Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 10/13/20

It’s been a while since I put one of these together but none of these add up to full columns so I wanted to put some thoughts out here and get some conversation going.

  1. The Pirates are taking Kumar Rocker! Right? Well, probably. I’m sure they’re leaning that way, but let’s take this out of baseball for a moment. If I need to build a deck next Summer, I might draw up some plans and might even go so far as to price out materials. Does that mean whomever has the best price in October is going to get my business in the Summer? What if they’re competitive and I have to consider other factors such as service, availability, maybe even quality? This is a big decision, it deserves the gravity of thought. Frankly, if they came out and said today who the plan was, I’d question that they’re doing due diligence. The pick get’s made next July, we don’t need to know yet, and they certainly don’t need to know right this second. The drop off from one to two is not grand canyon sized.
  2. If Ben Cherington doesn’t make trades of XX thru YY I’ll know he’s a puppet. What? Trades don’t happen because one side wants them to. We’ve discussed in this space the difficulties in finding a trade partner for a player like Josh Bell. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to say a player sucks to believe there might not be a market for the player. Before you arbitrarily deem this GM a failure or winner based on who he has or hasn’t traded, at least look around the league and ask yourself these questions. Do they have a need? Do they have a desirable return? Would they be willing to part with that return? Will both sides get something they desire? If you think you know who will trade for a player and haven’t or can’t answer these questions, chances are it’s because there are none.
  3. Whoever the Pirates draft either won’t sign or will get traded in 3 years. As you know, I understand the jaded nature at which much of the fan base looks at the Pirates. They’ve earned that scrutiny surely, but both of these takes are idiotic. The draft has changed over the years, slotting says this is how much you can pay this guy at this point in the draft. This isn’t the old days where the Pirates would select a ‘signable’ pick rather than the best available. Those days are over, and it doesn’t matter if you trust the Pirates or not. The only way that would happen in today’s climate would be the selection of an underclassmen in which you hadn’t pre-negotiated the bonus and contract. There isn’t a GM, interim GM, bench jockey or any other executive in MLB that would make a number one pick without that being done. If the player is in MLB within 3 years it is untypically fast. From that point you get (as it stands now) 6 or 7 years of team control from there. Forecasting doom is the national pastime for many “sports” talkers who have long since stopped paying actual attention to MLB, let alone the Pirates.
  4. The Pirates have decided to retain the entire coaching staff. I’m not shocked. Despite some very real questions that came up as this season played out, I didn’t expect 60 games to be enough to convince Cherington he was wrong in his choices. Maybe he isn’t, maybe Shelton learned something in those 60 games. I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. That said, until they explain their thinking it’s hard for me to say more than look at the results. Those results however are also based on 60 games. Now if that’s not enough to make a judgement on Shelton, it’s hard to argue it’s enough for the hitting coach. We’ll have no way of knowing how married he is to his choices until he makes a change one day, but it’s very safe to say he didn’t feel 60 games was enough to uproot the apple cart.
  5. If the Pirates unexpectedly ‘arrive’ early, does the plan change? The funny thing is, this is exactly why you won’t hear many GM’s affirm a rebuild. Because if it happens early people know it wasn’t your plan that made it happen. For instance, the White Sox showed up a season early, everything they were doing was building to 2021 and things came together faster, now we already discussed what 60 games created, who knows what a full season would have brought their way, but suffice to say they weren’t targeting 2020. This shouldn’t be taken as a prediction but if the Bucs don’t move any starting pitchers, the rotation still has a great chance to be much better next season. If any of the hitters look like they can, things improve. Let’s say they find a way to .500 next year, does the plan change? Does Cherington continue to move players and stock the system or does he get antsy and try to build on it? He has stated he liked the opportunity here because he could build from the ground up. I’d like to think he’d stay the course, that would be best for the long run, but the urge to win could alter his path. Interesting to think about at least. What would you want him to do?

Postseason Sets Pirate Fan Eyes on What Might Have Been

We’ve all heard the names like Glasnow, Cole, Meadows, Morton, the bigger the playoff field the longer the list becomes. How good would those guys look in Pittsburgh right now? How bad was that trade? Nothing puts Pittsburgh fans into a tizzy more than seeing former hometown players become stars after leaving town.

It’s not always about stardom though, sometimes it’s a player like Sid Bream who left Pittsburgh to very little fan outrage only to land with the Atlanta Braves and eventually culminate in one slide that broke the hearts of an entire city. Sid was different, nobody spent much time talking about the tremendous talent the Pirates let go, for him it was more about seeing ghosts.

We watched Aramis Ramirez get moved for nothing that panned out. He certainly continued to put up solid numbers, not hall of fame numbers most likely, but solid. Rarely did we have to watch him do it on a playoff stage however. Kris Benson never achieved the greatness of his pedigree in fact his wife Anna probably achieved more notoriety once he went to New York appearing on the Howard Stern Show than Kris did on the mound.

Denny Neagle was traded for primarily Jason Schmidt and we didn’t watch him succeed in the playoffs until the 2000 World Series with the Yankees. Schmidt himself never tortured the Pirates the way today’s crop has.

Gerrit Cole wanted out of town, that’s not some revelation, we all know that. He wasn’t going to get the kind of money he was entitled to anywhere outside of New York or LA, yeah, the Pirates could fit his AAV on their roster and still have the lowest payroll in the league, but let’s not pretend that changes anything. We often forget these guys want to win too, not just get paid, and Cole has a much better chance of getting paid and surrounded with talent in NY or LA. He knew this, you knew this and most certainly his agent knew this.

Now, none of that means the Pirates had to execute a trade of Mr. Cole so early, especially didn’t need to try to get MLB ready talent in return. In other words, knowing they weren’t going to entertain or be entertained by Cole and his camp for extension, didn’t need to mean they had to make the trade they did. They could have used capital like that to help rebuild the system.

Charlie Morton was always talented, had scary stuff. Atlanta knew that too, but he struggled to trust his stuff and control it. He ran into injury trouble in Pittsburgh and when he was let go, outcry was minimal. Sure there were some of us who really wished the Pirates had found a way to keep the intriguing righty in town, but most felt it was best to just let him go. He had spent 7 seasons in Pittsburgh including playing his extension years with the Pirates but he rarely stayed healthy even when he did he showed flashes of brilliance, sprinkled with frustrating struggle.

When he signed with the Phillies the Pirates looked like they had pegged him right. Charlie fell to injury again and only threw 17 innings for Philadelphia. It wasn’t until he showed up in Houston that something clicked, and that continued right into his tenure with Tampa. It was with those two clubs that Pirates fans started to experience sour grapes on the Bucs losing Morton.

Revisionist history is of course every sports fan’s birthright. We remember things as cut and dried when nuance was very much involved. We claim we were mad from the first time the transaction news hit the wire even as we sat in the bar high fiving the move as it went down. A broad brush won’t do this subject justice, there very much so were folks who did see the talent coming back for Andrew McCutchen and probably were even vocal about it.

