Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

3-7-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I started writing about the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019, at the end of the season and my second piece ever was calling for everyone to be fired. Then I watched Travis Williams and Ben Cherington come in and ultimately would see Spring Training shut down due to COVID before they could do much of anything.

It’s been a hell of a weird ride. I guess you could call 2021 a “normal” season, but carryover from 2020 and the effect it had particularly on pitching staffs was a constant topic and it also represented the second season that had this CBA negotiation hanging over its head.

Throughout this, you all have helped Craig and I grow this site and our podcasts. With bad baseball, labor strife and everything else, you all still stepped up and kept this thing rolling. For that, we’re super appreciative, I have no words for how great it’s been to watch this community form.

We’re also really happy to have seen so many join the site as contributors. Like Justin Verno and Joe Boyd with their trade and prospect work. Ethan Smith the host of Locked on Pirates who’s going to help us cover games (when and if we play) and write some freestyle pieces too. Anthony DiFilippo host of City of Bridges Podcast who’s about to head off to college now.

It’s been great, and while we struggle to think up topics to write about today, we never forget that we’re growing through all this, and it all starts with you, and you telling people you care about to check us out. Thanks to everyone!

Now, let’s see if I have 5 thoughts in the old noodle!

1. Rule Changes Take the Stage

The players union in their latest proposal to MLB, agreed to allow the league to implement rule changes with reduced review time, currently set to a year, all the way back to 45 days. This would be for 3 specific changes to the game.
1. Selective Shift Banning
2. Larger Bases
3. Implementing Pitch Clocks

First, I find it weird everytime discussion of the on field product is given audience when there is no on field product, so let’s just get that out of the way.

I see people claiming this is a ban of shifting, and it’s not, it’s a ban on certain kinds of shifting. In other words, they aren’t going to do away with first baseman holding a runner on, or third baseman changing home, its going to remain focused on keeping 2 infielders on each side of second, and at least one foot in the dirt.

Larger bases, well, from what I hear its not going to look much different, but they hope it makes reviews a bit clearer, and potentially helps the players avoid some collisions.

Pitch clocks in the test the league run in MiLB has provably resulted in an average game time drop of 21 minutes.

Now, I could argue any time savings from the pitch clock could be eliminated by the increased offense added by the shift banning, but it would seem they all agree on these rules and we should start to brace ourselves for their implementation come 2023.

More on this as I digest it a bit more. None of these would take effect before 2023.

2. Defensive Backsliding?

The Pirates were one of the best defensive teams in baseball last year, and arguably the best of the bunch was Jacob Stallings. Most people have kinda given Roberto Perez a pass as at least being comparable which if healthy, he certainly could be behind the dish. But the Pirates who made defensive improvement in 2021 a focus, and successfully so I might add, are probably heading for a bit of backsliding.

First, I don’t find it incredibly likely Perez handles anywhere near as many games as Jake did. First base looks to take a step back and from Colin Moran so, take that where you want. If Oneil Cruz replaces Newman I think we’ll see a bit of a defensive step back there too.

Adam Frazier was only here for half a season but whomever plays the majority at 2nd could be less of a stalwart.

Now, in theory, they’d get an entire season out of Hayes and certainly Travis Swaggerty could step in and improve the outfield, but overall, I’d say it likely trends in the wrong direction. Not a fall off the table, but a bit of a correction if you will.

3. Is it Time to Officially Cancel the Rule 5 Draft?

Folks, here we are a month out from MiLB games starting up, with players all at minor league spring training currently and in theory there could still be a Rule 5 draft before this is all settled.

This is simply insane.

Time to cancel it in my mind. Part of the reason for the Rule 5 draft is to allow players to get opportunities they weren’t getting or at least get it quicker. Once players reported and headed to training sites, man, I’m sorry that’s just not right for any of these guys.

Sure you’d get a crack at MLB but with little to no preparation time. Next to no ability to talk to your new coaching staff, acclimate to the new environment and in some cases prepare to skip 2 full levels in arguably the hardest league to stick in the first place.

To me, this is already beyond obvious, but until I hear it, I’ll assume they still are pretending it’ll happen.

4. 40 Man Frustration

Of all the bull in the steaming pile that is this work stoppage, almost nothing frustrates me more than the guys on the 40-man who were going to either push for a shot this Spring or start in AAA and now have to just sit.

Can’t practice at team facilities. Can’t work on that thing or two the team told them they wanted to see, or at least can’t show the improvement off.

Travis Swaggerty lost all of 2020, most of 2021 and now faces at least a shortened 2022. What is there to say beside that sucks? The 2022 Pirates don’t figure to be much more than they were in 2021 but any optimism comes from this first wave of rookies poised to pressure the 26-man roster. As it stands right now, Roansy Contreras could very well just start throwing his program as pitchers like Cody Bolton or Cam Vieaux have a full month under their belt it stands to reason he’s not going to be the first call up.

