Minor League Awards

Every year I do a meaningless exercise where I hand out awards to each Pirate affiliate. There are 4 but I select both a hitter and a pitcher so in essence there are 8. Simply put I select the best player, top prospect, breakouts and disappointments. In a lot of cases the breakouts may seem like reaches because there were no great choices and some of the disappointments stem largely from injuries. I’m not going to give any commentary on these awards as I will have additional posts later covering the minor league season.

AAA

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Chris Bostick/Steven Brault

Top Prospects – Austin Meadows/Nick Kingham

Breakouts – Max Moroff/Angel Sanchez

Disappointments – Austin Meadows/Clay Holmes

AA

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Jordan Luplow/Austin Coley

Top Prospects – Cole Tucker/JT Brubaker

Breakouts -Jordan Luplow/Tate Scioneaux

Disappointments – Kevin Newman/Yeudy Garcia

A+

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Logan Hill/Pedro Vasquez

Top Prospects -Cole Tucker/Mitch Keller

Breakouts – Logan Hill/ Pedro Vasquez

Disappointments – Will Craig/ Gage Hinsz

A

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Hunter Owen/Eduardo Vera

Top Prospects – Adrian Valerio/Luis Escobar

Breakouts – Adrian Valerio/Oddy Nunez

Disappointments – Sandy Santos/Blake Cederlind

A-

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Tristan Gray/Scooter Hightower

Top Prospects – Dylan Busby/Ike Schlabach

Breakouts – Tristan Gray/ Ike Schlabach

Disappointments – Dylan Busby/Sergio Cubilete

Rk+

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Edison Lantigua/Evan Piechota

Top Prospects – Edison Lantigua/Braeden Ogle

Breakouts – Edison Lantigua/Alex Manasa

Disappointments – Yondry Contreras/Max Kranick

Rk

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Mason Martin/Samuel Reyes

Top Prospects – Calvin Mitchell/Shane Baz

Breakouts – Mason martin/Samuel Reyes

Disappointments – Connor Uselton/Austin Shields

fRk

Best Hitter/Pitcher – Sherten Apostel/Oliver Garcia

Top Prospects – Jean Eusebio/Noe Toribio

Breakouts – Sherten Apostel/Jose Marcano

Disappointments – Larry Alcime/Osvaldo Bido

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Time To Hit Reset

I’ve tried attacking this same essential article from many different ways but I decided it best just to go with the direct approach. The Pirates are quickly approaching a point where it is going to become imperative they make a decision between rebuilding or doing something to solidify the group on hand. The fan in me wants to see the team make a bold move and give it another shot in 2018 but the realist in me realizes the time has come to do a reset.

A reset isn’t the same as a complete tear down/rebuild but it has some of the same essential components. I want the Pirates to trade away some key contributors and essentially give up on 2018 and probably 2019. I also want them to undergo a regime change. This doesn’t mean I think Huntington and Hurdle have done a bad job overall; they haven’t. Their work especially as of late hasn’t been exceptional and the time has come for a different direction and a new lead.

There is a certain segment of the fan base that believes to see real change something needs to be done at the top. They specify the majority owner but in reality the focus should be on the entire ownership team. Unlike some I don’t share the view that the owners are a Scrooge McDuck type taking huge profits out of the organization (we have disgruntled ex minority owner Jay Lustig telling us that doesn’t happen) but they are definitely a risk averse group which doesn’t jive well with a small market that let’s face it isn’t a great baseball market.

In order for a team in the Pirates situation to be successful over an extended period of time an owner needs to be an active participant and willing to take a chance that the club may lose money in a given year. This isn’t saying an owner must go into a year expecting to have to put his own money into the team or take on additional debt but they must be at least willing to do so should things not turn out as expected. Basically budget semi-aggressively when you find your team in contention and be willing to do what is necessary to make up any potential shortfalls.

Anyway owner tangent aside when thinking of the reset that is needed I’d like to see a new GM and manager in place and as far as the players are concerned I believe there are only two who its necessary to trade and that is Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Those two players are easily the Pirates best trade chips and with my thought of basically pulling back the reins for the next two years it makes little sense to keep them so they should be dealt.

As for other players I’d look to move anyone who isn’t controlled through 2020 but aside from Cutch and Cole I don’t expect anyone else to bring back a great haul so that is more of an individual basis. The list of other guys not under team control in 2020 are: Jordy Mercer, Francisco Cervelli, David Freese, Wade LeBlanc, Daniel Hudson, Ivan Nova, Sean Rodriguez and George Kontos. I don’t see really see anyone there who is going to get a great return but if there is an interesting prospect to be had for one of them you need to make the deal (even if you have to pay part of the contract).

