Gary’s 2021 Pirates Season Preview

It’s hard to say you cover a team without at some point making some predictions, and anyone who listens to my podcast has experienced first hand that I can be wrong. Hell my first piece for SI way back in 2019 was about trading Adam Frazier. Umm, yeah, might have been off a bit there.

That said, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what this team is up to this season and I’ll break this down into bite sized segments so you all can easily go back and hammer me for my mistakes later.

I’m going to get into predicting who should or could be traded but I just can’t let it dictate every thought.

Pitching

I’m putting pitching as one big blob for one simple reason, I think that’s how this might look at least early on. The Pirates have talked about having 6 starters and the assumption is they’ll bring 14 pitchers North.

They’ll name starters and they’ll pitch in some sort of a rotation of course but until we truly understand how they’ll utilize the arms I have no choice but to assume some guys will bounce between a back end of a piggy back and straight bullpen work.

So let’s do it like this, I’ll start with guys I think will at least be considered starters and not cross over to the pen.

Tyler Anderson (SP) – The only lefty in the mix, Anderson has had mixed results this Spring but as the pre-season wound down he started to round into form. It’s hard to say what to expect from Anderson, he should probably land in the low 4.00’s for ERA and if they don’t mind that creeping up a bit could average 5-6 innings easy. His delivery is effortless and he’s eaten innings in his time, but chill with the expectations beyond that.

Chad Kuhl (SP) – Chad probably has the best stuff out of all the starters, his issue has been knowing where it’s going. He is past his recovery from Tommy John but a 60 game season didn’t do favors for him as far as trusting the recovery and pushing his limits. That will come in 2021.

Mitch Keller (SP) – Wild. Both Mitch himself and the expectations. Mitch is exactly why you don’t look at the list of prospects and assume their ETA also predicts their Expected Impact Date. It takes time to turn a stellar AAA pitcher into a good and ultimately great MLB pitcher. I’m not panicked by his Spring, but I will say depending on the patience of the teams he faces early (and the Cubs aren’t a patient club at the plate) he could look great or awful. Give him time, be patient and hope the club is as well. Yoyo treatment will only make this take longer if not fully destroy him. If you don’t want another Glasnow, allow the time to grow and learn he needs, and realize it has to be done at this level now.

JT Brubaker (SP)Solid, steady, mature. Brubaker is someone I see setting the pace early and finishing through the tape with a respectable season. He’ll grow into the innings and learn how to let his stuff hunt a strikeout when he needs it. He has good stuff and he controls it well, sometimes it just takes some time to understand there are moments when you need that strikeout.

Wil Crowe (SP) Wil performed well this Spring, arguably better than anyone else on this list, but he makes it simply by being on the 40-man already. Chase De Jong might have been the best Starter the Pirates tossed out there but the 40-man is a tight place now. Wil has everything you’d want in a starter minus experience, but he has the pedigree and if he’s nothing more than a 4 or 5 starter it’s a win.

Now, did you expect Trevor Cahill to make an appearance there? He probably could, I mean it’s going to be a different season and the plan to me looks more like they want to see almost everyone start the season in an non-traditional role. I do think if someone get’s stretched out and are performing well they’ll be allowed to start to look more typical but as aggressively as I see pitch counts being handled in 2021 throughout the league it might not be something that ever truly looks like a staff of starters/relievers/back end guys we’re used to.

So let’s go on to wave two, these are the guys who probably won’t start games but could easily be brought in for the 4th inning to “continue the start” if you will.

Trevor Cahill (RP) – I put him here because when everyone is healthy I think this is where he fits best. Cahill is never going to make your eyes pop out with his stuff but there is something to be said about being around for 14 years. He eats innings, and does it well.

Luis Oviedo (RP) Yeah, I don’t know much here. He looked like he had quality stuff in his limited mound time this Spring but the bottom line is he is a Rule 5 pick and he has to make it and stick in order to, well, stick. I think this might be a perfect place to try to use him. Should be fairly low stress most nights and the club won’t have to commit to what role they see him filling as his career continues.

Duane Underwood Jr. (RP) Newly acquired from the Chicago Cubs Underwood could fit anywhere the Pirates want him to. Now it makes most sense that he’d use his ability to go multiple innings by entering games in the 5th or so and bridging to the back end.

Chris Stratton (RP) He has started in this league, ok, not very successfully, but he’s done it. The club has even toyed with the idea of stretching him out and returning him to that role in the past, but in a year of amorphous roles he slots in right here for me. Perfect guy for this type of role.

Sam Howard (RP) Every bullpen needs a lefty and the Pirates have two, unfortunately only one could make it even when the Bucs decided to send 14 North. Shreve loses out because he would have required a 40-man spot and Howard already had one. Both performed well and if they didn’t have Oviedo to protect, both might have been here. Either one would only be an inning or two type guy, but that still qualifies for what we’re looking at here.

So those would be the middle relief/piggyback/long man, look, you put whatever label on it you like, but this role will be a part of this team at least in the early going. So let’s move on to the more traditional back end guys.

Michael Feliz (RP) Yes, that Michael Feliz! The Pirates liked what he did last offseason and he was one of the very first people they retained this off season. We’ve seen Michael go more than an inning in the past, but not often, so I think we’ll see a more traditional 6th or later role for him. He does look like he has more of a handle on his control and the velocity is up a bit too.

Kyle Crick (RP)If you read or listen to anything I put out you know how skeptical I am of Crick, but he did what I said needed to happen, got his velocity back. It’s the key to making him effective and to his credit, he’s recaptured it. That said, the Pirates should be careful to not be tempted into making him a closer from the jump.

Richard Rodriguez (RP) I still feel he doesn’t have the stuff to be a traditional closer, but its very hard to argue his results. He misses bats and get’s outs, arguably better than any Pirates pitcher as far as track record goes. Hard to see him not start as the ‘closer’.

David Bednar (RP) He’s been in a word impressive. His stuff looks untouchable. He throws a slider that starts at your ear and winds up 4 inches off the plate, and more importantly, he has shown in his Spring outings he has the control to fine tune that. There were other ways to go for the Pirates but Bednar made it impossible to send him down while talking about sending the best to Pittsburgh.

The Outfield

We’re going to stick to the Starters here and the first person on our list made the decision fairly easy.

Anthony Alford (CF) – He’s built like a linebacker and plays baseball with the same energy. Nobody has ever questioned his defensive ability but the bat was a question mark. He’s answered the bell at the plate too, showing power and speed to make contact work for him. A new approach has really improved his consistency.

Bryan Reynolds (LF) – The biggest fear was that he was not the player we saw in 2019 but 2020 was a false image for many players and Bryan has hit at every level, in every season of his entire career up until that abomination of a season last year. He’s already shown this Spring his approach looks strong and he’s back to the level that almost netted him Rookie of the Year just a short time ago. Worry about this team, don’t worry about Bryan.

