Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pirates starting over... again

I hate to write it. You hate to read it. We hate to experience it... again, but the Pirates are wiping the slate clean and rebuilding. Its not the rebuilding that bugs me as so much as it is the people doing it. When you rebuild, you start with good young players. Guys that will still be around when the rebuilding is complete and you are contending for a championship. What bothers me is every year at this time, the Pirates trade away everyone of any value and you're basically starting from the ground each spring. Rome wasn't build in a day and the Pirates won't be built in one season.

Lets take 2003 for example. That year the Pirates looked pretty decent. They were much better than the 2001 team that finished with an embarrassing 100 loss season. They had two great hitters in the middle of the lineup, Brian Giles and Aramis Ramirez. Pirates fans had heard about the greatness of Ramirez for years and how he was going to be one of the cornerstones of the franchise. In his first full season (2001) he had a big year with 34 HR and 112 RBI. The next year, his numbers dropped a bit due to injuries, but in 2003 he was right back to where he was. Management decided that with the team at 44-53 and 9.5 games out of first, nothing special was on the horizon and decided that they would trade away players. That's fine. Reggie Sanders was a 35 year old journeyman who was swinging a hot bat that year, plenty of teams would love to add him to their lineup for a post season push. Plus, he was playing with just a one year deal anyways. Kenny Lofton was another veteran having a solid year that could be traded for prospects. But instead of trading one of their older expendable players, they trade 25 year old Ramirez! The young cornerstone that you could build around. On July 22nd, 2003 the Pirates threw away a franchise player along with Kenny Lofton to the Cubs, a division rival, and in return received pitcher Matt Bruback (who never made it to the majors), 2B Bobby Hill (who was batting .167 in Triple A at the time) and SS Jose Hernandez who led the league in strikeouts. What a slap in the face. Not only did they trade away a critical piece to the rebuilding process, but they get the worst players the Cubs had in their organization.

So let's fast forward to 5 years later. The team is still bad, but its showing signs of improvement. A 25th round draft pick named Nate McLouth was a godsend. He could hit for contact, hit for power, he was fast, he was good in the field, he was the total package. They also had the X-Man, Xavier Nady showing that he could be counted on to be an everyday outfielder. Catcher Ryan Doumit surprised a lot of people with his power and is one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. Despite not winning a lot of games, this team had a pretty good offensive lineup. Nate McLouth, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were statistically one of the best outfields in baseball in 2008. Add Doumit and 2006 batting champ Freddy Sanchez to that lineup and 5 out of the 8 position players are pretty good. Just imagine if they had kept Ramirez. I was legitimately interested in the Pirates again. They weren't winning, but they had an offense. Going into the next year, all they would need to focus on is pitching. However, that optimism was short lived. On July 25th 2008, Nady was traded to the Yankees for prospects. Six days later Bay was traded to the Red Sox for more prospects. Then the following year, McLouth is traded to the Braves for prospects. Yesterday, Freddy Sanchez was traded away for prospects. Well, so much for that offense that you could have built around. Now instead of having hitting and no pitching, they have no hitting or pitching.

The few die-hards that are still with the team will argue, "They need prospects.", "Bay's contract was up and they would never be able to afford him", "The farm system is a mess, they needed to do this". Actually no, they need to build a winner! The Pirates have had high draft positions for the last 16 years, if you can't mold high draft picks into big league ball players, why is taking someone else's (questionable) prospects and sticking them in your farm system going to make it better? You had good players on your team. They had something to build around. Trading Bay and getting pretty much nothing in return gives you nothing. Nothing on the big club and nothing in the minors. I will concede that right now, trading Nady and Marte looks like a pretty good deal for the Pirates and I think trading Morgan for Lastings Milledge was a good deal as well. But trading Bay and McLouth was a waste of talent. They traded Bay, their best player and franchise cornerstone, and didn't even get one of the Red Sox best prospects. The same goes for McLouth. The same went for Aramis Ramirez. Could you imagine if they spent the last 7 years just accumulating and holding onto the talent they had instead of "trading it away for prospects"? The Pirates will now attempt to "rebuild" off players that have little or no major league experience. Plus, let's say for instance that all these prospects they acquired do pan out and turn into stars. What evidence is there that would suggest the Pirates will sign them? Its an annual tradition in Pittsburgh to trade away All Stars for more prospects. Why will the Pirates hold onto these players when/if they become stars? They didn't hold onto the other prospects they had that turned into stars. Why will these group of prospects be any different?

To say I'm throwing in the towel because the Pirates traded Sanchez, Wilson and Snell yesterday would be ridiculous and wildly inaccurate. I gave up on this team 6 years ago when the franchise looked every Pirate fan in the eye, said "We don't really care how well this team plays. We just want your money" and traded Aramis Ramirez. Since then, I've cheered for the Pirates to lose 100+ games in hopes that if they get bad enough the die-hards that defend this franchise and their bad moves will turn against the owners, quit going to games and maybe, just maybe, force the owners to either sell the team or stop giving away good players. Albert Einstein described insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The Pirates have been trading away established talent for prospects for 16 years. The result has always been the same... a losing season. Continuing to do that is, by definition, "insane". I may sound like a frustrated fan, but the truth is, I'm far worse. I'm a former fan that has lost hope in the team and is losing hope in the sport altogether.

1 comment:

  1. I was ahead of the curve - I gave up on the Pirates and MLB in general in 1994 after that foolish strike. No salary cap means every season the Pirates give up their best players. Unlike many fans who have suffered through this losing in the false hope it would lead to something, I switched my loyalty to the Penguins that year and was rewarded with true rebuilding in a league that took a year off and FIXED its problems.