The Pirates Versus The Court Of Public Opinion

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-vf95d-135db3c

Craig and Chris said they weren’t going to talk about Bryan Reynolds anymore; but, when “new” information comes out, it is hard not to. 

Brought to you by ShopYinzz.com! Craig Toth covers the Pirates for Inside The Bucs Basement, and joins his buddy Chris at a 9-foot homemade oak bar to talk Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball. Listen. Subscribe. Share. We are “For Fans, By Fans & All Pirates Talk.” THE Pirates Fan Podcast found EVERYWHERE podcasts can be found and always at BucsInTheBasement.com!

Placing a Bat, Oneil Cruz Will Define His Own Path in 2023

1-10-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

With great talent there often also comes wild swings in possible outcomes. Oneil Cruz is indeed a great talent, you can debate what he’ll do with it, where he’ll deploy it, if he’ll ever reach the heights of what his capabilities seem to be, but you really can’t debate that the talent is there.

2023 is going to be arguably the single biggest season in determining at the very least, is Oneil Cruz a Short Stop for the foreseeable future.

Let’s talk through this a bit, and see if we can’t determine what options the team really has, what success looks like at short, and even if successful, how long it might last. That last part is intriguing to me if only because with that body type, the likelihood he can stay there for his career is really low in my mind. We’ve seen plenty of these bigger guys, albeit not as big, start careers there and ultimately have to slide over to third or transition elsewhere like Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Schmidt, Alex Rodriguez, heck I could argue Derek Jeter really should have moved toward the end.

Start mentioning guys like that and you’re first assumption is I’m comparing Cruz to those Hall of Famers and All Stars, but don’t worry, I’m not getting that far ahead of myself. To be a player that sticks long enough to age out of SS alone is a feat in this league, but for context, big and SS don’t tend to live together for life.

How long can he stick there to me helps determine if it’s worth the effort. So let’s take as well rounded a look as we can here and see if we can’t determine a path forward.

First Things First, Are We Just Assuming the Bat Plays?

Listen, if it doesn’t, nothing else matters. I’d of course love Cruz to be a complete player, but lets be really honest, if Cruz was a stellar defender, anywhere on the diamond for that matter, but fizzled at the plate, he’s not a guy we’re drooling over is he?

Oh sure, that arm is incredible, but if that comes with a .205 batting average and 15 homeruns, meh. So of course the bat has to be a thing.

So, no, I’m not assuming it plays, not yet, at least not as a well rounded bat. What I see right now is a player that’s going to hit homeruns, if only because he doesn’t have to do anything special (for him) to hit balls hard enough to put them over the wall. In other words, he doesn’t have to sell out to generate thump.

Bluntly, Cruz was a different hitter in 2022 than what he was most of his minor league career. Average was a huge part of his game along with a really nice OPS. He didn’t strike out at close to the amount he did in his rookie campaign.

In fact, the most striking thing about Cruz is prior to 2022 including his minor league numbers, his splits weren’t even a concern really.

In 2021 Cruz had 69 at bats vs left handers and struck out only 14 times. In 2022 with the Pirates he faced left handed pitching for 101 at bats and struck out 59 times.

Couple things here. For one in his minor league career, the organization didn’t challenge him to face a ton of left handed pitching, which is strange because when they did allow him to face them he did quite well. Upon bringing him to AAA and ultimately MLB, I should also note under a new regime, they did start expecting him to hit them and play every day.

It went much better in AAA than MLB. Strikeouts were way up at this level, so were homeruns.

OK, so his history is being a high on base, high average, high OPS hitter with elite exit velocity and barrel rates. He comes to MLB and becomes a low average, moderate OPS hitter who now hits more homeruns, with elite exit velocity and barrel rates and a big spike in strikeouts.

Rookie vs MLB Pitching? Trying too hard to hit balls over the fence? Left handed MLB pitching is a world different than minor league left handed pitching?

Probably a bit of all those things.

I’m interested to see how Cruz attacks 2023. I firmly believe he could hit 40 homeruns if he hunted them, but I’m equally sure he could hit 25 and do it with a .275 average and an .850 OPS. Either way that’s a valuable bat right? That might be where I land, he’s almost assuredly a valuable bat and I think the struggles vs left handed pitching will regulate a bit, it’s just not his history to struggle as mightily as he did last season with that aspect and the elite bat speed will ultimately allow him to take that extra split second, once he realizes he has it.

What Does Success at SS Look Like?

First of all, Errors aren’t everything, but they matter. Cruz has a history of big error numbers as he’s climbed through the system.

Now in 2021 he showed a nice reduction in those and it’s probably responsible for why the team ultimately believed moving forward giving him a shot to hold the spot was worthy of the effort.

In 2022 he played 678 innings at SS and put together a .953 FPCT% with 17 errors.

Not exactly Omar Vizquel out there is he?

Look, it’s a problem, until it isn’t. The team is going to give him every opportunity to lock it up in 2023, and I’ll touch on why a bit later, suffice to say, Cruz must improve his success rate.

A couple factors that stats just aren’t going to tell you. His range is elite and sometimes what that causes is getting to balls others wouldn’t. That often results in a rushed throw with full mustard that if inaccurate tends to create an error that for most would simply be a base hit.

Another thing that’s tough to quantify, he often gets to balls and because of his arm strength takes too long with it, forcing himself to fire it across as opposed to simply toss it over. These are technique things that you’d hope would be taught prior to MLB, and by most accounts, they were, but still being taught and applying it are two different things.

Maybe the easiest way to quantify his defense is to say a percentile of 3 for OAA (Outs Above Average) when you’re a physical freak with an Arm Strength rating of 97% doesn’t jive.

To call him a success at SS in 2023, his OAA needs to creep into the 40’s or 50’s minimally and inherently the error number would decrease as a result.

Technique wise, we need to see less crow hopping, less full effort throws, basically, less spectacular and more expected outcomes.

If his bat plays, being an above average SS will be enough. Trying to be Ozzie Smith but looking more like Javi Baez won’t cut it long term.

I’ll add one more thing here. Although I personally feel Michael Chavis with his extremely limited first base experience did well, he wasn’t a first baseman that is going to help his fielders much. He lacked the height to make up for sails, he lacked the technique to help with wide ones and he lacked the experience to help with scoops, especially scoops coming in at 98MPH.

Carlos Santana and Ji-man Choi are both experienced and above average fielders over at first base, they could really help some of this along.

We’ve all seen Cruz miss by a mile on throws, but a whole bunch of those errors were balls a “good” first baseman would prevent. Not enough to eliminate them all, but surely enough to help him cut them down even if he puts together roughly the same defensive output this season.

What if He Doesn’t Improve at SS?

First things first, if he hits, there will be incentive to find him another place to play. The arm strength is truly elite and man that’s a not something that will be on display at DH.

Outfield is logical, he’s lightning fast and has an arm that would open Dave Parker’s eyes, but he vocally doesn’t want to play there. I’ll say this, players also don’t like being embarrassed, if the Pirates come up with a superior solution at SS and Cruz doesn’t improve, he’ll likely bend. I personally think that’s the best solution should SS not work out and potentially even if it does, because as I mentioned earlier there will come a day when that position becomes too physically taxing for him and his body type.

