Monday, August 3, 2009

It’s A Shame About Jay

Jay Mariotti wants the Pirates to be respectable! Jay Mariotti does not want the Pirates to build up the farm system! Jay Mariotti wants to stick with Nyjer Morgan, because Nyjer Morgan was 1/3 of the best outfield in baseball and you don’t break up the best outfield in baseball, no sir. You see, Jay knows that the problem with the Pirates is that they aren’t playing well, and need to play better, and the players they traded away are capable of magically playing better, but the farmhands aren’t. Or something. Let’s just jump right in to the incoherent drivel.

The other night in Pittsburgh, where the city really is named after William Pitt and not its pits-of-the-world baseball franchise, a phenom named Andrew McCutchen hit three home runs. He joined a trio of titanic names in Pirates history -- Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Ralph Kiner -- among those who have achieved the feat. It's the sort of drop-dead brilliance envisioned when they summoned the dreadlocked stud from the minors in June.

He’s a nice looking rookie outfielder. Doubles power that might translate into home runs later, and only 22 years old.

"He's got tremendous bat speed and the ability to drive the ball," said his manager, John Russell.

"He's a great athlete," raved Washington manager Jim Riggleman, who was victimized by McCutchen in an 11-6 loss. "You've read about him for a year or two, and now he's here and he's going to be a force to deal with."

The Pirates farm system has been terrible, but they may have a keeper here. Plus he will be cheap for quite some time.

"He's a special breed, one of the most special talents I've seen since I've been in the game," said Washington outfielder Nyjer Morgan, McCutchen's former teammate and close friend. "For a kid that young to have bat speed like that and patience at the dish, there's something there that the Pirates will be enjoying for a long time."

Sounds like the kind of young, promising player that you’d want to open up space for on your major league roster. Especially if you can land a few prospects for the guy in front of him.

"He's ridiculous," Pirates reliever Evan Meek said. "And you know what? He's just going to get better and better."

Yes, fine he’s good. Let’s not go crazy though. Scott Fletcher is on his comps list after all…

Yet rather than quiver in anticipation, fans of this ballclub -- assuming any are left -- sit paralyzed in fear. Because when it comes time to reward McCutchen with a contract commensurate to his abilities and numbers, or when it's clear the Pirates still can't win even with his everyday presence, won't management coldly turn around and trade him away?

Well, first of all, as I’m sure any good sportswriter knows, MLB teams get to pay players a substantially reduced salary and control their rights for their first 6 years of service, so this won’t happen for a long time, and by then it depends on how they’re doing and if he is worth it. I mean, this is a small market team and you can’t go throwing big contracts at the Juan Pierre’s of the world if you want to win, right?

Just as the Pirates did with Morgan, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche, Ian Snell, Xavier Nady, Jose Bautista, Ronny Paulino, John Grabow and, dating back to earlier this decade, the likes of Aramis Ramirez, Jason Schmidt and Giles? If Clemente were alive, he'd want his statue removed from the premises.

Quick, how old and expensive is Jason Bay? Think he’s a young buck, just coming into his own, do you? Jason Bay is 30. He’s a good player, almost certainly the best of this sorry lot, but there is no chance that he would be a Pirate at this point even if they had not traded him. None.

Nate McLouth is a nice 4th outfielder who can give you a few innings as a non-credible center fielder. Jack Wilson is terrible at baseball and it’s amazing that they turned him into any value. Freddy Sanchez is 31 and his value is all tied up in an empty batting average.

Here are the names of NL first basemen with higher VORPs than Adam Laroche:

Albert Pujols
Prince Fielder
Joey Votto
Adrian Gonzalez
Lance Berkman
Todd Helton
Derrek Lee
Ryan Howard
Nick Johnson
Jorge Cantu
James Loney
Carlos Delgado
Casey Kotchman
Then you have Laroche, narrowly edging Fernando Tatis. Also, he can’t hit lefties.

