Who Are the Ten Best Pirates Free Agent Signings in the Nutting Era?

10-20-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Couple of friends of mine on Twitter were talking about how unrealistic the Free Agent signing suggestions have been for this club on social media, so I thought, hey, why not come up with the top 10 since Nutting officially took over as owner here in Pittsburgh.

Sounds fun right?

Well, really I just want to find a way to help typically reasonable people understand just how silly it is to think they’ll sign someone like Carlos Correa.

Now, I could go back further and you’d run into Reggie Sanders and I suppose I could put AJ’s comeback season in there, but this is where I landed. I’m sticking with the Nutting era because I think it shows just how out of whack expectations are. This isn’t a team I’d really try to build on yet, and in your heart of hearts you probably recognize that too, but check out the list and see how they fared in his tenure.

I’d also say, this list is why so many are so very protective of the prospect driven rebuild Cherington has begun. It’s clear at the very least that free agents aren’t going to save this franchise.

It’s not all doom and gloom, when they hit on someone, they often retained them, but going out and buying known homeruns just hasn’t been a thing, not here.

If I missed someone you think should have made the list, let me know, just please bother to look into their actual status as a free agent first please.

Enjoy!

10. Matt Joyce – 1 Year $1 Million

In 2016 the Pirates needed a bat bench/outfielder and Matt Joyce signed a 1 year minor league deal with a baked in chance to win a spot in Spring, he did so. In fact he started his Pirates career hitting .360 with 5 dingers in his first 40 games. He’d set the record for pinch hit walks and led the league in pinch hit RBI with 15.

9. Jason Grilli – 1 Year $1.1 Million

Another minor league signing and another fortunate outcome. Grilli would go on to be the Pirates closer after signing a 2 year $6.75 Million deal and notably turning down more lucrative offers to stay. A 2013 All Star he became the first Pirates player since 1992 to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated (That used to be a big deal youngins). In 2013 he went 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA and was 33 for 35 in save appearances.

8. Jung Ho Kang – 4 Year $11 Million ($5 Million Posting Fee)

This went south fast once it went bad, but this was the largest international posting fee paid since Yu Darvish to the Rangers in 2011 and quite a departure for the Pirates. In his four seasons in Pittsburgh he only played in 297 games, but the power was very real, unfortunately so were the strikeouts and boorish behavior off the field. If there ever were a case of what could have been it’s Jung Ho.

7. Clint Barmes – 2 Year $10.5 Million

Ever since the Pirates traded Jack Wilson, short stop had been a sketchy place for the Pirates, Clint was a lock down defender and key leader for another young shortstop named Jordy Mercer who would learn a whole lot about the intricacies of being a dependable middle infielder in this league. Many would get frustrated at how much Clint Hurdle loved to use him but his steadying effect on the defense often paid for itself. He embraced the role as mentor and even resigned with the Pirates for an additional 2 million in 2014 knowingly as a backup to Mercer.

6. Kevin Correia – 2 Year $8 Million

Signed in 2011 Correia started his Pirates career as the opening day starter and performed reasonably well over his two seasons in black and gold going 24-22 with a 4.49 ERA. After the Pirates traded for Wandy Rodriguez in 2012 and bumped Correia to the bullpen he requested a trade that was never given. He was also selected to represent the Pirates in the 2011 All Star Game but didn’t appear in the game.

5. Edinson Volquez – 1 Year $5 Million

From struggling starter looking to enjoy some of the rebirth waters Francisco Liriano had enjoyed in Pittsburgh to starter in the Wild Card Game and lost 8-0. It was such a shame because his season was quite simply brilliant. 192 2/3 innings with 140 Ks, 13-7 record and a 3.04 ERA. You simply can’t ask for better from a marginal investment, if this list was bang for the buck he might be number one.

4. David Freese – 1 Year $3 Million

The Pirates signed David at the beginning of Spring Training in 2016, and if Jung Ho Kang had not been injured catastrophically the season before, it maybe never happens. The funny thing is Kang’s off field hijinks gave the club cause to extend Freese two more seasons for $11 Million with a club option for 2019. He became a vocal leader on the club and spoke up about things he didn’t like seeing in and around the club house. On a personal note, David took the time to talk to me back in 2019 after he retired from the game and really helped jump start what I’m doing today. I learned from him there is always more going on than what you see.

3. Garrett Jones – Minor League FA – $400,000

Jones went on to do some really good things in Pittsburgh despite his inauspicious start as a minor league free agent in 2009. He was the first Pirates player to hit the Allegheny river on the fly and hit ten bombs in his first month to be named NL Rookie of the Month. He’d go on to play for the Pirates until 2013 when he was DFA’d to make room for Jaff Decker of all people and was non-tendered a few days later.

2. Francisco Liriano – 2 Year $7 Million

That’s what his contract ended up being, he was signed to another 2 year deal that was voided after injuring his non throwing shoulder trying to scare his kids, you know, Pirates curse stuff. He’d re-up with the team in 2015 for 3 more years at $39 Million, once more in 2016 for $8.52 Million before being moved to the Blue Jays. He even came back in 2019 this time as an effective reliever for only 1.8 Million. If Frankie was a Phoenix, the Pirates had the magic dust to help him rise from the ashes. He and AJ Burnett led the pitching staff through those important years.

1. Russell Martin – 2 Year $17 Million

2013 came and the Pirates were ready to plug holes, Russell addressed their biggest by far, catching. He hit only .226 with 15 homeruns in 2013 but the leadership and handling of the pitching staff were keys to the success of both the 2013 and 2014 playoff teams. Hard to argue this is the best free agent in the Nutting era.

The Pirates Current Rebuild Has Fans Looking At The Past

10-19-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

For any current Pittsburgh Pirates Fan over a certain age, 2010 seems to be somewhat of a distant memory. However, recently I have seen the 2021 team being compared to this ball club more and more; not simply on account of their nearly identical 100+ loss records, but because of what would soon follow a mere three years later. The Pirates 20 year losing streak would be broken, and they would return to the playoffs for the first time since 1992; repeating this feat during subsequent 2014 and 2015 campaigns in the Neal Huntington Era Rebuild-one that was five years in the making.

Since this time, and even prior to it thanks to former General Manager Cam Bonifay’s declaration on the subject, five years has been cemented as the timeline for any rebuild; which, if we are sticking to this strict schedule-I am not-2021 would actually equate to 2009 in this parallel universe. This would also mean that the Pirates would not be in line to be competitive/make the playoffs until 2025.

Now, for those not old enough to remember 2009, and us who would like to forget it, this was the season where the Pirates went 62-99, saw Cutch make his near full season debut and welcomed Neil Walker to the Majors with a September cup of coffee. The starting rotation was filled with a bunch of 25 to 27 year unproven question marks, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sánchez were sent packing around the trade deadline (Nate McClouth had been traded to Atlanta earlier in the year.), a youngish closer in the form of Joel Hanrahan headlined the bullpen for a portion of the year and an outfielder named Garrett Jones mashed 21 homers.

As far as the Minor Leagues were concerned the Pirates had reinforcements on the way, and a few prospects a little further down; including Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln, Tim Alderson, Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez, Rudy Owens, Robbie Grossman and Zac Von Rosenberg. Looking back it’s undeniable that this batch of players did not universally live up to the promise of success imbedded within their rankings; yet several did, at least to some degree in a few cases.

Following the 2009 season, Neal Huntington would pretty much stand pat; rolling with the nearly the same lineup, while waiting for the internal options to arrive at PNC. It would be another couple of years before he would finally start to push his chips in after a surprise showing-somewhat ruined by a late season collapse-in 2011; first acquiring AJ Burnett prior to 2012 and then adding Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano heading into 2013.

Flashback to present day as the Pirates just got done wrapping up their most recent 100 loss season: one in which the starting rotation was made up of many unproven players-some as young as 23-with question marks, Adam Frazier was sent to San Diego mid-season (Josh Bell was traded to Washington before the season even began), a young reliever-local boy David Bednar-lead an otherwise struggling bullpen and All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds crushed 24 homers. At third base Ke’Bryan Hayes continued his rookie year and Oneil Cruz got the late season call up.

