The Pirates System Has More Talent, Now Development is Paramount

Some people are already starting to talk about the Pirates system being a top rated unit in the coming years. I’m not here to dump on that thought, it’s probably true. As we all should have learned through the years MLB games aren’t won in the minor league system, they’re of course won by developing those players into MLB talent.

Losing the 2020 season of MiLB took the opportunity to develop the vast majority of these players off the table, and for the Pirates an important part of the plan was all but put on hold.

It’s easy to take a number one pick like Nick Gonzales and plop him at the number one position on the club’s top prospect list because the pedigree says he’s exactly that. Instead of getting a year of rookie ball under his belt, Nick was sent to the Altoona training site, after 16 games early in 2020, where they struggled to ramble together enough pitchers to have anything resembling a game, or even simulated games. That’s not to say he learned nothing, but it’s not the same experience and if anything you hope he grows from not facing Single A arms and beating the hell out of them. Instructs add another bit of action, but still not comparable.

It looks like the Pirates will start him in Altoona again in 2021, this time as a member of the Curve. It’ll be his first competitive baseball since 2019. It’ll be just about the same situation for everyone he faces or plays with who didn’t play Winter Ball.

Maybe he’ll be fine. He’s a natural hitter and from all accounts can handle the glove without much thought too. But we can’t forget what all these guys missed.

The minor league system in baseball is unique among sports leagues. Think of it like shutting down a giant machine in a huge factory in the middle of winter. Then everyone shows up for work on Monday and nobody except a few remember the last time it was shut down and those guys weren’t all that involved with getting it going again back then. Eventually the machine groans back to life, a few puffs of smoke, a few rattles, tighten a few bolts and add some grease. Then everyone looks around not sure where they belong or what is expected of them. A few guys know their place and try to lead the way.

Once it get’s rolling, we’ll get to begin seeing all the new toys and methods Ben Cherington has added to the development system, but I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how seriously we should really take stats from the first half. I don’t know if pitchers will have suffered worse than hitters. I don’t know if there will be a host of players who didn’t keep themselves in shape.

I can tell you the team (and not just the Pirates) didn’t check in with all these guys throughout the process. I’ve heard from way too many MiLB players in multiple organizations who are dying for scraps of information. So desperate to understand things as big as where might I be living next season.

Many were given training plans, many went and got personal training from independent companies like the Cincinnati Throwing Club our friend Eric Minshall is involved with.

How did it affect guys who weren’t invited to the training site? Do they feel less important than the guys who went?

I know, I know, they’re professionals and should all be ready. That’s true, they’re also professionals who went largely unpaid. I literally know 2 prospects who took jobs at Panera Bread. And if you’ve worked for any stretch of time in restaurants, working out after a shift isn’t always something that comes easy.

In a season where the focus is going to be squarely on how the future looks, it’s going to be a struggle to not overreact if some guys take a noticeable step back before fighting through the rust.

Think of how we think of a free agent who didn’t play last season. It’s the first thing you say, you look at the resume and say looks good but he hasn’t pitched since 2019. I mean people said that about Taillon before even mentioning the two TJ surgeries.

The only real thing I can point to is that every team in the league is dealing with it, but not every team in the league has spent the majority of 2 seasons building it and focusing on it. Safe to say the Pirates have more riding on the success of this effort than others.

None of this has adjusted the mental ETAs many have for these players, but if you thought that hot prospect was going to jump from Single A for a puddle jump over AA on their meteoric rise to AAA, I might advise you slow down a bit. I might also advise the team be a bit more cautious on that sort of thing too, because there is no accounting for how the competition has prepared either.

As we’re all learning in our personal lives, getting back to normal stands to be almost just as, if not more difficult than turning the switch to off was.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 1-25-21

Another eventful week has passed in Pittsburgh as we say goodbye to Jameson Taillon quickly following Joe Musgrove’s exit. It’s hard to get excited about seeing Jamo head to the Bronx, but for what the Pirates are trying to get done, it also makes sense.

Let’s talk about some things I’ve been thinking about and don’t forget to ask me questions for the weekly question of the week. Find me on Twitter @garymo2007 or on Facebook @InsideThePiratesGary

1. Signing Free Agents Will Happen

Now, as you’ve seen me write in the past, they aren’t in on Bauer or anything. But they won’t go into this season relying solely on what we see right now. Part of it is about protecting the prospects a bit, giving them some insulation to make the team on merit, versus overt necessity. For instance, If Wil Crowe wins a spot in the rotation, that’s great, but if he’s given the spot because they didn’t bother to bring in any competition, not so great.

Bottom line, while this team isn’t going to go from where it is to ‘good’ they will most likely add a couple players to the mix, even if only to eventually flip them too. One thing that shouldn’t be discounted is that young players, especially when you believe some are part of your future, don’t need an absolute beat down for 162 games. It’s bad for their development and ultimately keeps you from being able to properly evaluate them.

2. Are We Finally Done With Trades?

Well, maybe. Ben Cherington said they have some other players they’d be willing to trade, and one could easily decipher who, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Adam Frazier, Colin Moran, a host of relievers. He also said while they’ve had talks, nothing that really gained traction. I wouldn’t rule out another move, but it seems at least from a Pirates perspective they plan to start to shift focus to 2021 at this point.

I have to say, I fully endorse the moves they’ve made and believe it to be the right path, but even I’m getting fatigued. Certainly nothing as big as what we’ve seen is on the horizon if for no other reason there are no bigger chips left.