Ian Snell has shown promise, but has yet to put it together, and is about to get expensive.

The rest of these guys aren’t worth talking about.
I don’t really see how the moves of the past GMs are relevant. Certainly, no one would claim that giving up Aramis Ramirez was smart.

They aren't operating a major-league franchise in western Pennsylvania. They're running the Quittsburgh Pirates, a perpetual surrender shop, a feeder system for legit teams, a bush-league train wreck in a waterfront ballpark much too beautiful for such a vicious, endless cycle of consumer fraud.

Jay Mariotti: Hmm…Pitts..Pit..Qu…Quit…Quittsburgh! That brilliant. I think I’ll right an entire column based on that pun.

It's hard to believe a city that demands and receives excellence from its other two pro organizations, the Super Bowl champion Steelers and Stanley Cup champion Penguins, has been subjected to what will be a 17th consecutive losing season by the Pirates -- the longest such futility run in MLB history. But that's the sad reality of baseball in a town that won two World Series in the '70s, gave us the "We Are Family" fun bunch and enjoyed success with Jim Leyland and the pre-steroids Barry Bonds before downshifting into quit mode. If Clemente were alive, he'd want his statue removed from the premises.

Two World Series victories? I would kill for two World Series victories. But anyway, Jay, what do you suggest?

The general manager of this fiasco is Neal Huntington, who was hired late in the 2007 season from the Cleveland organization -- which, by the way, has traded away back-to-back reigning Cy Young Award winners in successive summers (Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia) and is the American League's version of Quittsburgh.

What? Neal Huntington somehow managed to trade away every Pirate while simultaneously dealing two Cy Young award winners on a different team? That’s amazing? What’s that? My editor is whispering something in my ear. He’s telling me that Neal wasn’t actually on the Indians staff for those trades. And that Huntington was in his highest position on the Indians in 2007 when they won their division and beat the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. If only Jay Mariotti had my editor. Or as I call him, common sense.

His plan is to rebuild a bad farm system, but in the process, he has traded off a group of respectable, and, in some cases, quality major-leaguers.

Excuse me. I hate, hate, hate it when people who get paid to write for a living write garbage like this. Let me fix this sentence:

"His plan is to rebuild a bad farm system, and in the process, he has traded off a group of respectable, in some cases, quality major leaguers."

You cannot rebuild a farm system without giving up some quality. Typically, that quality will take the form of older players who are already, or are about to become too expensive for their current club, and who may be on the downside of their careers.

Bay, McLouth and Morgan would comprise one of the best outfields in the game if still together.

That’s nice, but Jason Bay is in the last year of a contract that currently pays him 7.5 million. He is expensive and about to get more expensive, though he is very good. McLouth isn’t a bad player, but he is a bad defensive center fielder, and in the NL ranks 12th in VORP behind Matt Kemp, Carlos Beltran, Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn, Scott Hairston, Mike Cameron, Aaron Rowand, Kosuke Fukudome, Nyjer Morgan, and Cody Ross. Oh, and Andrew McCutchen.

Nyjer Morgan is behind all of those guys too, except for Ross.

That is hardly one of the best outfields in baseball. The Brewers are better. Any outfield containing Manny Ramirez and Matt Kemp is better. Note also that for the VORP list the Pirates have 3 players or former players ranked as center fielders, which is great except that you only can play one center fielder at a time, and the baseline for replacement level is lower with center. As soon as you plug McLouth or Morgan into right or left, their value plummets.

Wilson and Sanchez were huge fan favorites and best friends who worked well as a double-play combination.

1. Fans are stupid.
2. Jack Wilson is a terrible baseball player. He had one good year in 2004, and ever since then he’s had this stellar reputation. In the last 4 years his OPS+ has never cracked 86. He’s only been better than average offensively twice in his career, and at 31 years old his defense I slipping.

Snell was a 14-game winner at one point.

