Sending a message

With the August 15th draft pick signing deadline approaching, there has obviously been quite a bit of talk about Pedro Alvarez. His drafting represented a change of strategy by Pirate management, being that he has loads of upside, is represented by Scott Boras, and will likely require a hefty bonus to complete the deal. As we near the deadline, many fans are growing nervous that the Pirates may not sign him. If they don’t, much of the luster from the improved 2008 draft will be dulled.
One opinion about this matter really irks me, though. I have heard many people say something along the lines of, “The Pirates have to sign Alvarez to prove to the fans that they are serious about winning.” Wrong. Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington owe nothing to the fans except sound and rational baseball decisions. That is why they were hired, and that should be their focus.
I understand that we have suffered through approximately 15.5 years of misery. I understand that, for the majority of those years, Pirate management has made countless poor decisions, and often has done so with dubious motivations. I understand why we feel that we deserve more. I understand, because I was there.
But making a decision to send a message to fans is something old management would have done. Remember when Dave Littlefield sent a message by acquiring Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa and Sean Casey? The following year he sent another message by trading for Matt Morris and taking on his entire salary. He proved that the Pirates were willing to add salary. But that was a lot of money wasted with the goal being to satisfy the fan base, not to improve the franchise.
Now I am not saying that missing out on Alvarez would be acceptable. The Pirates absolutely need to sign him, as he is a huge ingredient in their rebuilding process. My point is that he needs to be signed to help the team win, not to appease the fans. If he is asking for a $10 million bonus, and the Pirates feel that would cripple the franchise’s future, they should be willing to walk away. Regardless of the inevitable backlash from fans.
As a small market franchise, the Pirates need to make unpopular decisions to remain competitive. The new regime proved that they were willing to do that with the recent trades. They traded away two of our most popular and productive players, because we needed the ability to field a team after 2009. Now there is a chance to do that, even as much of the fan base looks upon those trades as a simple salary dump.
Maybe the new regime has not yet proven themselves to you. Maybe you need them to sign Alvarez to be satisfied. Maybe you need much more than that. I, for one, am convinced. They have done everything they said they would do. They improved international and domestic scouting, went after impact talent in the draft, and dealt the team’s valuable veterans for young talent instead of gearing up for a run at a winning season. That’s enough for me.
But none of this should matter to Coonelly and Huntington. They should not care what you think, or what I think. They need to do what’s best for this team, something they have done time and again. When the Pirates are once again a winning franchise, all fans will be satisfied.

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Game #8 vs. Chicago Cubs

PNC Park | 7:05 | Duke vs. Ryan Dempster | Box
The Pirates have had their share of wacky games this year. And this one fits right in. Closer turned starter Ryan Dempster held the Bucs in check with one hit through seven innings. But starter turned closer Kerry Wood gave up a solo homer to Jason Bay in the 9th to put the game into OT. In the 14th, Aramis Ramirez bopped a two run homer. But Adam LaRoche matched it. Ufnortunately, in the 15th, Felix Pie drove home two runs with a single. Ballgame.
Moral victories are for two kinds of people:
1. Sissies
2. Clubs that have not had a winning year in over 12 years
Reality is, this team fought back twice in the same night to keep on playing and I don’t know that such a thing would’ve happened in previous seasons.
Dempster’s performance caught me off guard. If you had asked me to bet on either Dempster keeping the Bucs to one hit over seven or Xavier Nady hitting three homers, I would’ve placed my cash on X-Man.
Thankfully, Zach Duke was exceptional. He struck out six – better than any 2007 game and bested only three times in his whole career (including twice in his first two starts) – and walked one in seven innings while allowing 8 hits and one run. It is good to see a sign of life from him. Perhaps all that tweaking from Jim Colborn is paying off.
Here’s a question for Pittsburgh area residents: do any of radio stations that carry the Pirates stream their broadcast over the internet? I’ve yet to find one. 104.7 was doing talk radio re-runs tonight during the game. It is a bit frustrating.
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Nutting discusses changes since taking control

The Post-Gazette is running a “five-part series on the Pirates’ bid to reshape the franchise,” beginning today. In the first part, Dejan Kovacevic sat down with Bob Nutting, with the two discussing the changes that have been made since Nutting became principal owner of the team one year ago. It is apparent that Nutting has come to understand what Pirate fans want to hear. Last January, he was quoted as saying:

As far as questioning my commitment or my family’s commitment to winning, I think that’s completely inappropriate.

This caused a bit of an uproar among Pirate fans, as they felt 14 years of losing baseball was enough to question anything. In addition, there were few signs of any commitment to winning from the franchise for many years. Now, Nutting is singing a different tune:

I recognize that it’s probably fair and appropriate that our fans will always wonder about either our commitment or our competence until we actually get the team on the field to execute. I’m willing to accept that, whatever I say … it’s only words. The proof is going to come through winning baseball games.

That is what the fans want. Action. Changes. Tangible improvement. Some sign of life. It is possible that Nutting did not realize how big of a mess the franchise was when he made his original comments. Apparently, he recognized it. There have been major changes in the organization in the past year. The front office was rebuilt. Managers and coaches have been replaced. The Pirates will soon break ground on a new training facility in the Dominican Republic.
The next step will be the players. The Pirates currently have mostly mediocre players on the Major League roster. The farm system is in terrible shape. There is quite a bit of work to be done in order to build depth and increase the talent in the organization. General Manager Neal Huntington has attempted to trade some of his veteran players for impact prospects, but has had no success in doing so. The process will likely take considerable time.
The other interesting quote from Nutting in this article relates to payroll. When asked if the team will ever spend at a competitive level, he said:

When the pieces are lined up for us to contend, it’s my responsibility to make sure we can take advantage of it. The answer is yes. We’re not going to have any artificial barrier where we can’t ever be competitive. The Brewers are a great example. They supplemented only after they had the foundation built. They didn’t do it three years ago. They did it last year. It’s a very rational, orderly approach, and it’s one I’m very comfortable with.

That is the right idea. The Pirates are not the Yankees. They will never be able to build a team through free agency. The problem is that the Pirates never have any quality talent on the roster. I would rather see the team cut as much Major League payroll as possible, and either pour it into scouting and development or save that money for a time when it is helpful. Signing Jeromy Burnitz or Tony Armas today will do little to improve the team. Having some extra money in 2012 to add the last piece to a great young ball club could make a world of difference. Now, where are we going to get that great young ball club?

Posted in Bob Nutting, Jeromy Burnitz, Neal Huntington, Nutting Family, Tony Armas. Comments Off on Nutting discusses changes since taking control