Watching this year’s World Series will likely be difficult for many Pirates fans, having suffered a third straight year of postseason heartbreak.
But perhaps for just a fleeting moment of comfort, consider the methods that both the National League and American League champions used to arrive in the Fall Classic.
Some of the characteristics of each of these two teams might look more familiar than you think.
– Homegrown roster construction: both the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets have starting lineups built around homegrown talent, whether selected in the amateur draft or signed as amateur free agents, and then supplemented with players acquired in trades.
The Mets created their veteran core through the draft with Daniel Murphy (2006, 13th round), Lucas Duda (2007, seventh round) and captain David Wright (2001, first round), complemented by the trio of young pitching studs Matt Harvey (2010, first round), Jacob deGrom (2010, ninth round) and Steven Matz (2009, second round).
Other key contributors like Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada, Wilmer Flores and Jeurys Familia were all signed as international prospects.
Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard were acquired when knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Kansas City has a strong core also built through the draft, headlined by three first-rounders: Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
The Royals’ minor league system has also been well-stocked in the half-decade thanks to well-developed international signings like Yordano Ventura, Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrerra.
General manager Dayton Moore has also shown the ability to convert high-end talent into other assets: two of their biggest impact players in the starting lineup — Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar — came to Kansas City when Zack Greinke was traded to Milwaukee with Yuniesky Betancourt after the 2010 season.
Perhaps Pirates general manager Neal Huntington’s method of building through the draft and minor leagues with players like Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, and using trades to bring in key additions like Josh Harrison, J.A. Happ, Mark Melancon and Francisco Cervelli doesn’t sound as strange when it has shown evidence of working on other team’s rosters.
– Elite young pitching talent: While some Pirates fans have grown frustrated that the cadre of young pitching prospects like Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham hasn’t completely materialized yet in the majors, look no further than the Mets for an example of what could soon be in Pittsburgh.
The Mets shut down the Chicago Cubs heavy-slugging offense in the NLCS with the foursome of Harvey, deGrom, Matz and Syndergaard. The final piece of the rotation puzzle could arrive next June if Zack Wheeler returns on schedule from Tommy John surgery, making New York’s front line arguably the best in the National League for at least a few seasons.
The next group to challenge them could very well come from Pittsburgh’s North Shore, assuming Taillon, Glasnow and Kingham can recover from the injuries that put them all on the shelf this summer and finally take the mound at PNC Park.
The best part of having a young, elite rotation: it’s cheap. The salaries of those four young Mets starters are a paltry $1.8 million combined, while the Royals paid their four starters more than $13 million.
– Smart spending habits: don’t let the larger payroll figures in this series fool you. The easy criticism of the Pirates is they haven’t arrived yet in the World Series during the past three seasons because they simply didn’t spend as much as the teams who have.
A deeper look at the numbers shows us that isn’t exactly true.
The key mistake that some make is looking at the total value of a player’s contract instead of the actual dollar figure the team that currently employs them actually paid. For example, Yoenis Cespedes was under contract for $10.5 million this season, but the Mets were on the hook for only $3.7 million since he was acquired from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline.
The truth is if we eliminate the other players on the 40-man rosters and players currently on the disabled list and simply look at the amount spent on each of the Mets’ and Royals’ World Series rosters, we find they paid $89.2 million and $84.1 million respectively.
So how much would a projected Pirates’ 25-man postseason roster cost if we added up the amount of money they actually paid their players this season? Let’s break it down and find out.
Let’s assume they would use a rotation of Francisco Liriano, Cole, A.J. Burnett and Happ with Charlie Morton, Melancon, Antonio Bastardo, Joakim Soria, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Joe Blanton and Arquimedes Caminero in the bullpen.
Then we’ll create a nine-man starting lineup (including a designated hitter) of Polanco, Harrison, Andrew McCutchen, Aramis Ramirez, Marte, Neil Walker, Alvarez, Cervelli and Mercer. Finally, we add Mike Morse, Sean Rodriguez, Chris Stewart and Keon Broxton as the four bench players.
The grand total of payroll actually paid by the Pirates to those 25 players this season is $85.3 million, firmly in between what Kansas City and New York paid out for their rosters.
Sometimes it’s not just about how much money you spend. It’s how you spend it.
– Strong performance within the division: the one criticism that cannot be refuted in relation to the two World Series participants is that both of them won their divisions, which the Pirates failed to do.
The Mets had a winning record against all four of their NL East counterparts, totaling at 47-29, while the Royals also beat all four of their AL Central opponents with a record of 44-32.
The Pirates, of course, did not have a winning record against a single NL Central team and finished 34-42 overall within their division.
When looking back on the 2015 season it is clear to see the areas where the Pirates fell short of a championship.
But when we take a closer look at what they’ve done within the organization in comparison to the teams that made it to the final stage, we find they’re a lot closer to their desired destination than their original starting point.