Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pellas on the Pirates: The Good, the Bad, and the...Bizarre

The second half of the season just got underway. The good: the Pirates beat one of the National League's best teams, the Giants, by a 2-1 margin. The Giants, by the way, started the NL's reigning Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum.

The bad: the Pirates wasted yet ANOTHER stellar outing by Paul Maholm, who logged yet another no decision and who must be counting them in his sleep by this point.

The bizarre: both of the Bucco tallies scored on solo home runs, both home runs came from the same guy---Garrett Jones---and they came 14 innings apart. The real kicker: Jones is 28 and had barely sniffed the big leagues prior to this season, having been buried in the Twins' organization until the Pirates got him as a minor league free agent this past winter.

It's been that kind of a year for the Pirates in 2009, especially since the front office decided this was going to be Rebuilding Year Part 17. Which would be bad, though not bizarre, like Leonard Part 6. Leonard Part 6 was "bizarre", which is to say, definitely not good.

But I digress.

The good: both Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez have played very well all year, which has definitely been a factor in the improved performance of the pitching staff. Freddy made the All Star team again.

The bad: Jack continues to miss games here and there even when he manages to stay off the disabled list, which he didn't do over an extended stretch earlier in 2009. Freddy, too, continues to have issues with his body, the latest being a twinge in his back that caused him to sit out for nearly a week, though the team decided not to put him on the retroactive 15 day DL. So, how long before either or both breaks down for an extended period if not for good?

The bizarre: after being shopped more aggressively than a K Mart Blue Light Special, Jack and Freddy were approached by the front office this week about signing an extension. Huh?!? Unfortunately, things with this team's fan base being what they are, the Mulder and Scully wannabes are already out in force with their conspiracy theories. That is, Joe Lunchbucket strongly suspects that this is a cynical PR ploy by the suits. See? We did the right thing, we tried and tried and tried to re-sign Jack and Freddy to extensions, and they refused our lowball, ERRRR, we mean, our oh-so-reasonable offers. That's why we're trading them now in exchange for still more "hot prospects"!!! Or was that a bag of baseballs?

The good: the pitching staff is without a doubt much better than it was in 2008---though of course it could hardly have been worse. Then we would have been the Washington Nationals!

The bad: the offense has been terrible throughout most of the season, especially since its top hitter, Nate McLouth, was sent packing to Atlanta. McLouth was probably also the single best player produced by the Pirates' system during the Dave Littlefield years.

The bizarre: speaking of the aforementioned Nationals, their one-time, uh, "closer" Joel Hanrahan was brought to Pittsburgh when the Pirates dealt two MORE Littlefield holdovers (Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan) to Washington. Hanrahan continues to stink, which is not bizarre, it's just bad. It also makes one wonder if Neil Huntington is determined to rid himself of every last shred of the Littlefield organization, even---especially?---where those shreds are actually useful players. Or even, perhaps, better than useful. Which would be REALLY bizarre. Almost as bizarre as the notion that Neil Huntington might spend his off hours throwing darts at a dartboard festooned with Littlefield's doomed and dour visage. It couldn't be that....could it?

The good: two rookies, Robinzon Diaz and Jason Jaramillo, did a stellar job filling in as the starting catcher while Ryan Doumit worked his way back from a severe wrist injury and subsequent surgery.

The bad: Doumit just can't stay on the field for any length of time to save his life. Oh, and he also looks totally unfit for duty, if his early returns are any indication. And if he isn't hitting like Doumit has shown that he can hit---on those rare occasions when he's able to play more than a week at a time---well, let's just say that the cavalry isn't coming over the hill to save our offense anytime soon.

And if his wrist is anywhere close to 100%, well, then: I'm Mickey Mouse. Which would be bizarre.

The good: the Pirates still have half a season to play, and they play more home games than any other team in baseball. There's also a lot of talent in the system, particularly at high Class A and below.

The bad: they may be talented, but these kids aren't arriving in Pittsburgh before 2011, if then. And expecting them to immediately lead the way to a winning record or two or three is expecting a whole lot.

