The Pirates Will Just Trade These Guys Anyway!

Well, yeah, they just might.

Now, some of you might be screaming “That’s what I’ve been saying!” and yeah, many of you have been, but you see that as a negative, and I’m going to try to explain why this or a hybrid approach makes sense.

It’s too simple to say look at Tampa, but let’s start by looking at Tampa. They have a very small fan base and their method almost requires that. Here’s what I mean by that, see they trade Blake Snell to the Padres for a haul of prospects (arguably not much more than the Pirates got for Musgrove BTW) and there is more outrage from the national baseball writers than their own fan base.

Transplant that to the Pirates, they move a player like Josh Bell, nowhere near the level of Snell or even Cutch for that matter and there is uproar in the streets. Now, maybe that’s because Bell was the first domino to fall this off season and not everyone had braced themselves because I have to admit, I was damn near proud of the overwhelmingly positive way most received the Musgrove trade.

Maybe that’s because quantity is more powerful a factor than potential. Maybe it’s because this deal had both. Maybe it’s because we were more honest about what Joe was than what Josh was. Most likely it’s because many of you have finally embraced that this isn’t just a facelift, it’s a full on remodel.

The Never Ending Cycle

Well, not to again opine on Tampa, but yeah, it kinda is, or at least it can be. That doesn’t mean you never sign anyone or extend guys where appropriate, but if this system is done correctly you almost always have guys pushing their way into the lineup or knocking on the door of MLB. Genuine competition we don’t see here in Pittsburgh. For instance, from the time Pedro Alvarez was drafted he was going to be our starting Third Baseman, there was nobody he’d have to fight past, nobody at any level to compete with. He was the guy and while he didn’t turn into the monster he could have he certainly was successful enough to be a good pick. But nothing ever came behind him. It was Pedro or bust until they signed David Friese to cure his yips.

Who is competing with Travis Swaggerty for his playing time? How about Cruz? Mason Martin? Well, those types of questions are just starting to get answers because that’s exactly what they’re bringing in.

We often look at the depth chart in the minors and start looking at the potential lineup in 2024 or worry about having 3 guys who could be the short stop of the future. This is not a problem. This is the goal.

You shouldn’t be able to look at your system and pick out 5 pitchers and pencil them in for 3 years from now, instead you should have a crop of 10-15 who could all very well end up contributing. If someday you’re looking at the minors and a player like Quinn Priester is seen as someone who might break in as a bullpen arm to start his career that’s a win.

Now if the Pirates do in fact draft Kumar Rocker, in all likelihood he will not resign with Pittsburgh. He’ll come up and be a big part of the team and if everything goes right he’ll even be part of a winner, but under this system, yes they’ll move him and again, if done well for another haul that dwarfs what they just got for Joe. By then, the hope is you have more of those pitchers who were ready, step up and the cycle keeps going.

That’s not fun to think about as a fan. It hurts in fact, but I’m never going to be a guy who’s going to tell you what you want to hear on this.

Again, it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t extend some guys. For instance they may feel really strongly that Bryan Reynolds is a guy they need to build around and it may be more about the lack of depth in the outfield than his star power. At some point though, he too will most likely be moved.

Sure you could go the Reds or Brewers route too, get yourself a star and lock them up for years to come like Votto or Yelich, I won’t knock going that way either but for the most part, it doesn’t lead to sustained competitiveness either. Probably sells more tickets. Probably makes the talk show hosts happier. Hell, it probably makes some of the fans happier, but it doesn’t get the job done any more efficiently.

Nutting is Padding His Wallet

Sure.

But right now, knowing what the plan is, and clearly so, look at the moves, who cares? I loathe the guy but the payroll means absolutely nothing right now.

I’d love to see him looking like the monopoly man after paying the 200 buck penalty on the chance card but what I’m rooting for most is that the owner is just about rendered inconsequential by the GM’s moves.

His money will matter at some point though, rest assured when this team does get the window open, they’ll either need to fill a hole that never got filled in the first place or injury caused and it’s then that he’ll need to step up. That’s the part nobody has faith in, I think most of you are smart enough to get the concept, and I also think most of you have seen this same scenario happen and he failed to do so.

So what’s different? Well, the system. See when you make the entirely logical decision to move an aging Andrew McCutchen, you’d like to think you have some prospects waiting in the wings, and if you do you don’t turn around and flip them for an aging pitcher along with a couple other top prospects.

You don’t trade Gerrit Cole for a bunch of “MLB ready” talent. The moves are about the ceiling of the prospects, not their basements.

It’s not fair to expect anyone to accept this as the right path and at the end of the day there is no PR effort that will work short of winning.

I mean, I respect the hell out of Bob Pompeani but…

That’s really what this all boils down to. Hold your breath for Bob Nutting to ignore his nature and MLBs economic structure or face the reality that Tampa has provided a map and they don’t have a patent.

We’ve been rebuilding forever it seems, maybe it’s time we do it right.

You don’t have to like it, hey I don’t even like watching Joe or Josh go and I’m painfully aware the team right this second got worse, but I’m 44 and don’t have a single memory of my team in the Series, this is where I slide my chips in.

