Friday, August 05, 2016

Saving a few bucks won’t save these Bucs

By Mark Madden
August 5, 2016
Nothing the Pirates did in the 48 hours or so prior to Monday’s MLB trade deadline should have provoked outrage, or even surprise.
It was all in keeping with the Pirates’ goals, and how they do business.
The Pirates saw themselves on the fringe of wild-card contention, and with poor starting pitching that wouldn’t enable the team to make much noise if it did make the playoffs. Bolstering the rotation would have likely meant sacrificing significant prospects and adding significant payroll.
That was out of the question.
Firstly, it would offer no guarantees. The Pirates have three teams to jump over to grab the measly morsel that is the second National League wild card. Lots of bats are in hibernation: Andrew McCutchen, Jung-Ho Kang, Josh Harrison, John Jaso, etc. Too many factors point against the Pirates mounting a charge.
More important, the Pirates are never going to venture far from the bottom third of MLB payrolls.
So the Pirates chopped approximately $7.5 million off their payroll for the remainder of this season. The Pirates gave Toronto two prospects to take the $17m-plus they still owe Francisco Liriano off their hands.
The Pirates did sacrifice significant prospects, but did so to drop significant payroll.
The prospects in question weren’t A-listers Austin Meadows or Josh Bell. But Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez are both 21 and have promise.
A team stripping a few assets with an eye on the future doesn’t make that deal. A team stripping a few assets with an eye toward trimming expenses does.
The Pirates won’t trade prospects for established players by way of trying to win now. They will trade prospects to save money.
Everything the Pirates do revolves around money. That’s always the first concern. The Liriano trade spelled that out in terms that are absolutely unmistakable. That deal drew a line in the sand – in black ink, not red.
GM Neal Huntington’s other swaps don’t evoke much thinking.
Pitcher Ivan Nova, ex of the New York Yankees, is just a different butt to get kicked. The Pirates could have got more for Mark Melancon, but the return was adequate. Acquiring reliever Antonio Bastardo from the New York Mets underlines how little the Pirates got for Neil Walker, and how badly that situation got mangled.
The Pirates should have kept Walker and J.A. Happ. Don’t sign Jaso and David Freese. Payroll goes up about $16 million. That’s not unreasonable for a team with the Pirates’ recent revenue.
But the Pirates will never make moves like that. The Liriano deal makes the “never” part of that equation fairly evident.
I’m not saying anything I haven’t before. Or anything you don’t already know. But if blind loyalty is your route of choice, your faith won’t waver.
The Pirates’ immediate competitors did more at the deadline. The Los Angeles Dodgers got pitcher Rich Hill and outfielder Josh Reddick from Oakland. The Mets got outfielder Jay Bruce from Cincinnati. He’s the National League’s RBI leader. The Pirates will never keep up with the Joneses.
Bucs news just kept coming, even after the deadline. They got swept at Milwaukee. McCutchen got benched for the entirety of their three-game series at Atlanta.
The goal, presumably, was to let McCutchen refocus, and then break his season-long slump starting with tonight’s home game vs. Cincinnati. Tickets are still available.
But the symbolism is unmistakable, if unintentional: McCutchen, more than anyone, is responsible for the team doing poorly this season. Career lows across the board. If you want to point fingers, point them at McCutchen first.
Benching McCutchen might not help. Dropping him to sixth in the batting order – a long time ago – might not have boosted McCutchen, but would have made sense.
McCutchen doesn’t seem to think anything should change. He could be hitting .140 instead of .240, and would still expect to bat third and play center field every day. For McCutchen, it’s not about what he does. It’s about who he is.
McCutchen personifies the Pirates season: There are no ready answers, so get it over with and hope for better next year.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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