12-1-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Listen, most of the time I won’t overtly write “opinion” right in the headline, but considering the team I cover and how unusual it is to have an opinion like this, I felt the need to make sure I spell it out.
The prevailing wisdom for what the Pirates would do this off season has largely been some variation of “punt”. You know you’ve heard it, and you know you’ve heard it often enough to see all the typical commenters who “love their team” but “hate the owner” use it as their calling card.
You also likely know, I haven’t agreed with said prevailing wisdom at all.
Every person I talk to internally have impressed on me that they plan to make a real run at taking a positive step this year, some as directly as to say .500. In other words, not a punt, not status quo, not tryouts, not dumpster diving, but a real effort to take what they have and add to it in an effort to experience some success at the MLB level.
This message was delivered side by side with as strong an impression that could be given they have no desire to move Bryan Reynolds or David Bednar or any other top talent you can think of currently in MLB.
Now, I have no doubt that the reports or even just conjecture that the Pirates would sit on their hands and suck again next year or at the very least rely solely on internal improvement, not additions from the outside, came from somewhere. I don’t believe anyone is in the business of making things up. Especially if there is a possibility it’ll be wrong.
The Pirates doing nothing, well, let’s just say history is on your side. If you want to make an educated guess, it makes total sense you’d lean in the direction of this team yet again sitting out most of the offseason, maybe grabbing a scrap here and there if only to ensure they can prevent a prospect or two from coming up. Make no mistake, they’ll certainly add more guys off the scrap heap and NRIs (Non-Roster Invitees) before we get to Bradenton, that’s different.
Thing is, they’ve absolutely been guilty of this. The Pirates are a team that has routinely spent very little, and tend to require insane amounts of evidence that the team is “worthy” of investing in before doing so, even to the meager level this franchise is going to reach, either through their own restrictions or MLB’s depending on what you believe. That part hardly matters, nor does it change what you’ve seen play out.
Well, I’m here to tell you, this year, 2023, this team is still not going to spend a whole lot, but it has more to do with where the payroll started than what they’ll add.
Ben Cherington said he wanted to solve first base this year, and he meant specifically this year. To do that, he brought in 2 players on one year deals. One by trade, one via free agency. They actually brought in another who they just DFA’d. This was done for a simple reason, the team wants to show MLB improvement in 2023, and didn’t feel they’d achieve that by opening the season with a rookie or couple of rookies, but also liked the prospects enough to not want to permanently block them by signing someone for 3 or 4 years.
Yes, they’ll probably trade one of them, maybe both, or maybe they’ll decide one of them is worth another season. Point is, first base in 2023 has seen the investment more than double over last season.
General managers don’t like to say things that can tie them to a direction or a number. You’ll never hear a GM, even a Yankees GM for that matter come out and tell you exactly how much payroll they want to spend. Rarely will you hear them directly tell you their needs in much more than a vague acknowledgement that they “could” look to add to a position.
This is because more than anything else, GM’s don’t want to be publicly wrong. That’s pretty human actually, probably speaks a bit to why so many would go with the easy prediction for 2023 for that matter, but I digress.
Point being, when a GM does say things that tie he or she down a bit, listen. Chances are they’ll be moving heaven and Earth to ensure they don’t get caught “lying”.
In some exclusive reporting by Alex Stumpf at DK Pittsburgh Sports a case in point was provided. Ben Cherington says “We like where we’re starting to get to in terms of the collection of young pitching we have and some guys making some gains this year, there’s a chance for some of those guys to reach another level next year, but we’d like to add to the group.”
On the pitching front, he’s also said he isn’t opposed to a multi year deal.
Again, guys like this don’t want to be wrong, but nothing here says Jacob DeGrom or bust.
This is part of where my prediction comes in and it’s really less of a prediction than simply believing what we’ve been told.
I expect 1 to 3 pitchers brought in and I expect them to be MLB quality because they will cost them players on their 40-man currently. In other words, you aren’t likely to sacrifice someone you think COULD help for someone who COULD, on the other hand, when looking for real improvement you might sacrifice someone who COULD help for someone you believe WILL. 1 starter is a no brainer and I word it the way I do simply because beyond that 1 starter I could see a signing that could do that or bullpen and one dedicated bullpen option.
Want more than evidence? Well, they currently have no left handed pitching. None. On the entire 40-man roster. Point being, I see no way they escape signing or acquiring at least 2 lefties.
These could be trades, they could be free agents, but I’m gonna be bullish here, I won’t count a potential Rule 5 pickup in my overall MLB talent brought in tally. In other words if they get one in that draft I won’t let it help me be right.
As to the other signings or acquisitions I see, nothing could be more in your face than catcher. As it stands the Pirates have two on their 40-man roster. Endy Rodriguez and Ali Sanchez, one is a waiver claim, the other a player that almost assuredly will start in AAA. We know, and they know, they need to get another. In fact, even if they completely heel turn and start Endy right out of Spring, they’ll still need to sign a qualified backup because Sanchez simply won’t cut the muster for that role, not to a rookie.
I could see them getting a lower level free agent right handed outfielder, but if they did it’d almost have to be a trade.
All told I think that adds up to about 3 or 4 MLB additions to the roster before Spring and piled on top of what they’ve already done that’s a fairly decent swing at hitting that .500/respectable region. Doesn’t mean they’ll perform. Doesn’t mean it’ll work or they’ll make all the right choices, but it does mean even to cynics like me, they will try.
Couple reasons you do this at this stage before I sign off here today.
First, we mustn’t forget, Travis Williams is technically in charge of Ben Cherington. This doesn’t mean he’s suggesting guys to sign or even how much they spend or where to spend it as much as to say 4 straight years of losing and visibly not trying to improve while waiting for kids to arrive is murder on ticket sales. It stands to reason when you get to the point you have few very defined holes in your roster, at least holes you can’t reasonably fill internally, and your payroll is miniscule, you might actually try to fill those holes in an effort to make fans believe you care, and you might feel you are now close enough to truly see what this core can do if you support them a bit.
Next, I know this to be true for one player in particular but it certainly could be more, when trying to extend guys you want to keep around, some of them want to first see you’re willing to invest around them too. In other words, are we going to be 100% dependent on what you can develop in our system or are you willing to go get what doesn’t come along so we have everything sewed up? One thing many don’t realize is that MLB players, at least players who came up in a system, tend to pay close attention to what or whom is coming. They know where the holes are in other words.
Finally, it’s time, and even while MLB tends to be very patient with teams carrying low payrolls, there comes a point when even they will start to question just how long this can go on.
Overall folks, I think payroll will stay relatively close to where it was last year, maybe a bit more, but should they have decided to just leave things go and only rely on the system or waiver claims, solid chance it actually would go down.
When you look at a roster that has Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, Oneil Cruz, Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, David Bednar, and a host of promising young talents it’s hard to justify not adding. It’s hard to raise up a core and then openly not support them for in some cases up to 3 or 4 years of their career.
The moves this team makes this off season aren’t going to add up to a World Series, they probably won’t even truly put them in the playoff race. They can make them competitive this year though. They can make it hard to ignore them when you’re a team in the race coming to town. They can make it less of a rarity when they sweep a team. Most nights you should be able to look at the starter and lineup and believe they aren’t locked out of this one before first pitch.
It’s time for that.
You might think this is all so YOU can buy in and I’m sure that’s part of it, but getting some of those young players and core players to buy in, folks, that’s the money shot.
Even if it doesn’t cost much in the end.
3-4 MLB players, still to be added. Sounds crazy, until you consider how crazy not doing it would be in reality.