Big Joe Musgrove Goes Home for a Haul of Prospects

By now you all heard the news, Joe Musgrove has been traded to the San Diego Padres in a three team deal that brought 5 prospects back to the Pirates. I’m not going to sugar coat it, this doesn’t help the 2021 Pirates in any way, in fact it’s a big blow. That said, I’ll equally state strongly, this was not a decent return, this was an excellent return.

Before we get into breaking down who’s coming let’s take a moment to talk about what the Pirates gave up. Joe Musgrove was an inconsistent starting pitcher who had a five pitch mix and struggled to have 4 in one game most of the time. When he did though, look out, because he was tough to hit.

Toward the end of 2020 after returning from injury we really got to see the best of Joe and importantly so did the league. To be very clear, I saw Joe as someone the team could have potentially extended to act as the veteran leader of the staff if not the team through the next window, but it’s hard to deny this move made that window a whole lot more of an expectation than a hope.

He was always going to be the Pirates biggest chip this Winter, yes bigger than Josh Bell, pitching almost always is unless the power is so consistent you can’t ignore it.

So, a hearty thank you to Joe Musgrove, I loved his attitude, his moxie and mostly I just loved watching him compete, because no matter the results he never cheated you for effort. Good luck as a Padre!

Now onto the trade.

Pirates Got a Legit Haul for Joe

I mean, where do I begin?

Perhaps this breakdown from Dejan Kovacavic is the right place to start.

That’s right, three of the top 20 prospects from the Padres system but wait there’s more.

OK, I’ve let the genuine news men tell you what happened now let me dig in and tell you a little more to bring this to life.

The Bucs Got that Catching Prospect

Let’s start with Endy Rodriguez from the Mets who technically came from the Padres moving Joey Lucchesi as part of this deal. The assumption here is that the Padres were unwilling to part with one of their catchers, at least one the Pirates wanted so a third team was brought in to get what Cherington was looking for.

He’s 20, ok almost 21 and he just spend his first season in MiLB in 2019, obviously didn’t play last year. A switch hitter, he has racked up between his time in the Gulf Coast league and the DSL an .840 OPS and a .389 OBP. Endy was the Mets number 14 prospect and fills the bill for catcher of the future potentially, though I’d be shocked if the Pirates rested in that knowledge.

This part of the deal took some imagination, and while he’s young he’s also exactly the type of prospect the club needed at the catching position.

From the Padres

First and foremost, you have to toss Lucchesi in because he was part of the deal initially and that led to Rodriguez, but I’ll not dwell on him much because he’s the Mets end of this deal now and we’ll let them handle talking him up.

The headliner is undoubtedly Hudson Head. The young lefty is a centerfielder and the Padres third round selection in the 2019 draft and he’s been ranked as high as number 7 in their system.

It’s just a swing but take a look by all means.

This was a good get, and the club certainly needs more talent in the outfield even if he’s nowhere near MLB. The Padres paid a 3 million dollar bonus to secure him after drafting him in the third round, and that had never been done before that which alone means nothing, remember the Pirates did much the same for Josh Bell in the second round too.

The next one is Omar Cruz who I must say, Craig and I both have coveted since we started looking at the Padres as a trade partner. The 6 foot lefty has been ranked as high as 15 in their list of prospects and has an ETA of 2023-24 for making the show. None of his pitches jump off the page but he fills the zone and shows signs of understanding his craft. Also did I mention he was a lefty? Like this shouldn’t be that big of a deal but c’mon all we have are righties.

Next up is the hometown kid David Bednar who is from Mars, PA and he is no prospect, he’s an actual MLB reliever with a 96 MPH fastball. He’s thrown roughly 16 innings in the majors and 14 of them were very good with two outings blowing his ERA out of control. We’ll have to wait to see what the Pirates want to do with him but at 26 it’s likely he sticks with the big club.

Last but not least Drake Fellows

This video is about all I can show you. He was drafted in the 6th round out of Vanderbilt and he has nothing for me to tell you about in the Padres system. Hey, it’s an arm.

So What Do We Think?

I said at the beginning, no smoke, this is a fantastic return. The chances these 5 players in some combination provide more than Joe would have in his two remaining years coupled with the timing of when they’d provide it make this exactly what the Bucs were looking for. Again, it doesn’t help this year, nor should you have expected it to, but it will add to the chances this window opens and when it does they continue to add depth to the system that will prop in in the right position for a while.

When you consider what the Pirates lacked in the system, its fair to call this a surgical transaction as it hits three of the four most dire areas right in the mouth.

I’ll miss watching Joe in Black and Gold but I have nothing bad to say about this deal.

And, I still don’t think they’re done.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 1-18-21

We’ve had just a terrific week of conversation with most of you last week and I’m truly looking forward to another as baseball inches closer to a return and news starts to pick up.

I’d also like to add something to this feature starting this week, I’m going to take one reader question and address it right here. So as you think of things you’d like to ask about, fire them at me on social media (Facebook: @insideThePiratesGary or Twitter: @garymo2007) I should also say, this won’t mean I won’t answer there too, but some of the answers and conversation are worth others seeing too.