Gregory Polanco (RF) – This isn’t going to be filled with flowery what ifs, Greg has the tools to do some incredible things, but he’s had those tools his entire career and rarely have they translated to stats. That said, it’s foolish to dismiss him as unimportant, even last season as bad as he was he produced runs and that’s what he’ll be expected to deliver again.

The Infield

Colin Moran (1B) – Some would say he has big shoes to fill, others might say it’s already clear the Pirates have upgraded. The fact is, we HOPE he is an upgrade at first and we HOPE with more at bats he’ll have comparable production. I say that while firmly being in the camp that Moran will be an upgrade, but it’s really hard to say with authority that’s the case.

Adam Frazier (2B) – Nobody has called for Frazier to be traded because he stunk, it was always about what is coming behind him that made Adam expendable, but the fact is, nobody pushed him out of the way yet, and the Pirates haven’t found the right deal even if they did. Enjoy him while he’s here, he’s a gold glove finalist and when he’s right, his bat can be an important fuel for the lineup.

Kevin Newman (SS) – He hit this Spring like Pete Rose times two, obviously that’s not sustainable but Kevin did exactly what you’d hope a number one pick would do, he grabbed a position he was told he was competing for by the horns and didn’t let go. If you truly believe the competition was open, you have to believe he straight up won the competition.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B) – Make no mistake, if Hayes slipped up in any way he’d have opened the door for the Pirates to contemplate manipulating his service time. Yeah I know, if they did that you’d never watch again, or they’d lose your trust. I get it, just saying it had to be a discussion as they could get a full extra year by just holding him back for a short time. Instead he looked every bit as good as his cup of coffee in 2020. He’s smart, gifted and on top of that has an infectious attitude and swagger. Part of sticking in this league is taking thoughts like that off the table, and he sure did that.

The Catchers

Jacob Stallings – Steady defender who calls a game like few can. Nothing to see here. Having a left handed platoon partner might make his average rise in 2021 as he rakes against Lefties.

Michael Perez – Left handed, solid defender, there won’t be a huge drop off when he fills in for Jake, but the bat hasn’t been special. He has some sneaky power and could abuse the Clemente Wall if he discovers his stroke.

The Bench

Michael Perez (C) – I’m not sure Perez was better than Wolters. I can’t say Wolters was better than Perez either. Both are serviceable defenders and the bats are very similar, maybe Perez has an edge in power. End of the day, Perez was on the 40, Wolters wasn’t and I’d lay money Tony didn’t have an out clause but requested his release.

Phillip Evans (Utility, IF, OF) – Evans didn’t have to make this team, but he put together a solid Spring and ultimately forced the Pirates hand. His versatility trumped Todd Frazier’s experience and power threat.

Erik Gonzalez (Utility, IF, OF) – Gonzalez performed well this Spring so saying Newman beat him handily for the starting SS gig really says more about how Kevin performed than Erik. At the very least he clearly beat out Cole Tucker and this is a team proving this Spring veterans and NRIs are guaranteed nothing. Erik is a nice glove to have on your bench.

Dustin Fowler (OF, 1B?) – Dustin hasn’t done anything to win or lose this position, but Brian Goodwin made the decision easy. I put in the 1B with a question mark because the Pirates decided to try him out there this Spring in practice and while I don’t think they’ll need him to do so, versatility is a theme here.

The Lineup

2B Frazier
LF Reynolds
3B Hayes
1B Moran
SS Newman
RF Polanco
CF Alford
C Stallings

Now, that’s my proposed lineup not what I think they’ll do. If I had to guess, the Opening Day lineup will look more like this.

2B Frazier
3B Hayes
LF Reynolds
1B Moran
SS Newman
RF Polanco
CF Alford
C Stallings

I could see the lineup bouncing around a bit. Could be a weird platoon for the lead off spot between Frazier and Newman. Hayes and Reynolds could swap. My desire to push Polanco down in the order isn’t just based on talent, it’s about trying to not have two pure lefty’s stacked. My lineup is built to prepare for other teams to handle pitching the way the Pirates will, and a diverse lineup will help.

Another twist I think you can expect to see is the pitcher in the 8 hole with either Anthony Alford or another player like him in the 9 hole. The Pirates used that set up a couple times in the late going this Spring.

The Record

72-90

I think the Bucs will hang in more games than they’ll be blown out. Last season this club lost more 1-run games than any other club but it sure didn’t feel like that when the other losses that sandwiched them were 8-0 beat downs.

During my podcast on Saturday one of my guests Mitchell Nagy said something that really stuck with me. He said he doesn’t see the 19-41 record of 2020 in any 60 game stretch this season, and man, I agree. Brilliant way to look at it I think.

There are of course factors I can’t see, who gets traded? Who gets hurt? Who underperforms? But as a whole, the club is constructed with more depth than they’ve had, even during the playoff years.

I’m not going to say much more here, it’s a guess. An educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. Anyone offering you a prediction of the record is doing the same. Because nobody knows the answers to those few very important questions in the last paragraph and this would be hard enough if they didn’t exist.

I expect somewhere in the 35-37 win range by the All Star Break because I expect the pitching staff to be better as the season progresses.

Help in the Minors

Let’s take this in this fashion, pitchers both starting & relief, outfield, infield, catcher. These are all players I feel will be here either on merit or necessity.

Starting Options – Cody Ponce (IL), Miguel Yajure, Chase De Jong and maybe Steven Wright, Steven Brault (IL)

Relief Options – Edgar Santana, Chason Shreve, Nick Mears, Geoff Hartlieb and maybe Shea Spitzbarth

Infield Options – Well, if it’s a long term need like a trade of Frazier or Gonzalez breaks his hand, Wilmer Difo, if it’s short term I could see Cole Tucker and his options in his back pocket.

Outfield Options – Different position, same type of situation. Long term need is probably Brian Goodwin, short term Jared Oliva and again his pocket full of options probably get’s the call.

Catcher – Last year we immediately saw the supposed AAA depth become the everyday backup before the season even started. This year they’ll have Joe Hudson with a hint of Susak, one will wind up on the taxi squad the other will be there if needed. Depth at that position isn’t something we should take for granted.

Prospect Watch

The most likely prospects to make their presence felt in 2020 happen to be a fairly short list.

Oneil Cruz, Rodolfo Castro, Jared Oliva, Roansy Contreras, Nick Mears, Shea Spitzbarth.

Sure there could be more, but these are the players I feel could make it and potentially be part of the group that helps usher in winning baseball in Pittsburgh again.

Trade Watch

At some point the team needs to switch from acquiring prospects to developing what they have. If you look at the current 40 man and the gymnastics it caused us mentally this Spring you can see the list is at the very least congested.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great thing, not a problem, but it also doesn’t account for the very real need to add some younger players to the list by the end of the season to protect him from Rule 5.

