Ohhh Noooo, The Mindless Pirates Complainers Have Claimed Gene Collier Too…

I’ve always been a big fan of the Post Gazette’s Gene Collier; I grew up reading him and listening to him on WDVE, I still enjoy his sense of humor and his intentionally overly-verbose writing style (I can relate), and his “human interest” take on sports is a welcome yin to the hard-numbers, Baseball Prospectus / Hardball Times / Fangraphs yang that comprises the majority of my baseball readings and general ways of thinking about the sport.

I therefore take it a little extra-personally when Collier pens a column that I not only disagree with, but which essentially boils down to exactly how my mind would view the Pirates’ current situation on Opposite Day. The column is entitled “Wilson-Sanchez scenario gloomy” – I don’t want to waste time rehashing too much of his argument word-for-word, so feel free to read it, and my comments about specifically egregious passages are below.

Collier writes:

Last year’s soulless dismantling of one of baseball’s best offensive outfields via the Jason Bay and Xavier Nady deals and this summer’s stunning deportment of the productive and popular Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan firmly have established current management as having more in common with past sins than future promise.

Oh geez. Three things, which we should all know by now:

1) The phrase “one of baseball’s best offensive outfields” is completely and utterly meaningless. It’s as meaningless as saying “one of baseball’s best-hitting second baseman + left fielder + catcher tandems.” They had three ok hitters for half a season – so what? You don’t get bonus points because they all happen to play in the “Outfielder” category. This isn’t Yahtzee.

2) How do people honestly keep just lumping the Nady trade in there with all the other deals? I’ve had friends complain to me “Man, we traded Bay, Nady, AND McLouth, what’s going on???” Even if you don’t agree with the Bay and McLouth deals, surely NO ONE can even begin to argue that dealing Nady was the wrong move. Yes, we don’t know if he would’ve gotten hurt if he stayed in Pittsburgh, but he’s appeared in 7 games for the Yankees all season and is a free agent in two months, and Damaso Marte has pitched all of 5 1/3 innings with a 15.19 era. You can’t just sneak that into a column about cheap management; it should only ever be raised as a very strong example of exactly why you should trade players when their value is highest, the complete antithesis of this entire column.

3) I’ve said this many times, but this concept doesn’t appear to be getting through to Pirates fans, so I’ll type it again here in caps 30 times.

THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS

Continued after the jump:

THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS
THE PIRATES NEVER COMPETED WITH THESE GUYS

Bay was a good baseball player. Nate McLouth was a good baseball player. Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez are decent baseball players. None of Huntington’s defenders (e.g. this blogspace) would ever begin to refute these points.

But when you have those guys for years and years and years, and you never even win seventy games because they’re not franchise-caliber superstars and your pitching and minor league systems are in complete shambles, then trading them at their point of their highest value is not risky, comparatively speaking, it’s necessary. Signing them to lucrative long-term extensions when they’re aging AND you never competed with them in the first place, on the other hand, is EXTREMELY risky.

Jason Kendall and Brian Giles were excellent players when the Pirates extended them to long-term deals, but because the Pirates’ weren’t even close to competing at the time and their minor leagues produced little, they got stuck having two good players surrounded by the same old crap (actually one good player, because Kendall promptly decided to stop hitting baseballs).

Here’s the other portion of the article that caused me to involuntarily start slapping my brow with my palm (I haven’t stopped):

The Pirates need to give Sanchez his $8 million for 2010 and $5 million for 2011, give Wilson $9 million for both, boost the major league payroll to at least $80 million, and, instead of watching the Milwaukee Brewers beat you 17 times in row from a similar-sized market, instead of watching the Brewers add CC Sabathia for a pennant race one year and scout Roy Halladay the next, try something along those things yourselves.

This time, just two responses:

1) “Boost the major league payroll to at least $80 million.” I’ve heard friends make similar arguments — “Why didn’t we just sign some pitchers??” “Like who?” “I don’t know, just someone good, dammit!” Lest we again braincramp on extremely recent Pirates history, Dave Littlefield happened to be a huge fan of indiscriminately boosting the payroll, specifically to placate fans with this mindset (if it was to actually improve the team, then whew, whiffed on that one). In fact, he was one of the best GMs in baseball at adding pointless payroll. He took on Matt Morris’ $10 million, shelled out $6 mil to Jeromy Burnitz and another $4 million to Joe Randa, and granted, the Pirates did win several baseball games in that span, but I think mooooost of us recall those as poor decisions.