The extra effort it takes Cruz to get down on balls in the hole, well it’s the opposite of the minimal effort it takes him to hit a ball 110 MPH. That said, we’re talking 5-6 years down the road in my mind before we start to see him physically pay a price and frankly, he’s a Pirate, it might not matter to us by then.

First base makes a bunch of sense too. With his size and experience in the field, handling first base could be a very natural transition. The argument here is the “waste of his arm” but hey, if it makes him happier than OF, it’s better than DH.

Bottom line, if he doesn’t hold onto SS, expect them to try a couple different things with DH being a last resort.

If He’s Struggling at SS, Why Keep Trying?

This first reason is simplistic as hell and admittedly, some of you simply aren’t going to care, but the player wants it. He wants to be different, and in his mind (likely advised by his representation as well), he’s a more valuable player if he’s a short stop as opposed to outfielder or first baseman. Certainly DH that’s true.

Look around the league these last two years. Short stops get PAID, and Cruz would be no different, of course he wants to stick there.

Now, for the Pirates it’s a little muddier but I’ll give it a go. For one thing, they don’t really have anyone knocking on the door to take over do they? Liover Peguero is the next closest and he’s arguably had a worse go of it defensively even if his body type fits the role better.

Next, the Pirates also see the value in having a SS with Cruz’ potential offensive prowess. It should be no secret that they aren’t going to go buy it, so when they have someone like this, they clearly would love to make it work.

Now that comes with a sundial, at some point they will simply want to do what makes the player the best version of themselves they can be, regardless of where that puts him, but first things first, they’ll want to be sure SS isn’t that place.

Conclusion

Something I simply have to say here is, where you want Cruz to play doesn’t mean a damn thing. I see people believe he should be in the outfield already, but for all the reasons I listed, it isn’t happening yet. I see just as many people push forward that the Pirates would be “criminal” if they moved him. Beyond silly.

Players move positions all the friggin’ time people. Neil Walker was drafted as a catcher, moved because of how “awesome” Ryan Doumit was. Posted up at third base, got called up after Pedro Alvarez had already taken charge of the position, was asked to give second base a shot, and found a way to develop and stick there until his Pirates career ended and he became an almost complete utility man.

He was worth all that because the bat played. In fact, all the consternation is about the bat playing, all the time. If they hit, teams will find a place for them to play, and that’s the bottom line.

Even the Pirates aren’t so poorly run as to assume they see no possibility Cruz becomes an at least passible short stop.

So despite how many decades you’ve been watching baseball, and despite your social convictions about how evil baseball teams are and virtuous baseball players are, nothing tells the story of placing players more than the bat.

If they develop 8 short stops because all their best hitters in the org are short stops, 7 of them will learn a new position. This is simply how things work.

Enjoy watching it happen, and embrace it. Do so knowingly and you’ll see all the signs it’s coming, instead of waiting for someone to tell you it needs to happen.

Top 5 Pirates Prospects: Peaking My Interest

1/10/23 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

Anytime I choose to write about, or have a podcast focusing on prospects, there is a contingent within the Pirates Fanbase that will always get themselves into a tizzy; incorrectly implying that I am guaranteeing success from each and every player I mention.

As a self-appointed prospect junkie, there are players I plan on watching during the upcoming Minor League Season. Some could take a step forward, others should have potential, a few may be on their last leg; while the rest have little to no experience. None are “picks to click”; and, many will never reach the majors.

These are purely the prospects am interested in, and will make a point to watch. It’s that simple. I like watching-and following- the Minor League Organizations in the Pirates Farm System.

Some will fail. Others may be traded. A few could succeed.

Last off-season when I wrote this blog post, I listed Anthony Solometo because we had yet to see him pitch in professional game, Alexander Mojica due to his youth and advanced placement during the previous season, Bubba Chandler out of curiosity as how he would split time on the mound and at the plate, Solomon Maguire on account of his underperformance versus the anticipation brought on by his high signing bonus and Kyle Nicolas, being that he was a pretty big part of the Jacob Stalling Trade.

For the season it was a mixed bag. A 19 year-old, more than 3 years younger than the average Low-A player, Solometo posted a 2.64 ERA and a 1.049 WHIP over 47.2 innings in Bradenton, Nicolas put up a 3.97 ERA and a 1.301 WHIP in 22 starts and 90.2 innings, and Bubba set on tone on the mound, to the tune of a 2.61 ERA and 1.234 WHIP across 2 levels.

On the other side of the coin Mojica only batted .185 with a .607 OPS, while Maguire slashed .217/.311/.278 in his second season in the FCL. Set to be only 20 years-old when the season starts, both young man still have a chance to bounce back and/or emerge. However, the road just will become a little tougher to navigate as each year passes. Much like trying to narrow down the field to only Five Pirates Prospects To Watch. Especially when Ben Cherington raises the difficulty level by trading away one of the players I had jotted down a few weeks ago-Nick Garcia.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Ultimately coming up with a list that has some similarities to the one from last year. At least when it comes to the reasoning for picking a few prospects.

1) Thomas Harrington-RHP

Listing Harrington at #1 gives me such Anthony Solometo vibes. Obviously this has nothing to do with the handiness and/or age; but mostly because, much like Solometo last year, I am anxiously anticipating Harrington’s first professional pitch.

Since being drafted at #36 Overall in Competitive Balance Round A, the former Fighting Camel from Campbell University, has risen the prospect ranks, without even stepping on the field. Currently the 6’2 195 pound righty sits at #10 on MLB Pipeline and #8 at Baseball America, while being listed at #23 on Fangraphs; which is fairly impressive considering he was a walk-on to his college baseball program just two years ago.

During his time on the mound at Jim Perry Stadium, Harrington posted a 2.94 ERA and a 1.069 WHIP with 186 strikeouts in 168.1 inning; including a school record 111 during his senior year, thanks to a plus (55 Grade) fastball that levels out between 90-95 mph, an upper-70’s (50 Grade) curve, a fading (55 Grade) mid-80’s slider and his best pitcher in the form of a mid-80’s swing and miss (60 Grade) changeup.

2) Scott Randall-RHP

Much like Kyle Nicolas last year, Randall arrived in the Pirates Organization via trade; although his was not as prominent, as Jacob Stallings leaving caused a slightly larger uproar than Diego Castillo. Still, it’s not like getting a starting pitcher that more likely slots into the rotation for Altoona-a place held by Nicolas in 2022-for a DFA’d player is bad thing. Plus, Randall didn’t really do anything wrong in the Diamondbacks System. He may just be a little old for the level at 24 years-old heading into 2023.

Selected by Arizona in the 7th Round of the 2021 MLB June Amateur Draft from Sacramento State, Randall pitched 19 innings in Low-A Visalia before being promoted to High-A Hillsboro to start this past season. In 21 starts, across 108 innings he put up a 3.82 ERA and a 1.163 WHIP for the Hops.

A 6’0” 172 pound righty, Randall relies on control/command and sequencing of his low-90’s fastball and above average changeup.

3) Jared Jones-RHP

With Nick Garcia’s departure, I couldn’t think of a better replacement than his fellow 2020 Draftee and 2022 Greensboro Grasshoppers teammate.

