The Pittsburgh Pirates have lowered the Jolly Roger and raised the White Flag of surrender for the 2018 season.
I’m not being hyperbolic. There is absolutely zero chance the Pirates make the postseason, let alone get above .500 in 2018. Why do I say that? Because they just shipped their two stars to contenders and the remnants of what remains will no doubt be trade bait come July.
The Pirates are done. They are the Chicago White Sox, the Detroit Tigers, the Philadelphia Phillies. And that really, really sucks.
Let’s start back in 2014 when the Pittsburgh Pirates were putting up solid seasons and were yearly contenders. Back when they had promise, prospects, and potential.
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The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates had everything a team built for October should have. They were top 4 in the NL in most of the big offensive categories like average, OBP, OPS, HRs, Hits, and they were first in walks. On the mound they were less exciting, but more solid, putting up the 5th best ERA in the NL. They were a well-built team, and while there were places the Bucs could have upgraded, they were pretty much good to go. After climbing out of the cellar after the All-Star break, the Pirates found themselves 2 games out of first place in the NL Central, but snagged home field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game.
“Wildcard” is a word that sends shivers down any Yinzer’s spine.
The 2014 Wildcard Game is a tough watch when rewatched. There are so many things to take into account. Madison Bumgarner is now a postseason Goliath and the Giants most recent season was the first one to crash and burn in a long time. Without the Giants 2014 World Series win, there’s not Royals World Series, and Even Year Bullshit is just two wins. Also, Edinson Volquez started for the Pirates. So there’s that.
Everything seemed to be going fine until the 4th inning when Brandon Crawford took a curveball to the right field bleachers. If there’s a moment that began the Pirates demise, it’s right here. Listen to how quiet the PNC Park crowd gets. That’s the reverse of the Big Bang. That’s the creation of a blackhole.
It’s hard enough to get 4 runs off Bumgarner in the Regular Season but in October… no way. That’s his world, we all just happen to live in it. That’s why he was crowned World Series MVP in 2014.
So the Pirates lose at home by a score of 8-0. The San Francisco Giants go on to win their 3rd World Series in 5 seasons.
So the Pirates sluff it off and regroup for 2015. They added Francisco Cervelli, Jung-Ho Kang, and J.A. Happ, who came in at the deadline to their already solid lineup from 2014. So little changed because the Pirates organization believed in the direction they were heading, and for the most part they were right. This team was good enough to make it to the playoffs in 2014, so they should be able to do it again? And they did. There was just one problem:
The Chicago Cubs and Jake Arrieta.
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The Cubs were beginning their Cinderella story in 2015 with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo taking the league by storm, but it was bearded wonder acquired from Baltimore that was stealing the show. Jake Arrieta ended the 2015 season with a 1.77 ERA.
1.77, you guys. Remember when that was real?!?
So when the Pirates landed in the Wildcard game for the second year in a row, seeing Jake Arrieta was not a welcomed sight.
The Pirates held there own for the most part. Aside from Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber, Gerrit Cole did a fine job quieting the Cubs bats. But those two cubs did some damaged, especially Schwarber’s home run that landed in the Allegheny River.
At the end of the day, however, it was always going to be about whether or not the Pirates could get to Jake Arrieta. They never did. Instead, Arrieta threw a complete game shutout walking none and striking out 11 Bucs in the process, a postseason record.
The cracks began to show when Tony Watson decided it would be a good idea to throw at Arrieta in the 7th inning after the Cubs were up 4-0.
A reminder that this was one game playoff. An entire season was riding on this game, and the Pirates threw at the opposing pitcher. That’s desperation. That’s mayhem.
The Pirates outlook for 2017 is not good. Even before the Bucs can field a team, they have to deal with the massive falling out between the organization and their fans. I’ll say this for Pittsburgh, they’re a rabid bunch and I love them.
