Friday, October 09, 2015

Pirates gone because they never go for it

Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, right, steps on home plate after he drove Dexter Fowler (24) in with a two-run home run in the third inning of the National League wild card baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli is at left. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

If you never go for it, you never get it.

For the Pirates, the problem wasn’t losing to Chicago at PNC Park Wednesday. Jake Arrieta put their bats in a woodchipper. Never mind a lineup that was the equivalent of surrender or Gerrit Cole was struggling. The Pirates never had a chance.
The problem: Not doing more to avoid that game. To avoid Arrieta. Not getting more (and better) before the trade deadline to make sure of winning the NL Central.
Ninety-eight wins means nothing. The second-best record in MLB means nothing. All the Pirates are, is out. Runs = none. Games = one. Pirates = done.
Toronto avoided the AL wild-card game. They made big moves before the deadline. Getting David Price worked. Getting Troy Tulowitzki didn’t, not really. But now the Blue Jays are in the playoffs proper and Tulowitzki can still make a difference.
Toronto not only reaped whatever tangible benefit its acquisitions provided, it adrenalized the clubhouse. The Blue Jays zoomed past the New York Yankees and won the AL East. Toronto ownership tried hard. Perhaps it made the players try harder.
But the Pirates worked within their budget. They have the sixth-lowest payroll in MLB. They paid less per win than any playoff team. You shouldn’t care about that.
J.A. Happ was a pleasant surprise. Aramis Ramirez provided stability and a legit cleanup hitter, something the Pirates lacked. Too bad he didn’t start Wednesday. Happ and Ramirez helped.
But the Pirates will never get a marquee name such as Price or Tulowitzki. They won’t jack up payroll, and they won’t risk sacrificing a significant fraction of the future. Steady might not win a championship, but it maximizes profit.
If you didn’t trust Pedro Alvarez’s glove at first base, go get a legit, power-hitting starter to take his place. Not Mike Morse. It’s not like Alvarez’s fielding deficiencies sneaked up on the Pirates.
Happ made the rotation better. Complement his acquisition with another big-time pitcher. Forget about Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke. Price, Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels all moved.
No one’s asking the Pirates to spend like the Los Angeles Dodgers. But Bob Nutting is a billionaire, the 10th-richest owner in MLB. Having the sixth-lowest payroll is silly given all the revenue that’s tumbled in. What’s wrong having a payroll that’s in the middle of the pack?
The Pirates had the sixth-highest playoff ticket price. That’s out of 10 qualifiers. So Nutting has no problem asking you to spend more.
Spending more offers no guarantees. Making big moves before the deadline offers no guarantees. But doing those things certainly offers a better chance.
The Penguins have underachieved since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. But they always spend to the salary cap ceiling and pull the trigger on big deadline deals: Marian Hossa in 2008. Jarome Iginla in 2013. The Steelers always spend to the cap.
The Penguins and Steelers make money, but are in the business of doing their best to win. The Pirates are just in business. Winning feeds the machine, but Nutting uses just enough grease to keep the gears turning.
Getting a wild card then going one-and-done has become habit for the Pirates. Nutting needs to loosen the purse strings, and GM Neal Huntington needs to sacrifice some small bit of the Pirates’ future to get the tools necessary for a division championship and a playoff run.
But they won’t. The Cubs will. The St. Louis Cardinals have the best organization in baseball. Someday soon, what happened Wednesday will seem like a peak.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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