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Throwing more money at players isn’t the answer for the Pirates

Development, development, development

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
Bombs are fun, true, but a double one in a while is fine, too.
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

I’ve joked that this summer I’ve probably watched more baseball than I have in decades (thanks, FuboTV, for updating me to the tier that has MLB Network without me having to pay extra). As a result, I see a lot of former Pirates, and I’m starting to feel the frustration many longtime Pirates fans feel watching former Buccos suddenly get really good—for other teams.

Take, for example, Joe Musgrove. You can’t totally blame lack of run support for his struggles with the Pirates. This guy NEVER had a winning record while he was a Buc. Now he deals. Yes, I know, the Padres have Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. (at least when he’s not hurt). Yes, I know there’s history. His ERA has gone down from when he was a Pirate, but not hugely.

Then there’s the recent “Subway Series.” The Mets seem to be trying to catch up with the Yankees for the amount of former Pirates on the team. If you’re new here, my brother has always been a huge Mets fan, while I grew up a Yankees fan. The Yankees, of course, were notorious in the eighties for throwing money at seemingly every high-profile free agent, with little effect. It was only when then-general manager Gene Michael put his foot down in the early nineties and told Steinbrenner to grow the farm system instead of gutting it that the “dynasty” that got started in the mid-nineties made its appearance. Before that it was like “who are you going to overpay this year, George?”

I’ve suspected for a while that Ben Cherington totally wants the Pirates to be built up under his command. So far no one that he’s drafted has made it to the big league team, but I think that will come next season. I’ve said here previously that I think Cherington is not the best judge of current major league talent—you only need to take a look at his free-agent signings while he was GM of the Red Sox, another team that really started seeing results when they started growing their players from within. Cherington wants a homegrown team that can be supplemented with rentals when necessary. I honestly believe that he looks at players like Jake Marisnick, Michael Chavis, and Ben Gamel as keeping places warm for kids in the farm system.

But here’s the problem—a lot of the kids aren’t ready for prime time. I don’t have issues with players skipping over Triple A, because Double A is the level where the men get separated from the boys, so to speak. If they can succeed in Double A, chances are pretty good they’ll succeed in the majors, historically speaking.

Derek Shelton made his bones as a hitting coach. I don't know how involved he is currently, but I think at this point his job is very much in jeopardy considering the Pirates’ current ice-cold bats. He doesn’t have to teach guys how to hit, just tweak what’s there. Obviously, no one on the current team is going to get mistaken for Aaron Judge (even if one or two of them are the same height), but a good hitting coach can point out bad habits and work with the player to correct them.

Most major league hitting coaches make well under $100,000. Put some money into coaching and development. Cherington was brought in because with both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays, he showed a talent for getting minor leaguers ready for the big time. And I still believe that Bob Nutting has indicated to Cherington that the money will be there when he wants to spend it.

Juan Soto isn’t the answer—I write this because I literally laughed out loud when I read an article elsewhere the other day that it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Pirates could get him. Light a fire under Derek Shelton’s butt and remind him how he got this far, because a team BA of .200 should not be applied to a major league team.

We’ve seen major improvements in Pirates pitching. Take whatever tools or philosophy that were used to improve there, but concentrate on hitting. Maybe a bit on baserunning too to keep the LOBsters to a minimum. Coaches are cheap in the scheme of things.