3. If Adam Frazier Stays, Does He Play 2B?

He’s been a gold glove finalist at the position each of the past two seasons, but the Pirates have a real need to start figuring out who can do what in the middle infield. As an observer, it’s pretty clear to me that Kevin Newman is a Second baseman, not a short stop. Now another option for him is to consider putting him in a utility role where he bounces around the infield and plays the outfield. They could do the same with Frazier. There are options here, but of all the things they might do, Cole Tucker needs to get a shot at short stop. It’s time to find out what he is. Is he just a glove, or is the bat going to come along?

We’ll never know if they don’t let him play and pretending Erik Gonzalez is anything more than a competent glove is getting old, exit velocity be damned.

I still think the team would be best served to move Frazier, but if nobody wants to pay for him, make the best of it and use some combination of he and Newman to address another hole in the outfield, rather than hold back another player entering his third year of MLB.

4. So What’s Left for the Rotation?

Oh, it’s not pretty. And it’s also the most common question we get now that Taillon and Joe are gone.

So let’s just leave it here for now. No new signings, this is what they have.

Chad Kuhl, Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker, Steven Brault, Wil Crowe, Cody Ponce, Luis Oviedo, Miguel Yajure, Sean Poppen and Clay Holmes.

I still think they’ll sign someone, maybe a couple, but that’s 10 deep on the depth chart. They’ll get more if only because there will be injuries, none of these guys past Brault (meaning past him on the list) really deserve to walk right in to the spot and they need to fill a team on the Indianapolis Indians too.

This rotation isn’t built to get you excited, certainly doesn’t excite me but it is what they’re working with as we speak.

Replacing Taillon is easy, we rarely had him.

Joe will hurt. He ate innings and while the Pirates haven’t assembled the most talented group in the world for their rotation this season, the thing that worries me most isn’t their overall skill level, it’s their ability to eat innings. It’s been a shortcoming of Kuhl, and Brault for sure. I expect Brubaker to take a step this year and Keller while impressive in his last few starts walked a ton, struck out a ton and didn’t last long as a result, he’ll need to work on that to become more than a starter who get’s you into the 6th.

Of all the reasons to bring in a veteran, eating innings is number one.

5. Why Didn’t the Pirates Get Anyone to Help Now?

Well, maybe they did. We just got done talking about a couple of them in point number 4. Wil Crowe, Luis Oviedo and Miguel Yajure are truly all viable options for the rotation or the pen. David Bednar will almost assuredly step right into the bullpen, but the focus has absolutely been on young talent.

By design that won’t by in large help the current squad, but some of these guys could absolutely be contributors in 2021.

Of all the names up there, Yajure probably has the best chance to make it at some point and stick but Crowe is easily better right now than Trevor Williams was last year. Take that for what it’s worth, but that’s the very definition of addition by subtraction.

Question of the Week

This week’s question comes from Michael Hall on Twitter @MhallVA79, Here’s one. Do you think PNC favors LHP for the Bucs and LH pull sluggers on offense? If so, why haven’t the Pirates used this advantage? Do teams still do this? Half the games are there.

Great question. We tend to spew out these ‘facts’ about PNC without even thinking anymore, but asking about it really made me think.

I’d say first, it sure was designed with those two things as a quirk of the park.

So let’s start on the mound. Since that time the best lefty the Pirates have had on the mound is undoubtedly Francisco Liriano, Happ wasn’t here long enough to really count. I often say it’s a crime they’ve not had a crop of lefty’s to really capitalize on minimizing the affect of left handed power hitters crushing the short porch in right, but the Pirates through the years have instead tried to focus on pitchers who keep the ball down therefore the overall cumulative effect should be keeping the ball in the park no matter from what side.

There are a ton of teams who would love to have more left handed pitchers, problem is there aren’t a ton to go around. Take the upcoming draft for instance, and let’s ignore that the number one pick isn’t a foregone conclusion for a moment. If Kumar Rocker is the guy and there is a lefty pitcher also first round quality but for sure less than Rocker, you take Rocker right? How about when they drafted Cole? Taillon? Sometimes it’s just luck of the draw, and which side they throw from can’t be the determining factor.

In other words, if Rocker is what they think he is, he’ll minimize EVERYONE from taking advantage of anything in that ball park.

There are also times when this club has not been on the same page, like when Neal Huntington had a deal completely done and agreed to with the Indians to bring in Cliff Lee but Coonely shut it down in the middle of the night. We have no idea how many times things like this took place but let’s just say the priority hasn’t always been important to everyone. This nugget comes from Dejan Kovacevic.

All that being said, even Ben Cherington has mentioned it was not purposeful that almost every pitcher he’s brought in was right handed.

At the plate, well, they’ve done better there. See the thing is, Pedro Alvarez didn’t need help, when he got into one, it was going out of every ballpark in the galaxy. Same with Bell. Even Polanco. Now who it should help, it hasn’t really. A guy like Adam Frazier should be able to hit more than he would elsewhere because of the short porch, and jeez, maybe he does, but he’s the wrong type of hitter for it. He sprays the ball around, which I actually appreciate.

Say the Pirates went and got a guy like Derek Dietrich, now that’s a guy who swings for the moon and he could easily take full advantage of that short porch. Flyouts to the track become homeruns.

So, all that being said. It’s built to give advantages to certain players, but I don’t think it makes any decisions for the team, even if potentially it could make an average hitter with the right approach a scary hitter.

Great question Sir.

No Holds, or Moves Barred for the Pirates

Someone once told me, the first impediment to real change is designating certain discussion points or actions sacred cows.

Essentially what that means is when you decide some things are untouchable you’re limiting your thought on a subject and in some cases halving what you can actually get accomplished.

The Pirates clearly have taken this advice.

When they say all options are on the table, they weren’t kidding and it’s not just the trades, it’s the international signings, the waiver pick ups, the Rule 5 pick ups and soon, yes it could also be extensions.

