Response to the Murray Chass article

The article written by Murray Chass has been floating around the past few days on various sites, receiving mixed reviews. Some Pirates fans, who don’t like the direction the Pirates are going, see the article as validation of their complaints. Other Pirates fans, and some outlets who are neutral (MLB Trade Rumors), have disagreed with the contents of the article. Count me in with the latter.

It’s not that I am saying anything about the creditability that Chass has, I just believe he’s off with this article. You can be a good writer and have a poor performance, just like Albert Pujols can be the best player in baseball, but still go 3 for 20 in a given week. The reputation of Pujols doesn’t make the 3 for 20 performance a good one, and the same goes for this article by Chass.

My main issue with the article was that it felt like Chass was reaching to make his point, and in the process he was trying to jam a square shaped argument in to a round hole on several occasions to make his point. A breakdown of the article, and where I think Chass went wrong:

-Chass heavily criticizes the Nyjer Morgan trade, even saying that “if they traded Nyjer Morgan they can trade Andrew McCutchen”. I never thought Morgan and McCutchen were the same quality of player. This would also be like saying if Washington can trade Morgan, they can also trade Ryan Zimmerman. Morgan is not projected to be the type of player that everyone expects McCutchen to be.

-In the criticism of the Morgan trade, Chass mentions the “maturity issues” by Lastings Milledge, who the Pirates received in the deal. We have yet to see these issues from Milledge in his time in Pittsburgh, a time period where he has hit for a .287 average, which is better than any number he’s put up previously in his career. These numbers were also omitted, although Morgan’s unsustainable .351 average following the trade was mentioned.

-Chass mentions the players the Pirates traded (even including Eric Hinske, Ian Snell, and Tom Gorzelanny, who were not helping the Pirates at all), and mentions you can almost field a team with that lineup. The Pirates did field a team with that lineup, and that team was 24-28 before the first trade of the year. Two paragraphs after the “field a team” comment, Chass admits that the roster they traded away would have finished the season with a losing record, but offers the consolation that they would have clinched the 17th losing year at a later date, as if this would be justification to keep the team together.

-Chass refers to the Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson trades, stating that the Pirates offered each “woefully underpriced contract offers” before the trades. I feel that the “woefully underpriced” line is based off of their 2010 options, which are “woefully overpriced” compared to their true market value. I’d be shocked if Wilson receives anything near the $4 M a year offer the Pirates gave, and I don’t expect Sanchez to get much more than the $5 M a year he was offered.

-The part that gets me the most is the payroll comments. Chass throws out the following remarks about the 2009 payroll:

Perhaps the most striking figures are the payroll numbers. The Pirates opened the season with a $48.7 million payroll. They are closing it with a payroll (based on the Aug. 31 roster and disabled list) of $20 million. The players they traded during the season have salaries totaling $31 million.

Now for the kicker. The Pirates, one of the smallest revenue teams in the majors, received approximately $40 million in revenue sharing last year and most likely will get at least that much, despite the economy, for this year. One thing we know for sure. They aren’t spending the money to pay players.

This is a total misrepresentation of the payroll situation. It assumes that if you trade a player mid-season, you don’t have to pay that player at all during the year. A quick look at my 40-man payroll projection will show that the Pirates are on pace to spend just over $48 M this year. This includes just over $26 M to the players they traded, a figure that also includes payments made to the Yankees and Mariners for the contracts of Eric Hinske, Jack Wilson, and Ian Snell.

The revenue sharing line is also misleading. Chass mentions the $40 M was last year’s figure, and speculates that this year will be the same. You can’t apply a figure from a previous year to this year’s payroll. You also can’t make an argument stating that the Pirates aren’t spending the money, when you don’t know the exact figure the Pirates received this year. In fact, the Pirates are sure to get less, not just because the economy is down, but because the two New York teams are contributing less thanks to their new stadiums.

I also find it ironic that Chass quotes one anonymous executive about the revenue sharing situation, especially after writing this article on anonymous quotes.

As Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors writes, it’s a very simplistic view of the plan Neal Huntington has. I would add that several arguments made in the article are quite a stretch, and very misleading and one sided.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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