Pirates Q&A: Roster Construction, the State of MLB, and Regional Sports Network Rumors

A lot of questions this week, including some interesting looks at the state of MLB and the possibility of a regional sports network owned by MLB in the future. Here we go:

Roster Construction

mw24 – Are the Bucs going to waste a roster spot on a 3rd catcher, old man Stallings?

Tim: I wouldn’t call Stallings a wasted spot. It gives the Pirates a true backup catcher, and allows them to use Cervelli or Diaz off the bench, a year after both were good hitters. You could also use Cervelli in a DH role vs AL teams, or maybe even put him at first base on occasion, to help keep him fresh. This worked well last year for both catchers, and it’s made easier if you have a third catcher, as you aren’t prevented by using one of those two catchers on any given night.

Put it this way: You normally have a backup catcher you never use when he’s not starting. Would you rather than be Cervelli or Diaz on any given night? Or would you rather have that be Stallings, with Cervelli and Diaz being bench guys when they’re not starting? I think there’s an argument to be made that Cervelli/Diaz are better bench bats than what the Pirates could get right now elsewhere.

Wilbert Matthews – Give us your starting batting order for day one of the 2019 season.

Tim: I think whatever it is, it’s going to change a lot, as batting orders do. I’ll have a better idea of this once Spring Training is underway.

SweetNick – Opening day third baseman, Kang or Moran; ss, Gonzalez or Newman?

Tim: My prediction right now is Moran and Gonzalez. I think Kang could have a good shot at moving into the role if Moran starts slow and Kang starts well. Shortstop seems like it’s more up in the air, although I think they’d be wise to add someone else and use Gonzalez and Newman as Plans B and C.

TuuSAmo – Is there a possability that the new hitting coach is the X factor? I.E. if Eckstein can emulate his colleague Ray Searage and fix Bell, Moran, Kramer, Newman, and Kang while bringing stability to Dickerson, Marte, Polanco, and Frazier, do you think that would be enough value added to make this a playoff team? Note Im not asking if this is a likely scenario, Im asking if its possible.

Tim: Yes, definitely possible. The likely part is where I’m not sure, so I’m glad you averted from that. I’ll just say that the hitting coach could play the biggest role on this team just because there are so many guys you just listed there who have more offensive upside than what we’ve seen so far. Especially with Bell and Polanco, plus the reports we’ve heard of Moran’s power. This is the biggest area where the Pirates could improve, and they’ve got a lot of raw talent to work with.

hoptown – Given the way the game has shifted toward deep, talented bullpens, should the Pirates have been more active in the RP market? Justin Wilson $5M, Brad Brach $4.35M, Greg Holland $3.25M, Shawn Kelley $2.75M, Oliver Perez $2.5M, Blake Parker $1.8M, Hunter Strickland $1.3M all seem like great deals. Feliz, Burdi, and Kingham/Brault currently slated for bullpen and not much depth behind them if an injury or two occurs.

Tim: They have a good bullpen, but you can never have too much depth. I’m not entirely sure that they’re done with the bullpen right now. Yes, a lot of relievers are signing low-priced deals for their production, but there are also still relievers out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates join in on that action as Spring Training draws closer.

tmcgowan – Which contract and player would you have preferred going forward: Jung Ho Kang at 1 year $3m with $2.5M in potential incentives, or Asdrúbal Cabrera for 1 year $3.5M? Elaborate on certainty vs. the potential variance and which fits better with the 2019 Pirates. (Assuming the view on Cabrera is he cant cut it full time SS and both are 3b)

Tim: I’d say Cabrera because of his value the last few years, but I do have questions about whether he could be a full-time guy at shortstop, since he’s played maybe half a season combined at the position the last two years. Honestly, they could have gone with both, have Kang as the third base backup and a bat off the bench, and have a guy like Cabrera as a shortstop option and utility guy off the bench. And that’s a move I think they should still try to find with another player, boosting the bench and the shortstop options.

PhillyJake – Chances Nick Kingham is the #5 starter?

Tim: It would only happen if there was an injury to one of the current starting five, and at that point I think it’s more likely that Kingham would be in an opener situation with other pitchers like Steven Brault and maybe Clay Holmes.

hoptown – If you could reverse the Archer trade right now and get back Meadows, Glasnow, and Bax, would you?

Tim: No. I’d further boost the team around Archer.

wvpirate – Do the think the Pirates will sign any other veterans for the bench?

Tim: Yes, but probably minor league free agents.

There’s Certainly Some People Mad at Ownership

SmokinJoe – Certainly a different type of ownership…going into a business cycle and all that has been done is to provide adequate resources to participate in their business cycle but not sufficient to grow and expand their business. Does that about sum it up???

Darkstone42 – The Front Office said some words and Pirate Fest, and, honestly, regarding everything they said, the tone, etc., I have just one question.

