Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

7-25-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

You know, when watching a rebuilding team, one thing you should expect is to see things improve year over year. Well, until it doesn’t of course.

The Pirates were an improving team, this season. They had youngsters come up here, inject energy, enthusiasm and skill into a team that started the season struggling to string two hits together.

We collectively saw the list of returning veterans from the IL and everyone from fans to bloggers to beat reporters couldn’t fathom seeing all of them return. The kids were just playing too well right?

We logically saw that most of them had no trade value, even less value on the team, and yet, here we are, the clock has been turned all the way back to April. The team that looked awful back then, has somehow transplanted itself to the end of July.

Hard to trust a GM’s plan when it involves an intentional and fruitless step back from what was starting to bear fruit. Even if you support and like the larger picture, there is simply no excuse for seeing a step back at this juncture.

1. August 2nd Better be a Switch

There is no excuse for what this GM has done in the past few weeks. This team has some nice young players and playing them instead of this graveyard of failed signings, tired vets and never were’s, is really not asking for much.

That’s why this is so frustrating, it has nothing to do with money.

Look, nobody is going to deal for Yoshi, or VanMeter. If someone were to call about Jake Marisnick, I mean, it’s not like they’re getting someone’s top 20 prospect. Ben Gamel will get some attention, and he’s a good player, but even he isn’t going to net some massive return.

Daniel Vogelbach had all told 2.5 years of control and some pretty impressive numbers, he returned a potentially very good reliever for the next 5 or 6 years. That’s a move that makes sense, but not one that’s very repeatable given what else they have available.

Quintana has been good, not great. In fact, there’s a good chance whomever acquires him sticks him in the pen. He still should return something worthwhile, but not earth shattering.

So what the hell are we doing here?

We, and by we I mean you, me, most reporters, content creators, everyone really, can easily look at this team and make it better without spending one extra dollar.

Get Madris up here to replace Yoshi. Get Bae up here to replace VanMeter. Get Suwinski up here to replace Marisnick.

Even if you don’t do anything like that, lord knows I could go on with player moves, maybe stop putting VanMeter in the 2 hole. Here’s a coaching staff constantly talking about analytics, playing debatably their worst hitter in the spot where analytics would have you hit your best.

So, do you believe in analytics or don’t you?

Let’s take a first baseman who can’t play first base. A man with a .500 OPS. A man with a negative 1,7 WAR. A “power” hitter, with 2 homeruns. Know what, lets plop him at clean up. Yup lets do that for like 2 weeks too just to prove we aren’t watching him pinwheel himself into the dirt striking out. A .177 batting average people. Listen, this is low hanging fruit, but this guy isn’t going to come close to getting traded. So again, what the hell are we doing here? Why is he here?

You want to tell me he was hitting in AAA on his rehab assignment? Swell, I see nothing any different. I still see a “power” hitter who again takes pitches right down the pipe and swings at garbage out of the zone. I still see a guy who slaps at pitches instead of controlling the zone and the at bat. More than anything, and you read my stuff, I don’t say this lightly, I see a player with absolutely zero value either to this club or in a trade.

At some point, if fans are to trust what this GM is doing, he’s going to need to at least much more often, do the right thing. Make the simple, logical choice. Stop out thinking yourself and start making good decisions that directly improve the team.

Here’s what 2022 feels like to me.

Years ago my housing complex started a recycling program. We had to rinse all glass and plastic out and recycle. They even had a separate containers for batteries and light bulbs. When bringing my separated bags of trash up to the collection area I see one truck, dumping each and every one of the individual and specialized dumpsters into the same truck.

I asked what was going on and was informed they had no processor for the recyclables and so there was no reason to keep them separated.

So I was sorting trash, for nothing.

The Pirates basically held on to the sorted trash and tried to build shelves in their garage out of it. When you sort players out, leave them sorted.

Enough steps backward, because all they’ve done is waste time.

We’re 3 years into this build. Most fans (despite what you read on social media) was willing to give this GM time. We allowed 4 months of Ka’ai Tom because we knew they didn’t have better choices. That’s not the case anymore. Now there are better options almost everywhere. Use them.