Extensions are something this team has done for quite some time to lock up players through their arbitration years, from Cutch to Tabata and on to Nate McLouth they haven’t been shy about using this method to gain cost certainty with varying degrees of success.

I hear all the time that the Pirates move everyone as soon as they cost money, and to a degree, of course, that’s true for some players like Gerrit Cole. Nobody here is going to try to paint a picture that Nutting does enough, but they have an extensive history of these types of extensions, one of which they’re still paying for in the form of Gregory Polanco.

I’ve told you before the moves we’re watching right now are much more about control and value than they are about money. The simplest way to illustrate it is really Polanco himself. He makes a ton of money as he signed an extension long ago and to be kind he’s not lived up to it. If he had, he’d almost assuredly be on the move himself. In fact had they decided to move him a couple years ago he probably would have returned a decent package (well maybe not with Neal) based on his potential.

At some point though, what could have been simply isn’t. Now the Pirates are stuck with him for lack of a better way of putting it. Be happy they are, because sometimes the alternative, you know, when you’re solely focused on cutting payroll, you might get someone to take him off your hands and package in a couple prospects to get it off your books. Remember Liriano to Toronto?

Yesterday after the news of Jameson Taillon’s move to the Yankees broke, multiple reporters openly opined the Pirates should be using the money they saved (2.3 Million, I’ll get into why this is silly in a minute) to immediately extend some players like Hayes, Reynolds or Keller.

Now, as promised, it’s silly because that 2.3 million wasn’t stopping them from exploring such an extension in the first place. In fact, I’d be shocked if an extension would even touch this year’s payroll much if at all.

Second, the request assumes that these moves were about saving money, which is just false. See, it’s fine for some of you to think that, you’re fans, you’re supposed to just want a good team, I get it. And you’re tired of hearing we’ll be good in XX year. Completely identify with that, understand that, blah blah.

All of these moves are for naught if Bob Nutting doesn’t step up when Ben says he needs money. It’s the elephant in the room and everyone knows it, I’d bet nobody knows it more than Ben.

What these reporters are calling for is the placating of a fan base and let’s be clear, an extension doesn’t mean they can’t move the player in fact it can actually help.

Take Nate McLouth, in 2008 he was an absolute star, literally an All Star. He hit 46 doubles, 25 homeruns with a .276 batting average and on top of that won a gold glove. The Pirates extended him and the fans were elated because the Bucs did the right thing. Then the following June he was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.

Based on what Nate did after being dealt and what those two did here in Pittsburgh, pretty good trade, but at the time it felt like an utter betrayal. It also seemed utterly stupid they extended him the year prior, but it provided the cost certainty the Braves were looking for and probably got that deal done.

The Pirates basically bought control of the player. An extra couple years to make decisions.

Now, let’s take the Pirates current, most popular targets for an extension and let’s eliminate what would make us feel good.

Ke’Bryan Hayes – First of all, he’s played one month. He has 6 more years on the club (ok 5 before they have to trade him) unless they extend him. In his one month he looked and put up numbers like Ted Williams. It was exciting, but it also isn’t realistic to expect him to stay at that level. So do you approach him right now, with what he’s put on tape looking for an extension or do you let him show you another year to both show you it’s real or more accurately show you what he isn’t?

I could get behind extending him much like the White Sox did with Luis Robert, but I don’t want any parts of paying the rate his one month would warrant.

I’m not comparing the players, but when the Pirates extended Jose Tabata it followed a stellar rookie campaign in which he hit .299 and finished 8th for Rookie of the Year in 2010. It was an insanely one sided offer, 14.75 million bought out his arbitration years and three option years with a $250K buyout were tacked on locking him up through 2019. Well, obviously we didn’t make it, he was traded to the Dodgers in 2015 for Michael Morse, on April 13th 2016 and Morse was released on the 21st. This, was a dump, and a justified one.

Bryan Reynolds – A tremendous rookie campaign followed up by a terrible two month stretch that unfortunately counts as a full season. I put just as much stock in his two month 2020 as I do Hayes’ one month. I need to see more.

I don’t get the impression Bryan would think he should be scared into accepting a low ball offer because he struggled for a stretch so I’d get dreams of locking him down on the cheap out of your head. That said, I could see them potentially approaching him at some point during the season to at least open the dialogue.

Mitch Keller – I mean, he’s the best of what’s left right? Two or three good starts do not a superstar make. And pitchers aren’t blind, they know how much they’re worth on the open market. This could get done, but I truly can’t see entertaining this until after the 2021 season. You want to see if he stays healthy, and more so, how he evolves.

All three of these players have something none of the players moved out of town posses, time. The Pirates have time to decide if they’re part of the future window or not and the players themselves have time to decide if they want to be.

Now, when you’re talking about buying out someone’s year 28 and 29 seasons, it’s an easier conversation than if say they had approached Jameson Taillon. See he was already 29 and won’t reach free agency until he’s 31, an extension for him would take him into his early 30’s and this is a guy who’s never really gotten paid. The chances of him accepting a team friendly deal and not betting on himself, in my mind, slim to none. I’m not even touching the reality that he doesn’t profile as a guy who will pitch late into his 30’s.

So while Bob Nutting spending money is indeed the elephant in the room, that shouldn’t lead anyone to rush into a prove it to me deal. The Pirates just need to stay aware, stay smart and more importantly be honest with themselves.

Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not going to make you smile. It’s not going to placate you or prove to you that Nutting will spend when the time comes. But history tells you, when it comes to extensions, the Pirates have done it quite a bit. Not everyone, not always the right call, but they’ve taken the leap and I have no reason to believe they won’t again.

