Williams: The Pirates Are in No Man’s Land

My interest in baseball growing up was always on the business side of things. I enjoyed watching the games, and played the game some when I was younger. However, I was always more interested in trades, how teams were built, lineups, and so on. The sport I actually played through high school was tennis.

There’s a place on the tennis court called “No Man’s Land.” It’s the place between the baseline and the service line, and is not where you want to stand. When you’re playing the baseline, you’re being a bit defensive, standing back and returning shots. When you’re up closer to the net, you’re going on the offense, trying to put the ball away.

But No Man’s Land leads to some difficult shots. The ball is going to be landing at your feet, meaning you’re going to have to crouch low for a volley, or time the bounce perfect for a return shot. The longer you stay in No Man’s Land, the more difficult it becomes to compete, since those awkward shots are hard to pull off on a consistent basis.

Over the last month, while watching the Pirates go from definite sellers, to a big run towards .500 and becoming potential buyers, then back to a situation wondering if they’d buy or sell, I came to a realization: The Pirates are in No Man’s Land.

No Man’s Land at the Deadline

This is now the second year in a row where the Pirates entered the trade deadline in a situation where technically they are contenders, but in reality they don’t have a strong chance to contend. Each year they made moves attempting to sell and build for the future, and add to the current team.

The 2016 deadline was more extreme on either end. They traded Mark Melancon to get five-plus years of Felipe Rivero. They also traded for Ivan Nova, who they later extended. The 2017 deadline was a smaller scale of this. They traded Tony Watson, getting two A-ball prospects in return, including one that ranks pretty high in our system already. They then traded for Joaquin Benoit, which is a pretty minor move.

The Pirates didn’t go all-in and trade their top prospects to try to contend in either year, and honestly, I don’t think they should have. They also didn’t go for a full rebuild and trade all of their expiring contracts, along with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, and anyone else who might be around only for a losing season or two while they reload. Instead, they played the middle ground, which I’m afraid is starting to look like No Man’s Land.

Just like the shots in tennis, it can be difficult to consistently compete when trading in this area. Yeah, they made a great move last year by landing Felipe Rivero for Mark Melancon, and they also landed Ivan Nova as their latest rehab project. But those shots are difficult to consistently pull off. This year they didn’t have a set direction, and the moves were pretty low-key. It was good to get something for Watson, but it was kind of pointless to get Benoit. Meanwhile, they’ll get nothing from the likes of John Jaso, Juan Nicasio, and so on, now that those pending free agents have been retained.

No Improvements For 2018

The result here is that the Pirates didn’t improve their chances for the 2018 season, unlike what happened last year with the additions of Rivero and Nova. Neal Huntington said yesterday that they still like the team for 2018, pointing often to the young players on this club.

“We still like the core of this club,” Huntington said. “We still like the depth and quality of the position player group. We’ve got some young players that we feel are continuing to grow and continuing to develop at Triple-A, and have the opportunity to step in and help us next year. We’ll look for opportunities to add to this club in the offseason. We did take two players out of Low-A ball, so they’re not going to factor in for us at the Major League level. We do like the core, and we do like what we have coming, and really want to continue to push this team forward and be in a position to be on the inside looking out as we sit here a year from now and add to a club that has positioned itself to be headed to the post-season again.”

Huntington has something of a point. Every single member of the current starting lineup is under team control through at least the 2018 season. Every member of the current starting rotation is under team control through at least the 2019 season. They’ve got one of the best relievers in the game in Felipe Rivero under control for four more seasons. Then they’ve got guys in Triple-A like Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Elias Diaz, Kevin Newman, Steven Brault, and others who might be able to add to the team if enough of them reach their upside.

Then there’s the fact that the Pirates absolutely have money to upgrade this team over the offseason. They saved about $5 M from Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte this year, plus a little over $2 M from Jared Hughes. By my estimates, they added about $1 M at the trade deadline by switching from Watson to Benoit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that difference was negated by the unknown sum the Phillies are sending over with Benoit. They’ve been spending up to a little over $100 M the last few years. They planned to spend up to that amount this year, but got those financial breaks. It’s going to be extremely difficult to believe that they can’t go up to a figure around $110 M next year when considering all of the factors. That amount could allow them to target an upgrade for the current lineup or rotation.

Combine the young players on the MLB team, the young players coming up, and the money they have to spend to improve the team, and you could see how the Pirates would consider themselves contenders.

I just can’t help but look around at some of the top teams in baseball and think about how they got there, and in doing so, I can’t help but think that the current path the Pirates are on will lead to them contending and fighting for a Wild Card or Division, but never really being strong contenders in the playoffs. It could also lead them to the exact same No Man’s Land at next year’s deadline.

The Astros are the best team in the American League right now. It wasn’t too long ago that they were going for a total rebuild, loading up on top prospects in both the draft and in trades. The Cubs might not have the best record, but they’re one of the best teams in the NL. They got to this point through a total rebuild at the MLB level, adding top prospects along the way, combined with the high draft picks that came with the total rebuild. Even teams like the Yankees, with money to spend, have gone for the total rebuild approach in a year where they were technically contenders.

If trading prospects to go all-in one year is the equivalent of charging the net in tennis, then going for a rebuild where everything comes together in a few years is the equivalent of playing the baseline. You’re standing back, being patient, setting things up, and waiting for the right time to attack.

The Problem With the Last Rebuild

The Pirates went through the rebuild process, and they were objectively successful. They took one of the worst farm systems in baseball and one of the worst teams in baseball and turned it into a top farm system and one of the best teams in baseball over a three-year period. They still have talent in the system, and they’re still technically contenders, with a legit shot next year.

The problem is that their rebuild efforts have been too spaced out. They’ve graduated top guys each year, with Starling Marte in 2012, Gerrit Cole in 2013, Gregory Polanco in 2014, and Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell in 2016. The problem with this slow and steady approach is that not every prospect will work out, and definitely won’t work out right away.

I don’t think we’ve seen the best from Polanco yet, and we might be getting to the point where you can honestly ask if he’ll just end up an average MLB starter, despite the tools to be more. Bell is just coming into his own, and could have more production on the way. But then you’ve got Cole with only two years of control remaining by this point. Add in delays from guys like Tyler Glasnow, who struggled to make the jump to the majors, and a guy like Austin Meadows, who dealt with injury issues, and the Pirates are just treading water. By the time one prospect makes it, another is on his way out.

Maybe Glasnow figures it out, but by that point it seems he’d only be replacing Gerrit Cole. The hope would be that Mitch Keller would join him at the same time, making a seamless jump to the big leagues. Austin Meadows is already the replacement for Andrew McCutchen, so it’s not like the Pirates are getting an upgrade here. And then Josh Bell and/or Gregory Polanco might reach their upsides, but the Pirates would have to hope that Starling Marte maintains his production, Meadows works out, or that no other player slumps and offsets the increase in production from those two players.

It would be a lot easier if the Pirates had a big group of prospects arriving at the same time, allowing them to go through the growing pains together. And if you remove Cole and Marte from the equation, they kind of have that happening right now.

A Big Wave of Prospects While Trying to Contend

The big wave of prospects arriving has led to what we’ve seen in each of the last two years.

They tried to contend in 2016 by adding Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong for the first half, while waiting for Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon in the second half. Taillon wasn’t going to be ready until mid-season due to his return from Tommy John, and Glasnow was never really ready, and still isn’t.

