Not so ‘Great Expectations’: Pirates balancing development process and final result as Opening Day nears – TribLIVE

Posted: April 6, 2021 at 1:44 am

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Back on March 10, posted odds on which Major League manager would get fired first. Pirates manager Derek Shelton was fifth on the list at 9/1.

Shelton? Fired as manager of the Pirates? Dont you have to fail to deserve to be fired from a job?

And if you are failing, dont there have to be some sort of expectations that you were unable to meet?

The only debate about expectations around Pittsburgh for the 2021 Pirates seems to be, How many games beyond 100 do you expect the Pirates will lose?

By my estimation, if Shelton keeps the loss total somewhere between 90 and 95, he shouldnt be on the hot seat. He should be in Manager of the Year consideration.

If Shelton was honestly to be viewed as a candidate to be fired, what would have to take place? Short of the team plummeting off a cliff for the last month and players fighting one another on multiple occasions as was the case at the end of Clint Hurdles time in Pittsburgh I think Sheltons job should be safe.

But those silly betting lines do spawn a real conversation about expectations (or lack thereof) for this team as it prepares for Opening Day in Chicago Thursday.

Not to mention the lack of stakes associated with results for the organizations fans. Well, those that remained interested through the pandemic and yet another offseason of familiar names departing for greener pastures.

Lets be honest, even some big patches of crabgrass across MLB may look really nice as opposed to having to slog through 2021 in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates die-hards will stay engaged and come to games because they missed the team during the pandemic, and if they havent been beaten into apathy over the last 40 years or so, whatre another 100 losses at this point?

The baseball die-hards will stay engaged because they missed the game during the pandemic, and Major League Baseball is Major League Baseball. Even if many of the Pirates in uniform dont belong in the big leagues themselves.

But as for those players, how are they staying locked in through 162 contests when so little seems to be attached to the final scores of those games. Granted, since baseball is the ultimate individual sport within a team concept, its easier to gauge personal wins or losses over your 100 pitches on the mound. Or your four at-bats. Or your one inning of relief.

For guys who put more of a premium on the team Ws and Ls, though, theres a lot of priority about to be given to players who are just being graded on their individual development and their trajectory.

Not that Shelton or anyone else within the organization would ever acknowledge anything less than attempting to win any given game, on any given day.

But the 2021 edition of the Pirates will have to absorb defeats in the name of gaining experience for the collective and the group-wide improvement of individuals. On occasion, at-bats, innings, playing time and roster spots will be sacrificed or in some cases, limited based on pre-ordained development plans.

The leadership group within the locker room has to rationalize that.

We have a good group of guys that understand what we are doing, Shelton said during a recent spring training media Zoom call. We are extremely open and transparent, and we have very direct conversations with guys. We are very honest with people. We tell them what we are doing. How we are doing it. Why we are doing it. And work from there.

Fortunately for Shelton, the team is so green and the roster is so absent of experienced talent, a lot of the agendas surrounding individual progression paths and team success or failure may be intertwined anyway.

They are all in, Shelton said. They understand what we are doing, and they understand the process. And I can say they have taken to it and have started to run with it. We allow them the forum to ask questions. We encourage them to ask questions. We do not want it to be a gray area of thinking about what we are doing.

Trust runs both ways. I have to earn trust with our guys as they need to earn trust on the backside.

General manager Ben Cherington has to earn Sheltons trust, too. That hell at least equip Shelton with tools to make the team competitive enough so that individual career arcs arent occurring in an utter vacuum of inconsequential innings.

We didnt have any preconceived notions, Shelton said of his roster which will break spring training. We had general concepts that we were working around. And Im happy with the guys we are going to take to Chicago.

Who is left of that group by the time the team leaves Pittsburgh at the end of the season? Those are some more bets I really dont want to make.

Kevin Gorman covers the Pirates for TribLive. He joins me for Tuesdays Breakfast With Benz podcast. We look at the Pirates roster as it shapes up to come north for the opener. We talk about any expectations that may exist for this club in 2021. And players to track on the farm throughout the year.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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Not so 'Great Expectations': Pirates balancing development process and final result as Opening Day nears - TribLIVE

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April 6th, 2021 at 1:44 am