The Pirates need to make some changes.
I’m not talking about the players or the upcoming trade deadline.
It’s hard to look at what’s happening to the Pirates — both right now and in the last few years — and come away with the opinion that everyone involved in building and running these teams should continue building and running the teams going forward.
I’m not saying fire everyone. To be honest, I’m not sure who specifically needs to go. I was planning a full column on this topic after the trade deadline, in part to see what happens over the next few days, and in part because I wanted a few more days to collect my thoughts. So consider this a working draft of those thoughts.
Who needs to go? I think you could make arguments for several people, but at the same time, you could make arguments for why those people should stick around.
The big candidates are always the general manager and the manager of the team. I’ve written so often the last few years that the Pirates are stuck in No Man’s Land. They’re trying to contend every year, and as a result, they’re stuck in this same position where they’re not really contenders, but just close enough to make themselves believe they’re contending.
You can only repeat that so many times, and for so many years, before you come away with the realization that nothing is changing. That would suggest that Neal Huntington needs to go, and a new person needs to come in with a new plan. But it’s Bob Nutting who is responsible for the “contend every year” approach, just because the alternate approach involves spending over the budget when you’re contending, which is something Nutting has said the team won’t do.
I think you can also argue against some of the moves that Huntington has made recently. The Chris Archer trade looks like a disaster, as does the Gerrit Cole trade. Yet there have been some really good trades in the same time frame, such as the Andrew McCutchen trade, or the deals that brought in high upside guys like Oneil Cruz and Tahnaj Thomas.
I’ll be going over Huntington’s deals a bit more tomorrow, in preparation of the trade deadline. I think a lot of his worst deals have been a result of the bad “contend every year” strategy, while the good deals have focused on the long-term upside. The spoiler alert here is that I think Huntington should be going for more lottery tickets like Cruz and Thomas, and fewer fringe Triple-A guys like Erik Gonzalez, Colin Moran, and other “close to the majors” guys.
Then there’s the manager, Clint Hurdle. My opinion on managers is that fans are going to be angry with any manager you have. The anger might be over a different reason for different managers, but it will be there. I’m going to focus less on the decision making from Hurdle, and more on his strength: managing the clubhouse.
Since he was brought in, Hurdle has been a player’s manager. He got some credit for their success from 2013-15, and rightfully so, as the team was performing well, and doing well inside the clubhouse. But the theme over the last four seasons has been players constantly under-performing, along with some complaints that the team isn’t serious about winning. If you’re a clubhouse manager, and that is going on with your clubhouse over four seasons, it’s hard to argue for things to remain the same.
Ray Searage is another guy who should be evaluated. I’ve greatly respected his work for years, and you can’t deny that he’s done some amazing work in Pittsburgh. But the thing about coaches is that the league changes, and if the coaches don’t change with it, then it doesn’t matter what they did in the past.
The Pirates are still behind the times on the current pitching trends. They’ve seen some players embrace new trends, but those changes have largely come as a result of the players making the change. Searage allows the players to choose their own approach, but he needs to be pushing and embracing the new approaches, rather than just approving them when they’re requested.
I’ve argued many times that the Pirates have a development problem. That problem seems to be focused on the upper levels. They have a good track record of developing talented players into top prospects at the lower levels, but they don’t have a good track record of getting those players to their upsides in the majors. The fact that some of those players — Gerrit Cole, Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow — have gone on to live up to their potential elsewhere is alarming.
I don’t know where the problem here is. Is it an approach in the lower levels that isn’t preparing guys for the upper levels? Is it an upper level issue? Is it an MLB issue?
The Pirates have seen better offense this year after hitting coach changes, and after a philosophy change throughout the system. They’re still inconsistent, but it’s encouraging to see good results from guys like Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, and Adam Frazier and Starling Marte of late.
Perhaps this change will lead to stronger results the longer the Pirates go with the new approach. Maybe a similar change with the pitching philosophy will combine to lead to a true contender. But there has been a problem with development, and it goes beyond the normal “Not all prospects will work out.”
Something has to change with the Pirates. They’re sending the wrong message if everything stays the same after what will be their fourth season in a row missing the playoffs.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 8-7 to the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates will now face the Cincinnati Reds on the road for three games. They will send out Jordan Lyles in the series opener. He lasted just 1.2 innings in his last outing, giving up five runs to the St Louis Cardinals. His previous start was one run over 5.2 innings, but before that he gave up seven runs in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs. Lyles has given up three runs over nine innings against Cincinnati this season. The Reds are countering with veteran right-hander Sonny Gray, who has a 3.29 ERA in 109.1 innings, with 127 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP. He has given up four runs over 19 innings in his last three starts combined, while striking out 24 batters. Gray has faced the Pirates three times this year, struggling in his season debut, before giving up two runs over 12.1 innings in the other two starts combined. He has a 3.44 ERA in ten home starts.
The minor league schedule includes just five games total, with two night games and days off for Altoona, Bradenton, Morgantown and Bristol. Quinn Priester should be making his fifth start in the GCL. He has been pitching every Monday. Priester has a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings, with 19 strikeouts. He has not allowed more than one earned run in a game. James Marvel will go for Indianapolis. He has thrown shutout ball in three of his four starts so far in Triple-A. Each of his last two outings have been one hit over six scoreless innings. Noe Toribio will make his Greensboro debut today. He threw shutout ball in each of his last two starts with Morgantown before being promoted. Toribio had a .185 BAA, an 0.93 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 30 innings.