Bringing in even more isn’t off the table but they’d have to be very young.

Adam Frazier – is of course the most obvious candidate but as our very own Craig Toth likes to say, nobody has stepped up and taken 2B from him. Maybe the Pirates feel the same, and he’s more valuable than the prospects he at least to this point could return.

Richard Rodriguez – Especially if he posts up in the closer role again. People overpay for closers every deadline and the return for RichRod might be too much to pass.

Chris Stratton – He can spin the ball like nobody else in the league and presuming he didn’t use the stickum that the league has put under scrutiny his value will only increase.

Michael Feliz – He’s likely not part of the future here one way or another, so if the Bucs can get anything of value in return, they absolutely should.

Chad Kuhl – He has the stuff to be a top end starter or back end reliever, by the deadline he could be one of the hottest names on the market. That doesn’t mean his stuff alone will get him to either of those designations, but it’s in there.

Gregory Polanco – The Pirates should be willing to eat up to 3 million in his salary this season at the deadline to move his contract, because that’s exactly what it will cost them to get out of his deal after the season. If Greg shows up at all, they should be able to find a deal.

Storylines to Follow

The Hitting Approach – Coach Eckstein has implemented a new approach at the plate and while he can’t control execution, he certainly has made sure we all know what we’re supposed to be seeing. There should be a visible attempt to hit the ball where it’s pitched and a willingness to beat the shift. Keep an eye on this as the season develops.

The Pitching Philosophy – No I don’t mean pitch to contact. I mean how the Pirates deploy their pitchers. Look for traditional roles to be turned on their heads.

Lineups & Usage – Last year in the 60 game season Dereck Shelton used what seemed like 60 different lineups. This Spring he’s been more consistent and that was with a glut of players at his disposal. It will be interesting to see if 2020 was literally just an experiment and the real Shelton will show himself in 2021.

Fowler & Alford – Does one of them prove themselves as a starting OF option going forward or are we officially on Swaggerty watch? Don’t get me wrong, we’ll still be looking for Travis to make it and play at some point but maybe he’ll have to show he is ready rather than be anointed if either of these players catch on.

Starters That Stick – The obvious candidates are Keller and Brubaker and by stick I simply mean, counted on to be part of the rotation for the future. Yajure and Crowe have a solid chance as well but it really depends on when they start to contribute.

Defense – Nothing makes a team look like a train wreck faster than playing poor defense. This won’t be near the issue it has been in recent campaigns. This team can pick it.

The All Stars

I don’t see the Pirates having a ton of All Stars, but their representative won’t be there just because the Pirates have to have one. Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds and Richard Rodriguez probably have the best chance. I’d give you Kevin Newman but the names he’d have to jump over in the NL at SS makes me feel it’s a real longshot.

Final Thoughts

Derek Shelton didn’t win many fans over last season as we watched him make questionable decisions repeatedly in 2020. Many of those poor or at least difficult to understand moves were assumed to be about evaluation or even flat lack of options, but some things I think you’ll see stick.

He’s a modern baseball coach and that comes with some different philosophies that just aren’t going to jive with folks who grew up watching baseball in the 70’s and 80’s. First up, handling a pitching staff has changed all across the league but this could be even more visibly different as traditional roles like starter and closer aren’t as rigidly stuck to.

All that being said, it will be hard to say what we see in 2021 is a true reflection of what Shelton wants to do or just a lingering effect of the COVID shortened season coupled with the thinnest part of the club for elite talent still being starting pitching. For instance it may become fairly normal to see starters going 4 or 5 innings, and I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the point where we can say it’s team philosophy or an attempt to keep innings under a target number. Nobody in baseball anywhere is going to tell us some magic number to look for, but keep your eyes open because all teams will handle this differently.

I also think we can look for more consistent lineups this season, that’s not to say the same lineup will get trotted out five games in a row but without expanded rosters I think it will have much less flex. A backup on this club, well, any backup beside catcher, will probably start 3-4 games a week and versatility will be the reason. For instance if he wants to see Erik Gonzalez play 5 games a week you could see him bounce all over the diamond to make it happen. The balance needs to remain though and he must not get carried away with it to the point the reserves are playing just as much as the starters.

The coaching staff as a whole looks and sounds more confident and the young core should be a very coachable group. Last season the players were told that GM Ben Cherington looked around and saw several players who would be here when the team was competing for division titles again, this season the players look around and know the field of those still here since hearing that statement has been trimmed. In other words, it’s getting real, and competition has never been stiffer for many of these guys that have worn black and gold their entire careers.

All in all, this is the last season I expect to enter completely expecting a losing season for a while. That’s not to say the window opens next year or that they will absolutely best the .500 mark in 2022, but it is to say we start seeing the fruit from what this management team has been building.

For this year, things that players like Reynolds, Newman, Keller, Brubaker, Hayes, and even Alford do mean more than anything Cahill throws or Polanco hits. This year is all about solidifying and hopefully retaining some pieces of this core.

Welcome back baseball, welcome back for real.

Pulling For Polanco

Ever since he made his Major League Debut for Pittsburgh back on June 10, 2014, at only 22 years old, Gregory Polanco has been one of the more polarizing figures on the Pirates. This mixed perception of Polanco is somewhat due to expectations versus performance, but also partially because of a famous meme of him misplaying a crucial fly ball and injuring himself on a slide at the end of 2018.

Prior to his time at PNC Park the young outfielder was listed as high as #2 in the system and #13 in all of MLB in 2013, so it is no wonder the outlook for his future was off the charts; and after shaking off some some struggles of his youth, he broke through in 2016 with 22 homers and a .258 AVG. Sure there was obviously still room for improvement, but the needle finally looked like it was pointed in the right direction. That along with the 5 year/$35 million contract, including 2 option years that would take the deal to 7 years for $58 million, he signed prior to the season, made many optimistic for his future with the Pirates; so much so that one Josh Bell made a full transition from right field to first base.

Then came what I call the the year of the left hamstring, which resulted in three separate stints on the 10-Day IL, a total of 108 games on the field, 11 homers and a .251 AVG. It was at this point rumblings concerning the need to trade Polanco, and cut their losses, began to circulate within the Pirates Fanbase. However, most of these were quickly quieted as El Coffee put together a career year for homers (23) and SLG (.499), only to have it snuffed out by an errant slide into second base on September 7, 2018; ending his season.

Following what seemed to be a more long term it was a bit of a surprise when Polanco reported to his first rehab assignment on April 7th of the following year, eventually returning to Major League action a couple of weeks later on April 22nd against the Diamondbacks; going 2 for 4 on the day. Even though he would play until June 16th, before being put on the IL and ultimately shut down for the season after a rehab assignment to Indianapolis, he never really seemed like himself and experienced difficulties with throwing from right field. All things considered he actually didn’t perform too poorly at the plate, slashing .242/.301/.425 with 6 home runs and 15 extra base hits.

