Is the Pirates Rebuild on Track?

8-9-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Let’s not waste time, to me, yes.

Some of you have followed me from the time I started writing about the Pirates back in 2019 at Sports Illustrated, others have just found their way to stuff I write recently, but almost all of you have by now seen the road map I laid out and stuck with for what is going on 4 years now.

2020 – Bad team, evaluate, trade those who don’t fit your vision of success.

2021 – Worse team, evaluate, trade anyone else you can who doesn’t fit, try to catch lightning in a bottle or steal a given up on prospect.

2022 – Start to see some prospects trickle up resulting in more of a fun end of season. Big Trade season is over.

2023 – Flirt with .500, keep adding prospects to the MLB club. Trades become baseball trades as opposed to talent searches.

I’ve had this ever since 2019, and no I’m not pretending to be Kreskin the Great, its just that obvious. I left them vague because anyone trying to pick move for move what this team is going to do is simply lying to both you and themselves. The broad strokes though, yeah, they’re right where you’d expect.

Now, before we go onto the next steps, I think it’s important for me to explain why I’ve always left it here. Meaning why I haven’t decided this forecast needed to extend to 2024 or beyond.

The simple answer, Bob Nutting. I’ve never trusted him to spend one dime more than he has in the past, even giving him the generous assumption of keeping up with inflation. Now he might of course. The GM certainly seems to think he will, maybe, depending on how you parse his already parsed words.

That’s why my initial prediction was so damn easy. I knew they’d spend little money until the team forced it by becoming hard to ignore.

This is where we deviate folks. This is where the predictions of when they should spend get screamed from the rooftops. OK, so it started last season with some. This off season you’ll hear it much louder than last. See, that “flirt with .500” thing I predicted, well it’s simply not going to be enough for most. Especially those who just recently tuned back in to see the freak playing short stop.

Anytime the team wants to do so now that we’ve seen the first few prospects come up they could certainly add from the outside. I’m not predicting it, because I don’t believe they will until at least 2023 is played out.

They’ll enter next season with players who really didn’t get much of a shot if any, probably will. They also have some youngsters who will be expected to take a jump, even if some of them will fall back and look like everything fell apart.

Players like Jack Suwinski, Oneil Cruz, Tucupita Marcano, Michael Chavis, Cal Mitchell, Bligh Madris, Roansy Contreras, Diego Castillo and even Canaan Smith-Njigba will all return and at least fight for a spot on the team, if not find their way into locking down a spot for good.

Others like Travis Swaggerty, Ji-hwan Bae, Michael Burrows, Johan Oviedo, Cody Bolton, Blake Cederlind, Nick Mears, all have a genuine chance to significantly contribute in 2023. Even Malcom Nunez or Mason Martin could find their way to the league.

Finally others will at least have a shot at getting a cup of coffee, like Henry Davis, Quinn Priester, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Matt Gorski, Matt Fraizer, Carmen Mlodzinski, Omar Cruz. If not, they’re likely going to get their chance in 2024.

Point is, even if they don’t go out and add, which again, as I wrote in Five Thoughts on Monday, they could and virtually have to at a few spots, they’ll still be adding in more talent. More questions will get answered. More spots will be populated.

After that, there simply isn’t anything more to say. Sure they’ll have more kids on the way. There have been other drafts of course, other trades for “guys who will never pan out”. Hell I didn’t even mention everyone who’s got a shot in the early wave here. You also may have noticed there is nowhere for ALL these players to play. that’s because they won’t all make it. Not even this list of heavy hitters I listed. It’s still far more likely that over half of them simply never become a factor here in Pittsburgh.

I can say that and remain confident because if that whole group of players only produces 4-5 MLB starters the team is easily back to .500 or better in 2024 without one extra dime from our friend Bob.

They SHOULD spend either this off season or next. And I don’t mean crazy amounts, just normal spending for real players to fill real holes. They SHOULD extend some players they already have in the fold. I could go on all day with SHOULD. Does that entertain you or inform you though? All it really does is send us into a death spiral of trying to pretend we know exactly how cheap Bob Nutting is by making up fake equations, populated with fake data, and try to make an impassioned argument about how the only thing separating the Pirates from the Dodgers is one guy who hates baseball, his team, the city of Pittsburgh, every fan who’s ever donned the black & gold and spending one dime more than he has to.

I prefer to focus on what I feel removes a variable like that from my evaluation, while making no bones about the fact that the likelihood that this thing finishes in a World Series Championship, you know, the goal, doesn’t happen unless this owner at least allows this GM to reach at least a little beyond his comfort zone.

It’s not about right and wrong, good or evil. It’s about what is as opposed to what should be. I can honestly say, they have enough talent that I think a competitive team that has the capability to hang with anyone is in there. Regardless of what they spend on outside sources. I’ve just watched baseball too long to believe that will ever result in the ultimate prize without true investment.

I have and have had confidence in this timeline for one simple reason. It never took anything more than my eyes. If they were to have done something like decide Reynolds was a trade piece, I’d have no choice but to adjust. It would set them back, and there’s just no denying it. The package could be Soto like and I’d still have to adjust the timeline most likely. Even if it was a perfect trade and ultimately would produce a better ultimate product out of this roster just 4 years later. Even if that weren’t itself a best guess. The timeline would have to adjust.

