2022 provides a fresh start for all 30 Major League Baseball organizations to regroup and reevaluate their club moving forward.
After the current standstill comes to a compromise, the rush to Spring Training and the regular season will be in full swing and all focus will shift back to the field.
The Pittsburgh Pirates need to be prepared to make changes out of the lockout to turn the tide on the current rebuild. Here are four New Years resolutions for the Bucs heading into 2022.
Believe in the Rotation
One of the biggest criticisms of the 2021 Pirates was Derek Shelton’s inability to trust the starting rotation, especially in the season’s early portions. The Bucs’ starters were not dependable veterans with high expectations and experience, but still warranted opportunities to prove themselves.
On numerous occasions, Shelton would pull a starter after the fifth inning despite giving up three or fewer runs and the Pirates tied or in the lead. Evident down the stretch and especially into the playoffs, starting pitching is arguably the most important part of the ballclub. A lack of trust in the starters can resonate with the players both on and off the field, as actions speak louder than words.
Shelton having greater faith in his young rotation is another step forward that must be taken rather than depending on a shaky bullpen.
It’s Time to Pay Up
I’m not going to be the random Pirates fan in his 50s complaining that the team trades away all their good players and is cheap, but it’s time for the Bucs to pay up. Up for debate, but the outrageous trades the organization has made over the past 10 years have only been not getting enough for Gerrit Cole and giving up too much for Chris Archer.
Regardless, as a new CBA comes into effect with increased uncertainty on how arbitration and team control will be handled, striking a deal may be more difficult than ever. The most money the Pirates have ever issued on a long-term basis was a 6-year $60 million deal signed by Jason Kendall at the turn of the century before the 2001 season. A 3-year $39 million contract given to Francisco Liriano going into 2015 is the most notable transaction ever since.
Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds check almost every box in being the current and future faces of the franchise and must be locked up long term for any organization or fan base to take Pittsburgh seriously again. Signing these two players seems attainable given the Bucs’ minute salary allotted to the roster along with their All-Star and Gold-Glove abilities. Locking up Hayes and Reynolds might bring fans back to the ballpark and have positive things to say about the organization.
Back Out of the Basement
It’s the most simple yet complex challenge in all of sports: just win ballgames and everything else will fall to the waste side. Climbing from the bottom of the basement in all of baseball and especially the NL Central provides hope for players and fans along with good faith Ben Cherington’s rebuild is starting to turn a corner.
Even a third-place finish in a currently weak division will open some eyes. Part of this plan must include promoting top prospects but also being smart about it. Service time and proper development in the Minors are two critical aspects the Pirates always need to be aware of given the limitations put on them in a small market. It’s not as simple as it sounds over a 162-game stretch, but accomplishing a season of over 70 wins will be an improvement of 10 games and move the needle in this long process.
Be Honest and Aggressive
Honesty with the fanbase was something the previous regime struggled to communicate and when things started to crumble. The Archer trade set the organization back years. Honesty of where the team is and hope to be has been somewhat improved under Cherington, but increased clarity can signal increased trust. Aggressive wins in sports and signing Hayes and Reynolds is part of this, along with a major splash on the trade or free-agent market when the Pirates are legitimate contenders.
Trades have been the best way for Pittsburgh to acquire outside talent excluding the draft, and free agents typically command more money than they are worth moving forward compared to how they have already performed. Cherington deserves good faith for the 2022 season, especially after dealing with a 60-game season and 2021 as the only true season to judge him and Shelton on.
These four resolutions can help mold the Pirates into a mid-tier team compared to a bottom feeder. 2022 could be the year the Bucs turn the corner. The wave of prospects is coming and will only contribute to the potential success. Unlikely to make the playoffs, Pittsburgh can make this upcoming season the stepping stone to 2023 and a possible playoff birth. New year, new opportunities, and a new chance for the Pirates to win the fanbase back for this new era of Pirates baseball.