When he came back for Spring Training in 2020, it looked he might be back on track batting .381 with a homer and 3 doubles; although as we know now it didn’t turn out out that way for Polanco. After the shutdown, he was delayed in returning due a coronavirus diagnosis; missing the opening series of the season and looking lost at lost at the plate most of the time, yet when he did connect-which wasn’t very often-it was pretty impressive. On the season he batted .153, hit 7 homers and struck out a ridiculous 37.4% of the time.

So, what does 2021 hold for Gregory Polanco, and more importantly what does it mean for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Well, the simple answer is trade bait, but even at that point it may be as a rental because his $12.5 million contract with a $3 million buyout might be too much of a risk; not that many Pirates Fans are worried about that and just want him gone; get anything you can and move on. But too me it goes beyond that because Polanco actually has another buyout in 2023 that is only $1 million, which might be a little more attractive to teams if he is able to put together more than just one streaky June or July.

Another possibility would be the Pirates picking up the option if he plays well and can’t be traded; a scenario that was posed on a recent episode of Gary Morgan’s Fan Forum on DK Sports Radio. This is a tough one to think about because many assume that good play equals an obvious trade, nevertheless it still needs to be considered.

In the end, these scenarios only become relevant if Polanco plays well, as any injury or poor performance more than likely results in him becoming a free agent after this season; and if that’s the case you would think every Pirates Fan would want Polanco to do well, but I bet you any money there are some out there who don’t.

What Does 2021 Have in Store for Michael Feliz?

The last two articles I’ve written have been about a pair of pickups that the Pirates gave up virtually nothing for. Today’s going to be a little bit different, as I’ll be previewing a pitcher that the Pirates had to give up a player currently under a $36 million-a-year contract to get. Michael Feliz is the guy I’ll be talking about today, and what his 2021 season may look like. 

It’s hard to say if the Pirates won the Gerrit Cole trade or not, and while Joe Musgrove brought in some prospects and Colin Moran is the Pirates’ starting first baseman four years later, the other half of the deal, Jason Martin and Michael Feliz, have yet to show much. Martin is now in the Texas Rangers organization, but Feliz is still with Pittsburgh, despite being injured most of last season. This could be his last shot to show the Pirates what they might have in him before he gets passed over. Does he have the stuff to do it?

When the Pirates acquired Michael Feliz, he did not have great stats on paper in the majors, with a 4.43 ERA in 65 innings in 2016 and a 5.63 ERA in 48 innings in 2017. When you look behind that, you can see he has sub-four FIPs in both of those years (3.24 and 3.78). As far as stuff went, Feliz sat around 96 MPH with the fastball and low to mid 80s with both the slider and the changeup. His K/9 rate was above 13 in both years prior to the Pirates trading for him, so there was definitely some pretty good stuff there, it just needed to be harnessed. 

Primarily working in the seventh and eighth innings in 2018, Feliz struggled pretty hard, with a 5.66 ERA overall and a really high 6.05 ERA in the eighth inning. Once again, his FIP was about average, this time at 4.13. For a bullpen that featured some pretty good arms set to return for the 2019 campaign, there were questions surrounding the cloudy future of Michael Feliz, and if he actually had a future as a late-inning reliever.

2019 started just about the same for Feliz, as he was actually optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin the season. Once he got a late April callup, he did not pitch well at all. In 10 ⅓ May innings, Feliz gave up 11 runs. All of those runs came in four out of eleven appearances, including a botched opener attempt, where he gave up five runs in just ⅓ of an inning. This earned him a brief two week Triple-A stint, and then he was right back up when Nick Kingham was designated for assignment. 

The minor leagues may have changed him, as Feliz came out and pitched really well in June (3.00 ERA), even better in July (1.38 ERA), and then had a solid final two months of the season (3.63 combined ERAs in those months). For comparison, Feliz had a 5.11 ERA pre-All star game and a 3.13 after it. Also, he may have found himself a spot in the seventh inning, as he put up a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings there. His ERA+ was at 110, which means he was 10 percent better than league average as a pitcher. Feliz was never close to average at any point in his career before, so this was definitely a boost for him. 

2020 was just a disaster for Michael Feliz, and he gave up six runs in 1 and ⅔ innings before hitting the Injured List for the remainder of the season with right forearm discomfort. 

All that Feliz can do now is look ahead to improving for 2021, and he better do it quickly, because guys like Wil Crowe, Miguel Yajure, Cody Ponce, and others are coming right behind him. Now this could obviously change with poor play by other relievers or injuries, but looking at the projected makeup of the bullpen, Feliz is probably in the hottest water right now, especially since he’s given up two home runs in just about six innings this spring. His current contract also does not play to his advantage, as this is his last year before he hits the free agent market. If the Pirates are going with the “look toward the future” approach like I think they are, Michael Feliz will not have a spot in Pittsburgh much longer. 

So this begs the question: Why sign Feliz at all this past offseason? Well, there is really no answer to that, they could have non-tendered him and brought him back on a minor league deal like Clay Holmes just as easily. He’ll start in the major league bullpen, no doubt, but if this season starts off rough, then Michael Feliz is on his way out and guys like Geoff Hartlieb and company will fill that spot quickly. That would also mean another piece from a Neal Huntington deal having almost no value, but hey, what else is new?

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five 3-29-21

The support for this weekly feature has been incredible. Thank you all for taking to it as it’s super fun to write and the conversation that follows seems to last all week.

We are here, one more pre-season game tomorrow and we’ll be ready to officially start the show. Most of the questions have been answered and Craig and I will both have 2021 season previews ready for Wednesday.

Let’s dig in on a busy news week.

1. Questions Answered

One of the biggest questions hanging over the heads of everyone trying to figure out the roster was do any of the other NRI veterans have opt out clauses like Todd Frazier did. As cuts have been made and reassignments have taken place the answer is becoming clear, No.

Sending Goodwin, Difo and likely Wolters to AAA means experienced depth will be there when and if the club need it. It’s possible Chason Shreve joins them. These players making this club in years past would have been an almost sure thing. It speaks to the depth and it also speaks to the very real competition the club said we’d see.

They’ve made choices that make sense for now, but also not made choices that simply feel good. It’s been about myriad aspects but one of them wasn’t worrying about paying MLB salary to MiLB players, something the previous regime would never have accepted.

2. Versatility

The Pirates value players who can handle multiple positions and as you really look at what they’re trying to put together it makes sense. Phil Evans for instance can play anywhere but Catcher and Short stop, and I bet he’d happily try if they let him. Just today the Pirates put Erik Gonzalez at first base, Erik can quite literally play anywhere but catcher. Even Dustin Fowler has worked out at first base in an effort to give him another arrow in his quiver.

