SOUTH HILLS – I think we all understand the challenges of living in the NL Central: the St. Louis Cardinals have become the New England Patriots of baseball – they can seemingly plug in player after player and keep producing 90-plus win seasons. The Cubs are perhaps better positioned than any team in baseball with a young, talented, cost-controlled lineup that could perhaps boast of the most power in the NL beginning next season. The Cubs also have the resources to continue to improve their starting staff and bullpen.
So we understand even though the Pirates are coming off a 98-win season and much of their core remains intact for the next several years … the 2016 outlook isn’t as immediately optimistic and sun-shiny as one would expect.
But perhaps we are seeing a philosophy play out in the NLCS that could help the Pirates over-take the Cubs and Cardinals in coming years, and the good news for the Pirates is they already have some of the pieces.
The good-pitching-beats-good-hitting maxim has played out in the Met-Cubs series through two games with good young pitching (Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard) mostly handling good young hitting (Kris Bryant, etc)
Can Tyler Glasnow become Western Pa.’s Syndergaard? (AP photo)
But didn’t a good young pitcher lose to the Cubs in the wild-card game in Gerrit Cole?
That’s true. But what is also true is that Cole was not at the top of his game that night, and that unlike Matt Harvey, Cole does not have a changeup he trusts. Harvey’s changeup was a different maker against the Cubs. He was more unpredictable than Cole because he had more weapons. That’s the next step for Cole, or a next step. To get a better feel for another pitch, ideally a changeup, that has opposite movement compared to his slider and a different velocity.
What’s true is that to date the Cubs decision to spend premium picks on bats in the draft appears to be working out much better than the Pirates’ historic commitment to high school arms in the 2009-11 drafts, when the Pirates spent $25.6 million in bonuses to those arms. The Pirates have yet to have a single prep arm from those drafts reach the majors while Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are making an impact for the Cubs.
Moreover of the Pirates’ first-round selections in the 2010-12 drafts, second, first and eight overall picks, all were right-handed pitchers and only one has pitched for the Pirates.
That’s the mostly bad news.
The good news?
If Cole can stay healthy the adjustments he made in 2015 suggest he could make the next leap from very, very good to elite in 2016. He wants to be good. He’s curious and will put the work in.
Tyler Glasnow should make an impact and perhaps as early as June. He ranked just five spots (No. 16) behind Syndergaard (No. 11) in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects last spring. He rose to No. 7 in the midseason rankings. You cannot teach Glasnow’s combination of extension and velocity.
Syndergaard’s minor league career:
456 IP, 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
383 IP, 2.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 11.7 k/9, 4.2 BB/9
Glasnow was a significantly more dominant milb pitcher than Syndergaard, Glasnow’s fastball is a truly special pitch, but his command must improve.
Maybe, Glasnow can be the 2016 Syndergaard, maybe Cole can take another step forward, maybe Stephen Tarpley can be Steven Matz, and maybe Jameson Taillon can get back on track.
Taillon is probably not a factor at the major league level in next year but don’t forget this is a special arm that some scouts preferred to Cole in 2014 spring training, in part because he has a better breaking ball.
Now, Taillon hasn’t thrown a minor league inning since 2013. Who knows if he can ever stay healthy and sustain a 200-inning work load. Who knows what the total cost of lost development time is with Taillon. How far behind is his fastball command and secondary pitches?
But Taillon’s upside, his promise, is still of a top-of-the-rotation arm. Dreaming of another Jacob deGrom is a stretch, but there’s still a ton of talent in Taillon’s body.
The Pirates’ have more young, controllable power arms than the Cubs, who will have to deal with Jake Arrieta hitting free agency after the 2017 season (and arbitration before that) with Scott Boras as his agent.
Maybe, just maybe, the Pirates can become the Mets — a version of the Mets with a better positional player core.
>>The Pirates figure to need to add power and perhaps a first baseman. Looking ahead to free agency, Chris Davis would fill both needs. Of course, he’s a pipedream for the Pirates.
Davis is by far the top option at first base. There’s a steep drop off. He’s averaged 4.5 WAR over the last three seasons. So you’re likely looking at $20 million plus per year in free agency for Davis. There will not be much power available in free agency and the players that are available will be expensive. Potential free agents from MLBtraderumors.com here.
>>A cheaper more versatile Orioles free agent who might fit? Steve Pearce, yes, the former Pirate and Andrew McCutchen’s off-season workout buddy. Pearce had a break out 2014 and an injury-plagued 2015. But the skills remained: an elite groundball-flyball ratio (0.72 in 2015 and 0.77 in 2014) –there are no groundball home runs – and solid HR/FB ratio (17.1 in 2014 and 14.3 in 2015). Moreover, Pearce can play first, second, third and the corner outfield spots and should be affordable.
>>If the Pirates believe Jung Ho Kang’s buddy Byung Ho Park has legit, MLB game power – he became the first KBO player to post back-to-back 50-homer seasons this year – they should bid aggressively if and when he is posted. While the posting fee could triple or quadruple for Park because of Kang’s success, Park will still be undervalued if he hits just as Jose Abreu was after Yoenis Cespedes became a trail-blazer of sorts form Cuba.
>>While the Pirates’ long-term rotation could be in excellent shape, they enter the offseason with a daunting problem similar to what they faced last winter when they entered the offseason with two rotation voids to fill. (Unless you want Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton in the rotation). Last year the Pirates signed AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano to contracts that paid them $21 million in 2015 and earned the Pirates 6 WAR (About $42 million in market value). They will be hard-pressed to repeat that.
>>As good as J.A. Happ was with the Pirates, do you trust him enough to sign him to an Edison Volquez-type deal of two years and $20-plus million? Risky bet.
>>The Pirates might be better off once again pulling from the reclamation bin and letting Ray Searage and Jim Benedict do their magic.
HE SAID IT:
Joe Torre on the Jung Ho Kang injury/slide: “I hadn’t really seen that play until the (Chase) Utley thing. I dragged it back to look at it. It [was the one] that happened most recently. I didn’t see any similarities in the two.”
Really? Seems hard to believe since Clint Hurdle speaks often with Torre and his staff.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 16 percent
Increase in television viewership of the playoffs over last year entering the NLCS and ALCS