In Jones’ high school career he was a legit two way prospect, posting a. 89 ERA with 255 strikeouts in 181 innings pitched, while batting .394 with 7 home runs and a 1.040 OPS. However, when you throw a fastball that reaches 97 mph and two above average off-speed pitches, a full time move to the mound is almost a forgone conclusion.

Over two seasons-and across two levels in Bradenton and Greensboro-Jones has posted a 4.63 ERA and a 1.394 WHIP with 255 strikeouts in 188.2. Obviously one has to hope that the former numbers will steadily improve; but, you also have to remember he’s barely old enough to drink a beer, and was 3 full years younger than the average player in High-A last year.

4) Termarr Johnson-2B/SS

Sure it’s easy to say that Johnson being on this list is picking from the low-hanging fruit; however, being as he is only high school player picked in first round by Ben Cherington thus far, my interest-concerning how quickly-they will advance him through the system-is peaked.

Last August, a little over a month after being selected, Johnson was walking into LECOM Park to make first start at second base for the Bradenton Marauders; after only 29 plate appearances in the FCL.

Over the last few weeks of the season he slashed .275/.396/.450 with a homer and four doubles in an extremely small sample size; yet, more than enough to get at least somewhat excited about.

5) Malcolm Nunez-1B/3B

After Mason Martin’s extreme struggles during the 2022 season, any player that could fill the void at the first base position for the future, is one that I will keep a close eye on; even if he wasn’t added to the 40-Man leading up to the Rule 5 Draft.

Arriving in Altoona as part of the Quintana Trade with the Cardinals; expectations for Nunez were slightly muted due to his 17 homers potentially being aided by stadium dimensions similar to those found in Greensboro. However, in his short time with the Curve, his statistics didn’t take the hit many thought they would.

For comparisons sake Nunez slashed .255/.360/.463 with a 110 wRC+ and .208 ISO in Springfield, and then went on to slash .286/.381/.476 with a 134 wRC+ and .190 ISO in Altoona.

On another encouraging note, that lasted across both organizations, Nunez saw his walk rate surge to 13.7% and 13.5% respectively, while his strikeout rate pushed slightly over 20%; or not bad at all if he is to be considered a power hitter.

Now, Nunez just recently made the switch from third to first, so there is at least some concern that he will be able to play the position long term.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, most likely you are a legitimate fan of Pirates Prospects. That or you are extremely desperate to find me making an incorrect guarantee on a player that fizzles out in Altoona. In that case you are wasting your time.

For the former group, please stick around for bi-weekly pieces on players with-in Pittsburgh’s Farm System. To anyone that may find their way into our company-even out of general curiosity-welcome to club; as we eagerly await the first pitch of the season from the DSL to Indianapolis.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

1-9-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Ahh the middle of January.

The stove cools dramatically, the teams stop looking like amorphous conglomerations of signings and acquisitions, and you start to sit back and look at the collective with an eye toward weak spots instead.

It hasn’t been formally announced yet, but the Pirates are likely going to have pitchers and catchers report on February 15th, and this year, that’s going to be filled with extra intrigue. Endy Rodriguez, Henry Davis and a host of young pitchers we have a whole lot of hope pinned to will mesh with veterans we expect to start with.

I can honestly say, I’m more excited for this Spring Training than I’ve been since probably 2015. When the first pitch is thrown in anger this February 25th against the Blue Jays, I think many are going to be caught off guard how much more difficult cut downs are going to be this time around. Haven’t been in recent years, instead you spent time wondering how they’d find 26 you could pretend were good enough. A welcome change.

Let’s go….

1. Let’s See Some Snarl

Fans loved watching AJ Burnett emphatically get that key strikeout, pump his fist and mouth off with a STFD! to his opponents. That attitude bled into the entire rotation, and indeed team.

It’s why AJ was seen as the team leader, even if in the locker room he wasn’t necessarily looked to in that fashion. Sure everyone liked him, learned from him, but more than anything he showed them how to use passion to maximize what they had to give situationally.

That’s something I fully expect Rich Hill to bring.

Look, at his age, he isn’t going to relate to some 22 year old making his MLB debut, but he might just show them how much baseball is about rising to the occasion situationally as it is opening every game thinking this will be the one you toss a perfect game.

Hill has snarl to his game, and he does it without a triple digit fastball. No, he does it by throwing a 69 mile per hour curveball, knowing the hitter is aware of it, and making sure that hitter knows Rich was sure he couldn’t hit it anyway.

Mitch Keller does have some of that stuff. He can hit upper 90’s, he has incredible movement on his slider, he has a devastating 2-seamer, but Keller has for the majority of his career lacked the attitude to believe his stuff was so good, executing it would lead to outs, not fooling hitters alone.

Hey, sometimes a one year guy is nothing more than a stop gap and potential trade piece, Rich Hill is that too of course, but this aspect, the lessons he can teach through his demeanor and presence, that’s an added benefit I really hope pays dividends up and down the rotation.

2. Will Choi Have Us Saying Yoi?

The first real move the Pirates made this offseason was to trade Minor League right handed pitcher Jack Hartman to the Rays to acquire First Baseman Ji-man Choi.

Many of us assumed that would be it for first base at the time, and many of us were rightly underwhelmed, but hey, at least he was a professional first baseman right?

Well, now that the dust has settled, the Pirates have gone out and gotten another option to back their play over there, have we potentially decided Choi is the everyday starter prematurely?

First, Choi has never played more than 127 games in a single season, and that came during 2019, his best season by far. In fact if 2019 was reflective of the player the Pirates acquired, 19 HR, .261 AVG, .822 OPS, I think there’d be a bit more buzz about the move. In reality though, he’s a lot more like his career stat line and a lot more apt to play 80-100 games than he is to handle 3/4 of the starts over there.

He’s also a player that figures to be helped by the shift rule change, but I can’t imagine he’s helped so much that is takes him from a 1.2 WAR player to something like 3.

Competent, that’s the best way to describe Choi. He’s an excellent fielder, and he takes a professional at bat. He’ll strike out a decent amount but he’ll walk quite a bit too. He hasn’t had an OPS below .729 since his rookie campaign, so he brings competency and consistency, both important, especially when talking about someone you’re looking to step right in and help hold together a position.

He brings something else, 4 straight years of playoff experience. We talked about snarl potentially coming from Hill, well Choi can bring some experience that small markets can get the job done, and he’s got four years of proof in his back pocket.

All that being said, Choi is little more than an average player, and despite his age, Carlos Santana could wind up getting more playing time over there than we’re thinking. We’ve all penciled Santana as the DH and Choi as the 1B, but maybe we’re jumping the gun a bit here. We know Shelton likes using DH as a rest position and we’d be foolish to think Choi is suddenly going to play more than he ever has.

Santana on the other hand has rarely played fewer than 150 games. In fact, Santana has never been a full time DH, he’s always played in the field more so it’s plausible we have it backwards a bit.

Just something to think about, even positions we have considered decided, well, maybe not.

3. I Hate to Raise Hopes But…

I always feel the need to make sure you, my readers or listeners, understand fully that I know what I am, and I know what I’m not. I’m not a journalist, I’m a blogger and podcaster who happens to have a growing list of people willing to talk to me. That comes with responsibility, at least to me it does.

I get information just about every day, some of it I share with you, some of it I just use to ask questions, see things differently or to simply help me verify reports or rumors I see from others out there including the journos.

