Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10/17/22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The playoffs are in full swing, in fact as of tonight, we’ll have the entire AL and NL Championship Series field set and for the most part, the games have been fun. Well, not for LA fans, but I digress.

Let’s do this.

1. The System Isn’t Fair

You all know I feel this statement, but today, I’m here to tell you this time the Dodgers are crying foul. That’s right, the mighty 111 win Dodgers who lost to the San Diego Padres and failed to advance to the NLCS feel hard done by.

There were quotes about the team deserving to just have the championship handed to them for their season total of wins. Writers opining that having all that come down to a 5 game series being unfair. Complaints that expanding the playoffs and “forcing” LA to win more games against an unworthy opponent (ironic as hell after they literally lost to them) was done directly to “punish” the Dodgers.

Listen, the unfairness in this league is primarily how infrequently the bottom half of the league can get into the dance, once you get there, anything can happen.

I don’t feel even a bit bad for LA fans having salty cheeks. They’ll be back next year no doubt. It’s no guarantee San Diego will.

Most fans love seeing Goliath fall. Alabama lost this weekend, LA was ousted from the playoffs, and even the Steelers helped by taking down Brady with a severely crippled defense.

The money issue in Baseball ends at the playoffs. Once you’re in, it’s anybody’s to win. It’s the ability to get there in the first place where payroll is a constant issue.

So, pardon me if I simply don’t want to hear it when you and your clearly underachieving roster of All Stars, MVP’s and Cy Young candidates hit a cold streak at the worst time over and over again.

Now, some of the National media, of course this is the biggest issue of our time…

Baseball has a huge competitive balance issue, and even when the stacked deck delivers a loser the immediate cries to stack it further are a lock.

In other words, according to Buster here anyway, it’s ok for teams to get in, but things should be weighted far more toward teams that got the number one seeds, which is almost always going to be the teams that have the highest payroll.

More advantage, as opposed to more evening of the playing field. Funny thing is, it leads directly to point number 2 and why teams feel compelled to go this route.

2. Ben Cherington’s Post Season Comments

Before I get into what was and wasn’t said, let’s start this off with a brief irritation point on my part. Listen, there aren’t nearly as many people waiting with baited breath to hear what Cherington has to say at the end of the year as say the Steelers, but the Pirates have no reason in this day and age to not stream this event for any fans who do happen to want to see it.

I’m not saying the writers do a poor job of conveying what was said, but to me, if you want to connect with your fan base, have the balls to directly talk to us. Transcribing his answers is fine, but man you all know the difference, one you just read words, the other you get to hear how he says something. It makes a difference and it’s incredibly out of touch, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Let’s dig in on his quotes.

“I don’t believe focusing on payroll is the right thing to focus on in a town like Pittsburgh, in a place where a winning team is not going to be built in a way that is in other places, the way we wake up every day and do our work, just not the thing that we think about.”

OK folks, I’m sure this one is incredibly popular. He was of course asked what we could expect to happen to payroll next year and to a degree I get it. First thing here “a town like Pittsburgh” is code for small market, now he doesn’t say small market because people will immediately look at other markets similar and smack him with how much less they’re spending. This isn’t the same as saying we’re never going to spend, instead he’s essentially saying, spending isn’t how we’re going to get off the mat.

He continued from his previous thought before I so rudely interjected.

“We want to look at how to improve the team in a way that makes sense for us and fits into our longer-term team-building strategy, gets us closer to that winning that we all want to get to as fast as we possibly can. It’s not specific to payroll or dollars, but simply where are the opportunities to add to the team where what we’re getting back helps the team and is the right investment, whether we’re talking about players or money or anything. That’s what good teams that are in situations like ours are doing all the time, and they’re even doing it after they start winning all the time.”

I don’t know folks, to me if you don’t want to be compared to other teams for one thing like payroll, you probably don’t get to compare yourself to other teams for anything. Of course every team wants to get better, and of course every move is made in an effort to do so but reality here is pretty simple. Adding someone for big money who the team will either move before they lose him for nothing or prevents them from keeping someone else who does fit this narrow target is simply not something this GM is interested in.

If you take one thing from these quotes, it should be that Ben Cherington has been given choice of how he wants to approach this thing, and spending isn’t even on his radar aside from his internal roster arbitration figures, extensions and modest free agent signings. That doesn’t mean forever, but it does mean until he feels the team has improved internally to a degree it makes sense to him. Again, I’d argue that’s short sighted, but…

“I really believe that we have the resources to win and that, once we start winning, we’ll be able to sustain that,” Cherington said. “It’s up to us to execute that.”