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SalemPirate – Will MLB eventually strip Pirates ownership of its franchise or force a move to another city?

Tim: I want to answer all three at once, because my summary covers everything. My original answer to Salem’s question was going to be “No, signed Tim from Tampa.”

I’ve been pointing out that this is a league-wide thing, and that all teams — even the Dodgers — are crying poor with free agents and limiting their spending. Obviously the Pirates will get more attention since their payroll is lower. You’re always a target when you’re one of the slowest swimmers and the shark is coming.

I got a response the other day (from someone who obviously doesn’t read the site) suggesting that I was trying to justify the Pirates’ $73 M payroll by pointing out that the whole league is doing this on different scales. Those of you who have read the site this offseason (plus the last few years when I’ve argued that the Pirates need to spend bigger when the window is open, which is now BTW), know this isn’t the case.

The reason I point out that this is a league thing is to add perspective. The idea is that the Pirates are doing something unique, and eventually MLB will crack down on them. The reality is that every team is doing this, and MLB doesn’t care. Every team is making profits without needing to worry about being competitive. Teams aren’t spending big because they’ve found ways to get value at lower prices, and the players have done a horrible job in their negotiations, to the point where they can’t do anything now to reverse the trend.

I point all of this out to add perspective. The only way anything is changing for the Pirates is if the entire league changes. And that crack down won’t come from MLB. It will only come if the MLBPA fights for a better system in the next CBA after the 2021 season.

rickmontgomery – How does the Pirates off-season compare to what other similar small market teams have done this year to improve themselves? Please include salary projections in your comparisons. Maybe do a team-by-team analysis of moves, grading each team A, B, C, D, F, and then provide your best guess as to their payroll if the season started today.

Tim: Is this one of those common core math questions? Honestly, I can’t give an answer here because I don’t even know what other teams have done. I spend all my time focused on the Pirates, and this time of year, focused on the Prospect Guide.

Quick Hits

Jim Deweese – Last minute contract…Cameron Maybin, Jose Iglesias, Wade Miley or stand pat? I think they stand pat.

Tim: I know you posted this before Miley signed, and later posted that you saw he signed. But even with him in there, Iglesias would be my preference.

As for what they actually do, I think the only safe bet is another minor league free agent, while hoping they add another shortstop option.

jimmyz – Is the worst part of not significantly adding to the roster this offseason the very real likelihood of falling out of contention early and trading off Dickerson and Cervelli anyway or wasting one of the years of Archer and Kela on the team?

Tim: I’d say the lost year of Archer and Kela. They just paid a lot in prospects and young players to get those two, and a big reason for the cost was the years of control. Wasting one of those years would be a very bad move.

David Garshaw – Becoming hooked on the Bucs in 1957, I fondly remember the vest type jerseys. We lost them when 3-Rivers was built. I suggested to Al Oliver I would think the team would and should go back to them (“Jack Sparrow is of medium height, has brown dreadlocks and a braid, characteristic mustache, …a white shirt, a black vest…”). Scoop said the vest jersey was uncomfortable due to the undershirts that went with them. I would think a simple black undershirt would work well and be comfortable. Let’s start a petition campaign!!!!

Tim: If I recall, they did have those in the early 2000s, which is when I first started following the Pirates more than casually. I always liked the white vest with the black undershirt in those days.

wvpirate – Do you think that the lack of multi year contracts is because the owners anticipate a strike soon?
Granted the Pirates passed up alot of good one year contracts that other players have signed up for.

Tim: I think it’s because the league is going cheap right now. I think if the players strike, they’d be forfeiting their contracts for that year, so that probably wouldn’t be a concern.

Stonecipher – What does it mean that the MLB put in a bid for a regional sports network?

Tim: I never thought my comic book movie knowledge would play such an impact here until now. Disney purchased Fox so that they could start their own streaming service. It gave them a network, a list of shows, and a lot of other properties (including X-Men and The Fantastic Four eventually joining the MCU!)

There were parts of Fox that Disney didn’t purchase, such as Fox News and other divisions. They did purchase the sports network, but don’t plan to use it, and will sell it off.

What this means for MLB if they buy it is that they will have more of a vertical company. They will provide the product, while also providing the source for where that product is viewed. This essentially means more money for MLB, as they will be able to sell ad revenue and get much more than what they were getting in local TV deals (the networks made those deals knowing they’d get more each year in ad sales).

I think this will also further the current problem in baseball with the owners getting much more money than the players. If they own the networks, then they will be making money from those networks, and splitting that among all 30 owners. But just like with the BAMTech sales and one-time payments, this money won’t necessarily go to the players, since there’s nothing in the CBA saying that owner investments like that need to be distributed back inside the game to the players.

In short, it seems like a way for MLB to make even more money on their product, and I doubt much of that extra money will go to the players. I wonder what they’ll show on the regional networks during the strike in 2021?

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