In the Minors, the Pirates have Henry Davis, Quinn Priester, Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Carmen Mlodzinski, Canaan Smith-Njiba, Mason Martin, Matt Fraizer and Jared Jones. With prospects such as these it’s almost irrefutable that there is more depth at certain positions, yet the fact remains that they are similar to that group back in 2009 in that their ultimate futures in Pittsburgh are unknown.

This time around, Pirates Fans are looking to speed up the process; suggesting the addition of a Burnett-like pitcher to the starting rotation, filling at least one outfield spot with a capable veteran that would cost up to four times the amount allocated to free agents at the position over the past two seasons and bolstering the bullpen along the way.

I get it. Pirates Fans, myself included, want winning baseball back at PNC Park; especially without having to go through another season like the past two. Or seven, or twenty-seven or forty-two; depending on how jaded of a Pirates Fan you have become. However, from the mouth of General Manager Ben Cherington, it seems as if he is more concentrated on building from within and letting players/prospects develop, instead of simply writing check(s) to fill the holes through free agency.

This isn’t to say the Pirates won’t add anything in the off-season, and stand pat like Huntington did after 2009. They undoubtedly will, like they have done each year under Cherington; not that another Jarrod Dyson or Brian Goodwin signing would make fans very happy. But, maybe a Tyler Anderson type acquisition would.

Still, in all honesty, I don’t look for much movement on this front until they get through decisions concerning arbitration and Rule 5 eligible players; all while hiring a new hitting coach, some one to stand in the third base box-plus instruct the infield-and a skipper down in Indianapolis.

So, buckle up for another busy off-season.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10-18-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I love Fall, all the major sports are going on and when covering a team not involved any longer, the questions start to shift from what is to what could be. After 101 losses, could be is a lot more comforting than is to say the least.

Let’s dig in.

1. Olive Branches & Groundwork

Prior to most CBA negotiations you start to see posturing, and most of it will come from the league, AKA the owners. See, they don’t need the players for some things and they like to use this time to make sure they build up some goodwill and potentially fix some issues they just know are going to come up.

OK, fix is a strong word, let’s go with address, even if inadequately.

First up for me was the announcement by MLB that starting next year the parent clubs would provide housing for all MiLB players. For some of you this will come as a bit of a shock, but not every team did this already. Now, that’s either because you don’t pay attention to this stuff, or even because you only pay attention to the Pirates farm system, and this is one of those things the Pirates were already doing right, well, mostly, Indianapolis covered this up until 2019.

There was a movement called #FairBall that gained some traction this year and largely because MiLB is looking to be more involved in the CBA this year, MLB knows this is an issue someone could hold their feet to the fire over, so why not knock it out.

It’s good progress, I’m not here to discount it, or minimize the importance. It’s also not the total solution that MiLB players were looking for, like a living wage in many cases, but a step forward nonetheless. Negotiations will tell the story of how far they go but the owners doing something here says they know they’d at least lose the public portion of this discussion.

Next up MLB is proposing a new regional streaming package for cord cutters. This would eliminate the blackout situation that currently plagues the game. It also would set up a new nationalized bucket for TV revenue. Baseball is more reliant on regional TV deals than the other major sports and when it comes to economic imbalance the individual deals are culprit number one.

So in short, here’s what makes this hard, and some of how it could work. MLB would probably have to pay local cable companies a percentage of the fees they charge to use their presentation and account for subscription losses (if there are many, this really targets younger people who have long since cut the cord). The cable companies don’t have streaming rights but they could punch back by paying less to broadcast games if they aren’t happy.

There is also talk that MLB could partner with the NBA and NHL to make this a one stop shop type service, which makes a ton of sense, but there is much to be discussed.

More than anything, I’m interested in the framework this starts to build, national streaming, means national money, means true revenue sharing. Before a true cap system could ever really be instituted, this is and was one of the hurdles MLB would have to jump. Looks like that is at least being broached and they’ve already fought back a powerful cable company Sinclair in the run up, so at least that says they’re deadly serious.

2. At This Stage, It’s the GM Who Doesn’t Want to Spend, More Than the Owner

I don’t know how many ways this concept can be explained. I’ve tried multiple ways to illustrate why the Pirates probably won’t look at their incredibly low 2022 payroll projection and start tossing around fliff not even counting it.

For one thing, the GM isn’t asking for it, not yet.

The most simple way I can put it is to tell you to look at this team, and I mean really look at it. Watch a playoff game or two and really get comfortable with exactly how far away the Pirates are from being in a situation like that.

Look at these lineups that are 9-10 deep with viable bats. Look at these pitching staffs who have no more than 1 or 2 guys you’d consider mop up types.

They just aren’t there.

Realistically, the Pirates could sign anyone they want, they have the room in the budget to do so and could easily overpay for anyone they want. Hey they could probably do it a couple times and still not crack 100 million. I mean to tell you if Ben went into Bob’s office and said, ok boss, we have the pieces in place, I’m going to spend 100 million this year to put us over the top, we’ll be in the playoff race all year, I’d have to imagine there’d be some questions about how we go from 101 losses to contention by spending another 60 million.

I can’t make that math work. I also can’t see a path to spend on the now, while the next wave is so close to having an impact.

For this to work the Pirates and specifically Ben Cherington tore it to the studs, those studs are named Reynolds and Hayes. They brought in a whole bunch of talent with high ceilings and need to see about 5-6 of them really hit or pitch before adding makes sense in any measurable way.

There just isn’t a quick way to do it. There isn’t a path to the upper echelon of MLB for a club in this market that doesn’t involve most of their talent being young and homegrown. The last window was exactly that way too, and they augmented it with veterans to fill the holes, just not enough of them to win it all. They extended players like Marte, Cutch, Polanco, Harrison, Mercer, Cervelli, Liriano and augmented.

This formula can work, it just can’t be rushed.

Arguably the best pitcher on the market next year who isn’t in his late 30’s is Kevin Gausman, and he’ll rake in something like 22 million. Could the Pirates afford that? Absolutely, especially where they are right now, and based on projections they could give him 3-4 years easily too. But he’s one guy. That’s it, just one guy making about 16 million less than his entire team.

I can make a case for doing something like this because you need a shepherd to help bring the flock along, but when this team is good again, it’ll be because they developed 80% of a solid team, not because they went and bought the 20%.

I’m much more interested in answering questions on guys like Reynolds and putting a lock on his rights. Put a foot down and say the foundation is right here, we found one brick, let’s build on it. Next year you do the same with Hayes, maybe Cruz, perhaps a Contreras and you start to see the payroll naturally rise.

Things like that will go a lot further than temporary patches and praying for performance so you can move a guy.

If they were to add 20 million, I guarantee it won’t be on one player, and I also can say it won’t be to get butts in seats, they knew what would be the product when they started this project and much like resurfacing the Liberty Bridge brought great pain to commuters, it took as long as it was gonna take.

3. Speaking of Realistic Free Agents

Might as well get into this a bit right? I get tired of just laughing at and saying no to people who have suggestions for who the Pirates might sign this off season so I figure I should probably toss out some targets who really could be looked at seriously. Prepare to be underwhelmed, but also remember you didn’t know who Tyler Anderson was last Spring either.

Starting Pitchers – Zack Davies, James Paxton, Dylan Bundy, Jon Gray, Steven Matz These guys are a step above what we’ve seen in these parts recently but easily upgrades for what they have internally, at least from an experience standpoint and all are affordable, meaning under 10 million AAV. None of them are world beaters, but each are capable of providing stability and leadership. That’s what the Bucs desperately need next season. There are other names out there, I’m not pretending it’s a closed list, but these are the types of guys you could reasonably expect to be on the shopping list.

Hell Tyler Anderson himself could be on that list, maybe a step lower, but the point is, if the Pirates go into 2022 with no outside additions I’d be shocked, and I certainly couldn’t sit here and tell you they got priced out of the market.

No, if they don’t add, it will be purposeful and willing on the part of the GM. Brett Anderson from Milwaukee could net somewhere in the 7 million dollar range, nobody can tell me they can’t or shouldn’t add something. One or two guys like this change the outlook next year more than almost any one other thing they could do and more importantly they provide cover to properly develop prospects rather than force them into service.

