The Pirates offered arbitration to seven players before last night’s deadline, retaining their rights. Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, John Grabow and Tyler Yates will each remain under team control. Reliever Denny Bautista was not offered a contract, making him a free agent.
In this morning’s post on the PBC Blog, Dejan discusses LaRoche’s future. He questions whether the team can afford to pay him up to $8 million in arbitration when he does not produce in the first half of the season.
Consider that he made $5 million last season and, yet again, failed to perform to his peak capability — or even close to it — until June. On a contender, that might actually be a pretty neat trait to have. In Pittsburgh, it is virtually worthless, as the meaningful games tend to be over right at that point.
That final sentence is a sentiment that I have never really understood. Why is the first half of the season more significant than the second is, and why is that exclusive to Pittsburgh? Would it be better if the Pirates were to win 45 of the first 81 games, and only win 22 in the second half?
The problem is not that LaRoche struggles early in the year. The problem is that the Pirates are not very good in general. Before the 2008 All-Star break, the Bucs scored 460 runs, tied for eighth in baseball. But they allowed 528 runs, 29th overall. Thus, they were 44-50 at that point. The problem was not the offense; it was the pitching and defense. The team was not going to win baseball games, regardless of whether LaRoche was mediocre or useless at the plate. In fact, the rest of the lineup did a fine job of carrying LaRoche while he struggled, which is what a team needs when dealing with a streaky hitter.
The issue here seems to be a greater focus on keeping fans interested in the team as opposed to simply winning games. If we are going to assume that games in August will not matter, we might as well assume that April games are insignificant as well. We generally know from the beginning of the season that the Pirates are not going to compete anyway. The only difference is that the fans are still fresh in April, and by August they are beat down and paying less attention to the team. But the Pirates cannot make decisions based on keeping fans interested. They need to focus only on winning games.
It is extremely frustrating to watch LaRoche flailing at the plate in the spring. But we cannot make decisions based purely on that emotion.