12-19-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
It’s hard to believe when you really sit back and think about it, it’s already Christmas week. It should be a relatively quiet week in baseball, but we all remember the Christmas Eve that Ben Cherington pulled off the Josh Bell move and I had to explain to my wife why I was writing during It’s a Wonderful Life.
Merry Christmas, or happy whatever else you celebrate. No matter what, you’re family and friends will likely come together over this time and I hope it’s wonderful for all of you.
Let’s dig in, we have a ton to cover.
1. Knowing is Half the Battle – Connor Joe
The Pirates pulled together a good old fashioned baseball trade Sunday. This time trading prospect Nick Garcia to the Colorado Rockies for 30 year old OF/1B Connor Joe, who used to be Pirates property way back when.
In fact, Connor was the Pirates supplemental pick (39th overall) back in 2014, traded to the Braves for Sean Rodriguez in 2017, bounced from the Braves to the Dodgers for International pool money. Taken by the Reds in the Rule 5 draft then traded to the Giants and ultimately returned to the Dodgers. Finally he was granted free agency in 2020 and signed with the Rockies where he finally got a shot and found a way to stick.
For his career, his 2.4 WAR and .730 OPS put him smack dab in the heart of average MLB players and when you plan to field a ton of prospects, rookies and second year players, bringing in some experience is wise.
There is no guarantee Joe makes the club. He has two options left and looks to be in direct competition with Miguel Andujar for a right handed bench/reserve outfielder on this club.
He doesn’t have a lot of power, I say that because if you get almost 700 at bats playing for Colorado and hit 15 homeruns, well, I don’t expect that expanded upon as a right handed player in PNC Park. He does get on base though and that’s not a bad thing to have on your bench if he does make the cut.
This is in no way a big deal. It’s more of a quality depth move. An attempt to avoid relying on all those youngsters yet leaving ability to allow them to outplay him and force him to AAA.
Garcia is a very interesting prospect, but he’s raw. Meaning you weren’t going to see him impact this club for a couple more years, if he makes it at all, but he’s still someone with a really nice upside.
Part of the reason you build up a system like this, filled with redundancies, is so you can deal from it in an effort to fortify the upper levels.
Perhaps the best way I can put this is to say if I were covering the Atlanta Braves, this entire move might be a footnote.
This isn’t something to get mad about, it’s just depth. Nobody wants to go through another waiver wire claim fest trying to find people who can capably hold down a spot start/bench role in the outfield. Joe is little more than insurance against said eventuality, and even if borderline, MLB players cost something, in this case it was Garcia, and a roster spot for Nick Mears.
2. Hedging Their Bet with Austin Hedges
The Pirates needed a catcher. The Pirates got a catcher.
The Bucs prioritize defense at the catching position, and for the second straight year they have acquired someone perceived to be one of the very best defensive catchers in baseball.
That’s the rosy part.
The other side of the story is that Austin Hedges can’t hit a lick. This isn’t a guy who might emerge, or the Pirates are going to discover a hitch in his swing and magically help him put it together, he’s just a guy who doesn’t hit the baseball much.
His career .189 batting average is formed from parts of 8 MLB seasons, and this isn’t one of those guys where the batting average is going to be trumped by his OPS (career .578 BTW).
He can help a pitching staff, that much is true. He can hit the ball out of the park when and if he makes contact, that also is true. He’s also a 5 million dollar placeholder who the Pirates will hope can help develop the pitching staff and bring along their internal options like Endy Rodriguez or Henry Davis when they start to arrive in Pittsburgh.
Catching is one position on the field in which almost everyone will allow defense to be the priority, but Hedges is the definition of a hole in the lineup. I’m not here to tell you this will be a disaster, but I am going to say if the Pirates plan to continue batting Oneil Cruz at leadoff (which I personally wouldn’t, but not the point for today) you certainly can’t have Hedges batting 9th.
