is where the Pirates will have the most opportunity for change and improvement, so immediately we get started with those topics in little more than a week or so.

1. The World Series is Set

Breaking news right? Atlanta and Houston are set to face off in the World Series and while I couldn’t care less who wins there are some players I’d really like to see do well. First, I’ve always respected and enjoyed watching Freddie Freeman. He’s one of those guys who you could almost write his stats in ink before the season and feel pretty good he’ll hit them, all while arguably being the best first baseman in the game. And of course our old friend Charlie Morton who’s starting game one.

That’s really what it’s about for me once you get to this point. Individuals. Some people want to make it about the cheating Astros, others want to make it political and talk about the chants in Atlanta, others still want to make it some magic revenge for the All Star Game being moved from Atlanta. For me, it’s just about watching some good baseball and hoping a few guys do well.

Houston was good all season, but Atlanta overcame the loss of Ozuna and Acuna, took advantage of a weak division and gave themselves an opportunity that I’ll be honest, I didn’t see being there. I actually thought they were nuts going out and adding at the deadline for what I was fairly certain would be a quick showing in the playoffs.

2. The Off Season Schedule

The Qualifying Offer deadline is Nov 10th – The Pirates don’t have many of these, but it’s still interesting because the Free agent market isn’t truly set until you see who receives an offer. Here’s a perfect example of why it matters. Jon Gray is a free agent from the Rockies, and he will probably be reeled in for a pretty affordable price, 3-4 years and 9-10 million AAV. But the Rockies made a point to remove him from the available list at the trade deadline, and that means they either think they can sign him or could signify they aren’t going to just let him go for nothing. If he gets a Qualifying Offer, it’ll be in the 18 million range. Might be pretty tempting for Mr. Gray to just take that offer, but the Rockies would be foolish to just let him walk.

Nov 19th is the 40 man deadline – You’ll note the non-tender deadline is in December, it’s the last entry on this list. Yes, physically the non-tender decisions aren’t due here, but intellectually, you really expect most of the decisions made at this date. For instance, if they are to non-tender a player like Chad Kuhl, they aren’t going to keep him for this deadline only to turn around and non-tender him a couple weeks later. The only reason you’d see something like that is say Colin Moran was scheduled to get like 8 million in arbitration, the Pirates might want him to return, but not want to pay anywhere near that figure, so you might see some games being played in a situation like that.

The Winter Meetings are Dec 5-9th – And yes, it’ll happen even if baseball has a lock out. The Winter Meetings have always been the first logs on the hot stove and if the game is actively shut down the dynamics might change, but nobody is shooting for a long season ending shut down so the business of baseball will still proceed.

Dec is non-tender deadline – Not much to say here. If you’re available for arbitration, the team has to tender (essentially make an offer) or sign the player for 2022. A non-tender essentially makes a player a free agent, but we just saw last season with Clay Holmes how it doesn’t always mean the end of the road with the club.

December 2nd – There is no more important date. National writers, agents, players, owners and league officials are all pretty cavalierly predicting a shut down. That doesn’t mean we’ll miss baseball games, not yet, but it does mean that these two sides have done little to creep closer to agreement. If a shutdown were to extend into the season, it’s very likely that MiLB would still play, well, everyone not on the 40-man anyhow, those guys are part of the union. I wish I had a real feeling that this was all building to a salary cap system, but for right now I’ll simply say we really need to get a true gauge on how far apart to two sides are. If it’s far enough, I could see things going nuclear, but that’s still a bit of a pipe dream to me.

3. What if the Owners Think They’re In for a Long Lockout?

This is very subjective, so please, just think through it with me, don’t take it as predictions. The Pirates already are going to risk losing some players to the Rule 5 draft, and based on history the draft would still take place, even in a shutdown league, that’s what happened in 1994, and until I see it treated differently, I’ll assume it follows suit.

Now, lets say the owners expect to lose 3 months of the season, does that change the risk involved with selecting rule 5 players? Does it change who teams protect? For instance, If I’m completely losing any hope of Chad Kuhl having a good first half of the season so I can move him, I’m in no way considering tendering him.

Does it change the spirit of one year deals for the same reason? In some ways it could actually make it more attractive for teams because they could be looking at pro rated salaries for guys they typically wouldn’t take a swing at.

