Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

12-13-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

As baseball continues to hibernate, this weekly feature is still churning along. Sometimes news is the very silence itself coming from both sides of this negotiation, other times the silence will cause people to take a crack at suggesting fixes. I don’t however expect to hear anything that tangibly feels like it came from either entity before Christmas. Remember this period of time if we do wind up missing games, because we’re already a week in on wasted time.

Now let’s dig in on this week’s thoughts.

1. Spending That Dough

MLB’s revenue sharing system is nebulous at best. You can get a rough estimate of how much each team receives, you can even track how some of it is spent, but nailing down every dollar is a chore.

I’m still in the research period for a piece I’m trying to put together detailing where the Pirates spend their revenue sharing dollars. This piece may never see the light of day, one thing many of you probably don’t realize is how many things Craig and I start and don’t finish. Sometimes that’s because our level of access simply isn’t good enough, sometimes it’s because the story we were digging into didn’t turn out to be an interesting story at all.

This one in particular so far in my research has proven to be worse, I’m actually finding contradictory “facts” which typically means there aren’t any.

Let’s talk about how MLB revenue sharing currently works and to make the conversation easier, let’s eliminate dollar values. Right now, teams that receive revenue sharing as required by the CBA that just expired, have to provide a list of how they’re spending those dollars to MLB. Meaning it doesn’t have to be spent on payroll, or infrastructure, it really is only limited by the imagination of what helps the team compete. This is where player grievances go to die by the way.

For instance, these training sites with Pirates youngsters you’re reading about in Bradenton right now, well, they’re likely using revenue sharing money for the entire operation. It’s not illegal, or unethical, but it’s obviously not what you tend to think of when hearing about the purpose of revenue sharing.

To me, this is one of the many issues that needs ironed out in the CBA. Major improvement in competitive balance could come from just ensuring the revenue sharing dollars primarily go to payroll as opposed to the autonomy the teams enjoy currently.

Again, I’m not picking on the training site as a bad investment, it’s smart actually to make sure all the draft picks and youngsters have a better foundation heading into next season, but it might be better for the league if they controlled the usage a bit.

2. Sneak Peek at ZiPS Projections

I suppose I should make sure everyone knows what the ZiPS projections are right? Well, it’s a system of player projections developed by Dan Szymborski at FanGraphs that was developed when he was at Baseball Think Factory. It’s not gospel, but it is a nice snapshot of where things are headed. The full post will be available today over at FanGraphs and I recommend you check it out.

You start to see some interesting things here. First thing that caught my eye, man they don’t like the pitching at all, and I can see that, but I’d also say it’s a symptom of evaluating youngsters. These projections are at least partially based on past performance so it stands to reason when you don’t have much past, and it wasn’t stellar, it’s going to be somewhat like this.

The left side of the infield looks to be pretty damn productive racking up nearly 7 wins, unfortunately the close to 7 wins from the pitching staff is pitiful.

Nobody is going to see these numbers and be shocked, but this also doubles as the site’s first crack at the depth chart as it stands. I think we’re still in for some changes but this shows a mild improvement believe it or not.

3. If There is No Season, Would It Be Good for Pittsburgh?

As we’ve broached before, if MLB’s lockout remains in place and we start losing games, the likelihood is we’ll still have minor league ball. So in a season where the Pirates are likely to not show much at the big league level should we almost feel positive about getting the progression of all these prospects without the pain of another underwhelming season in MLB?

This is a tough one for me. I see the logic, but I think questions being answered at the MLB level is a big part of development. I also think losing a year for everyone on the 40 could actually set this whole thing back.

Let’s take a guy like Travis Swaggerty. Drafted in 2018, played in 2019 and did . . . ok, 2020 was spent at the training site in Altoona, skipped AA altogether for AAA in 2021 and played all of a week before being lost for the season to injury. Now he’s on the 40-man and if this situation played out would not play baseball in 2022 either. That’s a long time to not play baseball, and this isn’t a 19 year old kid, he’s 24 and will have only played 12 games beyond Class A since 2020. Man, that’s no ideal.

It’s not that he wouldn’t be working hard on his own to stay in shape, but it’s hard to expect there’d be no effect from missing that much time. He’s not alone, anyone drafted in that time frame has suffered a lack of playing time, and another lost season might very well spell lost prospects in the end.

The more I think about it, the less I can find a way to paint it as a positive. Sure you as a fan don’t have to watch a bad baseball team in 2022, but you also enter 2023 with all the same questions you were going to enter 2022 with, and you get to add on the guys who need protected in that year on top of the guys you already had to work through. Turns into a mess real quick.

