The 2020 Major League Baseball season has officially come to a close. The Los Angeles Dodgers knocked off the Tampa Bay Rays in six games, claiming the first Dodger title since 1988. As I watched the Dodgers congregate on the field, I could only do what I always do: Try to imagine what it might be like to see the Pittsburgh Pirates do that very thing. I then started to look to the future, as Pirates’ fans are generally inclined to do.
We don’t yet know what 2021 will have in store around the sport, but the hope is that fans will be back in attendance, for starters. In Arlington, fans were allowed to watch the NLCS and World Series in limited numbers. Based on that alone, it’s likely many stadiums will allow limited capacity crowds next season. Will we still wear masks? Will there be a vaccination? There are many unanswered questions. But there’s one thing I know with certainty: The Pirates won’t be very good.
Ben Cherington won’t say the word “rebuild.” That’s strange because we all know that’s what’s happening. That’s what he was brought in to do. Some say that’s what he does best. There would be no ill will from the fan base towards Cherington if he acquiesced and called it what it is. In fact, it might build a better rapport with the fans because there’d be a sense of transparency, whether real or perceived. Fans often debase owner Bob Nutting for being cheap – not the new general manager looking to get things back on track.
The decision for a full rebuild isn’t only contingent on what the general manager thinks is right. It’s also incumbent upon the owner to sign off on it – something that Nutting seems like he may prefer, given the potential further dwindling of the budget. But the Pirates’ front office has ostensibly decided that their best public relations move is to imply a rebuild isn’t coming. That’s true, technically, since the rebuild has already begun.
The Pirates are currently working with a slim number of players that’ll still be around the next time their competitive window opens, like Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Bryan Reynolds. Many of the others, like former stardom hopefuls Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell, won’t be in Pittsburgh, in all likelihood. We’re looking at three to five years down the line before the Pirates are possibly in contention in the central division, or even for a wild card spot.
Because of all this, if I were general manager (disclaimer: I’m not because I meet exactly zero of the requisite qualifications for that position), the tear down would be evident. It’s easier said than done, certainly, but I’d be trying to move virtually every piece on the major league roster. All Pirate value is down because they collectively had a rough season. Some, like Gregory Polanco, looks like he might be unable to reach a semblance of a major leaguer; he also has a rather large price tag. Cherington may well be trying to move pieces as we speak. It might also be true that nobody’s biting.
If Cherington moves multiple big leaguers, then it could very well be the case that next season is even harder to stomach than this season. I find that a bit hard to believe just because of the sheer amount of underachieving that happened in 2020. There are plenty of likable people that play for the Pirates, and for that reason, it might be hard to reconcile moving on from them. But many of the names fans like won’t be around for much longer, anyway, so it makes sense to move them. This would also give young players a chance to prove themselves and gain reps (something we’ve been saying for years, I know).
The Pirates already weren’t able to try to move Chris Archer because of injury (and underperformance). The organization also wasn’t able to move Keone Kela because of an injury right before the deadline. Archer’s got a club option for 2021 that the Pirates would only pick up with the intention of giving him a chance to perform before moving him at the deadline. Kela, on the other hand, is already out the door, with the expiration of his contract. He’s going to want to get paid and the Pirates aren’t going to want to do that. Besides, with the Pirates out of contention, it doesn’t make much sense to pay a closer like Kela a ton of money.
But every player who is still under team control is fair game, aside from the aforementioned future pieces. If they can move Bell, they should do it. Polanco? Gone. Joe Musgrove and Colin Moran? Ship them out, too. Trevor Williams? You know the deal by now. These guys might not garner massive returns, but the Pirates are indisputably building for the future, and as corny as it is, the future begins now.