You’d probably call every guy on that list a Five, I know you love your labels folks, but those fives have something the current team’s fives don’t, experience.

Experience pays dividends on the mound and in the clubhouse, let’s not have the guy with the most on the club be a guy who is arguably a better show tune singer than pitcher.

4. When the Rays are Ready to Let Go of a Guy….

Less than a day after getting bounced from the playoffs, the list of Rays that are thought to be on the block started leaking, boy they don’t waste any time do they?

The list featured Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, Brandon Lowe, Kevin Kiermaier and I’ve started hearing Mike Zunino.

Really got me thinking, if they honestly want to move all these guys, they certainly will find buyers, but each of them has to a degree reached their top of the mountain at least in the Rays usefulness. See they don’t move guys when they have to, they move them when they want to.

Austin Meadows has never figured out the glove and despite hitting homeruns the average isn’t great. Tyler Glasnow made people look silly, then the sticky stuff ban came and he got hurt, even blamed the new rule to a degree. Zunino strikes out too much and the other two are expensive.

I have no doubt the Rays will move at least some of this list, and I have almost just as little doubt they’ll wind up being good next year again.

The Rays are a machine, a churning machine of development and deals. If they’re ready to give up on Glasnow, something tells me other teams should head the warning, but the chance of finding magic beans is just too great for some teams to avert their eyes.

Remember Blake Snell? Well it turns out the Rays knew more about managing his success than the Padres didn’t it. Crazy how that works right? The A’s used to be really good at this too, they’d find a way to make Barry Zito a star and when it was time to let him go he was never going to be the same pitcher again.

It’s not fun for fans, but they barely have any so it just keeps churning. What a weird league this is, and it really drives home the point that you have to willfully not want to see how imbalanced it actually is.

5. Stand Up for Something

I often hear the question, why doesn’t Bob Nutting loudly stump for a salary cap in baseball. The simplest answer is none of the owners like to loudly stand up for anything. They don’t want to be seen as a group that engages in a ton of infighting and for the most part they tend to take care of their own. It would take a hell of a lot more owners than one to push through something like that and one outlier would be seen as an annoyance more than a leader.

That’s not to say he shouldn’t be pounding his fist railing for economic balance in the game and if some reporters are to be believed he is quite passionate about it, still, don’t expect to see him delivering some big speech.

An area he better be prepared to defend like his baseball life depends on it though should be any concessions to the players involving arbitration.

And I’ll admit, I’m conflicted here, personally I don’t think baseball’s system for young players is fair, in fact I think it’s downright part of why young athletes don’t look to baseball as a path.

That said, for a market like this, under this system, baseball can’t afford to further cripple teams like this. If you’re now only guaranteed 4 or 5 years of service rather than the current 6 or 7, well that changes the feasibility of building through the draft and development system. It at least changes how much it’ll cost, and again, if the economic system remains unchanged it’ll make a damn near impossible task that much harder.

Maybe something like 2 years of rookie contract and 4 years of arb could suit both needs, but straight up scratching a year would absolutely demolish much of what Ben Cherington is trying to do here.

Again, I’m conflicted. The players on the young side of the scale aren’t being treated fairly, but it also isn’t fair that only 6 or 7 teams can afford to reward past performance and pay far past prime for players who might only help for a couple years at best.

If Nutting is to stand up for anything it should be that this system can’t change without meaningful economic changes to the game. That’s got to be the breaking point for he and others like him.

The game has much to deliberate in these negotiations, but at some point someone needs to be the voice for fans in markets like this, I highly doubt that’s Mr. Nutting, but maybe if he gets in the right group a true leader will emerge.

I want a cap system, I think the game needs it, but I’ll settle for not making it even harder to push the boulder up the hill.

The Pirates Need to Take a Step Forward, It Simply Won’t Happen Without Investment

10-16-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Craig and I put out our first pass at the 40-man roster. It was intentionally left as is with very few changes because we believe if you don’t tell and show people the problems they’ll never understand the things that have to happen, or the difficulties they present.

For instance, if we just wrote that the bullpen has like 3 players that the team should rely on next year, specifically David Bednar, Chasen Shreve and Chris Stratton, well most would think hey what’s the big deal? Protect all the prospects from the Rule 5 draft, there’s plenty of space.

I think what we showed is it’s more about numbers than names.

It’s one thing to say go out and get 2 good relievers, it’s another entirely to understand when you go get those 2 good relievers you don’t want your 40 man full of players you don’t want to lose. Expose a player to the Rule 5 draft because it’s not likely they help the MLB club in 2022 and deal with a slight risk of losing them as opposed to having them on the 40-man, needing a spot for an MLB acquisition could expose one of them to needing DFA’d, a much higher risk of loss there as the requirement to hold them on the roster is gone.

So you want Shea Spitzbarth removed from the 40-man, ok, then he get’s DFA’d and maybe you lose him, maybe you don’t but until they bring in someone else all they do is lose depth.

The easy thing to say there, and something many unfortunately will at least think is that Shea wasn’t good anyway. I mean look, as bad as the Pirates bullpen was he couldn’t consistently stay on it right? That’s true, but he’s also young, and when watching a team in this stage of construction we often confuse irredeemably bad with young and capable of improvement.

The reality is on a 101 loss team, there simply aren’t a lot of players that should lay their head down at night feeling secure they have a place to play in 2022, that won’t stop many of them from being kept.

You can think Nick Mears isn’t good, he certainly wasn’t good this year and no I’m not going to go into all the reasons why you should probably not have a rock solid opinion formed yet, for the sake of this I’ll just go with you, he sucks.

He’ll get a spot on the 40-man because he’s more prepared to help in MLB than what they have in the system right now. He’d need DFA’d to remove him and I know this is gonna come as a shock but he’d likely get picked up. Now on some chance he doesn’t, hey, no harm no foul, he goes to AAA and the Pirates can protect someone else from our snub list, say Liover Peguero.

Now they don’t have a good internal option so they’ll have to go get someone else. Take your pick, the name isn’t important. Someone else has to go. It’s certainly not going to be Peguero, so instead it’s another player, maybe this is when you finally get Kyle Keller. No matter what, you’ve taken away a spot.

There are no easy ways to avoid this being an issue. You can go and pick 15 players and jettison them into the sun, but the team won’t get better unless they bring in 15 better options and let’s be blunt, they simply won’t.

The build is at a weird tipping point, the talent is coming, some even on the doorstep, but it’s also not ripened. They’re too far away to go full youth movement, too close to go get a ton of vets (even if you believe Nutting would ever do it). Point is, these things don’t happen in isolation.

Now, the Pirates payroll is going to be so low, even they could certainly go add, and considerably so. I keep saying they should and I keep specifically asking for pitching. The best pitching talent in the system not named Yajure or Contreras is in Greensboro and potentially Altoona, despite the ETAs people love to talk about, that’s not a snap of the fingers.

The offense is way ahead of the Pitching, system wide. So if they’re going to spend, that’s the place.

It’s not about protecting the wallet of the owner, it’s about protecting the process and more importantly losing a minimum amount of assets so there are fewer holes to fill when the time comes. The offense will force the issue here and if you really want to get excited, let me say this, Contreras is early, so is Kranick, if just 2 of their young starters puts their stamp on the league this year this team will have no choice but to spend in the off season before 2023.

That offseason also happens to be the best slot where new players aren’t Rule 5 eligible in a huge batch too, 2024 we’re right back to what this one has wrought.

Spend, but spend smart. Get pitching help and let’s all get a grip and realize they aren’t getting a 20 million dollar outfielder.

2022 is a year for getting help for what they have, 2023 is potentially a much more thought provoking time for seeing what is and isn’t panning out.

Pirates Arbitration Decisions Could Spell The End of The Line For A Couple Of Veterans

10-15-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

At this point it can be safely assumed, with almost certainty, that many Pirates Fans have at least a general understanding of the arbitration process in Major League Baseball. In a very simplistic manner of speaking, the Pirates must tender a contract to all arbitration eligible and pre-arbitration players for the upcoming season. If they decide not to do so, the player is considered non-tendered and immediately enters the free agent market; which if you remember is exactly what Ben Cherington and Company did with Clay Holmes last year, even though he had not yet reached arbitration eligible status. Once this occurs, and even prior to it as was the case with Erik Gonzalez, Jameson Taillon and Michael Feliz this past off-season, the team and the player have up until the last minute before the actual arbitration hearing to come to an agreement on a salary; although they need to exchange each other’s figures prior to that.