So, take this for what it’s worth, with all due skepticism you should rightly have.

Internally, the Pirates are absolutely not through trying to extend Bryan Reynolds. Despite all the reports of offers, and return requests. Despite Bryan and his agent going public with a trade request. The team doesn’t see this as a forgone conclusion, at least not yet.

This, according to a couple I’ve spoken to, was not handled well by the club. (shocker right?) There was a low bar that the Reynolds camp put under the Pirates nose and still the Pirates undershot it. The low bar wasn’t insane as illustrated by the reports we’ve all seen and heard in the past week, but it was an indication the Bucs weren’t serious about getting anything done to CAA and their client.

They didn’t undershoot that threshold by 50 million, but let’s just say this initial offer needed to hit 100 million to keep negotiations moving and instead they clumsily took that less seriously than they should have.

Rewind all the way to Ben Cherington’s comments about being peeved at the player’s representation. I believe this was Cherington showing frustration that there was no counter instead a pushing of the nuclear button. An outcome he could have easily avoided in my opinion, but I digress.

If you want me to get into who was right and who was wrong, I guess I could, but what’s more important to me, the team is willing to get at least closer to what both sides saw as fair before this event, and Bryan’s team is willing to at least listen (largely because the team still controls his rights regardless of what they want).

The asks from the Pirates to move Reynolds have been insane and that’s according to a litany of GMs and journalists, but that’s what you do when you simply have no interest in making a move. Blow my doors off or go away.

Bottom line, at least from what I’m hearing directly, while this was not handled well, it also isn’t dead, and the lines of communication aren’t closed. Early Spring will be very important to how this turns out.

I will say this too, if they plan for that next offer to be simply a step up from what they did, don’t bother, it’ll just set up another round of potentially more vocal issues. If they plan to present something that legitimately gets the two sides talking, have at it. From what I hear, Nutting isn’t in the way here, yet. As of now, hasn’t said no to a single proposed offer to anyone, let alone Bryan.

Again, I hesitate to “report” as much as verify things real journalists have reported, but I’ve simply heard too much that sounds like this to sit here pretending I haven’t heard it.

4. Jun-seok, Big Get

According to Daniel Kim, ESPN’s KBO insider the Pirates are about to sign RHP Jun-seok Shim of Korea. He’s seen as the 10th best international amateur, and the 2nd best pitcher. Shim was the consensus number 1 overall pick in last year’s KBO draft before pulling out to pursue an MLB career.

The 6′ 4″ right hander is already 18 years old, which means unlike most international signings, Jun-seok should likely start in the mainland and with a fastball already touching 100 MPH, and a developed 4 pitch mix he should move fairly quickly.

Another pitfall of international signings tends to be the need to clean up deliveries and pitch shapes, but here again, Shim is advanced. Scouts compare him to Chan Ho Park.

This is a clip of him as a 16 year old, but it shows some of what there is to be excited about.

I mean as a 16 year old, that kind of shape and placement on a 12-6 curve, and that kind of ride on a fastball with that much velocity, yeah, special.

The Pirates, and really any team in the lower bowl of market size simply must make hay in this market, and this is one of the more exciting potential international signings they’ve had in years.

This is essentially a draft pick as opposed to the typical 16 year old you hope might grow 4 or 5 more inches and develop a power tool.

I can’t express how huge it would be for this organization to hit on a guy like this.

5. Hayes Remains a Key Figure

Ke’Bryan Hayes is going to be a Pirate for a while, and here’s the thing, we fans barely got to celebrate that fact before we looked up and saw he hurt his hand. Then we found out he would spend the entire season nursing a back injury.

Bottom line, I’m not sure we’ve really seen Ke’Bryan Hayes play the way he can, and here we are entering year two of his 7 year extension.

Now, Hayes was a 4.3 WAR player in 2022, a season most would consider a very underwhelming effort. Still, he played in 136 contests, fought through the back issues to still play gold glove caliber 3B, but the plate is where he suffered.

Hayes may not have the highest offensive ceiling but he also isn’t a guy who struck out like he did last season. Strikeouts were up, walks were down, power in general was down for that matter.

I’d like to think he didn’t feel right all year. First of all, that’s what he and the team said after the season concluded, but more so because he didn’t look like Ke’Bryan Hayes most of the season, yes, even if you think his minor league performance was predictive. This was still a down year.

In my proposed lineups for opening day, I have a hard time putting Ke’ in the top 6 of my lineup. If he can work himself back into that position, man that’s a huge plus for this team and permanently lengthens the lineup.

I can live with Hayes being a doubles hitter in lieu of homeruns, the world needs those to but you can’t abide only pulling off 34 XBH in 560 Plate Appearances.

One thing you notice watching Ke’Bryan is that he tends to get taken to the woodshed on a pitch in a certain location, changes everything to address it, hunt it even, and everything else suffers. To me, Andy Haines has to help Hayes improve or it’s time to move on and find someone who will.

A good player is in there, but it isn’t going to show itself until someone helps him realize he’s taking too many good pitches and swinging at too much crap.

Injury happens. Failing to make adjustments does too. But this 4th year player is the only one being paid on a lengthy contract as we speak, and on this team, it has bigger implications.

I’ve said before, just the glove is worth a certain amount, but for this team, they need him to be more than that. If he doesn’t, he’ll remain a defensive dynamo, but at some point, on a good team like this one hopes to be, that might not be enough.

I’ll say this, nobody will outwork him, and I’ll add, maybe that’s part of the problem. Simplify, focus on contact, and get out of your head when it comes to taking long at bats, most of the league knew Hayes was good for 2 strikes provided you were capable of throwing them before he was willing to take the bat off his shoulder.

Come out there and be unpredictable.

Hayes as a well rounded star puts this whole thing on a different track, Hayes as a defender who hits a little, well, that’s ok I guess.

2023 is going to help paint this picture, believe it or not we don’t yet know what we’ve got here.

The Layers to the Bryan Reynolds Situation

1-8-23 – By Ethan Smith – @mvp_EtHaN on Twitter

Bryan Reynolds has been the talk of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball since he requested a trade last month, or last year if you want to add some comedic relief to the situation.

When the trade request came to our social media airwaves, many Pirates fans panicked, rightfully so, because the most consistent and best, not even arguable, player over the course of his tenure in Pittsburgh requested a trade openly to the team.

But let’s take a step back for just one second and consider why Reynolds and his agent made that decision, to make a trade request public information. Reynolds has never had anything bad to say about the Pirates as an organization, I’d even go as far to say he’s enjoyed his time here… shocker.

The first thought that went through my head when Reynolds request came to my attention was simple, “What have the Pittsburgh Pirates ever done for Bryan Reynolds to want to be a Pittsburgh Pirates?” The answer is also pretty simply put, absolutely nothing, yet he wants to be here.

We can argue on the multitude of reasons on why we don’t want Reynolds anywhere else, but ultimately we have a soft spot for Reynolds because he was the prize of the Andrew McCutchen trade to the San Francisco Giants. That’s the first layer of all this, do the Pirates get a Bryan Reynolds level player in a trade for him? The likely answer is no.

Take a look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers did earlier this season, they traded Chase Claypool, a player they invested a second-round pick into just a few years ago, for a second-round pick. They got exactly the same amount, if not better, value than what they put into him when drafting him out of Notre Dame. You know how often that happens in any sport? Hardly ever.