The bizarre: all indications are that the Pirates streak of losing seasons might well hit 20 before it ends. Which would not only be bizarre, but seriously---incredibly---bad. One wonders what might have happened had the front office just kept the team it had coming out of spring training, then added Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew McCutchen to the mix. Of course, then we might not have gotten an extended look at Garrett Jones, unless we traded Adam LaRoche so that Jones could play every day at first base, his best position.

Then, too, if the lowball offers the Pirates are getting for LaRoche continue, it just might be that Adam will not be dealt, in which case the team might offer him arbitration after the season. Which in turn might mean that he would take it. Which might mean the LaRoche Era would continue past 2009, meaning that poor Jones would find himself blocked again, just like he was on the Twins. Which would be bizarre.

All of which reminds me of a line from World War II that seems apropos for anyone still watching this team: "'THE WORLD WONDERS".

(Contributor Will Pellas takes a look at the wackiness that is the Pirates' 2009 season)


Jeff Pellas said...

Will, lots to chew on. Let me see.. OK first off a "Leonard Part 6" reset? That was a truly bizarre reference but be honest: Did you actually see that? Props to you if you sat through that.
Anyway your tone sounds a little like you miss the good ol' Dave Littlefield era? I was one of the few who didn't assume he was an idiot. I think Littlefield got a bum rap for having to work with a budget that would strangle any baseball GM. It was McClatchy who held the purse strings; McClatchy who decided how much to spend. The minor leagues were terrible berfore Littlefield go there. He was not allowed to spend the necessary money to improve it. It is a combination of Huntington and Coonelly having a rebuilding plan AND Nutting agreeing to finance it that is why the Pirates minor leagues are starting to fill with talent. The Pirates have spent the 5th most money in all of baseball on the draft this past year. Yes, the money was not front-of-the-draft heavy because of the Tony Sanchez pick, but they are spending money. And this is all because of Bob Nutting. How would Dave Littlefield have run the Pirates had he the freedom to spend like Huntington? The answer is "We'll never know" but I always thought it was short sighted to think of him as incompitent (as many do).
Your comments about Huntington trading Littlefield players for a "Bag of Balls" (among other things) is, I think, way too premature to characterize. You mentioned the talent in class A. Your are referring to players Huntington drafted or traded for. Yes, I know the loss of McClouth still stings and that has made many, if not all of us fans cynical, but try to look at it from Huntington's perspective: Why should he have any loyalty to a group of players who are all in their prime or beyond and who, collectively, got his predecessor fired? Look at their ages. Jack Wilson and Sanchez are in their 30s. Nyger Morgan: 29. Sean Burnett: 29 Nate McClouth 28. So just as the new crop of Starting pitchers (Ohlendorf, Moscos, Lincoln, Morton) are entering their primes, the current position players will be past their's. It is not that Huntington has it in for Littlefield players, it's that they are simply too old to build with.
The downfall of Littlefield was that he traded for position players but tried to grow his pitchers with a shoe string player development budget. Once he had a pretty decent roster of position players in place (except a 3rd baseman) he couldn't win because his starting pitchers were too young and inexperienced (or injured). Duke, Gorzo and Snell all had good years but all in different years. Without a deep talented minor league there was no plan "B." And the Pirates continued to lose.
So what does Huntington do? He HAS to replenish the minor leagues and develop a stable of pitchers FIRST or he will be doomed to repeat what Littlefield did. But it will be two or three years down the road before the young talent matures at or metriculates to the major league level. We need to have patience and give Huntington at least that much longer to see if his program will ultimately succeed. It is hard because we all hate to lose but what is the alternative?
Speaking of Littlefield players, I don't think the Pirates want Adam LaRoche any more than any other "older" player on the roster so I highly doubt they'd offer him arbitration. I think they'd even let him walk if there were no offers. And they definitely would take a bag of balls for him.
Your forcast for 20 losing seasons before we win might be overly pessemistic. I look up and down the roster and I see a team in transition but one heading in the right direction -- even though Nate McClouth is gone. I believe the Pirates will win sooner than you think; just not this year.

WilliamJPellas said...

Heh, no, I did NOT sit through "Leonard Part 6". But it was 4 in the morning when I wrote this piece, and all I could think of when I was thinking the word "bizarre" was, Bill Cosby---at the height of his fame, no less---pretending to ride on the back of an ostrich. And it looked even more fake than it was, if that's even possible, which was, uh, bizarre.

