Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

11-21-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Busy week here at Inside the Bucs Basement! Craig wrote a killer piece on the Arizona Fall League. Corey and Justin wrote about the possibility of David Bednar being moved, and you all responded with the biggest numbers we’ve pulled since July.

Let’s do it again!

Things certainly aren’t going to slow down, even on Thanksgiving week.

Should I go with a Turkey Day theme? LOL, of course I should.

Let’s go!

1. Plenty of Leftovers?

After all the roster moves that led up to Non-Tender day and preparation for the Rule 5 Draft, the Pirates roster sits exactly at 40.

Now, should we get to Spring like that (we won’t and I’ll explain as we go) some players like Max Kranick will wind up on the 60-day IL and clear up a spot.

Right now though, I feel the need to explain to everyone what having a full roster means right now. For one thing, they can’t really participate in the Rule Five Draft.

They can’t just DFA someone to create space either, that’s not how this works. To create room, they physically have to make a trade if they want to splash in this pool.

So before December 7th (R5 Draft Day), I fully expect them to pull a trade.

I know they have issues with the roster that are painfully obvious, 2 catchers, one who hasn’t played more than a handful of games at AAA and one who was a waiver claim, no left handed pitchers, look, they’re going to have to deal with those, but that doesn’t have to happen by the 7th, and could be addressed by simply DFAing some of those leftovers. This is specifically in order for them to use their 3rd pick in this draft.

Has to be a specific kind of move too. Can’t be returning a bunch of guys some other team didn’t protect. can’t really be MLB ready unless it’s a 2 for 1 type situation.

Honestly, it’s a bit of an unforced error if you ask me. They can get a relatively free bullpen arm from a plentiful group, and if they don’t make a move, they’ll be forced to just sit and watch it go by.

When you look at the 40-man it’s no longer loaded with guys you just want to flush. Ryan Vilade is easy for most but let’s be real, it’s mostly because we don’t know him. Hoy Park seems like the closest to a no brainer on the roster to me, but all in all, it’s not loaded with junk like many years passed.

At the very least, I can honestly say out of that 40, 37 or 38 of them I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more from.

This trade, if it happens, is going to come from 3 spots. Middle infield (Castillo, Marcano, Park, Peguero), Lefty Outfielders (Mitchell, Swaggerty, Smith-Njigba, Marcano), Fringe Starters/Pen (Underwood, Stephenson, Wilson, Yajure, Ramirez, Mears)

Feels like it has to be from that grouping. Feels like it has to happen too. Keep those eyes open.

2. Familee Gathering?

The Pirates probably weren’t looking to have this news broken, but when asked directly if they planned to have Piratefest this year by Rob Biertempfel.

This hurts my soul.

The Pirates have a dwindling season ticket holder base and Piratefest has always been the best outreach event they’ve had short of a successful season.

As many of you told me when I vented online about this development, even if it isn’t true, it smells a whole lot like they don’t want to face fans and if that is indeed the case, all I can really say is why?

If they believe in what they’re doing and truly think this is the best way to bring winning baseball back to Pittsburgh as they claim it is. Stand there confidently and explain it.

I remember as a young employee, my boss at the time saw me struggling to explain a decision he had made. That’s kinda how middle management works sometimes, you have to deliver the company message, or explain why choices were made that you probably didn’t make or even play a role in.

He looked at me and said, this is on me Gary, If I didn’t passionately explain to you what I was thinking, or can’t, how can I expect you to do it for me.

So if I’m a player on this team, and I see this management group either doesn’t have answers, or doesn’t feel the need to share them, I’m not sure what motivation I have to say much more than “I’m focused on improving my game”.

Part of the job here is to not only rebuild the roster, but to rebuild the relationship with fans. As we sit here in 2022, forget what you think is coming because casual fans sure as hell will, how can you believe avoidance is the right approach?

Look, it’s not the end of the world, but I do add it to the bucket of unforced errors that at the moment is starting to overflow.

3. Who Invited the Crazy Uncle?

What is Travis Williams doing here in Pittsburgh?

He’s not making players moves, he is 100% hands off of the baseball side of things, that’s something the Pirates decided they weren’t going to do again after moving on from the Huntington/Coonelly era.

Coonelly would historically have to put his stamp on every move Huntington made and even put the kibosh on some deals after they were agreed to by both sides.

Here’s what Bob Nutting had to say when Williams was hired back in 2019.

“Travis’ leadership abilities, experience and passion for Pittsburgh sports makes him the ideal choice for this position,” Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said. “Travis was an integral part of the Penguins leadership team over the past decade of success. He has a keen understanding of Pittsburgh and appreciates how important our fans are. He will drive a culture of success within our organization.”

