Williams: The Issue With the Pirates Isn’t the Moves They’ve Made, But the Moves They Haven’t Made

My wedding is about a month and a half away, which means right now my fiancée and I are in prime diet season to prepare. Well, mostly her. I just found out about Most Stuf Oreos, and I smartly ordered my tux a size too big, which means I’m a few beer festivals away from fitting into that thing.

The diet process involves a lot of comparing labels and seeing where calories can be cut while maintaining the same taste of a meal. Sometimes it works out, where you can cut down on calories in a big way while not even noticing a difference. Sometimes it doesn’t work out at all, where the decreased calories totally ruins the meal. And sometimes you buy two packs of Oreos because it comes with a coupon for milk, and you’re not going to not get milk when you just got two packs of Oreos.

In a way, dieting is like a small market baseball budget. Calories are the money you spend, and you have a limited budget on how much you can spend. The goal is to find a food product that tastes the exact same, only with a lower calorie amount to fit into your budget.

The taste factor is huge there. If we’re continuing this comparison, then taste would be winning. And yeah, I know that technically in a diet the winning would be losing weight. But what’s the point in trying to find blue cheese dressing that is half the calories but tastes the same? It’s so that your food will still taste good. If taste doesn’t matter, you might as well just eat dry lettuce. And until they make lettuce that tastes like carbs, then that’s not an enjoyable approach.

The Pirates have been dieting this offseason with their budget. They’ve gone for the low calorie (low cost) approach toward some of their needs. Lonnie Chisenhall costs $2.75 M as the replacement in the outfield until Gregory Polanco returns. Jordan Lyles is the plan as the fifth starter at just $2.05 M. Kevin Newman and Erik Gonzalez are the current plans at shortstop, both making the league minimum.

The last two are where the diet comparison really kicks in. During PirateFest last weekend, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington said that Newman was a young Jordy Mercer and that Erik Gonzalez was a young Freddy Galvis. Both Mercer and Galvis signed one-year deals in the $5 M range this offseason. They both could be 1-2 WAR players, which is good value at $5 M.

I’m not ruling out the idea that Newman could be a young Mercer or that Gonzalez could be a young Galvis. I’ve made the Newman/Mercer comparison before myself. I don’t have the background on Gonzalez that I have on Newman, but from what I’ve seen, the Galvis comparison might not be far-fetched.

Maybe it works out for the Pirates and Newman or Gonzalez become a 1-2 WAR player this year, keeping the team at the same level of production at shortstop as before, all while saving $4 M in the process.

Likewise, maybe Lyles works out as the fifth starter at $2.05 M and can put up the same value that Ivan Nova was putting up the last two years (1-2 WAR). And maybe Lonnie Chisenhall can be a strong replacement while Gregory Polanco is out, and a good fourth outfielder afterward, making his $2.75 M price tag a huge value. I won’t add much about the minor league signing of J.B. Shuck, or the rumors about Cameron Maybin or Brandon Guyer, since I don’t see as much upside with those moves.

Maybe the Pirates get a lot of value with these moves, and a year from now we’re looking back and saying what a great offseason they had with these low-key additions.

However, if they don’t spend much more than their current $73 M, and if they don’t win the World Series, then we’re probably going to be looking back at this offseason not with praise about the low key moves that worked, but with questions about what might have been if they would have added more to this team with resources seemingly available.

That’s the thing about these low key moves. Small market teams work with lower budgets than teams like the Dodgers. They need these types of moves to compete. It’s like dieting and trying to stay under your calorie total. But $73 M is the anorexia of payrolls. At that stage, you’re cutting way too much, and you can definitely afford to add some calories to be in a healthy range.

The Pirates might be making some good moves right now. There’s nothing wrong with the moves they’ve made so far. The problem comes if they don’t make any other moves to boost this team. It’s not a bad thing to go for value moves, especially if you believe that those moves will pan out. But those value moves leave question marks on the team, and funds available that could at least remove one of those question marks.

The good thing is that there’s still time to make moves in this slow moving offseason. This is shaping up just like last year, and we know what happened last year. The Pirates got Corey Dickerson via trade in mid-February, and there were several players signing into March. If they can make a similar move this time around, and get a guy late, that would be a nice boost for this team. But only going for value and entering a season with a $73 M payroll and hopes to contend would be a mistake, and a waste of one of their current window years.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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