Yes, I agree, Littlefield's hands were tied to a great extent by McClatchy, whose newspaper-fortune family was taking a beating as the newspaper biz took a (probably) permanent nosedive. However, Littlefield was still criminally incompetent when it came to developing talent in the minor league system. While it does take money to do that, it doesn't take nearly the cash that the team used to sign Jeromy Burnitz, for example. While Burnitz was a little better than most think and was by all accounts a true professional in the clubhouse, the truth was that he was at the end of the line and the Pirates should have spent his $6 million salary on scouting, drafting, and coaching. They didn't. In fact, it was only during the Mickey White era---which was two years of Littlefield's tenure---that the team did anything at all in the draft. That was when McLouth and a few others were brought in.

Yeah, I get it about Freddy and Jack, but there are no suitable replacements inside the organization at present. I don't buy your argument when it comes to McLouth, who will be 28 when this season ends. What, 30 or 31 is too old to be a major contributor to the presumed next Pirate contender? Baloney. I'll say it again: the McLouth trade was the wrong deal at the wrong time. Period.

I hope you're right about Adam LaRoche. He is, I think, a slightly better than average big league first baseman when it's all said and done, but he's just too streaky with the bat and he leaves us high and dry in too many games as a result. I'd rather have a slightly lesser but much more consistent player at first than deal with LaRoche and his cold for 150 at bats, hot for 75 routine. No, thank you. I just hope they don't offer him arbitration, 'cuz I bet he'd take it in this economic climate and with the kind of season he's having in his walk year. Which is to say, not a very good one.

And of course I get the whole "rip out the culture of losing" thing. But you'll never convince me that Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan were part of that. No way. Other players certainly were, but not those two.

And yes, Huntington does have to rebuild the entire system from top to bottom. That is so, obviously. But it doesn't follow that EVERY holdover with a connection to the Littlefield regime should go. I know, I know, there are still a number of players on this team from the Littlefield years. It just seems like Huntington is overly eager to rush them out the door, or at least, that is the impression I get.

But, as you say, they have a plan, they are sticking to it, and they have more money backing them up these days. So, we'll see.

Jeff Pellas said...

Here's how I think the Bucs lineup will shake out next year. I am still going to say they will resign Wilson but let Freddy go and I have predicted a trade involving Doumit so, considering that, it would be Garret Jones at 1st, Delwyn Young a 2nd, Wilson at short, Andy LaRoche at 3rd, Lastings Milledge in Left, McCutcheon in CF and B Moss in right with Jaramillo at C. Opening day starter: Zack Duke. I do hope the Pirates will either get a lot more out of Moss or find an upgrade for him. Maybe Milledge in right and Jose Tabida (sp?) in left?
No, I don't think 30 or 31 is over the hill but, as far as having a roster of players whose contracts the Pirates can control for a few years so that everyone can gel together, going with predominantly youngsters is the only way.

Ron Ieraci said...

Two points, guys - Jeff's lineup looks good for August; I don't think they'll bring anyone major-league ready with what they have left.

The only diff is I don't think they'll get value for Doumit this year, but the off-season is a different story if he shows a little pop in the last couple of months. LaRoche can go anytime; his streakiness is one of the team's problems; it kills you in the middle of the order.

As far as the dealing, I won't complain yet until we see what becomes of the prospects they got. But I do think that with Sanchez and Wilson, the team has no internal options as the other guys did, and neither will net a pitching prospect like Morton to make a deal worthwhile.

They are salary dumps, plain and simple, and the suits, after getting slammed in the McLouth deal, are just applying a little PR spin. Wilson's contract deal isn't terrible, but Sanchez won't give up his option without lots of sugar; he'd be nuts to void it for the Pirate offer.

They're not blocking anyone (Delwyn Young has no chance of being half the second baseman Sanchez is) and I do agree with Will that, at least in this case, the suits are moving guys for no discernible reason, so there is something to them wanting to clean house of the Littlefield gang, for better or worse.

I could be wrong; maybe they do have something up their sleeve for Sanchez. But I believe that if they could have gotten any kind of return for him after shopping him hard, they would have pulled the trigger in a heartbeat instead of going through this contract sham.