Well, we’re entering the 4th year with Williams as team president and I find myself asking, is he doing this stuff? Has his experience shown itself integral to anything the franchise has done?

I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions.

Maybe there are answers in Williams’ own statements upon taking the job.

“This is a homecoming for me, both personally and professionally,” Williams said. “It is a tremendous opportunity to come back to a city and a team that I love. I am excited about working with Bob and the rest of the Pirates family to return this franchise to a winning tradition. Today, we turn the page and start writing a new chapter in the history of the Pirates.

“We are committed to a refresh of our entire operations. The first step in this process is to immediately begin the search for new leadership of our baseball operations. Within our business operations, we will focus on enhancing our relationships with the fans, the ballpark experience and our commitment to the Pittsburgh community.”

Focus on that last sentence I bolded. Contrast that with what we’ve actually seen.

They built new bars in center field, a new kids play area, launched a Pirates HOF, and took away the out of town scoreboard.

Now they’re bringing back the out of town scoreboard, and as we already discussed, choosing actively to not engage the community by hosting Piratefest.

Does that add up?

Again, I don’t know. I think of the Penguins and how little we used to hear form David Morehouse. That’s the real mentor for Williams we should be pointing to, and his style was very much so to stay in the background. Let the hockey people do what the hockey people do. But we also always saw him there to answer for things that didn’t work out, represent the organization in the community, and speak to the future with the media.

Williams simply doesn’t talk much to anyone outside of his inner circle, and bluntly, maybe that doesn’t matter. If they’re winning, I probably don’t care what he has to say anyway, but the way he’s handling this position, we’re only going to hear from him when things change, good or bad. Add some new bars and take out some seats, we get a quote. Open a HOF we get a quote. Soon we’ll see ticket prices increase and we’ll get a quote.

I’m not sure that’s enough.

In the background, I can tell you all the Williams side of things, meaning he and his staff have been frustrated over the baseball ops side headed by Cherington as it comes to communication. For instance, when they decided to call up Travis Swaggerty last year, nobody in baseball ops felt it necessary to bring it up to Williams and his team. The quote of “We’re trying to sell tickets here” was used.

Add in an owner who would much prefer to stay out of all this and you have no choice but to rely on the competency of the men he hired. That’s were we are, and all I can say is at least for right now, I’m disappointed.

4.What’s On the Menu?

Let’s take a Thanksgiving themed look at what I see as the current roster produced lineup.

  1. CF – Ji-hwan Bae – Prototypical leadoff hitter, best centerfielder on the projected Opening Day roster in my opinion. Spark plug type, could absolutely feast on bunts and seeing eye singles if he chooses to hit that way against new shifting patterns.
  2. LF – Bryan Reynolds – You didn’t misread, I think it’s time to move Bryan over to left. It’ll be easier on his body, and if you’re fielding your best team, you put guys in position to excel, not survive. He can still fill in should they like or if they want to sit Bae on lefty starter days.
  3. SS – Oneil Cruz – He’s the best run producer this team has, and while I 100% understood and openly asked for him to be the leadoff hitter last year, it’s time to put him in a run producing position in the lineup. I know best hitter is 2nd nowadays but I still believe in L-R-L and the pull to keep switch hitting Reynolds there is just too great for me.
  4. DH – Miguel Andujar – I don’t feel great about this if I’m honest. This spot to me has to be a right handed stick, and based on who I see making the opening day lineup this is who I’d go with to start. If a team matches a lefty against the top of the order, Andujar is at least capable of making them pay. Again, this is where I start, and honorable mention to Rodolfo Castro who I truly considered here and may wind up nominating by the time we actually get started if he has a strong Spring.
  5. RF – Jack Suwinski – He hit like a platoon player last year, but as we sit, this team doesn’t really have one to offer. I also think when talking about a 2nd year player, it’s important to recognize, his story isn’t fully written. He looks like a power guy, but could evolve into a more complete hitter as well. The strikeout has been too often for him, and he won’t last long in this spot if he doesn’t improve it.
  6. 2B – Rodolfo Castro – Rudy has really interesting pop, and makes enough contact to believe more consistency is there to be found. The Switch hitting infielder can really decide if this lineup is top heavy or balanced. If he’s even slightly improved over 2022, they have potential to score a whole lot more runs in 2023. He’s that key.
  7. 3B – Ke’Bryan Hayes – This is probably where I’ll wind up disagreeing with Derek Shelton’s lineup the most. I just have this aching feeling they’re going to continue to hit him too high in the lineup for what he’s producing. I like the guy, and if his at bats improve, I’m more than happy to move him up. That said, they hung on to the belief he was an adjustment away far too long last season and he at times became at the very least a spot in the lineup you felt grateful to get something from. When you have that in the middle or top of your order, you often stub your toe before you even get all the way out of bed.
  8. 1B – Ji-man Choi – It’s weird to put the new competent free agent this low in the lineup, but looking at what I just put on the list, where would you put him? He’s not a power guy so run producer ain’t it. He’s not a speed or contact guy so top doesn’t make much sense. Right here, following Castro and Hayes who should get on base enough gives Choi a chance to not be “counted on” but still provide opportunity to matter. A 600 something OPS hits down here on a team trying to win, and when you have this many youngsters, sometimes expected OPS has to matter more.
  9. C – Ali Sanchez – Look, this is right now. If Endy were to make the team, I think you can imagine I’d change the whole damn lineup. Right now, this is my spot for the Catcher, if it’s Sanchez (it won’t be) or Perez (maybe), or Barnhardt (believe it or not really maybe), none of those names aside from Endy will change where the catcher likely hits on this team for me.