So when a Bryan Reynolds trade is considered , take note of the fact that any of the players the Pirates receive in turn have a minute likelihood to be the same caliber player as Reynolds.

The second layer digs more into the future. We get upset that the Pirates have “too many prospects” in the middle-infield and “not enough prospects” in the outfield that will amount to any of valuable to make this team competitive. That allows me to pose a question, “Do we ever truly know what prospects will be of value to this team in the coming years at this exact moment?”

Prospects are like shooting darts at a dart board, we know that, so do we know what the lineup will look like three-years down the line with or without Reynolds in it? No, we can have a general idea based on arbitration and contractual obligations, but we truly don’t know who is a guy and who isn’t.

It can be a pretty easy and general assessment that the Pirates do not have a loaded stash of outfield prospects on the way, but with the loaded stash they likely do have at the middle infield, guys are more than capable of moving somewhere else, especially if their bat is good enough to stay in the lineup everyday.

So when you wonder where Nick Gonzales, Ji-hwan Bae, Liover Peguero or others will play, well if they play well offensively, they’ll play. Baseball is a sport that is willing to sacrifice defense for offensive output, we’ve seen that shift for years. Let’s also remember that Mookie Betts, one of the best players in the game, shifted from second base to the outfield and has worked out perfectly fine, it happens all the time, players rarely stay in the position they were drafted in.

Enough about prospects and position changing, that can be an entire story in itself, which brings me to layer three.

Would we be having this same conversation about Reynolds and his camp requesting more money if the Pirates did not sign Ke’Bryan Hayes to a 8-year, $70 million contract last year? I’ll let you decide that in the comments, but my answer is no.

Why do I say no? Well, for starters, Hayes signed the biggest contract in Pirates history, something the front office was praised for. Holding onto Reynolds despite his immense value for the past two years is another thing the mostly inept front office of the Pirates was praised for, but it’s also something that has put the Pirates in the position they currently sit with Reynolds.

The front office has verbally come out and said they want Reynolds on this team long-term. So that implies signing him at what he’s valued long-term to keep him in the 412 right? You’d think so, but “low-balling” him at 6-year, $75 million or a little higher than that has obviously created a rift between what the Pirates want to give him and what Reynolds wants.

Long-term commitments are commonplace in baseball now. Aaron Judge, Xander Boagaerts, Wander Franco, Fernando Tatis Jr., and that’s just naming a few. Long-term commitments to one player come with a risk, but when was the last time the Pirates made a major risk to improve this team?

Oh yea, the Chris Archer trade. Yea it didn’t work out, but baseball franchises have to take risks to be competitive in the long-term or even the short-term.

That’s my final layer to all of this. Yes, extending Reynolds would make everyone happy and he’d be getting paid what he wants and stay where he wants. Are the final two or three years risky with his age? Sure. But at some point this front office has to step out of its comfort zone to bring winning baseball back to PNC Park, and fixing this situation, shelling out a hefty paycheck to your best player would be stepping out of their comfort zone, even though it shouldn’t be that way.

Reynolds is a phenomenal baseball player any way you look at him. The Pirates and Reynolds are about $50-million off per reports, so I’ll wrap with this question for you, the reader, “Are the Pittsburgh Pirates really going to lose their best, tick off their entire fanbase and set themselves back, again, for $50-million over a six-to-eight year span?” You be the judge of that.

Frequently Asked Pirates Questions

1-8-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

No matter how you look at it, the Pirates have had an interesting offseason, even if one story has dominated the oxygen in the room. The funny thing is, in today’s world, the more something is covered, the less likely it is that people continue to deal in fact, especially as people with credibility often find themselves offering opinion mixed in with very little to differentiate between the two.

Talk about any subject enough and someone is gonna develop some silly conspiracy theory, and manage to make it convincing.

That’s kinda where we’ve gotten with this Reynolds situation at this point. I’ll get into it a bit here today, but there are other things folks have been asking about, so lets see how much we can knock out before our Steelers head out and try to sneak into the playoffs.

1. Why DFA Zach Thompson?

First, let me say I had the same reaction. It’s not that I see him as some untouchable, or even that I saw him as essential to the effort this year, but with 3 options, MLB experience in the bullpen and rotation, I felt he was a really nice and cheap insurance policy, specifically at the beginning to first third of the season, that might be necessary for filling in, in lieu of calling up someone who may not be quite ready.

For instance, lets say out of Spring the Pirates go with a rotation of Keller, Contreras, Brubaker, Hill, & Velasquez. Don’t get hung up on the order, just the names. This is very likely in my mind.

Now this would likely mean Ortiz, Oviedo, Burrows, Priester, & Bolton have all been sent back to AAA to hone their skills. My thinking on Thompson is should there be an early injury to one of the five I listed as in the opening day rotation, he’d be a perfect guy to bring up to stem the tide, especially if it’s a relatively short term thing.

Again, I’m not going to cry over it, I just wrote a couple weeks back about Diego Castillo getting cut all about how I typically keep a list of 5 I feel are on the bubble and once I put them there I tend to stop worrying about the player. This one took me off guard if only because I didn’t have him there yet.

That said, moving on from guys like Thompson, well it means the roster isn’t the ghost yard it’s been.

The logical question is why Thompson over Underwood or Stephenson right? I don’t have a good answer here, mainly because those two were on my list, and Thompson wasn’t. If anything, maybe take from this that they don’t care about options as much as I do, and they also don’t think Thompson wasn’t a guy they needed to see more from, which if I’m honest, I kinda agree with. Just because I saw utility doesn’t mean I was anxious to see more.

He’ll absolutely get picked up, in fact I’d be shocked if a trade wasn’t brokered.

2. If You Media Types Would Shut Up About Reynolds it Would Go Away!

Not bloody likely.

Blaming the media has become a national pastime unfortunately. I’ll fully admit there are biases and slants all through the media regardless of subject, but I’m sorry, when a player’s representation puts forward a trade request of a really good player, there isn’t going to be any avoiding it.

No matter what the Pirates have done well this offseason, no matter the topic, you always wind up landing on “if they don’t move Reynolds”.

I can sit here and tell you I don’t think they will, not yet. I have that based on sourced reporting after all, but there are also competing reports that say the opposite. All that means is the house is divided, and essentially, anything is possible.

As long as that hangs over the Pirates, it’s going to remain really hard to have a serious conversation about anything they do without casting a gaze in that direction.

Media isn’t perfect, but reporting the minutia that surrounds something this big is literally the job for some people. I can ignore it, but when and if he gets moved, wouldn’t it seem like I had my head in the sand? Regardless of what your answer is, to many that’s exactly what they would assume.

It’s a story because it’s a story, not because anyone is “running him out” or “rooting for the team to fail”, or my favorite, “click baiting”.

Also, the Pirates have the power to end this story, so if it’s really that damaging (psst, it is) one would think they’d put an end to it by doing what’s best for the team and dealing with the consequences either way.

3. Aside From Reynolds, Who Else Might the Pirates Consider Trading?

This is loaded. The easy answer is probably more about who isn’t available.

Cruz, Hayes, Contreras, and probably Suwinski you have to imagine aren’t going anywhere, at least not now.