Assuming it does prove fruitless to move any of the above guys I envision a 2018 Opening Day roster of something like:

Lineup: C Cervelli, 1B Bell, 2B Moroff, 3B Harrison, SS Mercer, LF Luplow, CF Marte, RF Polanco

Bench: C Diaz, 1B/OF Osuna, 1B/3B Freese, 2B/OF Frazier, U Rodriguez

Rotation: Taillon, Nova, Williams, Glasnow, Kingham

Bullpen: Rivero, Kontos, Neverauskas, Kuhl, Brault, Schugel, Free Agent

Diaz would split time with Cervelli and Frazier split time with Luplow. Ultimately the hope would be Meadows replaces the Luplow/Frazier split and Newman replaces Mercer. By no means is that an exciting roster but the pitching is very young and has some upside and hopefully trading Cutch and Cole would give the team some additional high upside position players to add to Newman and Meadows.

I’m not going to dive into any more specifics as this piece is already long enough for me and my writing style but I do realize this isn’t what most fans want to hear but unfortunately it is probably the best path forward for the Pirates. My fandom along with many others is irrational so we will remain no matter what course the Pirates take but it would sure be a nice change after two rough years to see the team do the right thing.

2018 Roster

While all hope of the Pirates contending in 2017 isn’t gone I find myself on the side that believes this team just isn’t good enough right now. Who knows maybe they get hot win 9 out of the next 10 and find themselves right on the division door step but until they get and stay above .500 for a little while I’m going to go on thinking this season is over.

With that in mind I figured I’d play with the the potential 2018 roster a little. None of this is to be taken as anything more than just some slightly educated guesses on my part but it should still be a fun exercise. So let’s start by breaking down players by their status heading into next year.

Free Agents: Juan Nicasio, John Jaso, Joaquin Benoit

Players With Team Options: Andrew McCutchen, Chris Stewart, Wade LeBlanc

Under Contract: Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison, Ivan Nova, David Freese, Daniel Hudson, Starling Marte, Sean Rodriguez, Gregory Polanco, [Jung Ho Kang]

Arb Eligible: Jordy Mercer, Gerrit Cole, Drew Hutchison, George Kontos, Felipe Rivero, Phil Gosselin, [Wade LeBlanc]

League Min – Out of Options: AJ Schugel, Nick Kingham, Elias Diaz

League Min – With Options: Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Adam Frazier, Josh Bell, Trevor Williams, Jose Osuna, Jordan Luplow, Max Moroff, Edgar Santana, Tyler Glasnow, Gift Ngoepe, Johnny Barbato, Jacob Stallings, Steven Brault, Chris Bostick, Dovydas Neverauskas, Clay Holmes

Notable Rule V Eligible: Edwin Espinal (MiLB FA), Angel Sanchez (MiLB FA), Austin Meadows, Luis Escobar, Eric Wood, Adrian Valerio, Tyler Eppler, Dario Agrazal, Jake Brentz, Montana DuRapau

Now lets go through the categories one by one and speculate on what the Pirates may do.

Free Agents – I could see them making a play to retain Nicasio but in the end I think we will see all three players move on

Players w/ Options – Regardless of if he is with the team next year picking up McCutchen’s option is an easy call. As for the other two I think we are looking at the end of the line for Stewart and while I’d like to see them pass on LeBlanc they have a dearth of left handed bullpen arms and he is cheap so I bet they pick it up.

Under Contract – Though we’d probably all like to see them cut bait on Hudson chances are everyone under contract, save Kang, will return and be a part of next year’s roster.

Arb Eligible – These all appear to be fairly easy calls. Cole, Mercer and Rivero are important players on the Pirates so all will be tendered. Kontos looks good so far so I expect them to tender him as well. Hutchison hasn’t played in the majors yet this year so tenderin him doesn’t seem likely. LeBlanc only becomes an issue if they decline the option and if that were to happen they will obviously non tender him. That leaves Gosselin who to be honest I’m not even sure is arb eligible yet but a September call up would erase any doubts with that. Regardless with Rodriguez back I can’t see him returning.

Out of Options – Diaz and Kingham are high pedigreed enough that the Pirates just aren’t going to let them go. Bet on them being on the Opening Day roster next year. As for Schugel he has been solid enough that the Pirates should at least hang on to him and let him compete for a bullpen job.

The Rest – Cheap guys who can easily be stashed in the minors. These guys remain on the roster unless a roster spot is needed. Looking over the list it would appear Barbato, Ngoepe, Stallings and Bostick represent the bottom of the group so they may be in danger but the rest will likely stay.