Make decisions that make the team better. For the love of god these aren’t even hard yet, someday you’re going to have to look at a productive player and realize you have an even better option. How the hell am I to expect you’ll do the right thing then if you can’t now?

Trust is earned. Time to start earning.

2. The Kevin Newman Question

The first thing to say about Kevin Newman is, he’s nowhere near as bad as fans tend to think. In fact on this team, batting .257 currently, he’s almost Rod Carew. I’m kidding of course, but most of you probably recall prior to the season I predicted this would be Kevin’s last as a Pirate. I’m starting to wonder if that’s wise.

He has 2 years left of arbitration, and as we just finished saying taking a step back is not something we as fans should accept anymore.

The main reason to move on from Kevin is they have a bunch of options coming, and Kevin having a couple years left probably doesn’t fit into this team’s future plans. Part of me thinks, keep him around let him start at 2nd base, if he gets beat out by a rookie, hey, he’s still a nice bench piece, and you can always look to deal him at the next deadline.

That part of me is primarily saying this to myself, this team can’t afford to just give away MLB talent, and folks, unlike Yoshi and VanMeter, Kevin is a MLB player. A career 2.3 WAR player. Not great, but good. That’s so much better than I fear they’d get to add veteran competition in to the mix next season, and honestly, I’m not sure I trust them to move on.

The down side is, I don’t trust them to allow him to just slip into bench when and if he does get beaten out. Let’s say Liover Peguero comes up here and just rakes, do they have the sense to allow it to happen? Will they constantly want to just let the veteran play instead? In other words is this a team that needs to be left without water wings to ever learn to swim?

Maybe I’d feel differently if Diego Castillo had grabbed the position and run. Maybe if Tucapita Marcano was able to take his opportunity and not let go I’d feel more secure. Hell, even if Nick Gonzales had stayed healthy and looked to be on track I might not consider this.

If purely looking at every decision through a lens of “let’s not take backward steps” I have a hard time moving on from one of this teams nailed on MLB talents, at least right now.

Keeping Newman isn’t some hill I’m going to die on, and I entirely get that many of you have simply seen enough, but if they choose to move him either at this deadline or this offseason they better be right.

3. Trades Have to Make Sense

Specifically, I’m seeing wild predictions that Keller or Brubaker should be tradable pieces. Folks, there are far too many people just starting to pay attention who literally don’t understand this stuff.

This is the makeup of the Pirates starting rotation. I’ll even do extra to account for trades and whatnot.

Mitch Keller – $725K – Entering Arb 1 next season (Controlled through 2025)
JT Brubaker – $725K – Entering Arb 1 next season (Controlled through 2025)
Zach Thompson – $705K – Entering Arb 1 in 2025 (Controlled through 2027)
Roansy Contreras – $700K – Entering Arb 1 likely in 2026 (Controlled through 2028)
Bryse Wilson – 715K – Entering Arb 1 in 2024 (Controlled through 2026)
Jose Quintana – 2M – Pending Free Agent

it’s of course 2022.

Here’s the thing folks, this is what you call a young controlled rotation. Is this the rotation that leads them to the promised land? Oh I doubt it, but it is a rotation that’s good enough to head into 2023 with, obviously subtracting Quintana, adding another veteran, infusing some younger options like Mike Burrows, Cody Bolton, Miguel Yajure, and add your favorite names to the list.

As we get into next season, you’ll see guys like Quinn Priester start to push their way up and maybe then, one of these starters becomes expendable. Maybe one of them just flat out stinks next season. Perhaps Thompson or Wilson become bullpen arms. Regardless, trading these guys isn’t something you’ll see this year for one simple reason. This is exactly what they want at this stage. Cheap, talented, with upside.

The payroll will go up on this team, we’ve already seen it happen this year although not much. Part of that increase in payroll will be from these players getting extended, or even just getting raises via arbitration.

Over time if the Pirates do nothing. Let’s say they keep that starting 5 I listed there for the next 3 years (they won’t but play with me here) depending on how each of them do of course, you could expect their combined salary to go from 3.57Million to probably closer to 16 -20Million.

Ignoring the rest of the roster, that takes this payroll up to around 80Million.

