12-17-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
As this venture, Inside the Bucs Basement, Craig’s podcast Bucs in the Basement and mine Pirates Fan Forum have grown, responding to every single comment has become much harder. As a result, I’d say I spend much less time responding to common comments that are far enough off the mark that I just know I’ll get nowhere.
Today, I’d like to take a crack at some of them in the form of an article because legitimately some of these are based in some realm of reality and they deserve to be addressed.
This Team Rebuilds Every Season
I’d hate to fall on a meme here but tell me you don’t understand what a rebuild is without telling me you don’t understand what a rebuild is.
I mean, that’s why I wouldn’t bother responding to something like this typically, but I’ll try to get into this. First of all, I get why you feel that way, but it’s really more of a process that rolls over several seasons.
For instance, you could argue this rebuild should have started way back when the Pirates traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen. If they had, perhaps we’d still have Huntington and possibly they’d have arrived already. The Cole trade returning primarily players ready for MLB (or at least close) meant a full rebuild couldn’t happen. What Huntington attempted, and I could make an argument it was solid thinking, was a retool. It was recognizing he had a pretty decent core of players still and his system didn’t have anything close to really helping so he decided to use his big chip to try to augment it. Didn’t work obviously, but it also wasn’t what you’d call a rebuild.
Now if you jump to what Ben Cherington did and is doing, the difference is stark. It’s not a rebuild of the MLB club, or a resurfacing of the road. No, this dude is digging up the entire stretch of road, laying new rebar, new concrete, and finally they’ll resurface it on top of the new, structurally sound foundation they’ve laid. Now all that’s nice, but at some point (and it’s coming like a freight train) he’s going to need to paint lines on this thing and that’s going to require money.
This really started in 2019, when Starling Marte was moved. Marte knew what this team was about to do, and didn’t want to be here for it. A convenient stance since there was little doubt he would be moved anyway, but I digress.
Note, he didn’t try to bring back a guy for the rotation in 2020, or even 2021, he brought back 2 high ceiling prospects. Liover Peguero, a classic lottery ticket, high skills, high talent, but so far away anything could happen. 2 years later and he’s on the verge of entering MLB’s top 100 list and gotten himself on the 40-man, meaning next year he should be in the mix, in fact this year isn’t crazy. He’s got the talent to be a star, which is different than getting someone like Colin Moran, who had the potential to be a “good” player.
He also got Brennan Malone, another lottery ticket pitcher, he’s progressed much slower. Injury has played in there, learning has factored in, and raw talent takes a while to turn into a pitcher who can hit his spots and miss bats. Maybe he turns out, maybe he stalls, either way that’s why he didn’t stop there, because you have to insulate the effort by stacking prospects.
Every year since has been a continuation of this effort, and this year we reach the point where the curve starts heading North. It won’t feel that way at first, but by season’s end, you’ll be able to count 7-10 players you expect and want to see in 2022. Every year that number will creep up and it’s all part of the same effort.
So yes, they are in a rebuild every year, but every year isn’t a fresh start at it, this all started in 2019 and won’t end until it reaches it’s apex. Again, if it requires money and that isn’t provided it’s a fail. If the prospects don’t turn out or reach close to their ceilings, it’s a fail.
What’s a win? Well, that should be obvious even if you still don’t understand what a rebuild is.
They’ll Never Win if They Don’t Spend
This is absolutely true, in context.
No matter how it happens, when and if this team succeeds the payroll will be much closer to 120 million than where it sits now.
99% of the time this comment is directed primarily at the MLB payroll and the want to bring in free agents. This is where both sides of this are typically wrong. Ben Cherington truthers will tell you he shouldn’t spend a dime until a glut of the prospects have arrived and started contributing, so much so that signing Yoshi Tsutsugo pissed some of them off. Others think they should go get a top tier pitcher for 30 million a year.
Thing is, the payroll through nothing more than arbitration will wind up putting this team into a more competitive payroll figure over time, but I don’t think it needs to be so rigid. If Cherington decided to add to this club in a substantial way this season, it wouldn’t hurt the rebuild. It has to be smart mind you, for instance, signing a star short stop to a 5 year 120 million dollar deal would be silly for a team with such a bulk of potential stars coming in that spot, but they could go get a real outfielder for a couple years and probably wouldn’t block anyone of significance.
In other words, you aren’t wrong, but spending right now would be more about providing a soft landing spot for prospects or making the team and the players who are here and will be here feel a bit more supported. They’re still too far away to really fight for anything this year and more than anything, they need to actually start working through some of these stacked prospects now.
Folks, that’s just not going to cost money but you don’t gather all these prospects to find ways to block them. They won’t all pan out, but you’ll never know until you play them and that’s what starts to happen this year. Bryan Reynolds is cheap too, that doesn’t mean he is anything less than the absolute class of the ballclub. If you believe in the effort to acquire and rebuild the farm system to ultimately make the MLB club into a winner, it doesn’t come without this next step, even if you’re tired of losing.
As I said though, the statement is true, this payroll won’t be embarrassingly low when this team is competitive. The main point many are trying to make that argue the fact is that adding 40 million this year will do little more than feel good and if done foolishly could actually prevent the club from finishing the development of much of the product they’ve returned in deals and the draft.
The Pirates Trade Everyone as Soon as They Get Good
This is where someone wanting to defend the Pirates would list off all the guys they’ve extended like Cutch, Marte, Polanco, Harrison, Liriano, I mean pick your example, but you can’t ever really jump one hurdle, at some point, even if extended, the player gets traded.
That doesn’t mean it’s always a bad move, or to avoid paying a guy. It certainly isn’t some scenario where the GM looks down from his box seat and sees a player doing well then jumps to the phone. It’s more about the general truth that players who make it to MLB will tend to become more helpful pieces as opportunity and time take over.
Take a player like Chris Stratton this year. The Pirates have in Stratton a player who has had multiple opportunities to become a good pitcher. He failed as a starter, he largely failed as a reliever, now, in this opportunity he’s become a reliable arm that can come on in the back end of the bullpen. He’ll also likely be traded soon. So will the Pirates trade him as soon as he got good? Well, yeah, pretty much. Wanna know the alternative? Colin Moran, Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault, are three guys who didn’t get traded, they simply were allowed to walk. They never forced the team to make a decision. Never warranted an extension, and never got another team interested in acquiring them for anything worth getting.
How about everyone’s favorite example Josh Bell. Well, the first thing I’d argue is, was Bell really good? Above average, yes, great guy, yes, worthy of a team like this extending him, oh hell no. So again, you’re right, he got to a certain point, and the team moved him. If Josh Bell was just reaching the point where he had 4 years of control left here in 2022, maybe he’s worth holding onto, but as it stands he’d be entering his last year of control, now ask yourself, does Josh Bell on this team help the 2022 product? He’d cost more than Yoshi, and I bet they’ll produce about the same thing. Oh the return, yes, Wil Crowe hasn’t been great, and Eddy Yean is forever away and quite frankly might always be.
The dirty secret here is if this team is constructed correctly, they’ll probably never stop making decisions like this. Let’s say they extend Bryan Reynolds to the end of the decade as I’ve suggested, well in 2028 don’t be shocked if he’s on the block. He’ll likely still be a productive player, but if the team isn’t in the thick of a pennant race and they have someone like Hudson Head pushing for more playing time, guess what they’ll do.
Long story short, you aren’t wrong, it just isn’t as simple as that statement is viewed or meant.