Five Pirates Thoughts at Five


9-26-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

There is simply no room for positives when one aspect of your team is this bad. The Pirates bullpen has completely imploded and no matter what goes right, who comes up, whom takes a step, the good feelings can only last about as long as the team can hold out before having to turn it over to the bullpen.

Even their lone victory against the Cubs took a shutout performance from the starter (Johan Oviedo) who turned it over to a pseudo starter (Zach Thompson) who finished it out.

Again, it’s not good for development. All these kids up here trying to improve and contribute are putting the team in position to win often enough, but then at some point they have to turn it over to players that likely have no future here, or have already given every ounce of what they had to give in 2022 to the cause.

I don’t like minimizing all the team’s ills to one aspect because that’s simply not true, but it’s at least disproportionately on that department, and the worst thing it creates is an inability to allow these youngsters to really enjoy what some of them are doing up here.

Let’s dig in today.

1. Anduhaaaaah!

I wish I was petty enough to be irritated about the Pirates claiming Miguel Andujar off waivers from the Yankees simply because I’ve been fighting him off as a trade chip for every Pirates player who mattered the best part of a decade.

Unfortunately, that’s not why it bothered me. It wasn’t even the talent level of this particular player.

Miguel is a right handed bat who can play 3B, LF, 1B, & DH. Out of all those, 1B and DH are the real needs. Now, he hasn’t exactly played much 1B, we’re talking about 17,1 innings worth in his Yankees career that stretches all the way back to 2017.

Anyone excited about this is going to point to 2018. He finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in that campaign, played in 149 games while hitting almost .300 with 27 homeruns and 47 doubles.

Since then, he’s been injured on and off and it became more than clear the Yankees were simply not going to make room for the once promising prospect.

Again, it’s not like I see no value here.

My issue is really simple. Picking up a guy like this at this stage of the season is essentially like signing a free agent who’s team decided to non-tender him. He’s entering Arb 2 next year and he’ll likely get about 1.5 million dollars. Essentially what the Pirates did with Daniel Vogelbach and maybe he’ll fill the same role largely.

Thing is, I’d like them to be past this. I’d like them to either go get someone who is sure to be an upgrade, as opposed to hoping someone who couldn’t crack an MLB roster in 10 years and stick might be one.

It’s not about whether he’s better than Michael Chavis, it’s about recognizing he’s in the same stratosphere. I will say he hits right handed pitching better, but, it’s at the end of the day, yet another attempt to get “free” talent.

This could work out for the Pirates, it really could. They need a right handed bat to be sure, and anyone who considers Michael Chavis to be a lock has completely accepted futility. If they’re wrong though, they’ll just throw away another half season “trying” to help him find himself.

Andujar has openly asked for a trade from the Yankees multiple times, so who knows, maybe opportunity is the fountain of youth for him, all I’m saying is he’s played 105 games in MLB since that stellar 2018 season and even then he had defensive question marks that the Yankees weren’t just going to overlook.

If he’s locked in as a DH, that complicates some things as the Pirates have so many prospects who might find themselves not winning a position battle with the glove, but the bat requires playing time.

We’ll see. At the end of the day, I’d rather see them seek and sign someone who’s proved they’re an upgrade as opposed to seeking and picking up someone who might be.

I simply feel they should be beyond that.

Now, onto what this means for the current club. First, it means Michael Chavis and Greg Allen have been DFA’d in place of Jose Godoy and Andujar.

Greg Allen, totally get it, he’s gotten a chance, and probably more than he should have. Michael Chavis, well, that takes me a little by surprise. Not because he’s been some world beater, but because he’s the only person they’ve found to competently play first base and Andujar at the very least is untested there. That also explains why Collins stays and Godoy comes up. Hedging their bet.

Remember that DFA doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gone for good, but it does mean when it comes to the 40-man plans, the Pirates aren’t looking to fill it with guys they’ve seen enough of.

Chavis has been a good soldier here, done what he was told, took on a position they sorely needed filled, hit some homeruns and had some timely hits, but if you’re building a winner, it doesn’t make sense to hold on for more from someone you don’t think has it to give. I’d also refrain from listing people you’d have preferred to move on from, not everything is a 1 for 1, for instance, you could argue Ke’Bryan Hayes hitting stats aren’t much better, the difference is first, his glove, and second the perception that one has reached their ceiling and the other isn’t close to his yet.

We’ll touch on fairness a bit later today in this piece, but it’s simply not what baseball is about. Chavis was not going t get a 40-man spot, and the Pirates ripped the band aid off instead of pulling it hair by hair.

2. Bryan Reynolds’ 2022 Finishing Strong

Man it was a really tough season for Reynolds. I don’t mean his numbers as much as how much he looked like he was fighting with himself for every stat he racked up.

