12-26-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
I haven’t written or talked about the Pirates much in a week. A necessary break for the holiday of course, but also a needed step back from a process that at times can get suffocating. You get so immersed in the ins and outs of the rebuild that sometimes you blind yourself from the obvious.
For me, that part I’ve been forgetting, or probably better said, not spending much time thinking about, is really who or what is the game changer for this rebuild? What takes this whole thing and says, look, this isn’t a team on decline anymore?
For the last successful team, most of us didn’t recognize it, but it might have been this moment.
It was the first innocent single from a future MVP. A rare, in this market, guy who reached the league and showed the hype was real. We of course didn’t know at the time everything he would grow into, or the leader he’d become, but looking back, that single started the ball rolling.
It led to team investment. It led to real free agent signings. It led to veteran acquisitions to surround him with talent. Eventually it even led to almost winning 100 games, but it all started on the 99 loss 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates.
You could argue it was something else. Maybe for you that pivot point was actually signing Russell Martin, or trading for AJ Burnett. For me, none of that happens if Andrew McCutchen is anything less than a guy so obviously good that even this franchise knew they couldn’t waste the talent.
So what’s the pivot point for this iteration of the Pittsburgh Pirates? It certainly could be Bryan Reynolds emerging in 2021. Perhaps it was Oneil Cruz hitting a homerun after his very late season call up last year. Hey, maybe we haven’t even seen it yet right?
One thing about this subject, nobody felt that harmless single I highlighted was anything more than a rookie worth watching at the time, but once the club is actually successful, it’s easier to look back and recognize when and where the change really started.
Let’s talk a bit about some candidates for this club, acknowledging we don’t have all the variables yet. For instance, we haven’t seen this team go add anyone significant yet, and we also can’t clearly say when winning in earnest starts. But if I had to bet, we’ve very much so seen our future pivot point and I think we’ll cover it with one of these options.
First up is the obvious, Bryan Reynolds, and unlike Andrew, It’s a series of games. Bryan Reynolds in July of 2021 showed us something he never had, he wasn’t just going to be an on base guy, he was going to be a power threat too. He had hits in every game but three, and belted 7 homeruns while also starting in his first All Star Game. Posting an OPS of 1.087 and a .376 average during the month, Reynolds put a statement month on paper, even as the team around him floundered. Anyone in baseball will tell you doing that in a lineup filled with studs is hard, doing that in a lineup where you are literally the only player teams need to avoid being beaten by is daunting to say the least.
Next let’s head to Oneil Cruz. Of all the prospects close to MLB, Cruz has the stick that could really be transformative. Elite power, and a flare for bad ball hitting that speaks to top notch bat to ball skills, Cruz has shown the goods. Obviously we need to see more, but easily we could have witnessed the beginning of something special in those last couple games last season. He has a ton of weight on his shoulders, because if he isn’t a piece, the Pirates will have to wait for the next wave to see one most likely, and in many ways, Cruz will help this club decide how far away they are. That matters for extension discussions, signings and even moves. If this man is part of the solution, the answer starts to make itself known, if he’s not, we adjust our gaze back a bit.
The final guy I’m going to look at is Roansy Contreras. He’s a fringe guy here, because let’s face facts, he’s only had one start. So it’s relatively impossible he’s already shown us a turning point, but he’s certainly a candidate for being the guy who eventually delivers it. This one is also the simplest of all to explain, if Roansy is a top of the rotation fixture once he makes the roster on a more permanent basis, the entire timeline starts to look more realistic. If for whatever reason he isn’t, well there isn’t another with his ceiling until Quinn Priester.
Who’s your candidate? Has the player actually played yet? Maybe this is a topic best served by the hindsight it takes to appreciate that harmless single mentioned above, but maybe, just maybe, the player and his potential are what raise eyebrows from the jump. Regardless, let me know your thoughts on this, it’s interesting to say the least.