Through all the moves they made, Kuhl, Moran and Brault being non-tendered. Frazier, Bell, Marte, Musgrove, Taillon, Quintana, Vogelbach, all being moved, nothing changed with my timeline. Because I never had any of them in it, and even if they chose to surprise me and lock one up, like say they decided Bell is just too good, let’s extend him. OK, now they have a first baseman power hitter, a huge hole filled right? It changes nothing but one of the potential holes I think they’ll ultimately have to fill via Free agency. Not the timeline.

Now, if you listened to some people tell you that Nick Gonzales, drafted in 2020 was going to be here on opening day in 2022, I suppose I see why it seems off track.

Maybe if you listened to those same folks telling you Henry Davis was so “evolved” he’d likely start during 2022 for the Pirates, you could see it as off the rails. Oh, if you’re looking for those folks, they’re hiding behind Henry’s injury to invalidate the claim they were wrong. If they aren’t there, I’d imagine you could find them hiding under claims that Termarr Johnson will be here on opening day 2024.

This stuff never ends, and it’s why I started doing this work. Pirates fans have plenty of real things to be frustrated and disappointed by. You really don’t need to be fed, pardon me, bullshit.

Optimism is an incredible thing. Some people can drum it up out of thin air, others have to have something real to point to as a North Star in order to bring it to the surface. That’s why so many have to have a definitive time when this team will be “competitive”.

So pardon me if I don’t abide people that constantly tell you dimwitted things. On either side of things for that matter. I despise things like assuming prospects will fly from draft to the league, almost as much as I hate pretending a guy making above league minimum is a guarantee a player is to be traded. Or trying to sell fans that the intention of the GM, or even so far as “the plan” is to never see the payroll go over 60 million.

From here on out, it’ll go up increasingly until and if they start this whole ugly ass process over again.

I won’t begin to predict when that is, too many variables, too many unknowns. I’ll just say this, if they again sign a CBA in 2027 that doesn’t fix or at least work in a real way to even the playing field in the league, the next time we see this “process” again probably won’t be too far behind, unless you think they’re smart enough to be the Rays.

I’ll leave it there, cause that’s a whole other discussion.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

3 thoughts on “Is the Pirates Rebuild on Track?

  1. I’ve noticed and heard/read some interesting things over the years of following the Bucs. What comes to mind is the statements regarding about not paying for past performance. I don’t see us ever going with long term FA deals based on that. I think much of the spending will be patterned after Hayes contract, that is, extending control at a reasonable price with maybe the contract being front loaded while payroll is lower. I can see some trades for types like Bell, Tallion were when they were dealt. Using some of our prospect capital to obtain players with a year or 2 of control left. I think FA will be limited to guys they can get on 2-3 year deals under $30 million total. Nutting showed a willingness to go to $115 million in the past. With inflation, I think that becomes $130 as the team improves, crowds increase and the team finally competes. We wont see any commitments longer than 2-3 years unless it’s club friendly deals like Hayes,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, well written, tventimiglio. We saw several early-2010s position players (almost exclusively outfielders) get those long-term deals early in their MLB careers. Some worked out great (McCutchen, Marte); some disappointed (Tabata, Polanco). But it’s definitely a strategy I think NH didn’t get enough credit for, at least in some circles.

      I think they’re hoping for the factory method like the Rays, as Gary and Craig have noted. Graduates from the third round and later should indicate how sustainable that’ll be–has the drafting and development improved to the extent required? We need at least a couple of years to determine that. If achieved, $130M is definitely sustainable, and it’s the minimum I’d expect based on 2015-16 too.

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  2. I’m wondering whether they’ll keep all the outfielders, even with trying some at first base. Madris has long been a non-prospect, otherwise some team would’ve shown interest in him by now. I’m not saying that in a trade or even Rule V sense, just general buzz around him, however minor, such as an opposing scout saying Madris does this or that well and therefore is a player worth at least keeping loose tabs on. There just aren’t enough spots on the 40-man roster as more and more reach their exposure year or knock on the door. Not that any Pirate beyond Reynolds is hitting well, but Madris certainly isn’t. That doesn’t mean they’ll non-tender him, but it’s a possibility he’s designated by end of next Spring Training and gone to another team. Probably nothing substantial lost unless he’s an even more remarkably late bloomer than Jose Bautista, just using him as likely chopping block candidate.

    I think reasonable comps and suggestions for extensions and signings can be informative. I still wish the Bucs had been the ones flipping Duvall to Atlanta instead of Miami, and although I have since learned Pham has a bad reputation, he statistically profiled as someone who might’ve made sense at the time.
    On a more general level, I think it’s reasonable to compare this winter’s free agent class and next year’s to the likely holes (basically first base and pitching as high likelihoods, by the looks of things, with others unknown until we see more prospects graduate). As a hypothetical, if this year will see a lot of quality free-agent first basemen and next year won’t–while a lot of quality pitchers hit the market next year and very few this year–then I think the targets should be fairly clear both years.
    You guys have done some of these things; I just wanted to note I think it’s still worthwhile.

    “I’ve just watched baseball too long to believe that will ever result in the ultimate prize without true investment.”
    Yep, Billy Beane said, “My s— doesn’t work in the playoffs” two decades ago, and it still holds true. Some like to hold up Kansas City, but I don’t think they used that type of method. Their CB tax 40-man payroll was top 11 from 2015 to 2017. One can cite their 2014 (and some Rays pennants), I guess, but the fact remains this method still hasn’t produced a World Series title on its own, to your point.

    My goodness, lack of tolerance for both optimism drummed out of thin air and constant dimwitted thoughts, a man after my heart! Or at least my reading. X-D

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