Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10-10-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Well, the first edition of this piece in quite some time in which I don’t have games to pull tidbits from. Instead, it’ll mark the first heel turn toward 2023 for me personally and largely this site.

Believe it or not, this team is poised for improvement next year, and I say that while not huffing glue. I also say it without having some imaginary list of free agents they’re going to sign in my mind.

That doesn’t mean I’ll enter 2023 satisfied should they not go get some help, it just means the simple statement itself. I believe they’ll improve, even if they do nothing but let these kids grow. Free agents could make the process less painful, but thus far, this club hasn’t shown us that’s incentive enough to act.

Let’s go…

1. Offseason Coverage Plan

There are several topics that simply are going to come up every year covering a team like this. See, the Mets bloggers can just focus on things like “Will be find a way to keep DeGrom?” Or setting their gaze to the hot OF free agent they feel will change the game, like Judge.

Here, yeah, neither of those players are coming here to say the least. lol

We’ll be covering all these topics in some order as we get going.

  1. 40-man and Rule 5 Protections/Non-tender deadline
  2. Free agent board/focus on holes that need filled
  3. Player trajectories/what we can expect growth wise from existing players
  4. Prospect Pool/who to expect to come up next and when
  5. Development system evolving/changes/hires/target areas

We’ll do all these because they’re foundational to everything else. I’m sure we’ll head from there into who they should extend, who they should sign, all the typical blog stuff, but we’re going to start with the meat and potatoes.

One thing I love hearing from readers every year is that we take this more seriously than the team. First, it’s surely not true, but I still love hearing it and we intend to once again think deeper than they seem to on the surface. The off season is the single biggest growth point for any franchise, and now that this team has some kids in place, we can stop focusing on all the “who’s going” and start focusing on “who’s staying”.

2. Lack of Depth VS Obvious Holes

The Pirates have obvious holes they need to fill but they have some spots where depth is just as important to think about.

That’s why people by in large are so much more concerned with the first base position than the catching position. Both are holes to be sure, but one has depth that we not only expect could help, we expect they’ll own the position by the end of the season.

See, you still have to go get a catcher, because it truly is a dead zone at the MLB level, but you needn’t get someone you feel can hold the spot down for years. First base on the other hand, well the depth there is a bit more murky. Malcom Nunez and Mason Martin both still have potential, both could still wind up being here next year, neither are the anticipated bet that Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis are.

They’ve got situations like this all over the diamond. Let’s talk the outfield, so many wanted Gamel cut simply because he wasn’t one of the kids, and I totally get that line of thinking, I’ve felt that way myself too, even last year to a degree at times. I can also say, as this thing continues to move along, there is always a need for someone like that. I’d argue better than that, but hear me out for a moment.

Let’s say the outfield mix next season is Bryan Reynolds, Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Ji-hwan Bae (At least part time), well, don’t you need a right handed option out there? First place you look as a fan and I’m quite sure as a team executive is the system, what can we point to there? Matt Gorski is about it, a right handed power bat, late bloomer, really good fielder, likely a good shot to make the club at some point during 2023. Now, without moving guys around like supposing Nick Gonzales is going to move to right field, Gorski is just about it, maybe Henry Davis.

Now, to me, it’s a need to recognize they may very well have enough “depth” at the position, but in my mind they don’t have a good “mix of depth”. Now, do I want to sign someone who starts (AKA not depth)? I guess you could, someone like Will Myers will surely be let go by the Padres but if you pay him 12-14 million he’s going to play most of the time. If you want a depth guy, you could go get someone like Adam Duvall who’s 34 and very used to being a bench option.

Maybe they see Miguel Andujar as this depth. Maybe they even see him as a starter. Point is, you see people shut down the OF as a need all the time because they have so many options, but I can easily make a case that they need to bring in more depth minimally.

There is still a place for veterans even if they aren’t part of the future, you know, the calling card of those who believe the system is meant to provide everything they’ll ever need. Sometimes it’s ok to focus on making things better now. Sometimes it’s ok to just buy that tube of Flex Seal instead of fixing a small part of the gutter that is due to be replaced in a couple years.

Using that analogy, Flex Seal is Duvall, buying and installing a new segment of your gutter is Myers, replacing the entire thing is eventually Gorski or someone internal.

In my mind, while I wait for Gorski or someone internal, I’m not wild about watching my foundation flood out repeatedly, I might have to do something temporary on the way.

I’m using free agent names, just to paint a picture, not to endorse them.

3. Well, the Coaches are Staying, Now What?

We knew this was happening if we’re honest. We ask for transparency and on this they’ve been crystal clear, we just couldn’t accept it. I still don’t if I’m honest, to me returning a hitting coach who’s offense put up the numbers they did is simply disgusting. I’d also follow that by saying I felt much the same about Oscar Marin after 2021.

Now, when they made that decision I said here, there and everywhere that Marin was tied directly to Mitch Keller and man did Keller not let him down.

See what I did there? I outlined what success would look like, and when my metric was achieved I allowed it to be a success.

I think that’s where we are now. This manager is entering his last year of his deal and if he goes, so too does everyone else most likely. Maybe that’ what they’ll need to do, but let’s not enter the next year wondering what success looks like, let’s instead lay out what we need to see to at least be ok with them re-signing this manager.

