4-29-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
As the 2022 season plays out, watching rookies make their MLB debut is going to almost get so commonplace that I’d just about bet the special feeling for many will erode a bit. Many of you will watch players like Josh VanMeter or Cole Tucker get starts or Yoshi Tsutsugo fail to field a grounder and ask, how the hell can you tell me Mason Martin or Oneil Cruz wouldn’t be better?
Funny thing is, most people, and I’m guilty of this myself, will just fire back that so and so isn’t ready, but its fair to say none of these situations are some template and the question shouldn’t be answered like that.
Today, I’d like to talk a bit about why some guys don’t get the call as early as you’d like and balance it with why any team, including the Pirates, might want to see a bit more from both someone currently on the roster as well as a prospect.
Before I start this, sometimes it simply doesn’t make sense. For instance, I don’t think Hoy Park is an answer, and I also don’t think Josh VanMeter is an answer but I think Park has more upside and a better all around glove on top of already being here. Now, let’s be clear, neither of these two being on this team moves the needle. In other words, just because someone is on the cusp of being an MLB player, it doesn’t mean that’s who we need to see.
People love to insert money into just about every decision the Pirates make, for obvious reasons. The owner is notoriously cheap and it permeates just about every conversation if you let it. Now on this front, it’s really usually a square peg into a round hole.
There are times when it applies though and it’s a fairly rare player who makes that so. Oneil Cruz or Roansy Contreras are probably your best bets for making this argument and it’s not 2022 money, it’s more about future money.
MLB hasn’t eliminated the mechanisms that create this issue and I mean the entire entity including the players. Some of you hear the terms but don’t really know what they are or why they matter so let’s quickly talk through them.
The manipulation of service time is essentially, keeping a completely ready player in AAA so that you don’t start their service clock. This manifests itself in a couple ways, one, a player held back for 3-4 weeks can come up and have the current year not count as a service year. Meaning the team gets “an extra year of control”. Now for any team really, try convincing them a month of fans complaining isn’t worth that extra year.
The next step from that is called Super 2, and MLB has a whole convoluted formula to calculate who qualifies for it, but for our purposes lets simplify it. Hold the player back even a little longer, typically into June or even early July a player can get tagged with an extra year of arbitration. So you can through just messing around with a player’s start time gain up to 2 years more of their services.
I’m explaining it, not condoning it. I’m also not telling you this is just a Pirates thing, it’s not close to that.
Some of this falls on the players too. If a guy isn’t performing in AAA it’s kind of hard to really scream from the rooftops that a player is being held back. Even if we know that was very much so the intention.
So, is it about money, well, yes and no.
I guess if you really want to get technical, a team could have an expensive veteran on the team underperforming and the team may be reluctant to eat their salary to make room for a rookie, no matter how good they feel about the player.
At the end of the day the reason service time manipulation is incredibly hard to eliminate is super simple. Good luck proving a guy is ready. No matter the prospect, until they’ve done it in MLB they haven’t done it in MLB, and no entity other than the individual team itself is qualified to make the determination it’s time to see it.
We can all call BS and we’re going to be right more often than not, but as long as there is a baked in benefit to doing it, the question will always live on.
When you have a young team like the Pirates do for the most part, one thing we must think about is the fact that most of the team were just prospects themselves just a year or two ago.
Now you don’t have to like that answer. As a fan, your job is to watch and trust your eyes. I’ve seen enough of plenty of players myself, but if you truly believe that development doesn’t stop once you get to the majors as the Pirates certainly do, there is a bit of a patience period that must be exercised.
The criteria for decision making really is different for each player and it involves pedigree or the place the player was drafted combined with their prospect ranking or standing as they were coming up. It could be a position of need that is fairly thin in the system, aka nobody is pushing them out of the way.
Sometimes it could be as simple as the player has made the roster but never really been given a true shot to play consistently.
Take a guy like Diego Castillo. He performed well in the Spring and despite all the factors we mentioned above made the team from the jump. First factor to discuss here, his age, he’s 24 and with modern baseball he should just be hitting his stride and his peak should last another 5 or 6 years. Doesn’t mean he should stink after that, but it does mean manipulating his service time would do nothing positive for the Pirates.
Even with all that, and including his position flexibility and willingness to expand on it even further he hadn’t been getting the lion’s share of playing time until Kevin Newman was placed on the IL with a groin strain. Point is, he’s been here for 3 weeks or so and he’s done enough to show he is capable of staying sharp not playing every day. His next challenge will be showing he doesn’t wear down or get exposed with more playing time.
Over the next bit of time we’ll see the league pay more attention to Diego and no doubt exploit something they’ve seen in his swing, some zone he doesn’t reach, some pitch type that makes him lunge and it’ll be up to him to show he can punch back.
All of this is very simply put continuing development. As always, you as a fan certainly can form an opinion whenever you like. Maybe you thing Diego should be playing everyday and that should last 3 months. Perhaps you’ve already decided on a good team this kid would be a bench bat. Truth is, nobody truly knows what he is.
