Odd Happenings for a Rebuild in This Stage

12-16-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

When news broke yesterday, no thanks to the Pirates by the way, that Joel Hanrahan would be moving on from the Pirates, I couldn’t help but think about how odd it is to finally have real prospects hitting AAA and suddenly have no pitching coach or manager.

As many of you will recall, the Pirates chose to not retain Brian Esposito as the manager of the Indianapolis Indians earlier in the off season.

Now, while I like Joel, and the Pirates obviously did as well since they used him as a “fixer” and offered him a multi year extension, I’m not going to go crazy and claim they lost some guru. I mean, much like Oscar Marin, I’ve seen next to no improvement.

Instead, my question is, in a year where the rebuild has finally started to reach the upper level of minor league baseball, can we get a little bit of a sense of urgency about filling out a staff? I mean they have a hitting coach, John Nunnally, at least we hope, after all Joel apparently told the Pirates 2.5 weeks ago he was leaving and they still haven’t told us directly, leaving breaking the news to Joel himself on Twitter.

Look, it’s not like they’re playing tomorrow, it’s not even like the guys at the camp currently will play for this new unit, but nothing else is happening in the baseball world, so I’d imagine filling this staff out would be a priority.

Another point here, and I’ve touched on this before, this team has almost no ability to play the PR game. I’m not talking about creatively selling a 101 loss team as good, I’m talking about clearly explaining vision. Taking control of a situation like what just played out with Joel and making sure fans knew this was expected and they have candidates in mind.

As it stands now, the most logical thing might be to transplant the staff from Altoona to Indianapolis, but let’s not pretend that doesn’t effect an equally, probably more so, group of prospects.

If you want wild takes and extremes of emotion, let things like this continue to play out on social media and let the only story anyone hears be the person leaving. To me this looks like the team either really thought Joel was bluffing or worse, they didn’t think anyone would care.

Well, we care because you told us to. You, the Pirates, made sure we knew how much faith you placed in Joel Hanrahan to help turnaround struggling pitchers, and while I never saw tangible evidence it worked, I certainly took their word that he had effectively instilled the message and found a way to make it stick. I can honestly say Mitch Keller at least looked different when he came back from his fix me tour with Joel, even if I can’t back it up with statistical advancement.

As we sit here, the Pirates now need a AAA manager, a AAA pitching coach, a new position they’re calling Coaching Coordinator and they’ve already decided to not externally hire a fielding coach for MLB, instead opting to pile it on coaches already in the fold.

None of this stuff is the end of the world, again there is plenty of time, but the way this stuff plays out matters. When a team like the Pirates show sloppy searches for coaches, or messy exits, hell, even just the perception of messy exits due to their own stubborn silence, it’s easy for fans who already don’t trust the organization to assume it’s more of the same.

Oh, if Ben Cherington turns this thing into a winner you can look back on all this stuff and laugh I suppose, but let’s face it, Ben and Travis Williams weren’t just brought here to build a team, they were brought here to change the way this team does business. They were brought here to better communicate with fans and communicate in general would seem to be a good start in that effort.

I’m a firm believer, if you want people to stop taking pot shots at you, maybe stop wearing the jacket with a target on the back. Stop giving people ammunition works too. If you want to stop being the joke, stop acting like one.

I don’t care why Joel wanted out, and honestly I’m not sure anyone should. This stuff happens all the time, but if you sell a guy as some kind of especially talented member, it would behoove you to get out in front of the story, and explain before he has an opportunity to discuss it with Alex Stumpf and Jason Mackey. Take ownership of the process, make it look like the organization played a role in this move even if it’s just having a different vision or wanting him to fill a different role than he wanted.

I mean, that’s what happened, but instead of that being the story, the story is more about a coach dropping a bomb on social media. It’s more about a franchise that can’t even competently staff their AAA staff and seemingly got caught flat footed.

I can’t sit here and deny that the talent level in the system is better, it certainly is, but there is more to turning this franchise around than bringing in talent. As Clint Hurdle once famously noted, part of his job was reconnecting this baseball team to it’s city and fans. Winning certainly helped him get the job done, but transparency about the ethos and methods they’d use helped create buy in, and quite honestly we’re not seeing that.

Even with a move they made earlier with Jacob Stallings, man it just felt like they didn’t see why anyone would question it. Word salad from the GM eventually meandered to all the touch points you’d want to hear, but you have to fight through the boogers to get to the kleenex with almost every statement. At least there was one though, even if it wasn’t deemed important enough to address at a press conference as opposed to on a laptop waiting for a flight at the airport.

The team on the field is obviously priority number one, but where we are in this rebuild, this team needs to improve some of this stuff and tighten up too. I’m sorry, Derek Shelton is a nice guy and his t-shirt thing is cute, but at some point someone has to do more. It’s not Travis Williams or Ben Cherington’s fault this team has a damaged reputation, but it is their job to fix it. Maybe that’s an impossible effort with their owner, I mean they could hand out $100 bills in Market Square and have people ask how much it was in total and list off the players they could afford to bring in with the cash.

It’s not an easy lift, but it shouldn’t mean it’s not attempted. What I feel right now is a management team that feels winning is the answer, solely. I suggest making fans feel like you are making purposeful moves as the process unfolds and including fans in the ups and downs would create an invested and passionate base when that winning does actually come into the conversation.

As it stands now, they’re in my mind throwing their hands up and deeming it unnecessary to bother. Hire someone else to do the job if that’s what it takes, but people in this industry should simply know things like hey, it might not be the best idea to send out season ticket packages and seating reassignments to fans the day after your 101st loss of the season and heading into a lockout.

As Vince Vaughn would say, Lock it up.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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