Oh. My. God. First of all, wins are a ridiculous, idiotic, terrible, brain destroying statistic. But second, 14 games? 14? Games?

Jeff Suppan won 16 games twice. Esteban Loaiza won more than 12 games in a season one time, in 2003 when he won 21. Carl Pavano is a former 18 game winner. Juan Nieves won 14 games. So did Tom Gorzelanny. Any idiot can win 14 games in major league baseball in any given year.

I actually think Ian Snell has a lot of potential, but he has some mental health issues, has only one above average year under his belt, and probably wasn’t going to turn it around in Pitt.

Yes, Pittsburgh is a smaller-market club. But so, for instance, is Minnesota, which at least milks its best homegrown players and remains highly competitive until they leave for monster money (Johan Santana, Torii Hunter). Huntington is dumping his best players prematurely, without any thought of offering long-term contracts. Hence, the fear that today's young stud -- McCutchen -- becomes tomorrow's McLouth.

Tori Hunter, with Minnesota, put up OPS+s of over 100 every season he was with the Twins except for 2003 when he put up a 98. He was stellar on two occasions (2002 and 2007), and played some of the best defensive center field in all of baseball. Nate McLouth, while valuable, struggles in center and his bat probably doesn’t play in the corners. Where Hunter consistently hit over 20 HRs a year, Mclouth has done so once. The Pirates have not had a Johan Santana to sign long term, because the Pirates did not do this kind of thing:

“After the 1999 major league season, he was left unprotected by the Houston Astros and eligible in the Rule 5 draft. The Twins had the first pick that year, the Marlins the second. The Twins made a deal with the Marlins: the Twins would draft Jared Camp with their first pick and the Marlins would draft Santana. The teams would exchange the two players with the Twins receiving $500,000 to cover their pick.[1][2]”

-From Wikipedia.

"We don't feel like we've broken up the '27 Yankees," Huntington said. "It's not like we've taken something on the rise and tore it down."

But how would he know if he doesn't give it all a chance, if he refuses to augment talent with more talent, if he dumps all but four of the 25 players he inherited in 2007?

As previously mentioned either by me or Mariotti,

1. The Pirates have been terrible for 17 years.
2. All of the players in question are older, and have therefore been “given a chance."
3. Jay Mariotti is stupid.

Owner Robert Nutting was supposed to be an upgrade from the Kevin McClatchy era but despite being helped by revenue-sharing from major-market ballclubs, he sits atop a franchise that has cut $21 million in payroll from an absurdly low $50.8 million since opening day.

Will the Pirates be any worse now than the version that currently sits at 14 games under .500 and 11 games out of first? Doesn’t it make sense to cut payroll in this situation?

Nutting runs a newspaper chain, not a good business position in 2009. Nutting also runs a ski resort in Pennsylvania, not exactly Vail or Park City. If the guy can't run a major-league franchise without an annual fire sale, he should sell the team to someone who wants to win the right way.

By overspending on over-the-hill free agents?

And who is the man to deliver that news? Our Mr. Magoo commissioner, of course. Bud Selig is slow to the switch on everything, from the steroids crisis to the slow demise of a sport that isn't turning on younger fans.

Isn’t this last statement just not true? I have to admit ignorance on baseball’s younger demographic, but isn’t baseball attendance holding up relatively well? Steroids? Sure, whatever. But it’s hard to accuse Bud of doing wrong with regard to popularity.

But he owes it to the people of Pittsburgh -- and the competitive integrity of his sport -- to investigate the Pirates and force the sale of the club if necessary. There is precedent, not that Bud ever follows it. In 1976, Charlie O. Finley, crackpot owner of the Oakland Athletics, tried dumping three of his stars -- Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox, Vida Blue to the Yankees -- in one swoop. This came after he let Catfish Hunter flee in free agency, which effectively proclaimed the end of a dynasty that included three straight World Series titles. So commissioner Bowie Kuhn responded by utilizing the "best interests of the game" clause and voiding the deals. And the courts backed him when Finley attempted a restraint-of-trade lawsuit.

