Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

11-22-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates finally did some stuff, ok, ok, so the league had a deadline that made it unavoidable, it’s still some stuff right? Point is progress only comes for a team at this stage with change, addition, subtraction, either one changes the outcome, and that’s the best way to look at it. There simply aren’t moves coming that make this a competitive team in 2022, but that doesn’t mean we should bash every move like it means nothing.

Let’s get started, the thoughts are overflowing today.

1. You Realize Some of These Guys Will Actually Improve Right?

I’m all for improving the roster, I think we’ve seen enough of several players to know at the very least we aren’t dealing with a group poised to take one giant leap forward in unison. That said, I’m seeing a lot of takes that basically say “same team, same results”, and honestly, I’m not so sure.

No matter how you look at this roster, I don’t see another season of picking up 10-15 waiver claims, or trying to carry three or even four Rule 5 pickups. I see a more talented group of predominantly young players. Young players who I truly believe have room for improvement, and not pipe dream style.

To assume we’ll see the same results, I’d have to believe Ke’Bryan Hayes isn’t going to push back and creep closer to the consistent hitter we hoped he’d become. I’d have to believe Keller, Brubaker, Kranick and Wilson will all stay right where they are and not take a step.

See that’s the thing that’s different in 2022, They don’t need that entire group to step up or become more than they are, they just need one to become an answer. More would be nice, but one would be one more slot filled. That’s what this is about, filling roles.

The youth pushing from behind is really going to add to the likelihood that the Pirates can be a bit less patient with underperformance.

The funniest thing about advanced stats is just how convinced seemingly everyone is that they are in fact gospel. Every season we see guys exceed their expectation, every season people tear apart the numbers to show why it was suddenly expected. LOL.

I love it.

David Bednar’s 2021 STEAMER projections were 58 IP, 4.17 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 61 K, 26 BB and then he did this in real life, 60.2 IP, 2.23 ERA, 0.973 WHIP, 77 K, 21 BB. It’s incredible how close some of these numbers were, and how far off others were. That’s because it’s an educated guess, not gospel.

I’m not a guy who believes these numbers have no value, I’m just a guy who sees them for what they are, a projection based on what has been seen, with little to no room for actually learning or improving in any one aspect of their skill set.

Let’s do one more because it works both ways, Kevin Newman. 2021 STEAMER projections were .271 AVG, .322 OBP, .706 OPS and in real life .226 AVG, .265 OBP, .574 OPS.

The expectation that you don’t know what will happen is key to sports, and the enjoyment of them. Take these numbers for what they are, and keep an open mind, some will overperform expectation, others will never meet them, that’s sports, and in baseball its really the game within the game. It’s why you can sign a pitcher for 3 million and reasonably expect the possibility they perform better than a guy you paid 25 million on occasion.

When following a rebuilding club, this understanding is essential. It’s so easy to say a rookie stinks, most of the time they do. Start giving up on every one that doesn’t start out like Bryan Reynolds or Juan Soto and you won’t build anything, well, except a bitter fan base watching former players in the playoffs elsewhere.

2. Quintana Isn’t a Savior, and I Doubt He’s Supposed to Be

2 million dollars is chump change, even for a team like Pittsburgh.

This guy is nothing more than a hopeful reclamation project, a barrier to entry if you will. As Craig wrote last night, it’s not exciting, it’s not high risk, but it is exactly what Ben Cherington told us he was looking for.

Fans recognize the name and in the PR game that’s half the battle, no different than seeing so many excited by the signing of Shelby Miller last season. This isn’t to say you can’t see it as positive that they went and got someone with experience. It’s not to say he can’t stay healthy or perform more like the best version of himself, but this doesn’t really move the needle on what this team looks like in 2022.

They have plenty of holes, and the willingness to spend some money just trying to find plugs is exactly what you hope to see here. More importantly, I’d like to see the willingness to see it’s a mistake and eat the money. If things are really different, this is akin to paying 2 million dollars for a tryout. If things are the same way they’ve been, he looks like exactly what his numbers say he should and they hold on with white tipped fingers praying he somehow does 2 million worth of work.

Now, I’d rather see them take 6-10 million and get one pitcher with more reasonable expectation, but consider the possibility they actually WANT him to be beaten out by players they currently have in house.

This happens all the time all over the league, the difference is when the Pirates do it we automatically have what I call the three phases of every veteran signing. First, the overestimations that the player will be that guy you remember seeing do some really good things, even if separated by years of contrary stats. Second the calls to extend the player, before seeing one pitch or swing. Third, the immediate turn to “flipping” the player at the deadline and back to overestimating the haul he’ll provide.

This is just a guy, a guy with history, a guy with talent, but more than anything another option that teams like this take low risk shots on. Hope to be impressed rather than set yourself up to be disappointed.

3. If Guys are Just Placeholders, Why Not Just Cut Them?

Easily the number one question I’ve gotten since the Rule 5 protection deadline. I don’t want to pick on any one player here but for the sake of illustration let’s use Cody Ponce. Cody is probably not a guy who will survive this roster, so why not just cut him right?

Let me try this way, because I’ve tried multiple times to help this make sense. (Which arguably means it just doesn’t actually make sense, ya know lol)

Your lawn mower has a wheel that the post has come loose on. It still cuts grass, but it’s clearly not fun to use and it’s not really doing a good job. You have your eye on a really nice new mower that’s in your price range but it won’t be available in stores until next year, in fact you’re actually a bit torn on whether you’ll like it or not based on the design the company has been touting. You can put your money down on the new mower now and assure that you’ll get one when it’s released or you can get a lesser model to get by for a year now, but you can’t do both.

