Nobody Asked Mailbag: The Pirates Remain A Mystery

The Pittsburgh Pirates were active at the trade deadline this year. General manager Neal Huntington found himself in a weird spot: It would have been defensible to sell, to stand pat or buy. Not many general managers find themselves in that kind of grey area where there is no right answer. In Washington, the answer was clear: You buy. General manager Mike Rizzo and ownership stood pat in what looks to be the last year of the Bryce Harper era in D.C. If there was ever a more obvious buyer at the trade deadline than the Washington Nationals in 2018 I’d love to know. The Pirates traded for Chris Archer less than a year after moving ace Gerrit Cole in an obvious attempt to rebuild and reset after several seasons of pseudo contention. Huntington found a way to not only to be a buyer at the trade deadline but be a buyer in a controlled, prudent way. That rarely happens.

On my podcast this week, SI’s Jon Tayler and I spent twenty-plus minutes debating the subject as to whether or not what the Pirates did at the deadline was smart, and, you’re not going to believe this, but we didn’t come to a consensus on the matter. The haul Huntington and the Pirates got for Cole was a disappointing one, especially when you consider just how thin the starting-pitcher market is at the moment. There is a premium on quality relievers, but starters like Cole aren’t available for contenders to acquire every season. As it stands now, the Rays got more intriguing talent for Archer than the Pirates got for Cole from the Astros. Had the Pirates kept him on the roster for the first half of this season, and he pitched closely to how he has in 2018 for the Astros, it’s fair to assume that the Pirates could have received a far more exciting haul from a contender than what they received months ago.

But what about this season?

The Pirates shouldn’t be here and Huntington shouldn’t be having to make these difficult choices. By trading Cole and Pirate legend Andrew McCutchen, it was clear the team had no interest in trying to make another postseason run after the way the previous two seasons had played out. Instead, the team clicked everywhere like the death of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals season kicked them into gear, their lineup had the No. 1 WRC+ from July 11-24, their starters and relievers forgot they were Pirates and suddenly this team was only three games back of a Wild Card spot in the NL.

Huntington didn’t want to cannonball his way into the deep end of the pool, but he did want to get his feet wet. He wanted to touch the rim, not dunk the basketball. When you don’t expect to be contending for a playoff spot, and you suddenly find yourself contending for a playoff spot it’s easy to go overboard and give up too much for a rental when you’re not really a contender to begin with. So Huntington traded for a starter he’s loved for a decade now, a guy on a great contract wants to be there and can help them make a serious Wild Card push. The needle has been moved slightly in Pittsburgh through Huntington’s moves, but not enough to contend and not enough for fans to revolt at ownership being unfathomably cheap once again.

Point is: I like what Pittsburgh did, I like that they acquired a starter who makes sense for them right now and for the future and I like that they added more bullpen help while also moving guys like Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow into a new location where they’ll have the chance to flip the script on their disappointing starts to their MLB careers.

Now, let’s get to this week’s Nobody Asked Mailbag, which is, of course, a column where I answer my own questions that I’ve been thinking about this week. I talk to myself a lot, I get it from my dad, so how I could I not turn this into a weekly column?

Let’s do this.

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Chase’s mind asks, “Am I crazy for thinking Florida is winning the SEC East this year?”

It’s plausible. Georgia is stacked, their schedule is an absolute joke -- Football Outsiders recently declared that Auburn has the toughest 2018 schedule, which, damn it! -- and it’s very silly to say that this team is not going to win the East. Kirby Smart is 8-0 against Dan Mullen-coached teams after all. Maybe I just can’t shake the feeling that losing the National Championship the way Georgia did to Alabama, how right everything went for the Bulldogs in 2017-18, that there has to be a regression to the mean coming in 2018-19. That they’re going to drop a game or two they shouldn’t -- I’m looking at you, South Carolina -- that the team that was heading towards disaster against Appalachian State to start the season rears its ugly head again now that teams are more prepared for Jake Fromm.