The Pirates value this, well, at least they do now and we would all do well to recognize it because as frustration has started to mount about Oneil Cruz still playing SS it’s important to understand they may simply not care about where he plays if the bat does. In fact he may make it for the bat and have no regular position. This is modern baseball and for ten plus years the Pirates have not participated.

3. The Eye Turns to Development

Now that the season is just about to start, the focus needs to shift to development. Sure, much of that focus will be in the minors but the club needs to develop those who are on the MLB roster as well. Nobody who made it should rest on their laurels, these were close decisions. Time to make what was good, really good. Time to make what was below the line, hit the mark.

Individual growth will be the measuring stick by which this season is viewed and while everyone who made the club earned the opportunity, they need to keep in mind for the first time in quite some time this club has very real talent working to supplant them.

4. Adam Frazier is Still Here

No trade happened, and while all that means is he will start as a Pirate he also may have shown why Cherington valued him higher than any offer he may have received. I still believe if a good deal comes along they’ll pull the trigger but Frazier’s usefulness on the club is more important moving forward if Cole Tucker never gets where they need him to get.

Yes it’s true, Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero will someday push to take over those positions, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for players like him or Kevin Newman. A big no no in team building and roster construction is pretending everything will go as planned and forecasting who will be here and who needs to go to enable it likely creates talent voids more often than it makes the puzzle fit.

This isn’t a prediction that they’ll extend Frazier or something silly like that, they could of course, I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be taken to that level. That said, eliminate no possibilities and understand fully that Cole Tucker opened this window. If he was performing as a number one pick, Frazier would have no place now or in the future here in Pittsburgh.

5. Record Prediction

Just about everyone in my business will do it, Craig and I included, but it’s important to remember there are no members of the media and probably very few team employees who can honestly say they know who might be traded or who has a nagging back problem, or who will perform well or badly.

It’s a guess, an educated guess but a guess nonetheless, but will they have a .316 win percentage like last season, no, I just don’t see it. Many saw Bell and Musgrove head out of town and automatically assumed they’d stink worse, but the depth is truly not something we’ve seen here and it will have a cumulative effect. The high might not be as high as a fully peak Bell or Musgrove could provide, but the lows won’t be nearly as low.

That said, when you see my prediction on Wednesday, feel free to beat me up about it, that’s part of the game I’m in and I get it entirely. As I’ve said countless times, I’ll be right sometimes, I’ll be wrong sometimes, If I’m right enough, you’ll keep reading.

Have a good night everybody, it’s going to be a busy week here at Inside the Bucs Basement, tons of content headed your way.

Relying On The Redbeard

Many things became a lot clearer after Todd Frazier’s opt out, immediately following the news that he been informed by the team he would not be making the Pirates Open Day Roster; one of which being Pittsburgh’s apparent faith in Colin Moran to man the first base position on a more regular basis than may have been originally intended. Sure Phillip Evans is more than capable to fill in for Moran in platoon situations, scheduled off days or when the Redbeard really needs a rest, but I no longer see the somewhat pressing need to get a vet like Frazier regular at bats in order to showcase him for what would have almost certainly been a deadline deal to a contender for prospect(s). Instead look for Moran to get 500+ plate appearances for only the second time in his career, which at first glance might not be seen as ideal by some, but it starts to looks better considering his glove won’t come in to play as much and due to his new found power.

For most Pirates Fans, Colin Moran is just another piece acquired in the underwhelming Gerrit Cole Trade back in January of 2018, however, approximately five years before that Moran was the 6th Overall Pick by the Miami Marlins out of North Carolina; who tore his way through the Cape Cod League in back to seasons, all before he even turned 21. Eventually traded to the Houston Astros, he made his MLB debut in 2016, after excelling at nearly every level and ranking at #7 on their top 30 prospects list that year. The majority of his playing time came at third base, but it can be seen that he had started to see more time at first in the upper levels, so it is possible that Houston saw some concerns about him being able to stick at the hot corner. However, when he came to Pittsburgh Josh Bell had that position pretty much on lock, leaving third as his only real option.

In two years for the Pirates, Moran earned a -27 DRS and -24 OAA, good for last in each category for qualifying third baseman and in direct competition with Miguel Andujar of the Yankees for the worst defender at the position in all of MLB. At the plate was nothing if not consistent, and by that I mean consistently average as he produced a combined 98 wRC+ and batted .277 in both seasons. Then last season, thanks to the DH being allowed in the National League, Moran was able to move across the diamond and split duties with Josh Bell. At times Moran looked better at the plate than he had in previous years, especially in the beginning of the season as he slashed .333/.385/.875 with 4 homers in his first seven games. Obviously he was unable to maintain this pace, and played at a similar defensive standard to Bell at first, at least statistically speaking in 2020; putting up a -1 DRS and 0 AAA to Bell’s -1 DRS and -3 OAA, however, it was enough to see Bell as expendable for an off-season trade.

With all of this behind them, including the aforementioned trade of Bell and Frazier opt-out, Moran is the lone man standing. Sure, Evans is their to provide relief and Will Craig remains as depth in AAA, but beyond that the next challenger for the position has yet to take an at bat above High A; and has some concerns of his own to overcome.

So, for at least this season, and possibly the next the Redbeard is the Pirates first baseman. Now I don’t expect him to blow away anyone at the position, although the former 1st Round Pick might surprise some; much like he did at the beginning of last year.

Needing A Bounce Back From Newman

Before I even started writing this piece, my mind became filled with the reaction(s) Pirates Fan could have to the word need in the title; saying that I am going overboard (ship themed pun intended) or reaching with my assessment of the situation. If we are being honest, I agree with them to a degree. A better descriptor concerning the potential value of a Kevin Newman bounce back would be benefit or more accurately that the Pirates could benefit from him having a year that is closer to 2019 than 2020, and not just for the immediate impact provided by this type of season.

Prior to the 2020 season, newly hired General Manager Ben Cherington may have seen Newman as member of a core group of players that he mentioned being able build the team around. Although I am sure at this point some may be ready to throw Liover Pegeuro into the starting lineup after a 2 for 3, 2 RBI game on Thursday, but I digress.

In 2019 Newman posted a .308/.353/.446 slash like with 12 home runs, which was extremely surprising as he had only managed 15 in 402 Minor League games and over 1800 plate appearances. Obviously his defense left a lot to be desired with a -7 DRS and -8 OAA at the shortstop position, but overall earned 3.1 WAR and 2.3 fWAR respectively.

