Lay Off the Pirates Already

So it’s very, very popular — fashionable, even — to slam the Pirates lately. And by “lately,” I mean these last few days, but also the last sixteen years.

And it’s understandable to a point. They are going to finish this year with their seventeenth straight losing season; no way around that. And then all those fire sales. How can you ever stop losing if you trade off all their players every year? One of the articles linked above goes so far as to call it a “losing philosophy” (should be no surprise that’s from the Red Sox’ flagship network); another calls it “business as usual” and predicts that the prospects they’re gathering in these deals will be ushered out in the same way this year’s roster was, and blames them for not drafting well…naming three players the youngest of which was drafted five years ago.

Well, it’s time to stop all that. It really is. This may look like the same old Pirates (that is, forever becoming the new Pirates, jettisoning talent to save money), but to the extent that that ever existed, this is very different.

First: It makes no sense to look for patterns in the last sixteen years. Neal Huntington has been General Manager of this club for two years. And he’s done a weird thing here and there, but it’s pretty clear that he’s smarter than the other guys.

Second: I’ve heard at least five different people talk about what a great team the Pirates could’ve had if they’d just been able to hang onto their players. Well…no.
C: haven’t traded a good one, unless you go back to Jason Kendall (2004)
1B: Adam LaRoche
2B: Freddy Sanchez
3B: Jose Bautista
SS: Jack Wilson
LF: Jason Bay
CF: Nate McLouth
RF: Nyjer Morgan or Xavier Nady

SP: Snell, Gorzelanny.

Sanchez is a slightly above average player. Jason Bay, for all the attention he gets for the RBI and stuff, is…a slightly above average player, thanks to his glove (or lack of any idea what to do with one). Ditto McLouth. Wilson and Morgan are talented defensive players who can’t hit and aren’t young enough to learn. The rest, currently, are all somewhere between subpar regulars and terrible baseball players. So depending on the rest of the pitching (and there’d better be a lot of it), this could be an 80-win team. Even if you want to go all the way back to 2003 and add Aramis Ramirez to the mix and gave them their current catcher (Ryan Doumit) back…give them 83 wins. At the best.

They weren’t going to compete with that squad, and none of those guys except maybe Morgan were going to be around the next time they might compete. Each of the guys above was worth more to some other team than he was to the Pirates. Basic rule of economics (probably too basic): if you have something and someone values that something more than you do, you should take as much as they’re willing to give you for it.

Third: They’re not giving these guys away, you know. They somehow took a freakish half-season from the very mediocre Xavier Nady and got the Yankees to give them Jose Tabata for it, now a 20 year old more than holding his own in AA. The Giants gave them Tim Alderson for Sanchez for some reason–a pitcher and another 20 year old doing well in AA. And then there’s former top prospects Milledge, Clement, and Andy LaRoche, still decent bets to be good players sometime soon. And then there’s a litany of lower-profile or too-soon-to-tell guys, and it’s not like those don’t have plenty of value too. They’ve built themselves, if not a good farm system, then one that’s much better than they could’ve dreamed of having two years ago.

Fourth: This Pirates team (as opposed to the pre-Huntington one) does draft well. The negotiations with Pedro BorasAlvarez were a farce, but he’s signed now, and is doing fine in his first pro season and could be doing fine in the Majors by 2010. Andrew McCutchen was drafted under the other regime, but is 22 and going to be a star very soon.

Fifth: They play in the best ballpark in the Majors (at least among those built in the last ninety years or so), and in a good sports town. Start to show signs of putting a winning team together, and the fans — though it’ll certainly take a while to convince them given their recent history — will come out.

Is there a chance that none of these young guys pan out, or only a few of them, and those guys are gone again as they get toward free agency? Of course there is. (And if that’s what happens, it’ll probably still be the right thing to do.) But there’s a pretty good chance that, two or three years down the road, a bunch of these guys will be household names, and they’ll be looking to bring in a few guys to put them over the top.

So maybe it happens, and maybe it doesn’t. But I like the moves they’ve been making lately, for the most part. And whatever happens two or three years down the road, hanging on to Sanchez or Adam LaRoche now wasn’t going to make that future any brighter.

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One Response to “Lay Off the Pirates Already”

  1. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I agree. I like what Huntington is doing, and despite the public backlash, he's sticking to his guns. But I also understand the frustration of Pirate fans that haven't won in a very, very long time. They just want to win, and it's hard to look forward a couple seasons and sacrifice now.

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