I’m not always right on these types of things, but I didn’t always write about them either. For instance, when the Chris Archer deal went down I liked it. I didn’t like losing Meadows, felt it was wholly appropriate to give up on Tyler Glasnow and most of the time the PTBNL is nobody I’ve ever heard of. Archer came with control and he was the most coveted starter on the trade block.

Now that I write, let’s just say I am a little more careful about my opinion. If that move happened today I’d at least toss in worry about who that PTBNL would be, but I still would have never assumed it would be the number one pick they just made. Meadows was a great prospect, I didn’t understand why the Pirates didn’t want to play him but it was the price of doing business.

It’s rare to make a trade for a veteran and see the ‘prospects’ you give up immediately jump in and look like your front office had no clue. That certainly happened here, and Neal paid for it, rightly so. There is much to blame Bob Nutting for through the years, but in this case, he and the team ate salary in exchange for three top prospects with almost full compliments of control for one pitcher. In other words, this ain’t on Bob.

The Pirates have paid for it ever since. Both on the field and in the hearts and minds of the fan base. Deservedly so, but we also shouldn’t pretend we saw a future champion when we watched Glasnow bounce fastballs 5 feet in front of the plate. We don’t need to act like we knew all along Tyler was going to figure it out. Young guys get better, but here was a guy who was handed a starting role more so because there was nothing more he could show in AAA. Even Tampa used him creatively by utilizing an opener when he pitched at the beginning.

Huge mistake. Huge understatement. Ultimately, a fire-able offense.

There will be more moves coming, and more players who end up performing like they never did in Pittsburgh. When and if the Pirates move on from Josh Bell, we needn’t even discuss the return, chances are the Bucs believe that nobody will be able to truly unlock the raw talent Bell possesses. Most fans (at least if you look at social media during games) will be more than ready to say Bell needed to go. He struggles to make contact consistently, is streaky to a detrimental level and a butcher at first base. So when he’s belting homeruns for someone in the playoffs come 2023 and it isn’t Pittsburgh, remember what you thought of him right now.

Do I know the Pirates are never going to unlock what Bell has to offer? Of course not, but if they don’t and someone else does, lets see it for what it is, a team that failed to develop someone and had no vision for how to get it done.

Rather than pining for what might have been, let’s pine for how the other teams have taken what the Pirates couldn’t unlock and helped it flourish. Let’s hope the changes being made as we speak to the development and scouting departments take the Pirates from a club that gave up too soon to a club that squeezes every ounce out of the talent they cultivate.

That’s the goal. Take someone like Clay Holmes and his huge frame and rather than eventually give up on the obvious talent, find a way to help him use it to better the club. When you start seeing things like that happen, you’ll know it’s working.

None of this means the Pirates will keep everyone and we’ll never watch what we’re seeing in this year’s playoffs again, but it sure would be nice to see the Pirates be the club flipping an Archer type for two or three big pieces that their system converts into realized talents.

Team building on a budget is a tight rope act, one the Pirates have played with a ten pound ball bearing in one pocket. Time to cast away the dead weight of past failure and affect change, above all else, translating talent from raw to realized is job number one for the new organization. If not, the next bad move we’ll be kicking ourselves over will be this front office.

Why Did Ben Cherington Take the Pirates Job

One of the most often brought up reasons for optimism that Cherington will be afforded the money he needs to get the job done when the time comes has doubled as the answer to that question. Many including myself have presumed he and Travis Williams would never have taken this position if they weren’t given some assurance they would indeed be afforded the ability to get the job done.

Now, that presumption could apply for anyone they hired couldn’t it? So why did everyone jump to that for these two? Williams is easy, he left an upward pointing career in another sport altogether to take the team president role with the Pirates, and it’s hard to imagine he’d do that without some kind of assurance. That said, it’s also hard to imagine he was equipped with the baseball knowledge to really understand where they were, beyond the record. It’s not like he was talking to Cherington before he accepted to talk plans and options.

Ben Cherington has real baseball experience, he’s won a World Series and he built the team, he also followed that success by butchering the next phase in Boston but it’s fair to say he still has a solid reputation. Working in the Blue Jays system in a lesser role, Ben’s name came up for most openings around the league and he passed on even interviewing for most of them. So why did he choose the Pirates to dip his toe back in?

How do you go from running a club like the Red Sox to wanting to run a club like the Pirates? Again, he’s said he has assurances he will have the money he needs when the time comes but let’s face it, he could have gone elsewhere and not had to play a game like that, he could have jumped in somewhere and been afforded the freedom to do this exactly as he’d like and not wait for resources. Probably could have started closer to the goal elsewhere, so again, why here?

Alright, so it took a while to get here, but here’s what I got. After 2021 the Pirates have exactly 3 Million dollars committed. That’s the buyout figure for Gregory Polanco and it’s all that’s on the books for the Pirates as of now as they head into 2022. Obviously that could change as he could extend some players or even bring someone in but that’s an incredible reality.

Why is that appealing to a GM you ask? Well, he isn’t stuck with anything. This team will be exactly what he envisioned much quicker than if he had taken over a club that had say 50 million committed that far out.

That’s not to say there isn’t anyone on the club he’ll want to keep, instead it’s a situation that gives him the ability to choose for himself every single facet of who’s on this club. He doesn’t have to find a place for anyone to make room. He doesn’t have to sacrifice a roster spot for an aging veteran who isn’t part of his plan. The Pirates are the baseball equivalent to a blank canvas and if he has the vision to create, he can paint whatever he wants.

Its a truly odd situation too, this simply doesn’t happen and ineptitude helped get us here. The rules allow for it, baseball is set up to create situations like this by creating 6 year windows depending on when you get called up where you really don’t have to commit anything to players. Sure, he’ll have to pay them and arbitration will make some of them wind up being expensive, but the point is, he can extend who he wants and move who he doesn’t. He’s not married to anyone and that’s just not typical.

So, there’s one big reason this franchise was probably appealing to Mr. Cherington, but what if Bob Nutting lied to him about the ability to spend commensurate with what he doesn’t spend now? This is more of a blame laden statement that actually means what if he doesn’t win here? Doesn’t that hurt his reputation?

Does it? Is there anyone in the league that wouldn’t just assume Nutting was the problem? In other words, its a fairly safe opportunity. If he fails most people will assume he had handcuffs on and paid for his own parking spot at PNC. True or untrue, everyone in the league will see the basic facts, he has just about the cheapest owner in baseball and his team president is a hockey guy.

I don’t say that to denigrate Travis Williams as much as to say right or wrong he too provides cover for Cherington should this go south. For all the success he enjoyed in the NHL, he’s never experienced anything in MLB and it’s an easier sell that he didn’t help the situation than trying to convince a college student to eat ramen.

Everything could go great too, it really could. When your team stops being a middling franchise and topples all the way to the bottom of the league the talent infusion can be incredible. In his first draft since joining the Pirates he picked near the top of the board and brought in some really nice talent. He traded Starling Marte for more elite talent too. Now it doesn’t mean Nutting has told the truth, but that talent will still play, the problem has been and until proven otherwise will be keeping said talent in town beyond their rookie deals.

