A handful of thoughts after one of the most frustrating days of being a Pirate fan in recent memory. Many thanks to posters from Change In Atmosphere for bringing some of these points to attention…
1. Let’s quickly knock out Pirate manager Clint Hurdle. For as many positives as he and his staff have brought the Pirates in 2011, fans and members of the media alike are frustrated by his increasingly inept management of late game
situations. Fact: The Pirates are 0-3 in their last 3 extra inning games, and All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan has pitched in ZERO of those games.
Think about it: Every inning of an extra-inning contest is life or death for a team. Wouldn’t it increase your team’s chances of success by using by far your best bullpen arm in key situations, like with the tying or go-ahead run already in scoring position?
Hurdle’s limitations as a manager are becoming clear: Despite being an excellent motivator of his players, his old school “by the book” management style overly relies on archaic notions of sac bunts galore, and only using a closer in a textbook save situation. It’s frustrating, because Hurdle is costing the Pirates games they can’t afford to lose.
2. Despite often being critical of Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington, I try my best to be open-minded and supportive of positive moves when I DO see them. To me, the Pirates’ deadline was very much a tale of 2 trades. I was supportive of the club landing vintage Baltimore 1B Derrek Lee. Lee’s season totals- .302 OBP, .706 OPS- are poor, but the 6’5″ righty has been heating up since the All-Star break to the tune of a .905 OPS. Trade deadline acquisitions are as much about finding the “hot bat” as opposed to the overall season performer, and with the Chicago Cubs inexplicably unwilling to move 1B Carlos Pena, Lee was a realistic option to upgrade the team.
3. However, I (and many other fans) HATED yesterday’s acquisition of Padres’ OF Ryan Ludwick, even though the Pirates gave up next to nothing in return. If I’m going to give credit to Huntington for picking up a hot bat in Lee, I have
to give equal criticism for landing a disaster in Ludwick that has a .510 OPS since the mid-summer classic. His .674 OPS season total is terrible. San Diego’s spacious PETCO Park isn’t the problem either, as the righty has a .689 OPS on the road. I’m not a big Garrett Jones fan, but I can safely say that any at-bats Ludwick takes from Jones- or currently-injured OFs Alex Presley or Jose Tabata- will be wasted.
4. Ludwick’s acquisition cast a very negative tone on the Pirates’ deadline. If the Pirates instead acquired a competent, productive OF like the Athletics’ Josh Willingham (who was available, and discussed by the Pirates and A’s), both Lee and Willingham could be viewed as significant upgrades to the club. But Lee and Ludwick come off much more as the Pirates’ standard bargain-basement free agent shopping a few months early.
5. After the trade, ROOT Sports (@ROOTSPORTSPIT) had the audacity to Tweet the following:
“FYI…Ludwick is three years removed from hitting .299 with 37 HR’s, and 113 RBI with the Cardinals. -DP”
Unless the Pirates have time travel technology at their disposal, who gives a damn what Ryan Ludwick did 3 seasons ago? As a Pirate fan, I’m continually insulted when the club tries to promote past-their-prime acquisitions based on what they did years earlier, which is a lifetime in professional sports. And if you don’t think the Pirates are responsible for what ROOT Sports says, then you haven’t been paying attention.
6. A similar “Gah?” moment occurred during the Pirates-Phillies broadcast yesterday. Upon learning the club
acquired Ludwick, broadcaster John Wehner immediately rejoiced, “There you go!” on the air. Fans realize the announcers are under heavy pressure from the Pirates to put positive spins on E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G., but fawning over a 33-year old OF with a .674 OPS hurts Wehner’s credibility.
7. The Pirates could have gone 2 directions this deadline: Serious buyer, or serious seller. Huntington did neither. He brought in former “name” players to appease the casual fan, while younger, long-term bats like 1B Chris Davis and Brandon Allen were traded to other teams. Despite being a great sellers’ market- in which weaker relief pitchers than Joel Hanrahan were netting excellent returns- the Pirates didn’t take advantage. Nor did they take advantage of an opportunity to part with an overachieving SP like Paul Maholm (due a significant amount of money in 2012), despite a dearth of available SP that would’ve seen a contender pay handsomely for one.
The Pirates could have built for a serious (not superficial) run this season without giving up top prospect SP Jameson Taillon, or sacrificed a few MLB players to bolster their long-term prospects significantly. But as has been a theme for the last 3 Pirates’ GMs, they tried to serve 2 masters- with underwhelming results.
8. An astute poster pointed out yesterday that the 2 positions Huntington “upgraded”- 1B and OF- are the same positions where he made his free agent splashes this offseason. Maybe if the Pirates pursued legitimate free agents- rather than declining mediocrities like Lyle Overbay (.649 OPS) and Matt Diaz (.636 OPS), they wouldn’t need to upgrade them mid-season.
9. The Pirates ended up trading 1B Aaron Baker to the Orioles for Lee. Despite having a solid year (.820 OPS) at High-A, Baker is already 24, and was never considered one of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects. Which makes you wonder what
the Pirates were like to deal with in negotiations, as Baltimore told Pittsburgh that their initial offers for Lee weren’t even close. If the end return was a mediocre farmhand, how much worse did the Pirates start by offering? This certainly adds some credibility to the claims from other GMs that Neal Huntington is difficult to work with in negotiations.
10. Despite Overbay and Diaz having such horrible seasons, another poster pointed out that with the acquisitions of Lee and Ludwick, the Pirates’ OBP actually goes down. Ugh.
Overall, yesterday was a difficult one to be a Pirates’ fan. I optimistically put a great deal of faith in Huntington to do the right thing, and was willing to cut him slack over acquiring Derrek Lee, if he complemented Lee with a quality bat or arm. But the acquisition of Ryan Ludwick showed me that the Pirates were back to their old selves. Despite owner Robert Nutting’s claims that the Pirates could add “significant payroll”, they didn’t (even in the Lee deal, Baltimore assumed a good portion of the tab). Despite Huntington and Hurdle’s claims that they would improve the MLB club, it’s questionable whether they even did. And despite Huntington’s desire to “protect” the farm system, he missed a golden opportunity to stock it up in an excellent sellers’ market.
Some of the Pirates’ players were upset that Derek Lee didn’t join the team for the series finale in Philadelphia yesterday
(Lee was in New York at the time of his trade on Saturday). Lee said he was attending to “family matters”, and despite being considered an excellent clubhouse influence, reacted to the trade with as much enthusiasm as Wayne and Garth had upon visiting Delaware.
Given the overall circumstances, can you really blame him?
Thanks for reading.