If we wish to go back to the pre-DL Pirates regime just for the sake of extra pain-infliction, we could also toss out names like Derek Bell, Terry Mulholland, Pat Meares, Pete Schourek, and so on. The Pirates can’t afford to compete with the Yankees for the likes of Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, so if they want to venture into free agency, they end up overpaying for other teams’ sloppy seconds. Would the Pirates even be one game better if they’d, I don’t know, outbid the Brewers’ 4-year, $40 million deal for Jeff Suppan?

If the Pirates end up trading Pedro Alvarez in his arbitration years to stash some cash, then yes, by all means, then you’d have an argument. But when they have no one worth keeping, and the few players who happen to be expensive are thoroughly decent middle infielders entering their mid-30s, then how would you suggest the current Pirates regime go about raising the team’s payroll to $80 million?

2) The Brewers traded for C.C. Sabathia and scouted Roy Halladay because they were in pennant races; they didn’t add Sabathia then suddenly become a competitive team. They’re competitive because they developed Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Bill Hall, etc, then added niche free agents like Trevor Hoffman only after the fact to compliment a solid major league core.

Also, the Brewers traded their top hitting prospect Matt LaPorta and three other prospects to the Indians for C.C. Sabathia, who pitched 3 innings in one playoff game for the Brewers before they were eliminated, then immediately left to sign the biggest free-agent-pitcher contract in history with the Yankees. You’re saying…it is bad that the Pirates did not do this?

People – I understand that losing for seventeen straight seasons is frustrating. The Pirates haven’t been over .500 for more than half of my life, consecutively — this obviously frustrates me as well. But we can’t allow the mistakes of past regimes cause us to immediately distrust any action that remotely resembles moving in a backward direction because of our vague suspicion towards anything that doesn’t immediately raise the payroll. The Pirates have been a terrible baseball team for a while. Their general manager — who was hired before the 2008 baseball season, which was one baseball season ago, not seventeen — is attempting to replace the bad, aging baseball players with young, hopefully better baseball players. It might work, and it might not, but the only certain course of action is the absolute certainty that if the Pirates simply kept the team they had intact, they would continue to not compete. Unless someone suddenly introduced Adam LaRoche to steroids, which might’ve been a good idea regardless.

I realize that it’s a columnist’s job to question the motives of a franchise, particularly one that has not as of yet produced results, but when a columnist abandons logic to join the chorus of omnipresent, knee-jerk casual complainers, it’s truly disheartening. Anyone who reads five words of a Neal Huntington sentence can tell immediately that he’s a million times more competent and calculating than Dave Littlefield; that doesn’t mean he’s infallible, obviously, or that we should give him a free pass, but it definitely means we can’t go comparing him to his predecessors simply because they made trades and he is also making trades.

Off topic – anyone notice that the Pirates have just a -7 run differential so far this season, and thus are arguably a far better baseball club than they were one year ago at this time, without even taking into account the minor league system? Oh, no one noticed that? Alright. Continue complaining away.

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4 Responses to “Ohhh Noooo, The Mindless Pirates Complainers Have Claimed Gene Collier Too…”

  1. Caroline Says:

    You know what is starting to piss me off? It’s not just the mindless Pirates fans. It’s EVERYONE. All I hear from fans of OTHER TEAMS is “Oh, the Pirates messed up again!!!” Shut up. Maybe this isn’t going to work. But at least they are DOING SOMETHING.

    I think my favorite argument is “We didn’t win with them in the past.” And yet, people still argue with that.

    I love Nate, I really love Adam and his attitude, I will probably cry when Freddy leaves, because I love him, too. But in the end, I choose to trust Huntington, that he knows what he’s doing. I never tried to run a baseball team, and I certainly never tried to run one that was in shambles when I inherited it.

    (I’m not a big commenter, anywhere, but I really love your blog)

  2. Walt Says:

    Amen to all of the above (and to Caroline, as well). I got about five gchat messages today from friends saying, essentially, “Looks like your Pirates let another one go, HAW HAW.” Really? Adam LaRoche was “another one?” Really? I love the guy to death, he’s great in the clubhouse, he had a fantastic attitude and I still remember how excited I was when he came on, but man. The guy didn’t do what we wanted him to do, so we traded him. It’s that simple.

  3. Alex Says:

    I love reading this blog. BWE is great, and I think we just lucked out that you’re a Pirates fan. Also are you on twitter? Either as this blog, or otherwise?

  4. Dan Hopper Says:

    I do not have a Twitter, not out of principle or anything, just haven’t had the time/effort/phone with internet. And someone already has my name. One of these days.

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