11-8-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Well, I’m back from Florida for a nice long weekend and as expected the Pirates did a bunch of actual stuff while I was gone. The business of baseball keeps going on and I’d have to imagine it feels like a store manager who has to stock Christmas Displays on December 23rd, knowing it’s about to be for naught.
Let’s dive in shall we?
1. The Black & Golden Glove
The Pirates had three finalists, and of the three Jacob Stallings was the one with a clear statistical case nobody could touch. He was outstanding and it shouldn’t be overlooked that this was done with a less than stellar pitching staff. That matters because everything is just a tick harder when your team trots through 35 or so pitchers.
So congratulations to Jake, he’s a self made winner. He has talent of course, but he’s become the absolute brick wall back there he is because he wanted to be, and worked to become it. He’s a reminder that while you look at the pool of prospects in the system and dream about future lineups, players like Stallings will find a way to emerge. As frustrating as baseball development can be, Jake is an open and shut case for practicing some patience.
As to the others, well Reynolds was the one I really thought had a shot, he was very good, Bader was too. Fear not, I see Reynolds being in this conversation just about every year, and I’ll be as blunt as possible here, if he played in left field this season he wins it.
Kevin Newman was outstanding this year. He gets to everything he should and does something with it when he gets it, but I wasn’t convinced he’s really have a shot because his Outs Above Average was so much lower than Lindor and eventual winner Crawford.
It is what it is, 3 guys as finalists and one winner is pretty incredible for a 100+ team, and a clear sign they rose above the collective. No shame in losing out to any one of their fellow finalists.
Congrats Jake for the win, congrats Kevin and Bryan for the finalist nod. Build on this, and next year pick up a nod at third base too.
2. Players in, Players out, but Much Left to Sort
Yesterday Craig wrote a great piece on the housekeeping effort by the Pirates that cleaned up the 40-man to fit the immediate need, but they aren’t done by a long shot.
The Rule 5 Draft protection date is November 19th, and the non-tender deadline is December 1st. Things are going to happen quickly here.
I’m not going to replicate Craig’s piece in this entry but the three moves that at least made me consider using the Big Ben Oh Face Gif were Wilmer Difo, Chasen Shreve and Shea Spitzbarth. Shea was named the AAA pitcher of the year, and I thought that would probably keep him on the roster, especially with obvious need in the pen. This doesn’t mean everyone they cut loose is 100% gone, but these three most likely are. Difo was a nice bench piece, but if they plan to keep Tucker, Newman, Park, Chavis, Cruz (yes Randy I know RF) and as we all know recently added Diego Castillo to the 40, there just isn’t room. I talked about this eventuality about a month ago, not specifically they’d move on from Difo, but that they simply couldn’t keep all of these guys.
Finally, Chasen Shreve who was up for arbitration and had a pretty consistent year. Again, the bullpen being an obvious problem made me feel Shreve was a no brainer retention. He’s elected free agency and while they could find a way to sign him for less than they believed he’d get in arbitration (2.3 million) chances are he’ll just find another home.
Now, just because they made these moves to clean up the 40, should in no way have you convinced this is where they’ll stop, in fact it didn’t even last 24 hours before the next move came.
Soriano had just been added back on after coming off the 60-day IL, now he has undergone a second TJ so it’s very possible he clears and the Angels don’t take him back which could lead to exactly what Ben Cherington wanted in the first place, a virtually free pitching prospect.
Buckle up buttercup, this isn’t over.
3. Well, Who is Vulnerable on the 40-man?
Oh my, well realistically everyone. That’s not to say Bryan Reynolds or Ke’Bryan Hayes should be concerned, but there is still a lot to dislike about this group.
Here are my top guys to watch as the Bucs look to continue shaping the roster.
Luis Oviedo – Yeah, I know, he just fought through an entire year as a Rule 5 pickup so of course it would be weird to cut bait now. That said, it’s hard to watch what we watched last season and see him as anywhere close to making it back to MLB, especially as a starter which seems to be the team’s intention with him. I don’t think he’s someone they want to drop, but he might be someone who simply didn’t show enough improvement with hands on coaching all season long.
Tanner Anderson – This one is potentially not fair because we weren’t exactly given much time to evaluate what he is. The 28 year old was picked up toward the end of last season and could be seen as a bullpen or rotation piece, but it’d be hard to make a case that he’s a lock for this roster.
Taylor Davis/Michael Perez – One or both of these players could go and I doubt anyone would shed a tear. In fact I’m shocked that Davis is on it right now. I’ve said before that backup catcher is a position I believe has to be upgraded, I can’t see allowing two of them to remain on the roster with what needs to happen yet.
Jared Oliva – He’s done little in MLB, and not enough in AAA. The recent pickup of Greg Allen and the likely tender of Ben Gamel make me feel Oliva will lose his spot to someone they’re more worried about losing.
Phillip Evans – I’d hate to be short here, but I can’t make sense of him being on the roster as we speak, so I see zero chance he stays on it as they continue to clean house.
Anthony Alford – If I’m Anthony, I’m not stoked that Greg Allen was picked up. He can do a lot of what Alford can, but here’s the difference, he’s already done it better. Don’t be shocked if Allen is a direct drop in replacement for Alford. This one could even happen late.
