Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pirates have earned more trust

By Joe Starkey
Published: Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 10:06 p.m.

Charlie Morton has been inked to a new three-year deal.

When the Pirates signed Russell Martin and rounded up a bunch of obscure and/or injured pitchers last winter, people complained.

The Pirates were right on most of those players.

When the Pirates sat out the July 31 trade deadline, people complained.

The Pirates were smart. They stayed the course and wound up with Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau — and even if the latter underachieved, his dramatic arrival represented yet another example of the Pirates' commitment to winning.

But here we go again: The Pirates spent baseball's hot-stove season in a damp, cold basement, and the reactions are predictable:

• They're cheap.

• Nutting doesn't want to win.

• They sucked us back in only to become the Pirates again.

I understand. When you've been burned for five or 10 or 20 years — depending on how far back your relationship with the franchise dates — it's hard to trust again.

But do you really believe the Pirates will open the season with Gaby Sanchez as their every-day first baseman? Sanchez can't hit right-handers. I'm fairly certain GM Neal Huntington is aware of this development, even if he insists publicly that he would be fine with Sanchez full-time.

Seriously, you cannot be worked up over the Pirates passing on the likes of Mike Morse in free agency. Are you ticked off about losing Wei-Chung Wang in the Rule 5 draft, too?

Did you really want the Pirates to throw $20 million-plus at James Loney to fill the lefty first-base opening?

Loney's a nice player — he would have been a decent fit for his defense and on-base percentage — but look at his stat line against right-handers over the past three years compared to, oh, I don't know, Garrett Jones:

Loney: 1,141 AB, 26 home runs, .764 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Jones: 1,138 AB, 54 home runs, .810 OPS.

So, yeah, I'm not sure the balance of power in the National League Central rested with Loney, even if he outperformed Jones last season.

Maybe Huntington and Clint Hurdle really do believe in Andrew Lambo and want to give him a shot in a platoon at first base. Assuming Lambo could field the position somewhat competently — Jones wasn't exactly Keith Hernandez over there — what would be so wrong with that?

Young first basemen have worked out for the St. Louis Cardinals in the form of Allen Craig and Matt Adams. Lambo's Triple-A stats from last season — 18 home runs, .933 OPS — rate favorably with the numbers Craig and Adams put up in their final minor league seasons.

As for the “cheap” charge, here's the reality: A major league team's ability to spend these days is directly related to its local television deal, and the Pirates don't measure up.

Many teams, in markets you would expect plus the likes of Seattle and Houston, have local TV deals measured in the billions. The Pirates' deal isn't near that, although it's not like Bob Nutting's checkbook is glued shut, either.

The Pirates just committed a combined $26 million to Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez. Their payroll, though modest, will increase again, as it should given the influx of national TV money. They do have the National League's best player secured to a team-friendly deal through 2018.

There are no games scheduled in December. Huntington has time to address needs. I would like to see him find a bat and re-sign A.J. Burnett. But I'm also aware that if Lambo gets a chance and fails, other Byrd-like creatures will become available next summer, and the Pirates have shown they would be willing suitors.

Even if Burnett's out, I kind of like a rotation that starts with Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Morton with Jameson Taillon due in June. I kind of like a batting order that starts with Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.


The Pirates might actually know what they're doing.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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