If I had one thing I really toiled with changing, it’s the cleanup spot. Part of me really wants to switch Andujar and Castro, but this is where I land for now.

5. Appetizer Plan?

Hey, we have to try to take a swing at the Starting Rotation right? Appetizer’s on Thanksgiving are kinda evil in my mind, but this rotation has options even before they add to the group.

  1. Mitch Keller – I think he has to be the Opening Day Starter. After everything he’s been through as a Pirate and all the work he put in to become a pitcher we actually want to see in 2023, let’s give him an atta boy. At least for now.
  2. Roansy Contreras – The 2nd year player had a fairly seamless rookie campaign. Think about it, there was very little drama with Roansy. The team jerked him around and played games with him on team control, he just kept pitching. They asked him to pitch out of the bullpen, OK, he just did it with a smile. Go down to AAA, alright, if you think that’s best. Entering 2023 as a fully scouted MLB pitcher and probably a much less restrictive innings count, Roansy is in for a much more difficult task than 2022 provided. He has the goods to make it work, but I expect more challenges than he faced last year. Baseball is just too hard, harder than he made it look.
  3. JT Brubaker – Look, it’s happening. I know many of you have decided you’re over it, but JT is absolutely as we sit here one of the team’s 3 best and most experienced starters. I personally think his ultimate landing spot is a bullpen, but as of right now, his experience, number of innings, stuff and potential keep him in the rotation. I’ll also say this, if JT was this team’s clear number 5, man they have a really good rotation.
  4. Johan Oviedo – I’d like more information before I choose this, so fortunately this is purposefully a way too early look at where we are. He looked dominant at times and overwhelmed at others. Sometimes I think of course he’s a starter, other times I picture him hardening up a bullpen that needs to be strengthened. Bottom line, I think he’s earned a good long look at the rotation.
  5. Zach Thompson – I think there are other options to be sure. But as a fifth starter, and I feel the need again to make sure I say, they plan to sign at least one starter, this is where I’d deploy Zach. Last year before starting to pile up injuries he was fairly consistent at providing 4 or 5 innings every outing and keeping his team in the game. I’d imagine he’ll stretch out more next season like everyone else, but more than anything I just like him more than Bryse Wilson, and Miguel Yajure. I don’t see them letting Mike Burrows win out of Spring, and whether you want to hear it or not Luis Ortiz needs a little bit of seasoning. Just a bit of refinement and he could really dominate.

That’s what I got. I think we’ll see them sign 2 starting pitchers personally. One will be a pitcher they actually count on like Quintana was, and one who they’ll consider a project or reclamation job. I also think Miguel Yajure, and Bryse Wilson are in danger of being DFA’d. They have no options and that might play into the opening day mix a bit. For instance, Thompson has 3 options, so you could see him starting in AAA just for starting depth.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone. I can honestly say, I’m thankful to all of you. I talk a lot about the worst of social media and commenters, but not often enough to I acknowledge how many times a week I get kind messages and encouragement from readers and listeners. It’s human nature to let the bad overshadow the good, but this week, I’ll force that down and say, thank you. There are days where that positive comment really re-energized me, and I can’t say enough how lucky I am to have you as a reader.

Gobble Gobble.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

  1. Have a great Thanksgiving Gary. I can’t imagine that PirateFest is done away with, at least not without a replacement event. Maybe it’s an expansion of the Caravan to have more outreach outside of PGH. I’m betting a lot of fans would prefer a local (for them) event.

    Liked by 1 person

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