11-27-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
I’m seeing quite a few people struggling to understand what the Pirates are doing this offseason. For one thing, it requires a bit of nuance, something sorely lacking on social media, and further, it requires a fan base who have had prospects presented to them as the second coming over and over for 3 years to understand, some of them just aren’t ready.
Let’s talk through the needs, why they’re needed, how long they’re needed and what the team is trying to come out of 2023 looking like.
Internally, the Pirates are targeting a .500 season. I sincerely doubt this will be publicly stated, anymore than it’s publicly stated when they believe they’ll lose 100 games, but I’ve had that stated to me several times now.
Letting nature take it’s course simply isn’t going to get that done.
Filling the team with veterans could help, but doing so at some positions could ultimately set the entire thing back. Oh, the record would improve in 2023, but the Pirates would also be blocking players who simply have to be part of this long range project.
2023 is what I call a transition year, whereas 2020-2022 were time buying/discovery seasons.
I personally think it’s unnecessary to have years as bad as they put the fans through to get to this point, but that’s also largely beside the point. They’ve already done it this way, and I’m not a cry over spilled milk type.
As we go through the rest of this piece, keep that .500 goal in mind. It really does shade every decision.
On a normal team, in a normal market, this is quite frankly the silliest question you could ask.
Because they don’t have anyone proven at a position. That word, “proven” is important. After all, how does a player get to “proven” if they can’t play because they’re now blocked by a free agent veteran?
The answer, is slowly. Getting opportunity from injury, or performing so well they make it impossible to ignore.
Let’s take first base. They now have Carlos Santana, and Ji-man Choi in the fold. Both of these guys are older veterans, and most would say they’re on the down side of their careers. I’d agree with that for sure.
They’re also guys who’ve played first base in the majors for quite some time, and been productive.
Behind them they’ve acquired Lewin Diaz, another first baseman with some MLB experience, very good glove, tons of power potential that hasn’t made itself apparent at the big league level yet.
And you all know the prospects, Malcom Nunez, freshly acquired from the Cards, power potential, barely reached AAA. Mason Martin, long time heir apparent at first base, tons of power, tons of strikeouts, waning patience. Arron Shackelford, old for his level, never really had a special season, or a skill that has jumped out, but he looks the part.
So they signed two players they believe can help right away, to give the depth behind a chance to push their way onto the roster, and insulate themselves should they not make that happen.
You must understand that prospect development is not super predictable. A clue as to how close the Pirates feel about their prospects is what they do with Rule 5 Protections though. Last year, half of the fan base collectively lost their minds that Mason Martin was left unprotected, and even though many nerds like me were there to point to his K rate as the reason, it was still hard to handle, he does hit some bombs. This year, it was hard to find anyone even whispering his name come protection deadline time.
Nope, this year that went to the next sure fire superstar, Malcom Nunez. Nunez is interesting, has a ton of power, but also doesn’t have a real position. He has primarily played 3B in the Cardinals system, needs work at first and hit a ton of homeruns in a micro minor league ball park.
Look, disagree or not with the evaluations here, the Pirates feel these guys aren’t ready. They feel so strongly they aren’t ready, that they can’t see another team taking them for 100K in the Rule 5 Draft, and even if they do, they can’t fathom them sticking on a roster all season long.
Again, whether you disagree with them or not, by thinking they should just play prospects instead of signing these old guys, is to ask them to ignore their own estimation of these players and enter a season with them as the options.
That said, they at least think between those prospects listed, or other prospects looking for a place to fit the bat first base is also not a spot they want to plug for the long term.
We’ll find much the same when they address catcher. Endy is probably ready, and without getting into a whole Super 2 BS conversation here, even if they didn’t care about that at all, nobody wants to start a season with a rookie and a waiver claim for a tandem back there. They’ll have to add, and they do that both for the pitchers, the lineup and yes, the prospect themselves.
Rushing a kid into service at a responsible position like that with nothing to fall back on, well, it winds up looking pretty close to what we saw last year after the one vet they signed was lost almost immediately.
That’s why you add from outside, and specifically why this type of veteran. If they perform and the prospects don’t, you know you have to do much the same next year. If they perform and so do the prospects, you probably let them start to take over, and move at least one of them come deadline time. If neither perform, you probably look to find someone more permanent next year.
Where to Add
Before 2022 was even over, we knew these positions.
First base was obvious. Starting pitcher, specifically left handed and Catcher.
They could add an outfielder too, but that’s also a position where they have so many prospects who’ve at least made the league it might be smart to just let it play out.
If they don’t add a Starting pitcher they’ll have no left handed starters, and they’ll be forced to rely on players like Bryse Wilson, Zach Thompson or Luis Ortiz to fill out the rotation.
Luis in particular might appeal to many of you, I like him quite a bit myself, but he needs to work on a few things. We all saw his first 3 games where he was simply unhittable, that’s in there for sure, but we also saw his 4th game where nothing he threw over the plate got to the glove.
That’s a young player for you, and success is on the razor’s edge. Don’t quite have one pitch operating at optimal performance and boom the house of cards collapses.
He must refine his off speed options, and while I fully believe he will, MLB isn’t the place to do that. It may be by a month in, but from the jump, man that’s not a bet I’d make, especially if I actually want to hit that .500 goal.
In general, this part of a rebuild is often difficult for fans. You’re preached to for years that all these game changing talents are coming, and right when they’re on the doorstep the team suddenly seems to want to go get old guys instead.
You just watched them play countless kids who had just a little experience and some of them figured some things out so why stop now?
It’s really all about giving some of those success stories a chance to experience a bit of team success. It’s about greasing the skids a bit instead of handing them the keys and assuming they know what the pedals do.
When you mentally as an organization flip the switch from overt evaluation only mode to the hybrid stage 2023 will bring, you start to prioritize big league outcomes more than forcing prospects into action.
We will see a ton of young players make their debuts again in 2023, but this year, we won’t likely be feeling held hostage waiting for their arrival. If Quinn Priester makes the club in 2023, it’s going to be because he’s ready for a shot, not because they have nobody else. If Nick Gonzales makes it this year, it’s not likely going to be because Ji-hwan Bae & Rodolfo Castro both bombed out, it’ll be because he’s a number one pick who has shown he’s ready for his chance.
I’ve been telling you since 2019 the conversations were going to change at some point, and that’s what 2023 is in my mind.
I’m not saying we suddenly stop looking to the prospects, that’s silly, most of the top talent they’ve acquired isn’t even here yet, but I am saying it’s time to realize they’re in a different stage now and how their paths evolve from here is not the same as the group before them.
There are now expectations for how the big club does, not just their importance to the future.