One more thought and then I'll zip it. Having control of players for years is fine, but you have to have a couple of linchpins with real MLB contracts on the team if you want to compete. That's how teams are built.

Jeff Pellas said...

I love a good debate! OK. First off my lineup was for next year, not August. I don't think Milledge will be up before September if at all this year. The Pirates will handle him like they did Andrew McCutchen and save calling him until they can completely maximize his time in the majors. They'll give him a taste but keep him hungry for next year. Steve Pierce coming back up following the LaRoche trade instead of him is indicative of that plan.
I am puzzeled by the "Delwyn Young" comment about how he has no chance to become nearly as good a 2nd baseman as Freddy Sanchez. Did I miss something? How many gold gloves does Sanchez have again? Look, I LOVE Freddy Sanchez, don't get me wrong, but Young is much younger and more athletic, hits for a very high average, has a great on-base percentage and, if given as many at-bats as Sanchez, should have at least two to three times as many HRs. Defensively he has been solid, if not spectucular, while learning a new position in right field. At second he absolutely would have more range than Freddy. Whatever other defensive growing pains he may have, I think he would be an upgrade in most other catagories. But even aside from Delwyn Young, who may end up staying in the outfield, the Pirates have an all star AA second baseman named Brian Friday waiting in the wings. The same cannot be said for any other Short Stops that the Pirates have in their system as being ready to take over for Wilson. That is why I think the Pirates would be best served to let Sanchez go and pay Wilson with some of the left over $$.
Moving guys for no reason? You mean money isn't a reason? Neal Huntington is a Money Ball believer and his moves have all been right out of the Money Ball text book. Look at what you're paying a guy vs what he is producing (or projects to produce) and combine that with what other options are available in your farm system and you will understand all of these "no reason" moves. So, according to these principles, Andrew McCutchen is an upgrade over Nate McClouth. Garrett Jones is a HUGE upgrade over Nyger Morgan or Adam LaRoche. Delwyn Young would be an upgrade over Freddy Sanchez. Joel Hanrahan is an upgrade over Sean Burnett (as a short reliever not as a closer). Charlie Morton and Virgil Vasquez are upgrades over Ian Snell and Jeff Karstens (as starters). PLUS, while upgrading all those postions, Huntington has also deepened the talent in the minor leagues. I honestly cannot understand all of the hand wringing that is going on all over Pirate land about these moves. Am I the only person who sees this? Is there any doubt that the Major League team they have right now is superior to the team they fielded back in April? Don't you think the two series victories over the Giants and Brewers shows that the worm is turning? Or are you (speaking to all hand wringing Pirates "fans") still overly attached to the lovable loser players we all know so well? Yeah, that's right; I invoked a Cubs comparison as a negative example of how to sustain losing over a 100 year period. The Cubs spent a lot of money the past several years trying to buy their way out of the slump. How many world series have they won? Just spending money is not a panacea. And spending money on guys who have already had their chance is BAD business as is overpaying for some free agent with no ties or loyalty to Pittsburgh to grace us with his presence. Moving these "Littlefield Guys" out and giving others an opportunity is the only real way to have a chance to win. I, for one, will not be a CUB-fan! I am tired of losing. There is nothing lovable about losing. It is time to MOVE ON.

Ron Ieraci said...

Jeff - If Freddy gets something in return, then I have no problem with moving him. If he's being dumped for money, then I do.

We'll see about Delwyn. He has a bat for second base, and won't cause a very noticeable difference in the batting order. But LA moved him because they couldn't find a position for him.

I've seen him at second a couple of times, and he's pretty lost. Now if they get him in a winter league and work him exclusively at second, we'll at least have an idea if he can be an everyday player.

Might be that he's a guy that just got yanked around too much, or he could be a man without a mitt.

Heck, I could live with Vazquez there - he can't play short anymore, but he's been OK at second.

So Freddy is replaceable if there's some value in dealing him. If he goes for nothing, it's a Littlefield deal in my mind.

I just guess I don't really see a plan yet; maybe the market isn't allowing it, or maybe they want a $30M payroll, who knows? Could be they decided to spend the money on a quick facelift through the draft and international market.

Sometimes you fall in love with the process of the deal instead of the end result. I just hope the suits aren't falling into that trap.

