Friday, June 13, 2008

What's the ultimate goal here?

The Pirates are one game under .500 in mid-June. This is, to say the very least, a pretty pleasant surprise. Still, this brings up some interesting issues that most of us didn't think would be a problem this year. What is the ultimate goal of the 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates? It's an interesting question.

Goal #1 of every team, every year is to win. That goal isn't always attainable for everyone, but it's pretty clear when it is doable and teams have to take advantage.. The Penguins are a great example of this. I'm sure if you talked to Ray Shero behind closed doors, he'd tell you that "Win a Stanley Cup in 2008" was not one of his goals. Still, the season developed the way it did and he decided that he had to do everything he could to win this year. Enter the Marian Hossa trade, which as a result got the Penguins within sniffing distance of the Stanley Cup.

So where is the current Pirate team on that spectrum? Yes, they're a game under .500 in mid-June. Yes, they're tied for fourth place in the Wild Card standings. And yes, they've done all this with out the aid of their two best pitchers. Still, the question is not, "Can the Pirates finish .500 this year?" The Royals finished .500 in 2003, and that got them nowhere. The fans are desperate to see a .500 team, and that's understandable, but that shouldn't make it the goal.

Finishing a season at .500 is a step, not a goal. If the Pirates keep the core of this team together to play out 2008 and finish 81-81 or 82-80, the front office has failed. This team has a very limited shelf life. Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, and Freddy Sanchez will all be free agents after 2009. Sure, we could re-sign some of them, but re-signing Jason Bay at the age of 31 (his age in 2010, the first year on his next contract) to $10 million per year is not a smart move for the Pirates. In fact, signing any of those guys at their respective ages and performance levels wouldn't be smart moves for the Pirates. This team has a "Use by 2009" sticker on it thanks to the old front office's short-sightedness. For the Pittsburgh Pirates as currently assembled, .500 is the ceiling, it's not a mark to be passed on the way to the top. You can tell me I'm being negative for the sake of being negative, and I'll tell you this: if the Pittsburgh Pirates make the playoffs this year with the team assembled the way it is right now, I will fly home for one of the games and buy everyone that's reading this and is willing to show up a drink.

My goal isn't to drag anyone down for being excited by this unexpected start. This start has been great for the Pirates. Jason Bay should be one of the most sought after outfielders on the market because of the way he's hit and the fact that he's got one more year on his deal. Xavier Nady certainly has the look of a player capable of stopping a gap on a contender. If we've all noticed how valuable Jack Wilson is to the Pirates, chances are someone else has, too. This off-season, Huntington was dealt an awful hand to rebuild the team with. Every day that the team overachieves, his deck gets a little bit more stacked and that means he can rebuild the minors that much quicker. Not playing the hand he has in an attempt to finish .500 or fulfill wild card pipe dreams would be almost criminal (Jason Bay for Matt Kemp?!? DO IT) and would be another step down the same road the team has been going down for 15 years now, no matter how good that .500 record would feel at the end of this year.