That doesn’t mean they’re shopping everyone else, it just means a guy like Castro for instance could find himself pushed aside by Nick Gonzales or Liover Peguero, or anyone really. Or he could take second base by the short hairs in 2023 and render someone we’re not even thinking about available.

Traditionally speaking, it should be painfully obvious all the 1 year contract guys are potentially on the move, unless, and maybe even if, the Pirates are in contention come deadline time.

Out of the guys with arb years left, JT Brubaker probably tops my list. I think his ceiling is a back end of the rotation guy and his floor is a bullpen arm. For this reason I’ve suggested he’s a guy who I might be compelled to extend with a moderate deal, something in the 5 million per range for 5 or 6 years. A deal like that would be a bargain if he sticks in the rotation, and reasonable if he goes to the bullpen.

Brubaker drew interest last deadline from teams, and with what the Pirates have coming, he could find himself being forced out of the rotation by August anyhow.

That said, they certainly don’t have to move him or anyone really. Even the 1 year guys, they may find themselves in a situation where the effort to improve the record outweighs the return possibilities.

At this point, aside from Reynolds, I doubt you’ll see anyone with control moved, unless someone renders them less important by beating them out. Keller and Brubaker each have 2 more years of arbitration (as does Reynolds) following the 2023 season, Keller isn’t likely to be passed by any of the rookies this year, and will almost surely be a big part of the rotation in 2024. If anything, Keller extension talk should become a topic before too long here.

4. Don’t One Year Deals Mean the Pirates Still Aren’t Serious?

I get this one a lot, and I get it the thinking too, I just don’t see it that way.

It really means two things.

One, the team is excited about what they have coming, and the likelihood that from that group they will fill most of these spots competently. And two, they don’t feel starting 2023 with members of that group they’re excited about jives with the belief it’s time to show numerical record improvement this year.

That’s a fairly good bet. Let’s take first base and start there. The likelihood that Santana and Choi will provide a solid and professional season, at least up to the deadline, is pretty high. They both have fairly established competencies and between the two of them, the position is well cared for.

If Malcom Nunez, Mason Martin or anyone else for that matter steps up in AAA and shows they deserve a shot, well, good, but it also won’t be a disaster if they don’t. Meaning if the prospects don’t pan out, at least the Pirates have some league average to slightly above league average players at a position where they simply didn’t reach that threshold in 2022.

The Pitching staff we’ve talked about like this at nauseum, Rich Hill is a really solid vet arm, he’ll give innings, and probably quality innings, but make no mistake, the Pirates would love for one of their youngsters to make moving him logical for both business and baseball reasons.

You sign guys like this for insurance, buying time and shear professionalism. Don’t sign guys like this and you falsely start the clock on guys, which forces decisions you aren’t quite ready to make yet. Say you add Nunez to the 40-man, first that requires another DFA, then his season gets off to a slow start, or he looks overmatched and needs to go back down. I you don’t have these guys signed, you’re kinda stuck. You can then try a flier on Martin, add him, DFA another, see what he has, both have their clock started, both are now on the 40 begging or the team to have no choice but to consider their DFA candidacy, and probably scrambling to move a square peg over to that round hole at first base.

That’s why you do this. Not because you think Choi and Santana fix everything, just because you aren’t sure about who you currently have, yet like them enough to feel you don’t want to decide now they won’t make it at all so you don’t want to lock them out either.

Not one of these signings is going to help the Pirates win a division in the future, I get it, and you’re tired of constantly seeing a revolving door, understand that too, I’m just saying look at the system, who’s expected this year and next, it’ll make sense, even if you really don’t want it to.

Now, how do I know these rookies wouldn’t step right in and kill it? I don’t, neither do the Pirates, but I can say historically, it’s not likely, and so can the Pirates. You can’t make fun of this team for entering 2022 with hot garbage at several spots, then get mad a year later when they want to insulate themselves from repeating the same practice.

5. Which Rookie Do You Expect the Most from in 2023?

This one is tough because there are a lot of them, and some I think can arrive earlier than others, that factors in for me quite a bit.

Endy is the easiest answer. He hit everything last season and while I’m quite sure he’ll start in AAA, I also don’t see him lasting past June down there. If that’s true, he’s the pick. If I had to select another, I’d go with Luis Ortiz, I think especially with the Thompson decision, depth in the rotation is going to get used even earlier.

We forget sometimes that players like Ji-hwan Bae are also rookies, and if they get this kid 500 at bats this year, he’s going to open some minds. This is a different kind of kid with real lightning bolt style to his game. I could see him starting right out of Spring and if that happens I think there’s a good chance he puts together an .800 plus OPS figure, which folks, would be pretty damn great for a rookie. The new rules both for shifting and on the basepaths could make his speed even more valuable and I just can’t get past it.

I see him coming seemingly out of nowhere to get some national attention this year.

That’s probably my pick, Ji-hwan Bae if only because I think he’ll win a job out of Spring.

There is No Winning this Reynolds Situation, and The Pirates Have to Point Fingers Internally

1-4-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

With stories like this, things don’t change as much as holes in knowledge start to get filled.

Jason Mackey filled in one blank, providing a rough report of the monetary gap between the two sides, that sits around 50 Million dollars. He obviously doesn’t need me to confirm his reporting, you know, he’s a real journalist, I’m a blogger & podcaster with some contacts.

That said, this doesn’t change anything I have put out there either. I said this was about term, and it is. That 50 million-ish dollars would come from the years the Pirates aren’t, at least as of now, willing to tack on.

From earlier reporting, we know the Pirates offer was worth more than the Ke’Bryan Hayes contract. Not including the option years, that was worth 70 million. If you assume the Pirates offered say 80 to Reynolds, simple math puts the green zone for Reynolds and his team at around 125-130 million at what I’d wager would be for 7 years.

This would take him through his year 35 season.

Now, another part of Mackey’s reporting put forward that from his sources, most don’t see Reynolds being a Pirate by 2024, some don’t see him even making 2023.

Again, I fully trust Jason Mackey, but this sent me back to my sources to see if things had changed in their minds. That answer is still a firm no.

I could just have bad sources, there’s a reason I don’t play reporter, but it’s equally possible, our sources are coming from different areas of the business and simply have different sets of information.

Whew.

That’s what we know and where we stand. Today, I want to spend some time talking about what this situation has created.

I’ve said this before, but there is no winning a deal like this for the Pirates. Moving Reynolds plain and simple will move the timeline.

Think about it, a team that wants to acquire Reynolds isn’t likely to be in a position to return MLB ready talent because they themselves are trying to add to the MLB roster. The Pirates are also supposed to now be in a place where they aren’t looking for subtraction.

So this will make return packages difficult. There will be highly touted prospects that are blocked by their current team, formerly highly touted prospects who haven’t broken through and if the Pirates are lucky, a young player who’s found a foot hold in the league.

None of that should be all that appealing to the Pirates. That stuff is fine when you’re moving someone like Adam Frazier who’s out of team control and your team isn’t ready to compete anyway.

The path to the best return for Reynolds is really to target young players with high upside and a considerable amount of time away from the league. Now I say best but I mean best value. Meaning this would improve the organization, just not right now at the MLB level.

See you can rarely serve two masters in MLB and that’s the situation the Pirates put themselves in with this player.

