Pirates, Mid-February Report, The Unkown.

Spring training has started, and the beginning of the season is not far behind. Barring any kind of major injury problems, the Pirates should contend for the division title. There is not a lot of support for this opinion on the local scene and none on the national level. The most optimistic thing I have read about the Pirates in the national media is that the Pirates will be “pesky” in 2023. There are 3 unknown factors that will help determine how this season will turn out. I will take them in what I consider the least unknown factor to the most unknown factor.

The first unknown factor is will management try and win games this year. Last year there was no question, despite many people refusing to believe this, the Pirates lost games on purpose. I documented this all of last year and the Pirates accomplished their goal by getting the no. 1 pick in the lottery and delaying free agency until 2028 for many of their young players. It would be shocking if management did this again this year. They seem to have a major league roster this year but some of their most recent minor league contract signings could indicate that if things don’t go well in the first 60 or so games that they will have plenty of Josh Van Meters around to ensure that the season turns into a complete disaster. For that reason it is imperative that the Pirates get off to at least an acceptable start by playing around .500 ball going into June. I don’t think the Pirates are going to lose on purpose like last year, at least for the first 2 months of the season.

Next, will we find out what kind of manager Derek Shelton really is?. Last year he did what he was told and that is to contribute to losing games. He did the same thing in 2020. What did he do? He started strange lineups, made even stranger in game moves and at times “seemed” to fall asleep at wheel, during critical moments of many games. The Pirates of 2021 were a team in kind of a transition phase to start the season. They still had some veterans on the team, and I believe that management had some doubts that this team needed a total tear down. There was this brief time in 2021 where lineups were more consistent, Shelton seemed to be managing the bullpen well, and in game strategy made sense. However, as 2021 progressed, it became apparent that this team was going to need the total rebuild and the rest is history, with 2022 becoming the ultimate tanking season. One thing is for sure, this will be Derek Shelton’s make or break season. I will not be shocked no matter how it goes, but if I was forced into making a decision on what I think will happen, I think it will turn out that he is the man to lead this team to the promise land.

The biggest unknown is how will these Pirate players respond to playing meaningful games in August and September. The Pirates made it to the playoffs as a Wild Card for 3 straight years from 2013 to 2015. The 2012 Pirates were in the hunt and on July 22nd had a record of 54-40 to be .5 games out of first place. It was without a doubt a new experience for many of the players. This team did have some veterans that had some experience being in a pennant race, but it did not help. The Pirates had the worst record, 25-43, of any team in history that had been this far above .500 that late in the season. The Pirates gained from that experience, making the playoffs the next 3 years, including winning 98 games in 2015. If this team gets to that point this year, who knows how they are going to respond. Again, this team does have some veteran presence that has experienced being in a pennant race, but that is no guarantee. This is by far the biggest unknown factor for this 2023 season.

The next report will be mid-March when the spring training games will be in full swing and the opener about 2 weeks away. We should have a good indication of who will be going up north with the team by then. I had a small hope that one of the young catchers might be making the trip but that was dashed when the Pirates picked up all those garbage catchers in the last 2 weeks. Shelton had said as much during the winter meetings in December. I can’t imagine no matter how Henry Davis or Endy Rodriguez perform during the spring games that they will be on the team come March 30th. It will be an interesting spring training to see what team the Pirates will have to start the season.

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