Jake Deemer – Staff Writer
It is never too early to start talking about baseball with less than a month and a half until Opening Day.
With that said, we start looking ahead to the 2017 season and what could very well be the last year the Pittsburgh Pirates legitimately make a run at a title.
Yes, the Pirates failed to make the playoffs in 2016, but they are a playoff caliber team.
There are reasons why they did not make the playoffs this past year, like the fact they sold away two valuable assets in August when the team was only two games out of the last spot in the playoffs.
The first trade included steady-handed closer, Mark Melancon, to the Washington Nationals in exchange for lefty reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn.
I was upset with this deal at first, but, the Pirates got a couple of assets.
Instead of losing Melancon to a free agency for nothing in exchange.
The next move came the day of the trade deadline.
All of the talk during the first half was about the poor performance of starting pitcher Francisco Liriano.
In just 21 starts, the ex-ace of the Pirates pitching staff had given up 19 home runs and 5.46 ERA—a career high.
So, the Pirates had a choice; ride it out with Liriano and let him test free agency at the end of the year or make a deal with a team.
The Pirates made a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Before I discuss what the deal involved, let me say: exceptional playoff-contending franchises aim to receive valuable assets that will benefit its specific team and system; middle of the road teams make deals simply to dump or gain salary—or overspend on players.
With a choice to make, Pirates GM Neal Huntington chose the latter option of dumping cash, two fine prospects and a proven starter on the side of the road for a garden-variety pitcher in Drew Hutchinson—who is lucky if his fast ball reaches 92 mph—and proved to all that the Pirates are no longer a World Series contender.
One of the prospects involved in the trade, catcher Reese McGuire, is a top 100 prospect with remarkable bat control and home to second time comparable to some of the best catchers in the game.
McGuire’s swing has a lot of work to be done, but what prospects swing doesn’t need work?
Say what you will, two prospects and a veteran pitcher is a nonsensical price to pay for Hutchinson who has never had an ERA under 4.48 his entire big league career.
Seeing how Pittsburgh plays in one of the smaller markets in the league, ownership chooses to allocate less revenue towards player salary.
Let’s be honest, you have to spend more than $130 million on players to win big.
If you don’t, you will settle for the role of a standard dime a dozen franchise.
Even if the team is able to win a title with homegrown players, those players will soon want to be paid, and if you’re not willing to pay them, another team will.
In 2015, the Kansas City Royals—a small market team—won a title in its second straight World Series appearance with a total salary of $138 million.
Spending is just one of the methods used by winning ball clubs.
In 2016, Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein showed why he was the best GM in baseball.
After drafting and acquiring some of the best young talent in all of prospective baseball, Epstein obtained key veteran and elite players.
Just when you thought Chicago couldn’t get any better before the trade deadline, Epstein acquired the best closer in baseball, Aroldis Chapman.
In game seven of the 2016 World Series, it came down to extra innings—any other closer in baseball would have folded after Rajai Davis’s game-tying home run.
Chapman, the flat out best closer in the game, held the fort to secure a title.
Pittsburgh’s Front Office has worn out the idea of winning off the cheapest payroll in the MLB.
You have to spend money to win.
In 2016, Pittsburgh spent over $10 million more on position players than pitchers—that’s a death wish.
Ever think about the stress that puts on the offensive players?
Consistent offense is one of the hardest things to come by in the MLB to begin with; trying to outscore opponents because you’re pitching staff is underperforming due to non-spending is a formula for an under .500 season.
Pittsburgh has set the foundation with homegrown players such as McCutchen, Polanco, Marte, Bell and Harrison.
Now it is time to take chances, spend money, make significant acquisitions and win a championship for some of the most loyal and deserving fans in baseball.