As of April 19, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in third place in the NL Central with a 12-7 record, just two games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. Pirates starting pitcher Rich Hill currently is not cracked up to be as good as many prognosticators and pundits thought he would be. The Pirates’ current record is bolstered by a very aggressive and overperforming offense but may be stifled by an underperforming starting pitching staff. The Bucs are young and hungry but let’s hope and pray that their eyes are not, as my grandfather used to say, “bigger than their bellies.”
From 2010-2020, the team patched together a few playoff appearances and the Pirates have had only one other winning season since 1992. They were 82-79 back in 2018. The team markets themselves not as winners but as hard-working players, plying their trade in a beautiful ballpark. The stellar and pristine view of the ballpark may generate income and profit for the tourist industry, but Pittsburgh fans may be far more fulfilled with the results on the scoreboard than the view of the river and the Downtown Pittsburgh cityscape.
I must admit that I am an admirer of the Pirates’ current manager Derek Shelton. Although my health doesn’t permit me to roam around the clubhouse and hang out at batting practice as much as I would like to, the interactions that I have had with this baseball clinician and scholar have been positive and friendly. If he has that effect on me, you can probably rest assured that his influence in the clubhouse is 10x to the positive.
As far as the return of Andrew McCutchen to the Pirates, I wrote this on January 6, 2023, regarding him signing a one-year deal. “The epitome of what it means to be a true Pittsburgher first and a loyal Pittsburgh Pirate second can never, should never, will never be lost on Andrew Stefan McCutchen. McCutchen gave Pittsburgh the ultimate honor when he named his firstborn son; Steel Stefan McCutchen after his birth on November 27, 2017. This is a living and breathing testimony to Pittsburgh, that came directly from the loins of Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen could have gone on the usual ego trip and honored himself by naming his son Andrew Stefan McCutchen Jr. Instead, he chose to honor the city and the team that provided him with a good living and the means to take care of himself and his family.”
As far as the Pirates’ 2023 home opener goes, McCutchen said it was very difficult to control his emotions regarding his return to the Steel City. “I was trying to keep my feelings in check up there, but at the same time, I didn’t want to suppress them. Definitely welling up, but I knew I needed to hit. Eyes couldn’t be too watery.”
If I were Mr. Bob Nutting, if McCutchen performs up to at least 50 percent of expectations, I would ink a couple of more years to allow McCutchen to serve as a designated hitter at the very least as well as be a constant role model and motivator for the young and upcoming Pirates performers.
The Pirates cannot afford to put on their usual fire sale prior to or after the All-Star break. Each link in the performance chain of the Pirates is valuable. There is no room for another flimsy “players to be named later trade,” because the time for winning is now! Most successful sports franchises have better-than-average starting lineups with average players or slightly less-than-average performers serving as backups. That denotes two layers of players available in case of injury or lack of performance. The Pirates must have players ready to perform. This is not the time or the place to bring up or break in anyone from the “Grapefruit League,” especially if the Pirates are lucky enough to be in the thick of a division race slightly before or shortly after midseason.
The Pirates cannot again permit other opportunistic MLB bargain basement general managers that are seeking to raid the Pirates’ storehouse at the mid or late season, to camp out like shopaholics waiting for the doors to open on Black Friday: or may just simply be cruising the neighborhood, looking for a masterpiece that a naïve and ill-informed owner has put out as part of the trash. If another future Pirate star is given away, the 2023 season for the Pirates will be another lost cause.