Jamo’s Journey With The Pirates Comes To An End

When he was drafted back in 2010, with the second overall pick, then 18 year old Jameson Taillon was seen by many as a future ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates for years to come. For the first three seasons of his professional career he gave little reason to doubt the original projections as he quickly moved through the Pirates system from Low A-West Virginia to AAA-Indianapolis, all before his 22nd birthday. During this time he posted a 3.75 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP, all while earning a spot in the 2012 Futures Game, a Top 10 Prospect Ranking in all of MLB and a stint in the Arizona Fall League after the 2013 season.

Unfortunately for Taillon the 2014, one where he would be on the cusp of making his Major League debut, ended before it even really began. After pitching in a minor league scrimmage during spring training he experienced pain in his right elbow, which eventually led to season ending Tommy John Surgery. As he was preparing for his first rehab start the following year in the GCL, Taillon once again felt a pain, this time in his abdomen. The inevitable result was sports hernia surgery and another missed season.

Following two disappointing set backs Taillon would finally make his big league debut on June 8, 2016. He would go on to make 17 more starts that year and five to begin the following year, posting a 3.35 ERA, a 7-5 record and an ERA+ that was at least 10% above the league average. Finally the future looked promising again, at which point he was promptly placed on the IL after a May 3rd game against the Reds. This time it wasn’t a normal baseball injury, it was something much more serious, a testicular cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery. After a remarkable recovery Taillon took the mound a mere five weeks to the day after his surgery. The remainder of the year clearly was not easy for him as his ERA rose from 3.31 to 4.44, including several disastrous outings along the way, but it was truly a victory anyway you look at it.

In 2018 everything finally came together for Jameson as he made 32 starts, which included two complete games, one of them a shutout. He ended the year with a career best 3.20 ERA, to go along with a 1.178 WHIP and a 4.9 WAR. Sadly this high wouldn’t last very long.

Taillon’s 2019 got off to a rough start, as he got the nod as the opening day starter in Cincinnati. He gave up four earned runs in six innings in a 5-3 Pirates loss. He would go on to start six more games before being placed on the IL after his outing versus the Texas Rangers in Arlington. It wasn’t made official that his season was over until the beginning of August. He underwent his second Tommy John Surgery less than two weeks later; putting yet another year, and possibly the rest of his career, in jeopardy. For Taillon the recovery process had to begin again, and this time it was well documented.

Beginning on May 7, 2020 Jameson began sharing videos concerning almost every step of his throwing program.

Toward the beginning of September, he reportedly pushed to return, even if it was going to be on a limited basis. But the season ended, with at least some live at bats under his belt.

Then came the rumors, as it was first reported by Jason Mackey of the Post Gazette that the Pirates and Yankees were having conversations about Taillon and Josh Bell, prior to his trade to the Nationals. However, even Mackey reported at the time that there was uncertainty concerning how serious these talks were. After a few days Rob Biertempfel reported in The Athletic that it seemed like nothing more than intelligence gathering on the part of the Yankees.

Then just a few days ago, Bryan Hoch, Yankees Beat Reporter from MLB.com reported during an Instagram Q&A that New York had been “doing there homework” on Taillon. Some may have brushed this off as another fact finding mission at first, until Saturday even when Mark Feinsand reported that he and Adam Berry had been told that Taillon could be the next domino to fall on the Pirates Trade Front. Almost immediately the Twitterverse exploded with speculations as to the packages that the Yankees could offer Pittsburgh for their once promising young ace.

This flurry lasted late into the night and into the next morning, and eventually the afternoon, until it was finally announced that Jamo’s Journey in a Pirates Uniform had officially ended.

They only thing left to do, other than pick up the pieces of what Pirates Fans had envisioned as a promising career that we have been watching for 10 plus years, was to see what the eventual return would be; and we didn’t have to wait long.

In the end it would be four of the Top 30 Prospects in the Yankees System according to Fangraphs; Right Handed Pitchers #11 Miguel Yajure and #15 Roansy Contreras, Second Baseman #20 Maikel Escotto and Left Fielder #22 Canaan Smith. Three of the four, excluding Escotto are also apart of the Top 30 on MLB Pipeline.

All players involved currently have ETA’s between 2021-2023 and all have future values of 40+ or above, with Yanjure already having some big league experience under his belt. Last season the young right hander from Venazuela appeared in 3 games, after not having reached above AA the year before. Over 7.0 innings he posted a 1.29 ERA , with 8 strikeouts and 5 walks. A very small, yet promising sample size. It should however be noted that Yanjure has regularly been a starter during his Minor League Career, earning a 2.14 ERA and a 1.075 WHIP across two levels in 22 appearances and 18 starts.

Contreras, was the leader in wins in the Low A South Atlantic League in 2019, led by a 92-95 riding fastball that touches 97 on occasion. During his time with the Charleston River Dogs, he posted a 3.33 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 132 innings and 24 starts.

Escotto is listed as as a second baseman, but has spent his time all over the infield at every position other than first base. The soon to be 19 year old has yet to play a game outside the Dominican Summer League, however, he slashed .315/.429/.552 with 8 homers and a 14.7 BB% in 45 games.

Smith is extremely athletic outfielder who played both baseball and football in high school, something that Cherington has obviously been targeting with his acquisitions since arriving in Pittsburgh. Drafted in the 4th Round of the 2017 draft, he broke out in 2019 by hitting .307 with 11 homers in Low A. At only 21 years old, the speedy left fielder, slots right in to a prospect outfield that had been lacking some depth prior to the most recent moves by the Pirates.

Now, I don’t want it to seem like I am trying to sugar coat yet another trade by Pittsburgh during what has become an extremely busy off-season, as I have just begun to dissect this most recent move. Look for more articles from Gary and myself as we move forward with a much different team than we started with exactly a month ago.

Why Trade Taillon Now?

