Friday, August 01, 2008

Let's look at this closer

I don't normally do this. I hate doing this. This blog is not a "bad media" blog. It's a Pittsburgh Pirates blog. Bad things are written all the time, and I try to ignore them. The problem is that sometimes I feel like the bad things that are written are written specifically to fuel the fire of common fans, who then read these things and assume that because a columnist at a big paper wrote them, they're automatically right. Ladies and gentlemen, today I bring to you Gene Collier. Gene Collier hates the trade the Pirates made yesterday. Why did he hate it? Let's explore. If you are unfamiliar with Fire Joe Morgan, Collier's words are in bold. Mine are not.

Just for giggles, what were the odds that the seismic Boston Red Sox-Dodgers-Pirates shuffle yesterday would result in Manny Ramirez landing in Pittsburgh? About seven million-to-1, seven million being, coincidentally, what Boston will contribute in dollars for the balance of Ramirez's $20 million salary.

The Pirates can certainly afford Manny's seven million. And the Red Sox? They would've sent Manny here for Bay in the blink of an eye. Does it seem possible that maybe Neal Huntington didn't want ten minutes of Manny Ramirez for a reason?

Personally, I'm not certain I would trade Jason Bay even up for the current Ramirez, and the Pirates didn't. They traded Jason Bay for Not Manny Ramirez. Funny how the top player in any trade involving the Pirates never seems to end up a Pirate.

Manny Ramirez is toast. Jason Bay is a very good player with some serious old player skills at an age that those skills start to take effect. Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen, and Brandon Moss are 24. Bryan Morris is 21. Which do you honestly expect to be of the most value: Manny Ramirez in August, September, and the Cubs sweep of the Dodgers in the NLDS this year, Jason Bay this year and next year, or the four players we got today? I mean, is this even a question? Just because you don't know who the guys are doesn't mean that they're no good.

Anyway, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, in his first summer at one of the worst jobs in baseball, has traded two-thirds of one of the most productive outfields in baseball (Xavier Nady and Bay) plus one of the top situational bullpen lefties in the game (Damaso Marte) for eight prospects on the theory that virtually all baseball life within Pittsburgh's minor league system has been wiped out by the Comet Littlefield.

If that's the situation -- and I'm not suggesting for a second that it isn't -- what good does it do to have Andy LaRoche, outfielder Brandon Moss, and pitchers Craig Hansen, Jeff Karstens, and soon Ross Ohlendorf on the major league roster? How is that strengthening a foundation of rubble?

Xavier Nady: free agent in 2009. Jason Bay: free agent in 2009. Freddy Sanchez: free agent in 2010. Adam LaRoche: free agent in 2009. Jack Wilson: free agent sometime between 2009 and 2010. Damaso Marte: free agent in two months.

Andy LaRoche, Ross Ohlendorf, Brandon Moss, Jeff Karstens, Craig Hansen: Pirates for more than two years.

That's how to strengthen the foundation of rubble. Instead of having a team full of aging guys past their prime that are either going to leave in a year or two or sign bad extensions, now we have young, promising players, with (hopefully) more young promising players in the minors behind them. It's a novel concept that Pirate fans are not familiar with due to prior management, but it seems like a sound strategy to me.

Maybe Andy LaRoche, rated the Dodgers' second-best prospect before this season by Baseball America, will turn into the kind of corner infielder who is consistently productive, a player that is, you know, unlike his brother. Maybe Hansen, a former first-round pick with high-grade gas will turn into reliable power pitcher instead of just another Pirate lugging around a major league earned run average that's north of six. Maybe Brandon Moss and Jose Tabata will turn into outfielders with greater upsides than Nady and Bay. Maybe Jeff Karstens, who joins the rotation this afternoon, will get the consistent outs that eluded him as a Yankee. Maybe Bryan Morris, just 21, will emerge in two years as a top-of-the-rotation horse.

That's a lot of maybein'.

You know what's not a lot of maybein'? Predicting Jason Bay and Xavier Nady's value to the Pirates in 2010: ZERO.

Think of it like this: the Pirates are on a budget. They can afford to spend money, but they don't have a lot of it. Is a 5 year/$50 million extension for a 32-year old Jason Bay something that seems like a good idea? What about a 4-year/$30 million extension for a 31-year old Xavier Nady? Just because the Pirates can afford to keep these guys past their contracts doesn't mean they should. Signing aging players to ridiculous contracts that are awful by the time they end is what the Yankees do to corner a free agent. It's a poor business decision for a team like the Pirates to operate the same way. Kevin Young? Jason Kendall? How can you complain about the mistakes of the past in one part of your column, then advocate making the same mistakes again later on?

I get that the Pirates have tried to do this before, but think about the Brian Giles trade. What did we get in return for Giles? One guy that turned out to be almost, but not quite, as good as Giles was in his prime, a complete nut-job that, while insanely talented, will probably never get his stuff together to have sustained success in the big leagues, and a guy that never made the majors. The return for Bay, who's not as good in his prime as Giles was, will probably blow that out of the water. Management changes and when management changes, everything has to change. Trading good players sucks. It always sucks. Maybe someday the Pirates will be in a position that they won't have to do it, but they're not in that position right now.