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The Pittsburgh Pirates and the roster filler

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MLB: JUL 24 Pirates at Cardinals

At this point, there are two words which come to mind when thinking about the Pittsburgh Pirates: Roster fillers. That, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. I understand that the Pirates are currently in a position where they have to rebuild. General manager Ben Cherington is only going into his second year and, though perhaps not an excuse, his first year wasn’t performed under ideal conditions.

Because the Pirates are rebuilding, they don’t have enough young pieces that are ready to get experience yet, but they also don’t have enough talented veterans to field a complete team. So, when I saw that the Pirates signed pitcher Clay Holmes to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp, which words that came to mind? Roster filler.

After 47 appearances in Major League Baseball, we most likely know what Holmes is: A run-of-the-mill reliever that can’t cut it as a starter and is unlikely to find a key role out of the bullpen. In his career, he has a 5.06 FIP (5.91 ERA) and -0.2 fWAR over 77.2 innings. Holmes is what we colloquially refer to as an innings eater. Simply put, he’s a guy that throws in an attempt to navigate the middle innings after the starter got shelled and the team’s down by a sizable margin. If he’s in for any other situation, organizational trouble is afoot.

This piece is not to speak ill of Holmes; he is simply the trigger for these thoughts. It could’ve been any number of players. It just so happens that he was featured recently.

During the 2021 season, I’ll likely watch about as many games as I normally do, but I’m curious about how much Pirates’ baseball will be watched by you, our loyal readers. Coming into the shortened 2020 season, the potential for anything to happen was tantalizing enough to fans, but ‘21 likely won’t have that same allure. Knowing that this squad is very likely in for a rough slog this year, how much of your attention will this team garner?

There will be storylines, certainly. Can Ke’Bryan Hayes come close to replicating his brief output in the latter half of 2020? Can Bryan Reynolds bounce back? Will Jameson Taillon look like an ace in limited time? Who gets moved, for what, and when? Which new prospects will we see don big league uniforms for the first time? But in between all that will be a lot of, well, roster fillers. At the risk of sounding harsh, do we really have time to watch roster fillers?

I understand that this team is a respite for many and if a losing team can be your place of solitude from the world, then good on you. But for many, it seems frustrations cloud the enjoyment of the game itself. While we know, in some form or fashion, which direction the organization is trying to head, it still needs time to work itself out. Until then (hello, 2024), who’s willing to watch the roster fillers? Who’s willing to watch Clay Holmes? Chris Stratton? Or, who’s willing to watch Gregory Polanco, a once promising prospect who was presumably mangled by the organization (and injury), stumble around in the outfield and at the plate?

This is perhaps my most pessimistic article to date, though I don’t mean it to be. I just think this is an honest reflection of where the team currently is, and a curiosity about how much time the fans are willing to allot for it. Some say that you can’t be a “real fan” if you aren’t watching the game during the bad years like you would be in the good years. That’s nonsense and most of us know it. If you’re a Pirates fan, you’re a Pirates fan. With that aside, how many of you will be keenly watching this group of Pirates?

At The Athletic, Pirates’ writer Rob Biertempfel said that he gets the feeling over the next few years, we’ll experience something akin to the “Freak Show” Pirates, given the downed state of the National League Central. Anything approaching what that team did would be more closely aligned with the phrasing “Miracle Show” Pirates.

I say all this not to disparage the Bucs — I say it because I care. But the next couple seasons are going to consist of roster fillers and a tough-to-watch on-field product. Who of you will give that product a considerable amount of your time?