For one thing, being wrong in this business is par for the course. I didn’t believe anyone would trade for Jameson Taillon without seeing him pitch or more importantly stay healthy for a stretch.

Now it looks as though at least a couple teams are happy to look past it and while I can clearly understand when there is this much smoke a fire is most assuredly close behind, that doesn’t mean I can wrap my head around how we got here.

So I thought, let’s do a little pro vs con conversation to see if we can’t understand. After I argue it out with myself, I’ll close it up with where I land.

Let’s do it like a Pro vs Con list because this will force me to see both sides of the situation

Con: This has to be his absolute lowest value, doesn’t it make more sense to get some time from him on the mound to build value?

Pro: Sure, but value isn’t just a number. There are several teams interested which could ultimately force an overpay.

Con: Overpay, based on his lowest value, I’m seeing him listed at less than 20.0 surplus and that won’t add up to much coming back.

Pro: Define Much. Because I’m still trying to wrap my head around the likelihood he pitches into July without going on the shelf again. He’s only done that once after all, so if someone wants to touch even that low value, I have to be in.

Con: He’ll be a Cy Young contender of course when he’s gone.

Pro: C’mon me, you’re being silly now, let’s keep this in reality.

Con: Maybe you didn’t see all those videos of him throwing, he looks awesome!

Pro: I saw them, and he does look great. I’ve seen things like that with Jamo since he got drafted. So far I’ve seen it live at PNC once. I’d also remind you who puts those videos out. It’s not like they’re going to show the time he felt a twinge (if he did). I can’t count that as evidence.

Con: Look, I get it’s a rebuild or whatever they want to call it, but that doesn’t mean you just trade anyone. Especially a guy who could be a top end pitcher who makes next to nothing.

Pro: But who’s up for trade has less to do with what they make in some cases, and more to do with how much control is left. Jamo has two years left, so either way they’d be looking at moving him.

Con: Then why not offer him a cheap extension? This is a leader in the locker room, they even called him a leader last year and he didn’t play. He could really help the young guys.

Pro: That’s a very good point. but I’ll say this, he’s 29. Most good pitchers his age have already had a big contract, at some point he’s going to want paid, and I don’t mean a Pirates discount price based on his injury history. I think he’d sooner bet on himself and reach free agency. He may only get one decent money contract in his career. Can’t deny the leadership role though.

Con: Why would the Yankees or anyone else want him then? It sounds like the assumption is he’ll just get injured again.

Pro: Simply put, the Yankees can afford the risk. To be frank the Pirates could too, he costs nothing. The difference is, the Pirates have an opportunity to get prospects for someone they can’t guarantee will ever throw more than 100 innings again. One more injury and they’ll get nothing but the memories of 12 years of waiting for him to blossom and stay healthy at the same time.

The Conclusion

None of this arguing ultimately matters. It looks like a forgone conclusion that Jameson Taillon will in fact be moved, and very soon.

I almost expect to be underwhelmed by the return, because try as I might, I can’t see anyone paying over value for a player who has an injury history like him.

I expected him to get traded if he remained healthy, but that is anything but a guarantee, so I see the wisdom in taking the bird in hand approach. If they can get one nice piece that plays when things matter again here in Pittsburgh, I’ll take it.

If you’ve followed me for a while you know what a difficult and complicated subject Jameson Taillon is for me, I truly respect the guy for what he’s been through, and what he’s continuing to try to get done. I have to take my fan hat off here though, and understand getting anything of value back for him is a win for the Pirates.

If we’re worried about who will pitch this season, we’re probably asking the wrong questions.

We’ll be ready when this trade happens, but I wanted everyone to join me in this exercise so last night we had a great conversation on Twitter about the whole thing.

Ton of good conversation under this tweet. Some points I brought up, some I didn’t, but it’ll make you think or sure. This is anything but a simple answer.

The Practice Of Flipping Players For Prospects

Following the trades of Starling Marte, Josh Bell and Joe Musgrove, General Manager Ben Cherington is nearing the end of his list of realistic trade pieces, outside the possibilities of moving Adam Frazier, Jameson Taillon, Richard Rodriguez and Chris Stratton; all of which are becoming less likely by the day and moving toward the in-season trade deadline type of move. This has led to discussions surrounding an idea that seems to have become more popular, at least over the past couple of years of signing free agents, mostly likely a reclamation project or bounce back candidate, that can be flipped at the deadline for prospects. In theory this method appears to be a potentially productive way to acquire prospects using a minimal investment for a team who’s payroll could easily fit a player or two without taking too much of a hit. In practice I wonder more about how successful these types of transactions would actually be.

An obvious, and recent example, of how to work a bait and switch such as this happened just a couple of years back when the Pirates signed Jordan Lyles to a one year contract worth $2.05 million, only to trade him near the 2019 trade deadline for then AA pitcher Cody Ponce . When this trade originally happened Pirates Fans were less than happy about the immediate outcome, to say the least as Lyles went on to go 7-1 with a 2.45 ERA over his last 11 starts in Milwaukee. Now, based on an extremely small sample size, coupled with the fact that many will eventually forget that Lyles was ever on the Pirates to begin with it has become an instance of how this sort of move can be successful; when in all actuality Ponce is simply a player who has accumulated .3 WAR or -.2 fWAR if that’s your thing. While Ponce could eventually end up working out, this is far from guaranteed.

First off, I realize that this is only one occasion when this idea was utilized and we still don’t know the final result, which made me want to search for more in order determine if it would be worth trying again. Unfortunately there are not really any immediate studies that jump off the page for a topic that is so specific, especially when I would also like for them to consider the number of times a player is signed to a one year deal and merely allowed to walk when the season is over, or designated for assignment before this option is even explored. Last year alone, for the Pirates, I counted approximately five that could fit into that category.