For the Pirates, man it could really change some things, for instance, most of us universally believe some of the outfield help in AAA will be ready to take a crack at MLB by mid season, if that’s so, and the owners seem to think we’ll be locked out for a while, would they maybe prefer to just let MiLB play out and start with some of their own prospects in MLB than going out and getting someone? My guess is most involved won’t predict doom and gloom, but I also don’t get the impression either side is ready to just roll over.

I bet no team is comfortable signing the big free agents until this is all settled, especially while the luxury tax itself will expire. That’s right, we could come out of this with zero restrictions on big market teams to spend, not that this is working well anyhow, but rest assured if the players have their way, we’ll have nothing close to that.

Hey, things to think about.

4. It’s Not All or Nothing

Neal Huntington is a polarizing figure here in Pittsburgh, but mostly because people can’t seem to grasp that he did good and bad things here. He took a bad team, built up what Dave Littlefield left him and brought in some key pieces to be in the mix for three years. Then he lost it, simply tried to hang on when he should have flipped much more and or didn’t add to a team that was close enough to add to. Either way, he didn’t handle it well.

It’s ok to say he did well, and it’s equally ok to say he failed at the end. It happens.

There are a lot of Pirates topics like this. Clint Hurdle was the right coach at the right time for this club, but the game started passing him by. Worse the organization did nothing to help him do so. They were not where they needed to be on analytics, and certainly not where they needed to be on modern baseball training techniques in the system.

This happens again. 3 years of success led to a feeling that what they were doing worked, so why change anything right? Well, maybe had they actually held onto and or replaced the very real talents they had to move out they’d have an argument, but eventually it should have become clear.

Yeah, I know, Nutting didn’t spend. That’s very true, but he also trusted his president and GM that trading Cole for the package they got from Houston would have them back to contention in fairly short order. He also trusted that trading some young talent for an aging starting pitcher would help get them back where they needed to be. As bad as that trade was, this fool willingly took on money to do it. Say what you will, he said yes I’m fine not paying league minimum to two guys and moving the number one pick we just made for this guy who I have to pay for a couple years.

Obviously bad choices all around, but not everything is black and white, sometimes it’s just grey, and that’s ok.

The same will be said for Cherington when his story is fully written. He’ll have good moves and bad moves, good signings and bad signings. For instance, it’s too early to tell, but the Josh Bell trade doesn’t look great, heck the Adam Frazier deal doesn’t look terrific. It’s part of the game, if he wins he’ll be a genius, if he doesn’t he’ll probably be a decent GM constrained by his owner if not a total bust.

Reality, most of them do good and bad things, it’s really about doing more good than bad at the end of the day.

5. The Easiest Prediction for 2022 is….

The Pirates will be better than 2021.

It’s an easy prediction because it’d be monumentally hard for them not to best 101 losses. Young players get better, and that’s what the team has stated as their goal. They of course meant bringing in more talent, but they also specifically spoke to making the most of the talent on this club.

This roster isn’t going to change much this off season, just isn’t. You can fanaticize about whatever free agent you want, you can blame whomever you choose, fact is they just aren’t going to put much into this team this year.

Fans want improvement, I’m sure the team would too, and I’m betting they’re betting they can get it done largely by nothing more than incremental improvement from players they believe in.

Don’t get me wrong, they’ll bring in some players and jettison others, but largely internal growth seems to be what Cherington wants to lean on.

Baseball is so weird in this regard. In the NFL, if you’re not a good running back or a good right tackle, chances are next year you won’t be either. In MLB, you can have most everyone think you won’t even be on the 40-man next year, give a couple weeks of decent performance and suddenly find yourself a tough choice and 6 months later have people screaming you need extended.

It’s the beauty and frustration of team building in MLB, and one would think for a team that’s been trying to do it for like 35 out of the last 40 seasons they’d be pretty good at it. There simply must be improvement.

Show me something. Show me a pitcher who figures things out under Marin’s tutelage. Show me Kevin Newman not falling into bad habits at the plate for 5 months Mr. New Hitting Coach. Show me Anthony Alford using his blazing speed for an actual stolen base Mr. Coach who I don’t even know yet.

Point is, if you can’t improve talents that actually made it to MLB already, why should we believe you’ll do it with minor league players? I’m not indicting this management group for the failures of the past, but I am saying at some point you have to show you can do some of the things you’re telling me you want to do.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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