The Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up their regular season yesterday. They now face one of their most pivotal off-seasons in their history.
The Pittsburgh Pirates finished the 2017 season with a disappointing record of 75-87.
The reasons for their second consecutive losing season are myriad and mystifying, and you will read more about them in depth on these pages in the coming weeks.
Today, with the season’s end fresh in our minds, is an appropriate day to reflect on how pivotal this off-season will be for the Pittsburgh baseball club.
They have to go about the process of preparing to field a more competitive team in 2018, but they should have a bigger goal in mind.
That goal is a simple one: stave off the stench of stagnation that has crept into this franchise.
Build some trust
The first path to the Pittsburgh Pirates turning around the pubic perception of their franchise is to build some trust.
This will not take the form of some “big-splash” signing or trade. When the club balked at bringing in Jose Quintana over the off-season, the message could not have been more clear.
The days of the Pittsburgh Pirates sneaking up on other teams with some new angle on or off the field are long gone. They just are.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will be a team that wins or loses based on the development of talent coupled with smart acquisitions.
That does not preclude them from building trust much in the same way that they did in bringing the franchise back from the brink, but it does mean that their margin for error is slim.
Some of the potential solutions are already in-house. Max Moroff and Jose Osuna took significant strides this season and form the foundation of a reserve unit that is far more dynamic than the one the club started 2016 with. Ditto for Dovydas Neverauskas in the pen, along with the potentially-shrewd George Kontos acquisition.
There is also a 6’8″ tall enigma dripping with equal parts potential and pitfall.
Looking outward, without any obvious needs — at least with position players — the Pirates can afford to make the types of acquisitions they want to make: minor but potentially season-swinging. They won’t always work out (see: Phil Gosselin), but the club is in prime position to make low-risk, high-reward deals.
And those types of deals are exactly the ones that build up trust in a fan base.
Learn from your mistakes, and learn quickly
The Pittsburgh Pirates thought they had something in reliever Daniel Hudson. On paper, Hudson looked every bit the part of an effective reliever over the past two years. As painful as this may be fore you to read, the fact is that the Pirates paid him according to what the market was bearing for a reliever of his ilk.
Now, they must do what many teams — themselves included — have done and not carry dead weight around if there are better options available. Pittsburgh has played out this scenario before with Antonio Bastardo, and the club should revisit that approach with Hudson. The Pirates hate to keep dead money on the roster, yet the team has done it before when it had no other choice.
Now, the club has a chance to gain back some trust from their fan base by acting more decisively towards Hudson.
Find the next great market inefficiency
The Pittsburgh Pirates were able to contend again through a string of masterstrokes in their baseball informatics department.
However, every single team in Major League Baseball now employs data analysts, progressive thinkers and many other smart-sounding folks.
The days of the Pittsburgh Pirates sneaking up on other teams with some new angle on or off the field are long gone.
They just are.
However, that does not preclude the club’s brass and researchers alike from striving towards finding that one next great market inefficiency to lean on. I will not claim to know what that crack in baseball’s armor is.
However, I do believe that the next set of radical measures teams will take will be reactive. And they will likely be reactive to the massive shift towards power. The home run totals seen in MLB this year — the most cumulative home runs in baseball’s history — are more than just a course-correction back to pre collectively bargained PED punishment levels, they are a massive counter punch that has landed flush with the jaw of many teams’ pitching staffs.
It will thus take an equally forceful blow back against that trend if teams want to find a counter measure against the renewed focus on power.
Can the Pittsburgh Pirates be that club that shows the way to solving baseball’s burgeoning power? Time will tell, but carving out a name for themselves as a club that found a way to fashion an antidote to the home run would go a long way towards telling their fan base that they can still be innovative.
The club might easily be able to take some steps outlined here. They may not be able to. Maybe these items highlighted here are some of the answers, — they certainly are not all of them — and perhaps the true answers are still a mystery to team and fan alike.
But, with sagging attendance and a fan base whose temperature can be described as tepid at best, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to do something, anything, to spark a bit of trust in their fans’ hearts.