MLB: Pittsburgh (46-59) @ Reds (48-55) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: Jordan Lyles (5.36 ERA, 90:33 SO/BB, 82.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (53-52) vs Columbus (60-45) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (1.90 ERA, 24:9 SO/BB, 23.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (53-51) @ Trenton (55-48) 7:00 PM 7/30 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
High-A: Bradenton (58-47) vs Charlotte (63-42) 6:30 PM 7/30 (season preview)
Probable starter: Osvaldo Bido (NR)
Low-A: Greensboro (63-42) vs Kannapolis (46-59) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Noe Toribio (NR)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (22-19) vs Staten Island (21-21) 6:35 PM 7/30 (season preview)
Probable starter: Braxton Ashcraft (6.48 ERA, 26:12 SO/BB, 33.1 IP)
Rookie: Bristol (18-20) vs Greeneville (16-22) 6:30 PM 7/30 (season preview)
Probable starter: Dante Mendoza (6.53 ERA, 22:16 SO/BB, 20.2 IP)
GCL: Pirates (10-16) vs Braves (10-14) 12:00 PM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates1 (23-25) vs Rangers1 (38-10) 10:30 AM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (40-8) vs Mariners (20-27) 10:30 AM (season preview)
From Indianapolis on Saturday, Kevin Kramer hits a 439 foot home run
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) July 28, 2019
Here’s a nice play in center field by Jason Martin
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) July 28, 2019
7/28: Darnell Sweeney assigned to Altoona.
7/27: Pirates claim Parker Markel off waivers from Seattle Mariners.
7/27: Kyle Mottice placed on Greensboro injured list. Michael Gretler activated from injured list.
7/27: Angel German activated from suspended list.
7/27: Daniel Amaral sent to GCL Pirates on rehab.
7/27: Tyler Lyons returns to Indianapolis from paternity list.
7/26: Pirates sign Lewys Guzman, Jose Vasquez, Pedro Figuereo, Juan Santos
7/26: Osvaldo Bido promoted to Bradenton. Noe Toribio promoted to Greensboro. Trey McGough promoted to Morgantown. Lizardy Dicent assigned to Bristol on rehab.
7/25: Pirates recall Alex McRae. Luis Escobar optioned to Indianapolis.
7/25: Will Kobos promoted to Greensboro.
7/24: Keone Kela added to Pirates roster. Clay Holmes placed on injured list.
7/24: Angel German suspended by Altoona.
7/23: Brandon Waddell promoted to Indianapolis. Nicholas Economos promoted to Altoona. Conner Loeprich promoted to Bradenton. Winston Nicacio promoted to Greensboro. Oliver Garcia promoted to Morgantown. Miguel Peralta released.
7/23: Luis Nova placed on Greensboro injured list. Nick Mears placed on Bradenton injured list.
7/23: Tyler Lyons placed on paternity list. Eric Wood placed on temporary inactive list.
7/22: Saul de la Cruz promoted to Bristol. Wilger Camacho sent to GCL Pirates.
7/22: Elvis Escobar assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
7/20: Michael Gretler placed on injured list. Victor Ngoepe promoted to Greensboro.
7/19: Jerrick Suiter placed on Altoona injured list. Bralin Jackson activated from injured list.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus four trades of note and a special hit from the franchise’s all-time greatest player. The players born on this date are Mike Williams, closer for the Pirates from 1998 until 2003 and a two-time All-Star. Tommy Gregg, outfielder in 1987-88 and seventh round pick of the Pirates in 1985. Dave LaPoint, a lefty starter acquired by the Pirates late in the 1988 season. He made eight starts and won four games, with a 2.77 ERA. Erv Dusak, utility player for the 1951-52 Pirates, who saw time at six different positions and even started a game on the mound. George Cutshaw, second baseman from 1918 until 1921. He was part of the big trade in 1918 that involved Hall of Famers Casey Stengel and Burleigh Grimes.
The Pirates made two trades on this date in 2009, sending Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners, and Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for six players total in return. Nine years earlier, they acquired Wilson from the Cardinals in exchange for Jason Christiansen. Wilson played 1,159 games for the Pirates, while the Cardinals got 29.1 innings out of Christiansen.
On this date in 1916, the Pirates and Cubs made a four-player deal that involved a catcher going each way and two well-known veterans changing teams. The Pirates sent second baseman Otto Knabe to Chicago and got outfielder Frank Schulte. Knabe was an All-Star caliber player, who was nearing the end of his career. At the time of the deal, the Pirates had actually sent him home because they said he was too out of shape. Schulte too was near the end, but during his prime, he became the first player to hit 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season. Only three players have accomplished that feat since, so it is extremely rare. Despite the big names in this deal and a veteran catcher name Art Wilson going to Chicago, the best player after the deal was young catcher William Fischer, who was hitting below .200 at the time of the trade. He played well for the Pirates through the end of the 1917 season.
Exactly one year before that 1916 trade, Honus Wagner hit an inside-the-park grand slam in an 8-2 win over Brooklyn. It was the 97th home run of his career and he hit just four more after this one. Wagner hit five grand slams in his career and all were inside-the-park homers. You can read more about the game in the link above.