The Pirates received an early Christmas present Tuesday night at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego, California. The Pittsburgh Pirates were awarded the first-overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, winning the first-ever draft lottery.
Days after star center fielder Bryan Reynolds announced his desire to be traded, the lucky ping-pong ball positioned the Bucs for their second No. 1 overall pick in three years and sixth overall.
“Every once in a while, in this business, you get a break against you,” Cherington told reporters following the selection process. “And every once in a while you get a break go for you. We got one tonight.”
Outside of three playoff appearances during the most memorable years of some fans’ lifetimes, the Pirates have failed to captivate the baseball landscape since 1992. With their best players wanting out and teams including the San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and others spending money like the federal mint lives in their ballparks, the Pirates need every break possible.
General Manager Ben Cherington began one of the most aggressive offseason pushes to ADD talent the Pirates have seen since… maybe 2014? Signing DH/first baseman Carlos Santana, lefty reliever Jarlin Garcia, starter Vince Velasquez, and trading for first baseman Ji-Man Choi opened the eyes of many to a potential new beginning.
The Reynolds news threw a complete wrench into the positives. Reportedly offered the biggest deal in Pirates history, set by Ke’Bryan Hayes prior to first pitch on Opening Day, the Bucs would have offered something higher than the eight-year, $70 million given to Hayes. Well… duh. Of course they needed to offer more. On the open market, Reynolds is worth double the money for a power-hitting switch hitter who plays solid defensively.
If a window is truly set to emerge, 2023 could be the start of it, at least peering into the window. Prospects including right-handed starter Quinn Priester, second baseman Nick Gonzales, catcher/second baseman Endy Rodriguez and catcher Henry Davis could all debut this coming year, barring injuries.
Adding an additional top-of-the-draft talent, possibly hailing from the college ranks and fast-tracking to the big leagues, the Pirates could rush the first pick to Pittsburgh in 2025. It’s not fair to say the team will be good a year or so from now or especially that they will commit the money necessary to sustain it or surround the young talent with veteran leadership, but adding Santana and others raises an eyebrow.
Obtaining the first pick rejuvenated the franchise following the disasterous Reynolds news. Will the Pirates trade the 27-year-old with three years of club control remaining? The asking price is reportedly very steep. The Bucs also don’t need to deal him just because he asked, but can the relationship be salvaged? It’s probably 50/50 at this point — that might be a generous assessment — but leaning in a negative direction.
The Pirates should celebrate winning the draft lottery as their lives depend on it, because they do. The only way for Pittsburgh to survive in the current MLB landscape is for breaks to go your way on certain occasions, whether it’s the draft, trades, buy-low moves in free agency or the development of players paying off to production on the field.
Trading Reynolds, for the right package of prospects amounting to QUALITY over quantity would add additional talent to the system but subtract a player you already know can man the outfield and hit in the heart of the order.
The first pick doesn’t change any of this, but it allows the Bucs to be excited about possibly LSU outfielder Dylan Crews or Tennessee right-handed starter Chase Dollander. It’s not the NFL or NBA draft where the top selection can immediately contribute and make an instant impact. A college player would in all likelihood excellerate quicker, though, similar to Davis.
Regardless, the Pirates are hoping their upcoming season and turn of the rebuilt is remotely close to the draft celebration… just someone high-five Derek Shelton if things start to go right.