49.2 F
Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Williams: The Pirates Lack Essential Experience Needed to Contend

When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Kevin Newman last week, they traded away a unique piece of experience. Newman was the last player on this roster who knew what it was like to play for a winning team in Pittsburgh.

Newman, drafted in the first round in 2015, made his MLB debut in 2018, in a year when the Pirates went 82-79. He was called up on August 16, 2018, and made 97 plate appearances the remainder of the season. It’s hardly much of a winning season, but it was a winning season.

The Pirates have players with winning experience on their roster. Newly added first baseman Ji-Man Choi, for example, spent the last few years with the Rays. You could argue that the contending experience on this team isn’t coming from the key contributors.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (3.0 fWAR) and Bryan Reynolds (2.9) were the leaders on the Pirates last year. If the Pirates have a winning core in the next few years, it will likely be built around these two players. Neither of these players has experience on a winning team. Hayes made his MLB debut in 2020, and Reynolds in 2019. For the most part, their experience has been playing for the worst team in baseball.

This is important, because the Pirates are trying to build a winner, and the help right now looks to be coming largely from within. And yet, none of their internal options know how to win in Pittsburgh, because the Pirates clearly have had an issue with that mentality and process for a long time.

We dream about Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras leading the rotation, with Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows on the way. Which one of those pitchers knows how to handle the pressure of an MLB playoff race in September, or a one-game playoff in October?

Right now, the guy they would turn to would be Keller. There is legitimate reason to be excited about Keller’s improvements during the 2022 season. He posted a 3.91 ERA and a 3.88 FIP, with a lot of his success coming after the addition of his new sinker.

Those numbers are good enough to pitch in a contending rotation. They aren’t enough to lead a contending rotation. Even if Keller could take the next step forward in 2023, it would be a lot to ask him to also take the step of leading a playoff rotation.

Reynolds, Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Jack Suwinski, and Rodolfo Castro might all be starters on offense next year. They may be joined eventually by Endy Rodriguez and others in the upper levels. None of these players are established to the point where you can comfortably build a contender around them. Very few of those players could start for another contender right now.

In order for one of those players to develop into one of the best players in the league, they will need to figure out how to maintain consistent performance through the pressure of a 162 game season. The real pressure of a 162 game season. Not just the grind of playing 162 games when the season was over after game 81.

The paradox is that the Pirates will need one of these players to step forward as one of the best in the league, in order to get to a point where game 162 matters.

The Pirates can assist their young players by bringing in experience. The type of experience that knows how to handle the day-to-day in September when you’re fatigued, but games still matter. The type of experience that knows how to constantly break out of slumps throughout the long season.

Bringing in a veteran like Jose Quintana to pitch with Keller up until the trade deadline isn’t enough.

The Pirates need an experienced pitcher around when Keller is pitching in meaningful games in September, to lead by example. The same is true for an experienced hitter to lead the inexperienced offense by example. They’re not learning how to handle the grind of a contending season through the teachings of bench veterans who are watching those important games.

Before the Pirates are contenders again, they’re going to need to add to their team as if they’re already contenders. They’re going to need to add someone from the outside who knows the long, grinding process of winning in Major League Baseball.

Right now, no one in this organization has ever experienced winning in Pittsburgh. And very few have experienced winning in the Majors. It’s hard to see the Pirates magically becoming contenders with this lack of important experience.

+ posts

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.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

Related articles

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

What does Shelton know about winning? Not much, and with his horrible lineup decisions (I don’t believe he’s being told by GMBC as much as others do), they’re not going to get any better.

You want “veteranosity”? Get a veteran manager with winning experience that knows how to work with a young team.


I don’t really understand this thinking. What’s Jermery Peña know about winning? Sure they have Altuve and company but there are 100 examples of players who “don’t know how to win” until they do. And pitchers with no playoff experience that take the ball for their first time in a Wild Card round(and win).

I don’t think anyone expects the Pirates to win a WS next season either. But a winning team(.500 or above) should be the goal with such a young team; like Baltimore this season.