They had Austin Meadows ready to come up this year if they needed outfield help by mid-season. Meadows wasn’t hitting, and then was injured this year when the Pirates needed an outfielder.

Glasnow and Meadows are examples that prospects are not going to be ready at the exact time you need them to be ready. The Pirates did have many other things going wrong each season — McCutchen struggling in 2016 and part of 2017, the entire rotation under-performing in 2016, injuries to key players n 2016, Jung Ho Kang’s visa issue in 2017, Starling Marte’s suspension, Jameson Taillon’s cancer diagnosis, Tony Watson declining from his former elite reliever status in both years, and the list could go on. Relying on prospects as their only depth in these matters can be risky, as those prospects might not be ready when you need them.

I don’t think you can fully fault the Pirates for everything that went wrong. No team is going to go through a season with everything going right, and a small market team like the Pirates has to rely on prospects. But again, this points to them being in No Man’s Land.

Right now they’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. They can have some things going wrong, but not too many. And even if most things are going right, they’re still a team that has an uphill battle against the Cubs.

Getting Out of No Man’s Land

The Pirates have a decision they need to make.

They could “play the baseline” and sell. They could trade Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Cervelli, David Freese, Ivan Nova, and anyone else who is under control only through the 2018-2019 seasons. They could rebuild in the same way that the Cubs and Astros did, hoping that the rebuild all comes together at the same time, with newly added prospects joining the current group of players as those players all hopefully reach their upsides in a few years.

Or they could “charge the net” and get aggressive. They could spend the money that they have definitely saved this year and boost the team this offseason. They could trade some prospects and add to the 2018-2019 clubs. They could keep McCutchen, Cole, and everyone else through the expiration of their contracts — or until a prospect is actually ready to take over — and go for it while those players are here.

I’m not saying the Pirates should necessarily go all-in here and create a window, where a total rebuild would be necessary after 2019. They still would have plenty of young prospects in the system, and plenty of young players in the majors.

What I am saying is that if the Pirates are looking to contend in 2018, they need to drastically boost their team, getting them over this hump where they’re a fringe contender hoping that more things go right than wrong. And if they don’t boost their team over the offseason, then they’re better off selling and going for a full rebuild, allowing them to become a team like the Astros or Cubs in 2019 or 2020 (at which point they would hopefully have a better local TV deal that would allow them to boost their chances to compete).

This is all kind of unfair to the Pirates, because they are a team that can actually contend right now, and in 2018. It’s not like this is a 72 win team playing pretend. But that’s just because the current landscape in MLB is unfair. This is no longer a league for the middle ground. It’s a league where you have teams like the Dodgers and Cubs gearing up for dynasty runs, and with loads of money to support those efforts. You’ve then got teams like the White Sox who are currently going through the same process, and teams like the Astros and Yankees that are starting to emerge closer to Dodgers and Cubs territory.

The Pirates need to make a decision to try and be one of these mega-teams, regardless of when it happens. They either need to spend money and trade some prospects to bridge the gap in the next year or two, or they need to go for a quick rebuild to improve their chances starting in 2019-2020. If they don’t do either one, they could very well be stuck in No Man’s Land again, finding themselves in the exact same situation at next year’s trade deadline for the third year in a row.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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aj21psu

I totally agree!!

chethejet

Not sure my comment was posted or was removed. My point is the Pirates will not spend 110 million next year. The slide in revenue, attendance, a TV deal that is up after next year and how much a new deal benefits the revenue. I also don;t see the same attitude from the brass now. Far more excuses and small market attitude that is not exactly comforting.

jsdspud

Essentially, No Man’s Land has replaced NH’s we want to be competitive every year goal. They have been within striking distance of the playoffs the last 2 years, but not really contenders. I say spend some money and trade some prospects in the upper levels to go for it in 2018 & 2019. I don’t think that the fan base has the stomach for another rebuilding project, I know that I don’t. At the end of 2019, sell whoever is not a free agent for prospects and the guys signed in 2017 will be approaching the upper levels of the minors.

terrygordon30

I am not writing this because the Pirates young star pitcher got it butt kicked again last night, but as I sat at another Oriole game last night and got another opportunity to watch Manny Machado, thoughts can easily come to mind like what if the Pirates would have taken Machado? I was disappointed when the Pirates selected a pitcher instead. Pitchers go about 6 innings every five days and are always one pitch away from TJ surgery. Every day players play…..every day.

Granted, Manny Machado, has had two major injuries, but can you imagine him being in a Pirates uniform for the past 5 years? Incredible fielding on top of his terrific hitting!

Manny Machado could have been the difference between winning and losing to the Cardinals in the playoffs or winning the division and the wild card in 2015.

And I am quite sure that Manny Machado would not be sitting in Korea waiting to get out.

AttyMike

I also challenge the baseball economics = results assumptions too. Yes money certainly helps but it doesn’t assure success. The Cubs stunk for years and were a big market. Phillies are in a long downturn. Astros were down for years. Smaller market teams make the playoffs regularly. KC, Cleveland, Baltimore, Tampa, Oakland and Pgh all just in the last few years as examples. Arizona is having a great season this year. Tampa too. Competence at operating a team has a lot to do with success — more than money I would argue. Competence and strategy are the Pirates’ two biggest challenges to success. Money is an important challenge but its too often used as an excuse for failure.

michael schalke

Teams like the Pirates need everything to go well for them to win consistently. Until a salary cap is put in, the little guys will have no chance.

AttyMike

I agree to a point (especially as it relates to how the Pirates are managed currently) but your statement assumes that big revenue teams win consistently. That’s an assumption that I challenge. Maybe they do more often or some more often than others but how do you differentiate the reason for that success to be money vs. competence, outright luck or other factors?

GreenWeenie

Nutting needs to sell the team. I’m not accusing him of being cheap. Just don’t think he has the financial resources to go much above the $100 million mark. Sell to someone or a group that has deeper pockets. I would be shocked if the current ownership group approved the acquisitions of a legit 3B to replace kung, a legit starter for the rotation and a legit reliever and/or extension for Nicasio. The reason the Pirates are in no man’s land, is they lack the $ to sign credible major league talent.

Roberrto21

After today’s shellacking by the last place Reds, in the wake of a 3 – 6 road trip that included series losses to 2 of the other putrid clubs in MLB (thus 3 – 7 over their last 10 after showing there only signs of life all season in the previous homestand), it is beyond apparent that the Pirates are “mired in mediocrity”. They simply do not have the talent to compete with the elite, larger market teams – Cubs, Nats, Dodgers) and NH and crew have not shown the drafting acumen necessary to make up for the financial limitations of the franchise (hello, Tony Sanchez at #4 in 2009 (!!!), Reese McGuire instead of Aaron Judge in 2013, and weak looking picks in Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman and Will Craig (is Tim projecting any of them as potential impact players, very much doubt it!). They are hurt by under performance from El Coffee, Marte’s foolishness and suspension, likewise Kang’s idiocy and visa problems, etc. Compare the Cubs’ infield: Rizzo, Baez, Russell, Bryant and Contreras. The only player on the infield that the Pirates have who is close is Josh Bell. It seems apparent from Cutch’s comments on the lack of improvement at the trade deadline is that he’d just as soon get out at this stage. Does not look like Meadows is ready at all to step in and Cutch is a rare rare player they should be very very sorry to see go if that’s what ends up happening. Is this what we want from baseball, a totally unbalanced sport where there are a few big market powerhouses, and then every once in a blue moon a smaller market team competes in a small window after years of mediocrity? At this stage I am beyond ready for ownership with the financial werewithal to compete in the free agent market, and a smarter management team than NH and FO. The Pirates do not have a lot of high quality chips to cash beyond Cutch and Cole and trading them will create huge huge holes. With the current putrid play, this is looking more and more like a sub-.500 season as we watch the Cubs romp to the division. Yuck.

