This article contains opinion.
It’s the dawn of a new era, Pirates fans.
While many Major League Baseball franchises are hard at work signing free agents in the early stages of the offseason, the Bucs took an alternative route as they began building from the ground up.
To most, these changes are long overdue and come as no surprise. Let’s take a look at these offseason moves and see how they affect the Pirates in the long run.
Strolling down Cherington Lane:
Rejoice, Pirates fans!
After a recent downward spiral in player transactions and organizational turmoil, the Pirates relieved general manager Neal Huntington of his duties in hopes of bringing in someone with a modern approach to baseball.
That man was Ben Cherington. Yes, I can hear the angelic choir now.
Cherington found success as general manager with the Boston Red Sox through their 2013 and 2018 championship teams and his contributions to those teams.
He brought in notable names and key players that filled gaps and solidified Boston as a perennial contender in the MLB.
Some of those names were Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and David Ross.
One major theme sticks out to fans when they see these names: the vast majority of catchers.
Why this sticks out is that Pittsburgh has not had a solidified catcher since Russell Martin from 2013 - 2015, and they are in desperate need of a leading backstop.
Cherington also fits the role of a quick-transitioning leader for an organization.
For years Bucs’ fans witnessed the resurrection of “old school” style baseball, which means spend low and win big. Long story short, it hasn’t panned out for them, and a breath of modernized strategy and key transactions could revive this organization.
This move took place a few weeks ago, but assisting Cherington will be the (now former) director of amateur scouting of the Toronto Blue Jays, Steve Sanders.
Sanders brings a keen eye for young talent and player development, as he helped bring the Jays’ farm system from 26th to fourth in the MLB in a four-year span.
Moreover, he worked alongside Cherington as a scouting assistant in the Boston Red Sox front office in 2012.
While Cherington can sign notable talent, Sanders can eye out which breakout talent will have the most impact in the future.
It’s Shelton season:
After a prolific tenure and two playoff appearances, the Pirates and manager Clint Hurdle have gone their separate ways following an abysmal 2019 campaign.
While it was time for Hurdle to walk the line, it was also time for a new leader in the clubhouse.
That person is former Minnesota Twins bench coach Derek Shelton.
Shelton was hired as the team’s 41st manager in history Nov. 28 and was formally introduced to the public Wednesday.
His main goal at the moment is to build player development and chemistry, following multiple incidents in the clubhouse last season, and get them back to prominence as early as possible, despite having a lengthy journey ahead.
“The timetable is something as we build our roster and work through we are going to have a better idea of,” he told TribLive. “Answering that Dec. 4 is going to be a little tougher than when we get to Bradenton (in Spring Training) and start to move forward.”
Skeptical or fully-confident in the hire, it will be interesting to see where Shelton leads the Pirates for the next few years. If he leads them to prominence, expect a long-term deal in the future.
If no improvement is shown the next two years, you may see another offseason hire.
Cutting dead weight:
In the midst of the front office/staff hirings, the Pirates have snuck in a few transactions that may benefit both the players and the organization as a whole.
Beginning with mandatory 40-man roster adjustments, they designated four players who saw significant time in the Majors during the 2019 season.
Those players are Montana DuRapau (RP), Luis Escobar (RP), Williams Jerez (RP) and Dario Agrazal (SP).
While the first three passed waivers, Agrazal was traded to the Detroit Tigers for cash considerations, giving him an opportunity at becoming an ace while the Pirates bring in more money for free agency.
In exchange, the Pirates added notable prospects in Blake Cederlind (RP), Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B) and Will Craig (1B/3B) to the 40-man roster.
In addition, they opted to not tender the contract of catcher Elias Diaz, who started the majority of the season after Francisco Cervelli was injured and later traded.
Diaz, 29, hit just .241 and two home runs on the season and led all catchers in errors.
Fans speculate that Cherington and Shelton did not re-sign Diaz to work together in signing a notable catcher this offseason. The last notable free-agent catcher signed by Pittsburgh was Russell Martin in 2013.
Could these moves mean a contending Pirates team? Or more of the same?