The Littlefield Fallacy

With the recent non-tender of Matt Capps, I felt it was appropriate to address (and label) a certain line of thinking that exists amongst Pirates fans.

The Littlefield Fallacy: an argument that Neal Huntington is discriminating against players in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization who have been acquired by Dave Littlefield, and in the process of this discrimination, performing a mass exodus of Littlefield acquisitions from the roster.

In the past two years, Neal Huntington has done a complete overhaul not only on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster, but throughout the organization.  The Littlefield Fallacy is often brought up as an attack of an unpopular roster move.  Some common examples have been the Nyjer Morgan trade, the recent Capps non-tender, and the John Grabow trade, even though Grabow was acquired by Cam Bonifay.

The problem with this fallacy is that it’s an unavoidable situation.  Following the 2007 season, the entire organization was made up of Dave Littlefield and Cam Bonifay acquisitions.  It would be impossible for Neal Huntington to remove players he acquired, since he didn’t have any such players.  Even after adding some players, the ratio of Littlefield/Bonifay to Huntington players is still heavily in favor of the old regimes.

The major problem with this fallacy is that it ignores a few key transactions.  Andrew McCutchen was drafted by Littlefield in the first round of the 2005 draft.  He is currently the starting center fielder.  In fact, the argument that Nate McLouth was shipped out because he wasn’t a Huntington acquisition doesn’t hold much weight, since his replacement wasn’t a Huntington acquisition either.  The same argument can be made for Brad Lincoln, and for Paul Maholm, who was extended after his breakout 2008 season.

On the flip side, Huntington has let go of his own acquisitions such as Phil Dumatrait, Luis Cruz, Robinzon Diaz, Craig Monroe, Eric Hinske, and Jeff Karstens, although Karstens is still with the team after clearing waivers and being removed from the 40-man roster.

The talent level of guys like Diaz and Cruz doesn’t nearly match the talent level of guys like Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, and Matt Capps.  However, the bulk of the talent Huntington has acquired is in the minors.  The only major league success stories we’ve seen are Ross Ohlendorf, Evan Meek, and Garrett Jones, and unlike Bay, Sanchez, and Capps, all of those players are at the beginning of their control periods, rather than the end.

Overall there may be some truth to the notion that Huntington likes his own acquisitions over the players acquired by the former regimes.  That’s just human nature.  Generally we prefer our own accomplishments over something that’s given to us.  That’s why a piece of furniture you built is more likely to be kept around for years to come, compared to a piece of furniture bought from IKEA.  That said, the idea that Huntington is getting rid of Littlefield players because they’re Littlefield players is really an unavoidable coincidence.  The plan seemed to be blowing up the major league roster to rebuild the minors.  Since Huntington didn’t have any established major league players close to free agency, he could only trade the players brought in by Littlefield.

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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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