Of course during the off-season many, including myself targeting Newman as a possible regression candidate due to his ranking against the rest of MLB it pertained to exit velocity (5th percentile), hard hit % (6th percentile) and barrel % (4th percentile). On the other end of the equation he found himself near the top in K% (97th percentile) and whiff % (97th percentile), so solid production was not completely out of the production.

Unfortunately, for Newman, the batting peripherals caught up with him in the shortened season that ultimately ended prematurely thanks to a 97-mph fastball to the knee. In 44 games he sputtered to a .224 AVG with a single homer in 156 at bats. Once again his defense didn’t help him either as he put up a -4 DRS and -3 OAA as he split time between shortstop and second base. So, it was really no surprise that as Spring Training was about to begin a little over a month ago, Manager Derek Shelton announced an open competition between Newman, Erik Gonzalez and Cole Tucker, which Newman and Gonzalez must have taken as a challenge. Regrettably for Tucker, a thumb injury put him in the hole almost from the beginning; never allowing him to catch up and eventually resulting in an option to AAA on March 24th.

With only a couple of games remaining in Spring Training before the Pirates open the season at Wrigley Field against the Cubs on April 1st, Gonzalez has posted a .308 AVG and .782 OPS with one homer; all while playing solid defense along the way at multiple positions. Newman’s performance in the Grapefruit League has been near historic at the plate. In 28 at bats he has 20 hits, including 6 doubles, 5 walks and no strikeouts; good for a .714 AVG and 1.664 OPS. Yes I realize it these stats don’t technically count for anything, but I would much rather see this than the .237 AVG he put up last spring. In the field he has looked a little bit more comfortable, but did bobble a fairly routine ball for his only error of the year.

With Gonzalez set to become a free agent in 2023 and Newman to follow two years later, it is clearly more beneficial for the guy who should be around longer to play better; not that they would want Gonzalez to play poorly in case they have aspirations to move him at some point over the next two years. However, as what could be defined by some as a place holder for intended duo of Liover Pegeuro and Nick Gonzalez it would be nice to know there is a solid vet like Newman to allow for them to develop at their own pace, be a safety net for any struggles and ultimately an experienced bat coming off the bench for what will hopefully be a contender.

And although it may be a few years off, Newman may also find himself as a trade chip to replenish the system to keep the window open a little bit longer. If he slips back into his 2020, 44 game slump, Newman would be another 1st Round Draft disappointment from the Huntington Era, that could eventually set the current rebuild back further than it needs to be.

Difficult Cuts – A Sign of a New Era

If you watched a decent percentage of the Pirates Spring games or even just followed along, it’s pretty hard to weigh results next to expectation and be upset. These games of course don’t mean anything tangible but let’s just say if they only had 6 wins and five of them were against the Orioles and Tigers, those 120 loss predictions might have a leg to stand on.

Think back to 2020, ew that sounds like an awful idea actually for so many reasons. OK, let’s think specifically about the final decision on cuts for the 2020 team. The only really tough choice was Jose Osuna. That’s right, the same Jose Osuna who is now playing ball overseas. The same Jose Osuna who this season would have been just as close to making the team as Will Craig.

Last year we were twisting our brains around how the Pirates could really be giving Neverauskas yet another shot. We sold ourselves on a year of evaluation and it started to become a joke, that is until we came all the way around to the tender deadline this year.

That’s when we saw for the first time that all the evaluation talk wasn’t just blowing smoke, they were actually evaluating. They moved on from several perennial players who floated around the fringes of the roster and identified players that were more valuable for what they could bring back to the organization than what they could give as their service time wound down.

This Spring we’ve already seen 10-15 players sent to minor league camp who last season would have had no problem making the club.

The bullpen alone will face some very difficult decisions in the coming days. Sam Howard, Geoff Hartlieb, Chason Shreve, Clay Holmes, Edgar Santana and more could all not make the club. In fact Santana has already been reassigned. That’s not what we’ve seen here in Pittsburgh, this is different.

See last season Neverauskas made the club and it wasn’t just because the club wanted to take one last look at the guy, it was because looking around at what was there he legitimately had a better chance of performing well than the alternatives.

This season, the Pirates are cutting players who would have been some of the best options available just the year prior.

Overhaul improvement like this in any one area comes directly from the evaluation last season and flooding that aspect of the team with far more than the team needs at the outset. Last season the Pirates managed to cobble together a bullpen that looked ok on paper save one or two, but even that needed almost total health, obviously not attainable as a goal, so having almost a complete bullpen worth of qualified backups already in the organization is a step forward.

I focused on the bullpen here, but you can certainly look all over the field and see tough choices. The outfield leaves us with a choice between Goodwin and Fowler. One is a veteran who could help and the other is a talented and unfortunate player who arguably has more to give in the power department. One they could keep if they cut him and one they’d lose. Tough choice.

The infield we already saw the decision to let Todd Frazier walk and they still have tough decisions like Difo and Evans. Even that choice leaves Rodolfo Castro out of the mix and that kid is ready. Oneil Cruz had a rough Spring and has work to do in AAA but he too is not miles away. And how could you forget Cole Tucker who never really figured out the bat this Spring and was hindered by an injury for part of it.

Starting Pitching is the area that really lacks faith from me and even there I see this rotation improving from April to August. No, I don’t expect players to improve that drastically, but as the Pirates continue to move players I think they’ll get the higher upside talents like Wil Crowe, and Miguel Yajure into the mix which will again show progress. Before this off season began the Pirates were staring down the barrel at praying Cody Bolton jumps from AA to MLB sometime this year.

I’m not here to tell you he couldn’t do it, but I’m much more comfortable knowing he doesn’t NEED to. Sometimes depth and options do more to prevent poor development than they do to create wins. If all the depth provides is a logical and earned ramp up for a pitcher like Bolton, it’s a win for this franchise.

Let’s backtrack to a couple players I glazed over on the way here, Anthony Alford and Phil Evans. Last season they were brought in to evaluate as possible players who could help fill out the roster, and both looked like they were well on their way to proving it was a worthy opportunity. Both stricken by season ending injuries in 2020 they didn’t come into 2021 as locks in any way, but Alford took CF by the horns and Evans beat out Todd Frazier who almost everyone thought was a lock, including all the broadcasters.

This is different. If you need to see a .500 record to believe that, hey, I get it, but I think you’re robbing yourself of a chance to really see an overhaul taking place before your very eyes. Again, maybe that doesn’t matter to you unless it comes with a winning record, that’s your prerogative and I’ll not tell you how to fan, but for me I’m already looking at some of these roster decisions becoming even harder in 2022.

That’s where this is headed. Hard decisions not based on who sucks less, but instead who has the best chance to help the team. It’s time to stop viewing this management team as though they need to own the failures of the past, because they’ve spent precious little time showing they don’t have the same philosophy or skill set.

Different is the theme in 2021, Better is the leader in the clubhouse for 2022’s, and that’s the Point.

