9-8-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
So much of what is going on with the Pirates right now just baffle fans. Believe it or not people like me, doing what we do, have a unique window into the mentality of the fan base.
It’s almost become politics on social media. If you believe in what the Pirates are doing or have a shred of positivity left in your mind you tend to hide in the shadows with few exceptions. If you’re angry beyond measure and go so far as wishing poor players would harm themselves or something horrible would happen to the team’s owner, out there loud and proud with it.
Let’s get started, because I’ve banked some really good ones lately.
It’s Year 3 of This Rebuild! Where is the Improvement?
The record sucks, but folks, this is exactly what I’ve been predicting all along.
This excerpt is from our season preview piece this year…
Well, since 2020 I’ve said 2022 would be more fun if only because we’ll finally start to see some of the fruit from this painful build process, and I see no reason to change that now. We predict a record because well, you kinda expect us to right? But it hardly matters, this year is all about getting some of that next wave up here and doing it again in 2023. I expect this team to have 10-14 guys currently on the roster not here come the end of 2023. Changes are going to start coming at us faster now, forced by talent, not money. – Gary Morgan, April 2022
If you want one reason why I’m not up in arms about the team on the field right now, that paragraph is the answer. I expected this. I expected youth to flood the team and with youth comes struggle. The biggest argument most will have with that statement is the word fun, but for me, this is fun. I don’t just watch prospects assuming they’ll always remain in the minors, at some point I want them up here, and the hit rate on prospects is a lot closer to 0% than 100%.
2022 will be the single biggest year of turnover we see in this entire rebuild. 2023 will build on what the team has brought in so far. Team improvement will largely depend on player improvement of course, but next year the Pirates have some areas they have to pay more attention to, and they happen to be the same as 2022. First Base, Catcher and Pitching.
Those areas are obvious because they don’t have a bunch of prospects beating the door down. You could make an argument that Endy Rodriguez and Blake Sabol have put themselves in position to take Catching off the list, but I’d argue, let’s be sure. Let’s not leave that position open to youthful struggle.
I guess I’m kinda avoiding the question though.
To me, rock bottom was last year. The team was bad, and the team was populated with a whole bunch of guys who weren’t likely to be here for long. This year started that way too, and now it’s a bad team populated with a whole bunch of kids who have improvement left to do and the big names are one year closer.
The team swung and missed on Yoshi Tsutsugo, and Greg Allen. They took a swing at Roberto Perez and he predictably got injured. Jose Quintana did well but he was always getting traded and he and Zach Thompson represented the only pitching pieces they brought in who did anything.
Short answer, if they were shooting for real improvement in regard to the record, they needed to bring in more players who had proven MLB track records.
Longer answer, if they brought in a bunch more proven MLB players we don’t see this many kids. Seeing this many kids was more important to this management group than a win total this year. Right or wrong.
I’m of the belief that a happy balance is out there and it starts with being honest with yourself. Catcher was going to be a very dark place this year because all the prospects who matter were too far away to be a factor. First base same thing. Starting pitcher, yup, same thing. The Pirates could have added big in these three spots and it would have helped the record and prevented no prospects from playing time. Next year, the same exact issues will be present.
I’ll have the same advice next year, and the only caveat I’ll add is likely that now I’m not looking for youngsters to arrive, I’m looking for them to improve or be replaced by other youngsters.
In other words, I expected this, but I also completely acknowledge it didn’t have to be this bad.
Make sense? Boy I hope so cause the team sure as hell isn’t going to try to explain it.
Do the Pirates Hate Travis Swaggerty?
First, lol. No, they don’t “hate” Travis Swaggerty.
They came into this season with a glut of unproven outfielders they wanted to get eyes on including Canaan Smith-Njigba, Bligh Madris, Cal Mitchell, Jack Suwinski, Travis himself, Tucupita Marcano, Ji-hwan Bae, and Diego Castillo. I don’t need to tell you that’s a lot of players to work through, especially if you don’t really suffer a ton of injuries out there.
Before the season started, I think it’s fair to say most everyone assumed when it came time to call one of these guys up Travis would be the first. He has the most pedigree, he’s a proven defensive commodity, and at 24 (now 25) you want to see what he is.
Now when he was called up early on, he spent all of 5 games up here, only received 9 plate appearances and was promptly sent back down. Weird to say the least. If you call up a former number one pick, you tend to not give him such a pathetic opportunity.
In his time in AAA this season, he’s played good defense, hit .261, with an OPS of .780 so it’s not like he’s looked like crap down there.
My best guess, is they didn’t like the fact he’s had all of 48 at bats in professional baseball since 2019. 2020 wasn’t his fault, 2021 he got injured and lost 95% of the season, so that kinda makes sense, but then you have that brief callup that just makes you wonder what they were thinking.
Again, at his age, I wanna know. More than that, I can’t fathom how they wouldn’t want to know. Nothing against Suwinski, Mitchell, or Smith-Njigba, but we had time here on some of them. Hell, Mitchell wasn’t even on the 40-man.