Then you go from there. Expectations grow higher; players get that experience and get the feel of what a MLB winning team feels like.

Although most have already played on winning teams at different levels of their career. And they know what a winning team feels like and looks like(just not at the MLB level).

No veteran should be taking AB/PT away from the players or prospects the Pirates have at the major league or AAA level; just yet.

Last edited 12 days ago by pittsburghbob69

When will they admit that Rodolfo Castro is bad news and won’t change? An experienced manager would be a welcome addition. Unfortunately, Ben Cherington needs more money to work with as a general manager. The Pirates fortunes won’t change any time soon.


Exactly why they shouldn’t have traded most of the guys they did in their 20’s. Now they will have to sign free agents at higher salaries to get the experience back. What a horrible plan.


It’s the plan from someone that doesn’t care to win. $$$$$


I miss Josh Bell.


Me too. But hey at least they got a HAUL for him!!



I think that so much of roster construction has become so analytical that front offices see success as a mathematical equation. When the focus is primarily on the solving the equation soley based on the numbers, you’re going to miss on the human elements. While i do hear BC talk about the quality of the people when they acquire them, i still feel like they’re missing identifying that “it factor” or winner mentality. Or maybe they do identify it, but cant convince those player to come to Pit, remember its a 2 way street for free agents. From what ive heard & seen out of guys like Endy, Nick G, & Henry, I think all 3 have that winner’s mentality, where it’s not just that theyre super talented, but they have that deep down competitive spirit that they hate losing more than they enjoy winning. Getting those guys to the 26 man is exciting, but theyre going to need so support along the way, & shuffling vets in for a couple months & trading them at the deadline aint the support thats going to help, they need veteran guys in there long term to build a friendship & trust together – thats team building 101 IMO


It’s always been said that wining baseball teams need veteran players. The
Quintana-Keller suggestion reminds me of Burnett-Cole. However, I hope any
veteran the Pirate retain doesn’t have a similar outcome.  Cole never learned to pitch the big game, even today with the Yankees.


We need Carlos Rodón and a OF/1B who can hit RHP




Let’s say we need to sign Rodón and trade for Rhys Hoskins.


Does Tim really have to lead an article like this with a caveat that more talented players are necessary? Pretty sure he gets it.

I don’t understand the controversy here. If you believe in the mental part of the game, then you should respect the value that veterans from winning cultures add to an inexperienced club.


The Pirates always draft for 1ST round concessions. ThT means they pass up the top team changing players. Drafting a SS not even on anyone’s lists. A pitcher that’s the best hitter in college. I too old and my memory too weak to remember the names of all the players the bucco’s have passed on the last 10 years. Please help me out.


Johnson signed a large contract. He had leverage. But he was one of the few players prospect-wonks believed to be the best player, and thus the to pick.

Wilbur Miller

Holy moly, they got something for Park. No idea what, really, but didn’t expect anything.

Wilbur Miller

Inmer Lobo, 18-yr-old Venezuelan LHP, made five DSL starts this year, 0.82 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 0.8 BB/9, 11.5 K/9. OK then.


Is he the 2nd best LHSP in the organization? Possibly the 2nd LHSP in the organization?

Wilbur Miller

Nah, that should be Michael Kennedy or Hunter Barco, once he’s healthy. There’s also Julian Bosnic, a late round guy from this year. He’s shown some bat-missing ability. Had elbow surgery (I think non-TJ) and couldn’t pitch after the draft. And there are the other draftees we haven’t seen yet, which I mentioned the other day. They also have a couple lottery tickets of their own from the DSL, Yojeiry Osoria and maybe 1-2 others. And maybe Luis Peralta can find the plate or Trey McGough can pick it back up post-TJ, although he’s probably gone until 2024.
Maybe I should do a LHP piece . . . .


We would like that, Wilbur.


The Pirates will have to overspend to bring in adequate talent through free agency. San Diego did it with Hosmer, and that was the beginning of a new approach. The Pirates obviously won’t take that approach (and we’d be lucky to see them spend half of what San Diego now spends), but same principle applies.