John W

Could not agree more with Tim’s summation. Been saying for awhile- either load up for next year or SELL hard. This is a middling team as far as the eye can see. This next wave of prospects had way too much helium.

Taillon isn’t as bad as his ERA but he’s probably a #2 pitcher at best. Until he develops a quality changeup he will be good, not great. 1.8 fWAR on the year and going down after tonight

Josh Bell. The reality is for all the promise of his bat he is at .6 fWAR through two thirds of the season. He is on pace to finish with about 1 WAR.

Tyler Glasnow- Ironing things out in Triple A but was a complete disaster at MLB level. I think him finding himself might be best hope this franchise has of salvaging itself but right now it takes a lot of optimism to think he’s going to be a top of rotation pitcher.

Cervelli has an injury history and the catcher of the future Elias Diaz has a WRC+ of 70 at Indy. Yes 70. He will be 27 in less than 4 months.

The reality is this team is losing Cutch soon and with the exception of 2016 he basically put up 1 WAR a month since 2012.

If NH isn’t willing to really back up the truck and load up for next year he should burn it down.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

We will soon be 1-7 vs. Reds…..pathetic

piraddict

Absolutely. The Pirates record this year against bottom 1/3 teams is awful. Good teams win series against the teams they are supposed to beat.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

Actually Tim, I agree with you. This team has little chance of winning the division and the Cubs have gotten stronger. The wild card is an even longer shot. It was obvious that the Pirates needed to use the deadline to improve organizational depth and future.. and take advantage of typically high prices that are paid in late July. They decided to tread water. I have no problem with the Watson trade…we appeared to get reasonable value. The Benoit trade makes little sense, given his age and soon to be free agent status. I would have rather seen Neverauskas, Santana, or Brault get those innings.

Keeping Stewart up and Diaz down is another bizarre decision….how does that help 2017 or 2018?

Freese, Hudson, Nova, Cervelli, Jaso, Nicasio should have all been shopped.. .

John W

Pirates down to 24k attendance and dropping . Insane is someone thinks they are spending 110m next year.

NMR

I think Tim laid out a credible path for them to get to $110m…but I’ve always found it telling that they’ve never once – not Nutting, not Coonely, not Huntington – said they do or would carry profit into the following season’s payroll. Never once. Always the ambiguous “put it back into the organization”.

They have, however, repeatedly and explicitly said they budget payroll based on expected revenue. And nobody has ever claimed that they’ve *lost* money in a given year. I’m skeptical that yearly profits ever make it back to the big league payroll. They cannot both make money in a given year *and* supplement payroll with past profit in the same year.

PieRat

I think they have actually said they won’t carry over the savings from one year to another. They will pocket the $20 to $30 million profit they made this year. I love the Pirates, but I can’t stand the ownership. They try to sell us a load of crap. The fact that so many here love the FO makes me wonder if they suffer from the Stolkholm syndrome.

Bobby L

How much does attendance affect payroll?

John W

I don’t have an answer. I’ve read varying degrees as far as average revenue per attendee based on ticket price + concession. If we assume $40 and the drop in average attendace from 2015 30, 800 until this year 24, 200 per game that mean the Pirates are bringing in 21.3 M less in revenue than they did in 2015. I’ve read some say the average dollar figure when you factor in concession is higher. Regardless they definitely aren’t bringing in nearly the same revenue and that will be reflected in the budget looking forward as even multi-year budgeting won’t assume they are going back up to 30K a game anytime soon.

And with the crap NH has assembled I would bet attendance continues to fall between now and end of the year.

Bobby L

Thank you. The ‘missing’ $21MM would be helpful, but the terrible off season roster management and weak attempts at improving the roster during the season have been a near complete failure.

Thomas H

Tim, this is by far the best analysis you’ve written since I became a subscriber. I think you perfectly express the conundrum the Pirates are in. Thanks for writing it.

johnnycee

On another topic, I’ve always wondered why pitchers are exempt from running hard to first base. With the amount of running and conditioning they are required to do, how is sprinting to first base going to compromise their pitching performance? We see it all around the league, not just Gerrit Cole. I remember Larry McWilliams back in the early 80’s running like a bat out of hell every time he batted.

johnnycee

Tim- is there any concern on your part that Marte and Polanco don’t profile as “winning players”, meaning their particular flaws don’t translate to winning, almost despite any numbers that they put up? In Marte’s case, there seems to be strong evidence that being a 30-30 guy, or even a 20-30 guy is unrealistic and his penchant for boners doesnt seem to be improving.
With Polanco, I have always been alarmed at his casual approach (not running hard out of the box), poor baserunning and bad outfield routes. When he does run hard, he tends to pull leg muscles, which seems to point to a conditioning issue.

Scott K

Good topic to discuss, Tim. I believe the FO is taking the right path regarding to the moves they are making.

Trading away prospects to “go for it,” and trading away top MLB talent to reload for a run in a few years time are no more of a guarantee of success than the path they have chosen. However, both are significantly more risky for long-term pain.

The reason the Pirates won 98 games in ’15 was their ability to prevent opponents from scoring, especially late in games. Their offense was just good enough most nights to win, nothing more.

I believe the Pirates have the makings to enjoy this type of team next year. It’s not a stretch to think the rotation can be on a par next year with the ’15 team. Where they should look to improve team is in the set up pieces in front of Rivero. This can be done by either converting SP’s like Kingham, Brault, and/or Kuhl to the bullpen, or using the financial flexibility they have on a FA.

It’s been proven many times, all that’s needed is a team good enough to make the postseason. Once there, the advantages large market teams enjoy in a 162 game regular season are largely negated by good pitching and timely hitting in a short series.

NMR

“It’s been proven many times, all that’s needed is a team good enough to make the postseason. Once there, the advantages large market teams enjoy in a 162 game regular season are largely negated by good pitching and timely hitting in a short series.”

Update your narratives.

PieRat

If the Pirates will need to trade some of their prospect depth at SS and other prodpects to upgrade the team for next year. If it still doesn’t work out they can retrade those players next year to rebuild their farm system. That’s what the Cubs did in 2014 when they thought they were close enough, but it didn’t work out. It was a fast rebuild with young players.

PieRat

I hope if they can resign Nicasio at a reasonable rate they try and keep him. His value shouldn’t be too high, based on what they said his trade value was.

PieRat

Maybe I missed it. The Pirates put 2 players on the disabled list to make room for German and Cruz. Will they end up cutting similar players to what they just aquired.

jaygray007

???

PieRat

They have to make room in the minors for the players they aquired. This means they need to cut 2 players. They put 2 players on on the DL until they decide what to do. Is that so hard to understand?

jaygray007

i guess the “similar players to what they just acquired” threw me off.

