PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates are on pace to lose about 100 games. They have baseball’s fifth-worst record. They’ve yet to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but October baseball is not in the cards. Despite Pittsburgh’s lack of success this season -- and over the last three seasons -- manager Derek Shelton’s job is safe.
General manager Ben Cherington said on Friday that Shelton is under contract for the 2023 season, and he expects Shelton to fill the manager’s chair for a fourth year. Ahead of the Pirates’ 5-4 walk-off win over the Reds at PNC Park, Cherington conveyed his belief in Shelton and his staff.
“I love working with Shelty and this staff,” Cherington said. “They work their tails off every day. They care so much about getting this right, getting better. Outcomes are hard on them, too. They’re hard on everybody. He’s been consistently open to any piece of feedback and hopefully I’m open to any piece of feedback he has for me. I think we help each other. I’m so confident at the level of effort every day this staff puts in to help us get better. I’m looking forward to this group benefitting from the fruits of their labor because I think they will as our roster matures and gets stronger.”
Cherington’s words of affirmation come days after Shelton went on 93.7 The Fan and expressed confidence about his job security for next season.
“I’m very secure,” Shelton said earlier this week. “We have to get better. We have to continue to keep working. I understand where there’s questions. I understand when you go through what we’re going through that people will state those, but right now, my focus is on continuing to work and to get better and continue to get our players batter.”
A significant segment of the Pirates’ fan base has already shown frustration with the organization’s decision to keep Shelton at the helm. In three seasons as the Pirates’ head of state, Shelton owns a 127-214 record. There have also been several incidents --Will Craig’s infamous rundown, Ke’Bryan Hayes missing first on a home run -- that reflect poorly on Shelton and his coaching staff. That said, Pittsburgh’s roster, as currently constructed, is still a work in progress.
The Pirates have several pieces which can serve as the foundation of a contender, from Hayes to Bryan Reynolds to Oneil Cruz to David Bednar, but the team is firmly in the midst of a rebuild. On Friday, Cherington even acknowledged that the team is rebuilding, the first time he has publicly said such during his three-year tenure. This season has affirmed that Cherington and company have plenty of unfinished business.
Beyond the stats, the Pirates have used a league-high 60 players this season. That number has partially been due to injuries, but it’s also a mark of how many players haven’t been able to stick. There’s also the element of youth; of those 60 players, 14 players are 24 years old or younger, which is also the most in baseball. The active roster currently features eight rookies, all of whom are enduring growing pains.
The current roster composition derives from Cherington’s desire to build a sustainable winner. Since taking over as general manager, Cherington has dealt impact players in Joe Musgrove, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Clay Holmes and Jameson Taillon. These deals have brought in young talent, but the loss of that quality of talent has had an impact on the team’s ability to win games in the here and now. Cherington is plenty cognizant of that dynamic.
“Most of those decisions were made in a way that didn’t necessarily help the team the next day at the Major League level. I acknowledge that,” Cherington said. “Despite that, I believe we are making progress at the Major League level. I believe the way we’re playing baseball continues to improve. I don’t know what our record will be at the end of the year. I hope it shows progress. I believe it can.
“We’re at a moment in time that progress should not be measured ... entirely by wins and losses. That doesn’t mean that the games aren’t important. We want to win the games, but I don’t think right now that that’s the best way to measure.”
Cherington spoke at length about progress. The Pirates will end this season with a similar record to that of last season. Maybe a little better. Maybe a little worse. In Cherington’s estimation, the organization has improved, even if that improvement cannot be seen through the binary lens of winning and losing. In time, though, improvement will need to come in the win column. For the organization. For Shelton.