I forget who said it. gm or owner, but “free agents are a waist of money.”


Ownership already knows they need to spend money to win but that’s too risky for a small-timer like Nickles who would rather pocket sure profits than gamble that potential profit on the requisite payroll needed to finance a winner.




These kids have all played on winning teams. I agree not at the MLB level, but at most levels they have played since they were kids. And, our minor league affiliates have been successful and many of our prospects have played in Minor League Championship Games.

We know the landscape and all of these kids would bust there butts for the opportunity to play at the MLB level. Placing an experienced player ahead of them on the depth chart does not teach them anything.

Give these kids wings and the Managerial expertise to make sure they can develop at the MLB level. These kids have talent and they can learn just by watching and competing against better or more experienced competition. Unless something changes in ownership, this is our only sensible path forward.

Play the kids in 2023 and then add from there. Develop our own core of leadership. We have talented pitching and playing leaders out there in their early 20’s, but we have failed to empower them properly or even treat them like they can be leaders. Our Owner is a dud – wasting another year waiting for better FA’s is a fool’s errand.


The main thing the Pirates lack is about 35,000 more fans per game. then they could afford they type of talent that can win games.


Partially yes.. and even without 35,000 more with the revenue sharing check they should be able to spend more. However, there will always be a huge discrepancy between the Pirates and the true big spenders. With local TV contracts and a much larger population to pull from the revenues will never be close. So spend more… but it has too be wisely.


Come on, get real. Whatever the Pirates get through revenue spending is a drop in the bucket compared to other teams that draw thousands of more fans to their games than the Bucs.
I don’t understand why Pirate fans don’t acknowledge that simple fact.
I have a dislike for BN the same as every other Pirate fan but unless you have ownership and a front office like Tampa you are never going to be like them.
We have to face the fact that Pittsburgh and Western Pa. cannot support a major league team.
Drawing a couple thousand fans for a weekday game is an embarrassment to MLB and is the main reason why the Pirates are a failure.
I read all these wish lists about signing this player and that player every year but what happens is that the Pirates scrape the bottom of the barrel and then everybody bitches and moans but, in an era where good players are making many millions of dollars the Bucs are paying 1-2 million for basically nothing and hoping for a miracle. Is that realistic?
If you want MLB in the Burgh than except 100 loss seasons and quit bitching and hoping because it ain’t getting better.


We are caught in an ugly cycle. Ownership won’t spend because of attendance but fans don’t want to buy tickets to watch a subpar product. Owning a business is risky. Every other business needs to invest in their product or service first, then hope that customers try their product and then return. Nutting wants fans to pay for a substandard product and people have stopped buying it. Personally, I have bought a ticket since 2018. I don’t see me buying a ticket for 2023 unless they sign a quality pitcher.


The bottom line is that there is always in Pittsburgh (even here, I think we have been brainwashed into this thinking) a “not yet” or “not now” for spending money on the team. Let’s face it – it’s a “not ever.” I dream of two things as a fan – a good team in the moment and the sustaining of a good team year in and year out. You can luck into a good team in the moment every once in a while – hey, a stopped clock is right twice a day. But without spending some money or at least acquiring some actual MLB talent, the second dream is only a dream.


You can’t spend money unless you make money. 500 to 2,000 customers in a 39,000- seat venue is virtually empty. 37,000 empty seats does not equate to making money. Think of the cost just to play the game in a near empty Stadium. The Players,Umps,Ground Crews, other workers around the stadium, electricity and other costs just to put on the game, the other team gets a cut of what little is made. I’m not defending Nutting, just pointing out that Pittsburgh may not be the best place to host a MLB club.


If there is a MLB product on the field then the stadium is not empty. Pittsburgh loves its sports but can smell shysters disguised as owners. These teams are profitable and likely would be more profitable with competent owners willing to invest in the club. The value of the club has risen along with all the teams dramatically and winning not only fills seats but increases value in merchandising and other areas. Baseball has survived in other small and medium markets, sometimes with much more success because of better management and the willingness to spend on the team.