For Bryan it’s always about timing. He’ll tell you that if you’re fortunate enough to get him to do more than grunt at you in that gruff voice. More than timing though, he struggled mightily with taking borderline pitches, and hitting with runners in scoring position.

Even now, his batting average isn’t where he’d like it to be. At .266 he’s struck out a career high 134 times. He’s also hit 26 bombs, a career high for him there as well. Point is, by the time this season’s story is written we’ll look back and feel pretty silly for having any concerns about how Reynolds started the year.

He’s already signed for next season for 6.75 Million and has two more years of arbitration following. This offseason the chatter and rumors that other teams want him in a trade are going to be louder than ever.

So let me get in front of this. He won’t be traded. In fact, according to my sources the Pirates have every intention of extending him beyond his arbitration years. The Pirates see Reynolds as a cornerstone to this whole thing. Derek Shelton sees him as literally the only sure thing in his lineup. Even the owner (I know, I know) sees him as so important to the cause he was unwilling to allow the process of arbitration to play out with him and forced his GM to make sure it not only went away in 2022 but that it wouldn’t come up again in 2023.

Offensively speaking, seeing if Reynolds can get to that 30 homerun milestone in 2022 is probably the most exciting thing left to watch. This offseason, seeing if the Pirates will manage to lock up their best overall player might be the most important thing to watch.

3. Despite This Finish, 2023 Pitching Staff, and Indeed the Team Has Promise

There is so much to hate from what we watched play out this season with regard to the pitching staff. I wrote about how some of their early season decisions helped lead to a bullpen that simply has nothing left to offer, but looking ahead, it’s kind of hard to not get at least a little excited.

Let’s start with the foundation that’s been built. Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras have absolutely arrived, and folks, if I left it right there you should already feel better entering 2023 than you did this year. I say that because more than one prognosticator had Bryse Wilson as their best bet to be the “ace” in 2022.

Part of that thinking is still prevalent. We love to assume guys are what they’ve shown, destined to never get better. By week 7 or so of this very season my mentions were loaded to the brim with calls to DFA Keller for instance. Even after he started really rolling it probably went on for 12 weeks or so before the first few brave souls started popping their heads out and simply asking, Is he finally good? Can we trust him yet?

Next season the Pirates will have Keller, Contreras, Brubaker, Wilson, Thompson, Ortiz, Oviedo, Bolton, Burrows, Priester, and maybe even more internally available to compete for starting roles. Some of them will make it, some will wind up in the pen. The Pirates will also add to this mix from the outside via free agency or trade.

No matter how you slice this one up, the mix in 2023 is stronger and deeper than it was in 2022, and that’s progress.

The bullpen will likely return Colin Holderman, David Bednar, Yerry De Los Santos, some of these starters, a fresh Wil Crowe, Chase De Jong, Manny Banuelos, and a glut of internal options we aren’t even thinking of like Mears, Cederlind, Thomas. And I still think they’ll go get another option or two.

It’s impossible to watch this pitching staff implode night after night and feel positive about where this team is, I’m not asking you to do so. I’m simply saying heading into 2023 that mix of players, well it’s light years above what they started 2022 with, and if progress is really the goal, if improvement is actually the challenge, I believe that list will get it done.

Figure they start the season with Keller, Brubaker, Contreras, Oviedo and a free agent. Right away, I like it, but if one goes down, or one underperforms, instead of only having one real prospect (Roansy) waiting to help, they’ll have several, and several you want to see. Maybe Ortiz gets his recall, perhaps it’s Burrows time. Sprinkling in the youngsters as opposed to tossing 5 against the wall to see what sticks.

If there is real progress, you’ll know it by how you feel when you see kids having success in AAA. If Priester is killing it for Indianapolis but you can’t really see who you’d pull for him, let’s just say it’s a feeling you won’t be accustomed to. You’ve already seen some of what Ortiz could do, so you might be a bit irritated he gets sent down already, but again, someone has to fail before cries for his call up will be warranted.

The conversations start to change in 2023 and while just being someone we’re excited to see doesn’t equal success, having more than one or two just might.

In fact it’s a lot like the middle infield conversations we’ve had for a while now. When Peguero was traded for and Nick Gonzales was drafted, they were immediately anointed as the starting middle infield of the future. That still might happen of course, but now as they’ll both enter 2023 expected to make a push for MLB playing time there will be resistance. Players are already here, and it’s not as wide open waiting for anyone who showed something in the minors to come up. Now we’ll start really having to talk about tough choices. Now they’ll have to really excel instead of check off some imaginary boxes. This year when Gonzales isn’t up in June it might not be manipulation as much as Castro, Cruz, Bae and Newman are kinda killing it.

Remember how pissed I used to get at all these morons posting future lineups and just assuming the seas would part for every big name prospect? Well, we’re here now. Who was full of it?

This many kids are simply never going to add up to many wins. It’s eerily similar to what the Baltimore Orioles have been through. A bunch of awful baseball seasons, spawned by trying to find help on the cheap, playing a ton of kids and finally having some of them show the promise they were thought to have.