Harry B

I say if things keep going south in August, bring up Brault Kingham. Glasgow, and Sadler as starters in September to see what they can do so that we know what we have for next year.

rickmontgomery

One big name addition in the off season could set the current roster up for contention. Here’s my scenario based on Tim’s guess that next year’s payroll is $110 mil, with about $30 available to add players. It also assumes Nicasio, Jaso and Kang are gone. Sign Reynolds for 3B, keeping Freese for backup. Maybe $8 -10 mil. Spend $15 mil on a proven starter. Jason Vargas would be my primary target. The final $5 – 7 mil on a setup man to replace Nicasio. A rotation of Cole, Taillon, Vargas, Nova and Glasnow/Kuhl/Williams/Brault/Kingham looks pretty strong. Not Dodgers strong, but then…. Diaz starts with Vercelli as backup. Kramer on bench to spell and eventually (hope) replace Mercer. Frazier as utility and spot starter. Meadows is 4th OF. Osuna, Moroff et al battle for final bench spot. Not perfect, but a stronger team. If it fizzles, start dumping for a total rebuild.

jaygray007

1) trade for an expensive closer at end of his deal. Say David Robertson just as example. 10 mil.
2) sign an interesting bullpen arm for 5ish
3) sign Neil Walker for 15. Effectively a Walker Freese platoon with Harrison going back and forth.
4) salary dump Mercer and ride/die with Newman if you have to.
5) this puts Glasnow in the rotation. Ride or die baby.

beaverjp

I’m ready to queue up some DMX or If that’s unavailable ja rule

Kozy21

Reynolds? You mean Mark Reynolds? The one who strikes out 200 times a year and barely bats above the Mendoza line… no thanks. I don’t care about his stats this year. Coors Field. Why Jason Vargas? He’s decidely mediocre. He’s having a career at 34 years old and the advanced metrics show a decidedly lucky pitcher. Neal Huntington has never spent $10MM+ per year on aging veterans. As long as Cervelli is in Pittsburgh, he’s the starter. Diaz won’t be the starter until he’s gone and if they want Diaz to start, Cervelli will be traded because the Bucs won’t have an $11MM back-up catcher.

leefoo

I was in APBA/Strat/Action PC baseball leagues for years. The guys who always tried to remain competitive (like NH is doing) rarely won anything.

The guys who always went ‘all-in’ and then rebuilt were almost always the big winners.

I think that NH is afraid to do the latter. A fearful GM is a lousy GM. Just ask Littlefield.

PieRat

NH needs to at least pick his spots to be all in. Quintana was one of those cituations. He had enough controllable years to make it a smart trade. It very likely could have been the difference maker this season.

Scott K

You’re honestly comparing a computer program to real life? Did you ever consider the possibility the designers of the game engineered the program specifically with this in mind?

leefoo

Yes, I honestly am…and real life results bear out that strategy.

Kozy21

If I were GMNH, I would’ve put my best possible package together centered around Austin Meadows for Sonny Gray. Meadows is better than any prospect the A’s got from the Yankees. He’s cheap and controllable through 2019.

leefoo

NH missed the boat by being too afraid to trade for Quintana this off season. So, I knew he’d be too afraid to move ‘assets’ for Gray.

Thomas H

I was for an “all in” sort of trade at the time but I assumed Kang would be here and Marte would play the whole season. As it is, I think it’s fortunate that they didn’t go all in. They very easily could have set themselves up for years of failure.

Right now, I honestly don’t know if it’s better to dismantle the team or go for it next year. Frankly, I don’t think they’re very good. But on the other hand, McCutchen should be here next year and if they seriously try to put together a winner, they do have some decent pieces to build with. But they are more than one or two players away. This off-season would have to be an off-season the likes of which they have never had during the NH years for them to be a serious contender. I just see what’s happening now as a recipe for them being In “no man’s land” for the foreseeable future.

Arik Florimonte

If they sell to rebuild, punting 2018 and maybe 2019, they should sell everyone who’s not pre-arb, including Marte & Polanco.

Scott K

No way ever this happens!

Arik Florimonte

Which is a shame, because you don’t get better if you do it halfway. Those two won’t have more trade value than they do now.

If they were to play for 2020, then any production from Marte or Polanco in 2018-2019 is wasted, so you might as well recover prospect value for it. Furthermore, in 2020 Marte will be 31, older than Cutch is now, and Polanco will be 28, post peak also.

Also, it makes sense to get your prospects through their growing pains when the games don’t matter, not when you’re trying to contend.

Scott K

We can debate the merits of your point of view, but the real reason I say it’s not even an option is because this FO, right or wrong, banks on the players they draft/develop to the nth degree.

Paul Newmeyer

They should have traded for Granderson as soon as Polanco went down with a recurring injury. Not at the deadline, but when the injury occurred. The price for him or a similar OF would have been very small. This move would have propelled the team heading into the road trip and maybe just give them a little wind at their backs. I know professionals shouldn’t need extra incentive, but it always helps to know your boss has your back. If you don’t believe that logic explain how Quintana had nothing to do with the Cubs resurgence. I am on the fence about next year’s approach. I don’t think anyone should be untouchable this off season. I do hope if they decide to go for it they don’t go half way.

NMR

Whew. That was good. Very good.

The crux of the problem the Pirates find themselves in today comes down to two central tenets of the Huntington Doctrine turning out to be failed policy: the “never-ending window” theory, and the thought that just getting into the playoffs makes them a World Series contender.

Both may have been good ideas, but the reality of Major League Baseball in this current era has proven otherwise. This game is simply designed to be cyclical in nature, especially for low revenue teams. The win cycle is real. Huntington succeeded in the rebuild by taking advantage of a system that rewards poor MLB play with access to the building blocks of *all* winning teams – cheap, young talent. This has simply proven too difficult for Huntington to replicate.

The second reality is that there is actually *more* parity in the league than when Huntington started out, but it has manifested itself in the form of this large, milky plug of marginal teams in the middle. A handful of actual good teams at the top, another handful of rebuilding teams at the bottom, and like a dozen marginal clubs who’ve been convinced by the second wild card that they’re actually contenders. “Just getting in” now simply isn’t good enough.

What is needed is a concerted, direct effort on one singular focus. This organization simply doesn’t have the resources to spread themselves in multiple directions. Huntington must adapt.

piraddict

Nah, I think you are being too impatient. These season had the unfortunate nexus of several “black swan” events. It wasn’t in any sense a normal season. You have to provide some slack for that. A team with Kang and w/o Marte’s PED problem, w/o Polanco’s string of injuries, w/o underperformance by Watson and Hudson would be leading their division.
Also, it will take a few more years to back up the minor league system with talent. By the time the players now in Bradenton will be at AAA the whole scene will be different. The Pirates will be stacked with AAA depth at every position.
The problem with this years team is they were too thin. When Kang/Marte/Polanco went down they had no solid AAA depth at 3B or OF to step in. 3B has been a long term hole in the minor league system, but their is significant 3B or SS talent in the lower minors that will finally fill that hole. Luplow is just a AA/AAA player right now. He won’t truly be ready for another year or two. Meadows isn’t ready yet, but he will be in a year or two.
Let’s revisit this conversation in two years. I think your perspective will have changed.

Kerry Writtenhouse

Not to mention the difference between drafting top 5 to drafting at 20 has been a big difference as well.

Scott K

162 game schedules magnify advantages large market teams enjoy because they’re much more equipped to deal w injury/poor performance. However, in a short series, payroll is largely irrelevant. It boils down to pitching and situational hitting.

As such, getting into October should always be the primary goal.

NMR

This just seems to be willfully ignorant of reality. Purposely ignoring the trends we’re seeing develop.

Pitching *is* critically important in a short series. And that’s *exactly* why you see teams loading up with not one, not two, but three elite relievers. Not one ace, but multiple aces.