FYI, the Pirates are a product of MLB’s economic structure, not the owner.

Also, there is so much that is fundamental wrong with your ”take” that it would take me hours to explain in this format.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Please do explain. I seem to recall not too long ago how a successful team did a pretty good job of drawing fans to PNC Park. Poor personnel decisions, a cheap owner and MLB’s financial structure doomed that team in the long run. A competitive team, IMHO, would draw more fans and increase revenue streams that could be reinvested in the team. I travel to the Burgh multiple times a year to see good teams and shit teams. I’d come even more if the team was somewhat competitive. It’s only a 5 hour drive, after all.


I’m not here to defend Nutting, I despise him as much as everybody else but even as bad as he is if thousands more fans showed up for games there would be more money to spend on players, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.
Why is that so hard for Pirate fans to grasp that?
Good or bad most cities put enough people in the seats to make a team profitable and more people show up when the team is competitive but there has to be enough of a base of loyal fans to show up every game.
Pirate fans like to play the chicken or the egg game but let’s face it if 25,000 fans showed up every weekday game and 35,000 on weekends there would be a better team on the field, but let’s tell the truth, Pittsburgh and Western Pa. doesn’t have the population base to put up those numbers, yes, they can put more people in the seats when they are competitive, but year after year game after game, no, it isn’t their fault they just don’t have enough population to sustain even half those numbers.
Everybody points to Tampa and a few other cities but let’s face it The Burgh isn’t Tampa and Nutting, and his family will never give up their choke hold so things will never change, so every 50 years or so Pittsburgh will luck into a play- off game. Accept that simple fact.


You make a very good argument until the last paragraph – “… and Nutting, and his family will never give up their choke hold so things will never change.” How is this different than what my post you replied to stated? Efforts to be competitive sure haven’t hurt the other Pittsburgh professional sports franchises from drawing fans. It’s the constant tear down, rebuild, and no spend policy of the Pirates that has demoralized the fan base. Who do you blame? The fans for not wanting to watch a sub-par product or the owner and his management team for repeatedly putting such a product on the field?


I hear you Mike. Unfortunately, most, if not all, Pirates fans can’t get past the lazy Nutting narrative.


Talent and winning solve a lot of (experience) problems. Go to bed on time, eat right, and play hard. But management needs to get the talent together before opening day.


There are free agent pitchers available at reasonable prices, by MLB standards, who could fit the bill and contribute now as well as in the next few years if only the Pirates would abide by MLB standards. Quintana, Stripling, Taillon, Eflin, Wacha and others who are all in their early thirties and might be willing if offered a multi year contract. The problem of course is that the Pirates don’t do that or at least haven’t recently.

Everything is still just talk and wishful thinking until they actually stop grabbing the discards and go after some worthwhile players. It’s no longer too soon to do that. Now’s the time to start. If they don’t do it now the painful truth may simply have to be faced: it’s all just smoke and mirrors and they have no intention of building a contending team.


The team will learn to contend by contending, not by watching a vet. Giles, Kendall and Williams were hardly helpful when it came to the younger players. I believe it’s better for the Pirates to reestablish its bona fides by significantly improving over its 100-loss seasons. Babysteps before big boy steps.

Last edited 13 days ago by steve_zielinski

What constitutes “significant improvement?” Ninety-five losses? Ninety losses? Eighty-five losses maybe? Still awful and still losing. And the real question; how do they do even that without bringing in more actual baseball talent and leadership?


The Pirates must build from within. Even the Yankees and Dodgers attempt to build from their minor leagues.
Significant improvement: Reaching or nearing the McClatchy Line (81 wins) while reaching by playing its prospects. If the Pirates can approach the McClatchy line, then it would be wise for them to, say, trading for a vet or signing a good starter. To do this now would require paying into a team that cannot win, a team that will not improve that much by signing a mid-tier free agent.