The point of all this is, for Ben Cherington this position is a low risk, high reward shot at being a GM again in the league. Sounds a whole lot like how he’ll have to approach bringing in even more talent.

The Pirates Rule 5 Protection Plan

Whenever the Rule 5 Draft is brought up to Pirates Fans it’s almost a guarantee that you will hear about how Pittsburgh acquired “The Great One” Roberto Clemente in 1954, even though the Dodgers tried, unsuccessfully” to hide him in Montreal. Now we all know that a move like this one is extremely unlikely; especially since the guidelines have changed over time. In the 65 years since the Pirates were luckily enough to find themselves in the #1 spot, you can pretty much count on one hand, the number of times a Rule 5 selection has gone onto find success in the Majors. So, most of the time when I focus on the Rule 5 Draft, it is mainly about seeing who the Pirates choose to protect, rather than any player they might select because it could be a sign of plans for the future.

Prior to participating in his first Rule 5 Draft as Pirates General Manager, Ben Cherington added Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig, Oneil Cruz, Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce to Pittsburgh’s 40-Man Roster in order to protect them from being picked up by another ball club. Obviously these were important, first moves, by Cherington as four out of five made their Major League Debuts in the 2020 season and a few could find themselves on the Opening Day Roster come 2021.

So. that leads me to question, who will be the players that Ben Cherington dubs as potential contributors for the future? In my eyes there are a few obvious selections, with a pair of them among the Pirates Top Prospects and on top of that all three just got done participating at the Alternate Site in Altoona.

First is right-handed starting pitcher Max Kranick, who slots in at #24 on MLB Pipeline. Selected in the 11th Round (340 overall) of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Valley View High School in Archbald, PA, a small suburb outside Scranton, he signed for 300,000; triple the slot value at the time to keep him from going to the University of Virginia.

During his last full season of work in 2019, Kranick was able to add velocity to his fastball (55 grade); topping out at 97 mph. His slider (50 grade) also worked well, but as of right now he does not have a consistent third pitch. Control (55 grade) is his forte as he looks to limit walks and create weak contact. Kranick ended the year at High A Bradenton, sporting a 3.79 ERA and a 1.189 WHIP, but his strike out rate dropped a full 2.5 batters per nine innings to 6.4.

Next up is infielder Rodolfo Castro; currently the #26 Prospect on MLB Pipeline and #12 on FanGraphs. Signed on October 30, 2015 from the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old shortstop, Castro smashed 14 homers and collected 29 total extra base hits in the first half of the season in Low A Greensboro last year. This resulted in a mid-season promotion to the High A Bradenton Marauders where he struggled at first; slashing 132/.192/.206 in the month of July with only a single home run. Luckily for Castro he quickly adjusted and things did get better, a lot better. For the month of August he hit .299/.346/.443, with 2 homers and 10 extra base hits in only 26 games.

Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton have shown that they like players who provide versatility in the field and Castro fits that bill perfectly. More comfortable at second base, he can slide to shortstop and even third base with ease; doing so at every level. Somewhat of a surprise addition at the Alternate Site in Altoona, Castro regularly caught the eye of Curve Broadcaster, Garett Mansfield, both at the plate and in the field.

And finally you have lefty reliever Braeden Ogle. Ogle was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 4th Round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft from Jensen Beach High School in Florida. Once considered a starting option, he fully transitioned to the bullpen in 2019; finding success at both Low and High A, especially the final seven games of the season. In 11 innings, which is a small sample size, he reduced his WHIP from 1.200 to .971, his ERA from 3.69 to 3.18 and continued his decline in BB/9, landing at 2.4.

With a plus fastball (grade 55/60) and an average to above average curve (grade 50/55), the former #24 Prospect on FanGraphs has the ability to make a push for a spot in the bullpen at PNC Park within the next couple of years.

After these three the decisions become a lot tougher to make as a slew of pitchers come to mind; including Blake Weiman, Noe Toribio, Santiago Florez and Travis MacGregor. Then you have position players like Chris Sharpe, Robbie Glendinning, Francisco Acuna and Bligh Madris; along with catcher Deon Stafford. Plus you have to remember that everyone listed just became eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year, so there are even more guys that have held this status for at least one year or more.

Unfortunately for all of these guys 2020 was an extreme disappointment as they were left to their own devices once the shutdown occurred in the beginning of March and the Minor League Baseball Season was eventually cancelled. However, the good news is that the scouts from the 29 other organizations haven’t been able to get a good look at these guys for over a year, and in MacGregor’s case two due to missing all of 2019 with Tommy John Surgery, which could lead to them being able to fall through the cracks without having to be officially protected. Although, if I was forced to choose any in addition to the first three; Florez, MacGregor, Acuna, Sharpe and Glendinning would be my top options, in that order.

In the end I feel like Cherington might not move beyond the top three due to a lot of other roster decisions that will need to be made, with minimal spaces left to fill. Also I am not sure how active this Rule 5 Draft is going to be in general since there wasn’t a Minor League Season to evaluate talent, as well as the fact that teams have already reported they will be taking cost cutting measures during the off-season. However, as it is with everything coming up, we will just have to wait and see because the MLB season is not finished yet; and nothing can begin for the Pirates until that happens.

For the Pirates, Anger is Far Better Than Apathy

I’ve been a Pirates fan for all of my conscience life, it’s never been an easy road if I’m honest. I’ve been angry at times and frustrated almost always, but I always cared. I always held out hope that this owner would get it right. That this GM would understand his market and attack team building the right way.

That wasn’t just the Nutting tenure mind you, that stretches all the way back to the Pittsburgh Associates and on to Kevin McClatchy which blended right into the Ogden/Nutting regime we now have. Through multiple GMs, some who had a transparent plan and others who kept their methods closer to the vest.

For instance, Dave Littlefield told all of us exactly what he planned, the Five Year Plan, and he failed miserably. Huntington actually did get a window open but ownership stopped short of letting it tip over the edge. We have no clue what Cherington will end up doing yet, but the point is we’ve been through a whole bunch in Pittsburgh and through it all we’ve experienced just about every range of emotion.

There is a guy who comments on every story I write with NUTTING HAS ZERO INTEREST IN COMPETING! It’s literally every story, no matter the subject. Remembrance of Clemente, trade rumors, signings, roster construction, robo umps, what the piece is about doesn’t matter in the slightest. Irritates the hell out of me if I’m honest, I work hard on these columns and it’s difficult to take at times personally, but at least he’s mad. At least he still cares enough to be upset that his team isn’t winning. Over time I’ve come to look at his comment as something I wait for and more than that, I wait for the day he stops. Not because I think he’ll just start reading and provide real feedback, no, I wait because he is a barometer for where the fans are. If he stops putting that comment out, I’ll assume he’s passed anger and headed for apathy.

When you just stop caring, that’s something the Pirates won’t easily come back from. You can entice angry fans to come back when the product improves, but once you’ve allowed them to reach apathy, you have a whole new hurdle to jump in regaining their eyes, ears and indeed hearts.

