Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pellas On The Pirates - Mea Culpa...Sort Of


So, the Pirates' front office evidently had some kind of plan going into this offseason, after all. No sooner had the virtual ink from my last missive on The Green Weenie dried, than the suits went ahead and did exactly what we've been clamoring for them to do: they went out and signed a handful of carefully chosen, fairly affordable, good-but-not-great-but-definitely-helpful veterans.

This is good news, and if Octavio Dotel puts his "X" on the dotted line in the near future (as has been rumored for weeks), so much the better. All of which makes the 2010 edition of the Pirates look a lot like the fondly-remembered 1997 "Freak Show", a team that rode on the back of several similar veterans to stay improbably in contention until September.

To be sure, long-suffering fans have more reason to invest in the Bucs now than they did during the second half of the 2009 season. That period of time saw what many observers consider to be the very worst stretch of baseball this city has ever witnessed from its home nine. I am personally still more than a little steamed at what I still consider to have been a far more radical than necessary demolition job.

I'll say again that it's one thing to do a substantial teardown-rebuild, something we all agree was necessary. It's quite another to abandon even the smallest pretense of professional and competitive integrity while you're doing surgery on the organization. In my view, the Pirates came perilously close to that point in 2009.

Still, with or without Dotel, the combination of relative bargain veteran free agents (Carrasco, Lopez, Donnelly) with a few holdovers who can reasonably be expected to be solid contributors (Jones, McCutchen, Milledge, LaRoche), added to trade acquisition Akinori Iwamura and if-he-could-only-stay-healthy Ryan Doumit, all of a sudden makes this team, at least on paper, one that is approaching respectability.

If any of the nearly ready for prime time players, ie, Lincoln, Tabata, and Daniel McCutchen, rises to the top and makes a significant impact, things could actually get interesting past the All Star break.

So, while it appears we were right to cry foul about the disaster that was the second half of 2009, and while we were not out of bounds in urging the team to pursue at least a few free agents, apparently either the front office was listening or they had already decided they were going to follow the same course of action we had in mind. We just didn't believe them. Thus, a mea culpa of sorts is in order.

That said, the vast majority of the Pirates' offseason activity has been in the bullpen. The bullpen last year, to put it kindly, was horrible after the trade deadline.

Without John Grabow as the veteran glue to hold things together, with Evan Meek and Phil Dumatrait hurt and with Jesse Sanchez wilting from overuse, there was little or no hope for the team unless the starting pitchers went the distance. The relief corps, then, definitely needed a makeover.

But at the risk of sounding like sour grapes, where was Huntington's free agent alacrity during his first two seasons? If, as he has obviously shown this winter, a functional if not overwhelming 'pen can be assembled mostly from veteran spare parts, why wasn't this done in 2008 and 2009? If nothing else, it might have been fun to see how many more games Paul Maholm would have won with any kind of support behind him.

And even if the suits had already decided to blow up the team as part of the rebuilding, wouldn't things have been better with more reliable relievers? Surely the team didn't decide to deliberately ignore the 'pen in order to make the team less competitive so the demolition would be more palatable to fans...did they?

Sorry to go all Oliver Stone here, but when I see how much really good work the front office has done this offseason to address bullpen weaknesses, then compare it with the almost total silence on that front over the previous two offseasons...I wonder.

Unprovable conspiracy theories aside, we might quibble just a tad with the position player signings this winter. It's not that they're bad. It's that they weren't as good as they could have been and really, should have been given the softest free agent market in decades thanks to the recession.

Bobby Crosby? He's not an unreasonable gamble and he's not the worst one or perhaps two year bridge to our minor league middle infield prospects, but he's also not likely to recapture his previous form and he might fall off the table altogether.

Ryan Church? Yeah, he's got some skills and he's probably serviceable as a fourth outfielder, but he's been hurt repeatedly most years and there were better players on the market who wouldn't have cost much more than Church did, if they cost more at all.

