When a piece of writing makes me really angry, I like to dissect it. That's usually pretty difficult, but Ron Cook makes it a simple practice. Take, for instance, this piece of brilliance on newsstands today. In it, Cook makes some of the most outlandish and hilarious claims I've ever heard about the Pirates.
If I'm Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, I'm promoting hotshot prospect Pedro Alvarez from the minors today, putting him in the lineup at third base tonight against the Chicago White Sox at PNC Park and praying like crazy he does something to help me save my job. Next month might be too late. Heck, next week could be too late.
Is that so, Ron? Other than a bad major league record in a developmental year, why do you think his job is in danger? Three drafts all widely acclaimed and a completely refreshed farm system matter a lot more than a bad record in a year where we were supposed to have a bad record. Let's also now consider that Huntington has never even once in his tenure as GM made a rash personnel decision. Not once.
Huntington has to be running out of time. He's in the final season of a three-year contract and management has given no indication it plans on extending him. There's a good reason for that. Overall, he hasn't done a very good job.
And the Penguins haven't talked to Ray Shero, either. The Steelers haven't talked to Kevin Colbert. GMs don't usually get new deals during seasons. Want to know why? Because there's a season going on, and contract negotiations are typically better deployed on draftees than on GMs.
Huntington can pat himself on the back for rebuilding the Pirates' minor league system, through the draft if nothing else. It's not so much that he and his scouts picked Alvarez No. 2 in the 2008 draft. That was a no-brainer. What's more impressive is that baseball people have praised the Pirates' overall drafts under Huntington. Good for him and his people.
Wait, is Ron Cook making sense?
But what about the big league club?
While Huntington has been off overseeing the minor leaguers, it has become a joke, even worse than when he took over from previous general manager Dave Littlefield
Okay, thanks for affirming that you're not making sense. These (pre-Alvarez) Pirates, as bad as they are, at least have several future pieces in place. Comparing a team with Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones, and Ryan Doumit could all find a place on most any big league club, this while spending very little compared to the toxic waste dumps of lineups Littlefield put out. In fact, of the last everyday lineup Littlefield assembled in Pittsburgh in 2007, exactly five of them have everyday jobs in baseball today, and none are too old to be playing anymore: Ronny Paulino, Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, and Freddy Sanchez. Let's not hear about how Littlefield put out a better team than Huntington. Littlefield's last team won 68 games.
The proof is the eight-game losing streak and 23-40 record the Pirates will take into the game tonight. Only the woeful Baltimore Orioles are worse. It's hard to remember a worse Pirates lineup, the pitching is the second worst in baseball and the defense significantly has worsened
You can't remember a worse lineup, Ron? I suggest you look a) at the beginning and end of last season, and b) at 2005's team, which included marquee names such as Jose Castillo, Humberto Cota, Daryle Ward, Tike Redman, and Matt Lawton. Now, I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't get a whole lot worse than that in the history of baseball. Guess who gave those guys starting jobs? Yes, Littlefield. How anyone can say with a straight face that the big league product today is worse than what Littlefield provided is beyond me.
Huntington has to take the blame for this mess. His trades have been mostly failures, although it's still too soon to pronounce final judgment on some. The Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte deal, which brought Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen, was a really good one. But the rest? At least to this point, they range from bad to awful.
I don't know if Cook realizes that the focal points of many of Huntington's trades haven't even reached Pittsburgh yet, but let's play along.
Sure, not a good trade, but let's remember Bautista's value at the time of the trade. He was a fringe starter who hit for middling average with a decent chance at 15 home runs per year. That's not worthless, but JP Ricciardi wasn't going to give up anything of significant value for him.
Let's see how the highest upside chip in the deal turns out before we condemn anything, okay? Especially considering that Bay absolutely would have walked for nothing but a late first round draft pick if the Pirates had kept him.