Just last year they lost 110 games, in 2019 108, in 2018 115, and this year in a division that quite frankly is hell they’ve gotten themselves on the cusp of achieving .500 or better. Even this year, there they were signing Matt Harvey trying to see if they could have him recapture some magic and help them out.

At the end of the day, it was kids, finally growing into their roles.

I’m not here to tell you the Pirates will have the same fortune in 2023, but I am here to say .500 shouldn’t be seen as some far off in the distance plausibility just because they stunk this year.

I reference the Orioles because so very many of you all do it to me. You can’t tell me the Orioles can do it and we can’t so many of you say.

Why? Because the Orioles spent money? Their payroll will finish this season lower than your Pirates.

Folks, they played kids through the pain it caused, and now, they aren’t friggin’ kids anymore. And they still have more coming. That’s the story of the 2022 Baltimore Orioles.

Just like the Pirates, at some point to get over the hump, they’ll have to pay or be as good at this as the Rays, which nobody has shown the ability to pull off. Better is coming. Finishing the job is another story entirely.

But this is very much so on track and I for one am not assuming 2023 is more of the same.

4. Why Won’t They Give Travis Swaggerty a Shot?

Could it really be more complicated than this? He hasn’t earned it.

I’ll go so far as to say if Travis wasn’t a number one pick, most of you don’t even mention his name.

But Gary he’s a hell of a defender! Right, so is Oliva.

He’s been hurt, that’s not his fault! Yeah, and if he wasn’t and was able to capitalize on a team forced to roster Ka’ai Tom and Dustin Fowler, perhaps that would matter. At this point though, he has players he has to be better than. Can you say he’s that?

In AAA Indianapolis this year he’s put together a fairly full season, 446 PA, with a .258 AVG and a .758 OPS. That’s AAA folks, what do numbers like that tend to become at the next level?

It’s true, I’ve never ever been high on this pick, and it’s not about disliking him personally, it’s about never really believing in the tools. He’s fast, he plays great defense, but to me his top of the mountain is MLB bench, and right now, they’ve got better candidates for that role.

It’s probably not fair, but let’s be real honest, you make your own opportunities in this game. Drafted in 2018, he’s about to get lapped by Quinn Priester (2019) and potentially Nick Gonzales (2020) both of whom have had their own brushes with the injury bug, so pardon me if I’m waiting for him to make keeping him in AAA a poor choice before I cry a river for him.

Again, this isn’t personal, I never would have picked him there, but I certainly want him to succeed, I just don’t see it. One thing is absolutely true, this is for Travis Swaggerty the most important off season and Spring of his career. He’ll either force his way onto this roster, prove himself worthy of being the “next” man up, or he won’t. If fairness is really what you’re after, you can’t get more fair than putting the outcome in his hands.

Oh but he’s better than Greg Allen Gary! Sure, you want him up here getting a volume of at bats a rarely used bench player gets? You’re right, he does probably offer more than Allen, but I’m sorry, what good does it do this kid to come up there and swing the bat 12 times a week?

On the positive side, the Pirates are officially past the point where your draft position guarantees you get a chance, bluntly, that’s how it should be. It doesn’t excuse picks that don’t pan out, but it does mean they don’t get a guaranteed chance to prove it on the big stage.

5. Finally, Bob Nutting is Going to Speak to the Media Jointly

Nobody knows when quite yet, but sometime shortly after this season concludes Bob Nutting is going to speak to multiple media outlets and take questions.

He hasn’t done this since 2019.

First, how ridiculous is that?

The media can’t force him to talk, and we’ve already covered that nobody can force him to sell the team, surely some more pressure can be applied to at least get him to be accountable and stand in front of reporters ready to defend his actions right?

Most of you don’t want to hear from him anyway, completely get that, but even if everything he says is bound to be crap you still have to get it from the horse’s mouth don’t you?

There are a ton of questions he needs to answer, quotes he needs to follow up on and quite frankly, stuff he just needs challenged on. Look, I’m not getting invited to this pow wow, but here’s what I’d ask if I had the opportunity.

You’ve said you’ll spend when the time is appropriate, should we expect payroll to stay above a threshold once you do? In other words, is this cycle inevitable or can we hope to stay out of the basement once we climb out.

You have spoken to the responsibility of stewardship of this historic franchise. You’ve also said that similar markets have found successful ways to operate. Do you connect payroll to that stewardship in any way and do you think you have this franchise headed toward one of those successful paths?

Is there anything short of a World Series you’d consider a success?

Can the Pirates succeed under MLB’s current system? If yes, how? If no, why did you vote to ratify it then?

What do you personally owe the City of Pittsburgh when it comes to owning this franchise?

That’s it. If nothing else, I’d like to hear him even try to answer most of them. Hope the real media makes this productive.
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