Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Struggling Organization: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates used to be a model organization back in the early nineties. The Pirates were oozing with talented players like: Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Denny Neagle, Doug Drabek, Jay Bell, and a young Tim Wakefield. The 1992 version of the Pittsburgh Pirates came within an out of making it to the World Series, but then Francisco Cabrera singled in both David Justice and the immortal Sid Bream. Bream famously slide around the throw from Barry Bonds, who departed for the San Francisco Giants in the offseason. Since the Bream slide, the Pirates have been abysmal. Don't get me wrong, the Pirates have had some talent (Jason Schmidt, Aramis Ramirez, Brian Giles, Oliver Perez), but they have never been able to keep them because of the economics of baseball. Simply put, baseball economics have killed baseball in Pittsburgh as we once knew it.

Free Agents
Unless you count Joe Randa, Derek Bell, and Pokey Reese to be big time free agent signings, the Pirates have failed miserably to invest any money into the free agent pool. A majority of the players they have signed over the years have simply been to minor league deals or one year deals (Kenny Lofton). And to make matters worse, the money that the Pirates have invested in their own talent has been foolishly spent. Signing Jason Kendall to a $60 million dollar contract, c'mon! Signing SS Jack Wilson to a $20 million dollar deal, horrible! The Pirates only have a $35-$50 million dollar payroll so spending that much on guys that simply aren't good sets the franchise back years.

Here is where the Pirates drive me up the wall. As I previously mentioned, the Pirates have had some talent over the past few seasons and ownership knew that they had no shot to sign some of these talented players. So they decided to trade them, which is not too unreasonable right? But c'mon, getting back Bobby Hill and Jose Hernandez for Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton? That's like highway robbery. And only receiving Armand Rios and Ryan Vogelsong for Jason Schmidt? That's just horrible.
With that said, the Pirates have made some good moves over the years to bring talent into the organization. The Pirates picked up 1B Adam LaRoche for RP Mike Gonzalez and while LaRoche hasn't been phenomenal, he has given the Pirates stability at the position while Gonzalez has battled through Tommy John Surgery. The Pirates also picked up batting champion 2B Freddy Sanchez from the Red Sox in return for Jeff Suppan and Brandon Lyon. Unfortunately for the Pirates, Sanchez is only hitting .258 after hitting over .300 for the past two seasons. Still, Sanchez gave the Pirates value at a position where value is hard to find. The Pirates also got OF Xavier Nady from the Mets for SP Oliver Perez. The Pirates definitly got some use/players for Nady, but Ollie has been a stalwart for us, not to mention Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Thanks again Dave Littlefield.
And as we have discussed before, the Pirates made tow huge trades at this year's deadline by moving both Jason Bay and Xavier Nady for 8 young players from the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox. While the players have not performed that well so far (Hansen and LaRoche), I am still in favor of the deals because the Pirates need to upgrade the talent in the organization and these trades jump start the process.

This has probably been the Pirates biggest weakness over their run of futility. This is especially bad when you consider how important the draft is to low market teams. Usually when teams get high draft picks, like the Pirates always have, they draft the most talented guy available and worry about the dollar amount later. However, the Pirates have continually focused on the money rather than the upside, which is why they wound up with Bryan Bullington instead of BJ Upton, 2006 1st rounder Brad Lincoln instead of Clayton Kershaw or Andrew Miller, and 2007 1st rounder Daniel Moskos instead of Matt Wieters. Could you imagine if the Pirates had any of those guys? Also, the Pirates have also made tons of bad draft picks: 1999 1st rounder Bobby Bradley, 2001 1st rounder Jon Van Benschoten, and 2004 1st rounder Neil Walker. It's impossible to add talent to the organization when you draft guys who either stink or get hurt.

Needless to say, the Pirates needed to make a splash during this year's draft and they thought they had drafted and signed the best player available, 3B Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates thought they had signed Alvarez to a contract that included a 6 million dollar bonus, but now agent Scott Boras is claiming that the Pirates signed Alvarez after the deadline. C'mon Scott...can't you cut the Pirates some slack? Six million bucks is ALOT of them to dole out! Hopefully this all gets worked out because the new management of the Pirates is actually spending $6 million on an amateur for once and to put this bluntly, they need him.

*The Pirates will continue to struggle until they decide to pay for top talent. I would say respectability by 2012 and perhaps playoffs in 2013 (this is all contingent on young players developing and signing Doumit and McClouth to extensions)*

The most important thing for the Pirates to do is to continue to spend money on talent. Simply put, the Pirates will not be competitive until ownership commits the money that the team needs. The six million to Alvarez is a good sign, but GM Neal Huntington and President Frank Coonelly need to make Pittsburgh into an ideal free agent destination again. They have a wonderful ballpark, but they will never fill it by having crappy teams. Huntington and Coonelly have inherited a mess left by former GM Dave Littlefield, but if they spend (wisely), then the Pirates can flourish again.

No comments: