8-1-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
What a weird time to be writing one of these. I mean, it’s Monday, it’s 5:00 PM, but there is just so much uncertainty out there what with the trade deadline tomorrow. I mean I could turn this into a prediction piece, maybe it’ll wind up one of those where I have to add a 6th or 7th point because trades won’t quit rolling in.
To start, I think we have some bigger picture things we have to focus on though, so lets dig right in shall we?
Did you ever hear about the bad apple that spoiled the bunch? Sure you have.
I’m not here to tell you that everything bad you watched was due to the fact that the Pirates stubbornly held onto Josh VanMeter or Yoshi Tsutsugo, but I am here to say, they knowingly introduced disease next to pink tissue and ignored that disease has a tendency to spread.
Veterans are wonderful to have about, but veterans who are visibly and historically behind some of the flock they’re supposed to be helping to foster can create more of a cautionary tale than an inspirational scene.
How can you tell someone who goes 2 for 30 that he needs to go to AAA and be further trained while you insert two players into the lineup who have a combined 2 for 50 in their recent history?
Think of what that says to a young player. Imagine you get your call up, you struggle, then things start to click to the point where you start hitting. Homeruns come, accolades start following you, you might even see your name on some lists that get you and your family really excited. Then struggles return as the league starts adjusting to you and your success.
Imagine then being called into the office of the man who stuck by you when you couldn’t hit your way out of a paper bag early on. Someone who told you to “trust the process”, or “don’t get too down or too up”. You walk in no doubt confident that you’ll be told there was something he noticed in your approach, or maybe they want you to try another spot. Instead, you’re told you’re going back down.
What would go through your head after the initial dizziness?
Sure, if you’re a baseball player you look at yourself. You know you’re struggling, you know you have work to do, but at some point don’t you have to give in to human nature and wonder, “How the hell am I worse than those two?”.
This entire scenario is imagined. I’m not sitting here telling you how Jack Suwinski’s demotion went down. I’m not pretending it’s the reason he’s striking out in AAA at an almost 45% clip.
What I am proposing, is that there is far more to dislike about keeping those two around than annoying fans alone. Factor in stuff like this and man it gets really hard to pretend there wasn’t awkwardness created, somewhere anyway.
I hear Josh VanMeter is a very popular figure in the room, so I’m not suggesting anyone is MFing them under their breath, but there are only 26 of these jobs, and each of them is precious. Yes, even on this team.
Sometimes dumb decisions can only travel in one direction as you think about them, worse.
2. Even Winners Can’t Escape MLB’s Economic Reality Either
The Brewers traded Josh Hader to the San Diego Padres today. They also put Kolten Wong and Omar Narvaez up for bids.
The return they got for Hader was, well, a bit underwhelming. He has the remainder of this year and another season of arbitration in which he’ll make somewhere in the 15 million dollar range should it get that far.
They received three major leaguers, Dinelson Lamet, who ‘s struggled mightily, Esteury Ruiz, not much to say here and Taylor Rogers, San Diego’s own prolific closer who’s had recent troubles. Robert Gasser a single A pitcher round out the deal.
So why would the Brewers do this? I mean they’re winning the division. They’re a genuinely very good team?
For one thing, the Brewers spend as much as their market allows, something our dear Pirates fail to do with a near perfect track record, but that comes with limits. Having another closer already on staff and under team control in the form of Devin Williams gives them ability to do this, and allowing an asset like Hader to utilize over 15 million dollars is outside of the abilities of a market like this and then potentially walk away for nothing, yeah, not happening.
Some will say, well they’re good right now, why risk your position?
Because the Brewers have other concerns. Other players they want and need to keep. Other contracts for big stars that they need to maximize.
This is what MLB creates. A situation where even the very best run operations are left with little choice but to take steps counter to the goal in an effort to keep the wheels on the track for a few more years.
Teams all over the league are in that situation. Look at the Rays putting Ji-man Choi up for offers. Even as they make a move to obtain David Peralta. It’s why the Orioles who look better than they have in years dealt Trey Mancini to the Astros.
This stuff only makes sense, when you realize the league itself doesn’t.
3. As I’ve Said All Season Long, Reynolds Stays
This deadline will pass and Bryan Reynolds will still remain a Pittsburgh Pirate. He is playing on a 2 year contract with a yearly salary of 6.75 Million. After that he has 2 more years of arbitration, taking him all the way through the 2025 season. If he mealy continues being a “good” player come 2024 he’ll get over 10 million, in 2025 he might approach 15.
This 2 year contract was an answer to a sticky situation that Ben Cherington allowed them to get into. Taking Reynolds to the precipice of going through an arbitration hearing was something unpalatable to both the player, and fan base, and as we’d come to see Bob Nutting as well.
It’s my belief that the Pirates will either get an extension done with him this off season, or the chances of him surviving another deadline aren’t great. He’ll be 31 years old before he reaches free agency so I don’t expect this to be some 8 year deal, but I do expect the Pirates to attempt to tack on 2 or 3 more seasons beyond his years of control, almost timing him up with Hayes.
Deciding to keep Reynolds even as far back as last season put this on a collision course. He was a member of this “build” from the moment they made the choice way back when. If he wasn’t, they should have made the call before the youth started making it’s way up here. Moving him at this point would suggest a step backward, and for that, with this player, according to people I talk to, Nutting has no stomach to endure.
Of course the extension doesn’t have to be completed this offseason, but if it isn’t, I simply can’t see continuing to build on a foundation while knowing one of your corner stones has a crack in it. THIS is the story of this coming off season. Followed closely by how do they augment the young players.
4. What’s Next?
This should be pretty clear, the youth movement that was started will resume. As clearly stupid as we all see it is that the team forced the fans and players to deal with the silliness of continuing to play players who simply had no business in the league, the fact remains we’ll be getting back to where we were headed.
I expect quite a few young players to make their way back to Pittsburgh and even more still yet to make their debut. This might not lead to a whole lot more wins but it will lead to an environment of baseball in which most highs come from players who matter and have a future here.
The Pirates have delayed this process and while I don’t plan to let them forget it, I also don’t plan to spend the rest of the season pissing and moaning about it. The lessons will be clear, and we’ll have all off season to pick apart how they handled this one, for now, lets just watch some kids play baseball and see if we can’t just work toward seeing what 2023 could start off looking like.
5. Extensions Aren’t Just a One Player Proposition
The Pirates have an elephant in the room, one that I spent considerable time discussing in point number 3, but he isn’t the only one.
See, for this team it’s never going to be easy to retain long term or acquire via free agency top of the rotation talent. You can blame whomever you like, the owner, MLB’s economic system, Ben Cherington being a terrible GM, whatever, it won’t change the facts, a market like this isn’t going to be in that game.
That being said, somewhere they can spend is locking up guys who might be 3’s or 4’s in their rotation. Guys like Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker, just entering Arb 1 next year could be affordable and quality extensions. Even if the Pirates manage to cultivate better starters from their system having guys like this signed reasonably only increases what the Pirates could hope to get for them in a future deal.
I don’t think the Pirates have to do this by any means mind you, it’s just my suggestion. When you find someone who can at least prove their level rises to that of “MLB starter”, try to keep them, because if they rise to the level of “Superstar MLB Starter”, they gone, feel me?
That element is always going to have to come from internally developing them or trades.
We just discussed the Brewers situation, and let’s be blunt, that franchise spends at a level the Pirates simply haven’t shown a willingness to approach. Even they will find retaining pitchers like Brandon Woodruff or Corbin Burnes difficult at best. That’s why you see them extend an unproven younger pitcher like Aaron Ashby or even Freddy Peralta a few years back.
It provides stability for a rotation, especially when you aren’t a team that can afford to pay 8-10 million on the open market for pitchers such as Dylan Bundy or the like, especially when you need 2 or 3 of them because you let too many decent pitchers walk in the hopes of only securing “really good” pitchers.
You may tell me neither of those guys have shown worthy, and I won’t fight you on that. I suggest this simply because of that fact though. All the way proven out commodities aren’t affordable, payers on their way to proven are more in the Pirates wheelhouse.
I don’t suggest this for everyone, but I do suggest it for two guys with really good stuff, showing real progress toward reaching their peaks.
Before you laugh this off, think about how badly you wish they’d sign a guy like Quintana for a couple more years, then remind yourself, teams are allowed to cultivate them for themselves too.
Now if JT or Mitch cost 11 million in 2026 it could either be a 3 or 4 million dollar overpay or a 5-6 million dollar bargain.
These are risks teams like this must take.
I’ll put it this way, finding AJ, Frankie, and whomever else they reclaimed is much harder to pull off than those Pirates teams made it look, and pitching will as always tell the story of how this entire thing progresses.
I suggest the Pirates buy themselves a nice double wide, just in case they never hit the numbers and secure that mansion everyone is looking for. 3 or 4 guys like this can secure a healthy rotation, and more than anything, they have to think like their lot requires.
Unless you think Nutting is going to wake up one day and swing open Ben’s office door with a declaration that the purse strings are gone, go get Walker Buhler! I suggest you embrace things like this.