OK, let’s have some fun.

1. The Art of the Series

I was watching the Penguins this week as they started their 2021 NHL campaign and because of the COVID forced realignment the teams will all be playing mini series of two games for each stop they make. It made me really think about baseball. The regular season series have always been unique to baseball and it really ups the rivalries and familiarity breeds contempt. More so it’s something that most sports don’t get to experience prior to the playoffs.

It’s part of why so many including me hated the idea of a one game wild card, because nothing could be more foreign to baseball. It destroys the concept of the best team by allowing one lineup or pitcher to dictate the outcome. Have a team that struggles against lefties? Well, you don’t get another game, so tough. Have a strong 1-3 starting pitcher room but no ace? Tough, the other team does.

The only good thing that came from 2020 in my mind was the fact that Wild Cards became mini series and while that will need collectively bargained, I’d love to see it stick. It’s just not baseball without it.

2. Someone Woke Up and Looked Around in the NL Central

They reportedly floated Gleyber Torres plus as part of a return for him from the Yankees and upon being told no have decided they intend to keep Castillo. I think this also means Suarez isn’t going anywhere.

I wondered which of the pseudo rebuild bound teams would wake up first.

Nobody in the NL Central is a real threat to win the World Series this season, but opening a window is more about getting a ticket to the dance than it is insurance that you’ll dance with the prettiest girl.

3. Wilmer Difo is Not a Guarantee of Any Decision Forthcoming

I believe the Pirates when they say they want open competition, and you can’t have it if you don’t have options. Say what you will about the guy, but he has MLB experience, can handle multiple positions and on an MiLB deal they aren’t forced into any choice.

I look at him as insurance they don’t want to under any circumstances force themselves to rush anyone up who isn’t ready. There is a fine line between a logjam and a shortage in baseball and if all he does is provide competition for the Phil Evans’ of the world, I’m cool.

I’d personally like to see Cole Tucker get a shot at Short, because quite frankly he’s running out of time. To me, if he isn’t the starter there on opening day, start him in AAA at whatever position you want to try him at and work on the bat. Getting Newman over to second base makes sense too.

Let’s just say, the mix they have now can’t all be part of the team and someone won’t be here, traded or not.

4. It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Baseball

A little while back the league started leaking that they had some interest in potentially pushing the start date back to May and behind the scenes the players took notice and put the kibosh to it. They have no interest in taking another pro rated pay cut, and would rather deal with the COVID situation than wait for a vaccine or fans to be universally allowed back in.

I’m sure this won’t go entirely smooth, and so is MLB, so already the decision has been just about made that 7 inning doubleheaders and baserunners starting at second will be back. I wish the DH was wrapped into this conversation or they would at least make a decision, because as it stands right now, should they decide there is one the Pirates might very well have to use Will Craig at first and put Moran in the DH role. Maybe they’d have to anyway, I mean they aren’t going to go get one right? It just seems the rules should be hammered out by now.

5. The Starting Rotation Can Survive a Move

As you look at what the Pirates have penciled in for the starting rotation, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, and Mitch Keller it doesn’t look that bad, and the fact is without injury that probably would have been the case last season too. But what about JT Brubaker, who I think really showed he was ready last season? How about Will Crowe or Cody Ponce.

When we first started looking at the rotation for this season the Pirates were in real danger of the possibility of needed to rush Cody Bolton into the mix, but they’ve since brought in enough depth (note I’m not saying long term answers) that they’ll survive a move or two without having to force prospects into the firing line.

This is important for the timing of a potential window and simply for not embarrassing themselves the way we saw in 2020. I feel the need to again say I’m not pretending moving Joe or Jamo wouldn’t be felt but I am saying they have a whole lot more MLB ready arms than in past seasons.

Question of the Week

This week comes from Denny Hennessy in response to my piece about developing prospects and the changes to the analytics department in particular playing a role “I’d like to get excited about this, but the long term disappointment that is the Pittsburgh Pirates always makes me temper my enthusiasm. But back to the article, are you saying analytics can help this team develop young talent?

I answered Denny already but here is a bit of an expanded answer for everyone.

Yes. The very first thing GMBC added when he arrived were 8 new nerds in the front office and all new equipment for measuring the analytics of each mechanic in the batters box and mound. The past regime was loathed to embrace this and it led to mechanical issues rampant through the organization and injury risk especially pitchers. Ask any player and they’ll tell you there is nothing more useful than understanding the numbers, like the exact right arm slot to maximize their spin rate on a breaking ball vs fastball. Batters want to understand how bat speed plays off plate coverage. How launch angle is impacting their ability to cover the top of the zone. These aren’t the same analytics as this guy hits to the right side 60% of the time, these are training tools and for a decade the Pirates have been behind.

We probably undersold these changes because they were anything but sexy at the time, this fan base rightly wanted much bigger changes, but from a foundation standpoint this is playing catchup to all their competition. We also haven’t had the benefit of seeing much of it in practice because the fact is all this stuff has been available at the MLB level for quite some time, problem is for many Pirates prospects they were seeing it for the first time as a Bucco when they got here.

