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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Pirates Q&A: MLB Intervention Chances, Early Spring Training Observations

I spend my days during the season asking questions. This week I did so many interviews that I’ve got hours of stuff to transcribe, with a few features that I’m excited to run next week.

It’s my job to ask questions, and try to find out information that you don’t have. But I also know that so much information is put out there that it’s impossible for you to either read all of it, remember all of it, or put it in proper perspective in terms of potential moves or other factors.

That’s why I like this feature. I ask questions every day. This is your turn to ask questions. Here are the questions you asked this week, with another part running tomorrow.

A Point I Want to Make…Again

PhillyJake – Is Manfred going to declare a national emergency and make Nutting open the books?

Tim: No. Why would he?

I’ve said this before, and I keep stressing it: the Pirates are not unique here. This is an entire MLB issue. Right now the same discussion is happening across every major league city. Teams aren’t spending all that they could, are crying poor when it comes to free agents who can help them, and the only difference is the normal difference between payrolls.

The Pirates will likely open the year at $75 M. The Dodgers are trying to keep their payroll below $200 M. Obviously that looks better than where the Pirates are at. But you could make an easier argument that the Dodgers could spend more — a lot more — just by pointing to their $280 M a year local TV deal.

When I bring this up, one complaint is that I’m making excuses for the Pirates. What I’m actually doing is trying to give perspective here. There’s this idea that Bob Nutting is some kind of evil mastermind in a class of his own, and one day MLB will ride in with their white hats and finally save the city of Pittsburgh.

The reality is that this is a league-wide problem. There’s something bigger at play here, rather than the usual “Nutting is cheap” knee jerk response. It’s not in MLB’s business interest to step in and tell individual teams to spend more. That only strengthens the argument for the players when this all eventually blows up.

Not to mention, MLB doesn’t need Nutting to open the books. They’ve got access to the books. So do the players. Opening the books will only explain to the people on the outside what is happening.

Your only hope for things to change, all around the league, is for the player’s union to take a hard stance against the inequality of baseball, and the recent trend of not wanting to spend on free agents.

Spring Training Observations

TuuSAmo – Multiple players are competing this spring training for the following positions:

RF/4th OF
5th starter
Long relief

With so much up in the air, and the Pirates seeming to reject the idea of platooning at any particular position, do you think that this is an intentional mental move by Hurdle and Huntington? What kind of effect if anythung do you think it will have on the performances we get?

Tim: The Pirates would prefer that every position is held by a single starter, rather than a platoon. If it comes to a point where they are splitting the position, it means neither guy competing for the job really stepped up. In a lot of the cases you mentioned, there’s an inside track guy who has the job as long as he doesn’t blow up in camp, or as long as someone doesn’t have an amazing camp (think Ryan Vogelsong/Juan Nicasio in 2016).

As for the performance, I think it’s good to have multiple options, especially when there are question marks about each of the individual options. I would raise concern that there are so many key positions with question marks (5th starter, third base, shortstop, right field until Polanco returns). Neal Huntington was right when he compared this to the 2013 season. I just wonder if they need to take as many risks as they did that year.

lucabrasi – The team’s new hitting approach has been fairly well publicized. What about the defensive side of the ball? I saw the Spring Training pictures of the pitching staff fielding tennis balls hit off of a tennis racquet. Are there other different approaches they are taking to try and improve the team’s defense? I doubt this team will suddenly turn into Murderers’ Row on offense. They can become better, though, with improved defense.

A follow up — a quick review of the stats shows Chisenhall (when healthy) was an OK defender in the outfield (some OK seasons, some not so OK). Am I reading this correctly?

While we don’t want to keep Polanco’s bat out of the lineup, I do become frightened whenever there is a ball hit towards right field. Any thoughts on what they can do with Polanco defensively?

Tim: The hitting stuff is easy to identify because they overhauled their hitting coaches in the majors, and their coordinators in the minors. That drill with the pitchers is similar to a drill that is done with infielders. Not with the tennis rackets and tennis balls, but the concept of focusing on hand-eye coordination. We’ll have to see how the defensive focus plays out the rest of camp.

You are reading that right on Chisenhall. He’s got a career 4.8 UZR/150 over 1765 innings in right field. The thing is, you usually need a few seasons of data to get a good feel for a player, and he hasn’t played more than 354 innings in a single season in three of his four years in the outfield. I’d say we’re dealing with a small sample size that shows some promise.

The funny thing about Polanco’s defense is that he hasn’t been bad. He’s got a career 4.6 UZR/150 in 4400 innings. He was in the positive in DRS and Plus/Minus from 2015-2017. He took a dip in all areas last year, which was largely due to a drop in range. His biggest issue is that when he makes a mistake, he makes it look really bad. And those stick with you, and make you forget all of the other plays he does make which aren’t an adventure.

Scott Kliesen – I realize wins and losses during ST are not a good predictor of regular season success. Besides good health, what would you say is the best thing, or best things, Pirates can achieve during ST to make us fans feel encouraged about the upcoming season?

Tim: Well, you said good health, and that’s key. But I think the biggest thing is seeing progress with adjustments and new approaches, especially with so many reclamation type projects in camp, and so many guys who made key changes last year, or who are receiving new coaching on the hitting side this year.

handerhan – I’ve got two separate questions.

