Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting said that it’s time for the organization to put a stake in the ground.
I’m not exactly sure what that means.
The comment came after the extension of Ke’Bryan Hayes was official. Nutting added to Alex Stumpf of DK Pittsburgh Sports that the Pirates are focused on building a deep organization.
Regardless of what you want to say, or how you want to dress it up, the goal is to win in Pittsburgh.
I think Nutting believes that, and is trying to accomplish that in his own way, even if that way might frustrate the fans.
Objectively, it’s hard to argue that they’re not taking the right steps. A few days after extending Hayes, the Pirates reached a two-year deal with Bryan Reynolds. That does nothing to keep their star center fielder for the long-term, but might help to smooth over relations between the two sides to pave a way for a long-term deal in the future.
Hayes and Reynolds are the MLB players the Pirates need to build around. They’ve got one of the best farm systems in baseball, with a lot of the best talent in the system located closer to the majors. They have a young MLB team that has a few fillers who won’t be here in a year or two, but a few other players who might join Hayes and Reynolds as key members of the next contending team in Pittsburgh.
I’ve talked for many years about the goal for small market teams. That goal is to find a way to contend, and then find a way to keep their window of contending open as long as possible.
The Pirates are taking good steps to contend, building around young talent and keeping their payroll low. Ideally, this approach is complemented with free agent spending to complement the players they are building around. While the Pirates are building with the farm system now, their next winner will be built as all winners are, with a combination of talent from all sources, including free agency and trades.
Before they start spending money and trading prospects, the Pirates need to patch up a few long-term holes on the roster. I created a chart to help visualize the long-term outlook of the Pirates, looking at their current starters at each position, the top prospect waiting in the minors, and how long that combo is under control for the Pirates. The chart below has five colors:
Green – Guaranteed Contract
Yellow – League Minimum
Orange – Arbitration
Red – Option Year
Black – Free Agency
The first chart lays out the current option and top prospect at each position. Click the image for a larger version.
That chart might not have the best visual display, but it’s got the most information, with our projections on the earliest that everyone might arrive. I’ll add that I think Oneil Cruz can be a shortstop, but I wanted to get him and Liover Peguero on the same chart. Thus, I moved Cruz to the outfield. You could probably do the same with Peguero. The bigger focus should be how many young players the Pirates will be relying on the next few years.
To get a better visualization of where the Pirates stand, here is the chart above, with all of the players combined by what I think is most likely for the Pirates to do. Again, click the image for a larger version.
This paints a better picture of that window that is forming, both in the short-term and long-term.
There’s a huge yellow block in the 2023-2026 seasons where the Pirates have a lot of young top prospects projected to arrive. Not all of these prospects will actually arrive, and not all of the ones who arrive will reach their potential. On the flip side, there might be some backup options who arrive ahead of others on this list.
The important thing here is finding and establishing MLB players from the farm system. That green bar that extends across the 2022-2029 timeline is Ke’Bryan Hayes. You can make a good argument that there should be a similar green bar for Bryan Reynolds. Regardless, the goal for the Pirates is to add as many green bars from the farm system as possible, before they go shopping for green bars.
In the long-term, the team gets more expensive in the 2027-2029 years. Those are the years that will really be the test for Bob Nutting. The Pirates have already gotten creative in this regard, front-loading the Hayes extension to make him cheaper in those seasons. They will have a lot of players hitting arbitration at that point.
There are a few spots where the Pirates need stopgaps. Roberto Perez is on a one-year deal, and I project Henry Davis to arrive in the second half of 2023. The Pirates could always bring Perez back for another season, so this isn’t a huge issue. There’s a gap in the outfield, just because I put Fraizer there. That gap could be filled by Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, or another upper level prospect ahead of Fraizer, who is off to a slow start in Altoona.
The offense projects to be ahead of the pitching. The Pirates will hope that one of Mitch Keller or JT Brubaker steps up this year. They’ll ease Roansy Contreras into the majors, and watch Quinn Priester get closer to the big leagues. They’ll hope that Zach Thompson, Bryse Wilson, Miguel Yajure, and/or Wil Crowe can emerge as starting options. Largely, there are a lot of questions here, and I don’t think we can discuss the Pirates contending until they have at least one green bar pitcher.
The Pirates could be a contender through the 2029 season, and perhaps beyond if their farm system keeps producing. I don’t know how soon they can start contending. That will probably largely depend on their pitching. With a few players stepping up this year, and a productive offseason (probably on the pitching side) they could enter the contending mix and open their window as early as 2023.
You know, assuming this year’s team doesn’t surprise us all.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
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.