1-8-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
No matter how you look at it, the Pirates have had an interesting offseason, even if one story has dominated the oxygen in the room. The funny thing is, in today’s world, the more something is covered, the less likely it is that people continue to deal in fact, especially as people with credibility often find themselves offering opinion mixed in with very little to differentiate between the two.
Talk about any subject enough and someone is gonna develop some silly conspiracy theory, and manage to make it convincing.
That’s kinda where we’ve gotten with this Reynolds situation at this point. I’ll get into it a bit here today, but there are other things folks have been asking about, so lets see how much we can knock out before our Steelers head out and try to sneak into the playoffs.
1. Why DFA Zach Thompson?
First, let me say I had the same reaction. It’s not that I see him as some untouchable, or even that I saw him as essential to the effort this year, but with 3 options, MLB experience in the bullpen and rotation, I felt he was a really nice and cheap insurance policy, specifically at the beginning to first third of the season, that might be necessary for filling in, in lieu of calling up someone who may not be quite ready.
For instance, lets say out of Spring the Pirates go with a rotation of Keller, Contreras, Brubaker, Hill, & Velasquez. Don’t get hung up on the order, just the names. This is very likely in my mind.
Now this would likely mean Ortiz, Oviedo, Burrows, Priester, & Bolton have all been sent back to AAA to hone their skills. My thinking on Thompson is should there be an early injury to one of the five I listed as in the opening day rotation, he’d be a perfect guy to bring up to stem the tide, especially if it’s a relatively short term thing.
Again, I’m not going to cry over it, I just wrote a couple weeks back about Diego Castillo getting cut all about how I typically keep a list of 5 I feel are on the bubble and once I put them there I tend to stop worrying about the player. This one took me off guard if only because I didn’t have him there yet.
That said, moving on from guys like Thompson, well it means the roster isn’t the ghost yard it’s been.
The logical question is why Thompson over Underwood or Stephenson right? I don’t have a good answer here, mainly because those two were on my list, and Thompson wasn’t. If anything, maybe take from this that they don’t care about options as much as I do, and they also don’t think Thompson wasn’t a guy they needed to see more from, which if I’m honest, I kinda agree with. Just because I saw utility doesn’t mean I was anxious to see more.
He’ll absolutely get picked up, in fact I’d be shocked if a trade wasn’t brokered.
2. If You Media Types Would Shut Up About Reynolds it Would Go Away!
Not bloody likely.
Blaming the media has become a national pastime unfortunately. I’ll fully admit there are biases and slants all through the media regardless of subject, but I’m sorry, when a player’s representation puts forward a trade request of a really good player, there isn’t going to be any avoiding it.
No matter what the Pirates have done well this offseason, no matter the topic, you always wind up landing on “if they don’t move Reynolds”.
I can sit here and tell you I don’t think they will, not yet. I have that based on sourced reporting after all, but there are also competing reports that say the opposite. All that means is the house is divided, and essentially, anything is possible.
As long as that hangs over the Pirates, it’s going to remain really hard to have a serious conversation about anything they do without casting a gaze in that direction.
Media isn’t perfect, but reporting the minutia that surrounds something this big is literally the job for some people. I can ignore it, but when and if he gets moved, wouldn’t it seem like I had my head in the sand? Regardless of what your answer is, to many that’s exactly what they would assume.
It’s a story because it’s a story, not because anyone is “running him out” or “rooting for the team to fail”, or my favorite, “click baiting”.
Also, the Pirates have the power to end this story, so if it’s really that damaging (psst, it is) one would think they’d put an end to it by doing what’s best for the team and dealing with the consequences either way.
3. Aside From Reynolds, Who Else Might the Pirates Consider Trading?
This is loaded. The easy answer is probably more about who isn’t available.
Cruz, Hayes, Contreras, and probably Suwinski you have to imagine aren’t going anywhere, at least not now.
That doesn’t mean they’re shopping everyone else, it just means a guy like Castro for instance could find himself pushed aside by Nick Gonzales or Liover Peguero, or anyone really. Or he could take second base by the short hairs in 2023 and render someone we’re not even thinking about available.
Traditionally speaking, it should be painfully obvious all the 1 year contract guys are potentially on the move, unless, and maybe even if, the Pirates are in contention come deadline time.
