Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hope's just a word

While perusing DK's morning links today, I happened upon this post at Bucs Trade Winds making the argument that Pedro Alvarez was a PR move by the Pirates. It struck me that this is a pretty popular sentiment among the fans, specifically this part right here:

Nutting is a shrewd businessman. He knows his product isn't going to sell in it's current form. He knows nearly every fan blames him and his family for the trials this franchise has endured since their ownership group took control in the 90's.

A mere $6 million investment has put blinders on a majority of the fan base, for at least the short term.

One small investment has restored his public image.
Now, far be it from me to criticize anybody for being cynical or negative about the Pirates. At various points in the life of this blog I've been called "Captain Negative," "Way to cynical for a 23-year-old," "Eeyore," and a number of similar other things. A friend of mine at Duquesne used to call me "Charlie Brown" because of my generally sunny disposition.

In fact, a lot of fans are having trouble getting excited about any of these moves the Pirates have made because of their track record. I understand that. In the past sixteen years, we've been built up and let down again and again and again. At some point, it's not just hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel; it's hard to know if the tunnel is a tunnel or a coffin. For some people, there's not going to be any convincing that things have changed until the Pirates win and I understand that. In the first three years of this blog I've considered giving it up numerous times because it seemed pointless to dedicate so much time and energy to a dead end team. The past six months, however, have been different and there's more to it than just Pedro Alvarez.

In January of 2007, Bob Nutting assumed the role of primary owner from Kevin McClatchy. Like most Pirate fans, I scoffed at the move with the assumption that Nutting had previously been the Emperor to McClatchy's Darth Vader. He and his family had assumed primary control of the team several years before and it seemed foolish to think they weren't already in control. The funny thing about this move, though, is that shortly after it things started happening. Nutting grabbed the idea that the Pirates' Latin American scouting had been a joke by the balls, flew to the Dominican republic, and eventually decided to sink several million dollars into a new facility to bolster scouting in the area. It's something the Pirates had needed to do for years, but never happened until Nutting made it happen.

About halfway into 2007, Kevin McClatchy announced his resignation as the team's CEO. You can blame his failings on the Nutting family's tight grasp of the purse strings if you like, but no one made him keep Cam Bonifay on the job until 2001 and no one made him give Dave Littlefield a seven year trial period. Despite any limitations he might've had, it's hard to argue that McClatchy was anything but a bad baseball guy. Following McClatchy out the door was Dave Littlefield, a GM so bad that even now, a year after the fact, knowledgeable baseball people are saying to me "Damn, it's hard to believe how bad Dave Littlefield was at his job." From there, Nutting went out and talked to knowledgeable baseball people, letting them guide his hires. He replaced McClatchy and Littlefield with Coonelly and Huntington.

In their year or so on the job, Coonelly and Huntington have managed to take a bad team with a farm system that was almost completely void of prospects and add Bryan Morris, Andy Laroche, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez in to the top of the prospect list, as well as guys like the Yankee trio, Brandon Moss, and Craig Hansen to give the team some depth and options beyond players like John Van Benschoten, Yoslan Herrera, and Chris Duffy. From this year's draft they added not just Alvarez, but Robby Grossman, Wesley Freeman, and Quenton Miller. These are guys that they had to open up the checkbook to get that the public couldn't care less about at the moment. On August 19th, 2008 the Pirates have a losing record and are likely looking at a losing record in 2009, but they were looking at the same thing on August 19th, 2007, and they were looking at it with only Andrew McCutchen and a bunch of flotsom in the minor leagues.

Of course it's too early to declare the Pirates to be resurrected. Huntington's still a raw GM with some big moves ahead of him. Nutting still has to open the pursestrings up for at least one or two more big drafts (however many it is that we're picking at the top and necessitated to dole out huge bonuses like we did this year), and he has to follow through on his promise to increase payroll when the situation demands it like the Brewers recently have. Even if everything goes perfectly, it's no guarantee of success. The Indians are a well-run franchise in a similar market that have made the playoffs once in the past few years. The Brewers are a similar team still trying to get there for the first time. The A's are in a constant state of flux, the D'Backs' young hitters aren't coming around, and the Rays have suffered a slew of injuries during their first pennant race. There are a lot of things that can and will go wrong between today and when the Pirates hang a pennant at PNC Park, but for the first time in a long time I feel like there are people in place who might be able to deal with those things.