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Inbox: What has the Bucs' offseason taught us?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans
@adamdberry
January 17, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- PiratesFest is a week away. Spring Training isn’t far off. In a little more than two months, the Pirates will line up at Tropicana Field for Opening Day. But it still feels like they have a lot of work to do, doesn’t it? That leads us to our

PITTSBURGH -- PiratesFest is a week away. Spring Training isn’t far off. In a little more than two months, the Pirates will line up at Tropicana Field for Opening Day. But it still feels like they have a lot of work to do, doesn’t it? That leads us to our first question in the latest Pirates Inbox.

When is the front office actually going to start making moves in one direction or the other? If we’re trying to win, add some talent. If we’re rebuilding, let’s make some trades. What gives?
-- James B., Pittsburgh

It’s a fair question, and I think we’d have a better answer if the Pirates more clearly articulated their position at any point this offseason. Chairman Bob Nutting and GM Ben Cherington have avoided calling it a “rebuild” while also speaking about “adding talent” and “pursuing winning.”

On one hand, their actions -- minor additions like Luke Maile and Guillermo Heredia while carrying a payroll around $60 million -- aren’t indicative of a team building around its core to contend this year. On the other hand, their actions -- not yet trading players like Starling Marte and Adam Frazier, among others who have drawn interest -- aren’t indicative of a team totally punting on 2020-21, either.

What does it all mean? At this point, it’s hard to say. Most likely, you won’t see the Pirates push all in or tear it all down this year.

Pirates' offseason needs and moves

But that doesn’t mean there’s no plan in place, and there are worse traits for a general manager to display than patience. Consider the following quote from another current GM:

"You can't do [a rebuild] all in one offseason or all at once. It's a process. You pick your spots when opportunities present themselves. We looked at things this offseason. So far, the right deal hasn't materialized."

That was Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos in early 2018, about three months after he took the job, explaining Atlanta’s relatively quiet offseason. The young talent he retained, the payroll flexibility he created and the moves he eventually made helped the Braves win back-to-back National League East titles the past two years and set them up well for the future, too.

The Pirates’ current situation isn’t all that similar to the Braves’ position at that point. Atlanta was about to unleash a superstar in Ronald Acuña Jr. after all. But what Anthopoulos said then is no less true now: You can’t do a rebuild, or whatever’s happening here, all at once.

You don’t make trades just for the sake of making them. You have to get a return that makes it worth parting with some of your best players, or else you’re only digging yourself in a deeper hole. Rush into a trade, or create an artificial timeline for one, and you’re more likely to make a deal you’ll regret.

It may sound like an excuse, but it’s legitimately difficult for a GM to join a team in mid-November like Cherington did. He had to learn an entire organization -- not just players and coaches, but front-office personnel, systems and structure. He had to replace a manager and a bunch of coaches. He still has to replace Minor League staff. All of those hires take time, and they’re important. They need to get the most out of the players they have, if only to properly evaluate them, and you can’t do that with the wrong people leading the way.

Maybe this slow period leads to a busier Spring Training, Trade Deadline or 2020-21 offseason for the Pirates. Maybe not. But as frustrating as the inactivity may be right now, it’s really not fair to evaluate an executive or his plan after two months on the job.

Are we going into the season with Jacob Stallings and Luke Maile as our catchers?
-- Robert T., Orlando, Fla.

It certainly seems that way right now. The Pirates have added some competition in the form of non-roster invitee John Ryan Murphy, a former Yankees and D-backs backup, but the depth chart lists Stallings and Maile as the presumptive starter and backup, respectively.

We’ve written before about the defensive strengths of both catchers, who could help unlock more in the Pirates’ pitching staff. Stallings seemingly offers a little more with the bat, but they’re all defense-first options. The same is true of the remaining free agents. Nobody jumps out at you as a game-changing, front-line everyday catcher like Russell Martin (2013-14) or Francisco Cervelli (’15).

If that player is walking through the door, he'll have to enter the organization through a trade. Back at the Winter Meetings, the Pirates were reportedly seeking a young, controllable catcher in trade talks involving Marte or Frazier. Remember, they have no catchers on their Top 30 Prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline, so this is a long-term need as well.

Have you heard anything new about the Hall of Fame the Pirates talked about when Steve Blass retired? I’ve been a fan for 47 years, and I’m looking forward to seeing my old favorite players back in the ballpark.
-- Barry B., Pittsburgh

There hasn’t really been anything new since the team briefly announced the plan at the end of the season. We know that there will be a team Hall of Fame, that there will be an inaugural class inducted this year and that Steve Blass will be a part of that class.

The Pirates also said the inductees will receive a “permanent display” inside PNC Park, and fans will somehow be involved in selecting candidates. Otherwise, there's a lot to learn about the project. Something to look forward to, indeed.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.