By Rob Rossi
The Pirates still don't have Pittsburgh's trust. That probably isn't fair, but it's true — and it's a big problem.
By all accounts, general manager Neal Huntington pushed hard to acquire the ace pitcher that conceivably could have carried the Pirates to their first division title since 1992 and perhaps a first National League pennant since 1979. However, Huntington missed on Jon Lester, then David Price, and the non-waiver trade deadline expired on Thursday afternoon without the Pirates having improved.
Misses happen in baseball all the time. Ask any pitcher, hitter, base coach or manager.
Pirates fans didn't seem convinced Huntington had missed on Lester or Price. Nary a local or national reporter could convince them the Pirates were going after a big-time player. There was a sense that owner Bob Nutting had not permitted Huntington to really swing for the big trade that would have figuratively closed the door on two decades of dreadfulness.
Apparently that door remains more than slightly cracked.
Doesn't matter that the Pirates were willing to dig into one of baseball's top farm systems. Doesn't matter that they have Andrew McCutchen, an MVP, locked up to a long contract. Doesn't matter that they're threatening to play again in October.
It even doesn't matter that Nutting wasn't the primary owner for most of the embarrassment that summers were in these parts from 1993-2012.
Even with those adoring “blackout” crowds at PNC Park last postseason, the door remains open on the darkest period in franchise history.
So, Nutting needs to slam the door, and then lock it for good. The way to do that is by locking up Russell Martin.
Pittsburgh still needs something more from its Pirates. It needs a show of faith. It needs a statement. Landing Lester would have provided that faith. Paying for Price would have made a statement.
People here don't care why one of those potential deals didn't happen. They don't care that Oakland offered Boston a unique chip — All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes — for Lester. They aren't impressed that two teams — Detroit and Seattle — were required to take Price from Tampa Bay.
There are very good reasons the Pirates lost the Showcase Showdowns in the game show that is a trade-deadline day. They weren't positioned, or didn't feel comfortable, giving up roster players for a pitcher whose stay was likely limited.
The bottom line in the baseball business is that contenders get better when the opportunity presents itself.
The Pirates didn't do that Thursday. They didn't do it during the offseason.
They did it last August, acquiring Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau after the non-waiver deadline. They might have to do it again to fend off St. Louis while also passing Milwaukee for the division title.
They do have to sign Martin, and there's no better time than right now.
He might be crazy to not test the free-agent market in the fall. He is 31, will be coming off two strong seasons and looking at a field of catchers that will fail to impress. The field won't include Kurt Suzuki, who on Thursday signed a two-year extension that totals $12 million with Minnesota.
Martin signed with the Pirates for $17 million two years ago. Keeping him might cost at least $40 million over four years, and that is a risky deal because he is unlikely to get better at the plate or from behind it over the life of a new contract.
Still, the Pirates must sign Martin.
Contenders don't deliver on their promise by lacking reliability behind the plate. Tony Sanchez, the fourth overall pick from the 2009 draft, won't be reliable for the Pirates next season, if ever.
The Pirates are contenders, right? The Pirates plan to keep this good thing going, right?
Pittsburghers want to believe. They've packed the park and delivered baseball's third best regional TV ratings.
Nutting probably should possess Pittsburgh's trust by now. Under his ownership, change has come to a once comically clumsy franchise.
Yet the conventional thinking is that Thursday was just another example of the same old Pirates settling for almost instead of awesome.
So sign Martin. Buy Pittsburgh's trust.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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