While winning 19 games in 2020 might end up being a good thing for the franchise moving forward as they select the number one overall draft pick in 2021, the Pirates didn’t do themselves any favors by looking so bad doing it. Not having the players to get the job done is one thing, we all knew that before the season started. But I could have told you a week into September JT Riddle would get cut after the season, in fact I did, so did just about everyone. What was to be gained by watching him play? If you want to avoid driving fans into the dangerous territory of not caring, I suggest showing them you don’t care by playing guys like that over the multitude of options they had was a bad move.

How about seemingly purposefully blowing rare good starts by using Miguel Del Pozo to secure a tie. Yeah, I know, injuries right? Sure, but situationally, there were better options. How about showing the fans you still haven’t learned that Dovydas Neverauskas is not someone you can count on? I mean toward the end of the season they certainly made that decision but after watching them trot him to the mound for 40 of the 60 games, who was left to see that you finally stopped forcing him into games with 15 left?

Evaluation is one thing, but let’s take this off of the fans and their apathy and let’s talk about the players themselves. If I’m Trevor Williams and I’m struggling all season to get outs, certainly I have to wear some of that. It’s my right arm after all that isn’t missing bats, but if you put a guy in center field behind me who simply has zero experience and has no command over the position, I might feel a bit more pressure to be something I’m not. I might try to get strikeouts instead of hunting contact. Which leads to picking around the strike zone and walking more. Which leads to traffic on the base paths and pressure situations. It may prevent me from confidently throwing my high fast ball because if I get that pop up to shallow center the probability of it being caught is less than league average.

Trevor isn’t the best guy for this honestly, but insert a faceless, nameless grey figure. As a player, if I don’t feel you’re trying to win by supporting my efforts, how could I be anything but about my individual situation?

Professional athletes will tell you none of that matters. It’s their job and to a certain degree it is, but I’m a fan, if I spend time thinking like that you have to imagine thoughts like that at least creep in on occasion.

Imagine being a rookie with all of 14 MLB starts under your belt and you are tossing a no hitter. Medically you have to leave the game, it’s something you understand and support, after all you’ve been talking to the doctors and trainers too, wasn’t even a shock. Then your coach doesn’t use the strongest pieces he has to at least show you he wants to get the game locked down for you. It’s not about having no options, it’s about having 3 good ones, and 3 less than optimal ones and choosing the first 2 from the less than optimal category.

Maybe this meant nothing to Mitch Keller, as I said, these guys are pros, but as I’m sitting there watching it unfold, I can tell you I certainly felt for him. I at least felt they didn’t care about trying to have this kid who is very much so counted on as part of the future leave with a good taste in his mouth. Joe Musgrove experienced much of the same.

Bad bullpen, I get it. Worse usage, I don’t get it.

The TV ratings for Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball fell this season and as Dejan Kovacevic said in his Daily Shot on Tuesday this was a bit of a shock. It’s a shock because despite being a bad baseball team for the best part of the time every game was broadcast, the Bucs have always pulled strong numbers through the years.

This season should have been no different, if anything it should have gone up. MLB overall did, up 2% as a whole. Here in Pittsburgh not so much, and I can’t help but feel that dreaded apathy started to set in.

There were nights if I didn’t have to watch I can’t say I would have. In fact Craig and I openly felt bad when the other was assigned a game at times. When diehards start to, well, die, there is a problem.

I have no doubt should the team return to relevancy the fans will return by in large, but the situation is not easy to recover from. Even when you do something good like draft a number one overall player, it’s not met with visions of him closing out a playoff series, it’s met with expectations of when he’ll be moved or even the assumption they’ll somehow choose the wrong guy.

Does any of this matter? I mean if they do pick the right guy and they do indeed build a team around him that brings good baseball back to the Burgh the fans will come back right? Yeah, most will, but trust won’t. That’s the part that the club is dangerously toying with. It’s also the part the club needs to prove is part of the past.

Look, this club is never going to spend. Maybe Cherington and Williams have received assurances they can add at some point, I believe they think they have, but even that isn’t going to ensure they can keep a Gerrit Cole or Rocker type beyond original team control for too long. They need to build a strong system and be able to refill the coffers from within more often than not. We won’t know for some time if any of this is going to work, or if they’ve made the right hires, but step one is not losing the fans on the way there.

The Pirates Arbitration Overload

The Major League Baseball Playoffs are in full swing, but for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a handful of other ball clubs, the off-season has already begun. Setting lineups, in game decisions and the often revolving door to and from the alternate site in Altoona are all distant memories. Now some true tests of the Pirates Front Office, especially as it pertains to the future of the organization, lay ahead. Foremost in my mind are the decisions concerning arbitration eligible players, mostly due to the sheer volume. My brain also tends to shift towards Rule 5 Draft Protection, which I plan to address in an upcoming article. So for now, let’s just focus on the players that General Manager Ben Cherington and crew have to decide to tender or non-tender, along with how much money they should offer to those they want to keep.

Currently the Pirates have a minimum of 20 players that are arbitration eligible, including many, approximately half, being given their first opportunity to earn more than the standard league minimum yearly salary.

Below is one of the more up to date Arbitration Trackers from Spotrac. However, even this detailed listed is not entirely correct and current as JT Riddle recently elected free agency after being sent on an outright assignment to the AAA Indianapolis Indians and by my calculations, as well as other sites, Luke Maile is scheduled to enter his 2nd year of arbitration in 2021. This would still keep the number of players right around 20 and is sufficiently comprehensive enough for the purpose of this column.

https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/arbitration/pittsburgh-pirates/

If you are not a little overwhelmed/excited/anxious just looking at this list, which if tendered would represent half of the 40 Man Roster, I might call you a liar. It sure gives me fits at times and leads me to hypothesize on repeat exactly how Cherington will address each decision, but I have also been looking at it regularly since before the season even ended.

Before we fully dive into some of the possible choices that I might make if given the opportunity to magically switch places with Cherington, let’s break down the arbitration process and how players become eligible, for those who are maybe not as well versed as some. If you have this information down to a science, you can probably skip or skim the next few paragraphs.

Major League Baseball defines an arbitration eligible player as one who has three or more years of Major League service time, but less than six years and is not already under contract for the next season. Of course there is an exception, often referred to as “Super Two” Players. “Super Two” is a special designation that allows a certain group of players to become eligible for arbitration before reaching three years of service time. In order to qualify a player must rank in the top 22 percent, in terms of service time, among those who have accumulated between two and three years in the Majors. Usually, this applies to players who have two years and at least 130 days of service time, although the specific cutoff date varies from year to year.

As far as how the arbitration process will progress for the 2020-2021 off-season, clubs have until December 2nd to tender a contract offer to eligible players for the upcoming year. I should note that the team has the ability to cut a player’s salary offer by up to 20% based off the previous year’s contract. Any player that is “non-tendered” automatically and immediately become a free agent. Once a tendered contract is made, the player and his respective ball club have until January 8th to come to agreement on a salary. If an agreement is not reached, this when things can get ugly as Chris and I discussed in the most recent episode of Bucs In The Basement, as the the contract in question officially goes to arbitration.

