8-22-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Another week of baseball begins, and another underwhelming if not overtly irritating week ends. The Pirates continue to make decisions that simply don’t make sense, and serve to really just frustrate fans.
A rebuilding team can afford to be bad, fans will accept that, well, most of them anyway, so long as the mistakes are being made by young players trying to find their way. So long as the kids are learning, struggling, toiling, fighting, well, that’s really all this is about.
Funny thing is, I think we’ve learned some things, certainly not what we expected to though, let’s dig in.
1. What We Assumed VS What We Learned
Before this season began, there was a list of players that fans and pseudo media types like me believed could factor in this season.
Cody Bolton, Travis Swaggerty, Rodolfo Castro, Roansy Contreras, Oneil Cruz, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell, Diego Castillo and I’m sure there were even more, every individual has their own built up list. Hell, almost daily I get five people asking me why Ji-hwan Bae who’s been out with an oblique injury hasn’t been called up.
We got some of that to be sure but man we had some strange additions to the list didn’t we? Had some incredibly weird subtractions too.
Two that I think shocked us the most were Travis Swaggerty and Jack Suwinski, for different reasons of course.
Everyone and their mother thought Swaggerty would be the first real “help” coming up from AAA for the outfield. Nobody considered Jack Suwinski the first of the outfield prospects, especially since he started in AA.
It’s funny how things work out isn’t it? It’s even funnier that we seem to never learn from experience like this that when it comes to who is and isn’t in the plans, man we just don’t know.
Here’s what we can say. Ben Cherington sees little to no reason why AA players aren’t just as capable of making the jump to MLB as AAA players. We’ve also seen that not being on the 40-man in no way means you won’t be an option or even a counted upon prospect.
The reason I really like this lesson learned through hindsight is surprisingly simple. We may not know the name of every prospect who will come up and add their name to the list of those we’re excited to see. The nightly performance of the AAA team and the members of that roster aren’t the only ones we should be looking to. There will be injured players returning like Smith-Njigba, Gorski, Davis, Gonzales and others still will have to deal with their own injuries.
We simply don’t know. That’s the fun in all this, at least for me. We entered this season with a whole bunch of thoughts as to whom would help, who would answer a question, who could fill a spot. Now we have some answers we maybe didn’t expect.
Think about how many of us wrote off Rodolfo Castro for instance. He came up, hit a few homeruns, and fell into a tailspin. Back up and down a couple more times, and now he’s stuck, at least for now.
Tucupita Marcano who already had MLB experience, was inexplicably placed in AA to start the season, now he’s on yet another stint with the big club and has started to look the part. Be honest, he wasn’t even in your top 4 or 5 to come up here and make an impact, yet here he is.
Cruz was supposed to struggle on defense and thrive on offense. Really though, he’s done shockingly well on defense, even showing marked improvement, but struggled with the bat. That’s not all that shocking, but regressing wasn’t something most of us saw coming.
Eyes open, if nothing else being surprised is interesting.
2. Last Place in the Central
The Pirates lost 2 of 3 to the Reds over the weekend, and that has plopped the Pirates in last place in their division. The fact that they’ve ended up here isn’t a total shock, and there is still time to see them claw their way back out, but even if successful, the wheels have simply fallen off the wagon.
2022 wasn’t going to be a year anyone was going to call “success”, but forward progress most certainly should have been.
They prioritized service time over big league experience, even as we’ve seen first hand there is simply no substitute for learning your craft at the highest level of the sport. They used players who had no future here instead of trusting a system they spent 3 seasons building.
Call it lack of spending. Call it poor decision making. Blame moving players with no backup plan in mind. Call it whatever you want, but know Ben Cherington didn’t have to sacrifice another season. The path to marginal improvement was right there, and he chose not to take it.
Maybe 5 years from now we’ll all thank him for making some very unpopular decisions. Maybe 5 years from now we’ll be watching another GM promise to fix the mistakes that were made and bring this franchise back to it’s former glory.
I still believe that the Pirates have some very good talent on the way, along with some very good talent currently learning and already here. 2023 should be a year in which they flirt with .500, and folks, if it isn’t, there will be little trust left in the already eroding trust bucket fans have for Cherington. At some point, you have to show progress, and no matter how you try to “educate” a fan base, wins and losses still and always will tell the story.
There is little reason this season shouldn’t have seen 70 wins.
There’ll be even fewer should next season not show fans something to believe in.