Luckily, however, for the purpose of at least being able to gather some data on the subject, there have been several on the idea of trading for prospects in the general sense; most recently by Zach Kram of The Ringer, with the ominous title of Why Trading for Top Prospects Is Less of a Win Than More MLB Teams Seem to Think; where the value of players traded out of their organization is compared against those who remain over the prized six years of control, which is extremely important to a team such as the Pirates.

While reading Zach’s article much of it hit very close to home, but none more than his statements about how, Every year, a handful of teams divest themselves of top prospects, and every year, a new set of fan bases convince themselves that their new young talent will soon shine. and Teams that watch a player every day know more about him than those that want to trade for him—and especially more than public prospect rankers.

These are both points that fit right into how many Pirates Fans are feeling at this very moment after all of the moves General Manager Ben Cherington has made in a little over a year on the job.

Now onto the findings of this extremely helpful bit of research. Of the prospects that were traded 28% of them had a negative WAR, while only 2.9% produced at least 24 WAR during that time or on a yearly average an all star caliber player. In the end over 60% fell below the line of an everyday player, 2.0 WAR per year, in MLB. And once again I will point out this is only takes into account the players that were actually traded, as well as the prospects that eventually made it to the big league club.

So, what does this all mean? Well, as always I am open to any idea that could potentially infuse more talent and competition into the system, but, I am also cautioning people to realize that at least 60% of the time the trade would not be considered successful and almost 30% will be abject failures. In the end I guess it comes down to how much of a gambler you are and how much faith you have in your scouting department and development team to grow that 2.9%.

Cherington’s Somewhat Familiar Plan Of Building Up The Farm

It’s been a few days since the Pittsburgh Pirates traded a fan favorite, right-handed starting pitcher Joe Mugrove, to the San Diego Padres in order receive four prospects, along with the second rated catcher from the New York Mets Farm System to complete the deal; which has done nothing but give me time to sit down and evaluate this move, along with all the others, General Manager Ben Cherington has made since arriving in Pittsburgh in November of 2019.

In the moment my immediate reaction to this was one of excitement due to the return, three of the top 20 prospects from the highly touted Padres Farm System and the #14 prospect from the Mets, that Cherington was able to get for an inconsistent Joe Musgrove based on moments of near brilliance, along with the potential from his peripherals. This is not me taking shots at a player as he is walking out the door; it’s the truth and has nothing to do with Big Joe the person or teammate. In three seasons with the Pirates Musgrove posted a 4.23 ERA, a 3.69 FIP and a 1.1205 WHIP, while earning 3.6 WAR and 6.5 fWAR respectively. Those are solid numbers for an average to slightly above average starting pitcher, who was also a pretty good dude based on the heartfelt letter he penned to Pirates Fans.

As the hours and days passed, my enthusiasm grew as I looked at all of the talent Cherington had infused into the Pirates Farm System in a little over a year. With the trades of Starling Marte, Josh Bell and Joe Musgrove, one MLB June Amateur Draft, a few international signings and a Rule 5 Draft he had taken the Pirates Prospect Rankings and flipped them on their proverbial heads. Almost all that had taken place from November of 2019 to present day was illustrated very nicely in a single tweet by Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

After reading this totally impartial, just the facts, plain as black and white, less than 280 character explanation of what Cherington had done for the organization , there was no reason for me not to be hopeful for a promising future that could be in store for the Pittsburgh Pirates and all their faithful fans.

Then I read a tweet from a member of one of my favorite Pirates podcast groups, guys that I have been religiously following for a long time and have the utmost respect for due to their ability of presenting authentic and honest views on the Pirates and to have fun while doing it, Jim Rosati; formerly of the North Side Notch Pirates Blog and currently of North Shore Nine (NS9) Crew.

Now I am not going to try to interpret what Jim meant by his original, and eventually subsequent comments as he is more than capable of speaking for himself. I can only convey what these statements and graphic made me think and feel as I looked over them.

In all honesty I was taken back to my late 20’s, as a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan when Neil Huntington took over the helm of a floundering ball club in 2007. I remembered Xavier Nady being sent to the New York Yankees, for two of their top prospects. And then before I could catch my breath, just few days later seeing Jason Bay shuffled to the Boston Red Sox for quantity and quality from the Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, in a three team blockbuster deal. Later that summer I was glued to the radio as I waited anxiously to find out if we had inked Pedro Alvarez to his $6 million signing bonus in the 11th Hour.

Not all these memories came with an over abundance of joy at the time. However, eventually these moves, along with other trades, acquisitions and drafts, the Pirates nearly made it up the mountain in 2013 through 2015; which clearly brought some exhilaration back into Pittsburgh. At this moment I experienced a clarity and confirmation as to why I was so excited about the moves Cherington had been making, as well as why I made claims about what it was like to have a real GM. In essence I was comparing the beginning of Cherington’s time with the Pirates to the end of Huntington’s tenure, especially two apparently horrible trades involving Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer.

This is not to say that Huntington didn’t make some mistakes and that it wasn’t clearly time for him to go, but we can’t ignore the acquisitions of Oneil Cruz, Bryan Reynolds, Tahnaj Thomas, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Quinn Priester either. For me, in the end, it became more about the ability , or lack there of, to develop players; the third step in Cherington’s master plan of Identifying, Acquiring, Developing and Deploying talent.

So, are we still allowed to be excited about the moves that Cherington has made so far, which has started to saturate the Pirates Farm System with potential talent? Very simply put, yes we are, but it is far from the end of the journey; or the process if you prefer.

The Yearly Pilgrimage

For decades now, Pirates fans who have long since relocated to the year round warmth of Florida have considered Spring Training almost as their team returning from a very extended road trip, and fans from everywhere else have planned trips around this special time of year.