The team paid what the market requires at the moment, this wasn’t a “Pirates Premium” as I see it put often, but Hedges is simply not a 5 million dollar player most years. The catching market is thin, and hitting catchers, even thinner. Anyone who swung even a slightly threatening stick wanted multiple years, and the Pirates at this stage, with what they have coming weren’t interested in that kind of arrangement.
As to Roberto Perez, this likely means he won’t be returning. He just started playing Winter ball last week, which reportedly he didn’t want to do, simply felt he needed to prove he could still play to get some interest going.
One could infer the Pirates didn’t like what they saw, but that of course has not been reported.
His numbers aren’t all that much better offensively when compared to Hedges, but he’s at least a guy who puts together enough offense to allow his dWAR to drag up his overall WAR. That said, Hedges will stay on the field, at least historically, while Perez hasn’t.
The logical thing to come from fans will be of course why not just start the season with Endy Rodriguez?
This could be an entry all it’s own.
Endy has caught 3 AAA games. He’s caught 21 AA games. 51 in High A. He’s done fine, pitchers don’t hate him or anything silly like that but a team like this that openly prioritizes the defensive side of the game at the position is simply not going to believe 24 games caught above High A is enough to hand the keys over and trust him to run the staff.
Of course all the Super 2 and extra year crap is true, but if you want to be mad about it, be mad primarily because the bat is probably ready. The glove, at least as far as catching is in need of more refinement.
Another benefit to holding off a bit, it would be nice for Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Cody Bolton, and others to be met with a familiar backstop when they get to MLB themselves, while they’ve all crossed over with Endy, focusing on catching is different than doing so once or twice a week.
If we’re really honest, to this point, we haven’t seen if the Pirates see Endy as a catcher in the Bigs or not, he can and has played 1B, 2B, OF, C and is very capable at all of them.
Let’s let facts tell us Endy’s story instead of emotion and historic nefarious action.
Bottom line on Hedges, he can do this job, but he can’t hit. On a team that just suffered through a historically poor offensive season, that’s less than ideal to say the least. The Pirates are betting run prevention will make up for that to a greater degree than any catcher would add to run scoring they saw on the market. Well, at least 1 year deal types that is.
At some point, he’ll be a capable backup that we’ll be happy to have. To start the season, well, let’s just hope he was a big part of Cleveland’s magic formula for pitching.
3. So Are the Pirates Done Adding?
Much of this is dependent on the Bryan Reynolds situation.
As it stands right now, he’s not going anywhere. I’m not going to rehash this entire situation, I’ve written and talked extensively about it and I’m pretty sure if you wanted my take you’ve gotten it. The Pirates say they simply have no interest in moving him, and GM’s around the league have backed that up by leaking at least parts of what the Pirates are asking for. One went so far as to say they are looking for “a Soto like return”.
In baseball, “a Soto like return” is essentially like telling someone they can by your Honda Civic you owe $10,000 on for $20,000. Someone might have enough throw away money and care so little for shopping or lack patience enough that they’ll agree, but it’s very unlikely.
All that said, and even with the addition of Connor Joe, the Pirates still might be interested in another right handed stick.
For me, this would have to be a clear upgrade from what they have. I get bringing in Joe as competition, but if they bring in another bat I think it needs to be a clear 26 man addition. That’s going to mean a veteran, and there are plenty of those out there.
Many will bring up Andrew McCutchen and I’ll be honest, I’m torn here. For one thing, revisit those numbers I put up top for Connor Joe, then consider last year Cutch dropped a 1.1 WAR and even while racking up 17 homeruns his OPS only hit .700. Is that a clear upgrade? Defensively, I really don’t believe it is.
From a PR standpoint, Cutch needs 13 dingers to hit 300, he needs 52 hits to reach 2,000. He’s the most likely modern player to make the Pirates Hall of Fame, so it sure would be nice to see him set these milestones in a Pirates uniform.
