You have to get imaginative to think of this current Pittsburgh Pirates team contending in the near future.
Some nights, they give reasons for your imagination to run wild. Other nights, they run wild and leave your imagination searching for reason.
The system is trending up, and I believe that General Manager Ben Cherington can get the Pirates back to being contenders.
I hope that Pirates’ owner Bob Nutting will allow for a more dynamic method of spending than what we’ve seen in the past, making that more possible for Cherington, potentially earlier.
The farm system has received a huge boost, though still remains unproven that things have improved since Kyle Stark and Neal Huntington left. However, there hasn’t really been a lot of time for results, so everything just feels pending.
The farm does lack impact right now, though there are plenty of players who can develop into potential impact guys.
If you’re looking for the team to contend by 2023, you need to see one of two things.
The first is some very impressive results from the farm system, with waves hitting the majors to stock a young, talented team.
The alternative to that is finding enough external help until the farm system can produce a team of mostly home-developed guys.
The latter is very similar to the approach Neal Huntington took to get the Pirates to the playoffs in 2013-15. The additions of Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and trades for A.J. Burnett and Francisco Cervelli were essential to that success.
Ben Cherington has a nice track record in finding value via free agency. He displayed that in the 2012-13 offseason with the Boston Red Sox. The Pirates have shown an early tendency under Cherington to spot talented players that were seemingly overlooked or underrated by others.
The Pirates have a very low payroll, and not much on the books for the next few years. They also have Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes in the majors now, and should pursue extensions for both, to extend their time in Pittsburgh while the window is expected to be open.
If they want to open that window earlier, the best approach would be to follow what Neal Huntington did in 2012 and 2013, and use some of the current payroll room to add free agents and take on salary in trades.
This season is going to be more interesting to watch and see how high up the Pirates can get with their 2022 draft position — my guess is the second overall pick. It’s going to be interesting to see how many on the current roster can win spots for the 2022 season.
But once this losing season is over, it’s going to be difficult to accept another one like it, where the building focus was largely to stock the lower levels of the minors, while fielding a bottom-five MLB team.
The 2022 season should be when the Pirates start to work their way out of the basement.
That can start with the upcoming offseason, and a boost to the currently low payroll.
New prospect rankings coming and new prospect ranking methods also on the way…