Oneil Cruz is called to Pirates


Oneil Cruz is called to Pirates

Oneil Cruz watches during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on June 20, 2022 in Pittsburgh.

Oneil Cruz watches during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on June 20, 2022 in Pittsburgh.
picture: Getty Images

The most exciting time, aside from any actual championship, for a fan of a team rumored to be undergoing a complete rebuild is when hopes for the future begin to populate that major league roster. There is no need to win and these players are no longer relegated to the myth of whispers, reports and various highlights on Twitter. You see them with your own eyes, and whatever they do on the field, you can dream of what it might be like in two or three years. Don’t feel foolish enough to hope when you can actually see things on your screen or in person, just check out box scores on and various authors’ reports.

The Pirates, perhaps the first team you think of when you hear the word “rebuild” because they’ve been through about three in the last decade, are reportedly now entering that phase. Or at least dip a toe. Oneil Cruz came up yesterday. If you’re not familiar with Cruz, he’s the #1 pirate prospect. At 6-foot-7, he’s the size of an NBA wing but plays shortstop. He’s also incredibly fast and can do anything on the field. Like this:

(This throw is 97 MPH).

Or this:

(This ball was hit at 112 MPH).

Cruz has already started smoothing out the rough edges of his game since he started running more in the minors last year. The scouts couldn’t wait to get him out just because he’s so tall, but he stayed there because he played it well enough. Whatever the details, Cruz’s toolbox and athleticism will offer something almost every night that will reward Pirates fans for watching. That’s not a feeling they’ve had in a while.

The idea, the theory, is that once Cruz joins Henry Davis or Quinn Priester or Nick Gonzalez or all of them, the pirates will actually be relevant and together they’ll make for a few years of contention.

But does anyone really believe that?

If Cruz is poised for good, it’s already a clock for most pirate fans by the time he trades. Bucs fans may be hoping he will sign a long-term extension, trading arbitration years or maybe even some free-agent years for higher salaries in his first three or four seasons in Pittsburgh. That’s the best they can get, Cruz is now trading some cash later for cash.

But if not, then it’s really only about five years. We know that a player is most valuable the more time he has to control the team, even if he is a real star and will break the bank in arbitration (as it is). That could be five years from now. Do you think the pirates can pull it all together in this time?

And even if they can, can those who rejoice in black and gold (I’m guessing everyone in Pittsburgh is dressed in black and gold) ever hope a player could play their entire career there? This is a fan base that bid farewell to Andrew McCutchen, perhaps the most popular player at Confluence since Dave Parker. And all he needed was a contract worth looking at. The pirates ended up getting Bryan Reynolds out, but where did that get them? Ask Pirates fans what they would rather have had.

In fact, no one in Pittsburgh believes that Bob Nutting would allow that free agent prospect to be augmented to make the Pirates a real force despite playing in a division that lacks financial power since the Cubs have that responsibility for have always resigned . The NL head office is always there if you wish. There are no Dodges or Yankees or Astros occupying the gates. Maybe they can do everything right for one season like they did in 2015. And then MLB’s Whackadoo playoff system will most likely undo them. You need multiple turns at the wheel, and the Pirates Front Office has never offered that to its fans.

Cruz will provide plenty of highlights. Moments that also promise more. If you’re a pirate fan and have been in the baseball desert for so long, you might catch every sign of water. But you have to forgive the fans if they don’t. You’ve seen this movie, which was sometimes interrupted before the second act was even over. They might not want to buy into the con again as Nutting continues to inhale his revenue share and TV money and whatever other brawls he has in and around PNC Park.

Suck long enough, swap out enough veterans, get enough draft picks, and unless you’re truly lost and helpless, you’ll end up with at least a handful of prospects that may point to something better one day. But it takes more than that, and Pirates fans have seen more than enough that their owner isn’t ready to take that step.

Cruz’s arrival in Pittsburgh is set to herald a new era. That’s not the case in Rob Manfred’s MLB, and it’s something he’s never shown any interest in solving. Wouldn’t be shocked if it feels like a vicious cycle for her.

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