The waiting is the hardest part

By Ryan S. Pugh

CLARION NEWS Sports Editor

Here in Western Pennsylvania, winter seems to keep smacking us in the face but a sign of spring was seen just last week when the Major League Baseball camps opened last week.

I realize it is hard to get excited for the coming season if you are a fan of the Pittsburgh nine but the hope springs eternal or something like that.

I get it that it is hard to continue to put faith into a Pirates organization which continually looks like the Scrooge & Marley enterprise before Scrooge got a visit from the three ghosts. It does feel at times like Pittsburgh owner Bob Nutting makes Rachel Phelps look like Art "The Chief" Rooney reincarnate (how about that, a Dickens and "Major League" reference in the same paragraph?) but I am willing to give the new managerial regime of Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington and team manager Derek Shelton the benefit of time.

Some say, Pittsburgh traded away three of its best players when Cherington sent pitchers Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon as well as first baseman Josh Bell away in trades over the offseason. But I say, let's just take a minute.

Granted, Musgrove was a solid starter for the Pirates since coming over from Houston in the Gerrit Cole trade before the 2018 season but let's not make him out to be the second coming of Bob Gibson (RIP). Musgrove rarely went deep into games averaging just 5.5 innings per start which says to me the Pirates bullpen was getting taxed on days where Musgrove got the start.

In the case of Taillon, how can you not applaud a move where Cherington got a haul of reportedly quality minor leaguers for a pitcher who is coming off his second Tommy John surgery and hasn't pitched in a Major League game in over a year? Taillon has the potential to be a great pitcher but injuries have kept him from reaching his full potential. As they say, "You can't help the club from the tub."

Granted, the Josh Bell trade didn't net the haul of minor league players the pitchers returned in trades but I'm willing to overlook it because the Pirates probably weren't going to get as much for Bell as the pitchers. Bell's offensive numbers dipped dramatically since the first half of the 2019 season when he looked like the second coming of Willie Stargell. And Bell was terrible defensively at first base. And seeing as how he couldn't field at first, there weren't many other positions where you could put him defensively.

I am willing to trust the process when it comes to the Pirates. By that I mean, I think the entirety of the Pittsburgh organization needs rehabilitated.

My boss Rodney and I lament how is it the St. Louis Cardinals seem to develop quality major leaguers in their minor league system they can bring up year after year and the Pirates can't seem to develop anything in their minor league system?

Was it a fundamental flaw in the Frank Coonelly/Neal Huntington/Kyle Stark regime that kept the Pittsburgh minors from flourishing? It seemed like the previous regime focused its efforts on finding reclamation projects through trades and low risk free agent signings and squeezing whatever they could out of them (think A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, A.J. Happ, Russell Martin, etc). And for three years, the reclamation projects were a success as Pittsburgh found its way to the National League Wild Card game each year from 2013 to 2015. But when the reclamation projects didn't pan out after the three-year window, Pittsburgh fell to mediocre and below.

The worst trade of Huntington's time in Pittsburgh was the disastrous Tyler Glasnow/Austin Meadows/ Shane Baz for Chris Archer trade at the 2018 trade deadline. There is a good chance this will take on a Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, Dick Simpson air when looked back upon.

Don't look for too much out of the 2021 season because there isn't much in the way of developed talent on the Major League club which says the Pirates are going to challenge for the National League Central. Winning should be secondary to player development on this year's Pirates' squad.

One hope for the Pittsburgh baseball future is third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes. Hayes came up at the end of last season and had 32 hits in 85 at bats including five home runs. I read where the Pirates organization is in talks with Hayes and his agent about a long-term contract. It would be nice if they could come to terms with Hayes before he is priced out of Pittsburgh's comfort zone in a few years. Hayes wouldn't become a free agent until 2027 but if the Pirates could sign him through 2030, that would give them a nice cornerstone to build a team around like they did with Andrew McCutchen.

I don't know if Cherington will be a better general manager than Neal Huntington but I'm willing to give it a chance.