A similarly favorable economic climate is not likely to be in the offing anytime soon, if ever. Thus it seems to me that the Pirates blew a real opportunity to snag some veteran impact position players for relative chump change, whether the team was rebuilding or not.

So as I said, this is a sort-of mea culpa. The team definitely made some smart moves this offseason, and it's certainly far better to be quibbling over which moves weren't made than it was to be howling about the aimless and hopeless McClatchy - Littlefield Reign of Error.

At the same time, it's hard not to wonder what took them so long to address the bullpen, and it's difficult to be particularly excited about the position players who were added via free agency. But all in all, the Pirates are in a better place now than they were just three months ago, and that's a good thing.

But, onward from here. The team looks at least semi-interesting as we get ready for Bradenton

(Will Pellas is considering a new sackcloth suit...sort of)


Big Snack said...

The only possible reason they wouldn't have gotten bullpen help the past two years is that they wanted to see what they already had, but come to think of it, for every Matt Capps there was a Tyler Yates.

But you're certainly right, what they've called a bullpen the past two years has been a joke. In fact, we used to bet on whether or not the bullpen would blow a lead for us, and more times then not betting on us was the way to go.

It's crazy how a little effort and about 7 or 8 million can make yourself one nice lil bullpen...

Big Snack said...

I meant not betting on the Bucs was the way to sorry to be so confusing, it's early for me...hahaha

MarkInDallas said...

I do agree with you that it certainly would have been nice if NH would have saved us from the pain of losing game after game in the 7th inning on last year.

I do remember an interview he did with Rocco where he said that if he was going to try to get to 67 wins instead of 62, it probably wouldn't make sense for the Pirates to spend extra money trying to get those wins at that time, and it would be better to save the money for when it could be used in a more important situation.

Hopefully, this is an indication he feels the Pirates will win more than 67 games in 2010.

As for the position players he picked up, it seems he originally targeted Ankiel, but settled on Church when Ankiel insisted on being named a starter.

On shortstop, I would have thought Khalil Green would have been a target, but NH apparently didn't like him as well as Crosby.

On the whole, these are quite decent pickups that should at least set a floor beneath which the 2010 prospects will need to rise above.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of left=handed complements. I have to admit I gave up reading after a little bit. On one hand you give a little complement then on the other hand you take it away and question the move.Take a stand one way or the other.Jeez.

WilliamJPellas said...

Heh, sorry to frustrate you, Anonymous, but I guess what you picked up on is the ambivalence I feel about so much of what the Pirates are doing these days.

On the one hand, a rebuild was, obviously, necessary. I just don't agree (particularly when it comes to McLouth and perhaps Morgan) that it had to be as radical as it was. In other words, my belief is that the team's competitive integrity was compromised because too many players were traded too fast when there weren't any suitable replacements for them anywhere in the organization. Now, if things were SO dire that the only way to address that was to take our lumps as we did in 2009, so be it. I don't believe that to be the case, and as I said, there's something very rotten in Denmark when a "professional" sports organization evidently believes it's perfectly okay to forget totally about performance on the field at ANY point for ANY "reason". I don't believe there is ever any excuse for that. If things were that bad, then just bring up the Triple-A roster and have them go at it. At least they'd be hungry.

So, I reject that entire line of thinking, even though the team and in fact the entire organization did have to be rebuilt. Looking at the bullpen, NH can obviously assemble a relief corps on the fly. Mark cites an interview (I didn't hear it myself) in which Huntington appeared to confirm my suspicions that the team deliberately chose to look the other way about its relievers in 2008 and 2009. The excuse that's always given by various people is that it had to be that way, ie, if you're "rebuilding" then you're somehow excused from making your best effort to win games on the field. I think that's baloney. At the same time, there's no question that current ownership and administration has a better plan and is demonstrably far more competent than the previous tragicomedy we had here. So, I try (perhaps too hard) to be even-handed, giving credit where credit is due for smart moves, while also expressing my dismay and disapproval about what I see as essentially tanking the team's performance on the field at the big league level.

Hope that makes sense, and sorry you got caught up in my hair-pulling, but thanks for reading!