Then again, Mullen did joke earlier this year about a blind squirrel finding a nut every once in a while. That’s the kind of motivation a team coming off a one-of-a-kind season that ended in disaster needs -- there is nothing more powerful in sports than a team with the “nobody believes in us” attitude.

Crap. Georgia is winning back-to-back SEC East titles, aren’t they?

Chase’s mind asks, “ Did that crowd at Monday Night Raw this week really chant, “We want Roman!” as Brock Lesnar attacked fan-favorite Paul Heyman to close the show?”

I think they did and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. ( And yes, I do find myself thinking about professional wrestling far too much on a daily and even hourly basis. It’s the dumbest thing in the world, but I love it and want it to be good. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do if there is ever a point in time where both Smackdown Live and Raw are good at the same time. Do I retire? Do I just retire my exhausting cynicism? Who knows. Actually, we do know that will never ever happen. Phew.)

Back to Reigns and this mind-boggling crowd. Earlier in the night, they chant for CM Punk, but their closing act calls for Reigns saving the day? What? How does this happen? Are there really wrestling fans out there that chant “CM Punk” at wrestling shows but also really like Roman Reigns?

To be fair to this crowd, Reigns had a good week when you compare it to most episodes of Raw. He got to utter his favorite big-boy word, he got escorted out of the arena because ostensibly Stephanie McMahon is no fan of the Big Dog, and Braun Strowman, the World’s Biggest Liar, didn’t cash-in on Lesnar when he had the chance. (Seriously, Lesnar spent three hours in the back reading hunting magazines, alone, and Strowman didn’t surprise him with an attack and subsequent cash-in? Weak move, Hands Man.)

This was the kind of reaction Triple H, Vince McMahon and the rest of the authority figures in the WWE have craved for years now. To end this week’s Raw, the crowd threw them a bone. They actually wanted Reigns. That happened.

Unfortunately, SummerSlam is in Brooklyn. Instead of cheering Reigns, the main event will feature two professional wrestlers who fans in attendance do not want to be Universal champion. WWE’s attempt to turn the fans against the Beast has worked, although Lesnar scoffing at the mere thought of watching this wretched three-hour program was maybe the best babyface line of the year, but the idea that this betrayal from Lesnar would lead to overarching support for Reigns was a foolish one. It’s not happening. Sorry, Vince.

Chase’s mind asks, “ Can we appreciate how good of a football coach Paul Johnson is while also admitting how awful it is to watch his teams play football?”

Georgia Tech might be good again in 2018, or they might not. Vegas pegged the Yellow Jackets over/under at 6 wins in 2018.

I hope it’s less. It’s not that I want the Yellow Jackets to fail, I just don’t want to watch the triple-option anymore. Actually, I’ve never wanted to watch it.

Let me explain. Sometimes, I make bad decisions. Like in 2017, where I sat on my couch with one of my roommates at the time and watched the Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee game in its entirety. It was truly awful. Tech had the ball for what felt like 34 hours in the first half, were in total control while Tennessee was trying to beat the Jackets with a quarterback who may have been worse than Rick Clausen. Still, the Jackets did what they do -- hold the ball, have ninety-three play drives, and run the clock. It’s a sound strategy for a team struggling in the talent department. It wins Georgia Tech some games they shouldn’t. They won the ACC once upon a time with it!

It still sucks. It’s easy to forget sports exist to give us all an escape. Watching Georgia Tech makes you long for those hours hunched over in your cubicle. I’m sure there are Georgia Tech fans who watch every game, and I’ll never fathom as to how that’s possible. Give me the North Texas air raid, give me the Auburn spread, or give me the Stanford pro-style, but don’t you dare give me the Georgia Tech triple-option.

So, yes, I’m rooting for an eleven-loss season in Atlanta this year. I don’t want George Godsey back roaming the sidelines at Bobby Dodd, but Blake Anderson from Arkansas State or Rhett Lashlee from SMU or whoever is willing to come to Atlanta and Make The Jackets Fun Again. This will be Year 11 for Johnson at Georgia Tech and I just need this to stop. They dropped Russell Athletics, now drop the triple-option. Please?