In fact some players left college and took a step back technologically speaking. And that’s from the players, not an assumption.

If you’re tired of Tyler Glasnow types leaving here and talking about how someone at the new place helped them unlock something obvious, go ahead and be excited to watch this bloom.

Thanks everyone and Denny for the great question. Talk to you soon.

-Gary

Spend Nutting, Win Nutting! Am I Right?

For years it has been a rallying cry for some within the Pirates Fanbase; plastered on social media, echoed in response to almost every transaction made by the team and even placed onto t-shirts to wear into PNC Park. The financial shortcomings of Pittsburgh Pirates Owner and Chairman of The Board, Robert “Billionaire Bob” Nutting are known far and wide, mostly recently punctuated in a satirical jab by The Onion concerning the possibility of the team being a front for the mob. Much of this criticism has roots in the Pirates salary ranking, which has often sits in the bottom five across all of Major League Baseball, ever since he became the principal owner of the Pirates back in January of 2007; although he and his family had taken a more active role with the team beginning in 2002 and acquired controlling interest some time in 2005. It is also built on the implications that many of Pittsburgh’s player transactions are made in order to pad his wallet and build up Seven Springs because the Pirates are just giving players away, won’t ever sign anyone with talent to an extension or refuse to bring in a free agent that is worth anything. Each of these beliefs, not the ones that deal with his pocketbook or a ski resort, are based on some extremely real examples that took place during Nutting’s tenure. None of this can be disputed. It is a fact that at times Nutting has been a very cheap owner or at the very least didn’t do enough when he possibly could have. However, this doesn’t mean he has never spent or is going to be unwilling to do so in the future; and the manner in which General Manager Ben Cherington has gotten him to open up, even in the slightest thus far, gives me hope.

Following his arrival in November of 2019 it became well known that Cherington was almost certain to move the Pirates most valuable trade chip at the time, Starling Marte; which ultimately came to be on January 27, 2020. Marte, who’s $11.5 million option had been picked up earlier in the off-season, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for high upside prospects Brennan Malone and Liover Pegeuro. Tied into the deal, aside from the Pirates agreement to retain $1.5 million of Marte’s 2020 salary, was $250K of international bonus pool space for Pittsburgh. Now I know that as soon dollar signs are mentioned, many believe this is actual currency, being exchanged, whereas it is truthfully only the ability to spend this money; and very quickly this is exactly what Cherington, but more accurately Nutting, did.

After having spent near the majority of their international bonus pool for the 2019-20 signing period, listed at $6,481,200, the additional space was invested in bringing 16 year-old Australian outfielder, Solomon Maguire, into the organization to the tune of a $594K signing bonus. With the bulk, and possibly all of their funds depleted it seemed as if this could be the last international player for the Pirates before the originally scheduled closing date of June 15, 2020. However, after it was extended to October 15th, Cherington looked to take full advantage of the situation, as long as he had permission from Nutting.

Prior to the in-season trade deadline Cherington was able to find a suitor for an unlikely trade chip in the form of Jarrod Dyson. His asking price for the speedy, defensive minded, aging outfielder was the ability to spend more international bonus pool space; $243,000 to be exact. Approximately a month later he sent Minor Leaguers, left-handed pitcher Domingo Robles to St. Louis and right-hander Conner Loeprich to Baltimore, for more space. His end goal was $1.25 million, which he put to use in signing 19-year-old Taiwanese right-hander Po-Yu Chen, who according to Fangraphs was the 22nd ranked international prospect in his class and was the last member of their top 40 yet to be signed.

In all it was estimated that the Pirates spent over $8 million total, on 49 players, with the final $1.5 million plus being acquired from teams that chose not to spend to their limit. Now I know that this may fall on deaf ears because this amount of money is just a small drop in the bucket of what many would like the Pirates, and Nutting more specifically, to spend, but to me it’s a start. He didn’t have to invest any of this money and Cherington got him to. That’s a win in my books; no matter how insignificant it may seem. And to build upon my small sliver of hope, just a few days ago, Cherington, got Nutting to pony up again in a major way as they gave Shalin Polanco the second largest signing bonus of any international amateur free agent in the ball club’s history, coming in at $2.35 million. Add in the two other two known contracts (Darlin Diaz and John Zorilla) and that total grows to $3.3 million or already over half of their allotted $5,899,600.

For those of you that fall squarely in the “Spend Nutting, Win Nutting” camp, I am sure that all of this doesn’t do much, if anything, for you because it is money that the Pirates are supposed to use anyway. However, at least in some small way, it chips away at the first half of your mantra as Nutting did in fact spend.

Mostly Smooth Sailing For Pirates As They Pass The Arbitration Deadline

Friday at 1 PM was a deadline of sorts, but not the hard cutoff that many perceive it to be. It was simply the set time in which teams and arbitration eligible players, who had been tendered a contract back on December 2nd, were required to present their respective salaries to the Major League Baseball Front Office in an attempt to come to an agreement on contract for the upcoming season.

