Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Pittsburgh Pirates

After trading Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros, I decided to ask several friends, who have been Pittsburgh Pirates fans for many years, their thoughts on the trade and the state of the Pirates. In the middle of this conversation, the Pirates traded former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants.

Nick: I think it will take a few years before we can accurately assess the trade-- that's how long it took for Robbie Grossman to become a semi-useful player. I mean, who would have predicted that Wade Davis would be the most valuable piece in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade? Ultimately, it's a decent haul, even without a headliner. I don't see Musgrove's future as a starter, but both arms are nice bullpen pieces and can be flipped in a year or two to reload further. 7th and 8th inning guys have never been more valuable. Moran could be OK, he has some pop. The Pirates have no pop and no ability to score runs. I love that his most direct comp is... David Freese.

Gobo: I think, without the context of who runs the Pirates (including Nutting and Huntington), the trade makes sense. Cole was never going to sign with the Pirates once he became a free agent, and frankly, he never quite lived up to the hype after Game 2 against the Cardinals in 2013. So I don't have a problem with trading him now. I don't have a problem with the return in theory. I think an important thing about Moran specifically is that he bats lefty, and the Pirates, even in their good years, have had a righty-heavy lineup. Even now, assuming Moran is the starting 3B, there are only 2 lefties plus one switch in the lineup.

The real problem is that nobody in the fan base trusts this management group. They had chances, particularly in 2014 and 2015, to go all-in, and they refused. This trade, even if the correct move, appears as just another emblem of that, and it pisses people off. If Theo Epstein made this trade, people would be singing its praises, or at least evaluating it from a balanced perspective. But with Nutting/Huntington, the default view is that winning a championship isn't goal #1, and this reinforces that view.

Sean: Gobo and Nick - How dare you have reasonable responses that make sense!

And then news started coming out of an Andrew McCutchen trade.

Nick: I’m sure I’ll say something nasty about the Cutch Trade when they announce the return.

Marc: Looks like we won’t have to wait long to find out...


Jamie: Looks like Cutch was traded for a relief pitcher.

Gobo nailed it. Management lost the fan base's trust. And it's well deserved. Until we can go into an offseason confident that they'll add $30 million in free agents and any salary dump will be of the Mark Melancon variety, we shouldn't trust these guys. There's no stud prospects on the horizon and no reason to assume 2018 won't be a flirtation with 500. Cole wasn't the ace we needed, so instead of getting the ace we've needed since Doug Drabek left town, they just dumped $21 million in salary and have zero intention to spend it on anyone who could help. This team doesn't need a Musgrove, Moran or Crick to get them to October. It doesn't need another bullpen arm to reach the playoffs. It's not a few pieces away. The offense has evolved into Josh Bell and 7 guys who hit 10-15 HR and a rotation of #3 and #4 starters. We're looking at a $70+ million payroll I'm 2018, which I believe places us last in the division by a lot. The only upside to all this is at least we're not the Marlins.

Sean: Did the Pirates really just trade Cutch for Burt Reynolds and a guy we can call Crick? Good for Cutch. Sad day for Pirates fans.

Nick: Kyle Crick throws gas and was touted as the next starter in line to ascend after Cain, Lincecum, Mad Bum. The other guy they got was the #4 prospect in a heinous farm season. They got more than they would get from a sandwich pick if they extended a QO. Sadly, this is Cutch’s value right now, he’s not exactly cheap and the Giants took the whole contract.

I only feel bad for Cutch in that there’s a very real chance the Pirates win more games than the Giants this year?

Harrison to the Mets?

Sean: (slightly out of order but in response to Nick) I know Longoria isn't what he was from a few years ago on the Rays, but I'll take the Giants having more wins than the Pirates in 2018.

Jamie: Reynolds is another 4th of on a good team, 15 hr guy. Ugh. Giants aren't even covering all of Cutch, we're eating 2.5 million. Total cost savings between Cole and Cutch is around 19 million with 500,000 in international bonus money. A sad day. Ya, I'd say JHay is out the door next.

