12-1-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
It was late last night when I received a text from my producer of my podcast the Pirates Fan Forum. Eddie Provident is a guy who loves all Pittsburgh sports but he’s also young and had all but given up hope on the Pirates after 2016, well, until he started listening to me and Jim Stamm do our show.
Eddie is part of the audience here folks. Someone that wants to believe in what’s happening, finds a resource who isn’t trying to blow smoke up his butt and now watching what’s happened in the past couple days, well, let’s just say want help understanding what in the actual hell the Pirates are doing here. Maybe you identify with him, maybe you think he’s a doubting Thomas, either way, everyone could use some clarification.
That resource doesn’t have to be me or Craig, or anyone in particular, the point is fans want to believe things are still going in the right direction, but can’t come to grips with how moving out players at this point who weren’t sore spots and bringing in yet more prospects could possibly be seen as progress.
Not an easy ask Eddie.
First of all, I can’t say I’m completely sold on the path Ben Cherington took here. I’d have done things much differently, but the title of Co-Editor for a Pirates Blog doesn’t afford me the privilege. And this site, our shows, have never been about making everything they do seem smart.
That doesn’t mean I can’t take a swing at explaining it and letting Eddie and all of you form your own opinion. So let’s take a swing at understanding, which again isn’t the same as endorsing. I’ll take them choice by choice.
Trading Jacob Stallings & Adding Roberto Perez
I wrote about this yesterday so I’ll try not to be too repetitive here. I have to gang these together, because it’s clear the Pirates had the Perez deal just about wrapped up before they pulled the trigger on the Stallings deal.
Seen as a complete work, they basically downgraded the catching position at least from the expected offense side of things and perhaps durability, in exchange for an almost certain lock for the rotation and a couple prospects.
Again, I’d argue Stallings was more important than his numbers and as I wrote Monday the emotional leader of this club. Of course nobody knows how all these prospects will turn out, but it’s safe to say if Perez stays healthy (not a given with his history) and Thompson pitches well as his FIP, WHIP and ERA suggest he should, it’s probably a net positive even without them doing a damn thing.
I still wouldn’t have done it, to me they pay more for the catching position now, for an obvious downgrade albeit not drastic, and brought in another work in progress starter. Work in progress, reclamation project, Quad A, were not things I wanted in a rotation piece and I’d have preferred seeing them spend some money bringing in a free agent pitcher in the 6-8 million dollar range to sure things up.
Now, you know me, I’m not going to leave it there and avoid trying to explain the thinking here at all.
The system as it stands, and I’ve told you this before, is trending toward the position players beating the arms to the Bigs. Sure we have youngsters getting there like Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Cody Bolton and everyone else we saw tried out last season, but the Pirates can’t ignore that the real bulk of the starting pitching this team is anticipating are just digesting their High A and Low A seasons.
So a move to bring in another is something that directly speaks to that need. In order to not waste players like Oneil Cruz, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, and take your pick beyond that with guys like Nick Gonzales, the Pirates can’t just have no pitching. Moves like this address that need to bridge the gap.
See we all have been thinking of this as who’s bridging the gap to Henry Davis now, but the Pirates are worried about who’s bridging the pitching gap to Priester and Burrows types.
I’ll leave it there, that gives you enough to think your way through this one, but we shouldn’t provide the Pirates cover here, it’s not like there aren’t other ways they could acquire pitching for now.
Steven Brault & Chad Kuhl
Man I’d love to tell you this was about money, it’d make my life a whole lot easier to just blame Nutting. Instead, I’ll simply point to both of their career paths and ask, how much more time did you really want to pretend there was more in there? Neither have been able to stay healthy, neither have been consistent, and more than anything, I can’t argue either were a lock to beat out any of the options here.
The fact the Pirates couldn’t find anyone to give them so much as a lottery ticket for either should speak volumes here.