I could add Brault and Kuhl but they were, are and will be on the bubble so nothing new there.
4. What Does “Active” Mean
Talking to my podcast partner Jim Stamm in our latest Pirates Fan Forum we were parsing some recent quotes from Ben Cherington and in particular one word smacked both of us in the face, Active. Saying they planned to be active in the free agent and trade markets can sometimes be taken as a statement that the team is going to push for a real improvement, but in this case we struggled to see that as the meaning.
Feels a lot to me like they plan to do a whole lot more scouring of waivers, signings of MLB vets to show me minor league deals and potentially even some more Rule 5 choices.
The thing is here for me, I can’ t sit here and justify it again. All of those methods for player acquisition are fine, but I’d really like to see some actual, unquestioned MLB talent in here. Wanting to develop everything internally is cool, I agree most of this team will need to come from that method, but there’s something to be said for making sure the players they already have here have some support.
The Pirates may very well like 5-7 of their starting pitching options that they currently have, but none of them have much experience, at least not good experience. Sure would be nice to have those 5-7 fight for 4 spots rather than pray 5 of them earn it. I don’t think they need to go “all in” as people love to say, but can we at least go “in”?
Payroll can’t possibly be a concern. I can tell you right now spending even 40 million more won’t get them within sniffing distance of the playoffs, but somewhere along the path to relevance there must be an investment, not necessarily in an effort to play meaningful games in August, but an effort to show the guys currently on the team that you believe in them enough to invest in some help. Let’s not have Bryan Reynolds try to lift more up on his shoulders without feeling like someone is spotting him.
This team could have the exact same payroll as they did in 2021 and I wouldn’t care, so long as it’s not a cumulative effect from signing and cutting 15 different fishing expeditions versus one or two meaningful signings.
Maybe the best way I can put this, I don’t want to take any tools away from Mr. Cherington, but at some point I’ve watched you try to strip a wire with a pen knife enough times to feel it’s time to pick up the wire strippers. Eventually you might get the job done, but I have a feeling it won’t be up to code.
5. Radical Ideas
If MLB does in fact introduce the universal DH in the new CBA, would it make sense to also change the divisions? With expanded playoffs also in the mix perhaps now makes sense. Long lost rivalries like Pittsburgh – Philly were casualties of the last realignment but it feels like something could be done here. I mean there’s an entire generation of baseball fans who don’t even see the Mets as a rival of the Pirates, while some in my age group remember those early 90’s battles with the Mets as epic matchups.
Could be and should be are two different things of course, but I feel like the league could benefit from a bit of a shakeup. Just sayin’ wouldn’t it be cool if the entire division was drivable? Pirates, Jays, Reds, Indians, Tigers for instance? Just seems like now would be a good time, and it would at least shake up the expected. They could even go back to 4 big divisions, that would create 4 division winners and 2 wild cards from each which could up the chances some different clubs are involved. Point is, without the DH, there simply is no difference between the leagues, so why not think outside the box.
Next up I have an idea just for the Pirates, I’d like to see the Pirates take the early part of the season that the MiLB teams aren’t playing yet and consider having some of them travel to Pittsburgh during the first big road trip and play some exhibition games for the fans in Pittsburgh. It would be a way to get more big league only fans to get eyes on some of these guys. See Nick Gonzales hit one out in PNC instead of Altoona, even if only for a game or two. See Quinn Priester pop the mitt on an MLB mound, and if nothing else, the first time they do something on this field won’t be when they get called up. Call it the PAC (Pirates Affiliate Cup) and let them compete in a 4 squad round robin thing over 3-4 days. Engaging fans with prospects matters in a market where so much trust is lacking, the team must find a way to show fans first hand what’s being built and why it’s ok to get on board. I’d suggest this should be a free event too but that’s probably even more crazy than the idea itself.
Shorten the season by eliminating interleague play. It’s run its course at this point in my mind. Much like the first Winter Classic in hockey was fun, well, baseball needed this as a gimmick but it’s no longer special. The contrived rivalries like Cincy and Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit, Tampa and Miami, Houston and Texas, they’re not real rivals and playing 4-5 games a year isn’t going to change that. It’s my belief that interleague has made events like the All Star Game and the World Series itself seem less special.
I think the season needs to revert to a shorter version and this is an easy target to eliminate some games that at the very least create unbalanced schedules.
OK, you twisted my arm, one more but it’s quick. Have local and national broadcasts use more of the new stats most people are referencing now. Show WHIP, FIP, OPS, OPS+, OOA, and more than anything, start explaining why they’re better than simple Average, Slugging and ERA. If MLB evaluators and coaches are using them, it stands to reason the common fan should be presented with them. Show a guy with an OPS over .800 and explain to the fans why that’s potentially more important or reflective of performance than the .274 average. Show a guy with a WHIP of 1.025 and show why it’s more of a picture of the pitcher than his 4.13 ERA.
Language is super important, and baseball could do itself a world of good by using the stats the teams are using in their presentations. I’m not saying throw the old stuff out, but maybe creating educated fans is on MLB too, not just people who cover it.