Todd Frazier Opts Out – What Happened?

So, that happened. Todd Frazier has exercised his option to void his AAA contract with the Pirates and is now a free agent.

Listen, I’m not going to go about rewriting the reporting done already by Alex Stumpf or Jason Mackey. They report, I offer opinions, that’s the ecosystem. Take a minute and read what they have to say if you like, or just trust my summary.

Todd had an opt out clause for the 25th. What that means is if he wasn’t on the 40-man roster by yesterday, he had the option to pull out and head to free agency.

The way the news trickles out it initially looked like Frazier stood on the mound with middle fingers blazing toward the dugout as he walked off to his car, but as usual when you wait a minute you tend to get the rest or the other side of the story.

Turns out the Pirates told him he wasn’t going to make the team, so, maybe not a bad guy deciding to not play on a bad team. Maybe not a guy who was disingenuous with all of us in his interviews or comments to those covering the team.

Reality is that this is the exact situation these clauses are typically baked in for veterans.

The Pirates have some other guys who could possibly fall into something like this. Problem is, Frazier was the only one reported to us. Now that could be because Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo and Tony Wolters don’t have them. That would surprise me a bit especially a player like Difo who could truly be serviceable just about anywhere as a Swiss Army Knife type player.

That said, until told otherwise I have no choice but to assume they don’t have outs. That means should the Pirates tell them they aren’t making the 26-man, they could all just head off to whatever the hell they’re doing with AAA players while they wait to play. Supposedly that would be the training site.

Point is, this isn’t all that odd of a situation. Happens all the time, in fact it just happened with Tony Watson in Philly today as well.

Now that we have that out of the way we turn out eyes to what the heck are the Pirates doing?

Frazier was set to back up Hayes and Moran at the corner spots. This would seemingly open the door for Evans to fill the same role. Evans has performed well this Spring and perhaps he has more versatility. He can play the outfield a little and can patrol second base as well. He also isn’t scheduled to be a free agent until 2026.

This makes total sense if the Pirates really think they’ve found somebody here, and in extremely limited time and opportunity, he’s certainly looked like he has figured something out with the bat. That’s hard to argue.

Of course, that’s IF Evans is why they did this. And I put it that way simply because going to AAA was never going to happen for Todd. The Pirates simply can’t have believed that was on the table.

The Pirates themselves could be shopping, as I said earlier, there were players adding to a growing list looking for employment. Maybe someone peaked their interest.

Maybe they just don’t think they need him. I find this odd for one main reason, if the goal is to bring in talent Frazier might have actually brought some home. I mean this is a club that just last year actually found a way to get something for Jarrod Dyson.

Perhaps feeling that Evans could turn into something better than what they could get for a backup infield, off the bench power threat 35 year old rental. I can buy that.

This isn’t a big deal really, despite wasting a few minutes of my podcast recording. I think the club could have benefitted from the veteran presence and if my star third baseman who I’m actively trying to woo into a lucrative extension had expressed how appreciative he was to have Mr. Frazier around I might have kept the big lug around.

Does this change anything really? Eh, maybe a little. His power might have been minimized in PNC park a bit, but he’d have contributed. Maybe he teaches one or two kids the difference between AAA and MLB.

Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If I really think about it, I’m more mad that I was so blatant that he was a lock. I didn’t for one second think otherwise and that isn’t what I typically do. That’s how convinced I was though, I didn’t even consider until this happened that it was a possibility.

Make ’em look smart Phil.

Opening The Pirates Window

Ever since a changing of the guard took place in November of 2019, questions and comments surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates potential return to contention have filled countless social media posts, bulletin board discussions, articles from beat reporters, columns from bloggers and even some of my emails; with the majority eventually trying to nail down a timeline of when the Pirates will be in the playoffs again or at the very least competing in their own division.

I can’t blame anyone for wanting responses to these nearly unanswerable questions, but I can ask them to temper their expectations and trust the process; at least for the time being. General Manager Ben Cherington has been on the job for a little over 16 months at this point in time, has participated in one draft, parts of two international signing periods and is wrapping up his first full off-season with the team after a truncated 60 game season. Have things been great? Obviously not, or Pittsburgh wouldn’t have the 1st overall pick in July’s MLB June Amateur Draft. However, we also can’t act like some parts of this build weren’t absolutely necessary, with other potentially uncomfortable decisions more than likely still to come.

The Pirates as they are currently constructed appear closer to the starting line than they are to any visible finish, but this also doesn’t mean that they can’t get there quicker with rebound years from players like Bryan Reynolds or Kevin Newman, a Gregory Polanco comeback, Mitch Keller finding his groove and Ke’Bryan Hayes continuing to play at or actually anywhere near the level he has so far. These scenarios are far from guaranteed, just like a 2024 rotation that includes Quinn Priester, Cody Bolton, Brennan Malone, Carmen Mlodzinski or insert pretty much any other pitching prospect; from the ones that have already reached the big league to those who have yet to throw their professional strike.

I have personally followed prospects, on an amateur level, since I was around 13 to 14 years old, which for those of you that know me was a long time ago; and for those that don’t it’s about about as long as Adam Frazier has been alive. Does this make me an expert? Absolutely not, but it does give me some perspective on attempted and “successful” rebuilds, as I have seen quite a few, not just the ones or perceived ones from the Pirates, in my day.

So, what will it take for Pittsburgh to have any chance of a successful one, and sometimes more importantly, when might Pirates Fans know this thing they are longing for is real or possibly just another allusion?

The first step includes something I wrote about recently, which is building a strong Minor League System; from top to bottom. The Pirates are on their way in this aspect, but are nowhere near where they need to be, and Cherington knows it. A piece that definitely goes into this as well is evaluation, which is more important to the Pirates than other ball clubs because as we know they can’t really afford to miss.

The next hurdle is developing the talent they do have, along with those they have yet to acquire. Smart and effective drafting, trades, waiver wire pick ups and free agent signings will only get a team so far. People can’t point to Neil Huntington as an example of a poor General Manager, while touting the likes of Priester, Hayes and Cruz, or even Tahnaj Thomas, as the future of the team, without at least giving him some of the credit, but I won’t put up as much of a fight if you question his organizational philosophy in developing players.

Thus far many of the prospects Cherington has acquired fall into a ETA at PNC Park of around 2023-2024, with a few ready to contribute immediately or in the near future. Does this mean the team will achieve the goal of competing, at or around this time? A lot of this depends on development, along with health as evidenced by the unforeseen circumstances surrounding Blake Cederlind and Steven Brault or Jameson Taillon before them; hence the need for depth and competition at all levels of the system.