If you don’t think that impacts the chances of a team who has “just gotten in” then you’re not even listening to your own narrative.

Scott Kliesen

NMR, I think you’re very intelligent, and I am almost always in agreement with your point of view. But on this one, I couldn’t disagree more.

If what you suggest is true, why do I see 14 consecutive NL East banners flying in Atlanta when I go to a game there, but only 1 WS banner? Because they had 3 Aces pitching for them for the better part of 15 years, which carried them over 162 games without fail. Yet when they had to play a short series, those same Aces would often get beat by an inferior pitcher, based on regular season stats, who happened to pitch better in one playoff game. Or maybe ran into a lineup who had a couple of guys who happened to be seeing the ball well, and made them pay for making one bad pitch.

A MLB player who has zero chance to be better than his opponent over 162 games, has a very realistic chance to better in a 5 or 7 game series. Happens frequently, and don’t be surprised if it happens again this year.

jaygray007

at this point, i’m ready to concede that this is mostly true.

i think at this point, they need to put whatever eggs in the 2018 basket that they have to to project themselves at 90ish wins with a $110ish mil payroll.

and i dont think that’ll take any farm system emptying to accomplish. maybe one medium trade along with a few good FA signs.

the only chance they have at having any kind of sustainability is to somehow start getting a lot more fans per season and have them pay significantly more per ticket. It’s on the team to strum up that interest. not on the fans to force themselves to be interested. the difference between 2.75 million fans paying $40 per ticket and 2 million fans paying $30 per ticket is gigantic.

and the only chance they have at doing that is having like two or three really good years in a row. maybe the 2020 farm system is ranked 15th this way instead of 6th by going the hoarding-prospects route of sustainability. but ultimately that kind of boost in revenue is a bigger source of sustainability than a few extra Kevin Kramers will ever be. Once you foster that kind of fan loyalty revenue, you can start hoarding a few more prospects again.

and if the fans never catch the fever, then hell. at least you had three good years haha

NMR

Over the winter I was in favor of selling off pieces that would return truly impact talent with the goal of building up for 2019, and still think that’s a viable route, but I’m much more in favor of committing to 2018.

Andrew McCutchen need only maintain production in the 130 wRC+ range to be a 5-WAR player this year. While massively struggling for two months. While playing out of position. You’re looking at a potential 6-win left fielder next year, and that’s star power the Pirates will be extremely lucky to see again in decades let alone years. Add Rivero’s rise to elite status and I’m left seeing 2018 as easily the most likely scenario for success in the foreseeable future.

jmurphpitt

I’m sick of trading top talent for prospects..they need to go for it every so often when the opportunity arises….Gerrit Cole is only 26, 1 year older than Taillon, he is just going into his prime…resign Cole and Cutch and go for it the next 2-3 yrs and if it doesn’t work, then sell off the 30+ guys for prospects…we have put too much value in our prospects, trade them while they still are hyped as potential stars and get quality major league players..They need a 3b bad and another starting pitcher, maybe its TG, I think it can be, but lets get a 3b and catcher and bench player.

cabbo80

I couldn’t agree more. Wasn’t long ago that we were saying dream outfield led by a perennial MVP in Cutch, Cole and Taillon ace starters, Josh Bell power developed and super U Harrison. It’s now. It’s here. Ok it isn’t the slam dunk it looked like 3-4-5 years ago but it still can win big with some power moves and coaching. Use the minors as the now not the next group that may miss the ceiling. Quit trying to be the Dodgers. Quit trying to be the Cubs. Be the Pirates. We all know the Dodgers may set the record for a season wins. We all know that means zero in October. Its baseball and the only thing predictable is it will not be predicted. Now is now, go for it before I’m saying this very thing 5 years from now. “What if” left the building.

joe s

Look at the Pirate number one draft choices over the past 20 years and that is where the failure is. Don’t give me the bullshit that some don’t make it. the pirates being cheap chose players that had less of a chance at success. If the Pirates did have a 1-1 pick it would either be a year where there was no good player to chose or they would pick a player willing to except less then slot who naturally would have less talent. The Cubs and Astros picks make it to majors and succeed while the Pirate picks struggle or don’t even make it. Let me also put the Cards in that former group. Very sad that money controls the game. The more you have to spend the better chance you have to succeed. As some movie sad “Show me the money”. The pirates will never have it to show and will always be stuck in the middle.

PikeBishop65

For the record, I am not one those tiresome “Cheap Nuttings Yinzers” but with that in mind, I have to agree with a statement on one of DK’s latest Nutting/Huntington bashing columns. The big FU to the fans was the 2015 off season. As the team got better 2011 through 2013, the fans were promised, yes, we will increase the payroll and spend more money and then after the team won 98 games…..Well we know what happened. Because we “knew” that Taillon and Glasnow were both going to come up on late June and win 12 games with a 2.5 ERA, we could get by with a pitching rotation that consisted of Niese (trading a fan favorite to get him), Locke and 95 year old Ryan Vogelsong making up 60% of it! Prospects are never guarantees and that was a mistake relying to two rookies to come up and anchor your starting rotation. Also look at this year. Meadows is currently injury prone and has an OPS that would embarrass a back up catcher. Let Cutch go and put him in and you are looking at Doug Frobel/Chad Hermansen all over again.

PikeBishop65

Also forgot to mention the salary dump of Charlie Morton to the Phillies. Check out Morton in Houston. Numbers that are better than Cole’s

Roberrto21

You have got to be kidding! Morton was maddeningly inconsistent and a total head case with the Pirates. Remeber his disastrous start against tge Cards that effectively ended the Pirates’ chances at the division? No thanks. If the Astros let that guy pitch in the post-season they will regret it!

NMR

You seem to be missing a fairly obvious variable here…difference in team’s he’s playing for. If you’ve watched Morton at all since leaving, he’s not the same pitcher.

piraddict

That’s not the only variable, he is also older, more experienced.

NMR

Pitchers rarely get *better* after age 33…

Darkstone42

I say go for it in Cutch’s final year. There are few enough holes and enough money available to spend to fill them to make a real play at competing in 2018. If it fails catastrophically, sell Cutch at the deadline (or before, if things are really bad) and set up for 2020, but there are a couple pretty straightforward moves which could be made.

Go get an impact 3B. The Jays might trade away Donaldson in his final year of arbitration if they assess this winter they can’t contend in 2018. Make a competitive offer to get him, and spend the $20 million on him he’ll get in arbitration. Yeah, that’s a lot, but he’s a fringe MVP caliber player. It’s worth it. It solves our 3B problem, and gives us a much-needed RH power bat.

Add a starter. A good one. Trade, free agent, whatever. Get one more steady arm for the rotation. Bring back Nicasio in the ‘pen, supplement him with one more good arm, and move Kuhl, Williams, and Brault into the ‘pen, as well. If Glasnow has in fact figured things out, he’ll be great as our #5 behind the new guy, Cole, Taillon, and Nova. I think Kuhl could really be an impact reliever, given the opportunity to forget pitch counts and really turn it loose.

Add a true fourth outfielder and another decent bench bat, and that would probably do it. Marte is having a terrible year, especially with the suspension, but he’s among the league’s best LF by talent. This version of Cutch is MVP caliber. Even this disappoint version of Polanco is roughly average, and there’s still upside. Harrison and Mercer and perfectly fine up the middle, and Newman might be ready next year to provide an upgrade there. Bell is already a reasonable option at 1B, and he seems to be constantly growing even within this season.
The lineup would be really good with an impact 3B. The rotation would be awesome with one more steady #2 /3 type of starter. The bullpen could be very solid with one or two more reliable arms.

