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First Pitch: Needing to Get to a Winning Team


There was only one quote presented yesterday in the comments, relating to Ben Cherington’s plan with the Pirates. That quote was presented by NMR:

“There can be reasonable opinions from reasonable people, smart people, about the right direction, the right way to build,” said Cherington. “I can tell you that within our room, within baseball operations, we’re not thinking about it that way. We’re thinking about it more as ‘needing to get to a winning team.’ There’s no one path toward that.”

NMR brought up a good point about Neal Huntington. The quote above matches what Huntington said and did while he was here. When I read that quote, it instantly reminded me of the responses the Pirates gave over the last few years when questioning their way of winning.

If you’re looking for a sign that things will be different under Cherington, that quote could be alarming on the surface.

But it’s also vague. The key to that phrase is that they’re thinking about getting to a winning team, and there’s no single path to that goal.

The problem with Huntington was that we knew the path. It involved trying to contend every year. It involved rebuilding for the future while trying to win in the present. The goals were presented as “contending” and the main target seemed to be the wild card spot. The actual result was a stretch of four years where the highlight was an 82 win season.

You don’t want to see the same with Cherington. We don’t know if that will be the case though, since we don’t know exactly what their plan is.

What Cherington has said so far is a series of vague answers, with no hint of a plan for 2020 and beyond. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a plan. It just means we have no clue what that plan entails.

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s expected when Cherington has been on the job for a little over a month. But it does make it difficult to evaluate the path of the Pirates, or whether their plan is working going forward. Perhaps the secrecy is all by design at this point.

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By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a player who was with two World Series teams.

Frank Taveras, shortstop for the 1971-79 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates in 1968 and spent four full seasons in the minors before he got a chance in the big leagues. He played just one game his rookie season, pinch-running for Willie Stargell during a 15-inning game against the Mets on September 25, 1971. He played just four September games with the Pirates in 1972, then spent the entire 1973 season in Triple-A. Despite not getting a late season call-up the prior season, Taveras made the 1974 Pirates Opening Day roster and started 107 games at shortstop. After hitting .246 his rookie season, Taveras slumped down to .212 in 1975, but he still started 122 game. He received added playing time in 1976, getting nearly 150 more plate appearances. He also stole 58 bases in 69 attempts. In 1977, Taveras led the NL in stolen bases with 70. He also hit his first major league homer, an inside-the-park grand slam on August 5th in his 510th major league game. Taveras set career highs in hits, doubles and RBI’s in 1978. He hit .278 and added 46 stolen bases, but was also caught stealing 25 times. Just 11 games into the 1979 season, the Pirates traded Taveras to the Mets for Tim Foli. Frank hit .255 in 1,150 career games, stealing exactly 300 bases and hitting just two career homers.

Victor Cruz, pitcher for the 1981 Pirates. He was a reliever for three seasons in the majors when the Pirates acquired him on December 9, 1980 as part of the return for Bert Blyleven. In 1980 he went 6-7, 3.45 in 55 games with 12 saves for the Cleveland Indians. He pitched just 22 games with the Pirates during the strike shortened 1981 season, going 1-1, 2.65 with one save. He was traded to the Texas Rangers just prior to the start of the 1982 season in exchange for Nelson Norman. Cruz spent the entire 1982 season in the minors, then posted a 1.44 ERA in 17 games for the Rangers in 1983, before finishing his career in the minors.

Tim Drummond, pitcher for the 1987 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in 12th round of the 1983 draft out of Charles County Community College, the only major league player from that school. Drummond was a September call-up for Pittsburgh in 1987. He pitched six games in relief, allowing three runs over six innings. The following Spring Training, he was traded to the New York Mets in the Randy Milligan/Mackey Sasser trade. The next season, he was one of five pitchers traded to the Minnesota Twins for Frank Viola. Drummond never pitched in the majors for the Mets, but he did pitch a total of 43 games for the Twins, going 3-5, 4.28 in 107.1 innings. He pitched in the minors until 1992 before retiring.

Lloyd Johnson, who had his entire Major League career consist of one inning pitched for the Pirates on Saturday, April 21, 1934. He played four seasons in the minors prior to his big league game. He was with the Pirates in their bullpen when they came to Cincinnati for the fourth game of the year. With the Reds up 8-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning, manager George Gibson called upon Johnson to pitch to the bottom of the order. He allowed just one hit but still retired the side facing just three hitters. The last batter that Johnson faced in the majors was former Pirate Adam Comorosky. Johnson returned to the minors shortly after that game, going back to his team in Mission, California, where he had played the previous four seasons. He played 12 minor league seasons, posting a 97-121 record.

Del Howard, first baseman for the 1905 Pirates. He played just one season in Pittsburgh but was involved in two fairly big trades. Howard was a 26-year-old minor league star when the Phillies purchased him from Omaha of the Western League. Just four months after they bought him, and before he could play a single game for the Phillies, they traded him to the Pirates in exchange for three players with big league experience. He had a strong rookie season in 1905 for the Pirates, hitting .292 with 63 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. Almost a year to the date of acquiring Howard, the Pirates packaged him in a deal with two other players to acquire star pitcher Vic Willis. Del was a .263 hitter over five seasons in the majors before he returned to the minors where he played for six more full seasons and parts of two others. He also managed for 11 years in the minors.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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