Of course, as there is with every impending roster decision, a deadline has been etched in the rule book as to when the Pirates must make a choice; including Minor and Major League Free Agency, qualifying offers, protecting players from the Rule 5 Draft, International Free Agency and the aforementioned contract tenders, salary submissions and arbitration.

For the purpose of this article-even though there could be further 40-Man implications, like when the Pirates DFA’d non-tender candidate Trevor Williams prior in order to protect either Rodolfo Castro or Max Kranick-the focus will remain on the tender deadline of December 1st, the deadline to exchange salary figures of January 15th and the potential arbitration hearings that could take place around Mid-February; but more importantly the Pirates players that these decisions could affect.

Just a few days ago, MLB Trade Rumors released their much anticipated Projected Arbitration Salaries For 2022 article, based on the model created by Matt Schwartz, to give fans such ourselves an estimated contract tender that the players on our teams could receive. And, inadvertently to present me with the opportunity to present my opinions and arguments for keeping or moving on from the Pirates Arbitration Eligible Players.

Usually I split these into Tender, Tender To Trade (when we had likely trade candidates) and Non-Tender, but due to the second category being somewhat of a wash it feels like Pulling The Trigger, Walking The Line and Might Be Time To Move On might be more fitting options; with the message theme attached to each section still being pretty self explanatory.

Now before I get started, as a reference, here are Schwartz’s estimates for the Pittsburgh Pirates 11 Arbitration Eligible Players.

Pull The Trigger

  • Bryan Reynolds-This is probably the biggest no-brainer that has ever existed. Unfortunately for Reynolds the disaster that was 2020 can’t be erased from the arbitration process, so his .182 AVG with 7 homers is all figured into the estimate. However, without his .302 AVG with a .912 OPS and 24 homer All-Star Campaign this season and his .314 AVG with 16 home run Rookie of the Year push in 2019, it could have honestly been slightly lower. All in all it sets up a fairly perfect scenario for the Pirates to come at Reynolds with a contract extension, as this is the cheapest a player of his caliber will ever be. Now, I know he is under team control through arbitration through 2025, but honestly that means 2024 at the latest in my mind, without an extension; because it’s not like the Pirates are going to just hold on to him for his team control years, and then just let him walk. Put pen to paper and get it done.
  • Jacob Stallings-Stallings fits into a fairly similar category as Reynolds because in his case you are getting the best defensive catcher in the league, statistically, at an extreme value. Where he differs is that there is no prospect in the system that is pushing for his job anytime soon; not that Reynold is exactly on the hot seat, but there are a few guys that are closer. $2.6 Million for a 3 WAR/ 2.6fWAR catcher is a steal.
  • Chris Stratton-This past year the Pirates Bullpen was one of the worst in MLB; finishing 27th overall thanks in part to a 4.55 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP and a -.71 WPA (Win Probably Added) each time they entered a game. Now imagine that bullpen without the likes of David Bednar obviously, Chris Stratton and the next arbitration eligible reliever Chasen Shreve. On the year Stratton posted a 3.63 ERA, a somewhat concerning 1.298 WHIP-although it was the lowest of his career-and 88.8 average exit velocity on balls in play, which ranks in the bottom half of the league. And for you analytics junkies, his fastball and curve spin rates rank in the 99th percentile in all of MLB.
  • Chasen Shreve-Shreve is a slightly tougher sell than Stratton to most. The issues with runners on base stick out like a sore thumb, even when he achieved the desired result of a softly hit ground ball that somehow found its way through the shift. It’s a fact that negatives are more often than positives in the world of a Major League reliever. Yet, when you look at the entire body of work, it’s hard not to see the Pirates giving Shreve a few more months in the pen; at the very least with hopes of flipping him at the deadline. On the year Shreve posted a 3.20 ERA and a 1.260 WHIP, which was good for 1.2 WAR. Now, I know many will point towards his -.1 fWAR as an argument for a non-tender. However, may I remind you once again that Fangraphs-which overall I love-uses FIP in calculating fWAR for pitchers. Yes, a predictive stat that cannot be used to project a player’s performance from year to year; and is only a way of showing how a player should regress to the mean, not that they will. Did, I mention that it is stat that is very tricky to use with relievers? Did I also mention that Trevor Cahill had a .5 fWAR in his 8 starts with the Pirates only because he had a 4.06 FIP in comparison to his very real 6.57 ERA?
  • Colin Moran-Here’s another Pirates player that not every is sold on, and one that some may have seen enough of; thinking that a better option exists or more bang for their buck out there somewhere. Sure, $4 million seems like a decent chunk of change for a player that batted .258 on the season with 10 homers and a 97 OPS+, but it’s hard for me to find a cheaper and/or better alternative. On the current Pirates Roster the choices are limited to Yoshi Tsutsugo-who is an upcoming free agent-and maybe Michael Chavis. First of all, Yoshi is more than likely going to be more expensive than $4 million; and secondly, after a ridiculously hot start, Yoshi cooled off significantly-hitting .260 with 3 homers over the last month, once teams were able to see him a second and third time. To drive this point home in his first meetings with the Reds and Cubs he was 9 for 28 (.321 AVG) with 3 homers, 3 walks and and 5 strikeouts. Now the third time around he was 4 for 27 (.148 AVG) with 0 homers, 2 walks and 10 strikeouts. Now, Chavis on the other hand will obviously be cheaper. Still, unless he immediately reverts back to the 2019 version of himself with his .259 AVG and 18 homers, which would be right around the value that Moran provides due to his 33.2% K to 8.1% BB rates, it is too much of a risk. Moving to the free agent market as it currently stands, you have Freddie Freeman at around $27 million, Anthony Rizzo at $21, Brandon Belt at $17 and Yulieski Gurriel at $8, with 36 year old Mitch Moreland and 37 year old Ryan Zimmerman rounding out the majority of the options.
  • Ben Gamel-Often noted as the guy that many wish could be the 4th Outfielder for the Pirates, Gamel is probably the main success story from Cherington’s waiver wire watch in 2021. He is also the Pirates #2 Outfielder at the moment, and is unlikely to become #4 unless the purse strings are opened more than I would expect heading into 2022. For what it’s worth Gamel is due around $2.9 million after a -.3 WAR/1.2 fWAR season, so depending on what site you favor, it probably determines what camp you are planting your flag in. I fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to position players, and end up giving the edge to keeping Gamel because he provides professional at bats in a lineup, that has otherwise lacked this at times, and because he gives his all-including his body-in the field. Obviously a .247/.352/.399 slash line with 8 homers isn’t going to blow anyone away, but right now in the outfield, it’s the second best the Pirates have.

Walking The Line

  • Wilmer Difo-The infield equivalent of Ben Gamel, Difo is almost exactly what you would expect to see step on the field when you think of a utility man; better at some positions and decent with the bat, especially on a pinch hitting role. Although, Difo would cost the Pirates a little bit less money, with an arbitration estimate of $1.1 million-which is exactly half of the next player with uncertainty surrounding him, Kevin Newman-and he has slightly more competition or at least more players pushing him for playing time. Known for his misplayed ball at Wrigley Field, Difo lead the Majors with 16 pinch hits while batting .269, smacking 4 dingers and posting an OPS of .713. Obviously not a must keep, but I also wouldn’t be disappointed if they did.
  • Kevin Newman-Once on a comparable career trajectory to Reynolds following both of their Rookie Seasons in 2019, albeit with a lot more question marks, Newman turned his defense around this season as his bat continued to fall of a cliff. On the season he earn a 3 OAA and 8 DRS at the shortstop position; as compared to his -6 OAA/-7 DRS in 2019 and -2 OAA/-3 DRS in 2020. With the lumber he Newman managed an abysmal .210/.252/.273 slash line prior to the All-Star Break; and although it wasn’t great, after some adjustments, he was able to improve to .249/.283/.359 during the second half of the year. Nevertheless, in the end you have three players-Difo, Newman and Cole Tucker-vying for two positions on the roster, with a few others on the 40-Man and/or in Indianapolis possibly ready to take the next step. So, at most I keep two of the three. Newman and particularly Tucker have the edge in the team control department. Difo will be twice as expensive as Tucker and half as expensive as Newman. Truthfully, it’s just flip a coin.
  • Chad Kuhl-For Kuhl it comes down to what the Pirates see him as. Is he on his way back to a starting, a long relief/piggyback guy or strictly a one or two inning bullpen arm? If the answer is the later, I’m out. In 14 appearances, across 13.1 innings, Kuhl posted a 6.75 ERA and a 1.800 WHIP; if he goes back to a starter or in a piggyback, I might just listen. Over the last two years in those roles he has accumulated a 4.35 ERA and a 1.359 WHIP. That’s worth $3 million.