Now, while you wait to make your decision a deadline approaches for putting money down on the new mower but you just can’t see waiting a year and using what you have so you decide to roll the dice and hope you just don’t have any issues with availability when the time comes. You turn your gaze to shopping for a stop gap alternative, maybe even on Craig’s list.

In the meantime, one thing you absolutely don’t do is throw that old mower away, I mean you might even still be thinking you can fix that damn post and potentially recoup some cash out of it, maybe you can even not get a replacement at all. Once you pull the trigger on the stop gap, your dream of fixing it fades, your need to keep it as a safety net dissipate and it finds it’s way to the curb with a sign saying free.

The new mower is that shiny prospect. The old mower is Ponce in this example and the potential stopgap replacement is someone not unlike Quintana.

The basic principle is that you can’t assume everything you want to get done will happen. You may feel you need 6 players and have 15 identified as filling the bill, but you have to be aware of the realities of competition, and baseball people are especially good at this, you have to realize you aren’t going to hit near .500 in any venture related to the sport.

If you want to take the analogy even further, after a week nobody takes that free mower so you haul it back into the garage and tool on it for a few hours and manage to get a decent backup machine out of it.

Had you just thrown it away on trash day, you miss that opportunity. By waiting and putting it out the day after there were far fewer people looking to pick it up.

All this happens to be is hedging your bet and realizing it’s better to have something that doesn’t work well than to have nothing.

4. Unexpected Allies

The CBA negotiations often are seen as having only two sides, the Owners and the Players, but a more accurate way to view this is really breaking it into 4. On the owners side there are the small and big market owners, for the players the young players dealing with baseball’s rules to keep their salaries in place and the veteran players headlined by the big earners.

Now when goals start to align from these fractions, that’s when I start to pay attention.

On the player’s side of things, the top earners are finally interested in doing something for the young guys, perhaps because they’ve given away so much on this front in past negotiations they know they’ll lose the room if they leave it untouched.

The owners side the major shock was hearing from Hal Steinbrenner from the behemoth Yankees about the MLB proposal to lower the Luxury Tax threshold. Check out this quote.

“All I can tell you is, there’s seven of us (owners) on labor policy: Boston, me, several mid-markets, couple small markets,” Steinbrenner said Wednesday at MLB’s owners’ meetings. “We’re a very diverse group. And when we came up with the proposal, including CBT (competitive balance tax) and luxury tax that we brought to the union, it was a unanimous — on our committee — a unanimous deal.”

First, it’s rare to hear any of the top spending teams admit there is an actual class system at play. We often wonder why these owners can’t look at the other leagues and see what’s missing in this one sport, and this quote shows something we haven’t seen emerge from the shadows before, they’re starting to see it.

No the proposal from MLB isn’t perfect, no it won’t fix everything, but it is very much so a form of salary cap system. It has a cap (albeit faux), it has a floor and it has increased revenue sharing.

To really make this effective the floor needs to be much higher, no more than a 20-25 million dollar spread can exist for true equality but it’s a start, and an admission that the problem is seen.

I don’t expect what we fans (at least the ones who see this as an issue) see as a true Salary cap system but I do expect more movement in that direction. It’s good for everyone, players included, even if they can’t see it right now.

The Forbes numbers for 2021 on payroll don’t come out until December so don’t beat me up Ethan Hullihen , just see this as a math exercise for now.

Let’s say they make the faux cap 200 million and the floor 120 million. The funding mechanism would have to be in place clearly so let’s just assume they handle that aspect as the players don’t need to care how that goes down.

There are 3 teams (again based on the numbers I have at my fingertips) that spend more than that cap. Accounting for close to 80 million dollars ganged together.

So we start the equation.

4.041 Billion Total Payroll
– 80 Million
= 3.961 Billion

Now add up how much every team needs to spend to hit the floor from where they are right now of which there are 14 teams.

3.961 Billion
+ 531 Million in new payroll money to meet the floor
= 4.492 Billion

That’s an overall increase of 451 million dollars infused into the players salaries.

I’m not a math major, in fact I hated doing this extremely basic example. I’m not claiming these numbers are gospel, but I am saying this is a really quick look at why it’s not bad for the players, and I don’t need open books to show it. They’d have to build in natural increases every year just like every other league and open books would probably cause those proposed cap and floor figures to change, but there is a path here to get better, not perfect but better.

It’s starting to be seen, and that’s worth noting. They can also use that ample room built in on the increased payroll dollars to address pay for minor leaguers and young players. It’s certainly more complicated than this, but when the one group I thought would completely oppose this on the ownership side sees and endorses something like this, perk up and listen.

5. Feeling Thankful

Craig and I are closing out our second full season here on and we couldn’t possibly be more thankful for all of you. We did this with no funding, no advertising and until recently no other writers. Nothing but our willingness to work and your word of mouth has turned us into a blog thousands read regularly. We’re proud of what this site has grown to, and looking forward to continuing next year.

I’m also thankful for our contributors, Anthony DiFilippo, host of the City of Bridges Podcast, Justin Verno and Joe Boyd for all their trade chatter and prospect write ups have been welcome additions.

On the Podcast front, Craig has seen incredible increases in listenership for the Bucs in the Basement podcast and I along with my co-host Jim Stamm have been simply blown away by the response to the Pirates Fan Forum on DK Pittsburgh Sports Podcasting Network.

Absolutely none of this is possible without you. We’ve never aimed for click bait and always tried to shoot you straight, and you’ve rewarded us with tremendous conversation, patronage and in many cases friendship.

This Thanksgiving I simply want you all to know how very much we appreciate you, and make sure you know, we don’t take it lightly in any way. Thank you all, and be blessed.

Let’s Go Bucs!

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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