In an arbitration hearing both sides have a chance to present evidence as to why their salary is more accurate, with clubs bringing up each and every area where a player struggles in order to make their case. In the end the panel of arbitrators chooses either the salary figure of either the player or the club. For example last year JT Realmuto took the Phillies to arbitration, asking for $12.4 million. The Phillies on the other hand had offered $10. Eventually Realmuto would lose and have to accept Philadelphia’s proposed salary, which he was none too happy about.

Now back to the decisions that Ben Cherington will have to make as they move through the off-season, with a little insight as to how I would proceed if given the power to do so.

As I look over the list there are a minimum three “non-tender“ candidates that jump of the page, a couple of others that I would truly consider just letting walk, others that I would tender to trade or at least attempt to trade and a few that I see as possible pieces of the future; if even for the next couple of years.

Non-tender Candidates

Yacksel Rios

No offense to Yacksel, but this is a pretty simple decision. The young right handed reliever has made 13 appearances for the Pirates over the last two seasons; posting a 6.28 ERA and 1.395 WHIP, while striking out 13 and walking 7 over 14.1 innings. Unfortunately for Rios his season ended early as he was placed on the IL in mid-August with right shoulder inflammation.

Jose Osuna

Osuna has gotten a few looks over the past few years; impressing in the pinch hitter role and utility infielder/outfielder at times over the past few seasons. This past season lead the league in pinch hit home runs for the season with 5. He also posted a .325 Batting Average, a 1.232 OPS and 10 total extra base hits in this role. In 2020 he bounced back and forth between PNC and Altoona; ultimately slashing .205/.244/.397 with 4 homers in 78 at bats.

Kyle Crick

As it pertains to Crick this decision is based mostly on his drop in velocity during the 2020 season. In 2018 his fastball velocity averaged 95.8, in 2019 it was 95.3 and this year it fell to 91.8. Throughout the season Crick battled injuries, only making 7 appearances. It is possible that this is an easy explanation for the change in velocity, however, I am not sure it is worth the risk to find out.

Michael Feliz

Feliz is another reliever that caught the injury bug this season as he made on 3 appearances and lasted only 1.2 total innings. His ERA was a outrageously inflated 32.40, with a 3.60 WHIP to go along with it. In 2019 Feliz had shown some promise by striking out 73 batters in 56.1 innings of work.

On The Fence

Trevor Williams

Williams was able to receive his full compliment of starts during the truncated season, but could never really get things going. In 11 starts, across 55.1 innings, Williams allowed a MLB leading 15 homers, posted a 6.18 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP and struck out only 49 batters. This would be a tough decision for GMBC to make, but it could be a very necessary move to open up a spot in the rotation to one of the younger starters; such as JT Brubaker or Cody Ponce.

Nick Burdi

This is a tough one for me because the kid is just so easy to root for. After a gruesome injury in 2019 and eventual season ending TOS surgery, Burdi returned to the mound with a vengeance in 2020; pumping out 100 mph fastballs, only to have his year come to an end after 3 appearances as he once again hit the IL with right elbow/bicep pain.

John Ryan Murphy

Murphy’s place on the Opening Day Roster wasn’t solidified until Luke Maile broke his finger just prior to the beginning of the season. As defense first journeyman catcher, JRM’s work at the plate lead to a dismal .172 AVG, with a .433 OPS in 58 at bats. Behind the dish he was a serviceable back up to Jason Stallings. Across 23 games and 159.1 innings he earned a 1 DRS and a .8 FRM.

Tender To Trade

Adam Frazier

During the past off-season, Frazier, was seen as a potential trade target for multiple teams, however, nothing ever came to fruition. Once again at the most recent trade deadline, Frazier’s name kept surfacing. In the equivalent of 4 MLB seasons with the Pirates, Frazier has shown himself to be around a league average hitter (.275 AVG and 100 wRC+), with defensive upside (6 DRS IF/OF, 6 OAA 2B 2020 and 11 OAA 2019).

Chris Stratton

Stratton was a pleasant surprise out of the Pirates bullpen during the shortened season. In 27 games and 30 innings of work he posted a 3.90 ERA and a 1.300 WHIP, while striking striking out 39. These numbers should earn a Stratton another look in 2021, but I wouldn’t turn any team away if they came looking.

Erik Gonzalez

Gonzalez came out swinging to begin 2020. During a 7 game stretch in the beginning of August Gonzalez saw his average shoot up from .125 to .349 and his OPS reach as high as .907. However, as we all are aware, this streak did not continue and over the last 30 games and 111 at bats Gonzalez has slashed .225/.270/.351; leaving his yearly numbers sitting right around those for his career at a .252 average and a .679 OPS.

Colin Moran

Through the first seven games of the season he was slashing .333/.385/.875 with 4 home runs in 24 at bats. Then reality sank in as he proceeded to hit .228 over his next 127 at bats. Some of the power stuck around as he hit another 6 homers and 20 total extra base hits, but he saw his once astronomical numbers slip to .247/.325/.472 at the end of the year. During the year, Moran also found himself playing 1st Base on a regular basis; posting a -1 OAA at the position.

Joe Musgrove

Unfortunately Big Joe was unable to pitch a full season, making only 8 total starts on the year. In a limited 39.2 innings of work Musgrove was able to strike out 55 batters, while earning a 3.86 ERA and a 1.235 WHIP; ending the year with two strong outings. It is well known that Musgrove was nearly traded to Toronto just prior to the deadline and that there were other inretested parties.

Josh Bell

Bell is one of the more interesting arbitration eligible player for the Pirates as he earned $4.8 million in his first arb year; coming of a season where he hit .277 with 37 home runs, thanks mostly to a near historic stretch in April and May. Now he comes into his second arb year having hit .226 with 8 homers in 195 at bats. At the end of the season he was relegated almost strictly to the designated hitter role, which surely causes his future expectations to take a slight hit.

Nik Turley

On the surface his 4.98 ERA looks less than optimal. However, his 3.88 FIP and 1.11 WHIP show promise. After not having played a Major League game since 2017, Turley was sure to be a little rusty. I would like to see him get another shot in 2021 and possibly build up some trade capital along the way.

Richard Rodriguez

RichRod cemented himself as the closer of at least the near future by posting a 2.70 ERA and .857 WHIP, while striking out 34 in 23.1 innings. This situation is pretty clear cut; hope he pitches well and trade him at the deadline.

Potential Pieces

Jameson Taillon

Taillon is going through his second arbitration after having not thrown a big league pitch since May 1, 2019. The former first round pick (2nd Overall) is coming off his 2nd Tommy John surgery, so this is more of a see what they have and/or hope he can make another comeback type of move; plus after all he has been through and how hard he worked in his rehab, he has truly earned it.

Jacob Stallings

As the Team MVP, Stallings slashed .248/.326/.376 with 3 homers. However, it was really his work behind the plate that made him stand out. He finished the season with 7 DRS and a 2.3 FRM, good for 5th place in overall defensive fWAR at 6.3. For those who doubt Stallings overall value, I get it. He is never going to be the perennial slugger many want behind the dish; that’s just not the type of player he is.

