BEAT’EM BUCS?

               The Pittsburgh Pirates have had a losing record every season since their last division title in 1992. There are a number of reasons for this streak. These reasons are such a mixed bag that it is difficult to lay the blame on the teams on-field failures on only one or two of them, although the one-two punch of no salary cap in baseball and poor internal management are huge factors.

               Early in 2007, Bob Nutting became the face of the Pirates at the top, replacing Kevin McClatchey as the managing partner of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club (PBC). Later that year he installed Frank Coonelly as team President who in turn hired Neil Huntington as General Manager.

               Beginning the following season, a series of trades was instituted sending away a number of players of varying degrees of talent, who nonetheless had often been thought of as keystones for the Pirates’ future success, at least by the fans.

            Gone were Jason Bay and Xavier Nady  to Boston and New York.  Somewhat later Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Freddie Sanchez and Jack Wilson would be added to that list. All were position players who had experienced some success at the Major League level, with several all-star appearances among them.

           In return the Pirates received a slew of unknown, unsung, and many would claim, untalented players who most certainly could have been dubbed “Not Ready for Prime Time”. They also received the enmity of their fans, who were quite vocal, not so much when at the ball park itself, but assuredly so in the media of the moment, blogs, blog comments, and online chats. 

          Brandon Moss showed a home run swing, but once every 65 at bats or so is not a pace designed to win fans. Andy LaRoche joined his brother Adam as a target for disdain for his (lack of) hitting prowess. Other players added to the Bucs’ system were denigrated, defamed, demoted and defended by few. Prospects, they were all prospects. My blind date Saturday night is prospectively my soul mate. (Nah, never happened). If these new players were to produce at all, it would be years down the road and in the meantime, those who had been deposed would be winning batting and home run titles, gold gloves and playing multiple games in the Post-season.

         Scorn was heaped upon this new total managemnet team of the PBC.  Bob Nutting was referred to as “Nutjob” in many posts, and that was one of the kinder remarks directed at him.

         Some other deals were struck for lesser players and pitchers. If one of them hit a homer or threw five shutout innings in their debut with their new team, further vituperation was the only “thanks” management received.

           Almost without exception these trades were viewed as an opportunity for Nutting to maximize his profits while caring nothing for the on-field product.

           The year 2010 brings a chance to view judge these deals in perspective and to take an unjaundiced look at what the future may hold.

           Realistically it can be stated without equivocation that the team, if not necessarily better on the field with the new players, would not be improved with the retention of these discards. None of them is playing up to the standards they undoubtedly establish for themselves, let alone major league norms for their positions. Injuries have been a part, but the same or similar injuries could have occurred had they remained Bucs.

          Two players do stand out among those recently dismissed who, conceivably, would have benefitted the team. Jose Bautista leads the majors in home runs in Toronto. His surge this year has added fuel to the arguments that the Pirates merely dump salary to aid the bottom line.

          There are a lot of problems with such an knee-jerk analysis regarding Bautista. First, he was dealt in 2006 prior to Nutting, Coonelly or Huntington holding the reins. Second his current production is so much above what he has done historically that the Blue Jays are hesitant to give him a long term contract commenserate with a season like this, since there is some doubt it will be repeated. Third, he wasn’t making so much money when he was traded that if his upside resembled a 35-40 homer a year man he may have been retained, at least for a time.

          Adam Laroche has found new life in the Arizona desert. His output is fairly consistent with past years. In Pittsburgh he was a target for the boo birds because his early season failures were legendary, though his second halfs were quite respectable. No one mourned when he left. Although not a clamor, at least a whisper has been heard advocating his return.

       Fools!!!! They’re all fools.

       Today several “prospects” have arrived and done quite well, albeit not consistently enough for more wins. Andrew McCutcheon, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Garret Jones, Pedro Alvarez, Lastings Milledge and Ronnie Cedeno are on the scene and each has, at times, provided thrills and a tiny glimpse of what the future COULD hold. Is it enough?

            Dejan Kovacevic, the excellent beat writer on the Pirates for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, presents his own thoughts on that future which  you can read in the link below.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10222/1078940-63.stm

           My own conclusion is that, in light of current performance, the PBC is better off for the future, both near and far term, with the addidtions they have made, than it would have been had not these deals been made,

         Ultimately the truth lies in the players themselves and whether they actually restore a winning tradition is something which can only be predicted, not realistically foreseen.

        It’s a cliche but time will tell.

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