Big changes come with equally large expectations more often than not. This offseason for the Pittsburgh Pirates has been no different and nobody should be surprised by the reaction they have received thus far.
As you go through life, milestones are placed at your feet continuously. Your parents track every age, growth spurt and eventually you turn 16 and driving is on the horizon. Next comes graduation and being an “adult”. Soon is 21 and drinking. After that, spoiler alert, it’s an insurance discount at 25 and figuring out your 401k.
Its reasonable that we as humans and fans are hard wired to look for milestones and place significance on them. Milestones are perhaps a deadline for setting your 40-man roster, placing qualifying offers on eligible players, signing someone as a free agent that makes a trade possible.
I’m here to tell you though, you don’t know what Ben Cherington is thinking.
Yup, I said it. You don’t know, your favorite blog doesn’t know. That radio host who loves to tell you you’re stupid doesn’t know. In fact, I’d be shocked if Ben himself is 100% convinced he himself knows.
Anything you see as a sign right now could of course leads you to a conclusion, but rest assured it’s a guess at best. Recently I saw someone propose that signing Luke Maile signified a total rebuild. How do ya figure sports fan? They signed a depth catcher, and a catcher who specializes in defense. Exactly what Cherington said he wanted. Also, someone he has personal experience with from Toronto. What a stretch.
They may very well rebuild, but it won’t be because they signed a catcher. If they sign a big free agent pitcher, that won’t necessarily mean they aren’t going to trade Marte.
I say all this because Ben Cherington is and has been a patient builder in his career. The only time he strayed from that philosophy in his career actually led to his downfall in Boston. They were hungry for another championship and he was essentially encouraged to go buy one. He tried but the players that were “the best” weren’t anymore. I’d imagine he learned from that experience and would want to tread lightly until he knows what he has.
I’m not telling you this should make you satisfied as a fan, I’m simply saying trying to take the slightest of moves and suppose it means more than, well, a slight move, is simply foolhardy. When the Pirates signed 4 borderline AAA/MLB free agents and offered them tryouts at Spring Training, the fanbase erupted online, 'same old bucs', 'Nutting won’t spend', 'this guy is worse than Neal was' and so on. This happens EVERY single season, with literally every single team. It’s how the Bucs had JB Schuck last year, hell its how they ended up with Melky Cabrerra.
The Pirates and Cherington don’t need your patience and they honestly haven’t at this juncture earned it, but they also should get a bit more than a month of an off-season in year one to utterly disappoint you. I can make a case that they could go out and make two signings and be in the conversation for the division this season, and I could equally see them moving a few players and bringing in talent with an eye toward 2022. Another possibility is, they do nothing. Oh, I know, this one isn’t popular, but really look at this club. There is talent here, much of it returning from injury-plagued seasons and others still held back by coaching philosophy from the previous regime. Its possible the new management actually likes this team as it is. I’d argue they have holes they could and should fill, but I can’t argue that I’m a little interested in seeing how this team, as is, might perform with new coaches and another year of experience.
What if the market for Marte is two 10-20 prospects? Would you still move him? I wouldn’t, maybe Ben wouldn’t either. Always remember it takes two to get a deal across the finish line and I don’t see very often the first move of note for any new GM being pushing the team’s star out the door without a return that is unmistakably good. That might not come before the deadline, and who knows, maybe they surprise us, and the deadline brings about a whole other discussion.
Another narrative that is at least confusing amongst fans to me, the very same people pining for the trade of Archer, Marte, and Bell are the loudest proponents of raising payroll. Well, this is simply math, which I hate as much as the next guy, but it stands to reason if you move your three top paid guys payroll isn’t going up. It could, sure they could trade all three of them and sign three big names and be above where they were, but that’s not typical when you are rebuilding which in this case WOULD actually be a sign it's happening.
If I had to guess, some of you are so mad you can’t see or think straight. That’s fine honestly, you’ve earned more leeway than you give Ben, he hasn’t watched this team try and fail since 1979, you have. But if Ben Cherington does this job the right way, the way I expect him to, we will undoubtedly look back and appreciate the patience and diligence he showed in the early going. This isn’t a guy who never got it done, this is a guy who has experience the pinnacle of the game and turned down at least three documented offers to come here. He didn’t do that to lose and keep Bob rich, he did it to win and knew he would have total control of building the system.
No matter what they choose to do, try to see past the small moves and non-indicators. There is still a long time before he finishes painting his picture and we haven’t even allowed him to pick his color palette before telling him it stinks.
A personal story, if I may, that has forged my thinking on this subject. When I was much younger my grandma, an avid Pirates fan, read the news on this weird large format black and white printed thing called a newspaper, that the Pirates had traded Tony Pena to St. Louis. Full stop. She quit reading right there. She ran around the house telling everyone she was done with the Pirates, done with them losing, done with all of it. My grandpa, the calm and measured of the two, took me in the other room and told me she was what he called a fair-weather fan and you have to be patient. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was crying because my Grandma had essentially just told me the Pirates were dead. He told me about Ralph Kiner and how it felt when the Bucs traded him, then the way it felt when he and everyone else were sent home early from the mill when Bill Mazeroski hit the shot that brought home the World Series, and the Famalee teams. He said it always looks worst before it gets good.
I’m not saying you can’t get mad, by all means do, but keep in mind we are all guessing at what might happen right now, some more educated than others, but still guessing.
Tis the season.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007