Chad Kuhl

In the beginning Kuhl was slowly brought into the fold slowly as a part of a “piggyback”, after having not pitched since June of 2018 and undergoing Tommy John Surgery in September of the same year. After struggling off and on through his first nine appearances he ended the season on a high as he struck out 11 and allowed only one earned run over his last 12 innings of work.

Steven Brault

Surprisingly, Brault has probably been the Pirates most consistent starter over the past two seasons; really hitting his stride in the second half of the 2020 season. In this role he posted a 2.53 ERA and 1.055 WHIP in 10 starts; including the two hit, one run complete game against the Cardinals in his next to last outing of the year.

Now, I am almost positive that Cherington will not stick to my plan of attack when it comes to addressing arbitration with each and every player. However, I definitely look forward to seeing how he proceeds with some of the more crucial and potentially telling decisions in order to have a better idea of what his vision is for the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rewrite The Script

As I sat down to watch the MLB Playoffs over the past week or so as a fan of game, not just the Pittsburgh Pirates, I was inundated with catchphrases, rallying cries, alternative nicknames and hashtags for the teams that were left chasing a very unique World Series Championship. #ChangeTheGame for the White Sox, #FlipTheScript and Slam Diego for Padres and #BottomFeeders for the Marlins; along with many others. This reminded of a time, which seems like years ago, when I was getting ready for Pirates Fest and #RewriteTheScript was plastered across my Twitter feed. The Pittsburgh Pirates, now under a new regime of both Baseball and Business Operations, would be unveiling new uniforms in somewhat of an homage to the team’s of early 1990’s.

Pirates Fans, young and old alike, couldn’t contain their excitement; immediately rushing online and into the team store to get their new jersey, adorned with the name of their favorite Pirates player or a blank one for the overly cautious, yet realistically educated Pittsburgh Fan.

Flash forward ahead a little over nine months; having endured an abysmal 19-41 shortened season and heading into General Manager Ben Cherington’s first full off-season at the helm of what many have described as a sinking ship, with almost every move he makes being labeled as reshuffling chairs on the Titanic, I can’t help but think that many have forgotten the original message. All that’s left is newly minted Pirates uniform in the closet and the familiar empty feeling of October baseball without the Buccos. But, does it have to and will it always be this way?

Before you start to think that I am going carry water for the Pirates new front office, you can stop right there. I am acutely aware that we as Pirates Fans have been sold a similar bill of goods for more years than I care to count, I know that Bob Nutting is still the owner and I realize that Ben Cherington has been cultivated from an institutional philosophy and structure akin to Neil Huntington’s. However, it’s not like any of us can accurately see into the future and know exactly what is going to happen with the Pirates organization. Also, none of us could be so foolish as to think, things were going to change in one season because it surely took more than one for the Pirates to get where they are.

In my honest opinion, I believe that it may take longer than many are predicting for the Pirates to get back on track and for that potential future window of being competitive to open; if they get there at all. That’s right! It is possible the current build will not be successful. Unfortunately, we will be a few years further into the future before this would become apparent and the Pirates will be forced to start all over again or continue to rebuild as I have been told numerous times by the Pittsburgh faithful.

However, what if it does work? Amazingly enough that is also a possibility. Imagine being in the playoffs three, four or five years from now; being able to use our own hashtag. One that was ultimately created in January of 2020 and just as quickly forgotten.

The journey toward each of these alternate futures begins now; with upcoming decisions concerning arbitration, whether or not to pick up Chris Archer’s option, possible trades to be made, players to be acquired and positions within the organization being filled and/or changed.

Now I know that many Pirates Fans already have flags planted firmly on either side of the isle; from the “Spend Nutting, Win Nutting”and “Ington” groups to eternal optimists and future prospects/farm system believers, all of which are going to be disappointed or down right miserable at different times during this process. However, that’s exactly what this is going to be, a process; with every Pirates Fan being hopeful, some more vocal than others, that one day we will get to type #RewriteTheScript as we cheer on our Pittsburgh Pirates in Buctober.

Where Could Josh Bell Land if the Pirates Want to Deal Him?

Before we get into this too deep, there is a belief that Josh Bell is a better DH option than First Baseman, the evidence is pretty clear if you watch him play everyday but most GMs won’t have that intimacy. They’ll know he has made errors and nobody will confuse him with Anthony Rizzo over there, but if a GM believes in the bat, that’s what will matter most.

I say this because it’s so easy to lock out the National League should they shun the DH as a place for Josh to land, but plenty of clubs might be open to an affordable potential offensive upgrade at the position while knowingly sacrificing the defensive side of the game.

Now, if you want to argue he isn’t an offensive upgrade, I’ll hear that, cause he certainly hasn’t shown the consistency you’d expect from a ‘star’. If you’re trying to move him, you have to hope, and help convince, that the potential is well worth the risk, and at the same time explain why you couldn’t unlock it. Cherington could get around that question pretty easily by simply saying he won’t be here when the club is competitive. True or not he can simply talk to what he inherited versus what his vision is. Most people will see through it but they’ll also know the Pirates aren’t likely to pay what he would command so it would remain plausible.

Another thing we have to look at is who else is available, or could be available. The position competition is just as important as the player himself. Keep in mind, shedding salary is going to be a common theme this year, even for some of the big guys.

The free agent market figures to be soft for first basemen, I fully expect the Indians to pick up the option on Carlos Santana and the Cubs to do the same for Anthony Rizzo, that leaves the next tier. Mitch Moreland has a club option but San Diego I believe will let him walk. Jake Lamb figures to be on the market and Ryan Zimmerman might just retire should the Nationals not offer him a year.

Potential trade pieces are obviously subjective. I look at who is approaching the final year of their deal and balance that with who is likely to be moved. I have to believe Atlanta will find a way to keep Freeman for instance, but the young Giants might want to shop veteran Brandon Belt. Colorado could want to see what they can get for Daniel Murphy and his position flexibility could help. Travis Shaw could be an option for Toronto (especially if they find a replacement).

OK, so that’s the competition. Mitch Moreland, Jake Lamb, Brandon Belt, Daniel Murphy and Travis Shaw. I think that’s a reasonable list at this point and of course we must leave room for teams to move guys with more control, obviously since we’re discussing the Pirates doing exactly that.

So what type of team would want Josh Bell? Are we talking about a competitor, a rebuilding team, someone who wants a placeholder? This is so tough, a competitor likely isn’t looking for a project, and rest assured, that’s what Josh Bell is. A rebuilding team could look at Josh as young enough to be part of it and be attracted to the two years of control, but they might be concerned they can afford to retain him should he take off. The league is littered with journeymen who have been little more than placeholders, Matt Joyce, Jed Gyorko, Travis Shaw, are all good examples. Does Josh fit into that category? Well, maybe.

The point here is in order to try to find a home for Mr. Bell, we must first understand what we’re selling, and who the customer base is. It’s easy to say for instance the Yankees in exchange for their version of Josh, Clint Frazier. But why would the Yankees want to make that move? They’re in the business of winning right now, will they believe Bell get’s that done? In that lineup he’s a 7 or 8 hitter and I’d have to imagine they would pay as such.

