9-28-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Before I start writing this piece I’m going to start by simply saying, I know many of you have stopped believing there is a plan, let alone a next phase. I don’t blame you at all. I will say, the local media, especially those who used to speak positively about this ongoing effort, and Ben Cherington as the choice for GM have suddenly turned most of their commentary on its ear.
They’ve done this largely because they created a timeline for how this whole thing should come together and when. Nobody likes to be wrong, especially those who see themselves as experts.
In all reality, nothing has changed. Let’s start by outlining the plan as I understand it, sans timelines.
- Trade off everyone of value who won’t be here when the prospects they see as impact arrive, some of whom will be the results of those moves.
- Promote prospects as they are deemed ready (after manipulations of course) and augment with filler.
- Promote more, and internally improve as prospects climb closer to their ceilings.
- Sign players to fill holes, better than filler, still not super expensive.
- Make moves from prospect depth to fortify the core even if in season.
- Keep developing prospects to replace what you can’t afford or choose not to keep in an effort to not have to drop back into tear down mode.
That’s it. Now I’ll repeat again, this isn’t how it has to be. Specifically where I mention “filler”, the Pirates could easily have upped that and still could. That said, it is in reality exactly what they’ve told us they’d do.
I can understand being mad about it. Nobody can force you to like something you don’t believe in. Now, if it starts to work, to some people this whole thing will start to sound like a politician you didn’t vote for does something even you can’t deny was good. You’ll admit it, and enjoy the benefits of the move, but you’ll make sure everyone remembers the 70 other things he or she did you hate too.
Bottom line, this is, was, and will be the plan. If you look at the roster right now you’re lying if you honestly feel nothing has changed since 2020. If you look at the record and ignore the roster, it’s super easy to say nothing has changed.
Here’s reality. This team has now created a young core of players. Players that still have quite a bit of room before reaching even the lowest rung of their projected ceiling. A young rotation, some of whom have established themselves, some of whom just found a foothold, but certainly look poised to take the next step.
They’ve done this while sprinkling in “filler” and in my mind, paying too much attention to, and giving far too much opportunity to in a season that easily could have strictly gone to youngsters instead. See, I don’t have to agree with the path to recognize there is one.
When they ultimately underwhelm us all with whomever they bring in to fill holes in 2023, I’ll disagree there too, but I’ll still see progress.
Point is, this thing is going to get to a certain point, even if they do this wrong. The team will reach a point where they have enough high end talent on the roster that they’ll win more than they lose. To me, the mystery has always been the next step. It’s always been about what Nutting will provide, and how Cherington will use it. 2023 is quite literally the last year before those two questions have to be answered and make no mistake, not answering them is an answer.
In other words, if they aren’t ready to rock in 2024, you should assume they never planned on Nutting providing. Even as I’ve espoused the plan, this has always been there in the back of my mind, and any of you who’ve read my stuff through this entire process know I’ve always stopped at 2023. Those two questions are the reason. I can’t project out further because until they answer those, we simply don’t know the plan.
So what’s next?
Internal improvement – They say it constantly. They started saying it too early if we’re honest because what they created is two years of that message with very few results to show it was happening.
Again, if you only focus on the record, internal improvement is simply bull right? Now if you really look individually at the roster, of course they’ve improved internally. Rodolfo Castro is far superior to what he was, Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Jack Suwinski, Oneil Cruz, have all contributed to that being a true statement. There are more too of course.
This roster is now constructed with (when healthy) plenty of players most fans want to see more from. In other words, there is room for more internal improvement.
This is different than having someone like Adam Duval on the team. If you had 5 or 6 like him and run around talking about internally improving, I’ll call BS immediately. That dude is what he is right now. He’s not someone who has room to show you more. No, you aren’t looking for improvement there, you’re hoping for a fluke. An abnormality of a season in which everything he puts wood to falls. If you say it about Oneil Cruz, well, he has room to improve defensively, he can certainly add to his patience at the plate, his decision making on the base paths will evolve. Point is, he isn’t near the height of his abilities. He has a lot of company.
I can say that, and at the same time acknowledge Adam Duval probably gives the team a better shot to win right now than Cal Mitchell does. Feel me? Just because he doesn’t have room to improve, doesn’t mean he isn’t better now.
This is the longform version of “This team isn’t ready to compete”. When they are, which is fast approaching, guys like Duval can really help a team like this. When they aren’t, they see more benefit in guys like Mitchell or Suwinski getting MLB playing time.
That’s why it was so frustrating that they perpetually blocked the paths of so many of these kids with names like Josh VanMeter. VanMeter was very close to having proven out who he is, and guess what, he did.