He simply isn’t trying to spend money right now. I know what Bob Nutting has done here, but currently, this is on Cherington. This is his plan, and it smells an awful lot like he thinks he can create his own Tampa Rays system here in Pittsburgh.

The Rays are successful, but what you should take from this more than anything, he’s looking to build a system that continually sustains a competitive team, but pushing all the chips in, well, not likely.

Doesn’t mean they can’t pull it off. Just means there likely isn’t going to come a time when they go get that expensive missing piece.

Again, and I said this way way back when, if that’s what this GM is trying to create, it won’t go over as well here as it does in Tampa. Imagine making the playoffs in 2024 and having your team turn around and trade Bryan Reynolds because it’s his peak value and to replenish the system and prepare for the next prospects to come up and fill the role. Not unlike Blake Snell for the Rays. It might be smart, it might even work, but Pittsburgh fans will see this as less than ideal.

There are more comments, I’m sure I’ll talk about them more, but for today, this is enough BS parsing.

3. Payroll Will Increase Though

That last segment is what it is. Point being, I wouldn’t hold my breath thinking that one day, when the time is right, Ben Cherington will open the war chest and bring in a big name free agent in the middle of his prime. That doesn’t mean the payroll will remain bottom of the league.

What it does mean is that over the course of this thing playing out we’ll start to see arbitration numbers instead of entry level salaries. We’ll see that paired with some extensions too, and all in all, the payroll will slowly but surely increase to a level of, well, this is in the eye of the beholder, respectability.

Now if I understand he plan as laid out, it’ll get to and likely stay near that apex. Some players will cost more, others will be moved on from and replaced with you guessed it, entry level salaries. As long as it works, you won’t really care right? Well, that’s their bet.

A couple years back, the Rays traded Willy Adames, a young budding short stop with plenty of control to the Brewers. So to be clear, a team in the playoff race, traded a key piece of their team to another team in the playoff race for prospects. They were able to do this because they had Wander Franco ready to come up and they trusted him and their system enough to believe they’d experience little to no drop off.

The next year, they signed Franco to a huge extension, one that he’ll likely never finish in Tampa but regardless, they got it done.

Now you hear them shopping a bunch of other players just like they do every year, fishing for teams willing to sacrifice some coveted prospects for more established players.

Been doing it for over a decade now and to their credit, they win, at least enough to shut people’s mouths.

It’s not unlike what the Orioles have tried to do recently although we have yet to see which direction they go after the talent infusion.

It’s the slimmest of slim paths to being relevant, but it’s also becoming increasingly popular. Certainly isn’t a guarantee it works, in fact it’s not worked yet if work equals a World Series win anyway.

I don’t say all this to depress you, I just say it because I think in many ways the truth will set you free. You know what game they’re playing so when you see it played you just kinda knew it was headed there.

I’ve long said this market isn’t Tampa. This is a town that loves their stars, wants to feel they are as much Pittsburghers as you are yourself. Wants to feel they’re committed to the fans and city just like you are to them and the town. Tampa doesn’t have that, at least not to any measurable degree, but here in Pittsburgh, trading away viable talent for backfilling is never going to be popular. The Pirates, I believe, are going to bet you’ll be happy with playoff appearances more often, and the occasional run at it in exchange for not having that dude play 15 years here and retire in black and gold.

Will you? I have my doubts, but not about the plan, that’s what I see them doing.

4. It’s Official, We Have a Lame Duck Coach

Now what?

There is nothing quite as weird as a coach in his last season of a contract. Most teams hate it so bad they’ll do anything to avoid it, even extend them and brace to eat the year of salary if you have to move on.

A coach in their last year faces even more challenges than one who’s fat and happy for 5 more years. Picture this:

Player A: Hey Skip, Coach BlaBla asked me to take some reps at first base today in practice. I did cause you know me, I don’t wanna make waves. Is this something you want me to work on for next year cause it’s not coming natural.

Manager: Yeah Player A, I think that gives us some flexibility next year.

Player A: (a bit later with his buddies) How’s this M’fer gonna tell me to learn a new position? This dude ain’t even gonna be here next year.

You could imagine situations like that all day long. Hell you could just spend a day imagining each and every one of his coaches suddenly emboldening when it comes to telling him what he’s doing wrong. Why? Well, if he goes, so will they.

It takes a transformative time in the growth and development of very young players and supposes they’ll each see right past this and 100% buy in to what’s being preached. It supposes that players will be put in uncomfortable positions and not feel that they having 4 or 5 years of team control left are in a stronger position to dictate terms than the manager.