Now let’s talk to who I see out there as potential landing spots.

The Philadelphia Phillies

Yes, I know, they have Rhys Hoskins, but the Phillies fall into that bridge player category. Rhys missed part of 2020 and underwent Tommy John surgery, not commonly talked about for a non-pitcher but he could very well miss a large chunk of the 2021 campaign. Josh Bell could slot right in and stem the tide. A team that sprung for Bryce Harper is mentally always going to be in win now mode and losing Hoskins and potentially J.T. Realmuto in the same off season won’t sit well with a team struggling to keep up with the talent rich Braves. They have some nice prospects and if they manage to retain Realmuto the Bucs could ask about Rafael Marchan a switch hitting catcher who has already made his MLB debut but is listed by MLB as their number 7 prospect. In the lower levels they have some nice pitching options they might be willing to part with.

The Washington Nationals

The Nationals still have the pitching to make them feel part of the contention conversation, but the bats need help. Zimmerman has done well to play wherever they’ve put him but nobody is providing any kind of protection for Juan Soto in that lineup. Erik Thames factors in as well but he could play outfield as well and make a spot for the acquisition. Their system is pitching heavy at the top as all of their top ten consist of hurlers, most of which are pretty far away. This could fit in well with what Cherington has shown us is attractive to him.

The San Francisco Giants

The Giants don’t build quite like anyone else. They don’t have fire sales, they aren’t afraid to spend and while they have a bad stretch here and there they never reach the depths of awful most of the league does as they change their identity. The Giants still have Brandon Belt and as I mentioned earlier could be willing to shop him, but power plays in San Fran and McCovey Cove has Josh Bell’s name all over it. I’d consider this a stretch but they have prospects the Pirates should be very interested in. Joey Bart isn’t going anywhere as Posey is aging but Patrick Bailey their number 6 prospect is a switch hitting catcher who profiles to make MLB by 2023, right in the window the Pirates should be hoping for. This one would take some creativity but the Giants as I said aren’t scared to spend, and Boras wouldn’t scare them away.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays have a window and it all lines up with Vlad Jr. First base was patrolled by Travis Shaw and while he is certainly serviceable he can’t provide what a good Josh Bell can. The competitive landscape in the AL East is arguably the toughest in baseball, but if the Jays are to compete with the Rays and Yankees they’ll need to find magic in a bottle somewhere. The young core is exciting but they’re missing something, is Josh Bell what they’re missing, who knows, all we have to do is hope they think so. The Jays have two catchers in their top 10 prospects and a pitcher I’ve had my eye on Alex Manoah. The familiarity between Cherington and the Jays make this possible and perhaps could even open up to package deals. Something like Bell and Musgrove for Manoah and Alejandro Kirk. The Bucs could even get more than that in return, in fact they better, but those would be my centerpieces.

The Texas Rangers

The Rangers had almost just as horrible a season as the Pirates did, so it seems odd that they’d want to bring in a player like Bell, but they have a gaping hole at first base and they’ll spend money happily. They’re definitely rebuilding so prospect capital means more to them than others but if this helps them solve a problem at the same time I could see it. Bell is a Texas boy and that might just mean something to both him and the Rangers. Texas would be foolish to part with Sam Huff so get that out of your head but they have a diverse mix of position and mound talent in their top prospect list. As is the case with many teams at their stage of rebuild, 5 of their top 10 prospects are currently in MLB so in many ways the Pirates might have to settle for talent a bit lower on the list.

That’s my list of top contenders for the services of Josh Bell. I know many have suggested the A’s but I just don’t see it, I think that move just isn’t in their DNA. The Angels are a team I pondered because Albert Pujols will be in his last year of his ten year deal, but they already have Ohtani as a DH option. They can probably hold off and see what other options crop up in the next off season. The Mariners don’t need a 1B, the Astros just re upped Gurriel for a season, the Red Sox clearly want to build their team internally. Tampa rarely makes moves like this and I’m not sure he fits their philosophy anyhow. Baltimore is building and that’s not a fit. Yup, I’m going to leave it at those five.

Given all my self imposed criteria, these are the most likely to me, but through this exercise I’ll tell you what I learned, don’t be too shocked if we see Josh Bell in a Pirates uniform come 2021 in Bradenton.

Four Playoff Teams Doesn’t Describe the Pirates Division

We watched them all season, probably with even more attention than usual because there were no West Coast trips or requisite swings to the North-East. The NL Central wasn’t an impressive place, but they still managed four playoff spots, today let’s look at how the division is trending and try to get our arms around the environment the Pirates will be playing in next season.

We must start at the beginning, the very mediocrity of the division contributed directly to the playoff spots. Nobody was good enough to juggernaut the division. Even the Pirates gave the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals issues this season. For comparison, the West was dominated by the Padres and Dodgers. The East enjoyed the Braves who themselves are a flawed team. The Cubs led the division from stem to stern and finished 8 games over .500 but if you watched them, even against the pitching deficient Pirates, the bats slept all season long.

So where are they headed? Let’s take each team in the division and discuss the decisions they have to make, keeping in mind someone pegged to be a free agent isn’t the automatic farewell it tends to be for the Pirates.

Chicago Cubs

The starting pitchers carried the Cubs to the Division championship in 2020, highlighted by the best version of Hu Darvish we’ve seen since he was tossing darts for the Rangers. The top of the rotation is locked up and set to return in 2021, with Darvish, Hendricks and Lester. Lester still has it, he’s changed over time, no longer is he going to blow anyone away but he’ll bulldog through a lineup and get more outs than a whole lot of guys with better stuff. Jose Quintana is out and so is Tyler Chatwood most likely. It stands to reason the Cubs will be on the market. It’s a fairly weak SP market in 2021, in fact you might call it Bauer and everyone else. They will pick up someone and hope Hu has back to back strong seasons, which hasn’t happened often for him in his career. The bullpen is an issue for the Cubbies too and they’ve suffered greatly from Craig Kimbrel turning from a lights out closer to a guy with a gimmicky pitching stance who can’t get outs.

On the offense side of the coin they have decisions to make, as 2021 is the end of the road for a bunch of their players. Some they’ll sign and others they’d be wise to deal. It’s a formidable list featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber. I can’t see Bryant staying, partially because he very publicly felt mistreated with service time manipulation and partly because he has had a heck of a time staying on the field.

The need to keep some of these guys, and pay through the nose, might hinder the Cubs being able to get in on the top starters in free agency, and truth be told, it might be time to embrace at least a partial rebuild. 2021 is a fork in the road for Chicago, they can hold on and go for it one more year or pull the rip cord and try to get to the next window faster. Interesting to see how they go.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards probably aren’t going to change much, and that is most likely not happy news for the rabid fan base. The biggest decision they have to make, and it’s not theirs alone is whether Yadier Molina returns or not. From the Cardinals perspective, he’s not just the face of the franchise he’s the heart and soul. He’ll be 39 years old and since his backup Matt Wieters is also up for free agency they really need to lock up two. The Cards always have pitching and while they could be ready to say goodbye to Adam Wainwright at any time, they also survived the loss of Miles Mikolas to forearm surgery and Carlos Martinez. Discoveries like Mikolas and this season Kwang-hyun Kim add to the near constant flow of youngsters who step into the spotlight like Jack Flaherty.