Pittsburgh is a city that is tightly knit and you can feel the pride when you’re there. Ever met a Steelers fan? Their jerseys look like they’ve been in practice all week, and were just put on the inactive list. I mean, what other team has a contingent of fans who dress up for games? Come on. Pittsburgh has some kick-ass fans and if you don’t think it’s one of the top Sports cities in the country then you are an idiot and you are wrong.
So back to the Bucs.
If you have a friend who’s a Pirates fan you’ve no doubt seen the online petition going around. The idea is that the Pittsburgh faithful wants Major League Baseball to step in and take back ownership from Bob Nutting, who took control of the team in 2007.
As a Mets fan, I say “Get in line. There are terrible managers everywhere.” As a baseball fan, I say “You’re mad at the wrong person.”
You should be mad at Neal Huntington, the Pirates General Manager.
Before diving into Huntington’s mistakes, let me take a moment and say this: Bob Nutting is not 100% blameless. When you captain the ship, you’re in charge of the direction you sail.
For the longest time Nutting’s repeated line of, “We are building a young team that will be around for years” was music to Bucs fans ears. However, after a while that young team that’s here to stay grows old and never arrives. The window for the Pirates has slammed shut and they are not even back to square one, but square negative four.
This is the environment that Nutting has cultivated, by not making smart moves when it comes to personnel and making even dumber moves like saying that he could see a time where he would stop spending money on the team. This is a team that was 24th in payroll in 2017.
Nutting has put himself in the crosshairs when in reality he’s the only one who can really change this team. If he truly wants to succeed he needs to put his literal money where his mouth is.
But firing Neal Huntington would be a good start.
When you look back at the Pirates successes of 2013, 2014 and 2015, those teams begin to all look alike, because they are basically the same. Wait. No. THEY ARE THE SAME. The Pirates have been skating by on the same group of guys for the past four years and when those guys leave town and the Pirates get nothing in return, who is to blame? Huntington.
Let’s take a look at a few key losses and what the Pirates got in return.
2014 – Edinson Volquez
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This may seem like a small mistake, but let’s consider for a second that the Pirates were willing to let their Wild Card game starter walk free after putting together a solid season for the Bucs. While letting a 30-year-old pitcher get away in free agency isn’t all that bad, not replacing him is. That’s exactly what happened. Huntington sent the Pirates into battle with one less solid arm and expected them to fair the same. That’s insane.
2015 – Neil Walker, J.A. Happ, and Keon Broxton
After the 2015 season, Huntington made a few head-scratching moves. The first being the inability to sign J.A. Happ. After being traded to the Pirates for Adrian Sampson and posting a 2.12 ERA in his 13 starts, Happ was let go into the wild. WHY? Why would you do that to a guy who just proved himself to be a valuable asset to your franchise? Did Jeff Locke do that? No.
Keon Broxton, the highlight reel in Center for the Milwaukee Brewers was a prospect in the Pirates system until he was traded along with Trey Supak for Jason Rogers. That’s right. Two of the Pirates top prospects were sent to Milwaukee for a guy who played 28 games for the Pirates and now plays in Japan. PRETTY SWEET DEAL. Why would you trade your centerfielder of the future and a pitching prospect for a guy with barely any credentials? If the Pirates were always going to keep McCutchen, they need a centerfielder to move him to a corner spot. Easy as that. But it couldn’t have been Keon Broxton? Come on.
The Neil Walker deal might go down as one of the worst deals I have ever seen in my entire life. As a Mets fan, I applauded the deal. Who did the Pirates get? Jon Niese?
The prodigal son of Pittsburgh, the literal son of a Pirates great, who grew up at Three Rivers Stadium was traded to New York for JON NIESE. The move makes no sense, except that they had more stock in Josh Harrison at second and Kang at third so there was just no room for Walker in the future.
My favorite part of this deal is that at the end of the day, Niese came back to the Mets after Antonio Bastardo couldn’t hack it in Flushing. So the Pirates got an awful reliever and the
2016 – Mark Melancon
If there was one shiny jewel in the Pirates treasure chest during the 2016 season it was Mark Melancon. I have written about Mark in great detail before, so here’s a taste of that before we dive right in. Find the whole piece here.
