Hump Day Pirates Q&A

4-5-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

The Pirates have pushed back in this series against the Red Sox after a disappointing opening series in Cincy. Nothing will help you take the pulse of a fan base by putting out an open call for questions. I love this feature for that reason, it tells me a ton about what you want to hear about as well as what you wonder about. Remember, these don’t just have to be questions, you can even just ask for me to talk about a subject you don’t feel has gotten enough coverage.

Let’s do this…

Question 1

Where will Bae see most of his playing time? And how much does that really matter? – Matt Christine (@MethodicalMatt)

Well Matt, I honestly think it matters less for Bae than some of the players he’s competing with for playing time. In the Spring the Pirates said they planned to have him focus on second base, putting him firmly in a competition with Tucupita Marcano and Rodolfo Castro. It’s hard to say anyone really won that competition outright, but he certainly hung in there.

Now, they’re using him primarily to make shuffling things around later in games. His ability to bounce to the outfield has allowed the team to pinch run or hit for others and it’s helped sure up the late inning defense.

Over time, I think he’ll settle in a bit more at a spot, but that probably won’t come in 2023, I think he’ll bounce all year and put together 400-500 at bats doing so. Jack Suwinski, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Rodolfo Castro and to a degree Travis Swaggerty probably have a say in how this plays out as well. If Castro fails to figure out what’s ailing him, Bae may be forced to just take over 2B. If all the outfield options force playing time he may end up fighting for time at 2B.

That’s a bunch of words to say, if he hits, he’s going to find at bats. If he keeps playing defense like he did last night in CF, he’s going to make it embarrassing to not start him there.

One thing is very clear, they want him to win something. He provides elements that this team doesn’t have, and quite frankly, while I’m not ready to declare him a “fixture” there isn’t a whole lot coming with his skill set. That has value. Good teams can beat you in a ton of ways, and having players like this who can do special things add to that tool box.

Question 2

Saw Jon Heyman was talking to 93.7 the fan about Oneil Cruz possibly seeing an extension from the Pirates. How will the Pirates keep him, Reynolds or other extension eligible players like Mitch Keller, or are the pirates finally going to start spending some $ and keep their core players? – Billy Tissue

Ahh Billy, you’re gonna get me going here.

Let’s start here, this cheap team did this when the last window opened. No, they didn’t sign any mega deals, but they also weren’t as common back then (not even ten years ago) as they are today. They extended Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Francisco Liriano, Josh Harrison, Charlie Morton, Francisco Cervelli, Ivan Nova, and at the end of the day, a few of them were mistakes, none of them were for the kind of money we’re talking about in today’s game, but for this club, they did keep some of their guys.

Much of this depends on the players. For instance, Bryan Reynolds (who yes, I do believe will get done) almost had to want to be here, more than the team wanted him to make this happen. Make no mistake, if he does sign this for the reported dollars, it’s a Pirates bargain. Adjusted for inflation, it’s very similar to the McCutchen extension back in the day.

Gerritt Cole wasn’t happy to make what rookies make in MLB, and was vocal about it. Hired Scott Boras as his agent and told the team he had no intention of signing a deal that gave the Pirates any of his free agency years. It ultimately led them to trade him in my mind early, and the bankrupt development system needed MLB ready or close to it talent in return.

To extend Oneil Cruz, logic would dictate you’d want to follow the path of other teams who have started trying to lock in exciting young talent early. But make no mistake, It’ll take something this team hasn’t even sniffed when it comes to a financial commitment. Julio Rodriguez in Seattle signed a 12 year 209.3 Million dollar deal with an AAV of 18 per and a club option to opt out when he’s 29 in 2030. With bonuses built in and should the team pick up the option this deal could be worth over 400 million.

By 2030, 18 million would be an absolute bargain for a player like this, but they’ve also given him astronomically more than he would have gotten in his rookie years and arbitration. That’s the hook you have as a team. You can say hey, we have you making say 45 million by the time you hit free agency, we’ll make sure that’s more like 90, but in exchange we want you to give us the next 4 after that for the same rate. It kinda evens out, but should be fair to everyone.

Cruz is older than Julio, so 12 years would be insane, he’d be almost 40 by the time it expired. So I’m not trying to make a 1 to 1 compare here, but if you shoot for 8-10 and try to hit that AAV, sure I could see it….but

Do I see it as possible? I guess, and I know for a fact they’ve already started opening the dialog, but I don’t think we’ll hear them jump right to that as the next thing they gotta get done. I’d also say thinking they could just fail on Reynolds and apply the money to Cruz isn’t thinking this through the way the team will. Each player is a percentage of payroll, and the number they’re comfortable with for any one player won’t change depending on who they fail or succeed to sign.

Keller is a guy they should absolutely try to get locked up, but he knows what pitchers are getting paid and he’s close enough to taste it. I will say, he knows how fortunate he is to have come up when he did, the Pirates were damn near forced to practice a saint’s worth of patience because they had no options. He’s looked like he has rounded the corner, but as of yet, it’d still be a bit of a bet on the Pirates part. I think he’s a key extension though, you can’t just start over and never lock in a rotation cornerstone. We know damn well they can’t buy a guy like that on the open market.