1) Between Neverauskas, Feliz, and Burdi, I feel there’s a good bet that one of them can emerge as a backend reliever. Have any of them brought something new to camp this year that indicate a breakout possibility?

2) Brault discussed a change in delivery intended to impose some consistency and improve control. Any thoughts on how that is going?

Tim: It’s too early to know any of this. I’ve seen everyone throw exactly one bullpen. They’ll be starting live BP soon, but even then it will be hard to tell how players are progressing with any changes. The encouraging and telling signs will come when games begin.

Quick Hits

Bill Kline – You have 5 words to excite Pirate fans for the upcoming season. What are they?

Tim: Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer.


Pirates Prospects has it covered.

Bill Harvey – What would you currently put the odds of a work stoppage before the next CBA is signed? I was talking with a couple of guys at work today, and we concluded that it is likely to be around 100%.

The players union went soft last negotiations, asking for more days off and things of that nature. I think now they understand what they did, unfortunately, it is going to affect some of the best young players to ever see free agency.

If I were them, if the owners don’t open up the check books, I would go in and start my negotiations at a 120 game season. If you can’t get them to spend, try to cut their profits.

Tim: I’d agree that it’s likely around 100%. My only concern is that both sides are only focused on the guys at the top (MLB on saving money for the biggest teams, and MLBPA on getting more money for the biggest players). They might be able to find some short-term compromise which takes away from the small guys even further and delays this problem (similar to what they’ve done in previous negotiations).

For the longest time, a work stoppage seemed like the worst thing that could happen to MLB, and something to fear. I’m not sure that’s the worst thing anymore.

cabbo80 – Given the opinion that the last 20 years have been a failure relating to post season and post season success, can we as fans realistically think a championship is possible? Cold mornings without hope are very cold indeed. I’m talking solid baseball at is core, not a lottery hit. Please keep the answer square on the Pirates without comparison to other teams. Thank you.

Tim: It was only about six years ago that no one could even envision a winning season. Now everyone is down after 82 wins. As for the championship aspect, it’s not impossible, but I’d say it’s improbable. Even if the Pirates did everything right, the deck seems stacked against them, as almost every single World Series winner since 1994 has been in the top half of the league in payroll, which is not an area we can expect the Pirates to see. There’s a sizeable advantage that the bigger spenders have.

J.T. – Call me crazy, but is Manny Machado the Pirates best option as a shortstop? This isn’t even a joke. 3 years, $100 million. It likely fits in the payroll and gives the Bucs a stud for this three-year window of contending. After three monster years, let him walk so that someone else can pay too much for his decline years.

Tim: You’re not crazy. You might be a dreamer. It would take a big assumption to think the Pirates could definitely afford him (you could also argue that there would be an assumption on the other side that they can’t afford him, since we don’t know either way). The issue is that he’s not taking 3/$100 M. Their only chance would be a long-term deal with an opt-out, and hopes that nothing went horribly wrong between now and then.

AlbanyPirate – Statement: As Spring Training begins and yet many free agents remain unsigned, the Pirates appear unlikely to sign a SS or SP, though it is still possible. One side of the fanbase is often angry that the Pirates do not do more in the off-season, while another side often laments that management blocks prospects from developing by signing veterans who are going to produce comparable results. 

Question: Do you think Huntington is making an educate hypothesis that Newman will perform as well as Iglesias, and that it is worth the risk of Newman’s lower floor to give him an opportunity to produce in MLB? The budget clearly has the capacity to afford Iglesias if wanted. Conversely, how is it possible to justify NOT spending $5-8 (my guess with the deflated market) million on Gio Gonzalez and starting him instead of Lyles?

Tim: Honestly, I think the Pirates need a better plan at shortstop, or maybe just a situation where they don’t have so many question marks. But I also look at the free agent market and don’t see clearly better options. That assumes a certain level of production is possible for the internal guys (1-2 WAR, which isn’t earth shattering). Maybe they could have done better with the starting pitching, but this is an area where I give them more benefit of the doubt, considering their history.

S Brooks – Who backs up at SS if either Gonzalez or Newman are injured?

Tim: I’m guessing Nick Franklin if he looks good, or maybe Kevin Kramer.

TurnerWardHitsTheWall – What do you expect to happen regarding Francisco Liriano? Do you think that Jacob Stallings will make the 25 man roster?

Tim: Liriano will compete with Tyler Lyons and Brandon Maurer. If one of those guys had previous success with the Pirates instead of Liriano, then I’d be answering questions about that player, with no one asking about Liriano. He shouldn’t be standing out ahead of either of them right now. I think Stallings could make the 25 man roster, but there are a lot of moving parts involved with that.

dr dng – Maybe someone ask this, but
“What is the #1 reason why the Pirates
seem to be so bad running the bases?”

Tim: I don’t have an answer for a solution, but I don’t think it’s going to get better. Their worst guys last year were Colin Moran, Josh Bell, Corey Dickerson, and Francisco Cervelli. None of those guys are really speed demons, so we shouldn’t expect considerably better results from them this year. I don’t want to say that bigger, power hitting minded guys can’t be good base runners though. If Pedro Alvarez can be good, then so can others. Likewise, the Pirates lost one of their best base runners in Josh Harrison, and I’m not sure if a full season of Adam Frazier can make up for that.

This is definitely an area where they need to see big improvements, as they were one of the worst teams in the majors last year.

+ posts

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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