Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Inexplicable Nature of the Pittsburgh Pirates

For professional sports teams, the mantra is "you're in it to win it." Obviously, right? Why compete, why do anything if you don't put winning at the top of your list? Well...there is a team out there that apparently hasn't gotten the memo. I have no choice but to question whether the Pittsburgh Pirates subscribe to the whole "winning is important" idea. I say this because as I look at their collection of trades/offseason moves in the past decade, I'm left speechless...and not in a good way. It is the type of situation where you, as an onlooker, say to yourself "man, my 5- year old nephew knows better than that."

Now, I kid a little bit, but let's just take a look at what has prompted my bewilderment with the changes they've made to their team in recent years. While the city of Pittsburgh hasn't seen a winning team in 16 years, the Pirates have actually had some good players...the type of guys you try to keep to build your franchise into a contender. But so far, the Pirates have done the opposite. They've continuously traded their best players in exchange for "promising" young prospects. Here is a list of key players that the Pirates have let go in the past decade in chronological order:

-Brian Giles (left in '03 after 4 straight 30 HR seasons and 2 All-Star appearences in '01, '02)
-Aramis Ramirez (left in '03, combine his '01 & '02 seasons and you get a .267 average, 52 HRs and 183 RBIs)
-Jason Kendall (left in '04 after batting .319 and striking out the least per at bat in the MLB in '03)
-Xavier Nady (14 HRs and 40 RBIs in 75 games before being traded in '08. Promising hitter)
-Jason Bay (Traded 5 days after Nady. Hit over 20 HRs in five different seasons for Pittsburgh, including 2 seasons over 30 HRs. Over 100 RBIs twice, around a .280 batting average in those seasons)
-Nate McLouth (Traded in '09. Coming off an All-Star season in '08: 26 HRs, 46 2Bs, 94 RBIs, .276 average)
-Nyjer Morgan (Traded in '09. Struggled for a starting spot for a few years, finally got a chance this year and did well: .277 average, 27 RBIs in leadoff spot most of the time, 18 stolen bases)

Look, I know stuff happens in the league. There are a lot of factors that go into trades, signings, etc. But I look at the above group and see a lot of great players, especially outfielders.  The worst part about it is that a lot of these guys had quite a bit of gas left in the tank when they were shipped out of Pittsburgh.  Some of them, like McLouth, were just entering their prime!  It's like the organization doesn't want to achieve success.  And by the way, Pirates, if you're going to trade away one of your better players, at least make the deal with a winner.  They just traded Nyjer Morgan in exchange for WASHINGTON NATIONALS PLAYERS!  Come on!!!!  

I mean, let's break it down.  Giles was a monster for awhile, and from the left side of the plate, too. Jason Kendall made up for his lack of power at the plate with great speed and valuble defensive abilities at catcher. Aramis Ramirez was quickly becoming the power-hitting 3rd baseman that every team wanted. Jason Bay was their established veteran who hit for power and provided an important presence in the clubhouse. McLouth and Nady were the up-and-coming outfielders that seemed to be the answer the Pirates were looking for. And after all of the carnage (losing Bay, Nady, and McLouth), Nyjer Morgan provided a burst of speed and a consistent bat in the lineup.  But of course, he too wasn't in the future plans of the organization...not that I think they have any discernable plans anyway.  

It is crystal clear that the Pirates don't have trouble saying "all good things must come to an end" because that is literally what they do every season. The Pirates have shipped off virtually every valuable player on their team in recent years. The joke of the century was the fact that the Pirates GM, Neal Huntington, was recently featured in ESPN The Magazine in a piece about young general managers that were supposedly on the rise. Give me a break! He has stripped the team completely. And the worst part about it is that he and the previous Pirates executives have waited until the player in question has an unbelievable year...for a few of them, their best year!

Now, I realize that there is a lot strategy that goes into running a professional sports team...I'm not that naive. Dealing established players for prospects is something that every team does from time to time, but when you do it on a cyclical basis, all you're doing is wedging yourself into a constant rebuilding phase. You get good prospects, they grow up to be solid players and then right when they have personal success, you dump them for new youngsters?  That is not the way to run a team! The Pirates players have even recently spoken out against the moves and I don't blame them. It is deflating to see the best players in your lineup move on to bigger and better things.  As a player, you want to be able to come to the ballpark with confidence in the people around you.  I don't think the Pirates players have that feeling about the executives. 

Usually when management makes a move, you can see where it's going, whether you support the decision or not.  But Pittsburgh's major moves in the past decade have been senseless and I frankly don't see the reasoning behind them.  Normally, I would advise trusting the people at the top because they have more experience and access to more information than the typical outsider.  However, I'm beginning to question both of those things in the Pirates case: do you really have the experience to be doing this?  Do you trust the people feeding you information?  

The bottom line is that the management is butchering this team.  Honestly, some decent players have come out of the Pirates farm system like Andrew McCutchen and Freddy Sanchez, but with the organization's recent track record of trading away their lone bright spots, should they be asking themselves "Am I next?"  If that is the case, then I hope they get out of Pittsburgh as quick as they can...their team is going nowhere fast.      

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