Part of the issue here is stubbornness in my mind. For years fans and scouts alike have considered both to be better options as bullpen arms but the Pirates have never taken the step to just make those moves more than temporary. Part of that has been a near total lack of options, but part of it was the very real sample size efforts both have provided over the years. Their careers are like my golf game, I might shoot a 90 but man those two shots on the 6th hole are enough to believe I’ve got a tour win in me. Well, ok I’ve never been that delusional but you get the picture.
If you want to argue they should have kept either, I get it, this team has so little veteran presence on the mound I can dig it, but I don’t think they’d have beaten out Quintana or Thompson, those guys are virtual locks as we sit here today. Bryse Wilson you have to believe is in there. This has to be the show me year for Keller, and Brubaker showed enough before his arm died that you have to see what he has.
From there, be honest with yourself, wouldn’t you rather watch Kranick, Contreras, Yajure, Peters, and maybe even Bolton before you watched Kuhl or Brault start another game?
Are we just mad because they cut names we recognize here?
Colin Moran & Yoshi Tsutsugo
This one I struggle with.
Yoshi, yeah that’s fine, even if Craig has me almost 100% convinced this won’t turn out well. I still like the signing if only because they need power and I’ll hope enough pitchers and his good eye at the plate lead to on base opportunities and running into one more often than Colin did.
Colin is slow, like real slow. He’s what I call a base clogger, and it hurt having him in the middle of the lineup swinging like a singles hitter rather than a power threat. I can’t even tell you how many times he walked to leadoff an inning and I just sighed knowing he wasn’t going to score unless a whole lot went right.
Now, I’d have still kept him around if only because the power is in there, and this team doesn’t have much of it. He’s not as we sit here good enough to be a “good” DH, but he’s better than the options I see internally so I’m at least a little confused as to what they’re thinking here.
It could be as simple as he was going to get too much in arbitration (4 Million) for what they felt he’d contribute, but I can’t sit here and tell you there aren’t other guys I’d rather move on from. As with Kuhl and Brault, let’s not ignore they were unable to trade him, and it’s very safe to assume they weren’t asking for much since releasing them was clearly on the horizon.
Overall, the position is at least no worse off, and potentially more productive. I guess that’s a nice way of saying he \has had ample opportunity to show his first round pedigree was real.
They clearly aren’t done here, but the thing I simply have to point out here is you should be encouraged that they aren’t sitting on a 101 loss team and doing the same thing. I can argue these moves won’t impact that much, but I can’t argue they’re simply trotting out the same mix of players hoping for different results.
I find some of these moves confusing based on Ben Cherington’s assertion that this team will be competitive again sooner than some think. Most of these moves are zero sum gains at least on paper so he either really believes in his development system or he’s flatly just saying things right now with no frame of reference. In other words, maybe he’s directly referring to someone saying the team wouldn’t compete before 2028 and he thinks he can beat that, as opposed to the common thought that 2023/2024 should be on the table.
These moves don’t feel like the next couple seasons are in play. Yoshi is a one year deal, Perez is a one year deal. Their assumed replacements are Mason Martin who’s obviously still a question mark if he survives the Rule 5 draft, and the combination of Abarahan Gutierrez, Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis are all still at least a stretch to consider part of the mix in 2023.
Now, Colin was only here 2 more seasons regardless, Stallings for 4, I’d have to say all of this stuff didn’t really change the timeline much if at all. What it’s really potentially altered is how 2022 looks and fan perception of how the rise to competitive should look. Most didn’t factor in a possible further slide before the upward trend started, and while I can’t tell you well run teams should listen to what fans want to see when building a roster, I can say this team has largely ignored that facet for decades and it hasn’t worked out well has it?
From the time Cherington was hired he openly stated there were players here who would be contributors on a winning ball club, he’s running out of those players at this point. If he was truthful then I’d have to say an extension is coming for someone. Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Chris Stratton, Sam Howard and Nick Mears represent those who remain from Cherington’s statement. Looks like 2 or 3 shots at truthfulness to me.
Yes, Eddie, there is still a plan. And no, I still can’t tell you if it’ll work. I also can’t say it’s how I’d have approached it, but much like driving in Pittsburgh, there are multiple ways to get where you’re going, some just aren’t a fun drive.