As Derrick Goold wrote in this morning’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the “Rockies can offer [an] avalanche of hope” to small-market teams on the rise.
And the team Goold uses as a model in painting his picture? Your Pittsburgh Pirates:
“If you get people to believe that chance [to contend for a title], to embrace it, hope is a terrific thing,” said Frank Coonelly, the new president of the Pirates. “No hope, no shot. … To sell fans on that hope, they have to see it being done. Cleveland. Arizona. Colorado. It’s important that they’ve done it.”
Hope is a terrific thing. So are MVP and R.O.Y. candidates—Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki—fantastic young pitching prospects—Franklin Morales, Ubaldo Jimenez and Manny Corpas—heavy hitters in the middle of your order—Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins—and a litany of role players who actually, you know, play significant roles.
I’m hoping Coonelly doesn’t honestly believe the Pirates are comparable to the Indians, Diamondbacks or Rockies right now. I won’t get into the attendance figures, or the size of the markets, or how much those teams spend: I’m considering his statement solely from a talent point of view.
They have it, and we don’t.
As a labor lawyer for MLB, Coonelly helped shape the current collective bargaining agreement that has cultivated what he calls the game’s “competitive balance.” Asked if he would have taken the position as Pirates president under the economic system of 10 years ago, Coonelly said, flatly: “No. It was extremely difficult then to have a winning team in a market like Pittsburgh.”
There’s hope now.
“Can it be done quickly? Yes,” he said. “Is it easy to do quickly? No.”
Like Cleveland, Arizona and Colorado, the Pirates’ best chance to win will come when they’ve developed a formidable minor-league system and have promoted their own players up through the organization.
If Coonelly and Neal Huntington try to pull the wool over our eyes and take a shot at competing in 2008, I think it’ll be a mistake—just another setback for a franchise that’s grown accustomed to losing. Tear the roster down, build it back up, and convince us we can win in a few years as prospects mature.