Some of us have made it a couple times but usually just look forward to hearing Greg and Bob talking baseball again while we still see patches of snow on the ground.

See whether you travel or live there, returning to the game is still a pilgrimage. It’s returning to the sights and sounds. The kid who has toiled in the minors for 7 years who finally got that invite he’s been dreaming of since he was 12. The rising star prospect who got a taste last year but this time knows there are expectations. Catchers and coaches learning their new staff start to come to grips with who’s here and in some cases who isn’t anymore.

For some players, it’s the first opportunity to show last season wasn’t the best they had to offer, whole lot more of those this year for every team than usual.

Practical jokes, fishing trips, golf side jaunts, this is where groups of players become a team, for better or worse.

Maz and Sangy, Spanky and Jacko, former players too make the trip to impart wisdom and in some cases just remind the newest to don the black and gold that they represented the same colors once and remain proud they did so. Well, Spanky shows up mostly to remind everyone Sid was out.

The warm sun and seagulls, Danny’s Pizzaria, the Lucky Frog and that incredible Orange Swirl cone at Mixon Farms, the entire atmosphere and the likelihood that you’ll end up eating dinner two tables away from a bunch of kids you just saw shagging flies an hour earlier make it feel like a community.

It changes the dynamic from team and fan to more of a personal identification with these guys. When one of them gets traded, logic is out the window when you have memories of having a beer and shooting the breeze with that third string catcher and his young family at the beer garden.

I’m not sure we’re ready as a society for things to jump right back in to normalcy, but we’re closer than we were last year. The future of what this virus would inflict on our country and our sport were anything but a clear picture and this year we enter Spring Training with eyes wide open, knowing the game and so much more could be snatched from us at any time.

Regardless, the schedule is published and we anticipate as normal a process as possible. Which is important for the host of players who haven’t played competitive baseball since 2019.

All I can say is, let’s do this.

All that emotion, anticipation and ritual is about to start again as pitchers and catchers will most likely report no later than 3 weeks from now. and there won’t be one player who doesn’t think they’re capable of tossing 9 lights out innings repeatedly or hitting .300 with 20 homeruns.

Because the one thing that always makes the pilgrimage I neglected to mention was hope. We’ll keep it realistic here on our site and some will make sure you know how terrible they are before a blade of grass has been trampled. But don’t be shocked if you see a few hopeful pieces, because this time of year, I just can’t help myself.

Merry Springmas everyone.

Apparently It’s Not All About The Benjamins For Cherington

When I hear general managers from around Major League Baseball talk, I always take much of what they say with a grain of salt; all while trying to read between the lines or concentrating on key words in an attempt to interpret the message they might be trying to convey. Sometimes they give you a pretty clear message, but even then it is hard to not be skeptical. So, it is no surprise that when Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington speaks I find myself doing this little dance, trying to decipher the truths through perceived inconsistencies.

When Cherington came on the scene during the past off-season, shortly after the Starling Marte trade, he was quoted as saying, “A good chunk of players who were on the team last year will be on the team this year, and they really do have a chance to be part of that next winning team. We’re just trying to build toward that.”. He continued with, “The way I look at it, the way we’re looking at it — and I really believe this — is there’s a group of young players here who are either already on the team or close to being on the team that we truly believe will be part of our next winning team. So our focus is really to build with that group,”.

No specific players were mentioned by Cherington at the time, however, a whole lot of speculation as to who he could be thinking of when he made these statements; mostly consisting of Pirates who were on the Major League Roster at the time. Could he mean Josh Bell and Joe Musgrove? Or, it had to be Mitch Keller and Bryan Reynolds he was talking about. Ke’Bryan Hayes’ name was also mentioned in passing at the time due to him being on the cusp of joining the big league team.

Now, just a couple of days ago Cherington sat down with the media following the trade of Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres, and not even a month removed from the Christmas Eve trade of Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals, to attempt to provide us with some details surrounding the decisions that have been made thus far. Right way some fans’ memories jumped back to the previous quotes by Cherington about a young core, that obviously no longer included Bell or Musgrove, as it was clear that he had blatantly lied to us. But did he really? With no names uttered and a pile full of assumptions, it may never be known exactly who Cherington had in mind, if the 2020 season, albeit shortened, had changed his perception or at least caused the evaluation process to be updated; while the remaining portion of the quote about being a part of the next winning team is pure GM speak. I mean, there isn’t any MLB General Manager alive, or dead, that hasn’t talked about victories, championship or something as truly vague as winning.

However, the focus did not remain partially in past for very long as the conversations concerning finances and payroll emerged; which somewhat justifiably, almost always seems to dominate the discussions when it comes to the Pirates, Cherington and especially Bob Nutting. During this same press conference Cherington reported to those present that, “Coming into the offseason, there was no need to move money, no need to move payroll for the sake of moving payroll. There was no request for that. We haven’t made a single move for financial considerations.” Some immediately made the assertion that this was an outright lie on the part of Cherington, however, this is extremely hard to prove with 100% certainty. Sure it’s something that can be hypothesized based on the current payroll of approximately $42 million when compared to the $74 million it was at the beginning of 2019, but its far from a given, especially since at least a few of the moves are ones we all saw coming, with a few being ones that many of us agreed with.

As the current off-season began it was apparent that the Pirates payroll was going to decrease; and did so pretty much immediately. Chris Archer had a $11 million team option, which the Pirates decided to buy out for a mere $250K. After having undergone surgery in the beginning of June 2020 to relieve symptoms of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), it was almost a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh would not pick up the option; a decision most conceded was the correct call. Only a few weeks later Trevor Williams, who was discussed a potential non-tender candidate due to his recent struggles and estimated $3.2-$4.4 million arbitration salary for 2021, was designated for assignment in order to make room on the 40-man roster in order to protect player(s) from the then upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Once again, it was acknowledged that this was more than likely the appropriate determination. That’s $14.2-$15.4 million off the payroll, just in those two moves alone.