As we have seen before, as recent as this year with Jameson Taillon, Eric Gonzalez and Michael Feliz, these negotiations can be worked out anytime between the beginning of the off-season up until a scheduled arbitration hearing in February. So, even the 13 players, who have yet to come to an agreement with their team, can still avoid arbitration up until the point where both sides decide to walk into a room to face off against each other; letting an panel of arbitrators decide exactly what the players service is worth. Many players, and team alike, try to avoid this final step due to the unpleasant nature of trying to prove your worth, while listening to your employer talk about all your shortcomings.

As the off-season began the Pirates were estimated to have as many as 20 arbitration eligible players. This overwhelming number was methodically whittled down through designations for assignment, along with the three previously mentioned agreements to get the a manageable figure of nine. While there were some arguments as to how this amount could have been lowered even further, such as questions surrounding Kyle Crick’s decreased velo last season, Cherington chose tender contracts to the remaining players.

As it came to be, General Manager Ben Cherington and the nine remaining arb-eligible Pirates players were no different than most in this situation as the worked together to come to a compromise on contract for the 2021 season; avoiding an arbitration hearing for at least one more year. In all the Pirates handed out contracts totaling $20.63 million, with Joe Musgrove ($4.45 million) and Adam Frazier ($4.3 million) receiving the highest deals in their second year of arbitration. Ultimately Pittsburgh fell toward the top of MLB Trade Rumors original estimates of between $14.9-$22.8 million, which is a little surprising based on the unknown ramifications of a quirky 2020 season. Nevertheless, the Pirates and Cherington have jumped over that proverbial hurdle and can now put more focus on the roster decisions that have to be, or could be, made leading up to Spring Training, which is scheduled to begin in approximately a little over a month.

Some moves that Cherington will make are necessary in the sense that they will need enough players available to perform drills and workouts in Pirate City, while others are simply for potential depth on the Major and Minor League rosters; specifically AAA Indianapolis as their season is currently set to begin on time as well. In fact Cherington made on such move on Friday by signing an experienced utility player, Wilmer Difo, formerly of the Washington Nationals to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Of course he has the opportunity to make the club to begin the year, but I believe it was a slight overreaction by some to say that this signifies the end of Adam Frazier in Pittsburgh. Could he still be gone? Yes, but the signing of Difo will have little or nothing to do with it. He isn’t even guaranteed a spot on the Open Day Roster yet. To me this is more of a JB Shuck type move (no offense to JB), where you are looking for guys that could ultimately fill out the lineup in Indianapolis , than it is to find replacement for Frazier or Erik Gonzalez, Cole Tucker or Kevin Newman. This is also not the last one of its kind you will see over the next few days and weeks as their are still a vast number of available free agents on the open market. Add in the non-roster invitations to Spring Training for players already in the Pirates Organization and you have the makings of a busy month for transactions page.

Needless to say there are other types of moves that could happen soon, but are totally not necessities, including a trade (or two or three) and the signing of free agent(s) to big league deals. As an example, even before the ink dried on Joe Musgrove’s contract the continued possibility of an impending acquisition of Musgrove, most likely by a perceived contender, was being dangled in front of Pirates Fans.

While I still see this as a likely scenario, it is far from a guarantee. As is the decision to bring in a free agent that will do little more than compete for a spot on the team. It is unquestionable that there are holes in this roster, however, I don’t look for them to be filled in the next month or so; more like patched and sanded down with position battles set at several key positions, especially up the middle.

Busy Day for the Pirates Yesterday

The Bucs were busy yesterday and they continued to show a change in philosophy on multiple fronts. Not that it matters to many of you, because of course everyone they acquire will only be traded later for more prospects.

I honestly don’t care to argue the point anymore, remember the past however you like, ignore that the regime and entire system have changed, if it’s all about Nutting for you, cool.

For those of you ready and willing to live in reality let’s go over some of the moves from yesterday and discuss.

On the International Front

First, we should take a moment and thank Adam Berry for his time on the Pirates beat. He’s announced he’s moving on to cover the Tampa Bay Rays for MLB.com.

The Pirates signed 15 international prospects yesterday and the approach was very much so quality vs quantity. Misconceptions of how this system works and an overall hatred that Bob Nutting has earned for himself tend to ignore the fact that the Pirates spend more money in this front than any other team year over year.

The big difference since Ben Cherington came in has been the targeting of higher value players. Neal Huntington would typically try to get as many as he could under his allotment while Ben has focused on acquiring top end talent.

That’s not to say he’s spending more, the rules haven’t changed, but it does mean if he can get one Shalin Polanco (No relation, ho ho ho) for 2.35 million, rather than 15 other players, he’ll go for the number 11 ranked prospect on the market.

This philosophy dates back to last season where he traded for extra pool space, meaning no money changed hands, just ability to spend. Gasp, he traded for the actual right to spend more of Bob Nutting’s money, hard to believe I know. This led to top talent like Solomon Maguire or Po Yu Chen.

All in all good stuff.

