Monday, April 21, 2008

Being a Pirate fan is hard

Coming into 2008, there was absolutely no reason to think that the Pirates would win more than somewhere around 70 games during the season. I certainly knew this and while some of you disagreed with me, I feel pretty sure that most of you knew it as well as I did. This is the true bitch of what Dave Littlefield did to this franchise: he left it in such disrepair that even the most experienced general manager could start turning this team around without Major League on-field results for two or three years. That's what happens when you leave both the major and minor leagues mainly bereft of talent. As I said over the winter, guys like John Russell can preach "changing the culture" all they want, but actually doing it in the face of loss after mind-numbing loss is a horse of a different color.

Still, knowing full well what I was getting myself into this season, watching games like yesterday are incredibly frustrating. I suppose that's just the nature of the human condition. As Rowdy is fond of pointing out, it shouldn't be incredibly hard to get a baseball team to finish .500. I suppose there's a part of me (and everyone) that thinks every year that maybe things will click this year, just for one year, and we won't be awful. This isn't how things work in real life, and that's a crashing realization that we all have to make every single year.

I fully understand how ugly Adam LaRoche looks, but no one should be surprised or angry about the way he's starting the season. The guy has a huge, looping swing that takes at least a month to get into gear every single year of his career. That's just the way he works. Luis Rivas and Doug Mientkiewicz are probably on the team because of a pre-existing relationship with John Russell, but that's how every team fills their roster out. Zach Duke sucks, but we knew that already. Tom Gorzelanny is pitching like a guy who's hurt, but everyone with an opinion about Gorzo had a feeling he was going to get hurt after Tracy abused the crap out of him last year. The bullpen is terrible, but that's what happens when you only carry over three relievers from one year to another. Simply put, these is a bad, fundamentally poor team, but we knew that that's not something that anyone should be surprised by.

Some of you might disagree, but I can't see where Huntington and company have made any huge missteps (except maybe extending Freddy, pending his health and keeping Pearce in AAA, which may not be a huge mistake, but I still think was the wrong move). The choice that the new front office faced this winter was to either tear the team apart limb from limb to the highest bidder and make a bunch of trades like Andy MacPhail made for Miguel Tejada (that is, "here, take our best players and give us the pu pu platter, which we'll then toss up against the wall and hope that something sticks") or hope that some of the guys on the team increased their value by playing during the season. Bay might do that, Nady isn't hurting his case, Marte will still be a left-handed reliever with a strong history against lefties at the deadline, and the only way anyone was going to take Matt Morris was if he pitches during the year and pitches well. He hasn't so far, but there's no high-upside solution in the organization, so why not at least give him the chance to pitch his way out of here?

As I said above, this is the true crime of the Littlefield era. He left this team so ravaged that Brian Bixler was considered a prospect under his front office. Even if every goes perfectly with the players we have now, do you really think that Walker, Pearce, and McCutchen are enough to turn this team from a 68-win team into a 90-win team in 2009? They're not. After 2009, Littlefield's ill-conceived "window" is closed and a huge chunk of the core of this team will be gone, for better or worse. Maybe Huntington can wheel and deal his way into supporting Walker, Pearce, McCutchen, Snell, Gorzelanny, and maybe McLouth and Doulino (we even need two players to make up one of our strongest positions) sooner rather than later, but that's a mightily daunting task. What does that leave for us? Rooting for Nate McLouth's breakout to stick, hoping that Ryan Doumit can stay healthy enough to provide some thump behind the plate, praying that Jason Bay hits so that he can be traded, and holding vigils for Tom Gorzelanny's ulnar collateral ligament. Such is life as a Pirate fan, I suppose.