Pittsburgh Pirates: Lessons to be Learned From 2020 Postseason Teams

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 06: Fan cutouts are seen in the stands with #Postseason signage in Game Two of the American League Division Series between the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium on October 06, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 06: Fan cutouts are seen in the stands with #Postseason signage in Game Two of the American League Division Series between the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium on October 06, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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The 2020 MLB postseason is almsot over and there are a handful of lessons the Pittsburgh Pirates can learn from the teams who made it.

As weird of a season as it’s been, and despite how many times the season seemed to be in limbo, we are at the season’s finale. Within the next week, we will see who’s the 2020 World Series winner. The Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers might seem like complete opposites, but they’re actually way more similar than fans give them credit to be. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not really like either right now.

Both essentially took the Moneyball model the 2002 Oakland Athletics popularized, and improved upon it through advanced scouting and development. But in this last month, I think there’s a lot both our fans and the Pittsburgh Pirates front office can take away from this year’s postseason.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn is development is key. “Buying a championship” is no longer the meta, or most effective tactic available. Look at the Dodgers’ roster. Cody Bellinger, Will Smith, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Edwin Rios, and Austin Barnes were all developed from within.

In Tampa, the Rays have seen Blake Snell, Brandon Lowe, Kevin Kiermaier, Diego Castillo, Mike Brosseau, and Josh Flemming were all prospects the Rays either signed or drafted. Both also traded for players when they were prospects like the Rays with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, and the Dodgers with Brusdar Graterol, Kike Hernandez, and the aforementioned Chris Taylor.

This isn’t limited to just the two World Series teams. The Atlanta Braves, who were a game away from being in the World Series, were mostly made up of homegrown talents. The three American League Central teams, the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Cleveland Indians, also were heavily reliant on internally developed pieces. The San Diego Padres, Oakland A’s, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and especially the Miami Marlins were teams with cores that mainly consisted of draft picks, international signees, and undrafted signees.

Luckily, we’ve seen the Pittsburgh Pirates essentially completely revamp their front office, coaching, and development. Last offseason, Neal Huntington, Frank Coonley, Clint Hurdle, and Ray Searage were all fired.

The Pittsbugrh Pirates kicked off this offseason when the new general manager, Ben Cherington, removed Larry Broadway out of the position of farm director. He’s also stated that this is only the first step they’ve taken in reorganizing the player development system.

Something the Pittsburgh Pirates can take away from the two World Series winners is don’t be afraid to take a shot at somebody nobody wants. Look at some of the key players for the Dodgers’ World Series run. Both Justin Turner and Max Muncy were once released by other teams, and the Dodgers scooped both up on minor league deals. Taylor was never a really notable prospect and was constantly optioned and recalled through his first few years in the bigs. So it seemed like a bench/depth move when the Dodgers traded for him. Since his breakout 2017 season, he’s been an integral part of the Dodgers’ roster.

The Rays’ roster is filled with guys like this. Ji-Man Choi, one of their many postseason heroes, was a waiver claim from the Milwaukee Brewers. Yandy Diaz was essentially an afterthought when he was sent from the Indians to the Rays in the deal that saw Edwin Encarnacion head to Seattle, and Carlos Santana goes to Cleveland.

When the Rays traded Matthew Liberatore to the Cardinals, many were more focused on Jose Martinez going back to Tampa when the real prize was the outfielder who would eventually become the ALCS MVP, Randy Arozereana. The Rays got Joey Wendle for a player to be named later. Aaron Loup, John Curtiss was a minor league signee. Ryan Thompson was a Rule 5 Draft Pick. Aaron Slegers was a waiver claim from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unwanted doesn’t mean not valuable.

Like I stated earlier, big spending doesn’t mean a good team. There is no longer such a thing as “buying a championship”. Year after year, we’ve seen teams ‘win’ the offseason, only to have middling regular seasons. Just ask the 2015 Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals, Boston Red Sox, White Sox, or Seattle Mariners, or the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies, or more recently with the 2018 San Francisco Giants, how well building a core from external pieces worked out. None of those teams made the playoffs. In the American League, the first four seeds were the Rays, A’s, Twins, and Indians.

They’re not exactly big-budget teams. The White Sox and Braves both had better seasons than the New York Yankees. The Blue Jays finished just a game behind New York. Today, you don’t “buy trophies”. You develop them. Now sure, both the Dodgers and Rays aren’t devoid of any outside help. The Dodgers signed Mookie Betts to a pricey long-term contract, and the Rays signed an ace in Charlie Morton. But aside from one or two big-budget contracts, the Dodgers have mostly built a core from within.

Previously, we’ve seen the Pittsburgh Pirates have more than enough money to work with. For example, in 2016, the Pirates had a payroll of $100 million. To win, you need to build a core from within with supporting pieces brought in externally. But a good chunk of that payroll, about one third, was devoted to players who had a bWAR of .5 or lower. That being guys like Neftali Feliz, Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio, Ryan Vogelsong, John Jaso, Mike Morse, Jeff Locke, Antonio Bastardo, Cory Luebke, and Kyle Lobstein.

Next. Podcast with Nick Gonzales. dark

In summary, this is what the Pittsburgh Pirates can learn from the 2020 playoffs, and the two teams in the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League, and the Tampa Bay Rays for the American League. Development and scouting is the main driver of any good team. Building a core from within is going to carry you way further than building a core from pieces you get through free agency and trade. Taking chances on players nobody wants is more rewarding than you may think. Teams have found very valuable roster pieces through wavier claims, minor league signings, and small depth trades. You don’t need to spend big, you need to spend wisely.

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