First Pitch: When Does the Window Open For the Pirates?

Short update this morning while I get back to finishing off building a few web sites…

I wrote yesterday about how the Pirates are focused on the difference between “build” and “rebuild”, and how the only thing that matters with both of those plans is the “build” aspect. On that note, we have yet to find out the whole plan for how the Pirates plan on winning again.

Adam Berry had a good look on the subject, looking at Ben Cherington’s quotes about how the Pirates look at their focus as a “march toward winning.” He also described winning as something that they feel could be done with the group in Pittsburgh now.

That article started off by pointing out how the Pirates were in a similar situation two years ago. Neal Huntington had just traded away Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, but insisted the Pirates weren’t rebuilding, and that they still planned to contend without Cole and McCutchen.

I always chalked those statements up to public PR. No team is going to come out and directly verbalize that they have no intention of winning in the upcoming season. The actions will speak that clearly, but the words will never be spoken directly.

That’s fine. The actions are all that matter. As we saw with Huntington, it doesn’t matter what is said, only what is done. He said they planned on contending, but he traded their two best players.

On that note, Cherington hasn’t said anything, to my knowledge, about having a chance to win in 2020. All of his comments have been about winning in the future. As Adam points out, it’s a “march toward winning” that Cherington is discussing. And as Adam also mentioned, they wouldn’t have traded Starling Marte if they thought they could win in 2020.

That’s similar to Huntington in 2018, minus the claims that the Pirates can still win in the upcoming season after trading their best player(s) away.

The downside here is that Huntington’s future actions were surrounded by a poor approach toward winning. His plan didn’t work in today’s MLB, and the Pirates didn’t address some of the shortcomings in their own organization, which were holding them back.

Cherington will have a chance to correct those issues, catching the Pirates up with the top teams in the league on pitching philosophy, the use of analytics and new technology, and figuring out why the Pirates haven’t been able to get a top prospect to live up to his upside in the majors.

He’s said repeatedly that the Pirates expect to get more from their current group, and that’s something I can agree with. I’ve said the same thing myself. But which guys from the current group?

I could see an argument around Mitch Keller, Bryan Reynolds, and Kevin Newman being part of the next winning team. They’re all under team control through the 2025 season, giving plenty of time for guys like Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, and even a few of the lower level guys to join the group.

But when could that window start? Is the target 2022? Trading away Marte, who is only under control through 2021, is a sign that they don’t view their chances as strong prior to the 2022 season. The fact that they say a full rebuild isn’t necessary also suggests they view the window as being close enough that Keller, Reynolds, and Newman could be part of the next winning team.

Unfortunately, there are too many unknowns here, such as the fact that so many of the current players on the roster are only under control through 2022. Keeping Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, Adam Frazier, and others under contract for the possibility of one year of winning with them isn’t a smart plan for a small market team.

I don’t think Cherington is going to come out and say a specific year where the Pirates plan to compete. So we have to look at the actions. That group under control through 2022 will tell us a lot. What Cherington does with that group in the next year will give an indication of whether the Pirates believe they can win with most of the guys on the current roster, rather than just the guys under control beyond 2022.






By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date.

Felix Pie, outfielder for the 2013 Pirates. Pie was signed to a minor league deal during the 2012-13 off-season and was called up to the Pirates in late August. He played 27 games, though he started only three times. Pie went 4-for-29 at the plate and drove in two runs. After the season, he was dropped from the 40-man roster and he signed to play in Korea. In six seasons in the big leagues, he had a .246/.295/.369 line in 425 games. Pie spent 2019 playing in Mexico and then he participated in winter ball in the Dominican.

Bob Oliver, outfielder for the 1965 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1963 and spent three full seasons working his way up from A-ball to get a brief September look with the Pirates in 1965. He played three games, all off the bench, going 0-for-2 with a run scored. Oliver returned to the minors for two more seasons before the Pirates traded him to the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Ron Kline. He would go on to play seven more seasons in the majors, 847 total games and hit .256 with 94 homers and 419 RBIs. Oliver recently ran his own baseball academy in California. He is the father of major league pitcher Darren Oliver, who played 20 seasons in the majors.

Monty Basgall, second baseman for the 1948-49,1951 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942 and played just one year in the minors before spending the next three seasons serving in the military during WWII. He played two seasons for Fort Worth of the Texas League before the Dodgers traded him to the Pirates for infielders Vic Barnhart and Jimmy Bloodworth. Monty started the first three games of the season at second base for the Pirates in 1948, but was used very little the rest of the way. He was the regular second baseman for most of 1949, playing 98 games there and hitting .218 with 26 RBIs. He spent the entire 1950 season in the minors before returning to the Pirates in 1951, in what would be his last season in the majors. He was a career .215 hitter in 200 Major League games. He was in the Pirates system until 1958, the last three years as a player/manager, then went on to a long career in numerous roles for the Dodgers.

Cookie Cuccurullo, pitcher for the 1943-45 Pirates. He got his chance in the majors during the war era when major league jobs opened up for more minor league players. He capitalized on the weaker play on the field by going 20-8, 2.54 in 1943 for the Albany Senators of the Eastern League. The Pirates let him pitch the last game of that season and he took the loss, allowing seven runs in seven innings. Cookie spent the 1944 season in the Pirates bullpen, making just four starts among his 32 appearances. He had a 2-1, 4.06 record in 106.1 innings. He would assume the same role the following season although he pitched much less with poorer results. He made four starts out of 29 total games, pitching 56.2 innings, while posting a 1-3, 5.24 record. He spent all of 1946 in the minors, then was traded by the Pirates to the Yankees for pitcher Tiny Bonham. It was a one-sided deal for the Pirates, as they got three serviceable seasons out of Bonham while Cuccurullo never pitched in the majors again.

Roy Ellam, shortstop for the 1918 Pirates. He spent 17 years playing in the minors, nine of them as a player/manager and another three years as just a manager. In between all that time in the minors, he had two brief stints in the majors, nine years apart. He played ten September games for the 1909 Reds, then didn’t play in the majors again until the Pirates traded infielder Gus Getz to an independent minor league team from Indianapolis in exchange for him. Ellam played 26 games for the Pirates, hitting just .130, though he did draw 17 walks, giving him a .302 OBP. He was never much of a hitter, even in the minors, where he hit .231 over the course of 1,885 games. He ended up playing minor league ball until age 44, retiring after the 1930 season.

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.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

join the discussion

Share article

Pirates Prospects Daily

Latest articles

Pirates Prospects Weekly

MONDAY: First Pitch

TUESDAY: Article Drop


THURSDAY: Roundtable

FRIDAY: Discussion

SATURDAY: Pirates Winter Report

SUNDAY: Pirates Business

Latest comments