They are ready to show improvement, and they are ready to start seeing some of that top end talent make it and begin to impact the team, but neither of those two things can add up to improvement if they move their most complete baseball player.

You want something really scary, I mean beyond Reynolds leaving? If Mitch Keller comes out and pitches like a true top of the rotation arm this year, he’ll have 2 years of arbitration left, and I haven’t heard a single peep that he’s been approached.

In other words, the Pirates at some point are going to have to start facing the financial realities of this league. If not, building a team starts to resemble bailing water out of a boat with a pasta strainer.

This stuff will never stop being a thing and the Pirates window for deciding to extend a guy remains a problem. Think about a guy like Oneil Cruz. He’s exciting, his ceiling is still crazy high, he struggled last year by all accounts and still showed more offensive potential than anyone else they’ve had here not named Bryan Reynolds.

Still, he’s raw, I’m sure the Pirates or any team for that matter would love to know if he’s gonna stick at SS, move to the OF, hit lefties better, get the contact numbers up before making a long term decision.

Most teams could take that with no problem, the Pirates due to their own self imposed restrictions and those bestowed on them by the league are very likely to watch him go out and prove it this year, and at the same time, price himself out.

That’s the fine line, and folks, it’s unsustainable.

Now, if you basically ignore all that and focus more on keeping guys through team control years, you can manage timing and progression to a degree, but eventually the bill comes due. Let enough guys walk for the qualifying offer draft pick and eventually you run out of steam.

That’s why Reynolds is such a litmus test for this club. When they decided to not deal him with the last group, to me it said, we get he’s part of this thing, he has to be part of this thing, and when you decide that, you better not miss on getting the deal done.

Unfortunately, it looks like we’re poised to see exactly that.

When the Pirates inked Ke’Bryan Hayes it seemed like a good sign. It seemed like they had found someone they believed in, and aggressively signed him to an extension, even while he still has a bunch of questions to answer.

It’s a good deal even if he never evolves if only for the defense, but it’s only a good deal because Ke’Bryan for whatever reason took a very team friendly package. There’s a big part of me that believes the Pirates didn’t think he’d take this offer, but here we are.

There is enough talent in this system to still feel good about building something good, but if they don’t start keeping some of the gems they find, they’ll wake up one day like a drunken prospector who had too much fun at the bar in town after cashing in two months worth of panning.

Trading Reynolds will very much so be two steps back for this organization, and quite frankly even if it makes them a super great team in 2027, by then they will be forced to face the reality of Cruz running through his control, Keller, Brubaker, hell even Hayes himself will be easily movable by then if he hits more.

So the question really is, when do you put a foot down? At what point do you as a franchise decide ok, this is one guy we aren’t losing.

I can understand not wanting to lock yourself in to an expensive contract long term, but we’re talking the bare minimum price to do business in this league money here. 125-130 over 7 years shouldn’t sound like lockout money, we’re talking 18 million or so per season, and if that is not going to be in the cards, you can kiss goodbye anyone who ever wins Rookie of the Year. You can forget any pitcher who catches on before they hit arbitration.

Even the frugal Rays, a team that quite literally take every advantage the league gives them to short change players up to and including paying offering pay decreases to arbitration players, because they can, extend players. It’s part of doing business.

Maybe it’s personal between Cherington and Reynolds at this point, I wouldn’t rule that out, bad blood was brewed last year around arbitration time, but again, prove it. Prove it’s just one player and you couldn’t come together. Prove it by showing me someone else you want to keep and do.

Hayes isn’t enough, that’s two year old news at this point.

Here’s the poop with Reynolds. If they choose to just have him play, which is completely within their rights, he’ll play, and he’ll give it everything he’s got, but if he has a poor season we’ll be having a completely different conversation next offseason. Extension would no longer be worth worrying about, and return would become more about hoping you can get something worthwhile as opposed to a king’s ransom. If he kills it, it’s not like the fan base is suddenly not going to care next year, right when your team is poised to compete.

There is no way to win this I’ll say again. That said, here are the options on the table as I see them.

  • Force him to play it out, post the qualifying offer after 2025 and recoup a draft pick while hoping some of your young talent is ready to step in.
  • Trade him now for young prospects and eat that the team is no longer on track.
  • Trade him now for MLB ready players, not unlike Gerrit Cole to Houston and pray whatever team you deal with is dumb.
  • Extend him now, probably pay a premium to make up for pissing around in the first place and deal with moving him come 2027 or so anyway.

That’s the situation.

And it’s a situation they have created entirely on their own. This is a player who 100% wanted to play here. You don’t have to take my word for it, he’s put out several quotes in the media, and off the record has told multiple media members his intent to be a Pirate for a long time was not lip service.

In short, the Pirates had to go out of their way to sour this relationship this badly and at the end of the day, they have nobody to blame but themselves.

There is still every opportunity to overcome this situation, either now or later depending on what approach they take, but until they show they’re ready to step up and do the bare minimum pay to play amount, it’s always going to be little more than hope and timing with zero room for error.

A Pirates Staff Anchored By Dick Mountain

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-2uvq5-1353974

Rich Hill can add the Pirates to his long list of MLB teams. The pirates can add something reliable to the rotation. Is there still room for developing pitchers? You betcha!

Brought to you by ShopYinzz.com! Craig Toth covers the Pirates for Inside The Bucs Basement, and joins his buddy Chris at a 9-foot homemade oak bar to talk Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball. Listen. Subscribe. Share. We are “For Fans, By Fans & All Pirates Talk.” THE Pirates Fan Podcast found EVERYWHERE podcasts can be found and always at BucsInTheBasement.com!

It’s Just a Game

1-3-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

This is a baseball website.

We don’t stray on that, we don’t delve into the intricacies of other sports, even while we’re fans of many other things.

Sometimes, something happens that transcend everything. Last night, Bills Safety, former University of Pittsburgh and Central Catholic, and Pittsburgh Native Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field of play during Monday Night Football in Cincinnati.

This happened right after I finished reading comments on my latest 5 Pirates Thoughts at 5 piece.

Comments were typical, Shelton is a piece of sh**!, F Castro and his Cell Phone!, and on and on and on.

These things don’t really bother me, they’re easy enough to ignore, and I chalk it up to frustration boiling over a bit.

But last night, man it just hit home for me, this is just a game, and these players and coaches, are just people. Talented people, but just living, breathing human beings with families and friends, pets and mortgages.

I’ve never seen anything quite like that last night. Players getting hurt, well that happens just about every game even if a simple tweaked ankle, but a player collapsing and having almost 10 minutes of potentially life saving CPR performed right there on the field, folks if that doesn’t effect you, maybe change the way you think about these players at least a little, I’m not sure what to say.

This is a lesson I learned some time ago. Toward the beginning of my writing career if that’s what you want to call it, I wrote that some player (who I’ll keep to myself) was a “worthless bum”.

Now if that doesn’t sound like the type of stuff I write to you, good, it means I genuinely learned a lesson and have managed to keep myself in check.

A member of the player’s family directly reached out to me and asked me simply what gave me the right to call this guy something like that. I was cocky, I fired back without thinking, he stunk for like two weeks straight! It was then they gently and calmly said, you mean when his grandmother died and he chose to stay with the team anyway and play through it?

Boom right?