Gobo: Yeah, the only thing that matters at this point is that everyone in greater Pittsburgh immediately start calling Kyle Crick "Turtle."

Dan: I'm not a Nutting apologist, exactly, but......here's my take.

Despite some fan delusions to the contrary, this team was not going to be very good. Better than last year if everything went right, but that's about all you can say. It's time for the next "window," much as people don't like to hear that term. It's just the reality.

The only question was whether they could get more now or at the deadline, and I'm not privy to that sort of info.

On free agency and ownership: If there are Russell Martins to be had, let's get one. Although it's the same problem of the last few years -- they had solid, if unspectacular guys at every position. There was never a blatant upgrade area.

Jamie, If you mean really *big* free agents, I can't fault an owner for not going that route in a horribly broken system. Most big signings you can name were wastes of money overall, and the teams signing them simply don't care. They get a crack or two at a World Series before they flush the remaining $50-$100 down the toilet.

Do I wish we had someone who was willing to flush huge amounts of money down the toilet because he really wants a title? Sure. Mark Cuban would be nice. But I'm not going to sit here and torch Nutting because he's not willing to give up a vast personal fortune so a bunch of yinzers he doesn't know can celebrate a championship they had nothing to do with.

Also, for what it's worth, I assume Crick will be a starter again. Post-hype top prospect + Searage = why not? And I like the look of Reynolds. He's exactly the kind of guy I target in the farm draft.

"Also Also": It's easy to say the Pirates didn't go "all in" in those good years. But neither did many other teams. It's not like that actually *works* most of the time. The math is always overwhelmingly against you. If they go all in, they have, what, maybe an 8% chance at a WS instead of 6%? And a far, far higher probability of making it the only shot they have.

Most teams simply aren't doing that anymore, are they?

Jamie:I don't disagree with you at all about the team's upside. That's the problem. The only free agent I want is a #1 starter. I've always maintained that guys like Cole will never reach their potential until they're a #2 or #3 starter behind a great veteran who knows what they're doing. Is that veteran always "worth" their contract on the back end? Probably not, but it's a cost of doing business and not my problem. Cole was immediately pushed into the #1 role and only thrived when Liriano was briefly pitching like a #1. Had we added a #1 starter to the roster we had, we'd have a $110 million payroll and a good shot at the postseason. Now we have a $70 million dollar payroll and zero shot. Crick as a starter has the upside of 15 good starts before he blows out his arm.

Sorry, just not feeling it now. I liked Cutch. Turtle Crick is a damn good nickname, but I'm just not feeling it for this team. My boys were starting to become big Pirates fans, so it's really a double whammy for me.

Why play the season at all?

It's sports. Going all in is kind of the point.

Dan: Regarding pitchers: it's not a smart -- or winning -- strategy.


And no, it's certainly not our problem. But Nutting's what we're stuck with, and his strategy is reasonably sound based on current statistical and financial realities. No matter how much fans bang their heads against a wall, it's not going to make him spend $100 million on an arm destined for someone's operating table or a 4.00 ERA. I wouldn't do it, either. I'd keep trying until I developed one myself.

Now if you want to torch this organization, you torch them for the unreal Cleveland Browns-like track record of putrid player selection and development for 20+ years. The jury is still out on whether they really know what they're doing now, or if the McCutchen/Cole/Marte era is just the proverbial blind squirrel getting the nut.

Sean: I agree with the idea of starting over. If you're not going to make the playoffs, why not trade your best players instead of simply treading water and being mediocre? The problem, as mentioned before, is the scouting and development. When was the last time the Pirates drafted an elite player? (The answer is Cutch and that was before the NH era.) The Rivero trade was great, but how many other trades have worked out well over the last few years?

I guess we have to hope that some of the players acquired for Cole and Cutch (and maybe Harrison and/or Freese) turn into all-star caliber players and that the Pirates, with likely a top-5 draft pick, get someone on the level of Cutch. That's a long wait though, and again, there's not a great track record from the current front office.

Nick: The Pirates always win when Melancon is in a trade.

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