Bad as those deals were, sending Jack Wilson and $3.3 million to Seattle to get Jeff Clement as the key acquisition was worse. Clement was given the first-base job in the spring and hit .189 before being sent, finally, to the minors Wednesday.
Somebody forgot to brief me that Clement was the key acquisition of that trade. Brett Lorin was. Clement was a second/third chip along with Cedeno, and getting rid of Snell was prioritized as well.
Then, there was the Aki Iwamura fiasco. Huntington traded to get him in the offseason when the Tampa Bay Rays were ready to release him and took on his $4.85 million salary, which is highest on the Pirates. Iwamura is hitting .177 and has no range in the field because of a bad knee. If you count Iwamura's salary with the money the Pirates sent to Seattle for Clement and the $2 million the team ate to release Ramon Vazquez in the spring, that's more than $10 million wasted dollars for a franchise that can't afford it.
Fair points, but nothing here is exactly franchise-crippling or worthy of canning a GM. The Iwamura trade was actually sensible at the time, though, and more importantly, the money sent to Seattle was not purely for Clement,. You're skewing facts, Ron.
Think what you will of robotic-like manager John Russell, but he didn't build this lousy team. He was stuck with it by Huntington. In the cases of Iwamura, who -- against all odds -- remains with the club, Clement and pitcher Charlie Morton, who was previously seen in the minors working with a sports psychologist trying to get his head right again after two months of beatings, he was stuck with them way too long by Huntington, who couldn't seem to admit he was so wrong with their evaluations.
The last line is the money quote. Huntington couldn't admit he was wrong in his evaluations? Hmmm, let me see here... Aside from Morton, Brandon Moss has been demoted to AAA. Andy LaRoche is about to be moved to a bench role. Iwamura already has been benched. Vazquez was released, and Clement was demoted. Yeah, Huntington really needs to swallow his pride and admit that he's wrong. My god, Cook.
One final blunder by Huntington:
Not signing highly touted Dominican Republic shortstop Miguel Sano was a huge one. People loved this kid. He badly wanted to play for the Pirates. Huntington couldn't get it done, losing him to the Minnesota Twins over a few hundred-thousand dollars.
What exactly is a GM to do when the agent doesn't give him a chance to make a final bid? It's been well-documented that Sano's agent duped the Pirates by not giving them a chance to compete with the Twins' offer.
It's no wonder Huntington is running out of time.
Sure, Ron. If you say so.
Under the circumstances, it's almost shocking Alvarez hasn't been called up. He has handled himself well at Class AAA Indianapolis, hitting .285 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs through Sunday. Huntington challenged him to hit better against left-handed pitchers and he has responded by batting .323 against them. He deserves to be playing against the White Sox tonight, not the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
I'm anxious to see him, too, but has it ever occurred to you that Huntington and Stark may think he has facets of his game left that (gasp!) could use work? You know, things like the frequent errors and 30 % K/AB ratio? He'll be up soon enough, so calm down.
In many ways, the Pirates' season is over again, long before the Fourth of July. But wouldn't it be fun to see what Alvarez could do with future star Andrew McCutchen and the other young guys that Huntington has finally, seemingly reluctantly, brought up? Tabata. Neil Walker. Brad Lincoln. Steve Pearce once he is healthy again. Who knows? Maybe they could put a little something good together. Maybe they could save Huntington's job
Wouldn't it be fun? Yeah, and it will be, sometime in the next two days. Are you really pissing and moaning over one more day of no Alvarez? Does it really matter?
If I'm Huntington, I'm willing to take that chance. Apparently, he isn't to that point yet. What? Is he afraid Alvarez will fail? If that happens, he almost surely will be fired.
Is he afraid, or does he just want to make sure he doesn't fail? Let's weigh the likelihoods.
If I'm Huntington, I'm going down firing all the bullets in my gun. I'm not leaving any in the chamber in Indianapolis.
Again, he's probably within 72 hours of being called up. Enough with the melodrama.