Why are the Pirates showing so much loyalty to Rowdy Tellez?

Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago White Sox
Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago White Sox / Jonathan Daniel/GettyImages

If there is one thing that has brought a lot of the Pittsburgh Pirates fan base together, it has been the push to move on from Rowdy Tellez. The Pirates' first baseman has been dreadful this year and really exemplifies the recent history of the position in the Organization. Every year, it seems the Pirates have a player that they refuse to move on from; this year, that honor goes to Tellez.

When he signed a one-year deal worth $3.2 million, there was hope that he would bounce back from a down 2023. In 2022, Tellez hit 35 home runs and looked to be a long-term answer for the Brewers at first base. However, his 2023 season was not very good. He spent a lot of time on the Injured List and only played in 105 games. In those games, he hit .215 with 13 home runs and a slugging percentage of just .375.

This year, he is among the worst hitters in Major League Baseball with a .467 OPS and one home run in 45 games. That is OPS - usually, if a player is under .700, they are considered to be struggling. Tellez actually posted a slugging percentage of .461 in 2022, so he had quite the fall-off.

So why is he still a part of the Pirates' roster? This has been a question for weeks, and here the Pirates are still giving him at-bats, running a short bullpen to keep an extra hitter, and defending to him to an extent. The most obvious answer is that the Pirates are paying him $3.2 million, so give him every opportunity to succeed. If that is truly the reason, then that is a joke, as $3.2 million, prorated at this point, is not a lot of money to give up on in baseball.

Are the Pirates scared he might catch on elsewhere? As they should be with their history of players going to have success for other teams. Still, that does not seem to be the way Tellez is trending, he truly started regressing last year and is continuing to do so.

Another idea that has been put out there is that the team is trying to show that they will not just give up on free agents right away. Several times this offseason the team tried to sign players who decided to sign elsewhere because they did not look at the Pirates as a contender. If the team has that working against them already they may not want to set a precedent of just cutting players 50 games into a season.

Honestly, I think the Pirates are having a loyalty issue.

Which kind of goes along with the last paragraph. General Manager Ben Cherington, Assistant General Manager Steve Sanders, and Manager Derek Shelton all spent time with Tellez in some capacity during their time in Toronto. All four were with the organization in 2017.

Tellez had a breakout in 2016 in the minor leagues. Going into the 2017 season he was considered to be a top-10 prospect in the Blue Jays' organization. He also was projected to start the 2017 season in Triple-A, meaning he was just one step away from the Big League call. I am sure that Cherington and Sanders were well-versed on Tellez at the time. Cherington was Vice President of Baseball Operations and Steve Sanders was a part of the draft process for the Jays.

Both obviously being heavily involved in the farm system, meaning they likely got to know Tellez pretty well. Same with Shelton, who was an assistant hitting coach with the Blue Jays. Tellez played in 20 games during Spring Training in 2017. He had a batting average of .218 with an OPS of .816. He also showed a good eye at the plate only striking out 11 times.

Who do you think one of the coaches was working with him during his time at Spring? I cannot say for sure, but I would guess Shelton. I am just thinking about this past Spring Training and how much time the upper minor league players spent with the Big League club. The coaches probably go out of their way to get to know the prospects as they will not get to work with them during the season.

A prospect like Tellez, who was a step away from the Blue Jays' roster, most likely was well-known among Cherington, Sanders, and Shelton. That is why he is here still. They like Tellez; they liked what he did with the Blue Jays, making him one of their top prospects. They needed to acquire a first baseman and had a chance to bring him in this offseason and did so. Maybe the decision-makers of the Pirates are just being too loyal to a player they have known for many years.