Now, that’s a young kid, of course he’s still developing right? What about Cole Tucker? Well, he made his debut in 2019 and if we’re honest earned the call up because he was the next, closest option who could play middle infield when the Pirates first two options were injured. He got a shot early, and played most nights immediately, thing is, he didn’t grab it and run with it.
Now, how the hell can anyone say he’s still a development project? Back to those factors we talked about. A number one pick and now a clear group starting to push from behind. Cole Tucker is on his last chance to prove he has something to give and I could argue they’ve already decided by moving him to the outfield. That said to me we don’t think you are an answer in the infield, but we know we haven’t given you enough at bats to cut ties with a first round pick. If there’s one thing baseball executives are terrified of, it’s giving up on a guy who turns up elsewhere and finds it. As Pirates fans, you’ve seen this before and I’ll save you the keystrokes and Googling to figure out how to spell Bautista in a comment.
The only reason this is an answer for why they don’t just bring up the kids is because many of these guys are in fact kids themselves.
The 40-man Roster
Before we dig in here too much, the Pirates have already ignored this one largely. They called up Chase DeJong and Beau Sulser who both were not on the 40-man roster meaning in order for them to be added, someone had to go on the roster via DFA or move to the 60-day IL.
I was surprised by both these moves even if I was more than ready to move on from Anthony Alford and felt Luis Oviedo was too far away to be held on the 40.
This comes into play out of overt necessity at times. So if the team needs a pitcher and don’t feel any of their current 40-man guys are ready or don’t fit the right role, something like this can happen. Sometimes it’s as simple as the duration of the need. Let’s say it’s just a 10-day IL trip for a guy, well, the team may not want to burn an asset just to fill a very temporary spot. If they do, chances are they don’t particularly care all that much about risking the loss of whomever they brought up.
Another time fans start to really not understand this process is when they see a guy like Yoshi Tsutsugo struggling mightily and Mason Martin excelling in AAA. The easy answer is, Yoshi isn’t good, Mason is, make the switch right? Well, eventually that will probably be the case if both players remain on this track, but as we sit here in April, chances are the team wants to see more before they flush 4 million dollars down the toilet, and unless they plan on giving Mason a good 75% of the playing time at first base they probably feel he’s better off staying put and continuing to answer questions. On top of that he did the exact same thing last year in AA, started out hitting a ton and kept the K rate at 30% before seeing both aspects head in the opposite direction. Chances are they want to see it a bit more. Another factor here is, they probably want to avoid taking chances from Michael Chavis at this point since he too has shown something at the MLB level.
Stay tuned here, because if things stay on course this move will be made, especially as Yoshi’s pro rated salary decreases throughout the season.
I know what you’re thinking, if Mason is the best player, he should be up here. Who could disagree with that right? Well, it’s just not that simple, it looks that way, but there are enough variables in play that the decision is tougher. In just about the same amount of time last year Yoshi hit 8 homeruns for this club, that could be argued as enough reason to see if he can turn his early season struggles around and Mason isn’t like 29 so there is time.
On the other hand, the DH provides an extra place to find at bats for a guy like Yoshi should they make the move, thing is Daniel Vogelbach, sustainable or not, is very much so hitting. So it’s not like he’s going to sit either.
Factor everything in and the book says wait a bit. Factor in fan enjoyment and Mason is in the lineup tonight while Yoshi is looking for work. As an MLB GM you have one big reason for not making the move above all this other stuff. What if I cut a veteran for a rookie and I was dead wrong? Now instead of having a guy taking long at bats and not hitting, playing underwhelming defense I have a guy taking short at bats, not hitting and playing average defense. Of course the opposite could be true, but this possibility is a strong pull.
These Dominos Will Start to Fall
Believe it or not, we aren’t too far from some of these things to start to fall into place. Once Roansy Contreras is stretched out to start, we’re obviously going to see him up here providing he stays healthy. Max Kranick is close to finishing his rehab. Oneil Cruz despite his early performance is just too talented to believe he’ll stick in AAA very much longer plus at some point you basically start the issues over again on service time.
Jack Suwinski is really getting a look after the COVID call up he received the other day who knows he could force a more long term look.
When this season started I told you that by 2023 10-14 players on this roster wouldn’t be here anymore. I still feel that to be true, so expecting 10-14 prospects to make their debut this year feels like a good bet. By the end of this year, this whole discussion will shift to the next crop of youngsters and they too will be “blocked” by youngsters that just came up. We’ll be having discussions like why isn’t Nick Gonzales up here and I’ll be telling you because Marcano has 175 at bats in and they want to see more. Or Because Diego Castillo has really taken hold, who knows, point is these decisions aren’t as easy as we fans like to make them.
The Pirates are not a good baseball team, so it stands to reason these questions are easier now than they will be next year, and the year after that. I can’t with a straight face tell you Tucker or Alford, Yoshi or Marisnick should block anyone. I can say that depth and the lack of it are real issues though. Play fast and loose with DFA of veterans too much and you wind up fishing on the waiver wire because you have nobody left who’s even close to ready to fill a role should an injury or poor performance crop up.
Patience, studying and injury drive many of these choices. Unfortunately fans being sure isn’t a deciding factor very often.