Rule V – I listed the 10 players I feel are the biggest decisions facing the Pirates here. Obviously all won’t be added to the roster but expect a lot of them to be. Austin Meadows is the one no brainer in the bunch. Outside of him Luis Escobar appears the next most likely. He is a bit far away but is a good enough prospect the Pirates likely won’t risk losing him. Outside of those two I’m going to say they keep 4 more and my guesses are Sanchez, Valerio, Brentz and Eppler. Sanchez and Eppler look like they could help as bullpen depth options next year and Brentz and Valerio look like prospects with some upside who could be fairly easily hidden by someone.

So all in all there we lose 3 to free agency, decline one option and non tender two guys. That leaves 6 open roster spots and conveniently we have 6 additions to the roster. I highlighted four potential guys to drop from the roster but obviously there are a couple more who could be (Schugel and LeBlanc come to mind) and there are of course trade possibilities.

In my next post I’ll discuss whom I see the Pirates potential trading and who I could them potential signing as a free agent (with maybe a trade target or two included).

The Upcoming Pitcher Crunch

To begin I must state that I am not saying the Pirates are approaching a problem where they have too many good pitchers as quite honestly the reverse is true and they have too few good pitchers. The upcoming crunch isn’t about good pitchers but rather useful ones. The Pirates have a plethora of “useful” pitchers who going into next year will have all spent significant time at AAA or MLB in the past year. I’m using the term “useful” to describe a back of the rotation starter or middle/long relief option. A competing team should have a max of 6 of these guys and honestly should try to keep it limited to 3 or 4.

The pitchers I’m speaking of are: Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Steve Brault, Drew Hutchison, Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, Tyler Eppler, Daniel Hudson, Wade LeBlanc, Jhan Marinez, Edgar Santana, Dovydas Neverauskas, AJ Schugel, Johnny Barbato and Angel Sanchez.

Obviously some of those names will and should continue to be depth options out of AAA but for six of them that isn’t an option: Hutchison, Kingham, Hudson, LeBlanc, Marinez and Schugel. It is also difficult to imagine the Pirates sending Kuhl or Williams down after the pair spent the entire 2017 season in the majors but that remains at least a possibility.

Once you add in the four actual good pitchers on the team: Cole, Taillon, Nova an Rivero you may notice the staff starts to get a little tight and nothing has been done to try to improve it. Its obvious the Pirates just can’t keep everyone in that group and in a related problem with pitchers ready to move up from AA some starters are going to have to convert to relief roles.

I’m not sure how the Pirates are going to approach this nor do I even have any ideas on how they should but they are going to have to start sorting out who they want to keep and soon. I do have some suggestions on how they should begin though.

Hutchison has performed decently at the AAA level and has some past success in the majors so he should be given a shot at starting down the stretch to see what he can do. If he struggles it is an easy decision to DFA him. Kuhl is an ok starter but it is difficult to see him remaining in the Pirates rotation long term so having Hutchison replace him and Kuhl converting to relief would be a good idea. Kingham is out of options next year and isn’t ready as a starter but his arm is too good to give up on right now so the only option is to break him in as a reliever.

Taillon has been struggling lately and looks like he could use a break. A brief DL stint for some sort of discomfort sounds like a good idea for him and this opens up an opportunity for Brault to audition. Edgar Santana should really be up here as well but the spot for him was in place of Tony Watson but the Benoit trade complicates matters there so maybe try and find something to place Daniel Hudson on the DL with and recall him.

There are still a lot more arms to go through but you can’t really look at most of them until September. I have some thoughts on the rest … decline LeBlanc’s option, drop Barbato, try to sneak Marinez through waivers this off season … but really the Pirates find themselves in a tight spot here with no real right answer. Some usable major league caliber arms are going to have to be let go in order to try and add some better arms to the mix. The Pirates aren’t going to be able to add all the better arms they need so choosing the best of this bunch takes on a lot more importance than it ordinarily would and time is running out to evaluate them all.

Deadline Dealing (Kind Of)

The trade deadline is behind us and the Pirates had a fairly boring time of it. I think it is impossible to be critical of either of the two small moves they made but I’ll give my opinion of them anyway.

Trading Watson was predictable and the infielder they got back, Cruz, seems rather interesting. I don’t keep a running prospect list anymore but he seems like he would be a safe bet for my personal top 30. The pitcher they got in the deal, German, looks like he has some upside but is a complete wildcard. So essentially two lottery tickets for a struggling relief pitcher who would have been gone at the end of the year. Fairly standard move here.

