Demands for Pirate Free Agent Signings Are Premature and Misguided

Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

I have been following the social media buzz around the Pirates and I do not understand the narrative from fans, or even some “Pirates insiders”.  Several were demanding the club sign major league ready pitching.  Then, even after the Jose Quintana signing, several proclaimed that the only way the Quintana move makes sense is if the team adds even more arms.  To all of this I say: What? Why? and Huh?

JT Brubaker, Bryse Wilson, Miguel Yajure, Max Kranick, Roansy Contreras, Cody Bolton, Steven Brault, and even Mitch Keller.  In no particular order, these are all players I would much rather give major league innings in 2022.  Add in Quinn Priester, Anthony Solomento, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Tahnaj Thomas as guys I'd like to get innings in 2023. I'd much prefer watching them at the major league level than the likes of Matt Boyd or Alex Cobb, among many other free agent names that have been floated around this offseason on #PiratesTwitter.  

GM Ben Cherington has been stockpiling prospects ever since he took the job.  The only way to justify the direction the club has been going for the last several years is to actually give these prospects playing time.  This goes for both pitchers and position players.

Wait One More Offseason

Additionally, this is not the correct offseason for the Pirates to spend on free agents.  I have seen several Pirates bloggers proclaim grandly that, “the Pirates will compete this season!” or that, “The Wild Card is wide open for the Pirates in 2022.”  A) No, and B) I am okay with them not being competitive this season.

I recognize the plan in place and I also see that it is working.  Roansy Contreras pitching in the majors last season shows the Pirates have changed.  Also, Oneil Cruz was rewarded with a few major league at-bats last season after tearing up the minor leagues.  The old Pirates would have never done this.  They are willing to give their young guys a shot when they deserve it, even at just 21 years of age as in Contreras’ case.  So let's continue on this path.

The only way to do that is letting these youngsters continue to experience major league action.  I would hate to see a 30-year old Matt Boyd take innings from a 22 or 23 year-old when Matt Boyd is not the future of this franchise.  I don't even particularly like the Quintana signing, but if he can be a potential trade chip at this season's trade deadline, I will change my tune.  But that is how much I want innings to go directly to development of the young guys.  Then, if these prospects do show significant progress this season, as I suspect they will, the Pirates can make the AJ Burnett and Russell Martin-type free agent signings that they did in 2012 and 2013, but do that next offseason.

To put the Pirates current track in perspective, this upcoming season is like 2011.  They will make some noise early on, but 2022 is truly about development, seeing who can be a productive major leaguer from a long list of top prospects, hoping Quintana can pitch well enough to be a great trade piece, and go into the 2023 season with some serious momentum and buzz.  Then, 2023 will be a true competitive season for the Bucs as was 2012, thus making 2024 a legitimate playoff team.  This then officially opens the window of success with the hope it remains open longer than the three seasons it did this last time.

However, the desire to sign a bunch of free agents this offseason is premature and misguided.  The Pirates have a stockpile of young arms and young position players I want to see cut their teeth in this league during a season that is still inconsequential.  There are only so many innings and at-bats to go around.  I’d also much prefer the available money go toward long-term extensions for Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, or all three. 

Also consider this.  The MLB Player's Union and the owners are about to battle for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  This new CBA could include a salary cap.  I'll admit, this is a very lofty expectation, but nothing is impossible.  

A salary cap could make once unaffordable pitching free agents that much more affordable for teams like the Pirates.  So there is no reason to rush this process when there will always be free agent pitchers available and they could potentially become cheaper next offseason with a new CBA in place.  This also gives the Pirates one more full season to see which prospects are improving and which are not.

Be Patient

When the new regime came in, it was going to take some time for them to settle in and build what they had in mind for this ballclub.  However, they have built the farm system from one of the worst into, arguably, the best in the league in a just a few years.  Plus, now the Pirates have a known talent developer in place with Cherington versus what they had with Neal Huntington. 

I want the Pirates to spend money and sign big name guys as much as the next fan.  However, I want them to do it when the time is right.  And that time is not right now.  But don’t get discouraged because it is right around the corner.