A Minor League Signing

The Pirates picked up a free agent. I know, I know, but it’s a minor league deal, Wilmer Difo comes from the Washington Nationals and is a classic utility infielder. His glove is more valuable than his bat and he provides depth. Probably insurance for trading Frazier, but could also be an excuse to start Tucker in AAA. We’ll see, I honestly get the impression they’ll let the group fight this out in Spring.

Difo isn’t worth getting excited about, but he gives them more options, and puts a death nail in Cruz making the club out of spring at least as an infielder in my mind.

Arbitration Awards

It’s not exactly a surprise. We knew they’d sign all of these guys and if anything it takes the guess work out of what they might earn this year for trades.

We also learned yesterday that the arbitration process was not affected by the MLB narrative that every team is poor after 2020, which is starting to show itself false in the free agent market as well.

They may have lost money, but they won’t let that allow them to stop spending. Expect some dominoes to start falling now.

The Pirates Can’t Develop Prospects!

People love to scream this at me on social media and they puff out their chests so proud of themselves for having example after example of the Pirates failures over the years to get prospects across the finish line.

Problem is, nobody including me has an example of this management team failing or for that matter succeeding to develop anyone.

I have to be honest, when you immerse yourself into covering a team as closely as I have, some things that you consider common knowledge just aren’t for everyday fans. For instance, to me its impossible to know how the changes to the development system will take effect because we didn’t get to see one pitch in MiLB last year, yet I still have fans frustrated a player hasn’t moved up a level since 2019.

You just don’t think about the fact that not everyone is as into the minutia the way you are and perhaps for that reason we tend to not mention some of these things and the sad thing is there is little of more importance.

Every bit of Ben Cherington’s plan is to bring in prospects and build up the system to eventually become damn near self sustaining. Nobody is going to bat 1000 on prospects, but suffice to say he has to do better.

I mean, we haven’t seen a single player improve in any way really but we also just got our first taste of an acquired player talking about the team’s analytics guys and staff working with him, Wil Crowe.

Make no mistake, Crowe is a bonus if he gets right, Yean was the prize in that Josh Bell trade. But I found this noteworthy because I can’t remember the last time a player was traded to Pittsburgh and they mentioned being worked with before pitchers and catchers even reported.

The specific mention of the analytics guys is important too, because it means for the first time, well, ever, the Pirates are letting analytics lead the charge on development.

That’s a good thing, I’ll go further, that’s what any other competent organization does. Best case we’ve seen players come here and say ‘they’re working on some things with me’ or the like but we never hear something as specific as the analytics guys have identified some things in my game.

For a team that has little choice but to build by developing prospects one would think they’d have found a way to excel at the task over the years but as we often say, there is a reason Neal was fired along with literally everyone else who had anything to do with player development in the franchise.

As the season unfolds and we start to gain an understanding of how these changes will affect players up and down the organization, we’ll be able to start critiquing this staff, but right now any criticisms are based on the past, and the only holdover, Nutting himself isn’t teaching guys how to hit to the opposite field.

The Pirates Need To Explore Every Avenue

Tomorrow begins the International Signing Period, which was postponed from its originally scheduled start date of July 2, 2020. Prior to the delay, and even since then, the Pirates have found themselves linked to Former Top 10 International Prospect, #11 OF Shalin Polanco, who is estimated to receive a $2.5 million signing bonus. There have also been reports attaching Pittsburgh to Darlin Diaz, a right handed pitcher from the Dominican, along with five other outfielders and a left handed pitcher. Other than Polanco, Diaz is the only other player with a potential signing bonus listed; coming in at $500,000, although Ruben Vizcaya, an outfielder from Venezuela, could also command a fairly hefty price tag.

For the Pirates these types of signings are not historically the norm, as the $850,000 spent on right handed pitcher Christopher Cruz to lead off the 2019-20 period was seen as the exception and not the rule during then General Manager Neal Huntington’s time with the ball club. This type of signing and the ones projected for current General Manager Ben Cherington over the next couple of days are clearly a step in the right direction, however, they are not the complete answer to what has been an ongoing issue for the Pirates; creating a pipeline for foreign born players to enter the organization. Just look at the Chicago White Sox, who have been all but guaranteed as a landing spot for the Top 2 International Free Agents in this class; one of whom,Oscar Colas, could be waiting an entire year for Chicago to have the funds available to sign him. This shouldn’t be an aspiration for the Pirates, it is a need, or absolute must if I am being totally honest. It is one of, if not the only option to acquire players on an almost level playing field with the other 29 teams around Major League Baseball, without having to lose an exorbitant amount of games to make it become a reality.

Of course there are alternative paths for teams like the Pirates, that obviously aren’t going to bring in a high profile free agent, two of which are usually frowned upon by many within the fanbase. This was evident by the reaction to Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Troy Stokes Jr. off of waivers from the Detroit Tigers, as well as the Andrew Benintendi rumor that began to circulate, Josh Bell’s recent trade to the Nationals and the possibility of Joe Musgrove being moved before the beginning of the season.