Those of you desperate for hope on this front, he liked a tweet suggesting a reunion with the Pirates. Or… he liked a tweet that housed a sweet highlight package of him kicking ass. That said, Cutch is very careful with his image, he doesn’t do much that isn’t thoughtful. If this let’s you have sugar plums dancing in your head for a week, have at it.
Does he want to come back? Who knows. Do they want him to? Mixed bag there, I’ve had some tell me they haven’t ruled it out, some have said time to move on.
You all know I still believe they need a lefty starter, but I just don’t see it at this point.
Most of the additions I think we’ll see from here on out, barring a legitimate MLB trade, will be NRI’s (Non-Roster Invitees) or minor league signings as we ramp up for Spring.
I won’t go so far as to say the roster is set, but I will say I’d be genuinely surprised to see anything that moves the needle before we hit the sunny shores of Bradenton.
4. Super Early Look at the 26-Man Roster
If indeed they are done adding, where the hell are we? Let’s do a way too early exercise here so we have a clear look at it. To do this, I’ll be assuming the Pirates start with 13 pitchers.
1. Austin Hedges (C)
2. Bryan Reynolds (LF/OF)
3. Jack Suwinski (RF/OF)
4. Ji-hwan Bae (CF/SS/2B)
5. Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B)
6. Oneil Cruz (SS)
7. Rodolfo Castro (2B/3B/SS)
8. Ji-Man Choi (1B/DH)
9. Carlos Santana (DH/1B)
10. Cal Mitchell (OF)
11. Tyler Heineman (C)
12. Miguel Andujar (OF/DH/3B/1B)
13. Jared Triolo (3B/SS/2B/1B/CF/OF)
14. Mitch Keller
15. Roansy Contreras
16. JT Brubaker
17. Vince Velasquez
18. Johan Oviedo
19. David Bednar
20. Wil Crowe
21. Jose Hernandez (L-R5)
22. Jarlin Garcia (L)
23. Chase De Jong
24. Duane Underwood Jr.
25. Colin Holderman
26. Yerry De Los Santos
This is where I’d put things right now before we see a swing or a throw.
Obviously that means quite a few guys are going to get demoted, DFA’d, released, as we go through this thing, but folks the roster is simply more fleshed out. That bullpen and rotation especially is far superior to what we stared 2022 with.
Let’s see how it plays out and if nothing else, when asking this team to sign another player, at least aim higher than anyone you see here and be completely ok with not seeing that player again, the 40-man is full too after all.
A guy like Andujar for instance has no options, so he has a head start to make the team, where a guy like Connor Joe or Cal Mitchell have options and can be moved to AAA penalty free. If Andujar is beaten out in Spring, he’ll have to be clearly and soundly beaten if only because it will come with a dose of finality. That’s where we are right now, and it’s immeasurably better than wondering which waiver claim might have the ability to win a spot.
Probably not fast enough for any of us, but the team is improving, as will many of these legitimately young players.
5. A Message to Pittsburgh & Pirates Fans
Ladies and gentlemen, this message is a response to a thread created by Tim Williams over at Pirates Prospects and you’ll excuse me I hope for the profanity therein.
This went everywhere. All over Facebook and Twitter, up and down the fanbase.
Before I start, Tim has created a good site and brought on some very good writers. Nothing I say here is about him professionally or his team. I’m not a cancel guy, but I also am not a guy who is just going to sit back while my city is crapped on and make no comment. Feel free to read the thread, it’s quite something. In fact, it’s got a whole lot in it that’s very true, but the prism he views this city and indeed the fans through is at the very least covered in garbage.
Pittsburghers don’t see sports franchises as simply entertainment, we see them as sources of civic pride, unity and glory. When one of them doesn’t seem to be trying to achieve those goals, fans aren’t happy. Many can see progress, but many are tired of waiting and don’t feel like it’s their job to decipher everything the Pirates may or may not be doing behind the MLB level.