This happened a year before I was born, and it’s possible that baseball was justified in this action. I wouldn't know. Rollie Fingers obviously had many productive years after 1976. But from the stats it sure looks to me like Joe Rudi (OPS+ under 90 from 1979-retirement) and Catfish Hunter (threw over 600 combined innings in 1975-1976 and was never effective again after that for some reason…), were close to finished.

No, these Pirates aren't exactly those A's. But integrity is integrity. Know how the fire sale impacts the National League pennant race? The Pirates still have nine games left against the Chicago Cubs, seven against the Los Angeles Dodgers and six against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Well, the Cardinals and Cubs, who are actually competing with each other, have a 2 game difference, which might be significant. Of course, it’s not as if the old Pirates were any good. The Dodgers still have a 7 game lead over their nearest competitor. They continue to dominate their division. So it won’t actually have much of an effect on the pennant race. Plus this happens every year.

If they were a respectable team, they could be a factor as a spoiler.

That’ll get the fans out! Hey everyone, let’s spoil the Cubs’ season! It’ll be great! We can put up a banner that says “Pirates 2009, number one spoilers!” and no one will laugh at us because we have integrity!

No chance of that now.

Pirates record since trade deadline – 2-1. (Admittedly, against the Nats.)

It's no wonder the Pirates have the third-lowest attendance in the majors, despite playing in a wonderful, top-three ballpark.

So the Pirates fans were not coming out to see all of the Pirates that you wanted them to keep?

And it's no wonder some players couldn't help but spouting off against management before leaving.

"There ain't a guy in here who ain't pissed off about it," LaRoche said after McLouth was traded to Atlanta. "They might be trying to hide it or whatever, but hey, you get a guy's loved by everybody, not just in this clubhouse but in the community, who does everything you could want a guy to do, a perfect guy to be a leader. It's kind of like being with your platoon in a battle, and guys keep dropping around you. You keep hanging on, hanging on, and you've got to figure: How much longer till you sink?"

"I'm beyond tired of such moves," said Wilson, who later apologized for the comments before being traded to Seattle. "It's tough for the guys who have been here and seen these trades happen and absolutely do nothing. I've seen these trades two or three times a year and we still haven't had a winning season."

Baseball players are funny creatures. What they seem to be saying here is that they would rather have been replaced by expensive free agents rather than young, cheap talent. And that community service is a good reason to keep people around.

It's no longer his problem, but the sickness remains. When Wilson shed tears the day he was traded, Pirates fans surely wanted to join him. There is no present. There is no future. So why have a team in Pittsburgh if there is no hope?

There is no future? You know that the Pirates got players in return right? They’re called prospects? They’re supposed to be better than Jack Wilson in 2-3 years. Most of them probably are now.

"We know these moves are going to be incredibly unpopular," Huntington said after the Wilson and Sanchez deals. "But this is how we're going to rebuild this franchise. We're trying to create a winner. We have no interest in getting to .500 once and then losing for five years."

"People might wonder what we're doing, but if you keep looking at all the names we're getting and all the premier talent we're getting, it's going to equate to a very solid, very good ballclub in Pittsburgh," Russell said. "We have big names all over the diamond. That's where we're headed."

Sounds reasonable.

Until everyone wakes up some summer day and sees one of those names, Andrew McCutchen, traded for two or three prospects. That will be the day when baseball in Pittsburgh dies, assuming it hasn't already.

Instead, let’s go with Jay Mariotti’s plan where a bunch of light-hitting center fielders make too much money, the team still finishes 20 games under .500, and McCutchen rides the pine all year.

You sir, are an idiot.


Lenny Bruce said...

Wow longest post every were you being paid by the word?

E.S.K. said...

This is crazy good.

PaulNoonan said...

Thanks E.

Jay made it long. I made it smart.

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