1-21-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
On Friday the Pirates hosted one of the most joyous press conferences they’ve had in years. Sure you could jump back to the Ke’Bryan Hayes extension, everyone was certainly happy, but nothing quite like Andrew McCutchen coming home.
Make no mistake, that’s exactly what this was, a homecoming. Andrew himself, that’s a great story, one that’s been told and told well by the player himself and all the reporters who were there for the press conference.
Minutes before the press availability, the Pirates announced that Miguel Andujar would be the corresponding move to make room for their returning fan favorite.
I’ll get into all of this, but my first impression was, wow, maybe giving guys money no longer means we should expect them to make the club and play regardless of any other input.
Before the arbitration tender deadline, the Pirates and Miguel Andujar agreed to a 1.525 Million dollar contract for 2023, a sure sign they planned to have him at the very least make the team right?
In the coming month we’d see them then go out and grab Ryan Vilade off waivers from the Colorado Rockies and then go out and make a trade to acquire Connor Joe from those same Rockies.
I had already written in recent posts, despite that contract, I was having a hard time seeing Andujar as a lock to make this team, even while I saw him having an advantage over Connor Joe because Joe has 2 options and Andujar had none.
Turns out, that lack of options had the opposite effect, making him easier to move on from than the other options.
I just wrote this on Thursday about Andujar…
“At best, Andujar is a shot at reclaiming a wasted talent, he’s also a picture frame of a very active offseason. At the end of 2022, most saw him as a lock to DH this year, now he’s fighting for a chance to make the team. Miguel has no options which gives him an advantage, but he’s fighting for a spot in the outfield which isn’t his best position (if he has one). He also has something most of his competition doesn’t, a successful MLB season. I think the Pirates have to keep one more right handed stick in addition to Andrew McCutchen for the outfield, so yeah, Andujar has a shot.“
That successful season is what most fans had hope pinned to for Miguel but if anything is true about this year’s team, the Pirates are no longer pinning most of their roster construction on hope, they’re going with track record, sprinkled with potential.
Had Andujar done well this year, he’d immediately have 2 years of arbitration remaining, meaning from the jump the team knew this was a guy who could give them a couple years, maybe a guy who brings back a piece (he still might), but nobody saw this guy popping champagne in the locker room with the boys.
One thing this really said to me, this team really wasn’t all that confident they’d get everything done that they have this offseason. And I think we’ve seen multiple instances of this that provide a bit of a window into a team trying to improve, in the near term, even as their eyes focus on down the road a bit.
We already talked about how Andujar went from probable starter to DFA in about a month. There’s no way to see that but to assume they didn’t really see the Andrew McCutchen thing happening. And for once, we don’t have to guess, we’ve been treated to one of the most detailed “how the hell did this come together” stories I’ve ever heard.
Cutch texted Bob Nutting, who went to Cherington and asked if there was anything they could do. Andrew himself didn’t see space on the roster for himself and what he can do at this age, so he was pleasantly surprised to hear Ben say there was a role for him.
See, Cutch knows himself at this point that he’s primarily a DH, the Pirates to their credit, already had Miguel Andujar, and some combination of Carlos Santana and Ji-man Choi to fill that role. So it makes sense Andrew would have seen this as a long shot, but the Pirates again to their credit, saw an opportunity to improve or at the very least be more sure about one spot they had filled.
On the other hand, this all has a very seat of your pants feel to it doesn’t it?
Like, had McCutchen texted Bob way back in November they probably don’t sign Andujar, maybe they don’t deal for Joe. Maybe they deal for Joe who can play first base, and instead of dealing for Ji-man Choi they just add Santana and call it a day.
It’s interesting in the very least. Even the signing of Santana caught me off guard a bit. Ji-man Choi isn’t some all star, but past history screams that he’s a stature of player the Pirates typically would have just thrown their hands in the air and said, this is ok.
Then boom, Santana signs, and says they’d been talking since the season ended. In fact he said part of his decision to sign here was the Pirates being easily the most excited to talk with him. All this while they’re working with Tampa to bring in Choi.