Trades & Acquisitions – The Pirates will absolutely be in position to make some deals. I can’t sit here and tell you they will, but lets look at the starting rotation, how it could evolve and what it could lead to.
Let’s say they start the season with Keller, Brubaker, Contreras, Oviedo and a Free agent starter. That’s likely if we’re honest. Some of you will yell at me that Ortiz or Burrows should be there, but keep your pants on, you’ve seen enough to know why that won’t happen.
Behind those 4 and a mystery man there will be a swell of kids, like the aforementioned Ortiz, Burrows, Priester, Bolton, maybe even more, I mean how many of you had Ortiz on the Bingo Card this year? Right, me either.
Point is, by mid season, it could be entirely apparent they have to give Ortiz a spot, Burrows, maybe even Priester. This trade deadline the Pirates already fielded offers for Brubaker. Now, a team like Milwaukee probably locks up Brubaker for a couple years beyond his arb years, but if they have a Corbin Burnes coming, maybe they don’t. Maybe they pull a Josh Hader move because they have Devin Williams ready.
Moves like this will keep things churning in the system.
I’m not predicting per se that Brubaker is getting moved, simply using him as an example of how this could go.
Nick Gonzales is still a top prospect, but it may very well be there is no place for him to play if you feel Castro and Cruz have it on lockdown. Maybe that’s how you go get better pieces for positions of weakness.
Things like this will start to percolate as early as next season, and in the offseason after 2023, let’s just say it’s going to get really noisy.
I know trades have a negative connotation here, but do the math, not everyone can possibly make this team and stick. Every time they decide to keep someone long term, they’re also creating a potential Miguel Andujar of their own. Meaning the dude is blocked, and at some point you’re going to move them or lose them for nothing, OR, you move who’s blocking them.
This is the dance a team like this will do, and it certainly doesn’t always work the way you’d hope. It is however how they acquired important players like Francisco Cervelli, AJ Burnett, and Charlie Morton. Not every trade of prospects is the Archer deal. Not every trade of veterans is the Gerrit Cole deal.
40-man & Tender Deadline – Almost immediately following the season, these things will start to rise to the forefront. In fact, they’ve already started effecting things. Bringing in Miguel Andujar at this stage, knowing he is eligible for arbitration 2 this offseason, it’s a very safe bet that the Pirates offer him a tender and take him to his hearing or sign him. He’ll get about 1.5 million and almost assuredly be on the 26-man roster. The effect here was making the decision they knew was coming on Michael Chavis. He was eligible for his first year of arbitration following the season and the decision was pretty clear. Well, there will be a ton of these types of decisions. Keller and Brubaker are both eligible for the first time, both are extremely likely to be taken to arbitration. Both will get significant raises, yes, even with their W/L records, trust me, nobody cares about that stat, especially arb lawyers.
There will be youngsters to protect, and I’ll cover this much more extensively as we get closer. The reason I haven’t already done it, well, you just saw, I didn’t see this Andujar thing coming for instance and it kinda changes things a bit. It’s going to cause the team to give up on some guys, and dig in on some others. For instance, Endy Rodriguez is a no brainer to protect, but Blake Sabol might not be. Do they roll the dice on Malcom Nunez or Mason Martin again? What about Matt Gorski? He was great but he’s also been hurt. If you do protect him, what about Travis Swaggerty and Canaan Smith-Njigba, they’re both on the list already and to come off they have to be DFAd. See how tough these decisions start to get?
Choose to bring in a vet OF and it gets even harder to envision protecting up to 7 other outfielders.
Mike Burrows will have to be protected, Quinn Priester won’t. They’ll protect Mike, but Quinn might actually beat him here. Isn’t baseball whacky?
Whole lot harder than deciding if Phil Evans should get a spot huh?
Still think there has been no internal improvement?
Again, I don’t accept that this team had to be this bad in 2022. To say it had to be this way is simply false, but I will say they squandered time they could have been using to make some of these decisions easier. I will say if you’re going to lose 100 games, I’d rather be doing it with this roster than the 2020 roster.
We’ll dig in on all these concepts in the coming weeks, but for now, at least as far as I’m concerned, I still see the immediate vision, and I think next year, many more will join me. The difference is, I won’t have to climb back in the boat, cause I never jumped ship. LOL
Have a good day and if you live in the South, please be safe my friends. I’m thinking about you as you face the wrath of Ian.
4 thoughts on “The Next Phase of the Pirates Build is Upon Us”
I don’t know if BN is the culprit with payroll in 2022. I believe that BC knew that this was not going to be much better than a 90 loss season regardless of external moves. They just weren’t going to invest enough to do better than that and tie up roster spots blocking kids in the future. I think BC punted to save $ on his own with the intent on using the political capital of what he saved in the pas when it’s needed to get more to be competitive.