I’m not saying this to endorse extending Shelton, but if they do, this is exactly why. It’s also why I was so irritated that it was clear that Shelton was still taking direction from Cherington about player usage and playing time. It all but guaranteed he’d be back because how can you fire someone for doing exactly what they were told?

This year has to be different. And no Ben, I don’t care how hard he or anyone else works.

5. “Getting Closer to Improvement”

Bruh, another Cherington quote from that same press availability. Posted in it’s entirety below.

“That we are getting closer to improvement, and that we have, if you think about the talent level, it’s not just that we think it’s getting stronger but also where it’s situated, that more and more of that young-player talent is either starting to show up in the big leagues or at the upper levels and closer. That doesn’t mean it’s all ready to help us win right now, but the fact that it’s closer gives us confidence that some of those players are going to start to emerge, and as we look toward spring training, I get really excited, because I think there’s going to be a ton of talent on the field that is closer to being a contributor at the major-league level and helping us win more games. So we’re really excited about that, and then obviously incredibly motivated to make it better, because losing makes us all miserable, and we’re doing too much of that. We knew this was going to be a difficult time in our process, and sure enough it is. So that gets us up every day, working harder than ever as fast as we possibly can.”

This dude. Word salad is an art form.

Listen, thing is folks, this team will get better this year, just will. They could add nothing and they’ll improve. It’s a safe bet, it’s a safe statement and more than anything, it simply doesn’t mean anything.

I mean, technically if you take a shower today you’re at least listing toward improvement.

Thing is, these people could truly be honest and the story would actually sound better. The team isn’t getting closer to improvement, they will be an improved team next year. The evidence is that right now before we even sign anyone the starting rotation is deeper and more tested. Cruz is already here. Hayes will be healthier. On and on and on. All I’m saying is why create fake phrases when you can just tell the truth and convey an even better message. If he says that in 2020, ok, I get it, you had 60 games and learned nothing. After 3 full seasons though, c’mon, do better than that man.

They’re poised to get better even if by accident in 2023, but yeah, lets go ahead and be evasive.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

5 thoughts on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. Pittsburgh fans caused this with lack of support dating back to at least the 50s. Look at attnedance in 90-92 and again in 3013-2015. We couldnt even sell out a 4 game series against the Brewers in September 2015 which is a season that we won 98. Yes, they don’t care if fans love their stars because whining on social media about it doesn’t translate to ticket/merchandise sales


    1. I know you really believe this, but frankly, it’s utter bullshit and I have and will prove it yet again if I have to. Attendance is less than 10% of baseball revenue streams. Cable contracts starting with the Yankees back in 91 have caused the disparity in the sport. Teams share merch sales so that too doesn’t matter. I’ve seen you comment this at me multiple times now and typically just let it slide, but it’s false, find a new angle.


      1. Do some math. At $30 per ticket an extra 500,000 ticket sales is $15 million. Do you also honestly believe that media packages aren’t affected by lack of attendance and showing empty seats. It’s a negotiation point in the contracts. Find another angle, all $ matter. $15 million year in and year out is huge, especially when you have an owner that manages the bottom line closely. Remember some history as well. Without BN, the team gets taken out of PGH in 2003. Nobody wants to own this club. They understand the lack of support.


      2. Yes, I honestly believe that. Because they’re based on ratings and media size. The Pirates get close to 50 mil the Dodgers get close to 500 mil. Revenue sharing cancels out ticket sales and if they sell more they get less revenue sharing. It’s anything but simple math, but trust me I’ve done it. This might work on someone who hasn’t actually done their homework, but I have. I also know there at 7 franchises who bring in even less.


  2. MLB teams can be bad 2 consecutive seasons and not be punished in the new draft lottery system. 2022 is season 1 of badness. 2023 season allows the Pirates a backdrop poor season without being punished in the following draft. Keeping the lame duck manager and possibly the worse Pirate manager of all time who will never get an MLB manager position ever again, I just do not see the Pirates spending. The organization does not want to place themselves in a position to try to be competitive in 2023 after a failed season in 2022. I see Reynolds being shopped hard at the trade deadline. I also see the Pirates being a bit more aggressive in spending during offseason after the 2023 season concludes and the team appoints a new manager. Shame on Cherington for not replacing Shelton and trying to re-energize the Pirates for the start of 2023. He has committee to another failed season (not making the playoffs) in 2023. It is shameful.


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