Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Current Events

A couple of interesting things have happened in the last few days and I'd like to talk about them.

The first thing is the Pirates firing of Lloyd McClendon as manager. Actually, that's not the thing I find interesting. McClendon is a decent manager. He never struck me as either incompetent or gifted. He just fades into the background of managers who can do an adequate job, but aren't going to make a big difference. In fact almost every manager meets that description to me other than the ones who are needlessly destructive by means of running pitchers into the ground or by habitually overmanaging. The thing I'll miss about McClendon is the knowledge that once or twice a season he'll completely go off the deep end and make an ass of himself during an argument with an umpire. I'm not above saving these kinds of incidents on my PVR and rewatching them when I need a laugh. Right now I have the Frank Robinson staring contest saved.

What I find interesting is a brief discussion yesterday on ESPNews between Michael Kim and I believe it was Brian Kenny. The discussion centered around the fact that the Pirates don't suck because of McClendon, but instead because of the fact that they don't retain the young talent they produce. I concede that the sorry state of affairs in Pittsburgh isn't McClendon's fault. But it isn't because of free agent defections either. Over the last decade, they've kept most of the good players they've found or produced. Jason Kendall and Brian Giles immediately come to mind. The problem is twofold.

1. They've squandered the resources they have had by locking up both good players (Giles and Kendall) and bad players (Pat Meares and Kevin Young) for too long and for too much money.

2. They haven't produced enough talent to begin with.

Think about it for a second. What players have they really produced since Barry Bonds left? They found Brian Giles, getting him in a steal of a deal. Copy that with Kip Wells and Josh Fogg, both of whom are decent pitchers, but nothing that's going to blow your skirt up and are likely going to be pushed aside by the wave of pitching talent bubbling up through the system. Then you have Kendall, who is a pretty good player. The only guy I can come up with that they regrettably threw aside for monetary reasons was Aramis Ramirez. I guess you could count Jason Schmidt, but I tend to think that they just got unlucky with him as he was injury prone and mediocre in his time in Pittsburgh.

Most of the blame for the last decade of futility falls on Cam Bonifay's inept shoulders. I know it is a running theme here to chant that it isn't money but brains that builds winning teams, but even teams on a shoestring budget can stumble into relevance once or twice a decade if they're run competently. If they're run by really good GM's and scouting departments, they can become fixtures in playoff races like the A's and Twins have. There is hope in Pittsburgh right now fed by the emergence of Jason Bay and Oliver Perez and the young talent on display in the form of Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Brad Eldred, Ronny Paulino, and Ian Snell. They have to shepherd these players into the lineup and rotation, hope that their early promise is a sign of things to come, and then surround them with good talent, but that's an ongoing concern everywhere that you have a young group of talented players. The big choices come in the form of Craig Wilson and Oliver Perez, both of whom have value either in trade or in being talent to add to the young guys. It remarkable how much this organization resembles that of the Brewers, who are facing a similar set of circumstances.

The next thing is on a similar theme of competence vs incompetence. Vince Namoli is leaving the Rays after the season, and it's possible (maybe even likely) that Lou Pinella and Chuck LaMar are going with him. This organization is showing a pulse despite continued mismanagement by LaMar and company. If they can find a GM and manager that is capable of making good choices and finding talent to surround BJ Upton, Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, Jorge Cantu, Scott Kazmir, and Carl Crawford while also helping develop these young players enough to minimize their weaknesses, which in most cases is either making contact or swinging at every pitch that comes their way, they might be able to take advantage of aging squads in Baltimore and the Bronx and challenge Toronto and Boston in the future. There's a lot of work to do though. And I have zero faith in the ability of the current regime to capitalize on this opportunity.



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