Might Be Time To Move On

  • Michael Perez-I get that he is merely a back up catcher, but when I think of Perez I truly do believe that a better option has to exist or a player that provides more bang for the Pirates buck out there somewhere. No he still won’t be super expensive at $900K, but if the expectation is a .141 AVG with 7 homers, to go along with a -2 DRS and -1.7 framing-Stallings has 21 DRS and a 8.9 framing-I candidly can’t think of an actual reason to tender him a contract. Perez was that cheap acquisition last off season. There has to be another.
  • Steven Brault-Over the past two seasons the man with the golden voice has pitched 70.1 innings. Without the pandemic shorted season he would have pitched 70.1 innings, because as you all are probably aware of, Brault has not made it out of the past two Spring Trainings. In 2020 he was shutdown with a left shoulder strain/inflammation. Then in 2021 it was a left lat strain, which ultimately ended his season on September 13th after a one month return to action. When healthy in 2020, he was the ace of the Pirates starting rotation; with his 3.38 ERA, 1.195 WHIP and 2 hit/8 strike out/complete game/self described pitching machine performance in his next to last start of the season. Obviously, in spite of any of the concerns, Brault earned his $2,050,000 contract during the 2020-21 off-season. Now, after 7 starts in 2021, with a 5.86 ERA and a 1.627 WHIP, I just can’t say the same about a $2.2 million estimate. The track record speaks for itself. With a reoccurring left lat strain, guaranteeing any sort of money to Brault seems inadvisable; in spite of the Pirates low payroll. Maybe the Clay Holmes non-tender and Minor League contract route might be the best option. If he’s not open to it, it’s not the end of the world.

For me personally, arbitration is to not something I waiver back and forth on too much. Overall 40-man roster construction, including Rule 5 protection, is a completely different story, So, more than likely, whatever my brain has processed throughout this exercise-in a mix of analyzing statistics and simple gut feelings-easily refines itself into a natural train of thought as to what the Pirates should ultimately do with their arbitration eligible players; with little to no regret.

This is especially true this year as at least a few decisions pretty much made themselves, while the remainder are rather inconsequential to the future of your Pittsburgh Pirates.

Is Anthony Alford Deserving of Yet Another Shot in 2022?

10-14-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I already wrote him off. Anthony Alford was removed from my thought process when his disastrous start to 2021 was rewarded with a DFA and outright to AAA. Out of the corner of my eye of course I saw what he was doing down there, but I dismissed it as a Quad A guy tearing apart AAA pitching.

His health cut short his opportunity in 2020 after a promising showing. His second opportunity in 2021 was stunted by injury. Fully healthy, he started hitting moon shots, played solid defense and showcased how his speed can help him capitalize on even poor contact, even if stolen bases remain an elusive artform.

Look, I still don’t think you can head into 2022 pretending this time he’s an answer, but he certainly made a case didn’t he? An athletic freak, he has more tools than almost anyone on the baseball team right now but that doesn’t always translate to success.

I mean paint this picture however you like, he’s still a guy who hit .233. I’m not trying to Joe Block this subject and tell you from August whatever to September whatever he is Babe Ruth, but this is his opportunity, and finishing strong, and continuing to hit mammoth homeruns did nothing but make the Pirates think.

It’s an uphill climb to be sure, no GM wants to be clowned twice by the same player. Alford’s performance in 2020 before busting up his arm making a catch was enough to head into 2021 expecting him to be worth seeing more, then he came out and laid an egg.

So a strong finish in 2021 may not be enough to have them try it again. Fair or unfair, that’s the truth. You’re only going to burn an organization so many times before you run out of shots.

My struggle with Alford is where do you bat him? His speed says leadoff, but his strikeout numbers, something I don’t see as being solved in any way, well they say hell no. Can’t have him bat 2 through 5 for the same reason. 6 or 7 make sense, but does his speed play down there? Maybe in a DH league he’s a guy who fits 8 or 9 in the order.

But here I am trying to think of ways to live with his warts. Does that in and of itself kind of answer the question?

What I fear most is his decent performance the last month convinces the Pirates they have an outfield of Reynolds, Alford and Gamel that could hold out until Swaggerty is ready. I fear that because it puts a ton of faith in the fact this is real, and if I’m honest is actually worse than the projected opening day outfield from this year. I’d really like an outside free agent brought in to compete, and I’d like that despite what Alford may or may not do.

I’m all for finding guys and having it work out, but his XBA is actually .188, just a paltry number that makes somehow his .233 seem lucky.

While he can give you shades of Starling Marte, he can also just as easily be Polanco. It costs the Pirates nothing more than a roster spot to keep him so really his battle is proving another shot for him next year is more valuable than whichever prospect that will be left unprotected.

He’s an interesting player, and case study for the patience level of this GM. Keep your eye on this because it might very well be a choice between retaining him and bringing in someone else.

If the choice were mine, I’d lead shopping, I doubt the Pirates will feel the same.

Off Season Priorities for the Pirates

10-13-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Of all the deadline driven decisions the Pirates will have to make with the 40-man and arbitration, there are a few things the Pirates in my mind absolutely have to nail right on the head. Swing and miss here and this whole thing doesn’t come together the way we hope.

I still don’t see 2022 as a winning season, I see it as a step in the right direction, even while I ultimately see payroll overall going down marginally.

Let’s talk through some of these priorities and why they’re so important.

Hire the Right AAA Manager

Back in 2019, Michael Ryan was a stunning removal as the AA Curve manager. He had done nothing but rise through the system year after year from the WV Power, to the Marauders and ultimately to the Curve. I was shocked he was let go, I know damn well Craig was really taken off guard, and the Cubs organization happily snapped him up, because one thing you could say about Ryan was everywhere he went in the system, players got better.

But Ryan did something the last regime, specifically Kyle Stark couldn’t deal with, he told them they were wrong and pushed back against their methodology.

Fast forward to last week…

Brian Esposito was relieved from the AAA Indianapolis Indians. Way back when, Craig and I both asked, how could you fire the undeniably successful Michael Ryan, and keep Esposito. When Ben Cherington was brought in, we both expected Esposito to be one of the first let go, the evidence was just too in your face.

COVID took away 2020, and last year they finally saw him coach a season.

Here’s the thing, players would do very well through AA, then seem to stall at AAA. I’m not in that room, and I’m not going to pretend Esposito was doing something specific that stunted talent, all I can really say is results matter, and for these two old writers, long time coming.

This is going to be a hire that isn’t met with much fan fare, but when you decide to build through the draft and development system, it’s pretty important your gatekeeper to the majors has a key. I honestly place more importance on this hire than the 3rd base coach.

I don’t have names for you, but I’ll say this is a hire they can’t miss on and unlike the past few seasons, talent will be in place. Not every player will make it, but certainly a higher percentage than we’ve seen must make it.

Extend Bryan Reynolds

The Major League Club depending on who’s projection you believe could have a payroll as low as 39 Million or 48 and it’s wholly about the 40-man decisions they make. Take it a step further with some free agents or moves that bring back spending and I still don’t see it touching even 55.

Bryan Reynolds estimated arbitration figure is around 4.5 million.

It’s no surprise that I think he should never have to hear his team try to talk down his game to save money, and I’ll be honest, if they want to really piss him off, go ahead and make him sit there listening to a chapter and verse recollection of his 2020. He’s moved on from it, and it’s just not something to bring up.