Older folks saw a golden age and as modernity has made not only winning but dynasties harder to achieve many of them have brought their 70’s expectations into the modern age. People who used to call talk radio and irrationally yell were hung up on and laughed at, now that’s become tweet or post and be laughed at, ridiculed, drug through the mud, reposted, misinterpreted further, cancelled and defamed.
Want to consider it possible Endy isn’t ready? Go ahead and try it on Twitter, see what happens. You won’t likely say it twice, I’ll leave it there.
Some of them have decided to just quiet themselves as a result. Questions like why can’t they get McCutchen back aren’t typically met with reason or explanation, instead they’re met with You sure are stupid. BOB would never pay for that. THEY don’t care dummy. Cutch sucks now moron!
That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh or Pirates fans are horrible people, it means some people, regardless of where they’re from are simply ignorant and have a ghastly way of using social media.
If you write, trust me, you know when someone hasn’t bothered to read what you wrote before commenting from their cut and paste sheet of Pirates insults. There was a time when I’d respond to them as I tried to build an audience, now I just ignore them all.
For this piece today I’ll have hundreds across platforms and on our site comment and if 10% are serious comments worthy of a reply It’ll be a shock. I’ll also have a solid one or two hundred who reach out via direct message.
Why? Because they don’t want called stupid for asking a question or admitting they like something. They want to have normal discourse about something they love and something they perpetually get told they’re stupid for enjoying. They don’t want to be “part of the problem” by saying they are excited about some cheap guy they signed.
Answering everyone in that fashion simply isn’t feasible for me. I do what I can, and sometimes I try to turn similar comments or questions into FAQ pieces, but the simple fear of dealing with the mob mentality online is too much for many.
Again, not Pittsburgh.
Perhaps I can see that because I live here. I live in the community, I walk this city. I go to games here. I talk to and meet readers and listeners and have yet to have someone come up and call me a bootlicker. I’ve never met anyone in person who decided to tell me how off base my every thought is. Know why? Because people, you know, the actual people you meet in real life, aren’t hiding behind a monitor. I’ve had spirited disagreements with people on sports opinions, in public and you might be shocked to know it didn’t devolve into name calling or punches. Hell I’ve brought a couple of them in to write with us because I value different opinions so much.
This was a cheap shot by Tim Williams. I don’t know him personally, but I will say, to visit Pittsburgh, or to cover Pittsburgh sports, is not to KNOW Pittsburgh.
We love our teams, we love our city, and for the most part, we love each other. Thick ass accents and all.
Pick a topic and someone on social media is taking it too seriously. Tim is a guy who periodically has this inclination, and I’ll be honest, I feel badly for the genuinely wonderful writers he’s brought on board. They just want to cover ball, instead they’ll be forced to distance themselves from a sentiment they never expressed.
Pirates fans have a reason to be upset, it’s not been an easy team to stick with and the franchise has not tried as hard as they could to be acceptable for decades. I simply don’t believe that equals a city that itself is miserable. Writing about this team requires a bit of empathy, if only because to not recognize the genuine pain many have about the state of baseball in Pittsburgh, maybe more aptly the hopelessness, is to ignore the single biggest impediment to understanding and open mindedness. Imagine me just telling you to shut up and be happy about Austin Hedges with no context for instance.
We’ve come a long way from a time when being Famalee was easy. The team won, the league was fair, the owner’s name didn’t matter, everyone knew what constituted a good player and this team had plenty of them.
Times have changed, baseball has changed, and so have people. Pittsburgh isn’t some drab shell of a steel town anymore, we paid our dues and came out of it as something different. As people often do, we kept the hardened toughness of that generation, even as our jobs often don’t require calluses on our hands today.
So no, Pittsburgh isn’t a miserable place, we’re just not a place that quietly accepts sitting back with our hands on our laps. Twitter isn’t Pittsburgh. Facebook isn’t Pittsburgh. More than anything Tim Williams doesn’t get Pittsburgh.
Stay classy Pittsburgh, even if everyone who covers your sports teams refuse to do the same.