With a manager, it’s really hard for me to get away from the record. At some point that’s what every baseball manager is judged by and next year I think it’s finally fair to do so. The talent level has increased, the decisions will shift from making sure you find at bats for a Josh VanMeter to making sure you keep Ji-hwan Bae fresh.

We don’t know what the roster looks like in it’s entirety but I think we know enough to say this coach has to get this team to .500 in 2023 for me to be able to say an extension is acceptable. Obviously I’d have some play in there, like if they go 4 games under and lost Keller for a month in August, I’m not going to glaze over it. But to me, going .500 in year four of a rebuild is hardly asking for too much.

I’d also like to see more consistency in the lineups. Allowing guys to settle in and give them a chance to solidify themselves as MLB regulars is literally the job next year. Take a guy like Rodolfo Castro, if you finish 2023 and still have a question mark next to his name, Shelton done screwed up. Up or down you need to know and the only way that happens is if he’s given opportunity.

A guy like Oneil Cruz, well, he either fixes some aspects of his defense or gets moved somewhere he can help and not cause issues. Again, if they finish 2023 and where Cruz plays is still a question, in my mind Shelton didn’t do his job.

With all this speed they have on the roster, I’d like to see Shelton manage the talent he has as opposed to managing the talent to look like what he wishes he had. They have a bunch of guys who run like deer, and folks that calls for situational ball. A good coach knows his players, knows what they do well, what they don’t and helps them help the team in the most effective way possible.

So here’s where we are on my list:

1. Go get a .500 record and importantly, the GM needs to get out of the way. Let Shelton manage the talent you’ve provided.

2. Answer questions and believe the answers

3. Coach the talent you have, not the talent you wish you had

And I’ll add one more here.

4. Refocus this team on Defense. In 2020 they were one of the best in the league under Shelton, in 2022 they were one of the worst. Let’s say in 2023 you wind up at least in the middle, I’ll still give you some leeway for young players.

Do all those things, and I’ll at least not rail against him. I may still not believe he’s the right coach, but at least if he meets these minimum standards I’ll be able to say ok, it’s going in the right direction.

I’m fully aware many of you have already decided, again, I think I have too, but the team is not moving on from him, so let’s at least lay out a path and even if it’s narrow and winding, see if he can navigate it. If he can’t, ok, full tilt.

4. The Wild Card Round is Over

Cleveland Guardians VS New York Yankees – Cleveland is the Cinderella team this year, they’ve spent next to nothing but they’re constructed differently than anyone else too. They’re built to stop runs and man can they do it. If one team can truly shut down the Yankees offense for an entire series it might just be the Guardians. The Yankees can pitch too mind you, but that Cleveland staff is the great equalizer. I expect this one to go deep, but I have to lean Yankees here.

Seattle Mariners VS Houston Astros – The Mariners have had a magical season culminating in a long awaited return to the playoffs, but Houston is a battle tested and often forgotten about juggernaut. This is possibly the worst draw Seattle could have gotten. To me Houston is the most complete team left on the AL side of the league but the Mariners have some dynamic talent that simply hasn’t been here long enough to know what they aren’t supposed to be able to do. Houston pulls this out in my mind, but they do it by outscoring the Mariners, not out pitching them. If this goes bad out of the gate for the Mariners it will be a short series, if it doesn’t I could see it going all the way.

Philadelphia Phillies VS Atlanta Braves – The Braves to me are the absolute best team in MLB. Yup, better than the Dodgers too. I just don’t see any holes. They can outscore you, they can outpitch you. They can win a slug fest or they can just drive you nuts with speed. Veterans can step up, kids can blossom. Atlanta is to me unstoppable this year. The Phillies have some really good hitters, that lineup compares to almost anyone but they simply don’t have enough pitching to keep the Braves from eventually breaking through. I don’t see this as being all that competitive. Braves by a million.

San Diego Padres VS Los Angeles Dodgers – This will be a marquee matchup. The national media has fallen in love with the new look Padres and their attempt to go out and collect as much talent as possible. Now when you have arguably the best player in the game in Juan Soto, even if he hasn’t looked himself, he sure has it in there. A guy like that can take over a series, but the Dodgers have a couple guys capable of that too. The Friars have a good pitching staff, but the Dodgers have more who can help carry the load. Tight series I think here, and I’d be shocked if it didn’t go all the way. I lean Padres if only because they just finished up a series and I’m not sure I trust the Dodgers to be ready for a full sprint early in the series. It takes a while to get those veteran bones moving and if they falter early the Padres might just build up enough of a lead to never let the boys in blue off the mat. Now, the Dodgers won 111 games, I’m hardly saying they stink here, but a 5 game series against a desperate and hungry Padres team peaking at the right time could really be a challenge.

5. Sometimes, Maybe We Assume Too Much…

I went to a birthday party for a friend this weekend, and when I’m getting introduced around to people, the go to by whomever is doing the introductions is often to talk about this site or my podcast. It’s fine, I get it, but most of the time it forces me to discuss the team with someone who probably isn’t really paying attention.