To me, this is the year to get this done. And even if for some reason you can’t get the whole thing done, make sure this process doesn’t play out. There is plenty of room to do the right thing with this player, look at the estimation, walk in the room and offer him 6 right now to just avoid it and put some good faith on the table. Put it side by side with a multi year extension that starts at 7.5.

This can, and much more importantly, SHOULD, be done.

Literally every action taken by this new front office has been an effort to cultivate stars, not just good players, stars. That’s why you acquire lottery tickets and covet top end draft talent, to get stars. Well, here’s one that the previous regime put on a tee for you, be smart enough to recognize it, and more importantly, be smart enough to realize by the time everything else you brought in really touch this league in force he’ll only have 2 years left of arbitration and if he keeps playing like this, that figure will probably reach the 15-18 range by the end.

An end we’ll never see mind you, because if they let it play out, Bryan Reynolds will be traded before it ever reaches that point. There’s no grey area here. You know this as well as I do. The Pirates either have everything come together in 2025 and are forced to let him play out his last year and walk for nothing, or they move him after 2024 or the middle of 2025 for, yup, more prospects. That’s reality, and a reality they have every capability to avoid.

He likes Pittsburgh, he likes the team, likes the coaches, appreciates the market (this isn’t a guy who wants to be in a NY or LA) and he happens to be easily the best player this team has produced since the guy who was traded to get him.

Do this, and do it right. Every climb starts with a solid foothold, for the Pirates, that is Bryan Reynolds.

Starting Pitching

I just told you how low the payroll would go, in fact I started telling you how low it would likely be back in March, because this stuff is eminently predictable really. For some of you this is more evidence of a terminally cheap owner, for me it’s the culmination of exactly what I’ve been telling you was happening for going on 3 years now. It took a while to trade off most of the players who could pass as veterans and as soon as buying out Polanco was solidified it became a guarantee.

Now, just because that’s the projection for next year, doesn’t mean that’s where they’ll land.

It’s impossible for me, and I pray the Pirates, to think entering 2022 with the crop of starting pitchers they have in house right now, and I’m not even saying they have to go buy a name. For instance, I didn’t really know anything about Tyler Anderson last year, in fact I think I called him a reclamation project when he was signed. Turns out he was just a solid pitcher who needed an opportunity.

Point is, take that incredibly low payroll, and get some pitching in here.

Look, Roansy Contreras could be great, he could even be ready next season right out of Spring, but that’s not a bet I’d play on purpose. In other words, I’d like Roansy to be a force of nature that can’t be held back, rather than a rookie forced into action because of course he’s better than Wil Crowe.

We spend so much time looking down at the minors we often forget teams don’t tend to do well when they depend on a large amount of prospects to make a miraculous jump. It happens to be sure, but for a team like this to really take a step and by that I mean make sure 100 losses isn’t even in sight, pitching will need brought in.

Hitting Coach

The Pirates removed Rick Eckstein from their staff about a month before the season ended and because of course, the offense took off. I’m not naïve enough to believe this was some light switch that got flipped or just having one guy removed from the room allowed all these guys to suddenly unlock things, but it can’t be denied, the approaches improved, the aggressiveness improved and overall the offense put runs on the board.

I never understood keeping a hitting coach on a team where the new manager’s area of expertise was hitting. Clearly he had his own ideas and there aren’t many employees in any profession that are going to enjoy being told they’ve been doing things wrong before and effectively change to meet the new boss’ vision.

So here we are, blank slate. Now go and get someone who can execute, and implement whatever vision Derek Shelton has.

Again, I could give you a wall of names, probably some from the Red Sox, Cubs, Blue Jays because we have to pretend everyone brought in will be from one of those clubs right? Point is they need to just get the right guy, and more importantly, they need to get a guy who doesn’t think one size fits all. I’m a huge believer that diversity of approach is something that makes offenses dangerous. Nothing helps a pitcher settle in faster than facing 9 guys who are thinking the same way up there. If you know everyone is looking for this little box on the inside to middle of the plate and they’ll happily take a strike on the outer third, and you’re adept enough to learn it quickly, you’ll wake up in the 5th tossing a shutout much of the time.

Diversity of thought, diversity of approach, tailored to each individual talent with a few overriding concepts. That’s what works, not a one size fits all.

Closing…

Keep in mind, the goal next year isn’t to find a way to force this team into contention, it’s simply too far away, and the prospect cost it could take to bring in a ton of MLB ready talent would simply wash away much of the work that was done.

Take care of what is right in front of you, improve the obvious holes that don’t have anyone coming to fill them and take the cheap, incremental improvement that is sure to come.

Make some moves to eat salary from other teams looking to shed contracts if you don’t want to play in the FA market. Be creative.

Just don’t be foolish.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

10-11-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Watching playoff baseball reminds you just how far the Bucs were from being where they need to be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the record was enough, and I know what good baseball looks like, but one thing that really struck me this year so far is just the offensive depth and the continuation of bullpenning. Let’s dig in on some thoughts and see where we go.

1. Managing Inning to Inning

Baseball playoffs have been fun so far but one thing I can’t get past is how every manager is micromanaging every inning. Last night I heard Adam Wainwright in the booth calling the White Sox – Astros game and he said something interesting to me. “In the playoffs, you have to be prepared to do something you’ve never done” That seems counter intuitive to me.

He said this after Arron Bummer was asked to go beyond 1 inning for the first time this season, and Zach Greinke was asked to pitch from the bullpen.

I mean, he’s right of course, and honestly, he’d know. That said, I also found it hilarious that even Adam had no clue what Tony LaRussa was doing last night.

We used to call this over managing, now we call it bullpenning. It’s a softening of language to explain something we don’t like, and I’ll tell you what, sans having good options, it’s very much so what the Pirates are gearing up for. The game just simply isn’t going to go back to what we all used to identify with, 7-8 innings from a starter and an inning or two from your bullpen is a formula that just feels as dead as disco.

2. Joey Cora is Gone, After Doing Arguably His Best Job Here

Because of how the Pirates split Cora’s responsibilities, it’s hard to not have a mixed opinion on how he did as a Pirates coach. He’s been in charge of coaching third base (so of course he should be fired) and the infield defense (so why the hell would you fire him now?).

I know most of this fan base has hated Joey’s sends or holds at third for the best part of 3 years, and the results this year were pretty stark. The Pirates had a lot of players thrown out at home, and for a team that didn’t get many guys there in the first place, that’s a bad thing.

They also improved on defense to a remarkable level. Hayes is Hayes, Newman increased his range and arm strength, 2nd base has been a revolving door but everyone handled it relatively well, Moran learned a new position really and did reasonably well.

And when you ask who was responsible, to a man including the Manager, you’d be told Joey Cora.

The Pirates could have done some different things here, one, they could have relieved him of his 3rd base coach duties but retained him as the fielding instructor/coach. Maybe they tried and Joey said no, in all sincerity Joey is a baseball guy and probably doesn’t fancy a position in the background.

He won’t be unemployed long I’d wager.

Really got me thinking, Justin Meccage is the only one left from the previous regime, and while I understand they have no desire to move on from Oscar Marin at this time, why not just make that change too? Or even better, get a real assistant pitching coach in here in addition.

I’m not upset or ecstatic about the Cora firing, I’m also not going to just quote the Pirates having fewer errors than anyone else and act like he was untouchable. I will say this, it’s pretty clear when looking for scapegoats the holdovers are going to be chosen, so why keep them in the first place?

I guess what I’m saying is if you want to fire coaches for handling poor talent poorly, who’s really safe?

3. Drastic Overestimation

First let me say this, it’s not your fault.

As the Pirates started this rebuild, a ton of people who have really only ever covered the MLB level turned their gaze to the minors and started filling your head with visions of scores of players coming up and supplanting the existing roster in one swoop.

It’s also led to many believing because they watched like 20+ tweets of Mason Martin hitting homeruns that he’s a lock to be protected on the 40-man or even ready to step in as a DH, maybe even replace Colin Moran, like right now.

I use Mason as an example, not to pick on him. I’m still seeing people believe Nick Gonzales is going to jump up and snag the 2B gig this Spring.