If the NL does away with the DH the Cards will be forced to find a place for Matt Carpenter again in the field. Not that he’s a bad fielder but he’s not elite either but he likely slots in at second base should they decide to let Kolten Wong walk after 2021 or move him before he reaches free agency.

Moral of the story, the Cardinals have a capable team but it won’t run and hide with anything in 2021 either. I can’t see them going into next season without at least trying to add another option to provide DeJong and Goldschmidt some help. Marcel Ozuna who the Cards were upset to lose in the first place might be in play.

Milwaukee Brewers

The biggest loss on the horizon for the pitching challenged Brewers is quite possibly Brett Anderson. Far and away their best starter, Anderson should command a pretty penny on the market, and the Brewers have few options internally. Perhaps that’s why they actively shopped Josh Hader before the deadline in 2020 even though he isn’t due to reach free agency until 2024. The Brew Crew have eaten their system alive to open the window they’re just coming out of and while every Pirates fan would love to see their club spend the way the Brewers have, it comes with a price.

That price is being stuck with a player like Ryan Braun who if the NL casts aside the DH will become little more than a $10,000 chandelier in a mobile home. Christian Yelich is the centerpiece now, just like Braun was supposed to be back when he signed his extension, but at some point they’ll need to pitch. That’s going to take moves and they have precious little capital to use toward that effort.

I’m not saying the cupboard is bare, this team can hit but the starting rotation without Anderson, should they swing and miss, will become Freddy Peralta and everyone else. Look for Hader to be one of the hottest names on the trade market, he can net a nice return and they need it badly.

Cincinnati Reds

Ahh, the paper champions of 2020. Nobody made a bigger splash acquiring talent last off season and given an entire season it’s hard to fathom the hitting wouldn’t eventually catch up to the pitching. We’ll never know for sure because the season was what it was, but they sure looked like they had more answers than questions heading into it.

The Reds biggest potential loss far and away is Trevor Bauer. He’ll be arguably the top available free agent in the league so seeing Cincinnati come up with the funds to lock him down doesn’t strike me as likely. That said, most of the team is under control for quite some time, at least through 2024, if there ever was a time to go for it, we’re there.

Even without Bauer it’s hard to find many holes, but they’ll need to get rebound efforts from players they’ve committed to like Suarez, Moustakas and Castellanos. If Joey Votto and Jesse Winker are their best hitters again in 2021 this team will underwhelm again. It would be almost criminal to have this many pieces on offense and let it fail because they couldn’t lock down a rotation. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are certainly not peanuts but without Bauer they’ll have to hit their way into contention more often than not.

Look for Cincy to put a solid offer together for Bauer or go after one of the other tier one starters, of which there are few.

Keep an eye on the Pirates division mates this off season, because no matter how you look at it, the power is shifting in the NL Central. Should be a fun off season to watch.

MLB Rules for 2021 are Still Undecided, What Could That Mean for the Pirates?

So many things have been changed by the events of 2020, it’s hard to keep up. Not just in baseball of course, many of us in the real world have no clue when or if we’ll ever see the people we were tired of sitting next to at work as of February.

One thing we have to go on is the league doesn’t plan on starting late, the Pirates are scheduled to start Spring Training games on February 27th in Bradenton. That means you can expect Pitchers and Catchers to report somewhere around the 13th. That’s a little over 4 and a half months from now.

I’m sure some of you are doctors, or have some kind of special insight because of what you do for a living but even given that, none of us can truly know that everything will go off without a hitch. So, it’s fair to say MLB needn’t be in a huge rush to finalize the rules for 2021, at least not before the World Series is over.

But not all rules are created equal, some of them will affect roster construction. I mean we’re talking about a rule as simple as do we or do we not have a universal DH.

The argument over making the DH universal typically comes from potentially losing a form of baseball literally only played in the National League. I’ll be honest, I was one of the people who wanted nothing to do with the DH coming to my town. Watching this season, I still from a purely strategic point of view prefer the non-DH game, I like using the bench, making calls about pinch hitting for a pitcher in the 5th, rally’s starting at the ‘wrong’ time like the 7 hitter with a lead off single.

That said I watched this season, still am for that matter, and aside from the strategy aspect, I guess I wound up not being too bothered by it. Point is I could give or take it, but if I’m a team executive (if you saw my car you’d know I’m not), I kinda want to know, and like, soon.

If there is a DH, the Pirates have options on the table that really don’t work well if the NL bucks the rule for next season. None bigger than keeping both Josh Bell and Colin Moran. We can argue they should trade one or both of these guys and I certainly think they should explore that, but exploring and being virtually forced to are two very different things.

Both of these guys play first base, ok both of them stand on that side of the diamond. Moran plays the spot slightly better, probably not enough to make a call on alone. Moran has been more consistent with the bat but his upside isn’t nearly as high as Josh Bell. It’s as close to an either or as you can get for actual baseball. The control is similar, the play is similar, the numbers are fairly similar. Should the Pirates not find a taker for either that returns whatever the GM has decided fair, it sure would be nice to have that DH spot to land on. Even if it accomplishes nothing more than giving the option of playing a half season to have either play up their value.

If there is not DH, and you can’t get a deal done that you like, do the Pirates need to just suck it up and take less than value? Should they have Moran play another position? I say Moran because I think he probably has more capability than Bell, but not by much. Third base is out most days, I mean there’s this Hayes kid I keep hearing people talk about.

We’ve seen Moran play second base for spot starts but, c’mon, that can’t be a real option if you claim to want to take defense seriously. Regardless of what you think of Polanco’s defense it’s hard to see him being a fit there in right field, just not enough speed.

Yeah, I just can’t really see either of those guys playing anywhere but DH or 1st Base. It’s a real problem and it sure would be great if the Pirates had the benefit of time to figure it out.

It doesn’t just effect these two guys, they could move one of them and work around it but remember when I mentioned the strategy part? The bench is, I won’t go so far as to say more important in the National League, but I’ll at least go so far as to say it requires more specific roles.

Position flexibility is key, and defensive upgrades have a real place as double switches. For instance, having a proven good pinch hitter like Jose Osuna is so much less important if you take away most of his opportunities.

From a roster construction standpoint, this is the biggest rule change up in the air with the possible exception of roster size although I think 26 is extremely likely. That’s what we’re left with, likely, unlikely, probably. Even Rob Manfred himself has essentially ranked them by possibility of sticking.

He put his own concern that universal DH would be eliminating a style of baseball and he wasn’t anxious to do so. The most likely to stick seems to be the extra inning ghost runner which kind of blew my mind. Looks like 7 inning games is going away which is bad news for complete game stats the league over.

We’ll see what happens, I get to say that because I’m not waiting on information in order to make some rather large decisions. I’m sure the GM’s are communicating fears just like this to their owners, but I’m sure they’ve been asking them to step up and try to get them equal economic footing too so who’s to say.