Out of the guys with arb years left, JT Brubaker probably tops my list. I think his ceiling is a back end of the rotation guy and his floor is a bullpen arm. For this reason I’ve suggested he’s a guy who I might be compelled to extend with a moderate deal, something in the 5 million per range for 5 or 6 years. A deal like that would be a bargain if he sticks in the rotation, and reasonable if he goes to the bullpen.
Brubaker drew interest last deadline from teams, and with what the Pirates have coming, he could find himself being forced out of the rotation by August anyhow.
That said, they certainly don’t have to move him or anyone really. Even the 1 year guys, they may find themselves in a situation where the effort to improve the record outweighs the return possibilities.
At this point, aside from Reynolds, I doubt you’ll see anyone with control moved, unless someone renders them less important by beating them out. Keller and Brubaker each have 2 more years of arbitration (as does Reynolds) following the 2023 season, Keller isn’t likely to be passed by any of the rookies this year, and will almost surely be a big part of the rotation in 2024. If anything, Keller extension talk should become a topic before too long here.
4. Don’t One Year Deals Mean the Pirates Still Aren’t Serious?
I get this one a lot, and I get it the thinking too, I just don’t see it that way.
It really means two things.
One, the team is excited about what they have coming, and the likelihood that from that group they will fill most of these spots competently. And two, they don’t feel starting 2023 with members of that group they’re excited about jives with the belief it’s time to show numerical record improvement this year.
That’s a fairly good bet. Let’s take first base and start there. The likelihood that Santana and Choi will provide a solid and professional season, at least up to the deadline, is pretty high. They both have fairly established competencies and between the two of them, the position is well cared for.
If Malcom Nunez, Mason Martin or anyone else for that matter steps up in AAA and shows they deserve a shot, well, good, but it also won’t be a disaster if they don’t. Meaning if the prospects don’t pan out, at least the Pirates have some league average to slightly above league average players at a position where they simply didn’t reach that threshold in 2022.
The Pitching staff we’ve talked about like this at nauseum, Rich Hill is a really solid vet arm, he’ll give innings, and probably quality innings, but make no mistake, the Pirates would love for one of their youngsters to make moving him logical for both business and baseball reasons.
You sign guys like this for insurance, buying time and shear professionalism. Don’t sign guys like this and you falsely start the clock on guys, which forces decisions you aren’t quite ready to make yet. Say you add Nunez to the 40-man, first that requires another DFA, then his season gets off to a slow start, or he looks overmatched and needs to go back down. I you don’t have these guys signed, you’re kinda stuck. You can then try a flier on Martin, add him, DFA another, see what he has, both have their clock started, both are now on the 40 begging or the team to have no choice but to consider their DFA candidacy, and probably scrambling to move a square peg over to that round hole at first base.
That’s why you do this. Not because you think Choi and Santana fix everything, just because you aren’t sure about who you currently have, yet like them enough to feel you don’t want to decide now they won’t make it at all so you don’t want to lock them out either.
Not one of these signings is going to help the Pirates win a division in the future, I get it, and you’re tired of constantly seeing a revolving door, understand that too, I’m just saying look at the system, who’s expected this year and next, it’ll make sense, even if you really don’t want it to.
Now, how do I know these rookies wouldn’t step right in and kill it? I don’t, neither do the Pirates, but I can say historically, it’s not likely, and so can the Pirates. You can’t make fun of this team for entering 2022 with hot garbage at several spots, then get mad a year later when they want to insulate themselves from repeating the same practice.
5. Which Rookie Do You Expect the Most from in 2023?
This one is tough because there are a lot of them, and some I think can arrive earlier than others, that factors in for me quite a bit.
Endy is the easiest answer. He hit everything last season and while I’m quite sure he’ll start in AAA, I also don’t see him lasting past June down there. If that’s true, he’s the pick. If I had to select another, I’d go with Luis Ortiz, I think especially with the Thompson decision, depth in the rotation is going to get used even earlier.
We forget sometimes that players like Ji-hwan Bae are also rookies, and if they get this kid 500 at bats this year, he’s going to open some minds. This is a different kind of kid with real lightning bolt style to his game. I could see him starting right out of Spring and if that happens I think there’s a good chance he puts together an .800 plus OPS figure, which folks, would be pretty damn great for a rookie. The new rules both for shifting and on the basepaths could make his speed even more valuable and I just can’t get past it.
I see him coming seemingly out of nowhere to get some national attention this year.
That’s probably my pick, Ji-hwan Bae if only because I think he’ll win a job out of Spring.