Roansy is also a guy I’d target.

Keep this in mind though. This team is probably going to top out around 140-150 million at their apex. If nothing changes financially to the system and this owner stays in place (he will), that is a realistic and hopeful target believe it or not. If that’s the case, we haven’t seen even 1 of Ben’s draft picks make the club. The chances you’re going to want guys like Gonzales, Davis, Endy, Priester, Burrows, Johnson, and whomever else you think will emerge to be locked up too is pretty high.

This is still the Pirates, and they’re still not going to do what the Braves have done. I’m not even sure we can 100% say that will work for them long term yet.

The best thing I can say here, they simply can’t and won’t keep everyone. They just need to make sure they keep the right ones when they do.

Question 3

I’ve been impressed with the three catchers the Bucs have utilized so far. When Hedges comes off IL in 7 days so you think they will send Delay out or Heineman? – Gary Buritto

Well Gary, beside having a super cool name it’s bold of you to say you’ve enjoyed the Pirates Catching room right out in the open on social media with no fear.

Full disclosure, I thought Heineman had earned the backup role out of Spring and was caught a bit off guard when they decided on Jason Delay. That said, Delay has been fine, he handles the pitchers well and has even chipped in offensively. Heineman has only had one start and he too contributed. OK, so he didn’t hit one over the Monster, but still got on base to score a late insurance run and did a great job working with Roansy.

This is super hard to answer though. First, that 7 days could turn into 20 for all we know and a lot can happen in that kind of time.

So let me put it this way, I hope when it’s decision time, they choose the guy they want, as opposed to choosing to DFA the one they think might squeak through waivers.

Question 4

Do you think the players are liking this series win a bit more than others, and hopefully it’s a sweep, after Eck’s hodgepodge of nothingness comment last year? Or more generally, does bulletin board stuff really go on and matter at this level? -Drew Caryll

I mean, THIS group in particular, well, they haven’t experienced any series aside from the Reds, so yes, I’m sure they do.

All joking aside, bulletin board stuff gets in the room, even if most of them won’t admit they hear or see what’s said. I will say, from a broadcaster I don’t think they take it on the field. I can say when Noah Syndergaard had his famous comments about the team, the players I spoke to were much more upset than anything I heard about Eck.

The thing is, that Hodgepodge, well, it kinda was right? I mean, it’s not like it was an untrue statement. Look how few opening day 2022 players are still here, which in and of itself is more reinforcement as to why to this group, it likely isn’t a thing.

Tonight I’ll be on a Boston Podcast and I guarantee I’ll spend a healthy amount of air time explaining how a rebuild works in a small market. See, the Red Sox as currently constructed are very much so in their minds in a rebuild. They know they aren’t really in the AL East race, they know they have to wait for the development system to provide, but they also have some big names locked up and they’ll add to that list the entire duration of their “build”. Teams like the Pirates, Reds, Nationals, Arizona, Baltimore, you know the characters, they all strip down to said hodgepodge and to big market fans, it looks like it’s all about that top pick. In reality, it’s about thinking not enough is the same as none. Fans disagree, but it’s just not the same game for everyone.

Long way of saying, I don’t get mad about comments like that because quite honestly it’s a bit true, and it comes from genuinely not understanding the thought process as opposed to spite. I’d imagine most of the players get that aspect too, if they remember it at all by in large.

Question 5

Is Roansy already our best pitcher? Keller might have the best stuff, but Contreras gets guys out most consistently. – Ed Fleming

I mean, we’re through 1 trip through the rotation at this point. Obviously we’re going to see as the season plays out.

That said, I can see that being our takeaway by season’s end. Roansy has yet to really have the league push back and I can count on one hand how often that happens. Think about how improbable Spencer Strider’s story in Atlanta is. Gets called up and just hasn’t looked back, hell the Braves didn’t even know this was what was going to happen.

Let’s start with health. If both are healthy all year, this team will have probably benefited from 60 starts from them combined, and while that’s not enough of the 162 to say the team is good, it’s starting to matter more as you consider adding even more to the room as the season rolls on.

Best thing I can say here is, both absolutely have the talent and pedigree to be the “best” they have, neither have put together a full season as of yet. I’ll put my check mark next to Keller’s name though, for the simple reason, he’s already fought through the league punching him in the face.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Hump Day Pirates Q&A

  1. 2. Extensions also help provide cost certainty in trades sometime down the line. Rays did it with Longoria, as a famous example, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t with Franco someday.
    Here’s hoping the likely demise of regional networks finally, mercifully ushers in a somewhat better balanced MLB economic order.

    3. If they’re working well with the pitchers, then for me everything else is gravy with these two. Barring some unexpected Endy setback, this likely remains a very temporary situation anyway.

    4. The willful ignorance frustrates me, a huge drag on the league regardless of the positive changes making the on-field product more engaging. I hope the podcast appearance went well and that they understood at least a little better the chasm between their haves and our have-nots.

    5. In a weird way, I kind of want to see the adversity for Contreras sooner rather than later, a pressure-makes-diamonds line of thought. Maybe I’m wrong, as pitching was my dad’s forte, not mine, but I get the sense he’s ready for that.

    Liked by 1 person

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