Listen folks, I’m really happy so many of you are paying attention to the minors now, I’m even happy they’re being covered so aggressively, but please do understand if it was this easy way more teams would do it, even the high payroll clubs.

Fact is, there are gonna be guys you’ve been told were going to reach the bigs in 2022 that simply won’t, in fact since many of them stopped covering players like Martin aggressively when the homeruns dried up a bit and the K/BB rate stayed as alarming as it was to begin with, many of you didn’t even know his progression was stalled a bit.

This doesn’t mean that Mason won’t show up in Spring fresh with a new approach, additional patience, but it does mean just because you heard of them doesn’t mean they’re the next big thing. Even a guy like Oneil Cruz came up and looked good, well, and bad too. The homerun he hit in his last at bat was a swing you really don’t want him taking, mostly because it’ll lead to more strikeouts than homers. He has an issue double clutching on throws, even if his cannon of an arm masks it at times.

Again, this point is exactly why you tend to only hear the ups, without the downs. Cruz is a fabulous talent, one with the potential to really impact this club for years and years, so merely mentioning his shortcomings, even while acknowledging his ability to improve on them, comes across as “not believing in” or “slamming” a kid. That’s not what it’s about, it’s simply about understanding where guys are, what’s in front of them, and why they may or may not be ready.

I know right now, as we sit here on October 11th, that when and if Cruz doesn’t make the opening day lineup the immediate reaction will be the team is manipulating his service time. I’m not here to tell you it doesn’t happen, because it certainly does, but sometimes the seasoning is legitimately needed.

We’re all tired of waiting for things to come together, but rushing it would be like running a marathon and then on the last mile stopping at the bar for wings and beer, you still might get there, but you certainly aren’t going to look as good when you do.

Be balanced in your observations and you’ll be balanced in your expectations.

4. Plenty of Room in the Budget, but Maybe Not the Roster

Let’s be honest, the Pirates could sign anyone they want. Really.

The payroll even for this club is beyond low, they have plenty of space. Now, if they’re going to do it the only place I’d advise it is the pitching staff.

Part of this process is building up talent in the system, which tends to lead to said talent making it’s way to the Majors right? So you don’t wait until you have them on the doorstep to go fill the roster with blockades of players.

Back in 2020 when they started moving guys, it would have made sense to bring in some guys on 2 or 3 year deals to bridge the gap, now you’re to the point where the Pirates have 4 guys by my count who have a legitimate chance to play outfield for the big club this year. Swaggerty, Cruz, Mitchell, Smith-Njigba minimally, so this isn’t the year to go get some big free agent outfielder, at least not one who’ll be here and signed longer than say 2023.

Pitching is different, and while I think they probably won’t do what I’m suggesting, but something that could really help the MLB product this year and not get in the way of what’s coming would be on the mound. Go get a Dellin Betances for 3-4 years, 8-10 per. Look at a Michael Pineda for a few years at 12-14 per. Hey I wanted James Paxton last year, check in on him for 11-13 per.

Point is, there are some really good options, and in the rotation or pen these types of signings could have major impact. Think of it as nothing more than replacing Polanco’s salary if you simply can’t bring yourself to believe they’ll pay it.

I do believe they have room and need to improve the corner outfield position too, I just don’t want them to do it for more than a year or two, because anyone they can reasonably sign, isn’t going to have the talent of what’s coming. The options are out there, Archie Bradley, Jon Gray, even Michael Lorenzen. You’re paying for experience, and steadiness.

It’s the one area this team can quickly improve without building roadblocks that make much of the work they’ve done pointless.

Spare me the Bob won’t pay stuff, I’ve lived here too.

5. Good, Not Great

Watching the Rays vs Red Sox series one thing is painfully clear, the Sox have more impact players.

Oh don’t get confused, the Rays may very well have a better team, and I’m very aware of their regular season record, but nobody on the team had a WAR above 5.2 Brandon Lowe, now that’s good, but for perspective the Pirates have a player higher in that category, Bryan Reynolds hit 6.0 this season.

The Rays have a roster filled to the brim with positive WAR players, not Hall of Famers. I mean Wander Franco certainly could be that, but right now they are simply better than the sum of their parts. More so they compliment each other. Their success is cumulative, not based on a few guys being better than anyone else has.

Here’s the kicker, they’ll be good again next year, but expect them to keep the machine churning, moving on from players that really matter to what they do. It’s soulless baseball business and while the market doesn’t make a big stink it’s the answer for baseball’s economic system. You can’t praise how this organization operates and cry about trades at the same time.

It also should be noted, it hasn’t amounted to the ultimate prize as of yet, (kinda looks like it won’t this year either). Maybe it never will, but they’ve been better than competitive, they’ve won their division, played in a World Series, and generally been the poster child for all this nonsense being ok in MLB.

I’ve said this before, it’s a winning formula, just don’t buy jerseys. Don’t get too invested in anyone being there for any extended amount of time, and more importantly remember the best time to trade a player is when they’ve looked like the very best version of themselves and you have a reasonable replacement ready.

Churning machine. Certainly not Fam-a-lee.

6. Bonus: Arbitration Projections

Chasen Shreve – 2.3 MM – Easy choice for me, he had a good season and when it comes to Pirates Pitchers, he’s in rare company.

Chad Kuhl – 3.0 MM – Tough, see he hasn’t done enough to earn 3 mil, but he might just be worth keeping if only to move him. Think back to Chris Archer who clearly stunk here, his Option number was 9 Mil, it was an easy choice for me to not pick up the option, but many made the argument that he could be trade bait. Both have that evil word attached, IF, and the thing is, the money shouldn’t scare anyone, it’s more about the roster spot. I lean non-tender here if only to protect another prospect.

Ben Gamel – 2.9 MM – Obvious, easy choice. There is simply no way you enter 2022 without someone just like him, so don’t mess around, just keep him. He’ll more than earn that even off the bench if it came to that.

Wilmer Difo – 1.1 MM – I think as much as Wilmer was a positive influence and valuable off the bench you simply can’t keep him over Tucker or Newman. What I’m saying is out of those three, two roster spots is the max. In this case, I probably lean youth.

Colin Moran – 4.0 MM – No brainer. There isn’t a bunch of push for first base, at least not yet and Michael Chavis could be a nice platoon when he isn’t playing elsewhere. No matter what, he needs to be tendered if only because it would be foolish to let him walk for free. I know a lot of you would cut him, but I sincerely doubt there’s more than a handful of GMs who’d agree.

Chris Stratton – 2.2 MM – Oh yes, can’t even think of a snarky way to make it controversial.

Steven Brault – 2.2 MM – Not sure. I don’t think he’s been able to stay on the field enough to be valuable (hence the 2.2 Mil valuation). I’m legit torn on this one, I don’t think he brings back enough in a trade to be worthwhile, I don’t like dropping a vet when the staff is sorely in need of them, but man I don’t want to spend another year pretending the team can rely on him. I’d strongly consider non-tender.

Jacob Stallings – 2.6 MM – C’mon. Yup, all day and twice on Sunday. In fact don’t even make him deal with Arbitration, just give him 3 and call it a day.

Kevin Newman – 2.2 MM – Hey, call me crazy, but hell yeah. The defense is a real plus, he’s a positive WAR player and I can’t see any reason why you’d cut ties, at least not at this point. Keep in mind, this decision doesn’t equal believing he’s here in 2025, it just means he’s going to be here next year.

Michael Perez – 900 K – I think you know my feelings here, even if this incredibly low figure is at least partially why they grabbed him in the first place. Sure would be nice if they replaced him, wish I could bet on it.

Bryan Reynolds – 4.5 MM – Umm, of course. But I’d never let it happen. I’d extend him this off season, period, pay more now and keep this star in town, not just into the window, through it.

Pirates Rule 5 Decisions Have Moved To The Forefront

During the Pittsburgh Pirates most recent season, more eyes and ears were directed towards the Farm System than I can really remember, at least in my recent memory. Part of this obviously was due to the fact of the product that was on the field at PNC Park, but the more obvious reason was the sheer number of prospects that General Manager Ben Cherington has accumulated in the course of his current rebuild of the organization; through both trade and the draft.