Read this title at least three times as “…Lack Existential Experience…” and boy did the content of the article seem off base until I got it right.


Thanks Tim,

If Hoy Park DFA and two seam flower with Scarface and Brian doesn’t ready you for family, just flush it and move as Shelty preaches.
Remember its only one holiday

Happy Thanksgiving


What I read into this is there needs to be a commitment by ownership and the front office to focus on acquiring players who are not “ephemeral” – waiver claims, cash trades, 1-year free agents. I frankly don’t think it matters whether the player has substantial experience with a winning team (Jordan Lyles anchored Baltimore’s staff, famously had never played on a wire-to-wire winning team). Just the commitment to something other than playing for some ever-tomorrow would signal something.


Writing is on the wall to sign or trade for veterans who are good and who have won. It’s not enough to just get a guy who has been in the dugout of a winning team. For that experience to really shape the young players, they still have to be one of the better players in the Pirates’ dugout. Need to open up the acquisition strategy to include some guys we can expect to be good.

Last year they brought in Quintana but that kind of signing would not be enough. Quintana worked out, but if he hadn’t, the necessary experience would not be fulfilled. Instead they should be trying to sign Quintana himself again this year. Someone who you are more certain will come in and perform well will cost more, but you’re paying for the certainty they will perform well enough to lead young players who are also playing well.

Got to have some of those guys both among the bats and the arms. At minimum, 3 or 4 more guys, each earning a decent AAV.


VENT … Drove into Pittsburgh yesterday to buy my annual Opening Day ticket. I like the drive and it allows me to save on the “customer service” fees from buying it online. To my great surprise my $32 seat now cost $40. The PBC has decided to impose the same service fees at the walk up ticket window as they do online. Am I the last person to discover this bit of information or has it being going on for the last few years.
I will be going to this Opening Day to continue a family tradition but, this could possibly be my last Pirate game; ever. I can understand increased ticket prices, I can tolerate the ridiculous concessions prices (they all do it), parking .. well it’s parking. I have patiently watched Mr. Nutting suck the joy out of Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball fans for over the past decade. For me this is the last straw. Why is it now necessary to suck the last drop of green from each fan. Especially when we see no discernible improvements on the playing field.
I will continue to be a fan and I will be here everyday to read the latest updates but, Mr. Nutting will not longer receive another dollar from my pocket.


I got my Opening Day tickets!


He technically only gets 52% as the other 48% goes into the league’s revenue sharing pool. But honestly, they are still among the cheapest tickets in the league and by far the best value when considering the ballpark.


Anthony .. I think you missed my point. Yes, I agree PNC Park tickets are some of the best pricing in sports. My issue is the charging of the “Customer Service Fee” when you are a walk up purchaser. This is my complaint and the high point of BS.


Yeah, I no longer live anywhere near PNC but would much rather give Tim and the Gang my $ than Bob Nutting. Actually, I’d rather give that $ to my fire pit than to Ole Bobby Boy.


With all due respect for your fantastic site and excellent writing, this is what coaches are for. The Rays contend year in and year out and sometimes they have veteran leadership, sometimes they don’t. It’s the good play that matters. Mitch Keller can bend the ear of any number of pirates staff who have experience winning during long seasons. I would rather sign a young stud pitcher whose lost a bunch than a washed up vet who has won.

We need good players, not “intangible veteranosity”. Newman was not a good player. He is replacement level at best and we do not need to pay for replacement level. And he would take at bats from the young players who “might” end up being good. His wisdom as a “winner” doesn’t make up for that.

Last edited 13 days ago by sewer2001

Tim, I get your point. But I stick with my disagreement stated below. Learning about my job had to do with the quality of my peers. Yes, I am sure I learned some things from ‘veterans’, but if our goal was to get a project done on time and within budget (make the playoffs?), the quality and ability of my peers way out weighed the importance of their years of service. Can that be a factor sure, but given a resource limit (roster size?), I was much more successful with the more skilled resources.


i am so in this camp. Get good players or by the current plan, keep developing until you have enough good players and sign or trade for (see Liriano, Burnett, Martin) to round out the team. They may or may not be veterans… just get good players knowing that even with that plan some will be misses.