If you’re a GM and you’re going to continually use words like Urgency or Progress, at some point people might like to see either.
3. If There Isn’t Enough, They’re in Trouble
The Pirates have some really talented players in their system and here’s the thing, they really better be enough to flesh this team out, because they’re out of guys to move to get more. At least without doing irreparable damage to the team.
Bryan Reynolds could return top end talent, but it also removes one from the team. David Bednar, same thing. At this stage of things, that’s not a good move, in fact it’s not even justifiable.
This is why eventually, these things cost money. They simply don’t have enough to create a team from their system alone and watching them constantly try to sift free talent from the waiver wire, especially as much as we saw in this season comes across as deadly desperate.
The team, right now, this offseason has to decide, are we in or are we out. If we’re in, they have to sign some better players to surround these kids. If they’re out, well, this thing is not only behind, it’s really just getting started.
Look at Ke’Bryan Hayes’ contract.
What that says to me is they plan to spend in 2024 and see a chance they’re good through the end of the decade.
Building out a contract like that makes me feel they’re going to be ok not putting much more into the team this offseason, regardless of what I’d like to see.
On a normal team, I wouldn’t think much of this, but for the Pirates, deciding where that extra 2 or 3 million are going to fall is far more informing than on other teams.
4. Derek Shelton Will Return
As I’ve told you probably since 2020, Derek Shelton will be the coach of this team in 2023. I knew that because I knew he was going to be given a chance to preside over something the team, not the players, the Management team, believed had a chance to win based on the talent they provided.
I believe 2023 will represent the first year they feel he has enough to actually evaluate his job, more importantly, I believe the management above his head to be highly involved in his decision making to begin with.
I don’t expect dancing in the streets.
I do expect him to quickly change from the ole ball coach who’s doing the best he can with this group of youngsters to scapegoat though.
Despite Cherington officially proclaiming that Shelton will return, and Shelton’s own sentiment that he felt very secure, 2023 will mark the year where expectation simply has to start becoming more important.
This year has been a roller coaster, and when the kids who were filling in for injured vets started to play the team looked like the trajectory was pointed at least a little upward, maybe that says we should expect Shelton’s performance to improve next year. Maybe if the team doesn’t expect better themselves the whole damn thing is just not going well enough.
A team built with 9 players who were DFA’d before being acquired by the Pirates probably has no business being good, and probably has no business judging the coach they hired to oversee them.
Maybe a GM who has 9 players who were DFA’d on their 26-man roster at this stage of a rebuild has no business judging anyone, or a job himself.
2023 is a big year, for a lot of reasons.
5. Hope is Not a Plan
We hear that statement a lot, but it’s so true. Building a team is simply a very tough thing to do. Building a team without spending money is impossible. We can all hope that the prospects come up here and look the part, but hope doesn’t make a plan. Rookies play like rookies, and they always take time. A team that cares about winning, well they provide benchmarks all over the diamond. Guys they plan to lose their jobs to youngsters who have higher ceilings and more time to deliver on it.
That’s not what players like VanMeter or Padlo are. Those are guys who themselves couldn’t beat out the benchmarks they met in other teams. Those are guys who even if they perform don’t give you much.
The Pittsburgh Pirates need to stop spending so much time auditioning other team’s castoffs and more time working through their own borderline players.
Of all the sins of 2022, the greatest will be finishing it not knowing one thing more abut Travis Swaggerty. Never seeing how Bae could manage MLB pitching. And on and on. Not answering questions about your own players leads to 40-man protection mistakes.
This off season there will be plenty of players who don’t fit and are left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. The offseason following 2023, well that one is going to be much worse.
Worse than anything, when we see them answer a question, it means nothing. How long did we know Yoshi was a bust before Ben Cherington did the right thing? How much longer will we have to watch VanMeter before he finally pulls the plug?
Wouldn’t that time be better served learning something about someone you might see as a bubble 40-man member? Good bad or ugly, wouldn’t we be better off seeing Hoy Park instead of Kevin Padlo? Even if only to cross him off the list? Shouldn’t we be seeing Carter Bins who they literally have to decide to put on the 40 man or leave him exposed? Shouldn’t we be watching Miguel Yajure instead of Eric Stout?
Guys are going to lose jobs, happens every year, so use your time to evaluate guys who will be decided on.
Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a level of performance before deciding to call guys up, but if the choice is those guys or someone else’s scrap, I lean the Pirates own guys.
Wish they would.