Now, after jumping past some minor moves, that brings us to the approximate $10.85 million the Pirates saved by trading Bell and Musgrove during the past month; minus any of the salaries coming back of course. As hard as I try, I can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt these trades weren’t made to preserve money, even if I honestly believe they were ultimately the right moves; just like it is impossible to prove with absolute certainty that they were salary dumps, plain and simple. And ultimately this is where the disagreement comes in concerning Cherington’s original statement.

Could it be a lie or a twisting of the truth at the very least? Yes. Could it be the honest to goodness truth? Also, yes. Unfortunately, as with many things almost every MLB GM says, Cherington included, it is often almost impossible to determine the absolute truths from the boldfaced lies; if it is even that black and white to begin with.

Believe It or Not The Pirates Might Sign a Free Agent or Two

We’ve focused on the biggest moves and those happen to be trades. I don’t see those being done yet as I can’t see a logical way they head into Spring with Adam Frazier as part of the mix.

Now, when I talk about free agent possibilities it doesn’t seem to jive with the full rebuild does it? Well, hear me out a bit and judge for yourself.

First, they have very real holes and the most significant is in the outfield. Part of the rebuild process is about not forcing players into the line of fire before they’re ready and on top of that, outside Anthony Alford, who is still not a sure thing they’ve really only got Jared Oliva with an outside shot Travis Swaggerty as a September call up player, and I’ll be honest, even that is a bit of a stretch.

Second, the team showed us last season they understood another one of those sneaky ways to acquire talent by signing Jarrod Dyson and flipping him for international pool space at the deadline.

I can already hear you thinking this is just the wishful thinking of some blogger boy, and hey, you might end up being right, but check out Dejan Kovacevic’s Daily shot today. And just in case you don’t, he asked Ben Cherington if he’d consider signing some established free agents by way of flipping them, to which he essentially said yes, it’s on the table.

He also said players are smart and there’s no reason to hide it from them as they know what’s going on anyway.

In most years I’d tell you that adds up to exactly what they picked up last year in the form of Dyson. This year though, the market is just not moving and reality is, the Pirates might not have to be the most attractive landing spot, in fact they might even be spoiled for choice, now, do they choose to make one?

Let’s have a look at some players who could fit the mold, and keep in mind, this isn’t about pretending they’ll compete, this is about buying an asset to potentially insulate the system and ultimately continue to bolster it.

Ben Gamel

Most Pirate fans will remember this shaggy haired dude always cropping up at a bad time to help the Brewers beat our Buccos.

He’s 29 years old, listed as a Right Fielder but he can play Center if he has to. Nothing flashy, in fact if you look at his stats you’d swear he got most of his numbers playing the Pirates, but he is a 0.7 WAR player.

Again, nothing to get excited about but a perfect candidate to still be there for the Pirates, remain affordable (more important for flipping than the Pirates payroll) and if nothing else provides an option who can play all over the outfield, and well.

I believe he can be had for 2.5 Million or less, but I might be inclined to go as high as 3.

Delino DeShields

The speedy outfielder is 28 years old and played most of his career with the Rangers before a short stint in Cleveland for 2020 which to be kind didn’t go well.

His batting average is not good, not just last year, but career clocking in at .246 but his OBP of .326 is more than passable. The Pirates have no real leadoff hitter and he might fill that role well combining his OBP with his 106 career stolen bases.

He’s never played more than 121 games in a single season but he is a 5.6 career WAR player.

There aren’t a lot of positions he can’t play, the very definition of a super utility, his versatility could help the Pirates and their ability to move him.

I see him requiring 3 million max.

Jake Marisnick

He’ll be 30 before the season starts and for his career is a 0.2 WAR player. He’s a glove, nothing really impressive about his hitting and he’s never played more than 133 games in a single season. He has some pop displayed from 2017-2019 hitting 16, 10 and 10 over the fence while never getting more than 316 at bats, so a bit more plate appearances could produce a bit more.

Listed as a center fielder, he can more than handle any position they play him in, but his .995 fielding percentage and 8.6 defensive WAR make him valuable in the middle of the field.

Now, he made a little over 3.3 million last season and I can’t see paying more than 2 or 2.5.

Julio Teheran

Don’t get enamored by the name this isn’t the same pitcher you remember as the future ace in Atlanta, in fact he’s only a career -1.0 WAR pitcher but he could compete for the fifth spot in the rotation much like Derek Holland did last year.

He’s probably good for a high 4’s ERA but he still has good strikeout numbers which could help him slot in as a swing man in the pen or the back end of a piggyback starting scenario. With Jameson Taillon slotted as a starter the chances are they will need to at least early on back him up and that’s if you believe he’ll make it through the season unscathed.

He signed a 9 million dollar one year deal with the pitching hungry Angels last season and let’s just say, he earned himself a pay cut.

If the Pirates could get him for 5 million it might be a worthy risk, hey, pitching costs money, that’s why they need to develop it.

Now, I’m not going to cover everyone they could look at of course, but these are the types of players that should be out there, and these are the types of signings that could turn into really nice flips.

Again, that’s the goal. If they help now a bit, great, but more importantly they show enough to make themselves attractive for someone else. Jarrod Dyson scarcely played and brought back enough pool space to acquire Po-Yu Chen.

It’s all about finding ways to continue to flood the system with talent, and sometimes much like paying 2.3 million to a 16 year old, you need to pay 2 or 3 million to a veteran to reach the same end.

Either way, I fully expect the club to bring in a bit more, even as they actively send players packing.