Springtime Storylines: Wait! What's that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: A team they used to call the Buccos, but no one seems to do anymore.


The
big question: Wait! What’s that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

You know what? I think so.  Yes, the Pirates have attempted to rebuild and tear down multiple times since the early 90s, but I’m kinda hopeful now for some reason. They won’t be winning anything anytime soon — in fact, I think they may have the worst record in baseball this year — but at least they allowed themselves to hit bottom and have stopped drafting like total morons in recent years.

The hope comes in the form of two guys right now: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. McCutcheon seems like he’s been around forever because he was drafted in 2005 alongside some guys who have been in the bigs for a while such as Jay Bruce, but he’s still only 23. That extra time may have done him some good. While Bruce is still searching for his stroke, McCutcheon came up last year and posted a .286/.365/.471 line and seems poised to for some truly great things.

Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBI across A and AA ball last year. He may or may not stick at third base and he may or may not see any time in Pittsburgh this year, but he’s got a ton of raw power and actually improved after his promotion in 2009.

Overall the Pirates are improving the organization. Nothing fantastic is happening right now and the big league club is going to be pretty horrendous, but the question I asked was “is there hope?”  The answer is yes.

So
what
else is
going on?

  • I’ll admit that I didn’t watch a ton of Pirates’ games last year, but I was kinda surprised to look at the Pirates Baseball-Reference.com page and see that their four primary starters — Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton — all had quite respectable ERAs in 2009, with the highest being Morton’s 4.55.  That’s better than I thought, and having Octavio Dotel in the pen is an improvement over Matt Capps.
  • But even if the rotation is acceptable, they’re not going to get a ton of help from their defense. Jack Wilson and Nyjer Morgan are gone and apart from McCutcheon in center, there isn’t a lot of leather on this team.

  • One smart thing the Pirates have done recently is to become the island of misfit toys. Taking chances on guys who crashed and burned or simply weren’t given opportunities elsewhere — think: Lastings Milledge and to lesser degrees Jeff Clement and Andy LaRoche — is probably a pretty decent strategy for a team in the Pirates’ position on the success cycle.  Why not take a chance on Elijah Dukes at this point? Zero downside so you can release him if he’s a headache, and if he turns into anything, flip the guy.
  • Misfit toys aside, this is going to be a pretty brutal offense. A healthy Ryan Doumit will be nice and the blossoming of McCutcheon could make things better, but overall there’s no reason to think that they’ll do much to improve what was a league worst offense.

So
how
are they gonna do?

Arguably respectable pitching + poor defense + poor hitting = a pretty bad team. The Buccos are going to lose a lot of games this year, no question. But like I said, there is hope, and if the teams keeps drafting well they could be genuinely competitive in a few years.  Given how bad things have been since, oh, December 8, 1992, that has to count for something.

Prediction: Sixth place, NL Central.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the excaption because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.