Every spring, for as long as I can remember and of course regardless of how bad the Pirates were the year prior, spring training would provide a feeling of eternal hope that something good could happen this season. This year though, it’s different for Pirate Fans.
So far, during this extremely slow and relatively un-eventful offseason we have seen the best teams in the division make themselves better. The Cubs have added talent including adding ace pitcher Yu Darvish just 2 days ago. The Cardinals also made a significant move as they added a big bat to their lineup. Marcell Ozuna and his 38 home runs were added from the Miami Marlins. Then there was the Milwaukee Brewers… you know another one of these small market teams.
After a surprise season last year, They decided to INVEST in their team and they went out and picked up Lorenzo Cain, and Miami Marlin Christian Yelich. Cain, they were able to sign to a 5 year deal.
So far this season, the Pirates have traded away Gerrit Cole, a near top of the rotation starting pitcher who was still under their control for another season or two if they so chose. They also traded away former MVP, Team leader along with Cornerstone player Andrew McCutchen. In both trades, they received not 1 top minor league target, not to mention any established major league talent.
They have also signed several minor league contracts that I was criticized for criticizing because they were non de script moves that every organization makes. Unfortunately for this organization they tend to be the only additions they make now. Speaking of non de script, they did sign Daniel Nava whom will likely battle for an outfield platoon situation for the Major League Roster.
The Pirates front office has talked about being in a similar position as the Brewers last season and are looking for this young team to open some eyes. the GM has also talked about how close he thinks they are and a complete rebuild is not necessary.
The idea they will have a chance to have a season like the Brewers had last season is nothing more than a hope. Last year, Milwaukee had the luxury of playing in a division that underachieved during the regular season. A season that was not planned to be that way. I freak kind of season in which no team pulled away till later in the season. That was one of the reasons the Pirates were competitive for so long. The Cards and Cubs both sputtered throughout the season and no one really took the Brewers seriously until later on.
With the significant upgrades to the teams that finished ahead of the Pirates, combined with the downgrades the Pirates made…. the season is setting up for what can only be described as a complete and total failure. It will take every player in the lineup to have a career year for the Pirates to not finish the season in 4th or lower position in this division.
In years past, The Front office took advantage of some of the options a small market team had with regards to signing young talent and or waiver pickups. They overspent in the draft which is now not something they can do.
Some of The best offensive players in the recent Pirates past were previous regime draft picks in Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen.
David Littlefield the Pirates former GM before the Huntington days, actually started the Pirates resurgence but has received no credit for it. He answered to similar ownership although the majority owner was Kevin McClatchy. If you think New Huntington has tight purse strings, Littlefield had even emptier pockets but also managed to find some diamonds in the rough.
He consistently drafted guys he could afford and by doing so, He made some real ugly draft picks, but he did draft McCutchen, Neil Walker, and former Pirates Pitcher Paul Maholm. All three players were good Pirate players, and Cutch is one of their all time greats.
He also played a part in grabbing players like Jason Bay, Jose Bautista(who was not a great Pirate, but ended up being a great power hitter for the Blue Jays), and Freddy Sanchez. All Bautista did was become one of the great power hitters of his generation. Bay was also a good Pirate, and Sanchez won a batting title here while struggling with injury issues.
I bring these up because when Huntington took over, he traded away all the Pirates former bad draft picks and their best players in order to get better. He did that, while taking advantage of the rules MLB had in place for small market teams like the Pirates. Over the last 5 years or so, MLB has eliminated most of those rules which included paying draft picks over slot which allowed them to grab players that would likely not come out in the draft.
Currently most teams manage their farm system like the Pirates and other small market teams have done in the past. They all covet their minor league prospects…. to a point. Which means Pittsburgh is left to make deals that are now less than desirable which is what we just saw. Similar to what Littlefield was rightly accused of years ago.
You could explain away some Littlefield’s issues because of tight purse strings. Littlefield once hit a list of the Worst GM’s of all time on ESPN.com. With that said, the once EXPO scout and GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates is now the VP of Player development for the Tigers.
And now the current Ownership group is trying to pass this team as constructed, off as a team that “Could Contend” like the Brewers did last season. Once again, the team has one of the smallest payrolls in Baseball and before the recent trades were made, they had a roster that was not that far away. With the offseason being what it has been thus far, and adding to that the fact that Darvish was signed for way less money than was expected, the Pirates actually could have added without increasing payroll by all that much.
By Keeping Cole and Cutch, the Pirates had a payroll of just over 100 million which would have been bottom third in the league. Adding a player like Darvish to a rotation that included Cole, Nova, Taillon and the other young talent the Pirates Posses, could have made this team a contender. Not only that, the increase in payroll would have the Pirates still in the lower 1/3 of Major League Baseball payrolls.
Adding a piece like Darvish would have had the fan base buzzing and of course likely buying tickets. Instead, the negativity has spilled over and left the fans with little hope.
As stated up front, “Hope Springs Eternal” when Pitchers and Catchers report, but not in Pittsburgh. Not this year.