Payroll after all of that would probably be around $120 million, which is worth it to invest in Cutch’s last year in Pittsburgh, immediately in advance of negotiating a new TV deal. And if the Bucs are every going to appreciably increase payroll, they need a good TV deal.

Roberrto21

Keep dreaming, your scenario will never happen with this ownership/FO.

Darkstone42

Note: When I say the rotation would be awesome, I fully acknowledge it would still be crap compared to the Dodgers’ rotation, but in fairness, English is a language insufficient to describe the Dodgers’ rotation, so I stand by my word choice.

John

I deal Rivero. I think he can get you 2 top fifty MLB ready prospects. An OF (think Tucker in Houston, Frazier in NY) and a starter .
I then look to to trade Cutch. Between Polanco, Marte, Meadows, and the prospect acquired do Rivero, the outfield is set. Cutch brings back 2 more prospects, (a SS, and a starter) and some bullpen help.
I then trade Cole for prospects (a 3b and pitchers).
While it will be tough to see these guys go, we’ve got to realize that our owner simply isn’t going to spend money, so going for it isn’t an option. These three players can get us back multiple pieces, and with the exception of Rivero) while using multiple trades to replace traded players (example Kopech, Lopez, Moncada, and Giolito replacing Sale, Quintana, Frazier and Robertson in the system) while acquiring a surplus.

piraddict

You build a great team by retaining top shelf assets with multiple years of control like Rivero. The guys you trade are top shelf assets with limited years of control.

cabbo80

OMG. Please.

jaygray007

I’d actually consider dealing Rivero for a huge huge prospect return, and then just investing like $30 million into the bullpen next year. they have the money to spend, and stopping there.

Biagio

I would deal every veteran and just keep adding chips and when the chips turn into veterans I deal them. I would do this forever because The is measured not by what you win but how good and how many minor leaguers you have.

jaygray007

i mean… i did suggest “investing like $30 million into the bullpen next year” on good veterans

i just want them to be good now and in the future. it’s up to you if you want to get emotionally attached to Felipe Rivero.

however, i should have specified that i’d only deal Rivero if the return is like… better than what the Yanks got for Chapmen.

Blaine Huff

I’m curious with this idea of how the Pirates could possibly spend $110M in ’18.

Even if they exercise all options, don’t trade Cutch, and the arbitration guys get decent raises…the team is still falling about $25M of that total.

Yeah, they need a 3B, but the other seven positions are going to be pretty well set and the bullpen will probably be rounded out by some upper level pitchers not good enough to crack the rotation.

…maybe they go out and get a couple of $5M arms for relief…but that still leaves over $15M to spend on a team that doesn’t have a lot of glaring needs.

Thomas H

This team has a ton of needs.

Blaine Huff

Well, that was definitely informative and insightful.

turks44

that’s the problem ,they have no glaring needs but have average players at to many position thus a 73-78 win team.

beaverjp

Basically the team hinges on starters from the upper minors successfully converting to good MLB relievers. I hope it works out.

jaygray007

Blaine literally included paying for proven relief arms in his estimates though.

I’m sure we’ll see a Kuhl in Long Relief or something though. sure.

if they go into next season hoping Brault can take over a 7th inning role, then that’s where we’d have a problem haha.

beaverjp

I just question how many decent relievers go for $5m these days hopefully Nicasio is one of them. Let’s say Neil Walker is $12m

turks44

wouldn’t neil walker project better at 3rd base.

Kerry Writtenhouse

For the Pirates, Walker projects best, somewhere else.

NMR

You know, since going to the Mets Walker has been a positive defender at 2B per UZR in both seasons. I don’t know how much signal there is to that, but it’s pretty striking.

beaverjp

If he’s in the lineup I’m indifferent where he or JHay plays not sure of walkers arm profile but JHay has played third

jaygray007

yeah i’m really curious to see what kind of deal Nicasio gets this year.

beaverjp

Here’s my math on what the pirates have: hutch Kang off nets Marte Polanco raises. Jaso off pays for arbs maybe not quite. Nicasio signs for $8m ($3m+) JHay incr $2.5($5m+) Watson off (even). Am I missing anything? Whatever I’m missing is what’s left over after signing Nicasio for $8m. Freeses salary might be $2m lower.

Blaine Huff

It’s a lot simpler if you just go to Tim’s page that lists future contact obligations.

jaygray007

Bastardo is off the books too.

i’d probably rather they throw the Bastardo + nicasio money at 1 elite reliever and backfill with edgar santana or kuhl or whoever, as opposed to bringing Nicasio back and having bastardo’s money leftover

And by elite guy, i mean trading for a proven guy in the last year or two of his deal. Like when the Cubs dealt for Wade Davis.

beaverjp

I’m not wed to Nicasio but by not trading I think it’s the bed that’s being made. The whole thing makes or breaks on whether they put the money they saved this year into next club, Nicasio + setup upgrade is the ideal.

beaverjp

Forgot him. Another point is that the base now might be $92m so they have a $8m surplus may or may not get pocketed. So if used for next year’s team + $92 base assumption $16m $3m Bastardo ok I’m feeling better having $20 even after resign Nicasio but I think they pocket the $8 this year and it’s down to $12 for an IF and another reliever.

jaygray007

another move that would give some reallocateable money would be dealing Mercer and running with Newman.

jaygray007

guess you need to find a couple really nice 10+M Relief arms then, doesnt it? 🙂

or if you don’t trust glasnow, a moderately priced SP.

Blaine Huff

Even if you don’t trust Glasnow…and I am waiting to make judgment one way or the other…the Pirates top three are set. If TG doesn’t turn it around, there are a boatload of major league minimum guys to audition for the 4/5 slots.

Kuhl and WIlliams have shown flashes this season…then you’ve got Brault, Kingham, Hutch, and others.

But, yeah…just not seeing how that money gets spent…especially with next season’s FA crop not being especially noteworthy.

jimmyz

Starting 3rd baseman, true 4th outfielder, veteran and productive middle infielder bench piece to make the Gosselin and Moroff types as emergency only players, two bullpen arms and a mid to back end of the rotation pitcher sounds in the ballpark if not above 25 million.

NMR

You aren’t setting the bar nearly high enough.

“…the Pirates top three are set.”

comment image

Ivan Nova is not a #3 . Not when competing against the team’s Tim is talking about. Getting a legit 3 WAR starter, pushing Nova to #4 , is what a true contender would do with money to spare.

piraddict

Fascinating graph! Thanks for the reference. The burning question is: why the slow degradation in FIP. What has the league figured out? Or is Nova just fatiguing?

NMR

League adjustment and batted ball regression.

He was succeeding before by getting ahead in counts by pumping fastballs over the plate and then using the curveball as an out pitch. It was more control than command. The league’s now adjusted and is ambushing those fastballs causing the strikeout rate to plummet. Only three qualified starters in all of baseball strike out less batters, and every one of them have a FIP over 4.50.

He was also benefiting from a lack of production on contact, mostly due to home park. He was well below league average in HR/FB rate last year despite exit velos that didn’t support it. He’s *still* has a 1.50 FIP advantage at home vs on the road despite equal xFIPs.