The 2022 offseason will be unlike anything ever seen before for the PBC due to so many recent trade acquisitions now having to determine if they are worthy of a 40-man roster spot. Cutting Allen, Peters, and Chavis is just the tip of the blade. I’m projecting about a dozen pitchers alone currently on the 40 to be jettisoned (DFA’d or in a real minor trade): Wilson, Underwood, Cederlind, Mears, Beasley, Yajure, Y Ramirez, Banuelos, etc… Also, see Gamel, Castillo, Park packing real soon. Possibly Mitchell, Newman and CSN.
Due to the 40-man crunch I’m not as convinced as I once was that they are going to bring in more than 1-2 FA’s. Conventional wisdom is a LHH 1B/DH (possibly thru trade), a catcher and possibly a LHSP. I can envision a scenario that Sabol makes team out of Spring Training to fill back-up C/1B/DH role. While it won’t happen (jinx), Endy making the team would save them $4-5M this year and a spot on 40 … and a few more wins.
Regarding the bullpen, I just don’t see any acquisitions. So much mediocre competition, but I don’t see them spending to upgrade with a few guys returning to health. Not only are guys like Underwood and Banuelos in jeopardy of getting cut, but so are dudes throwing 100 like Cederlind, Selby and Tahnaj Thomas. Besides Burrows getting added, Bolton has a good shot. Not as likely for Flowers, DeVito.
If I had to make a few predictions, I’d go with 1) Peguero + getting traded for an MLB-ready LHH 1B/DH; 2) Brubaker and/or the FA SP getting traded at the deadline w/ rotation spot(s) filled by Priester, Nicolas or Mlodzinski (Burrows and Ortiz already up); and 3) bet the over big on wins. Free money.
Lastly, while there is a big 40-man roster crunch this offseason, that won’t be the case in 2023. Besides the 3 SP’s mentioned above who might be rostered during the 2023 season, only Nick Gonzales and 1-2 others merit consideration at this time. If there is ever a time that Bob Nutting is going to spend, it will be prior to 2024 when the product approaches contention and PNC is a more desirable destination to mid-level free agents. And for the record, I don’t see that happening.
So yeah, the team will be better due to the large number of prospects maturing. But what’s the endgame? As you’ve laid it out this team will be good – maybe .500 or scaring .600. But great? That’s just not how a modern great team is constructed. Even the Royals traded for Zobrist and Cueto and made a few FA acquisitions when they were ready to compete. There’s no reason to think that the Pirates would bring in Kendrys Morales/Zobrist/Cueto to push them into WS contention. The Royals didn’t have the stacked farm system that the Bucs had in 2015 and for the most part the Pirates stood pat during their run of wild cards.
No, the plan is to continue to churn out low cost prospects and move them up and out before they become too expensive. But there is not plan to win a championship.
While they might not have gotten the flashiest splashes, the 2011-15 Pirates absolutely did not stand pat: Derrek Lee, Ryan Ludwick, Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, Aramis Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Joakim Soria, J.A. Happ.
They averaged two impact players a year, though for 2014 you can argue they didn’t add anyone impactful mid-season. But there is an undeniable track record of this team trading for supplemental pieces, and Happ is just one example who outperformed all the flashier pitchers on the trade block at the time anyway.
A win percentage of 60 requires 98 wins–97 wins if for some reason only 161 games are played. In the last 10 full seasons, it’s happened only 23 times–one of which was the 2015 Pirates. There were precisely zero teams to reach 60% in 2013. Why even hold the playoffs or the World Series that year when all those teams were merely good?
If your definition of great is even 62.5%, that requires 102 wins, which only the 2016 Cubs, 2017 Indians and Dodgers, 2018 Red Sox and Astros, 2019 Astros and Dodgers and Yankees, 2021 Dodgers and Giants, and 2022 Dodgers and Astros have done in the same span (average of one team per season). Only the Indians weren’t a huge-market team, and the AL Central at that time was rightly chided as one of the most abysmal divisions year-over-year in a long time. To expect that of Tampa Bay is unfair; to expect that of Pittsburgh is so ludicrous it can’t be taken seriously.
The Royals did plenty right, but they also hit the craps shoot of the postseason. In Game 2 against Houston, if Kazmir had not made a mistake pitch on 0-2 to Cain in the sixth, Houston very well would’ve swept that series, all else being equal. That’s the only non-large market to win the Series since 2003. If we consider the actual Miami area population instead of its dysfunction as a pro sports market, the last truly small-market Series winner was Cincinnati in 1990! So yeah, the plan is to do as the Rays do, “churn out low cost prospects and move them up and out before they become too expensive,” because what other options can a small market realistically hope for in today’s MLB economic landscape?
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