1-30-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
We spend a lot of time at Inside the Bucs Basement telling you what we think the Pirates will do. To some that comes across as an endorsement of their every decision. I’m here to tell you that’s a pretty rare case.
For instance, my gut says Michael Perez will likely be back as the backup catcher in 2022. As I look through the remaining free agent market and look over who might be available via the Rule 5 draft (if we have one), or examine who might be out there on the trade market, I just don’t see much more than competition for Michael being brought in.
That certainly doesn’t mean I like it or feel that’s good enough.
Another way this crops up is when we talk about extensions or free agent acquisitions. The Pirates should extend a few players, one of which is celebrating a birthday this week (Have a good one Bryan!) and unfortunately we are forced to look back on the history of this club when we discuss it. I say unfortunately because let’s face it, it’s rarely been for as long or as much as we fans would like to see.
Long way of saying, I think I have a good handle on what they’ll likely do, but I also think we need to not lock ourselves into Pirates Fan Syndrome. So today, let’s list off some things I think this team should/could do to maximize the effectiveness of what they’ve built in the development system. Because people always like lists, lets do 5 shall we?
1. Sign or Acquire a Top of the Rotation Pitcher
Ben Cherington has suggested that he’d like to bring in another starting pitcher. I’d argue if it’s more of the same type he’s signed in the past, you know, a 4th or 5th starter if not borderline bullpen arm, I’ll pass.
To me I’d like to see this club go and get someone that can really help lead this rotation and staff, a winner. Someone not unlike AJ Burnett was to this franchise who’s attitude permeates the entire staff with his personality.
Here are my two top asks. Johnny Cueto is first, and yes I know he’s not the pitcher he used to be, but he’s a seasoned veteran who is likely staring down the barrel at one year deals until he decides he’s done. So offer him two. He wouldn’t break the bank and he’d help provide some leadership, so long as you don’t expect him to win 20 games, I don’t think you’d be disappointed.
What? You can’t ever root for Johnny or think he’s too old? OK, well one more shot here. Swing a trade with Arizona for Madison Bumgarner. He’s 23 million per in 2022 and 2023 then drops to 14 in 2024. He’s only 32 and could really lead this rotation. Sure that’s expensive, but if you’re Arizona and in prospect acquisition territory it sure makes a ton of sense to get that salary off the books and potentially grab a nice top 15 prospect from arguably baseball’s best system. You didn’t think every one of these prospects was destined to be a Pirate did you?
It’s way more than this team ate for AJ, but inflation is a thing folks.
2. Lock In the Foundation
The Pirates have one player as of right now that I consider a lock to be one of the top 25 position players in the game and his name is Bryan Reynolds. You can have hope for anyone you like, point to all the projections you have available to you, but he’s the one who’s shown it for a sustained timeframe.
He also is controlled by the team through 2025. I hate that timeline. I hate what it does to this club if left unchanged, the timing of it, everything. The way I figure it, this team is on track to be a good, young and in the conversation club come 2023, and by 2024 I’d imagine divisions are on the table. I want nothing to do with Reynolds expiring in the middle of what they’re building here.
Imagine Cutch expiring in 2015, and worse, imagine the Pirates allowing it to happen. Full court press here to lock him up through at least 2027 if you ask me, and since this is my list of things I’d do, 2030. It isn’t going to be cheap, and guess what, it shouldn’t be, he’s going to be one of the best players you have for a decade by time all’s said and done.
And spare me that this isn’t something to worry about with this much time left of control. You know as well as I do if they don’t do anything he’s as good as gone by the end. If they let this just play out, he’ll contribute mightily and then turn into a comp pick because they got good enough to not be able to move him. Can’t stress enough how key this one is to this entire thing working.
The overall payroll doesn’t matter right this second, but if you’re looking for something an owner who’s learned from the past does, it’s step in right here and make sure his GM knows he has to get this one done.
Don’t muddy this by adding in Hayes either. He has a bit of show me left before we get there, and further more, his offer he’d get right now wouldn’t even entice him. Rightly so.
3. Don’t Waste Time on Players That Don’t Matter
If a roster decision comes down to a rookie who hasn’t proven anything yet, and a retread who has proven he simply hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunities, lean young.
If Anthony Alford looks like, well, Anthony Alford come May, enough. Move on to one of the plethora of options you have. If you’re afraid of ruining someone you simply don’t believe is developed and expect him to be in the long term plans, play someone like Bligh Madris. He’s been around a long time, give him a shot. I’d rather at least cross his name off the list than watch a guy I’m quite sure isn’t continue to whiff.
If Quintana turns out to not be able to provide what you hoped, don’t be afraid to use him in the pen, or simply cut ties.
This isn’t about predicting failure for everyone I mention, it’s more about saying don’t accept failure and pretend you don’t have options. That time is over.
This club is likely not ready to compete, but it sure as hell can be ready to stop acting like their hands are tied with no options in AAA to try. Put it this way, if their patience level with some of these fringe players last year was an 8 on a scale of 10 being the most patient, this year make it 5. Have to have answers this year and I don’t want to watch this club waste half a season working toward getting them.
4. Manage Like Winning Matters
The Pirates believe in Derek Shelton. That’s not a guess, it’s not even just a statement from the GM taken at face value. Every team insider has expressed the very real belief internally that they’ve gotten their guy here.
I know this will irritate some of you to no end since the decision was made long ago for many of you on this front, but since I know that this club doesn’t agree, time to show us the goods.
In the 7th inning up one run this season, how about not making us “see what this guy does” in that situation?
When the team is a decent Sunday performance away from getting a sweep this year, how about act like it matters and refrain from resting half of the lineup?
It’s things like that we fans take as a slap in the face. Many of us understand where this team is and what they’re trying to do, just as many of us can’t stand the thought of throwing up the white flag to the god of “evaluating” or “pre-determined rest”. Let me see more decisions that make me feel like teaching this group of kids to win matters more than the cause on your t-shirt this season.
There’s a whole lot of work that’s been done on this club and none of it matters if they hired and stick with the wrong guy to make it count. I’d like to think showing fans Mr. Shelton is that would be a good idea.
5. Leave the Lineup Alone, At least 2-5
I may sound like an old guy who hasn’t evolved with the times, but I’m a firm believer in the power of continuity. I think guys do better in a lineup when they start to feel comfortable about who’s around them. The DH should afford the Pirates an easier path to accomplishing this.
Take the 2-5 spots in the lineup, plant Reynolds, Hayes, Yoshi and say Chavis there and leave it go for a while. Let them work together, let Reynolds start to believe Hayes or Yoshi will move him around. Let Hayes believe a double isn’t fruitless because he trusts who follows him. I think the constant changes to the lineup create an environment that prevents guys from settling in.
Yes, I know lineups change, but most teams lock in the heart for the most part, and this team has some relatively easy choices for who that should be, so let’s not fight the right thing being the obvious thing too shall we?
Bring up someone new like Canaan Smith-Njigba and want to get him in there, fine by me, but do it for a while. Cruz is ready? Great, put him in a spot and let him soak there for a while. I simply don’t want to watch another season of getting 70 some games deep and realizing the same lineup has been used twice. Consistency is usually a heavy lift for a young team in the first place, so creating an environment that makes it even more difficult to achieve to me is just not good practice.
There’s my list. Five things I’d like to see from this team in 2022. I don’t expect miracles, but I’d like to see progress.