Man, that’s not very Piratey is it? At least not recently.
I’ve seen some make a big deal about the Pirates wasting 1.525 Million or whatever, but man if you saw that press conference with Cutch, you probably felt like going outside and running through a wall. Even if your brain is telling you its a relatively small signing in relation to everything else going on in MLB, your heart and ears are telling you your captain just came back, wanted to, went after it himself, thinks this is a good young team that can win and just wants to be a part of it.
Folks, he made this team that 1.525 Mil just yesterday, trust me.
Not to mention, as someone who’s followed not only this team but also the business side of this team, the roster construction aspects, seeing the Pirates willing to basically say we have a chance to get better here, F that money, well, I honestly didn’t think I’d see that kind of decision making. Not yet, if ever.
I know some of you really thought Andujar could have done extremely well here, and even liked the few games you got to see him play last season enough to be excited, but even you have to admit Connor Joe who has two straight seasons of being MLB level and Andrew McCutchen are at least less risky.
For a team who’s team leader in OPS at .807 (Bryan Reynolds) to feel comfortable DFAing a player with a career OPS of .749, they must really feel confident they’ve brought in better. It’s really easy to just shrug and say, hey, it’s just cutting a waiver claim, and you’d certainly be right, but this isn’t Ka’ai Tom, this is someone that has experienced success, someone who legitimately played on a team who’s borderline AAAA players might actually be better than some 26-man members around the league.
Might being the optimal word.
Miguel is younger, and easily has more upside than anyone we mentioned as his replacement on the roster including Cutch but he’s also been hanging out for parts of 6 MLB seasons, taken 1,030 plate appearances, and it’s added up to a very average MLB player. The upside is there, but the special already emerged and dissipated. There’s lots of talk that the Yankees are just too stacked but man they’ve run through quite a few players from their system and never once was the answer Miguel Andujar after that extremely stellar 2018. It’s now 2023.
Take a thought process trip with me here.
Last year Jack Suwinski had super weird splits, but overall a rookie with an OPS over .700, 19 dingers, there’s some reason for excitement there. You can dig in and easily see the warts but even so, 19 homeruns for a rookie doesn’t happen everyday, he’s certainly worth exploring. It’s nowhere near as good as Andujar’s 2018 mind you.
Now say Jack simply can’t figure out how to hit lefties, he still pops em off righties, he still plays good defense, he’s still a guy you genuinely like watching, but Canaan Smith-Njigba and Matt Gorski and Ji-hwan Bae have all become better all around performers. In other words, they don’t require platooning.
It’s a thought exercise not a prediction people…keep reading.
This puts him on the bench more often, maybe even gets him bounced down to AAA. Oh he gets hot and gets a call up every now and again, but he starts to feel more like a guy who is good, but maybe not a starter. Some people start talking about that 2022 rookie year with all the homeruns and maybe he’s a change of scenery guy? The team loved that 2022 so much maybe they grip a little tighter and ask for more than they should really for a return.
Other fan bases start making Jack into a meme because he’s in every proposed trade from any Pittsburgh fan for any star player they want to trade for.
Maybe this happens for a few years.
You’ve just watched play out a very typical event in MLB. The making of a Miguel Andujar, but this time his name is Jack Suwinski.
I don’t say all this to predict Jack’s demise, I think this process through because if you watched it play out here, believe me you won’t feel about Jack the way some of you feel about Miguel today.
The mystery of a guy like Andujar makes him attractive, but if you watched that process play out, thought through how uncomfortable you’d have been heading into a season with a guy like that penciled in as a starter, considered all the prospects you wanted to see get a chance because he just wasn’t cutting it, you see why a team like this would put their money on a veteran instead.
Well, even after all that, I’m quite sure Andjuar still wouldn’t be your first choice to go on this roster. Maybe not mine either, but it’s hard to get more direct a replacement for what the team expects to get from McCutchen. A DH who can on occasion play a corner outfield spot and probably gets 450-550 at bats. I, and clearly the Pirates think Cutch is a better bet for that to equal production.
Long, long story short, this all boils to, I’m ok cutting Andujar loose.