The ball’s going over the fence now, and he’s striking out less batters. There’s your rise in FIP, and ERA. He’s a solid #4 /5 innings eater, but nothing more.

freddylang

Agreed…but he’s a better 3 than Jon Niese was.

jaygray007

I think anybody’s forecast for 2018 has to depend on…

do they think that Glasnow will be that #3 with the strides he’s been showing in AAA?

if so, then the team can spend the money elsewhere on the team and be pretty dang strong. If not, then they’ll have to buy a real #3 and leave… say… the bullpen exposed.

NMR

Those are not mutually exclusive…

The Pirates should buy that #3 and use Glasnow as one of the bullpen pieces. Not permanently, but to allow him to learn to get big league hitters out in a more controlled environment. He simply does not have the command to be a #3 yet, but his stuff in short outing very well could overwhelm that deficiency. Use him in a flexible multi-inning role for ~100 IP and then revisit the rotation in 2019.

Kerry Writtenhouse

I’ve thought the same way on Glasnow. Start him out like the Cards did with Martinez. The only problem there could be a case of where he becomes a two pitch guy, but imagine a bullpen with 2 guys bringing it close to 100 one from each side. Not a bad consolation prize. Of course the goal would still be to get him in the rotation.

NMR

Ironically, one of the few knocks on Martinez himself when he entered the league was that he lacked a changeup. The Cards were able to develop the pitch while he spent a year+ in the big league pen.

Scott K

This idea works for me.

jaygray007

i’d definitely open to that if his command still isn’t looking great. accomplishes the same thing.

jaygray007

i’m sure Neal will figure something out haha. he has no incentive to *not* figure out a way to reach the $100+ million that he’s clearly allowed to spend.

Buy a Neal Walker (walker 2b harrison 3b vs RHP, and Harrison 2b Freese 3b vs LHP) and trading for someone like David Robertson and signing a $5 million BP arm or two makes that add up pretty quickly.

and sounds like one hell of a team.

beaverjp

I think the bucs farm system is a tale of two cities pitching and hitting. The Cubs in contrast is all position player the dodgers and Astros are more balanced.

juniorkrz

Tim, this team does have an opportunity to contend next season, but IMO it hinges on ownership’s commitment to invest in the team. How many people on this site truly believe ownership will reinvest the money they saved this season into next year’s team. I would like to believe, but that does not make it so. Make it happen Nutting.

Andrew W

Interesting to think if they increased payroll to $125 M for 2018, how would that impact profitability. Unfortunately Bob Nutting makes his money in a dying industry. He probably relies on the baseball team to finance his 3rd tier rag publishing business. I think we’re effed as Pirates fans. Let’s hope Nutting’s businesses die quicker than expected and he’ll sell in the next five years. Maybe Cuban or some “new money” will buy and we can start having more fun at this.

jaygray007

i dont think ownership has to do that much. it’d help if they said “hey you can spend 120 million instead of 100” but let’s just go with seeing what they could do with 100 for now.

as long as Neal is allowed to spend what he’s been allowed to spend in the past, it’s not that hard to see that a good team could be built. anything else from ownership would be gravy.

Micbg77

Tim, great article that lays out the Pirates situation from all angles. Going into this trade deadline, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to see the Pirates do, but I was hoping to see them at least do something, and when we come away with Benoit and two minor prospects it just feels like “OK where do they go from here.” Hopefully one way or another they can make a decision soon.

clemo83

Well said Tim!!!

Rev. 3:16 So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold – I am going to spit you out of my mouth!

Gosh it’s awful as a fan to watch this- either go for it, or have guts to sell

Scott K

I would venture a guess Royals fans were saying the same thing about their organization right before their 2-year WS run. They chose to stick with the talent they largely drafted and developed even though several of them hadn’t come close to reaching their ceiling. Patience is often the right course, even if it’s lukewarm to the tongue.

clemo83

I do sincerely lovd your optimism Scott, you make a lot of insightful comments. And you’re right- we do have a lot of talent, but it’s not talent in a vacuum. It’s also talent at various stages of development and contract status as Tim pointed out. If the goal is a championship, you have to compare to the best – Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, etc. Can this team compete with them? No- we feel miles away to me. I just don’t see how standing pat is going to get us there.

thecrow124

No man’s land is a good phrase. Also, Up shits creek without a paddle. A rudderless ship. All those phrases could be used to describe the Pittsburgh Pirates.
For all the talk of the Cubs building through their farm system, the only true star they have produced is Kris Bryant. The big difference between their rebuild and the Pirates rebuild are the players that were supplemented through free agency. The Cubs got Lester, Lackey, Rizzo, Chapman, Arrieta, and Heyward for their WS run via trade or FA, this year they added Quintana. The Pirates over the years have added, Happ, Liriano, Nova, Vogelsong, Kang and the like. It is nearly impossible to compete when a team can spend another teams entire payroll on 4 FA’s.
That is the reason I have become a proponent of creating windows of opportunity, like the White Sox. Give away a year or 2 of bad baseball, but load up on so much minor league talent, that a year or 2 down the line, they should all, hopefully, be performing at the major league level. Giving the team 3 solid years of opportunity before selling them off to try again.

Tim B

We are what we are, a small market club. I believe we had the most international money to spend this year? What have we done wirh it, 7 million, spend 3? can we deal 4 million of it for some teams #3 , 4 and 5 prospects??

jaygray007

– i’m sure if they’re still 5.5 GB on August 30, we’ll see Nicasio move. Not sure anybody would give anything for Jaso. I dont think lack of a trade on Jul 31 necessarily means that they’re never moving Nicasio.

– i dont think you need to make 2018-centric trades on July 31 of 2017. They have all offseason to do that.

– i think the difference between the Cubs/astros rebuild decisions and where the Pirates are right now is that those teams didn’t have good farms when they decided to rebuild. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a full teardown of a team that already had a pretty good farm. They’re *already* going to have a little bit of a Rule 5 40 man roster crunch. i dont think completely tearing anything down in order to add 15 prospects to an already-deep system is necessarily an ideal solution.

I think what i’ve learned from this post is that we could really use a good analysis of who is leaving, what money is already committed, which players making lots of money have a MLB-ready prospect ready to replace them, which positions could and should have that money spent on them, and project how many teams that team could win. It really seems like a Kang return and one good reliever is all they really really need.

jaygray007

I guess ultimately your opinion on next season depends on…

how good do you think Glasnow will be?

1) If you think glasnow will be good, then they’ll have a ton of money to throw at Relievers and Neil Walkers and who knows what else.

2) If you think glasnow will be bad, then well they have to spend a bunch of money on a pitcher and leave the bullpen exposed.

and Kang coming back could turn scenario 1 from good to fantastic and scenario 2 from okay to good.

Kerry Writtenhouse

Why Neil Walker?

jaygray007

I think someone like him would be the perfect fit for the offense if Kang isn’t back.

Freeze struggles vs righties. Walker mashes righties. Walker 2b Harrison 3b vs righties. Harrison 2b freese 3b vs lefties.

beaverjp

I really like Lowrie and Solarte for rhp matchup. They can also platoon with Mercer even if Kang comes back. The bucs have more than enough mid tier to make it happen.