And no, I'm not attached to the old guys. Actually I'm in favor of turning the team over; it'll give ownership to the new kids on the block and create a little competition, which ain't bad.

I thought the Morgan, McLouth and Nady deals were all good values; I'm still up in the air about Bay's return.

They might have really overvalued the pitching they got for him. But I suppose Moss and LaRoche are are serviceable and still have some upside.

I'm just opposed to dumping guys because they're not FC and NH's people. There's no rule against having a vet or two on the roster, especially if they're not blocking anyone and the payroll is not out of whack.

But hey, Freddy and Jack Splat can go without any angst from me IF they get some return. That's all I'm looking for.

WilliamJPellas said...

I'm in your foxhole, Ron. The Bay trade looks pretty bad right now. Andy LaRoche is as you describe him: "serviceable". So, we got rid of Jose Bautista to get a "serviceable" guy, right? Andy was supposed to be better than that. So far, he isn't.

And, Brandon Moss was obviously Neil Huntington's fair haired wonder boy. That's why he traded away a far superior talent (who was also signed to a team friendly contract) in Nate McLouth. Too bad Moss can't play, whether that's because of his knee or because he's just not that good or---as I suspect---both.

Meanwhile, Brian Morris can't stay healthy down in class A and he's already had one major arm surgery. And Whatisface Hansen has some exotic neck injury and hasn't thrown much all year. His future is in doubt.

So, the Jason Bay trade---while necessary and while I agree with trading him in principle---nonetheless is a great example of why it's wrong to keep repeating "YEAH BUT LOOK AT ALL THE "PROSPECTS" WE GOT!" as though that is some panacea that cures all ills. It's not. Which is why Ron cautioned against the front office falling in love with the process of wheeling and dealing, rather than being focused on the end result. I agree with him.

Yes, Charlie Morton looks like a heckuva pitcher---though it's still too early to say for sure. But there was no good reason to deal Nate when they did.

Obviously the Nady trade looks great. Definitely a win for the Pirates. I really like the Adam LaRoche deal, as well; given the lack of leverage the front office had, and given Adam's large contract and how little time was left on it, I think they did quite well with the guys we got back. And LaRoche was plainly not remotely worth what he would have gotten from us in arbitration.

In addition, the front office has made a whole lot of great, smaller moves (Garrett Jones, et al) and has obviously done a great job with the draft for two years running.

So, all in all I'm still on board, but I'm watching them carefully. They need to step up to add a couple carefully chosen veteran free agents once the homegrown core is in place in another two years or so. If they do that, okay. I still wanted Nate here, but that's secondary to winning. I just think we could have done both. Anyway, we'll see.

WilliamJPellas said...

PS Forgot to mention the Morgan-Burnett-Milledge-Hanrahan trade. Lastings Milledge is a punk, pure and simple. On another site I called him "Ocho Cinco Mini Me". If the shoe fits....

On the other hand, the Oakland Raiders won a lot of football games for a lot of years by taking advantage of talented jackass players who somehow figured out in the dim recesses of their, uh, "minds", that if they didn't conform in Oakland, they'd be out of football altogether. If Milledge does the same thing, well then: OBVIOUSLY he is a far superior talent to Nyjer Morgan, good guy and good glove and fun to watch player that he is. I am just uncomfortable with the notion that a risk like Milledge has to pan out in order for us to win a given trade. Similarly, we are gambling that two kids in A-ball---pitchers, no less---will produce good results in the big leagues someday, and that that will give us a "win" in the Bay and McLouth trades.

Seems to me that there is "good risk" and "bad risk". While I salute this front office for being willing to gamble where Dave Littlefield wouldn't (or, probably, couldn't and/or was not competent to gamble), I still think they're a little too far over in the opposite direction. Just my two cents.

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, Will, they did take on some risk. Whether the Bucco bad boys are just immature or something worse will be shown down the road; they've been pretty good soldiers so far (I give Tabata a pass on the wife thing; that's hormonal).

But baseball isn't made up of all saints, as we are painfully aware, and the Bucs hopefully can manage some talent with flaws. If they punch the clock on time, hustle, and produce, then they may end up ballplayers.

One thing I will say for the current suits is that they seem fairly no-nonsense, and if nothing else, they'll give the guys some structure.