“In his career, Melancon has completed 168 saves in the 191 save situations he’s ever been in. 87.9% of the time that Melancon comes in and can get a save, he’s gets the fucking save. When you compare him to Chapman, he’s only 2% off. That’s not too shabby, especially since, Chapman just hit a huge payday with New York.
So why didn’t Melancon get an $80 million dollar payday like his other counterparts? Well, it’s a small, but visible reason; he doesn’t have the power. Of the 6,000+ pitches of Melancon’s that were tracked by PitchFx, a sum total of 0 PITCHES EVER WENT ABOVE 95MPH. Melancon is a throwback to a simpler time when Closers only had two pitches. Mark has a fastball and a nasty, NASTY Cutter. That’s it. That’s all he has. A Bartolo Colon-like Fastball and a Mariano Rivera like Cutter.”
The guy is nasty and gnarly and you wouldn’t really expect it. He’s not an Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen type of pitcher, he’s got that quiet intensity. He pitches through you. He’s got ice in his veins. He messes with your mind.
So how does Washington get away with only dealing Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn? You were in the driver’s seat, trying to make a deal with a team that was in desperate need of a closer. Look at what Chapman got for the Yankees. Half of that would have been an upgrade.
2017 – Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen
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Here is what bothers me about the Gerrit Cole trade to Houston, it shoud have been with New York. The biggest piece on the move to Pittsburgh is Colin Moran, who can play first and third. The Yankees were reportedly offering Clint Frazier, who is going to be a superstar, but happens to be in the mix for a spot in a crowded pinstripe outfield. Why did the Pirates go with Houston’s deal and some vastly less superior prospects? Because Houston offered more.
ONE. MORE. PLAYER.
When your GM is looking at trades and going with quantity over quality, you’ve got a problem. Every team plays with 9 guys on the field, no one gets 10 or 11, it’s about the quality of the team you are fielding. This deal is awful for the Pirates and it let’s Gerrit Cole into the wild, when he should still be in Pittsburgh.
The Andrew McCutchen deal is a lot less aggravating from a General Manager standpoint. At this point in his career, you want to see Cutch get a ring. Would it be awesome if he got that ring in Pittsburgh? YOU BET. Would it be awesome if he got one anywhere else? Yea, but it’s not as fulfilling.
Andrew McCutchen has been the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise since he arrived in 2009. He has taken the town by storm on the field and off. He was the face of Pittsburgh sports, of it’s hard work ethic, and blue collar feel. The grind was real for McCutchen. You could feel his effort through your television screen. You could also feel his love for the game and his city.
To see Cutch in an opening Day uniform that is not Black and Yellow is going to be very odd for everyone, not just Pittsburgh fans. He was a staple of the game, a part of that beautiful view in the outfield, almost as if he was a part of the Pittsburgh skyline.
The Pirates did get a top 5 prospect in Bryan Reynolds, but this now begs the question what happens in their farm system. The Pirates have two outfield prospects (Reynolds and the #1 prospect in their system Austin Meadows) who are not going to be stuck in a logjam to play in the Bucs outfield. The Bucs needed pitching and they failed to land anything they actually needed, leaving their farm system in disarray…. Not the greatest thing for a team about to rebuild.
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At the end of the day, the Pirates are not better off than they were at the end of the 2017 season, in fact, they are right where they were after 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. They are the same, not better.
The Pirates are going into a rebuild, a very extensive rebuild and in order to do that they need to keep Nutting and fire Huntington. Nutting needs to work to restore faith in his team with the Pittsburgh faithful, and the first step is removing the General Manager who’s inability to appraise and acquire talent has stunted the growth of a team who had all the potential in the world.
The Jolly Roger will fly over PNC this season, but it’s time to get rid of the guy who plundered their riches and ran them aground.
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