I hadn’t been doing this very long, and I’ll be blunt, I considered just quitting right there. I had just been rightfully smacked in the nose, and I could either just go away, or I could learn the difference between critique and ignorant bashing.

Something like this happening should be eye opening for everyone. Suddenly the entire NFL world knows not only who Damar is but where he’s from, causes he believes in, how much importance he places on his family, how he’s embraced his new community of Buffalo and never forgotten what home really is here in Pittsburgh.

These are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, living breathing human beings, some experiencing many of the same problems you face everyday, you just don’t have 14,000 Twitter users jeering at you when you enter a wrong number in your spreadsheet because your head wasn’t in the game.

In fact earlier this season, Damar had a particularly hard hit on Kenny Pickett, his friend from college, and online all the people that should have known him best, all the people who live in Pittsburgh and watched one of our own grow up and stay here for college in large part to stay close to his beloved family set forth questioning his integrity for making a play.

The internet has done many positive things, but one big negative is it’s given millions the ability to put thoughts out there instantly. Simply thinking for 5 minutes before hitting send and 3/4 of those things don’t get posted.

We can do better than this, all of us.

We can realize these are people, and we can act like civilized humans ourselves while criticizing play and breaking down shortcomings.

Something like last night, well, to me that’s a line I pray changes some hearts.

We can have passionate discussions about sports, complete with teasing and hyperbole, and we can also keep in mind, none of that requires wishing harm on players. None of that has to come with the overt hatred that spews out of the mouths of fans on a seemingly daily basis.

It’s just a game, and they’re just people. The price of your cable bill or ticket stub may give you the right to act however you see fit, but it sure would be nice if instead we all took a step back and reconnected with our humanity perhaps we can turn back a trend that has done nothing but devolve for the best part of a decade.

God bless you all, and keep Damar Hamlin in your prayers.

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

1-2-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I’ve been writing this weekly feature since March of 2020. If you were to go read through them all, and there’s one for every week I assure you, you’ll get a picture of how this team has slowly evolved.

Oh there would be wrong predictions, some right ones too, but more than anything you’d see a weekly chronicle of that week’s biggest issues, guys in and out, changes being made.

I’m excited to think that this year, I might be following the culmination of all that painful baseball.

Let’s go!

1. Opening Day 2022 to 2023

I think at times you can get lost watching free agency and baseball’s offseason roll along. You can almost forget where you just were. Let’s refresh our memories a bit because I keep hearing this team is still going to lose 100 games in 2023, and honestly, I’m not sure how you can look at these and pretend it’s the same team.

2022 Opening Day:
C- Roberto Perez
1B- Yoshi Tsutsugo
2B- Hoy Park
3B- Ke’Bryan Hayes
SS- Kevin Newman
LF- Ben Gamel
CF- Bryan Reynolds
RF- Cole Tucker
DH- Dan Vogelbach

2023 Projected Opening Day:
C- Austin Hedges
1B- Ji-man Choi
2B- Rodolfo Castro
3B- Ke’Bryan Hayes
SS- Oneil Cruz
LF- Bryan Reynolds
CF- Ji-hwan Bae
RF- Jack Suwinski
DH- Carlos Santana

How about we compare the starting rotation.

2022 Rotation
Mitch Keller
Jose Quintana
JT Brubaker
Bryse Wilson
Zach Thompson

2023 Projected Rotation
Mitch Keller
Rich Hill
JT Brubaker
Vince Velasquez
Roansy Contreras

I’m not even going to try to convince you, or flesh out the bench. I won’t get into how much more they have for the bullpen or all the very real starting options that won’t even make this team. I’ll quite literally leave it right here.

They’ll be better in 2023, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re much better.

Get your head out of the payroll and really look. Be skeptical, everyone is to a degree, but don’t lie and look at that stuff and try to pretend it’s the same team it was, you’ll just look ignorant honestly.

2. 76 to 52

That’s how many fewer games every team in baseball will play within their own division this year with the implementation of the new balanced schedule.

It guarantees each team will play at least one series against every single other team in the league.

Every single divisional game will have extra importance placed on it. There will be 13 games between each division foe as opposed to 19.

Think about the importance something like an injury could have on these head to heads.

If you only have 13 with the Cards and say 7 of them are stacked together in a couple week span, one in which Goldschmidt was injured, man that could really change the complexion of the division.

I’m open to this because in general I like the idea of having a chance to see stars from everywhere instead of once every 4 years, but we also shouldn’t pretend it will have no side effects.

Teams within divisions tend to build their teams to directly beat other teams in their division, perhaps over time here we’ll start to see less of that. Like the Boston Red Sox who’ve always had to make sure they carry lefty starters for when they face the Yankees and that short porch, even while Fenway Park isn’t the friendliest place for them. Maybe they put a bit less emphasis there.

Interesting to think about anyway.

I’d love to hear your early expectations for how this will change the league.

3. Is 2023 Derek Shelton’s Last?

Derek is a lame duck, there’s no two ways about it. He has no contract beyond this season and this is also the last year this team will enter a season having expectations that fall short of believing a playoff berth is there for them, at least for this talent group.

When a coach gets to the point where his roster by in large has more certainty about their future than himself, things can start to get weird.

A player is told what to do by someone they see as inevitably in their charge for the next 5 or 6 years, and it carries weight, but when the player sees a bigger chance they’ll be listening to someone different, and maybe very soon, let’s just say messages can fall flat.

This could go two ways. One, the team that is visibly better with fewer pitfalls still fails to look professional and the team just moves on. Or, they look great and behind the scenes the Pirates decide just how much they believe by extending him.

It’s a big year for both Derek and the Pirates. Can’t afford to make a mistake here, and for the first time, I can’t sit here and throw my hands up in the air wondering how Earl Weaver would do better with this lot.

4. Cruz Still the Leadoff Guy?

I’m not so sure.

Cruz did well there in 2022, and I was very vocal calling for it last year. I wanted him to get the extra at bats, and thought it might help take some pressure of him to drive in runs and perhaps see a few more pitches.

That said, this is a team that needs run production, and we mustn’t pretend Cruz is anything less than one of their top options to provide it.

I can’t say this is a decision I’m 100% locked in on. We see teams all over the league do different things like that. Ronald Acuna Jr. hits leadoff for Atlanta after all, maybe that’s what the Pirates will want to do with Cruz too.

To me, Ji-hwan Bae is just perfect for the role and can set the table for Cruz and Reynolds to really feast.

This is going to be interesting to watch play out.

5. A Real First in 2023

One thing we’re going to likely see in this season is Ben Cherington’s first draft pick that actually makes MLB.

It’s almost comical how fans have continued to rail on a development system that hasn’t produced. I mean, the entire story has yet to be written for sure, but they also have a much better team put together and have yet to benefit from any of the plethora of high end draft choices made by this new administration.

I can’t say who’ll be first, Henry Davis, or Nick Gonzales but one or both should arrive this season in some capacity.

There are a ton of moving parts in a rebuild, not many compete for importance with making hay on high draft picks, this year we start to find out if they’ve done just that.

Of all the nice progress and upgrades the Pirates have made, nothing will truly change this team more than top end talent making the league and becoming fixtures. In fact I’ll go so far as to say some of them have to actually become stars.

Can’t see a path to all this working if they don’t.