Personally (and that was not the purpose of this article), I am growing tired of the Newman angst. Unless his game (his bat!!) significantly changes, he is easily replaceable. Just like I am worried about them wanting to add a middle infielder to the mix. Unless they are adding one of the big 4 shortstops, it gets pretty ugly fast… there are a few ‘older’ vets who I am sure have something left, but who may also be on that inevitable downward path.


“ We need good players, not “intangible veteranosity”. Newman was not a good player. He is replacement level at best and we do not need to pay for replacement level. ”

According to baseball reference he was closer to an above average player than a replacement one


Baseball reference shows Kevin Newman as having 3.1 career WAR. So yes, I suppose. But 3 WAR were 2019. So replacement level since then. Plain and simple. Regardless, Newman was merely an example of my overall point. I won’t bicker over him specifically. My point was that we don’t need veteran “winning experience” to win. We need good players.


I agree with your overall point

IMO Newman is a good player


payroll is under 50. they’ve paid ~$115M for players in the past, and even THAT was low. They could afford to add veterans Verlander, Quintana, Justin Turner DH and Mike Brantley LF and probably pay less for players than they did in 2015, adjusting for inflation.

Not having that essential experience on the team is a *choice*


Turner would be a good DH and occasional first baseman. I love his fire. He reminds me of Burnett.


(i know, i know, someone is gonna nitpick some of those specific players i picked. *the specific players are not the point. the point is that they could buy WS experience if they want to, without even paying more for players than what we’ve seen in the past)


I am not fussing about the players you mentioned. All seem sensible. For me the issue is timing. The Bucs are going to break in new players at catcher, second, and center. Is now the time to go big on free agents? This is a real question. I don’t have an answer.


who said anything about new players at C, 2b, and CF?

bring back Roberto Perez, go Castro-bae at 2b, and Reynolds CF.

LF Brantley
CF Reynolds
SS Cruz
DH Turner
1b Choi
RF Suwinski
3b Hayes
2b Castro/Bae
C Perez (eventually endy)

Is what i was envisioning.


Hard no on Perez. Let Endy begin the year in the Burgh.


Sign me up


I think we have some hints that BC agrees with you.


I like your list. I would be pumped if even 2 of those guys signed.

b mcferren

the budget for a right handed DH platoon with Choi is about $2mil bucs

about the right amount to #BringBackCutch


Any evidence that BC or Cutch agree with you?




I remember 100+ loss totals. 🙂 🙂 🙂


I’ll go a step further. Forget lack of experience. They lack essential talent to even get to .500 at this juncture. Contend? I hear Jim Mora somewhere…….

Last edited 13 days ago by leefieux

Amen…you beat me to it…

There were precisely zero reasons to trade Newman, he would no matter what capacity he plays help provide the help guidance and experience to whoever is going to play every day…

Last edited 13 days ago by RAS TN

I disagree on the Newman deal. We have 6 million MI’s and I like the reliever we got. Newman was eminently replaceable.


He has been replaced by Cruz and Castro…But who takes their places if they fail… a simple answer is no one or at least no one with experience…

As long as the Pirates continue to delete their roster of experienced talent this team is going nowhere…You can’t win with a team of rookies…


Well, we didn’t win with Newman. 🙂 🙂


Newman has put the ball in play 82% of the time for his career
Hardly ever takes a strike and thats OK
Whats not OK? Close strikes but def balls swung at with less than two strikes. Pitcher knows weak contact will be made and from there the BABIP stat takes over
With 82 of every100 in play, some good contact some weak
There is way more luck, good or bad.
Who knows? Is the ball falling in for a hit,
ball hanging up too long for an out
Its doing something in play
Compare his yearly BA’s with his BABIP
It shows the year to year YOYO
BABIP should be renamed


Share article

Latest articles


Latest comments

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x