Which is more important to the Pirates:
1. The window of opportunity that exists from having this group together until 2009?
2. The window that exists this year by the division being so down?
That was the question Dejan set forth in Wednesday’s Q&A. He, Pat and Rowdy answered the prompt similarly:
… why should the Pirates wait until 2008 or 2009 to employ a this-is-our-chance approach? Why wait until July to determine whether to be buyers or sellers? Why hold onto $4 million in unspent payroll? For that matter, why wait until those two years to raise payroll when it could be done now?
–-Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Their goal right now is 2009, a year that’s too far away to know anything about. No vision is required to set 2009 as a goal in 2006 or 2007. You say, “the guys we have will be better and these guys will be here and we’ll be good,” and like magic you have yourself a three-year plan.
—Pat, Where have you gone, Andy Van Slyke?
I am no fan of “five-year plans” or, more recently, talk of “2008” or “2009.” The plan which involves sacrificing the present opportunity to better seize a mythical, coming, better one—this plan always fails. This kind of thinking has a big part in how this team managed 14 consecutive losing seasons.
–-Rowdy, Honest Wagner
I have never felt so wrong as I do now, typing these words: The Pirates should ignore any thoughts they may have of competing in 2007. Even in the miserable NL Central, this team isn’t set up to be a contender.
Three great baseball minds all agree that our opposition is weak and the division is wide open. That I can’t dispute. The Brewers and Cubs have talent but are underachieving; the Astros, Cardinals and Reds are playing as poorly as they appear on paper. Quite frankly, there’s not a good baseball team to be found.
Unfortunately, the Pirates aren’t world beaters, either. At best we can consider ourselves peers of the Comedy Central’s squads, which would presumably allow us a one in six shot of winning the division and making the playoffs.
For the sake of this argument, let’s toss the second tier out of the equation. Let’s say that the Brewers, Cubs and Pirates are the only teams capable of winning the division—a contention that is certainly not written in stone.
Still, assume we’re locked in a three-way battle for the Central’s crown: Would you consider the Pirates to be favorites?
I’ve written in the past that our team is not a lost cause. The potential for achievement exists. Such a drastic turnaround would be needed, though, that it’s highly unlikely Pittsburgh could manage to sneak a step ahead of Milwaukee and Chicago. Those ballclubs possess more talent than the Pirates, and if we’re capable of performing at a higher level, they most certainly are as well. We can improve, but so can they.
The way to win this year, then, is to put to use the last $4 million or so of unspent payroll, or perhaps to even up the ante as Dejan intimated. Go for broke, I suppose, and take your shot now. Close the personnel gap, if you will.
But on whom would you spend that money?
This isn’t free agency, after all, and to get you must give—so Dave Littlefield would have to move talent in order to acquire a useful puzzle piece. It’s all well and good to suggest spending more money … but what are you looking to buy? What is a seller willing to offer?
Another arm for the rotation or bullpen could help the Pirates to be more competitive, but you’ve got to score to win. I suppose a bat for the outfield might help—a center fielder with some pop, perhaps—but there are few teams that would be interested in moving such a commodity, and the price they’d ask in return would likely be unpalatable.
Would you be satisfied with trading one of the minor-league starters for another team’s castoff?
It’s true. Dave Littlefield could spend a bit more and add another player that would make a significant difference in this team’s performance. But would it be enough? And what would the consequences be?
“I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to bid on a big-name free agent,” says Ogden Nutting. “You saw us last year—we added payroll in mid-season, we took a shot. It didn’t work out. Now we have to continue to rebuild.”
If it’s an either/or proposition—that is, if resources don’t allow us to take a shot both now and in 2009—I think we’d be better off waiting. Select an impact bat in the draft, pray for McCutchen and Walker to pan out, assume that the young pitching will only improve … the Pirates’ core in two year could be formidable. Now, though, not so much. I think we can have better than a one in six chance at the division in time.
We opened the 2007 campaign with one eye on the future. Changing course in midstream will only lead to a shipwreck, I’m afraid. Put those foolish thoughts of a winning baseball team in Pittsburgh out of your mind for now. There’s always next year.