AttyMike

This is a well written and well reasoned article. Thanks for writing it. I agree with you 100% that the path the Pirates have chosen basically requires everything to go right for them to contend and, as you correctly state, it never happens that way. So they are set up as perennial losers. The point of yours with which I’ll take slight issue is the comment about this being all unfair to the Pirates. I’m sorry but they voted for the system and choose to do business in the system. This unfair stuff lets them cop out time and again. Their real problem is that they don’t perform well enough at drafting and developing for their chosen system to actually be successful. Ratings of their farm system don’t matter. What matters is producing impact talent that results in playoff appearances. This front office has been about average at producing major league players from the draft (who end up being about average players to boot). The Pirates need to either change approaches as you suggest (i.e. grow a pair) or get a front office that’s better at their jobs. If they don’t, their attendance trends downwards, along with revenue, will continue and they’ll be crying even louder about the disparities of baseball.

Michael Sankovich

I would lean more towards saying the front office has been below average at producing quality major league players from the draft. Should we give NH & Co. a few more years to see how the current supposed top guys pan out, or make a change now? I would like a new group with a fresh approach.

Scott K

Do “we” have a say in it?

AttyMike

I’d agree that 10 years is enough to know about the performance plus their construction of the team the last two years doesn’t exactly give me confidence that the future will be much better. Most troubling is that they don’t seem to have self-awareness of their shortcomings.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

Yeah like their long proven dailed International free agent philosophy….they dumpster dive year after year….what top prospects do we have with that approach??

jaygray007

the thing that makes it tough is that it seems like theyve hit their stride pretty well since 2010 for the most part. Or i guess 2011 if you’ve given up on Kingham.

Bill W

For a small market team to go “all in” by trading prospects or taking on big long term contracts is foolish, you will quickly find yourselves where the Reds are, and
it will take years to dig out it.

Small market teams have slim margin for error if they want to compete most every year, and Marte not playing till July, Kang not playing at all, and Cutch hitting very poorly for almost the first two months took them over the margin. Even then, if the bullpen had been stellar, they would be at most a few games out of the wildcard or leading the Central. They came in with a reasonable shot of contending, just didnt’ work out due to unpredictable events.

The need now and for 2018 is hitting, which is why trading Cutch made little sense at the deadline. Trading Cole for an impact bat with a few years of control during the off season seems like the best way forward. They have pitching depth, so deal Cole and rely on your depth.

The Pirates path to the World Series is to consistently play over .500 ball, get into the wildcard game, and go from there, if that is not the type of team you want to root for, then this is not your team right now.

Or as Seinfeld said “Fruit’s a gamble, you know that going in”

Scott K

This is the most reasonable comment I’ve read from you in a while John.

I see your point about Cole, but I think you’re off by a year. I say the best chance to contend in ’18 is having a top notch pitching staff headed by Cole. Then strongly consider dealing him after next year when Taillon or Glasnow is ready to lead the staff in what is likely a bridge year in the first post-Cutch season.

deron f

Good stuff Tim!
Money always gets in the way of making the best decisions for the Pirates to contend. The route they have carefuly chosen will keep fans Interested and the team profitable. Thats the ultimate goal with this ownership.
Bottome line..Pirates will need some luck to be a contender. The perfect storm of prospects maturing and delivering on potential, core players having career years and no injuries. Thats a very tough row to hoe.

Scott K

Luck? To a degree, yes. What they really need is their best players playing at or near the top of their game. They certainly are good enough to win if this were to happen as it did in the playoff seasons.

deron f

yeah dude, “luck”, because its obvious spending money on top talent is not an option.
Who are their best players ? and how capable are they compared to the rest of the league? and is that really enough?

Cutch and Cole have been stellar recently and that’s really not making much of a difference at all.

They made the wild card game a couple of times. Is that really success? See Penguins & Steelers.
They completely blew their chance to be a legitimate contender after the 98 win season. They did nothing.

Scott K

Cutch is a former MVP who is arguably playing the best baseball of his career the last two months. Cole has the ability to shutdown any lineup. Add the talent of Marte, Taillon, Bell, et al and they definitely have the core in place to compete.

jedeweese

And this is why I believe this ownership group will stay the course in No Man’s Land. I believe a risky “charge the net” would be a disaster, with the Pirates ending up in Charlotte. See what happened at GABP?

La Pirate

Great discussion. I always felt this was a transition year because of the young pitching. Its proved to be more challenging due to the Marte suspension and the Kang mess. The Pirates are not going to make it this year but I agree the core is decent but must be improved next year in order to really contend

turks44

they can’t hit, and they have dead weight at 3rd ,catcher, and need up grade at shortstop soon and their outfield is losing cutch after next yr. their bench is bad and the bullpen is worse. Except for glasnow there are no impact players coming up in 2018. Any player over 30 should be moved this off season and they should at least listen to offers for cole . also polanco and marte could be moved for mlb talent.

jiaqic

Going for the rebuild in 2018 is the way to go, ALL IN for a small market team at this stage is risking playoff chance for another half decade…

deacs

Count me in for the rebuild. Right now they don’t have either the front line pitching or an excellent offense. And I think you need at least one or the other. Like TIm said their best shot at any significant playoff run is the wave of prospects all clicking at once not just trading one former top prospect (like Cole) for his eventual replacement (say Keller). Any successful run will most likely need a Taillon, Glasnow and Keller at the top of the rotation and a decent supporting back end of starters which I think they have now in Kuhl and Williams or in AAA in Brault or Kingham. By trading Cutch and Cole for some top hitting prospects they should be able to set themselves up for a nice wave of prospects that hit the majors in the next two or three years. If Cole, Taillon and Glasnow all pitch like aces next year we’re having a different conversation but I wouldn’t bank on it.

Scott K

I say it’s a better than 50% chance Pirates top 3 SP’s perform better than any of their NL Central rivals.

The one sentence in Tim’s article I would vehemently disagree with is his statement about TG not being ready. John Drecker has stated on numerous occasions that this is a much better version of TG than he has seen in the past. With consistently increased velocity, better command, and development of a change up, he is definitely ready to compete at MLB level. If it weren’t for the fact team will get an extra year of control by keeping him down for another 3-4 weeks, he should definitely be pitching in Pittsburgh right now.

Bill Harvey

What benefit is there to promoting Glasnow? In 2 stints in the majors, he has been bad, all while putting up good stats in the minors. Am I expected to view that in a couple months he has been able to fix all that was wrong with him? Leave him in the minors and let him try again next year. It’s not like the Pirates are going to the playoffs this year.

Scott Kliesen

How will we know if the improvements he has shown in fastball velocity and command, to go along with improvements to his change up will translate at ML level unless he is given a few starts in September?

Best case scenario is he is successful and builds confidence going into next season.

emjayinTN

Excellent point, but after his Service Year date passes later in August, after he turns 24. The Pirates need to get younger and more importantly THINK younger and smarter. Joey Cora in, the CH coaching group out except for Ray Searage. Give him the next 2 months to get acclimated.

piraddict

No way that the Pirates fire CH.

Douglas Byrd

This a good observation, and it rings true to me. But the Pirates will always be up against it if 1) Good free agents like Cole, are expected to automatically leave due to money 2) The Pirates are not competitive for top free agents. To overcome this they would need amazing drafts which they have not had and maybe some luck which they might have had (Nova for example). The basic problem is money. Constraints. The amount of payroll shed over the past three years is considerable, the list is long and basically speaking they seem to dump players who are getting expensive quite often. The whole logic of Nutting etc. I believe is flawed since spending more smartly will bring much more revenue in. I’d resign Cutch as a first priority. Then, trade Polanco or Meadows plus for a good starting pitcher. Much more is needed of course.

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