In the first instance the Pirates claimed a 24 year old Minor League outfielder from the Tigers, while choosing to DFA 31 year old left handed relief pitcher Nik Turley, who posted a 4.98 ERA , a 1.108 WHIP and a 90 ERA+ with 20 strikeouts in 21.2 innings of work. To his credit Stokes Jr. was a MiLB Gold Glover in 2018 when he was with the AA Biloxi Shuckers in the Milwaukee Brewers Farm System. During that season he also blasted 19 home runs and 48 extra base hits, including 6 triples. This was a nice encore after hitting 20 homers between Advanced A and AA the previous year; so there is obviously some power potential. Unfortunately struggles in 2019, while with AAA San Antonio, and a broken right hand with the Tigers in August of 2020 led to him being waived.

Now, I will concede that the addition of Stokes Jr. is not one that has anyone dancing in the streets or planning a parade as Dejan Kovacevic jokingly alluded to in his Daily Shot of Pirates. However, it isn’t a bad move either, and is most likely the type of move Cherington will continue to make. In all actuality this is very similar to the manner in which Anthony Alford was brought to the club and not that far off from how Phillip Evans became member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both players were castoffs from their former teams and are now penciled in by many as contributors for the upcoming season, and possibly beyond.

The other three transactions, only one that has officially come to fruition, involve a dreaded concept among Pirates Fans, which I can’t totally blame them for. The idea of trading brings back a flood of terrible memories, mostly due to the success that former Pirates players have experienced in different uniforms, as well as the sometimes less than ideal returns. Nevertheless, I am more than fine with Cherington listening on every offer and/or proposal, including Benintendi, and pulling the trigger when he feels he has the best offer that benefits the future of the Pirates; and I sure won’t snap to a judgement on a move that hasn’t even been made. This is especially true with the Benintendi rumor since no one can know for sure if he is the only piece that is a part of the potential offer from the Red Sox, who the Pirates would have to give up, what Cherington’s ultimate goal for Benintendi would be or how realistic this possibility is. People automatically assume the Pirates are going to get burned or already have been in the Cherington Era, with no way to change their minds.

This feeling and others, justified or not, are unfortunately part of the culture that surrounds the Pittsburgh Pirates; at least for now. Only time will tell if Ben Cherington and the rest of the Pirates Front Office can help make a change by searching for new approaches to acquiring players, improving on the old ones and attempting to build a channel in the international market; while ultimately implementing a different organizational philosophy that will hopefully take the team in a unfamiliar direction for many Pirates Fans.

What Type of Team are the Pirates Building

If you want to be lazy about it or ‘funny’ go ahead and say bad. But I’m talking about what type of team it looks like they’re building toward for the window. There are some factors beyond money we’ll talk about and we’ll discuss the type of talent that has been brought in as well as what was already here.

They Will Pitch

Seems so simple, but the talent they’ve amassed and continue to covet is largely on the mound. I think we’ll continue to see that when the team makes their picks in the draft this Summer. In fact 14 of the Pirates top 30 prospects are pitchers, 8 of which were brought in by this regime.

There will be more. Many of you are already in line to get your Rocker jersey and maybe he will indeed be the number one overall pick but it’s almost just as important that players like Carmen Mlodzinski pan out. The Pirates seem to understand that picking a pitcher with your first pick every year and assuming they’ll lead the charge one day ignores how many pitchers you actually need.

One thing I’d really like to see is someone to emerge as a lefty option. Even Cherington has broached this subject almost jokingly saying it wasn’t his intention for every pitcher he’s brought in to be right handed. At this stage, it’s all about best available, but at some point they’ll need to have some options from both sides.

All that said, I love the direction. If there is one thing this team can’t afford to buy, it’s pitching, well, that and our next category.

Who Will Hit the Long Ball?

I don’t mean who can hit 20, that can happen randomly, hell even Kevin Newman hit 12 in 2019 and he had never hit more than 5 in any professional season throughout his career. I call this unexpected power, it’s great when you get it, but in no way do you count on it.

The answer I hear from fans is often Ke’Bryan Hayes, and he certainly has gap power I’ll give you that, but he too has never hit more than 10 over the fence in his career. That doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t develop more but this isn’t Pete Alonzo.

If you want to really see power that seems like a natural part of a player’s game you have to start with Nick Gonzales and the biggest problem there is we have nothing but college to go on and he played at Presley Askew Field, home of the New Mexico State Aggies which happens to sit 3,900 feet above sea level. He has above average power tool and his bat speed is elite. That should allow him to maximize his raw power, we just don’t really know what that translates to.

Cal Mitchell is an outfielder who has shown real pop in his three seasons with the Pirates and his power tool sits around 50-55 which is slightly above average. He’s still filling out and will probably start in AA Altoona this season. In order to hit more homeruns he potentially sold out a little too early causing him to miss more barrels than you’d like to see but most scouts have him pulling back a bit on that and finding his happy medium. So why do I mention him as a power option if he’s slightly above average, well for his body type and where he is in development he profiles as someone who will hit 25 without changing who he is at the plate and that leaves room for development that brings out even more.

Mason Martin is probably the most prolific of the power options in the system. His raw power sits in the 70 zone and that equates to 30-35 bombs as an expected stat. In fact that’s exactly what he did in 2019 hitting 35 homeruns in single A. He plays first base so adding bulk won’t be an issue if he so chooses and the swing is natural.

