4-4-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Opening day is finally right there in our grasp, and while this offseason has been an emotional roller coaster for the entire league, let alone our local franchise, there will always be something about everyone being 0-0 that makes this event feel special.
Let’s dig in on this week’s Five Thoughts.
1. The Pirates Don’t Want to Pay Arbitration!
I’m not sure how we’ve lost our collective minds. Maybe it’s just too many people screaming the same thing to ignore, maybe it’s just overt frustration, but this team doesn’t plan on trying to win by spending 35+ million dollars.
I mean, they expect to show improvement this year, but this isn’t a franchise that thinks they’re Tampa 2.0, and have their sights set on never progressing past arb 1 on a player. Not that Tampa themselves really operate that way anymore either.
If anything, it’s kinda refreshing to see them move on from guys they absolutely would have, in the last regime, tried to hold on to in the faint hope something happens and they get something out of a guy like Colin Moran so they can trade him for some High A lottery ticket. They allowed Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Wilmer Difo, Colin Moran and everyone like them to leave because they truly didn’t feel they were worth keeping.
The perception is they move on from guys like this because they cost money, but in this case, I really think it’s more about having a decision forced on them. They didn’t like the chances of Steven Brault staying healthy and even if he did, being effective wasn’t a given. Chad Kuhl was identified as someone this club thought had more to offer in the pen, Chad didn’t agree, no sense in forcing a guy to stick around to be an overpaid bullpen option if the player doesn’t buy in and it’s not a given it’ll work.
Colin Moran was slow, didn’t have position flexibility despite that time you saw him play second base and was a power hitter who, well, didn’t hit for power. Wilmer Difo, and I can’t even believe I have to explain this one, is just a utility guy, this team has plenty of guys who could do that.
I’m not trying to convince you this team should make you giddy with excitement, but can we please honestly look at who they let go and understand that wasn’t about money?
You want to talk money in free agency, fine, you have the floor, but letting go of guys who just weren’t part of this build and really lacked sufficient upside to even attempt creating trade value with is the kind of business I like seeing this club do.
Now if they really want that message to sink in, let’s see them do it with some guys who haven’t forced a decision by hitting arbitration. Let’s see them finally decide Alford should go about pursuing his life’s work elsewhere. Let’s see them decide anyone not at the forced decision point is ok to cast off.
Money is always an issue in this market, but sometimes it’s not the main issue.
So I ask you, which of these 4 do you really think the Pirates should have kept? If your answer is any of them, I’d ask why? I thought we wanted them to get better, not trot the same team that failed right back out there.
2. Speaking of Progression
You should see improvement this year, marginal, but improvement. So, I guess what I don’t really get is why so many are acting like all the moves should have culminated in 2022 domination? Did you listen to the 2 or 3 hype men in the Pittsburgh fake media who just want to pump up expectations?
Did you not take any of those who try to be frank with you seriously when we told you the real signs that this is taking hold wouldn’t be visible until 2023?
You may not like it, but this thing is just about right where I thought it’d be at this point, with the exception of Jacob Stallings being dealt. When you deal players for young return, you don’t expect it to make the big league team better until some of that talent gets here.
I get it, for some of you it feels like they’ve been rebuilding since 2016, but THIS effort, just started in the off season prior to 2020, and even that was stunted by a short season.
Be frustrated if you like but don’t try to tell me “this rebuild has failed cause it’s been 6 years”. That’s just not honest. If you want to say Nutting could make it less painful by bringing you in some toys to watch, fine, that’s a different conversation, but I’m not going to sit here seeing exactly what I thought I’d see and suddenly drum up anger cause I’m supposed to.
3. Diego Did It
Everyone screamed for Oneil Cruz to start the season like he was the only one who had a claim to it. He might have more talent than anyone else who’s close, but he’s not the most ready.
No, that distinction goes to Diego Castillo. The 24 year old utility man showed maturity and versatility this Spring to earn himself a shot on the opening day roster. He clubbed 6 homeruns and just in general looked the part the entire time.
I called this last week as a possibility in the five thoughts and tried to explain why he was more likely than Cruz, but even I didn’t really believe the Pirates would do it. He did everything the Pirates could possibly have wanted including playing outfield for the first time in his professional career and recording an assist.
Castillo is really what this year will be about. Seeing young talent make it, and try to prove they should stick. Remember Reynolds was once a rookie who barely played MiLB baseball too. This is the fun part folks and he absolutely won’t be alone.
In an interview Ben Cherington had today he admitted that the Pirates tried to re-sign Diego to another minor league deal before deciding to add him to the 40 man. According to Ben, Diego’s response respectfully was, “no Sir, I’m going to play and make a team out of Spring”. And so he did, so he did.
Derek Shelton today said of Diego Castillo, “He’s a baseball player, you put him in the field and he’s gonna go out and do it”
4. So Who Else Should Make it to MLB This Year?
Oh man, a bunch. Let’s start with very likely. Oneil Cruz, Bligh Madris, Travis Swaggerty, Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, Rodolfo Castro, Cal Aldred, Blake Cederlind, Cody Bolton, Yerry De Los Santos.
And possible, Jack Suwinski, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Blake Weiman, Hunter Stratton, Beau Sulser, Max Kranick, Adonis Medina, Tucupita Marcano, and finally Ji-hwan Bae.
When I tell you you’ll like the team better at the end of the season than the beginning, these two lists are why. We aren’t even into the exciting guys yet largely.
Again, I don’t expect everyone to enjoy this stuff the way I do, I bet most of you would sign up for a time machine instead of waiting, but I love this part of a rebuild. We have no idea who out of this group will become the next guy we want extended long term, or who is going to pull a Castillo and just look like a no brainer to be part of this thing. All the evaluation and rating and waiting for these guys to get a crack finally starts to be put into practice this year and I love it with everything in my bones.
5. Is This Power Output Sustainable?
Man, my head says no way. I just can’t look at this lineup and really expect we’re going from worst to first by swapping a few guys for youngsters or retreads. That said, just like I said the team will overall improve, even if only incrementally, so too will the power.
They have some guys who can thump, they just don’t have a bunch of guys who are gonna put 30+ over the wall, yet. I still think you’ll feel like runs are possible more often than last year when you had to have a rally start at the exact right place in the lineup to even have a chance. This year I think most nights they’ll have 6-7 guys in the mix who can and have put the ball over the fence.
I’m not gonna give you some number, but I don’t think they’ll finish last this year, even if all that means is the guys who come up later in the season put on a show.
The question was is it sustainable though, and no, being first in the league for long balls isn’t in this team’s future.
But they might just surprise some people with how much pop some of the guys you think you know show this year with a new hitting instructor.