The Pittsburgh Pirates are enduring yet another losing season, as they are currently 38-62.
They have the second-worst record in the National League and are completely out of the playoff picture.
Pittsburgh also finished the 2020 campaign in last place of the NL Central with a 19-41 record, and were also in the cellar in 2019 at 69-93.
The 2019 season was the last one with a positive record in Pittsburgh, when the franchise finished at 82-79.
Losing has become customary in Pittsburgh, and the franchise’s rebuild process seems to have taken forever.
Fans are obviously desperate to see their team have some success, or at least show some of that “future” that the front office has been building for years.
The @pirates have been in rebuild mode since I was born, I just wanna experience a built team
— Wook Man (@JetlifeSensei) July 26, 2021
A Troubling Trend
The problem is, (or at least one of the issues), that as soon as a player starts getting expensive, they trade them for prospects.
Of course, this way, they can keep their payroll relatively low, but they won’t seriously compete until they start spending some money.
No one is saying they should go crazy and sign multiple $100 million contracts, but some extensions to core performers, for example, would be nice.
In the last few years, Pittsburgh has traded Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Shane Baz, Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Frazier, Tyler Anderson, and others.
Some players are also at risk of leaving the organization before Friday’s trade deadline.
Sure, this approach has benefited the Pirates in the sense that they have been able to develop a good farm system, but that means nothing in the grand scheme of things if they can’t contend for years.
Yes, they got outfielder Bryan Reynolds in the McCutchen deal a few years ago, but fans would hope they don’t trade him when he approaches free agency.
They did that with Musgrove, a pitcher they had acquired from the Houston Astros in the Cole deal.
They flipped him to San Diego before this season, for more prospects.
Pittsburgh does not have an issue identifying raw talent and bringing it into the organization.
There Is Talent, But…
In fact, the Pirates currently have an impressive collection of young prospects that are ready to impact games now: Jared Oliva, Tucupita Marcano, Mitch Keller, and Miguel Yajure are arguably MLB-ready.
Also, they have two established young stars in Reynolds and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes.
The most problematic issues are player development and a baffling unwillingness to retain top talent.
Cole, Meadows, and Glasnow are perfect examples of good players that fully broke out when they left the organization.
Keller’s development has been stalled for a couple of years now.
Cherington said he's confident Mitch Keller will "earn his way back" to the MLB rotation, but no timeline on that: "We know how talented he is. Really appreciate how he's gone back to Indy with a good attitude."
— Jake Crouse (@JakeCrouseMLB) July 25, 2021
Of all the players mentioned above that have been traded by the Pirates, we can only say that Musgrove greatly improved while being developed by the Pirates.
Several things need to improve for the Pirates to contend again, but player development and talent retention should be way up in the priority list.
The Pirates will remain irrelevant if they keep trading the stars of tomorrow.