It’s just a change that I don’t want to speak for you, but I’ve just started processing. I mean, what if Bligh Madris is killing it in AAA and now a month in here come these 3 outfielders on the 40 man. Do you stop playing him because he’s not on the 40? So many things that typically are predictable, now become chaotic. At least part of this agreement is about paying young players and not manipulating their time, all I can think is the very situation itself is going to ensure we see no fruit from whatever they agree on in 2022.

In my mind, the very second spring training was not going to be normal, players like Oneil Cruz, Roansy and Swaggerty lost their shot to make it out of camp.

Right or wrong, that’s how I see it.

5. Were These Negotiations Rancid From the Jump?

Sure seems that way.

In 2019 rumblings about what this CBA negotiation would entail started creeping out and 2020 gave us a preview of just how hard even the simplest of things was going to be for these sides to agree on.

Now we’re watching tit for tat and nothing moving measurably toward the other while each side snipes about the unwillingness of the other to negotiate in good faith.

Most fans have an agenda too, so try hard to squash all that for this entry. I’m more interested in how we knew this whole thing was going to blow up for the best part of 2 and a half years, yet nobody worked on any kind of framework to start moving the ball.

It’s clear the owners aren’t looking for any changes that matter economically. And it also seems clear the players at least think they’re evening out the percentage of revenue they’ll receive if their ideas go through.

We knew a lockout was coming for over a year. And we knew specifically because the CBT was expiring, so the only way to move forward would be good faith, which both lack for the other.

This whole thing smells like furniture shopping to me. You know how many of those stores offer zero interest for 18 months or 24 months? Well, you know that if you don’t have it all paid off by then they’re going to hammer you with interest and penalties so punishing you’re going to pay for that couch twice. Even if you know you don’t have the money when you sign, everyone thinks things will be better in 18 months right? Thing is, when you do eventually get through all that and pay it off, it’s time for a new couch.

I honestly think both sides here thought the other side would give in. We still might be in that territory, but it’s at least pretty clear now that there are some items on the list to each that have to be considered too important to drop.

They’ll reach a deal at some point, but neither side is going to actually address the things that they felt they had to have, at least not enough to keep it off the table in 5 years.

I don’t know the particulars yet, nobody does of course, but I’ll easily predict right here, right now that we’ll be doing all of this again in 5 years. Mostly the same topics too.

Never underestimate the ability of these two entities to need each other fiercely and despise each other just as much.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

4 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. 1a. I prefer they’d let teams shift how they want, but I guess Jay Bruce got what he wanted, albeit too late. I was worried they’d go way too far with this one, but I can accept this. The part about a foot in the dirt bothers me more than the side of the infield part, actually. Some sluggers whack the ball with too much force for some positions to play in the grass practically. Watch teams extend or contract infield dirt by inches because of this. XD

    1b. Very sensible, and the shape and maybe material will be better also. It’s long overdue in my opinion.

    1c. If the pitch clock applies to the batter too, then I’m all for it. Batters seem to be the problem more often.

    These topics raise some thoughts on fans with contradictory opinions, but I’ll save that for another time.

    2. Yeah, it’ll be worse than last year, but it should not be as bad as a few years ago. Here’s hoping Tsutsugo turns out mediocre and Cruz’s athleticism makes up for any awkwardness from his frame. Odds look like the 2B won’t hit well, so he’d better field well. Outfield I’m probably most curious about in every way, but only because the push from AAA is going to happen for sure.

    3. Totally agreed. If they insist on *something,* maybe reduce it or increase protected lists for this draft somehow? In thinking about the bigger product, having it late likely doesn’t affect anything of consequence in owners’ eyes, so they’ll probably proceed with it for some MLB Network ratings grab.

    4. My thought: At least let guys in High-A and lower (maybe also Double-A) return to their 2021 assignments. That shows good will in a way that doesn’t affect either side in a meaningful way that I can discern. I guess owners could argue that gives MLBPA more leverage because the bottom-rung players aren’t suffering quite as much, but I know firsthand that Florida has plenty of part-time jobs that pay better than a High-A or probably even Double-A salary. They’re not ideal and cause a time crunch because of the need to practice too, but many guys can get by with that.

    5. Lather, rinse, repeat since 1994. Both sides, yes, but the owners strike me as particularly hardened and short-sighted. At least there’s a long-term plan–however modest or imperfect–for the health of the game from what I’ve seen from the MLBPA.
    Side note: If you’re going through couches within two years, it might be time to switch brands or stores! XD


    1. for some positions to play in the *dirt practically

      Glad to be on the ride! Here’s hoping a full half-generation of pitchers isn’t doomed to lesser achievement with all the disruption these three years.

      Liked by 1 person

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