You can either buy into the Pirates or stop watching baseball
The Pittsburgh Pirates are set to wrap up their 2023 campaign.
Like many others before it, the Buccos’ season will end without a postseason berth and with a losing record. There is hope for the future, however. Pittsburgh may have started out with an interesting and initially effective mix of veterans and young players, but after ultimately trading most of those vets away, it ended the year with the second-youngest roster in all of the majors. Furthermore, after hitting rock bottom in May, June and July, the Pirates, led by that young roster, played above-.500 baseball over the final two months.
As a fan, I am cautiously optimistic that the Pirates are on the threshold of a three or four-year stretch of playoff baseball–Buctober, if you will.
That’s right, I’m buying in. I’m intrigued by these young Pirates. I’m excited about Oneil Cruz, who despite suffering what turned out to be a season-ending ankle fracture in April, appears to be on track to return at full strength in time for 2024. Cruz should be the centerpiece of a promising, young lineup that also includes Bryan Reynolds, Jack Suwinski and Ke’Bryan Hayes. Pitcher Paul Skenes, the number-one overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, is expected to join Mitch Keller, who finished the year with 210 strikeouts, atop the Pirates starting rotation as early as next year. Johan Oviedo, 25, also showed great promise, while 32 starting games on the mound, pitching 177 and two-thirds innings, and striking out 158 batters.
As for the bullpen, David Bednar had an All-Star year and is unquestionably one of the top closers in baseball.
After finishing in last place for three straight seasons–including years in which they lost 101 and 100 games, respectively–the Pirates won well over 70 games in 2023 and clinched fourth place in the National League Central Division.
I can’t wait for next year, and I’m anxious to see what kind of sensible and shrewd moves general manager Ben Cherrington makes this offseason.
You can scoff at the excitement if you want. You can mock me for my enthusiasm. You can say I’m continuing to fall for the con that Pirates owner Bob Nutting has been perpetrating for years.
Actually, don’t say that last part; I think it’s stupid when people accuse Pirates fans, or fans of any small-market team, of falling for a con. I believe most astute baseball fans know the deal with MLB. We know that baseball cities like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have been on the wrong side of the big vs. small market system since player salaries began to blow up in the early ’90s.
We know better than anyone that MLB needs a salary cap–just like the NFL, NHL and NBA–and that the only reason it doesn’t have one is because of the greed of everyone involved–including the owners and players.
Speaking of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, those cities were once home to two of the most successful teams in Major League Baseball. And let’s not forget about the Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s. Between 1969 and 1991, those six organizations won a combined 22 league pennants and 14 World Series titles.
They’ve combined for two league pennants (both by the Royals) and one World Series (by the Royals) since 1991.
Yes, the Pirates World Series drought has now reached 44 years, but what about the Orioles? They haven’t been to the Fall Classic since 1983. The A’s and Reds haven’t been back since they faced one another in the 1990 World Series. The Twins haven’t appeared in the Series since 1991. The Royals went nearly three decades without winning a pennant until clinching a Series berth in both 2014 and again in 2015 when they defeated the Mets in five games.
You mean to tell me all of those once-great baseball organizations forgot how to win at once?
Their decades-long run of futility is a direct result of not being in the same financial class as teams like the Yankees and Dodgers.
You can talk to me all you want about how a cap isn’t necessary and even make some compelling arguments. But the big picture does not lie.
Therefore, if you’re a Pirates fan like I am, you have no choice but to buy into the current system that requires a small-market franchise to gut its Major League roster, replenish its farm system with young talent, develop that young talent into Major League-ready players, have those players gel all at once, and then try to win a World Series before the system closes the window in three or four years.
After that, a small market team must then start the process all over again. The Royals are the best example of this. Kansas City was one of baseball’s worst teams for decades before getting it together in the mid-2010s. But the Royals were a 100-loss team three years after winning that aforementioned World Series and have lost over 100 games three times since 2018–including this season.
That kind of system is hard on a small-market baseball fan, but what choice do we have but to buy in?
We could simply not watch baseball, which is the other option. But we shouldn’t be mocked if we decide to simply be fans–as hard as that often is.
If you have a solution that doesn’t involve a salary cap, I’d sure love to hear it.
I know the Tampa Rays have had a good system in place for a while. But while the Rays have figured out a way to continue to replenish their farm system and compete with the very big dogs of the American League East, they have yet to produce a World Series title. What happens when the inevitable becomes a reality and Tampa hits a true dry spell? Will it be able to build its system back up?
Like the Rays are now, the Twins were once considered to be the role model for small-market franchises to follow. Unfortunately, Minnesota never even so much as clinched a pennant. In fact, the Twins, who have actually qualified for the postseason many times this century, have lost 18 straight playoff games dating back to 2004.
The Twins clinched the American League Central this year. Will they finally get over the hump and be a true role model for the other small-market teams? We shall see.
The Orioles are having a remarkable year. Will they finally get back to the Series after four decades?
What happens if and when Baltimore falls off the small-market cliff? You know what will happen: Fans will be in for many rough years.
But the diehards will probably buy into the Orioles’ rebuild and their future.
Just like I’m buying into the Pirates’ rebuild and 2024 and beyond.
I have no choice. I’m from Pittsburgh. I’m not a Yankees fan. I’m not a Dodgers fan.
I’m a Pirates fan, and I love baseball despite its obvious financial flaws.
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