The average isn’t where you’d like it, but if they can help him find a way to draw more walks its certainly something that can be worked on. Raw power like this doesn’t come along every day, in fact he’s the highest ranked raw power player in the Pirates system since Pedro Alvarez and Josh Bell.

Oneil Cruz has a power tool in the 60’s and that makes him someone to watch here too. Most of our information comes from his time in Single A where he hit 24 bombs playing in West Virginia, and anyone who’s seen highlights from his Winter Ball stint this season has seen the effortless power with which he flicks the ball over the fence. The power is in there, but it remains to be seen how he puts it all together. Pump the brakes just a bit on him if only because he’s only played 34 games in AA and I’ve seen a ton of people pencil him in for MLB this year.

Speed & Defense

This is the bulk of the Pirates top prospects. Headlined by Travis Swaggerty, the Bucs have a ton of players who can go get it and run the bases like deer. Funny thing is, speed on the basepaths, at least from a stolen base perspective has all but been eliminated from the current version of MLB but I’ve often said, different doesn’t equal wrong and the Pirates could really use the wealth of speed in their system to make some opponents uncomfortable.

Now, are they thinking this way? I don’t know. None of these players were brought in by this front office but I can say these types of players were very much so part of what Ben developed in Boston and he very much so went and got those guys.

One thing is clear as we look at the prospects, right now, this team isn’t tracking toward the Twins model of 7 players in the lineup capable of hitting 25 homeruns, but it could be an athletic team that makes the most of balls put in play offensively and defensively. In an age of baseball where everything is scouted to death, it might be advantageous to be an outlier and it could be some fun baseball to watch.

We Either Hate Cheating or We Don’t

Major league baseball is again finding itself embroiled in yet another cheating scandal. This one happens to be the worst kept secret in the game.

Years ago you’ll remember a flap between Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole in which Trevor accused Gerrit and others of using a foreign substance to increase spin rate on their pitches. Gerrit got all indignant, Trevor got all, well Trevor-y and the whole thing blew over really.

Nobody really denied anything, nobody was punished, seemingly nobody even investigated. In possibly the greatest example of hypocrisy I’ve seen on the players level at least the next season Trevor came out setting all kinds of records for spin rate and in a way, it was hard for anyone to really say anything after they ignored his pleas to call a spade a spade.

Gerrit went on to sign a big money contract with the Yankees of course and compared to the already huge cheating scandal of his Houston Astros garbage can banging team the sticky fingers scandal slipped off into the ether.

Rob Manfred proved during that time he had no will to challenge the players union to punish the individual players so it comes as no surprise when it came time for MLB to actually do something about this issue, you know, cheating, again, instead of punishing the players who showed unnatural increases in spin rate he of course went after the team employee who was providing it Brian “Bubba” Harkens, a visiting clubhouse manager for the LA Angels.

He was fired unceremoniously by the Angels and perhaps because rather than dealing drugs he was quite literally helping procure a sticky substance he decided being the scapegoat for this entire thing wasn’t going to happen.

He sued. The league and the Angels, and worse, he named names, some big ones. Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Edwin Jackson, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Joba Chamberlain and Adam Wainwright were all reportedly mentioned and the lawsuit came complete with correspondence from at least Cole and Verlander.

In the notes from the lawsuit it’s mentioned that Verlander told Harkens that MLB was cracking down on foreign substances that help with spin rate as it had come out that some teams were consulting with chemists to develop undetectable formula pitchers could use.

Now, this has always been illegal, and for years MLB has ignored pitchers with visible pine tar stains on their caps but apparently hiding it better, coupled with it actually working better seems to have made it impossible to ignore.

So my question is, if we hate the steroid guys for enhancing their performance, why the double standard? If we suspend players for taking a supplement (that’s what they call it when they get caught), why aren’t the players openly caught using substances that actively improve a metric so sought after by team executives being held to the same standard?

Do we hate cheating, or do we only hate certain kinds of cheating? Is one kind of cheating immoral and HOF disqualifying while another is distasteful but not even worthy of a slap on the wrists?

The Pirates have the highest measured spin rate guy in the league Chris Stratton, and while I certainly can’t say its turned him into an All Star, I certainly can say he came from the right team (Angels) and went from a player waived by a pitching starved club to an effective relief pitcher on a team who had next to none. If nothing else, nobody can claim the question is unfounded.

That’s really the bitch with cheating, once you don’t apply the law or rules equally it makes you wonder how far the fingers travel. Who got what contract based on what he cheated to put on tape. Who lost a job because he couldn’t find a way to pull the talent out of a guy that went somewhere else and suddenly started spinning every pitch like a dreidel.

I’d call for the commissioners head if I thought my words would matter, instead I’ll simply say if you have rules in place, follow them. If you catch someone breaking the rules, it shouldn’t matter if it lead to success or not. And finally, if I can’t trust a league to enforce their own rules, how can I trust the league to do anything fairly?

I love this game, but this league is nowhere near the purity level they like to sell and its getting old watching new cheaters emerge year after year with little to no repercussions.