The next rung on the proverbial ladder to success is retention of at least some of the talent that already exists at the Major League Level; and that is something Cherington has already tried, albeit unsuccessfully for now, just the other day with the offer of a contract extension to Ke’Bryan Hayes. I can almost guarantee this won’t be the last time Young Hayes, and others like him, will be approached with the opportunity to stay with the Pirates on more of a long term basis. Part of this step also includes portions of the previous ones, including development and evaluation because they have a little bit less wiggle room than others in giving out bad contracts; with an overarching theme of Bob Nutting looming in the background, but we’ll get to that very soon.

The final obstacle to obtaining, and hopefully, maintaining success is properly addressing the needs of the team. Even the most well built Major League ball clubs have needs. If this wasn’t true, you wouldn’t see the likes of the Dodgers, Padres, and White Sox acquiring players in the manner we we did this off-season. Not everything can necessarily come from within, which is where Nutting has to make another appearance. At some point Nutting must give Cherington the go ahead to pay for free agents, more expensive trade pieces and to retain at least some talent.

We can argue back and forth, until we are blue in the face, about Bob Nutting’s role in the level of success the Pirates experienced from 2013-2015 to the ultimate demise of the previous front office, the majority of the coaching staff and development department, beginning on the last day of the 2019 season. This exercise in extreme frustration, mixed with reminiscing about and rehashing the past won’t do anyone even the least bit of good. What matters now is the future, or if you want to be a total pessimist, the possibility that parts of recent history could feel slightly all too familiar.

In the end Nutting will have to spend. Maybe, or probably, not as much as Pirates Fans would like him to, but obviously payroll has to go up; and no this doesn’t just include the natural progression of arbitration and addition of players from the minors or conservative free agent signings. I am talking about actually increasing payroll, with no concrete number in mind as to what that it should or could be.

Now to the real crux of this discussion, partially alluded to by me earlier in bringing up the possibility of an allusion, and why I chose to write this piece in the first place, which is people constantly asking me or challenging me to give a realistic time line of the Pirates returning to relevancy, to explain how we will know it is taking too long or is in danger of failing and sometimes most importantly what should be done if the Pirates get to that point.

In my honest and amateur assessment, 2021 is most likely going to be somewhat or a mess at times. Hopefully and realistically not as downright terrible as 2020, but not good either. In 2022 we should definitely start to see improvement, and not just the individual improvements we will be looking for this season. By 2023, or at the latest 2024 we need to see a level of competitiveness that we saw from Pittsburgh in 2011 and 2012, but optimistically without the second half collapses experienced during those campaigns. And in 2025, the Pirates better be one of those teams that people don’t want to see on their schedule.

Of course this loosely laid out timeline can be adjusted for a number of different reasons. However, if we are sitting here in 2026, going into the last year of Ke’Bryan Hayes’ team control pending an extension or other things I don’t want to think about, at the same time as the season is about to begin still asking some of the same questions, the Pirates are in trouble, and Ben Cherington should be as well.

After writing all of this I don’t know if I answered all, or any of the questions, concerns and comments Pirates Fans have asked me to address since Cherington took over pertaining to the team’s current build, nevertheless, hopefully you at least know where I stand.

But enough about the future, let’s live in the near present as the Pittsburgh Pirates season is set to begin in less that a week; and I for one couldn’t be more excited.

Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don’t

The Pirates have by in large been given a long leash by the fan base as they embarked on an aggressive rebuild that many didn’t even understand. Fans understood when they didn’t sign any big free agents too because it just wasn’t something that made sense for the stage the club was in.

OK, not everybody. But enough that they’ve operated with relative unquestioned bliss. Everybody felt the club was in need of change and for the most part that’s been taking place. We’ve watched the prospect group improve and for the most part understood why the club needed to trade players. It’s part of the plan, and while it’s not always fun, it does seem logical.

Well, one of the things the team hinted at and to be blunt, fans expect is to see a sign that the club is committed. To spending money, to investing in legitimate talent, to securing the future and the window they’re trying to open.

For many, this all means one thing, extend Ke’Bryan Hayes.

Enter Joh Heyman.

I question a few things he’s supposed here. First of all these early deals are no more infrequent today, especially since they just really started cropping up recently.

Let’s break this down a bit.

For one thing, “no traction” seems to be something Jon has decided he loves to use.
Oh, yeah I guess I should show you in case you missed a slightly later tweet.

There it is again. Traction. Also note that from Jon’s perspective the only way the club gets any “credit” is if they succeed in getting a deal done. The offer means nothing, there is nothing gained by trying.

Players get to decide what’s right for them too. They don’t just get presented with a deal and aw shucks sign that can’t miss opportunity. Especially in Hayes case, it’s not that he doesn’t need or want money, but it’s fair to say he doesn’t have the very real feeling that he needs to help his family that supported him on the way. Charlie has that on lock down I’d imagine.

In other words he can wait. Now when you offer a 19 year old from the Dominican a 14 year contract worth 200 million or so, versus the very real 5 or 6 year journey to “maybe money” that comes with turning it down. Helping their family is a big part of the goal for many of these young men and sometimes it makes taking advantage of them a bit easier. Well if you can consider paying them that much as taking advantage.

Stories like this crop up every year, the Pirates have done it themselves, McCutchen, Marte, Polanco, and those are just the bigger ones. So it of course stands to reason we’d want and expect the Pirates to do it again with this generation, Hayes, Reynolds, and Keller could all be candidates.

So it shouldn’t shock us the Pirates tried, you know, especially since they told us they were talking to Ke’ about this very thing.

Whatever numbers they were working through, didn’t meet the threshold and when things like that happen, information gets leaked. Agents talk to reporters, team officials talk to reporters. Both want the other to look greedy. One wants to convince everyone they gave it the ole college try. Players want to ‘trust the process’ and make sure you feel they’re just waiting for a fair offer.

At the end of the day, this doesn’t have to get done today. The Pirates control Hayes for half a decade yet, but the opportunity to score some PR and lock down a vital part of the future is rightly something the club is exploring. As misguided as it is, people would see a commitment to Hayes as a sign Mr. Nutting is willing to spend. I say misguided because even if they signed him to a 10 year 200 million dollar deal chances are the last couple seasons would be where the big money was tucked and it’s likely 10 really means 8. Just like Tatis probably won’t spend 14 seasons in San Diego. Just like Stanton didn’t spend the duration of his contract in Miami.

I’m inclined to take from this that the deal isn’t getting done this year, but not that it’s dead in the water. In other words, this doesn’t mean Hayes is always going to say no or the Pirates are always going to low ball.

Chances are this particular ‘report’ was a partial leak by both parties and it doesn’t exactly denote any bad blood or doom. Aside from Heyman’s own illustrative words, its actually quite benign.

I don’t believe they’re done discussing this, but if Hayes continues to swing the way his has since he first put on the big league uniform the Pirates need to realize he gets more expensive every single day, and I’m quite sure they do.