Friday, December 06, 2013

Pirates wasting their window

By Mark Madden
December 6, 2013

The naivete of Pirates fans is mind-boggling. You made all that noise when Johnny Cueto dropped the ball. But you’re quiet as church mice during an offseason fraught with inactivity (except for a few cuts and the procurement of a backup catcher).

Here’s a peek into the near future:
-- A.J. Burnett  will tire of waiting to be offered the going rate for a pitcher his level and sign with Baltimore or Washington, teams located near his Virginia home. A promise made wilts before big money, and after being spurned in St. Louis.
-- Payroll will increase only minimally, mostly via arbitration awards.
-- Gaby Sanchez will be anointed the everyday first baseman. GM Neil Huntington set that up by saying that the right-handed hitting Sanchez can improve his performance against right-handed pitchers. He could. But he probably won’t. Sanchez is batting .242 lifetime vs. RHP, but hit just .204 against righties last year. Sanchez is 30. He is what he is.
-- Jose Tabata will be anointed the everyday right fielder. He’s committed through 2019 – and on the cheap, relatively speaking. He’s a Bob Nutting kind of player.
-- The Pirates will sign some low-rent jabroni and promote a young prospect, touting the pair as the missing links. The Pirates are undeniably excellent at PR.
-- The Pirates will replace Burnett by throwing a lot of crap at the wall and hoping something sticks. It probably won’t.
-- The Pirates will begin 2014 with a worse team than they had in 2013. That’s ludicrous. This is their window. But they’re slamming it shut by way of thrift.
Looking long-term, things seem very disturbing.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury signed a crazy deal to jump from Boston to the New York Yankees: $153 million over seven years.
Ellsbury is injury-prone. An All-Star just once in his seven-year big-league career. Ellsbury is a fraction of the player Andrew McCutchen is.
If Ellsbury is worth $22 million per season now, what’s McCutchen going to be worth when his contract expires following the 2018 season?
At least $30 million per. Gulp.
There’s no way the Pirates are ever going to pay any player $30 million per. That’s just not going to happen. Even the most hardcore Nutting shills would agree.
So, even though it’s years away, start warming up to the inevitability of McCutchen being traded. Probably in 2017, when there’s a year left on his deal. It could happen earlier. The clock is definitely ticking.
What’s McCutchen’s reaction going to be when he arrives at spring training and sees a weaker squad than the one that snatched a playoff spot this past season? McCutchen signed his long-term deal based on a continued build.
McCutchen won’t finish his career as a Pirate. That’s how MLB works.
The Pirates, meantime, enjoy the buzz associated with being linked with players they have no intention of acquiring, such as free-agent first baseman Mike Napoli or Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price. It’s almost like Pirates management plants these absurd rumors. Lots of hype, zero risk.
The Pirates should have retained Justin Morneau. Morneau signed a two-year, $13 million deal with Colorado. Morneau’s power was disappointing during his stretch-run stint with the Pirates. But Morneau’s price was affordable, and whoever plays first base for the Pirates will be worse. Perhaps much worse.
One of these days, you’ll figure out what’s going on. Or maybe not.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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