This time though, man. This dude starts by telling me he’s a huge Pirates fan and he “wants to pick my brain”, uh oh.

He asks, are they going to be better next year? I said, sure I think so. Ton of really high end talents either here or already on the doorstep like Cruz. Immediately this dude says “yeah, like Nutting is going to pay for him next year”.

Now, my initial retort was, of course he’ll be back next year, he isn’t even in arbitration yet.

This dude straight up asked me what that meant.

I was literally dumbfounded. I mean how can you follow baseball and not know what arbitration is I thought? Then I thought back to myself back when I couldn’t wrap my head around why Barry Bonds had to leave or why Bobby Bonilla left or why they traded John Smiley.

Maybe we just assume too much that everyone gets all this stuff.

Got me thinking, maybe I assume too many of you all get all this stuff. Things like this, man they’re so foundational to me I almost feel like I’m insulting you by bringing them up let alone explaining them.

So listen, for some of you this is going to be mind numbingly repetitive, but in the interest of casting a wide net, let’s really explain the progression of a baseball player.

Team Control is Multi Layered and we have to start with the Rule 5 draft eligibility.

Rule 5 Draft

OK, this is pretty simple but suffice to say, from the moment a player is acquired or drafted the clock starts ticking. A player signed at 18 or under, has to be added to the team’s 40-man roster within 5 seasons or they’re eligible to be selected. Over 18 and this has to happen within 4 seasons.

None of that means you have to be added, in fact most aren’t, but it’s the first clock in team control and we aren’t being genuine if we don’t acknowledge it. From the time you join an organization, even if you’re 16, the team has 4 or 5 years to decide essentially how scared they are someone else is going to want to steal the player from you.

There are other intricacies here too, for instance, I’m not going to dive into the MiLB rule 5 draft that allows you to take a player and put them in your own system, for the most part, and this discussion, it’s just not that relevant. This is all about how long you can expect a player to be part of your organization from the time you bring them in.

When Does a Player Become a Free Agent?

MLB players reach free agent eligibility after they’ve fulfilled 6 full seasons of service time. For most players that’s going to look like this, 3 years of pre-arbitration seasons where they get paid the league minimum, and that is followed by 3 years of arbitration.

So when you hear something like “That guy is being held back to get the extra year!” what they mean is instead of just letting a player start in Spring training and open the season with the team, all it takes to get a 7th year of team control is to short them one full season. So keep them down for a couple weeks, and boom, now they’re a Pirate or whatever team for 7 years instead of 6.

This doesn’t have to be done at any one time. Typically it’s done early on in a career, but technically, the Pirates could in theory decide to do it in year 3 if they wanted. So long as that service time clock doesn’t strike 6, guess what, boom they get the extra year.

So What’s This Super 2 Thing?

First thing to know, it’s a formula, and a formula we aren’t privy to. Technically teams aren’t either and that’s because there are variables no one person could possibly know until it’s too late to affect it. That said, teams have history on their side and the target window is relatively clear.

To be Super 2 eligible, a player has to earn between two and three years of service time, they have to be in the top 22% in service time among players who reached the magic window I’ll outline below and they have to have at least 86 days of service time in the preceding season.

Clear as mud right?

Well here’s why it’s important and different and once I explain it, you’ll have no questions left about why Oneil Cruz came up when he did.

Depending on the year, a player who has accumulated somewhere in the range of 2.120 and 2.140 years, can earn Super 2 distinction. If you keep a player down for a few weeks you can get that extra year of team control I talked about up there. If you keep a player down and hold them in the minors until there are roughly 100 games left you can get that extra year AND likely get Super 2, which makes that extra year show up in the pre-arbitration portion instead of an arbitration year.

In other words, Super 2 is literally just about being able to pay a guy 4 years of league minimum and 3 years of arbitration as opposed to 3 years of league minimum and 4 years of arbitration. It’s all about money. A common misconception is that it’s about getting more control, but in reality, it’s just about making that one year you were gonna get anyway cheaper.

Either way, once a player reaches the majors, 6 or 7 years is the answer but trust me, this window is talked about, thought about and planned for all the way back when a player is acquired in the first place. As soon as you show you might matter, a team, even a big spending team is already thinking about this stuff.

The way the team handled Roansy Contreras this year was a back door effort to fit him into the window.

Players know this stuff, and you as a fan should know it too. Don’t get confused though, this isn’t something your team is trying to do with everyone, just the really big names that they have legitimate worry about retaining. Yes, every team. Even the Braves secured the extra year for Austin Riley way back when before ultimately deciding to extend him and make it moot.

Now, I’m being disingenuous if I don’t follow this up. The Pirates and teams like them, well unless they’re right in the thick of being a good team they’re going to look to move most guys when they have about a year left. So while I quote that team control figure, that certainly doesn’t guarantee the player makes it all of those years.

Hope that helps some of you, hope it doesn’t insult the rest. We need to be a welcoming fan base, cause let’s face it, if PNC is ever packed again, it’s gonna be that way because a bunch of people you know aren’t aware of all this nonsense are gonna be in those seats.

That’s it for today, talk to you all soon.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

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