Friday, July 18, 2014

When do Bucs go for it? Probably never

Ike Davis #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after hitting a grand slam home run in the fourth inning against the Cincinnati Reds during the game at PNC Park April 21, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America)

As the Pirates consider trade-deadline options, the general consensus of the brainwashed seems to be: Don’t give up too much. Don’t mortgage your future.
But when do you go for it? When do the Pirates decide, “This is the year”?
When is the window of opportunity to make the World Series?
Second baseman Neil Walker is arbitration-eligible in 2015 and ’16. He can be a free agent in ’17. Walker could be traded before then.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez is arbitration-eligible in ’15 and ’16. He can be a free agent in ’17. Alvarez could be traded before then, and likely will be.
Catcher Russell Martin is a free agent after the current season. He is the guiding light of the pitching staff. He has thrown out 36 percent of those attempting to steal, the fourth-best mark in MLB for catchers starting 50 or more games. Martin bats fifth and gets big hits. His OPS of .807 ranks second on the Pirates.
There is zero chance Martin will be re-signed. It would cost too much. Class AAA catcher Tony Sanchez will be the starter, as preordained.
Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez will also be free agents at season’s end. Unless Liriano rallies, the Pirates might not want him back. Volquez is excelling, and might make himself unaffordable by the Pirates’ standard.
Who replaces all those guys? How quickly? How much worse do the Pirates get?
Isn’t it just possible that the window is right now?
Andrew McCutchen becomes a free agent in 2019. McCutchen isn’t staying. He’s especially not staying if owner Bob Nutting keeps reneging on his promise to have payroll keep pace with profits.
Ah, who’s kidding who? McCutchen isn’t staying no matter what. When McCutchen’s free agency arrives, he’ll be 32. That’s his only chance to really cash in. Barring injury, McCutchen will get crazy money. To even speculate that McCutchen might re-up in Pittsburgh is incredibly naïve.
This season, next season and 2016 seem to provide the best chances to win. That’s the window.
When McCutchen leaves, it’s over. Never mind Walker, Alvarez, Martin, etc. Who replaces McCutchen?
Cockeyed optimists talk about the prospects: Jameson Taillon. Nick Kingham. Josh Bell. Tyler Glasnow. Austin Meadows. Alen Hanson. You know the names. It’s an impressive array of talent.
Those prospects offer a lot of potential. They don’t offer any guarantees.
So ... when do you go for it? If you never do, what’s the point? If you let the Pirates evolve into a continuous semi-contender that sells tickets and merchandise but never makes a serious grab for the brass ring, isn’t that exploiting the fans?
Of course it is.
Do you really think it’s inevitable that the Pirates evolve into a championship team without making a few bold moves and increasing payroll? Do you even think it’s remotely possible once McCutchen moves on?
Meantime, Pirates fans call for the following policy to be implemented: Trade all our bad players for all their good players. “If you can trade Brandon Cumpton for Huston Street, you should do that.” A radio guy who should know better said that. Yeah, if you can do that, you really should. If you can trade Chris Stewart for Mike Trout, you really ought to do that, too.
What’s the end game?
The Pirates won’t even pay for your train ride to the ballpark. Follow the money. Maximizing profits is all that matters to Nutting.
You might be tired of hearing it. But you won’t listen. So it needs to be said again and again.
The Pirates have Walker and Alvarez for two more years, maybe less. That’s your window. Use common sense.

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