By Scotty Mincher
Being a fan of baseball here locally in the valley, It’s very obvious and certainly doesn’t take an expert to see that the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates are two teams going in completely different directions. The Indians have clinched a postseason berth and the Pirates are in the cellar and have the worst record in Major League Baseball. When it comes to the Indians, I think the word that’s probably most suitable to describe their team this year and during the Terry Francona era as team manager is competitive. They show up ready to play and rarely give in before the final out is recorded. But injuries, Star players underachieving in the playoffs, no salary cap, and ownership cutting payroll in recent seasons have all been key factors in the Indian’s inability to end baseball’s longest World Series title drought in my opinion. Because the Indians have been able to remain competitive this year and in recent years prior, being a fan of the team has been both exhilarating and at times heartbreaking. I see the Indians as a legitimate contender for a championship this year, but their struggles at the plate have me feeling cautiously optimistic at best.
The outlook for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization from the media as well as a fan’s perspective for 2020 and beyond isn’t nearly as glowing. Much like with the Indians, the Pirates have gained a reputation for being cheap. The big difference I see between the two teams is that the Indians have drafted and developed their own talent very well and the Pirates have not. The Indians farm system has solid talent right now and is considered to be in the middle of the pack of Major League Baseball at worst. What I know from Pittsburgh fans about the Pirates farm system is that it leaves a lot to be desired.
The Indians got a draft haul of starting pitchers that look to have really promising futures in Dan Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Shane Bieber all in one draft, with the latter looking to win his first Cy Young award this year. In my time watching baseball and following Cleveland and Pittsburgh, I don’t ever remember the Pirates getting quality pitchers or position players to that degree in one baseball draft. It’s a big reason why the Indians have been a World Series Contender for the better part of the last decade and the Pirates have mostly been a cupcake to other teams on their schedule. Furthermore, despite the Indians being unable to shake the cheap team label, especially the last couple of years, in particular, They’ve been considerably more active about trying to win than the Pirates. The Tribe added key relief specialist, and arguably the best relief pitcher at the time in baseball in 2016 in Andrew Miller, who ended up being a vital piece to their run to the World Series that year. They also were able to get free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion at a discount and add him to an already good lineup in 2017. Miller came via trade from the Yankees and Encarnacion was signed during the 2016 offseason. The Pirates on the other hand have been a lot less aggressive with trades and free agency to bolster their Major League club over the years. During the Pirates several year window as a contender throughout the last decade, They were never really players for big-name high ceiling guys in free agency and didn’t shell out hefty contracts to stars. They instead opted for low-risk signings of minimal impact. That’s a problem for an organization that hasn’t done as good a job with developing their draft picks and homegrown talent as the Indians have. Having a bigger payroll would help the Pirates, but the Indians have been proof that a small or midlevel market team can win and have success, something that has seemed to elude the Pirates franchise.
Arguably the biggest fish the Pirates caught in a trade during their contending years was A.J. Burnett from the New York Yankees, which one could say after underachieving in New York resurrected his career in Pittsburgh. The Pirates look to be pretty dysfunctional even when just looking at them on the surface. With that being said, I think the work that best sums up the Major League franchise is cheap. Pittsburgh has done a poor job of scouting, drafting, and developing talent, which has made the life of a Pirates fan that much more demoralizing. But in my opinion, unwillingness to put big bucks into the team by ownership is the biggest reason for the Pirates dysfunction, and you can’t win consistently if you don’t spend enough money, Just like at owner Mike Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals. Speaking of the NFL and teams in the AFC North, The Steelers and Browns and the way they compare and contrast have its similarities to the Indians and Pirates.
The NFL is a little bit of a different animal in that it has a salary cap. But even so over the last twenty years specifically, The Steelers have made sound decisions after sound decisions while the Browns have made terribly bad ones after terribly bad ones. For example, The Steelers have had the same quarterback at number one on their depth chart since after the 2004 NFL Draft in Ben Roethlisberger. All the Browns have had is a history of instability and change at that position. The same can be said for the coaching category. The Steelers have Super Bowl Winning coach Mike Tomlin and have had just three head coaches since 1969. For the Browns, it has been a constant revolving door for them at head coach, and almost like a death sentence for coaching careers. If you feel that franchise quarterbacks and coaching are the two most important ingredients for winning in the NFL as I do, It’s easy to see why the Steelers have been such a well run organization, and why the Browns have been a dumpster fire. The one big difference between the Browns and the Pirates and both franchise’s losing ways, other than the fact that they play a different sport is that the NFL is better built for parity. With the salary cap and the way the NFL is structured, every year creates a level playing field and an equal opportunity for every team. Baseball has done a better job to create more parity in recent years with things like the wild card, but with still no salary cap to date in the majors, the playing field isn’t quite as even.
On top of all that, the Browns unlike the Pirates have an owner that isn’t afraid to spend money. Yet somehow it still hasn’t translated into wins for the Browns. In conclusion, because of the reasons I just gave, I feel that as bad as things must be for Pirates fans, It still not as bad as being a Browns fan in a league that has the perfect setup for parity. So whether you agree with me when it comes to the Browns and Pirates or not, I think just about every sports fan of Pittsburgh and Cleveland would agree that we’ve witnessed a tale of four similarly different sports franchises.