The Pirates' Have Had Several Turning Points in Recent Years
Gary Morgan Jr.
Throughout the years the Pirates have made moves to build in contingency plans and order of succession. Power hitters that never panned out, outfielders who couldn’t handle the expectation, pitchers who took longer than expected, they’ve had them all. If you’ve read my work in the past, you know I’m well aware of what Bob Nutting spends, so let’s do ourselves a bit of a favor and think a little beyond that.
Today, I’d like to discuss how some things beyond their control, others propagated by terrible decision making, have led to less than stellar results.
Yeah, its not fair to say that Jameson Taillon is a problem. He is, as it stands the best pitcher in the entire system. His health, however, is an issue. One that has caused the Pirates’ plans to fall on their face multiple times. He was on track to make his MLB debut in 2015 but underwent his first TJ surgery in 2014. Gerrit Cole jumped him and made his debut. This potentially could have happened anyway but in some form or fashion these two were going to be the one-two punch the Pirates would ride at the top of the rotation for at least 3 seasons.
Again, the Pirates lost Jameson to TJ procedure in 2019, tossing the season into a tailspin and 2020 without an ace. It could be argued that had he not suffered these injuries Taillon would have been moved right around the same time as Gerrit was, but we will never know for sure.
What can’t be argued is we, and the Pirates, were robbed of really seeing what these two could accomplish together. Neither played together at the height of their abilities and as I wrote recently a pitching duo like that could have been pretty special.
Injuries happen, but nobody could have expected this would happen two times, and I’m not even bringing up the cancer. Jameson is a special talent, but it’s fair to ask if he will ever really get to realize it, at least while in Pittsburgh.
Chris Archer Trade
There is one word that best describes why the Pirates and specifically Neal Huntington chose to pull the trigger on this deal, and that word is fear. Fear of not trying when the club was in the picture, no matter how tenuously. Fear of never being able to unearth the talent buried in Tyler Glasnow. Fear of trusting a prospect could handle the outfield, even after he had shown himself capable. Fear that holding dear a number one pick he just made would ever pan out, thus devaluing Shane Baz as little more than a throw in, all to return a name. A name that many experts determined was not only no longer an “ace”, but numbers dictate he never was.
In all transparency, I liked the trade at the time. I’ve never been a hard numbers guy and always felt playing in the AL East was a big cause for Archer’s numbers. That was before the PTBNL was announced as Baz. I felt Glasnow was never going to get it, and the Bucs were okay in the outfield.
There is no denying this trade helped destroy the system and we will watch the aftermath contribute to another small market club for years to come. In short, the Pirates got fleeced and that’s not something they are equipped to rebound from quickly.
Gregory came to the Pirates like a ball of fire when he was called up. Since then he has shown an inability to hit for power and made some adjustments at the plate to hit more consistently. Then he slid, if that’s what you want to call it. If reports are accurate, there is a very real possibility he will never be the player he was, which in and of itself left much to be desired.
Polanco was supposed to be the next one, an anchor in the outfield following Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. His rise to becoming a consistent hitter was part of what made Neal Huntington feel he could move Austin Meadows. Now we just wonder if he will ever be able to throw a ball past the cutoff man. The next wave is still a year away. Bryan Reynolds enters his second season and for now the Pirates have retained Starling Marte, but prospects like Jared Oliva, Mason Martin and Jason Martin are still a work in progress. El Coffee was supposed to bridge that gap, and provide veteran leadership to the position, problem is, he has never completed his own evolution. If someone tells you they know what Gregory will produce this season, they’re either lying or potentially related to him.
Starling Marte's Suspension
Surely the Pirates were in a good spot with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in the outfield. It was finally his time to take over CF while Andrew moved to left, a move that absolutely irked McCutchen but seemed to be best for the ball club. Andrew’s range had eroded, and it was becoming obvious the best outfielder was not patrolling center. When his suspension was announced early in the season of 2017 it was a devastating blow. The club had other issues, but this was one they were ill-equipped to deal with. Losing quite possibly the best player on the team and facing the reality that at least part of what he was had been powered by performance enhancing drugs was something that weighed on the team and hung over the club all season.
Worse, trading Andrew in the coming off season was as close to a foregone conclusion as you could get. That meant trusting a player, who had just been nabbed for cheating, as the leader of the ball club. There is no arguing that Andrew was fading and moving him, especially when viewed through the prism of history in regard to the return, was the right move, but it had no chance of feeling good.
I don’t hear much about this anymore, and that’s to Marte’s credit. He has performed to his previous level if not better, but if you were one of the fans who loved to boo Ryan Braun every time he came to town after his own brush with cheating, it at the very least didn’t make you feel happy.
Mistakes happen. Injuries happen. How you recover from them is as important as making the plans in the first place. What does St. Louis do when they feel Tommy Pham isn’t the answer? They move on to option B and make moves to better what they had. The Pirates often expect the fan base to ride the situation with them. We are supposed to see that something happened and sympathize. If Ben Cherington does one thing different, it would be to create a system that allows for handling the ebbs and flows of a baseball season. Having more than one option to deal with a given situation or injury. Allowing prospects to augment what is already there rather than counting 100% that they had to be the answer in order to succeed. Some things, nobody can be prepared for, but last season we saw the club simply throw their hands in the air and trot Dovydas Neverauskas back and forth from Indy to Pittsburgh repeatedly, seemingly expecting different results, or worse, expecting the fans to just understand that injuries made this situation.
That’s not good enough. It shouldn’t be good enough. And if the Pirates are to regain the majesty they once possessed, it won’t be.
Nora Ephron, famed American journalist and writer of films such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle” once said “When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh. So, you become the hero rather than the victim of the joke.”
The moral – don’t be a victim, be the hero Mr. Cherington. That is how we will regain the status some of us have never seen and others long to see again.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007