In an offseason that is shaping up as the best one since the current regime took over, there have been a lot of words written in various quarters about the Pirates and what they're doing. That in itself is rather refreshing, but there's already been a very definite difference of opinion that has emerged amongst the august assemblage of, umm, "experts".
In short, the argument is over whether GM Neal Huntington and to a lesser extent team President Frank Coonelley and even Owner Bob Nutting are in "save my job / please the fans" mode, or whether the moves made will legitimately make the team better when it takes the field at PNC in April.
I've read the arguments from both sides, and have decided I'll split the difference between them but lean in the direction of "the team is legitimately improved".
I agree with some that the Pirates were probably (if not definitely) pressured by the MLBPA to spend more money on their major league roster salaries. To be honest, I could care less who or what pressured them, as long as they actually do it, and provided that the players on whom they spend the money are actual upgrades - even modest upgrades - over the players they replace.
That criterion seems to me to have been met this offseason. Which is to say that while Lyle Overbay, Kevin Correia, and Matt Diaz aren't going to lead us to the promised land, we already knew that and that's not the point here.
The point is that a "major league" organization - quote, unquote, har-dee-har-har - quite simply on principle alone would never let its on field product plunge to the depths of the all time worst (as this regime has done by any measure almost since it took control) if it had any other option. To do otherwise, as this bunch has done, is to demonstrate that you are not a, well, "major league" operation.
This offseason, one in which not great, but definitely noticeable improvement has probably been achieved by acquiring a handful of moderately priced productive veterans, proves beyond all doubt that this team definitely had other options besides sending John Russell as a lamb to the slaughter and otherwise all but ignoring the team on the field right now at PNC.
Which is to say, it was never true to begin with that the Pirates had no other choice but to put one of the all time worst teams in big league history on the field over the past 3 years because, well, you see, all those free agents are just too expensive. Absolutely not true. The team simply chose not to spend even the relatively modest dollars it took to bring players like Overbay, Correia, and Diaz to Pittsburgh before this winter.
But really, whether the current offseason has all come to pass because "Opie" is trying to save his job or because "Bobby" is bowing to fan outrage or because the MLBPA or even the Commissioner (such as he is) is leaning on "Frankie", or---most likely---all of the above, I don't care. I'm just glad it finally happened. Ya know why?
Because I want to see a team that is just mildly interesting, competent, and entertaining while we wait for the supposed "real" team---the one now mostly in the minors---to arrive. I don't believe now, nor have I ever believed, that such an expectation is unreasonable or impossible or unachievable, even in the bottomless well of insanity that is the economics of major league baseball.
I'm not asking for a World Series winner from the roster we see at present. Just a team that has a legitimate chance to beat any other team on any given day while we wait for the harvest to come in down on the farm.
Maybe the Pirates won't win more than they will lose for the time being, but I'm okay with that given the Marlins-Rays model this front office has chosen to implement. Or rather, I'm okay with that as long as we have a team something like the one we figure to have in 2011.
So, the bottom line for me is the bottom line: this team as presently constructed has a chance to win 70-plus games and to win some meaningful contests against the upper echelon of MLB while also providing the added intrigue that will be added later in the year by our next wave of kids from the minors. I can live with that.
I'm still not thrilled, but I'm willing to wait on the kids as long as the here and now product isn't criminally incompetent - which is what it has definitely been up til now.