Adding Benoit to essentially fill in for Watson the rest of the year was a bit puzzling but at a cost of just McGarry I don’t see it as much of an issue. McGarry is not completely uninteresting but an older relief pitcher in A+ is nothing to fret about trading. I think I’d have preferred to see the team try one of their internal options in the Watson role but overall this is no big deal either way.

I didn’t expect the Pirates to make any major moves but I was hopeful we would see a little more action. The soft sell/soft buy approach was probably the way to go here but more should of been done. I would of liked an outfielder and a different relief pitcher who was under control next year brought in. I would have also liked to have seen Nicasio and Jaso traded away.

The Pirates should of been looking to better position themselves for next year and maybe they were but the execution of such failed. I’m not going to harp on these moves excessively but the action certainly didn’t feel appropriate for the given situation and considering they had several lanes that would of worked (big sell, big buy, a better buy/sell combo) it is disappointing.

The deadline didn’t change the fact that the Pirates are not a good or bad baseball team. They are merely ok and that makes things rather boring. The time is rapidly approaching where the Pirates are going to have to pick a lane and I hope they are better prepared for that decision than they were this trade deadline.

Trade Deadline

The trade deadline is fast approaching and how the Pirates should handle it is becoming a very popular topic. There are reasonable arguments that they should buy, sell, stand pat and even buy and sell at the same time. The division appears winnable but this iteration of the Pirates doesn’t seem to be a strong club. I’ve gone back and forth many times but barring a massive hot streak coming out of the break I think I have settled on a strategy.

Deal Anyone You Can Not Controlled Beyond 2018

Players fitting this criteria are Tony Watson, Jordy Mercer, Chris Stewart, Juan Nicasio, John Jaso, Daniel Hudson and yes even Andrew McCutchen. Now obviously a lot of these guys have basically no value but even a lottery ticket could be worth it in a lot of cases. As for McCutchen I do not want to see him traded and would be looking for a fairly big deal but I know sadly it is probably in the organization’s best interest to move on.

Listen On The Guys Controlled Through 2019 (And Josh Harrison)

This is Josh Harrison, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Cervelli, David Freese and Ivan Nova (Drew Hutchison, Wade LeBlanc and Jung-Ho Kang technically are here too but none have enough value to move at this point). It would be insanely difficult to pry Cole away for me but a high end prospect like Gleyber Torres from the Yankees would be difficult to pass up. As for the rest a good offer and getting the contract off the books would be enough.

The Rivero Question

There has been some speculation that the Pirates should trade Rivero and see what type of massive haul they could get. While I don’t doubt they could get a massive haul I’d shy away from moving him unless the offer was insane. Relievers have limited shelf life so I don’t think any team would really view it as getting him for 4.5 years and teams like relievers with long track records. For those reasons I think Rivero won’t be valued highly enough to move so keeping him and building a bullpen around him is a good idea.

Buying

With my apparent willingness to sell pretty much every short term asset you would think I’d be against the Pirates buying but that isn’t really true. The team despite its flaws is close enough to contending this year and next that I don’t want to simply pass up those opportunities. Because of this I’d look into buying but likely only flawed assets. I’d be willing to look into productive players controlled beyond this year who have contracts that are make them slightly overpaid. For example Ian Kinsler is a 35 year old 2B who has really fallen off but he is still productive. He has a 10 million dollar option next year that while not terrible is far from a bargain. If he could be had for a small return bringing him makes a certain amount of sense.

The Pirates Future

I think the Pirates are better than they have been playing but the facts are the deck is stacked against them this year and things just aren’t breaking right. The bottom line is with the trade deadline fast approaching the best move is likely going to be them being sellers. Yes that means likely trading away Andrew McCutchen. I’m going to hate that move when it comes and it won’t be do to whatever the return is but as a baseball fan its going to be a hard day but as a realist I know it is the right thing for this club to do.

In addition to McCutchen the Pirates are going to have to consider shipping off other short term assets including yes even Cole (though unless blown away I’d keep him for the start of 2018). Its going to be disappointing but shouldn’t really be unexpected a run of 3 very good years is about all a small market team usually has in them before the cycle needs to restart.

A rebuild is on the horizon and though the Pirates have enough of a core that they could probably justify waiting until next year to start it I don’t think this GM is going to play it that way and honestly I think that is the right move. A rebuild done correctly doesn’t have to be a long death sentence and the Pirates aren’t at a point where they have to burn it all to the ground. I do think we are in for a rough next two years though as the team transitions towards their next period.

The inevitable rebuild is going to be tough but I’ve stuck around through much worse than what it is going to throw at me. The team has some exciting young talent in the majors and coming up through the system so it is always possible they surprise us but as of right now I am coming to terms with the fact that my attention is going to start to shift slightly away from the present and more towards the future.