Short answer, I honestly don’t know why he isn’t up here or hasn’t gotten more of a look.
Longer answer, all I can think is they feel he might not do well at the MLB level, and in a trade Prospect Swaggerty is more valuable than potential Quad A player Swaggerty. As of this writing, I haven’t seen anyone with any real tangible say in the matter comment on why, beyond saying they’re happy with what he’s doing in AAA right now.
The Pirates Should Fire Every Scout They Have, Right?
First, almost none of you know more than a handful of the scouts names, let alone what they’re responsible for. Neither do I if I’m honest. I mean I can google them, some of them are trusted sources for me as well, but I’d be lying if I told you I intimately knew what each and every one of them bring to the table.
I kinda like to turn this around a bit. First, there are three types of scouts. Amateur, Advanced and Pro. Amateur lump in all the guys internationally, collegiate, and high school, basically everyone who isn’t already a pro. Advanced scout upcoming teams on the schedule, trying to get a handle on who does what and provide intel to the field staff to help game plan for when those teams play the Pirates. Pro are specifically looking at potential free agents, bubble guys in danger of being waived, even potential trade targets.
So right away, it’s hard to say ALL, right?
Let’s start with Pro, first of all, the Pirates haven’t been looking to trade for MLB talent so right away they have their legs chopped out from under them. That leaves the bubble/waiver guys and those are always about believing your team can “fix” whatever is ailing whomever the player is. I’m not sure it’s fair to judge them yet. If you want to get started though, Johan Oviedo is your first real test. He would have been scouted by both the advanced guys and the pro scouts. In other words, if the Pirates are successful or fail with this pick up you can point to scouting.
Advanced, well it’s hard to really blame them. I can give you the best intelligence in the world on how to get that girl to say yes to the prom invitation, but at the end of the day, if you stutter through it, don’t look at me.
Amateur, who knows. The Pirates have had 3 drafts under Ben Cherington and none of them are here yet. Had it been 5 years and I’m saying that, there’s an issue. Jury has to be out on this one for me. At least until some of the talent they’ve selected matriculates to MLB.
Short answer, no, I think it’s too early to assume scouting is causing any of what you’re watching.
Longer answer, no, and if you’re really honest with yourself you know this is grasping at straws looking or answers. The other thing I’d say, especially on the amateur level, some of these relationships formed between scouts and potential players go back multiple years. Firing the wrong guy could cost you someone your team has already at least mentally invested in for a long time.
Was the Ke’Bryan Hayes Contract a Mistake?
Let me start like this, signing a kid to an 8 year 70 Million dollar contract, a deal with an AAV of 8.75 Million wouldn’t even warrant a press conference for many teams, for this one it set a record.
When you sign a lengthily deal with a player, sometimes you’re paying for past performance, in this case they’re paying for expected future performance. They’re essentially betting that he performs well enough that he’d earn more in arbitration and free agency than the number they are locked in to giving him through 2029.
His bat hasn’t played this year, at least not to the degree you’d hope. A 3rd baseman with an OPS of .654 isn’t ideal, and that’s apparent to everyone. Thing is, for that amount of money, and his defensive value, he’s easily going to meet the demands of that contract.
As Pirates fans, even if you don’t mean to do it, we’ve become conditioned to feel like this is a scary amount of money but again, it’s really not. He’ll be a bargain by the end even if he doesn’t ever develop further.
On this team he can’t continue to be a middle of the order bat though unless he improves. These types of contracts are smart, but only if the Pirates are truly looking to change the way they’ve done business. See, contracts like this are signed all the time and they lock in “good” players through their peak without constantly worrying about years of control. I say “if” because this isn’t STAR money. This is league average or slightly above money. This contract will look better when it isn’t the most they’ve ever spent, because in no way should he be looked at as the best player on the team. If he is, then none of this will really matter.
If Hayes works himself into being even a 20 homerun guy one day, he makes this contract a complete joke.
We often look at extension guys as just the stars. Well, sometimes locking in guys who are just above average makes sense too. Think of it this way, if you had a playoff team like say LA, and Justin Turner goes down with an ACL mid season, Hayes is a really intriguing addition right? He can handle the position at an elite level, and his bat can play even if not to Turner’s standard.
Well, the Pirates have decided at this one position, this is our guy. You’d like to see them do this with others too. Cruz, Reynolds, Keller, Roansy, whomever you like. When you spend 3 seasons looking for answers, you have to take the answers you get and consider it, well, answered. Not all those players have to be Super Stars, they just need to be above average enough that you know they won’t fall below the line of being an MLB starter.
Short answer, no, absolutely not a mistake.
Longer answer, no, but it’s also not something to bounce off walls clamoring that everything has changed either. Until we see them expand upon the plan and lock up more, we’ll never know whether they signed a guy who was so down on his own value he took less than he could get or if he was simply step one in a measured approach to build a team that doesn’t believe they can win by constantly churning prospects. It means they are committed to keeping some guys in town at the very least, now we just need to see how many (or more accurately how much) they are willing to commit to.