I guess I land on No. It’s not something we should hope for. Players like Swaggerty, Peguero, Cruz, and Contreras would lose progression and have other prospects running up their back. Enjoy watching it or don’t, that 162 games have to happen to sift through the roster and continue the development of others.

4. I Think We’re Beyond Big Trades for a While

I mean, obviously there won’t be any while MLB is locked out, but I’m talking more about the team even when they come back. Part of this is the reality that the Pirates non-tendered 3 candidates in the form of Colin Moran, Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault, coupled with the fact they simply don’t have a bunch of guys nearing the end of their control with the club.

I mean let’s be honest, we’re really talking about players that matter, not guys like Ben Gamel or Chris Stratton, those guys could both find themselves moved this year but if things go right you’ll hopefully be ready for Mr. Gamel to find a new home because there are prospects who’ve made the decision easy.

More than anything, I don’t see anyone they could move that would net the high ceiling return this club has to be looking for.

In other words, I think it’s time to let this thing play out a bit now, work through some of the prospects and see how things work themselves out a bit. Now, to be fair, I felt the same about moving Jacob Stallings, but at some point stacking prospects turns into a traffic jam that prevents you from actually evaluating or providing real opportunity to guys you’ve brought in.

I’ll tell you what, I might be looking at this wrong, maybe there will be trades but they won’t be for the same reasons we’ve seen in recent years. Let’s put forward someone like Kevin Newman, he’s underwhelmed with the bat but his glove is elite. There have been teams interested and moving him certainly wouldn’t be for financial concerns, it could be for actual baseball reasons. Say Oneil Cruz, and Diego Castillo both show themselves to be contributors, well we could be looking at something we don’t see here often, trading a player to make room for a younger, better option.

As we sit here many of you are probably thinking hell yeah, but I wonder if you’d feel the same if he does figure things out with the bat.

Either way, the conversation is going to start changing a bit this year on trades. I see it being more about making room or even real baseball trades than amassing prospects. That might be the same result, but the thinking behind it is certainly not the same.

Let’s try and come up with a list of who to watch and why.

Kevin Newman/Cole Tucker – Both former number one picks. Kevin has has a season where he produced offensively (despite what his underlying stats said) and one good defensive season. Cole has a decent month under his belt. Both have plenty of control but you’d be selling hope, not track record per se. Part of me thinks either could net a decent reliever at the MLB level in a return and maybe that’s enough.

Mitch Keller – This would likely be an admission that this club has not reached the young man. There comes a point when a team has to give up on a youngster and again, you’d be selling the physical tools, not the performance. He’d have to do much the same as he did last season for the team to decide they’ve seen enough, but he’s borderline on being part of the solution at this point. Even if he figures it out he might just not time out as the club would like. One thing is for sure with Mitch, this is decision year.

That’s what I got. If you want to worry about Gamel or Stratton, guys like that, have at it, but for the most part, I see the days of looking over the entire roster anticipating trades as close to dried up which is really a reflection of where we are in the process.

5. What if MLB Goes to a Draft Lottery System?

I mean, how often do I say look at the other leagues and do what works? The NBA and NHL have a lottery for draft picks, the NFL doesn’t. All three are successful and I guess you could say tanking isn’t a thing for any of the three. Sure the Lions stink, but they’ve been in a ton of games this year even as their record is awful. Thing is if the NFL had a lottery I don’t think they’d win one more game than they’ll wind up with anyhow.

In the NHL we’ve seen first hand how these systems work. Before it existed the Penguins famously tanked to get Mario Lemieux, and won the lottery to get Sidney Crosby while not having the worst record in the league.

Long story short, if you say the worst 5 or 8 get in the lottery even if it’s unweighted by record with the odds of pulling the ping pong ball, it doesn’t change much beyond the perception of shooting to be the very worst.

This one to me would mean more to he national baseball writers than the game itself, but maybe that’s just me.

Bonus: Pirates Fan Forum Live!

On January 22nd at 2 PM, Jim Stamm and I will be live at the North Shore Tavern on Federal Street directly across from PNC Park for a live episode of the Pirates Fan Forum and we’d love it if you stopped by!

We’ll be taking live questions from those in attendance and it’ll also be live on YouTube but those that come to the event will get extra time to interact as we’ll hang out long past the filming.

It’s a great opportunity to get together with other baseball fans in a place filled with Pirates memorabilia and history, and I want to soak in as many stories and memories as you all can share.

The event is completely free and as we flesh out the plan for the show we’ll have more information to share. If you have points to make, please come down and be part of the show, we can’t wait to meet as many of you as possible.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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