Cherington’s process, which I am in favor of, has brought in 19 of the Pirates Top 30 Prospects according to MLB Pipeline, including 8 of the Top 10; several of whom, along with some holdovers from the Neil Huntington Era, that now find themselves eligible for the December Rule 5 Draft. Expand your search just a little bit further-including within the top prospect lists of other sites, and the number continues to grows; topping out at around as high as 70 if you count everyone that could be exposed in the Major and Minor League Phases of the Rule 5. However, the number I have seen tossed around pretty regularly at this point, as players who should reasonably be considered as potential new additions to the 40-Man sits somewhere between 8 to 12; with the key words being considered and potential.

In Cherington’s short time with the Pirates he has only had two opportunities to participate in this process. Within days of being hired in November 2019, he added five prospects (#2 Ke’Bryan Hayes, #3 Oneil Cruz, #10 Will Craig and the unranked Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce), while last year he protected only two (#29 Max Kranick and the previously/currently ranked #25 prospect Rodolfo Castro). Obviously it’s a numbers game, and there could always be more or less prospects or spaces available, so it becomes more about the selections themselves.

Now, the majority of discussions I have seen between Pirates Fans thus far in the off-season have zeroed in on a particular group of prospects that they see as part of the future; most with the better numbers next to their names. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a start, in that those are some of the guys I would like to see protected too. Still, I am sure that there are others that the Pirates would like to keep around as well. But, before getting to those it only makes sense to take a look at mine first, as the article that myself and Gary Wrote just this past week really brought some fans’ strong feelings/opinions to my attention.

This is mostly a brainstorming process, with my immediate reaction(s) to particular prospects on display. Also, it is no particular order, so there is no need to get upset if I don’t have your favorite prospect listed towards the top. Furthermore, please remember the last time a Pirates player was selected in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft was 2015 (try to name him without looking), and the 2003 Dave Littlefield Catastrophe was a long time ago.

My 40 Man Additions

  • Diego Castillo
  • Hunter Stratton
  • Canaan Smith-Njigba
  • Yerry De Los Santos
  • Cal Mitchell
  • Liover Peguero
  • Omar Cruz

The Pirates/Cheringtons Additions

  • Diego Castillo
  • Liover Peguero
  • Canaan Smith-Njigba
  • Travis Swaggerty
  • Hunter Stratton

Noticeably absent from my list is Travis Swaggerty, while I left Mason Martin and Tahnaj Thomas off of both. And I know, some may even mention the omissions of Jack Suwinski, Cody Bolton, Abrahan Gutierrez and Eddy Yean, among others. The simple truth is you can’t protect everyone; and as much as we would like to ignore it at times, the Major League product still matters.

Choosing to protect as many as 12 to 15 prospects, as I have seen mentioned, isn’t realistic; especially since that would only leave 25 to 28 players as regular contributors on the 26-Man Active Roster, with a limited number of Rule 5 Eligible Prospects guaranteed to play a role at the Major League Level at any point during the 2022 season. That’s why I capped my list at seven, but more practically at five or less; similar to the Cherington Additions.

If you want to maybe add say Tahnaj Thomas to either list, then you are clearly making a move to the bullpen for the young flamethrower. Thomas took a pretty straightforward step back in his development this past season. In 16 starts for the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers this year, Thomas posted a 5.39 ERA, a 1.582 WHIP and 5.19 walks per 9 innings. Did, I also mention that he still only has two defined pitches?

Then you have Travis Swaggerty, who was. obviously on the cusp of a promotion with his aggressive Triple-A assignment to begin the year. Unfortunately, this came to an abrupt end with a season ending injury to his non-throwing shoulder, so we can stop with the Gregory Polanco comparisons. My concerns are, and have always been more rooted in his ability with the bat. Could I see him being protected? Absolutely. Would I rather protect Smith-Njigba and Mitchell if those are the options? Once again, absolutely.

Or possibly fans are thinking about Mason Martin because of his pronounced power potential, which is lacking for the most part throughout the Pirates Minor League System. Regrettably, in my estimation it always comes back to the K rate, that leveled out at around 35% for season; as well as a walk rate that never got close enough to 10%.

Next up in my opinion is pitching, hence wanting to protect Stratton, De Los Santos and Cruz if possible. It is a an overwhelming pattern within the Rule 5 Draft for teams to select pitchers. They are simply easier to hide on the roster for a full season. Plus, I see these three as being more likely to stick on a Major League Roster.

For me, Diego Castillo is the first, and most undeniable addition to the 40-Man; not only because he is Rule 5 eligible yet again, but more importantly due to his looming Rule 9 (formerly Rule 55) status. As a Minor Leaguer with 7 years of service time, Castillo is able to become a free agent 5 days after the World Series ends. Add in the fact that he had a breakout season in Double-A, and not only seamlessly transitioned between organizations , but also did so with his promotion to Indianapolis.

Throw in Peguero if you must, although it is still a point of contention in my own head that his bat and defense may not be good enough to maintain a 26-Man roster spot. On the season Peguero batted .271, with 14 homers (10 in the bandbox in Greensboro) and a 108 wRC+. But I get, no reason to risk it.

After that, and in the upcoming seasons of 2023 and 2024 with just as many or more Top Pirates Prospects becoming Rule 5 Eligible, it’s not like the decisions and/or possible repercussions are going to be any easier to make and take.

So, at least for now my mind will turn the proverbial page to arbitration analysis; albeit, there is no denying or escaping this aspect of the upcoming 40-Man Roster Crunch completely.

Should the Pirates Sign Yoshi Tsutsugo

10-9-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

In order to improve the MLB product in 2022, it’s pretty clear the Pirates will have to go shopping. There simply won’t be enough prospects ready and yes, I mean that even if by some chance Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras make the team out of Spring.

The talent is on the doorstep, but that’s a bigger step than most want to admit, so to me real improvement must come from some investment, and lord knows they have room in the budget. After the first regular length season in which PNC Park failed to bull in a Million fans since 1995, I’d like to think the Pirates see the issue.

Ben Cherington’s end of season conference call didn’t really instill a ton of confidence there, saying they’d open some negotiations for extension without naming players, but c’mon, you know who they are, and that most improvement will come internally. He also referenced the need to understand the new CBA first, in other words, don’t expect any announcement on any extensions before baseball gets it’s house in order.

You all saw from our 40-,man exercise the other day that this seems like a stretch at best.

So that got me thinking, maybe even though he’s a free agent, perhaps Mr. Cherington is thinking of someone like Yoshi as internal.

Yoshi played in 43 games for the Pirates, racking up 8 homeruns and generally playing poor defense. but his .268 average and .347 OBP showed at least for that short stretch this was a lot closer to the player he was in Japan, than what he was since signing with Tampa. The OPS of .883 is simply good, no spin needed.

I’d like to bring him back, I’d really like to bring him back if the CBA creates a universal DH situation.

Thing is, those numbers were interesting enough that the Pirates won’t be alone. Many of you will remember me questioning bringing him in almost from the jump, this is why. I’ve gone so far as to assume there almost must have been a handshake and a smile type agreement in place where the Bucs would at least get a conversation with his representation. That’s all it is though, an assumption.

I think it’ll take something along the lines of 7-10 million, more importantly that’d be my cap. You have to honestly think about it like this, I think Tommy Pham will get about 8-11 million next season wherever he signs, can you honestly tell me Yoshi is worth more than him? I’m not sure I can get there.

I like what Yoshi did here, but if we’re honest we need to really look at who else could contribute more, like Pham could at least reasonably play the field and not kill you. Corey Dickerson is available again for that matter.

That said Yoshi was on a 30+ HR pace, that’s not something that is going to be out there that cheap, so if they can get him to agree to that kind of deal, do it I guess.

If he had done this in say Texas, I honestly wonder if we’d even have him on our radar. Even a player like Eduardo Escobar is probably going to get reeled in for 10-12 million and there’s a guy who could play first, second, third, even outfield if need be. He’ll pop some dingers too.

Point is, Yoshi did well here, but I guess I’m not married to him. What I would like to see is the Pirates be willing to go get a bat of that ilk, no matter what his name is.