That’s 3 years from now, and they have a ton of position players that will move in the same direction. When I tell you they’ll spend more and increase payroll, this type of stuff is the part I don’t have to trust Nutting to achieve.

If you want a false equivalency I see all the time, it’s pretending the Pirates trading players like Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, even Garret Cole is the same thing. Not one of those deals was made to avoid paying arbitration. Not one of those players was traded from a team trying to come out of a rebuild. And I’m not even touching that Cole wasn’t about to pretend signing here was an option. Those trades were all made because they were talented pitchers who could bring a nice return. Cole was Neal Huntington trying to mask his lack of AAA talent by acquiring MLB ready or close to ready talent. The other two were Ben Cherington tearing down his roster of everything with any value that expired before 2025.

All of that is true, every damn word of it.

Trading any of those pitchers doesn’t make sense for where they are. In fact, it’s time to start talking extension with guys like Keller and Brubaker, both of whom have shown improvement this year, both of whom regardless of where you think they land in a good starting 5 are easily good enough to be in just about everyone outside of LA’s rotation.

Mitch Keller is a perfect example of what you should expect more often than not. He’s a guy who took his lumps, finally started to turn into what the team hoped he would during 2022. He’s a cautionary tale of why you can’t expect a highly touted prospect to arrive as the finished product he could be. He’s also a guy that you need to think about keeping around beyond his arbitration window. Here’s why, you can’t remake this rotation every year or every couple years. At worst it needs to be no more than 2 spots where you count on youngsters, especially if your team is trying to compete.

Bottom line, if they start shipping guys like this, everything is up for question, including the timeline to compete.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you a normal fan who just wants to watch a baseball team should even be thinking about stuff like this, that’s my job I 100% get that, but this is also why I can’t stop arguing with the charlatans who constantly equate everything down to “not wanting to pay arbitration” or “selling them as soon as they get good”. There are always circumstances, and as long as they make sense from a strategic position, I’ll be here to explain it. When they don’t, I’ll drop the hammer.

4. The Right Man for the Job?

It’s harder and harder to pretend Derek Shelton is the man for this job. I mean part of what has helped him remain the manager for 3 seasons is the relative vacuum of talent he’s had to work with.

Far too often, I’m watching this man be taken to school by reporters. Almost seemingly caught off guard by some of the simplest questions there are in the game.

This one happened yesterday.

C’mon. He didn’t even try to answer the question.

Just in case you didn’t click, essentially Dejan asked him why his players failed to alter their approach with runners at 2nd and 3rd you know, to secure those runs, rather than just swing for the fences.

As usual, the very pedestrian baseball question, which isn’t a shot at DK, he’s been doing this a long time, he knows what he’s doing. Even knows how to give a guy an opportunity to explain the thinking on something that common fans (and I’d suppose he himself) don’t understand. As usual, Derek Shelton completely caught off guard.

It’ s one thing to not have an answer, or even a wrong one. It’s another thing all together to continuously show you haven’t even considered something that 90% of your fans were screaming at the TV or in the stands.

This has happened multiple times since he’s been here. DK got him once asking why he’d rest Hayes and Reynolds his only recognizable players on the same day during a home stand instead of on the road, if even then it made sense to sit both at the same time. Again, dumbfounded. Didn’t even consider it.

Why does Jack Suwinski need to be sent down but VanMeter keeps playing? Yada yada, nothing nothing, “funny” anecdote, nothing nothing, frustrated reporter gives up.

There is double talk we’re all used to, and then there’s a guy who is so disconnected from what anyone with a modicum of baseball knowledge would know it’s almost unbelievable he’s been involved in the game for 30+ years.

Look, I think he’s a nice guy, and I’m quite sure, so are my sources, that he’ll return as the coach in 2023.

It’s time to stop leaving the conversation there, and time to start questioning how long this is ok enough. Or more accurately, doesn’t matter enough.

Say what you will about Hurdle, lord knows I didn’t always agree with him, but he always could explain his position. Sometimes I left that sound bite bitterly angry, but I never left it wondering if he knew what the hell he was talking about. I do that weekly with “Sheltie”.

5. Yes, I Still Feel This Season Will be Fun

I still think things are lined up for a very young team to give us something fun to watch as the season rolls on.

It’s easy to forget how much we enjoyed watching this club just a month ago when youth was around every corner. Player good and bad flooded the team with potential, and expectation. Some of them showed some of what they have, some of them showed a fatal flaw, all of them showed more than most of the vets they’ve decided to carry on with recently.

To be clear, this isn’t how I saw this season unfolding. I thought they’d struggle early, infuse a player or two, get past the deadline and go full on youth. What we saw was much of that youth come up early save the biggest chip of them all, and instead of being happy they got to Wally World somehow someway, they decided we had to go back and sit through the drive with their dead aunt in the back seat even though we happily skipped it.

I still expect them to eventually land where they should have just stayed.

Thing is, this stuff is already enough of a crap shoot, when it comes to decisions, they can’t afford to miss as often as they do, and to expect them to suddenly go from making routine errors as a management group to flawlessly executing something that was only done once in the last two decades, yeah, it’s that kind of scary.

We all rightly put much of this on Nutting when it comes to expectation, but before we get there, I need to see that this GM is capable of delivering so little as a tough decision to Nutting’s door.

It’s been a long time since his success in Boston, and I’ll not even touch on how much was his or his predecessor, the payroll luxury he enjoyed, all I’m saying is just because he wants to succeed and wanted to have the challenge of building his own system doesn’t mean he’ll succeed.

I like the talent amassed in the minors and I’m happy to see some of it arrive ready to contribute, that in and of itself is a step forward, but the devil is in the details, and on that front, I’m far less enthused.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

5 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. I think it’s simply a matter of attempting to get something for an asset. He’s having a yard sale. He’ll sell if he gets anything in return and call the trash company to get the rest. I get it really. I don’t see anyone in the minors getting held back, except maybe Madris and Bae right now. Suwinski’s still struggling. Mitchell is up. They’re going to continue to hold Roansy back from too many innings. I guess Marcano and Castro may be getting held back a bit but are they really getting hurt? Fans don’t like it. Hell, I don’t like losing but I get what they’re doing. Just glad that you didn’t’ post a “they don’t care” rant. LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When will the rebuild stop and start making a few free agent signings the team is young I understand that but ,we need a few free agents that have a winning aditude that are not at the end of their careers .bring the swagger the youngsters will follow the lead

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Will is a tough ask, because he really has two choices. 1 after this season, he could just buys some little things like he did this year (and hope he chooses more wisely) or after next season, then you’re really looking for bigger pieces cause it’s time. Either way in my mind 2023 is .500 or at least flirting with it


  3. I think points 1 and 5 are pretty well set at this point.

    2. I totally get where you’re coming from. The potential return matters for sure. He cooled since returning hot, basically the same numbers before and after his injury. I’d like to see him homer just to show there’s the fleeting possibility still–it can’t look good when a guy goes from 12 to 5 to (so far) 0 homers and the OBP also dips. I just think it’s extremely unlikely he’ll suddenly find something worthwhile when turning 30 in 2023. If he goes 7-for-20 this week with a homer and a double (yeah, and then the Green Weenie will help them sweep the Cubs AND Phillies–I know, I know), then I think it’s proper to strike while the iron is hot. I know we’re not talking about much return, but he’s simply extremely unlikely to have a meaningful future in Pittsburgh.

    3. I just wonder what kind of extension these guys would agree to. Keller hasn’t performed well enough for long enough to command the kind of free-agent contract his camp would want, let alone any of the others. Definitely broach the subject respectfully with their agents, but I have a hard time seeing an extension signed at this juncture. If any of them maintain form the rest of the season, then that could be a different story, but I still struggle to see buying more than a couple years of would-be free agency.

    4. In the clip, it seems like he’s explaining (too long) why it was difficult to even make contact off that pitcher, so yes, situational hitting would apply. Had he actually said those words, it would’ve come across better. But to the overarching point, he doesn’t seem like a particularly gifted communicator, which is naturally important to this job. I’m not sure how to square that with the inspiration he supposedly confers on the roster, but it certainly doesn’t come through in his interviews. Then again, it could be as simple as insiders wanting to keep their insider baseball sealed tight.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: