CINCINNATI - MAY 26: Akinori Iwamura #3 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is pictured during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 26, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 4-0. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As you all know, when Dejan Kovacevic talks, Pirates fans listen. And so when I find myself disagreeing with him, I often feel the need to say so even though I like his writing a lot, because I know that things he says can become the conventional wisdom pretty quickly.
Here's something I'd like to nip in the bud, from an article I otherwise thought was good:
It came up again in his chat on Monday (from a reader, not from Kovacevic himself):
If this team doesn't have some kind of second half turn around, no matter the extensions, are Neal and Russell is big trouble? I thought the theme of this regime was to do away with the Randa and Burnitz type signings, yet as you pointed out the other day, they wasted Matt Morris money on Iwamura and others, traded prospects away for the likes of Eveland, and wouldn't go the extra mile to get talent like Sano and Scheppers? Isn't this exactly what to old regime did??
Well, no. It's not quite right to blame the Pirates' current management team for not "going the extra mile" to get amateur talent when they outspend just about everybody in the draft. This isn't at all a Matt Morris / Matt Wieters situation, where the Dave Littlefield Pirates skimped on the draft as a matter of course and then dropped $13 million on Matt Morris. (Then there's also the fact that Scheppers was injured during the window the Pirates had to sign him, and that they were willing to spend on Sano if Sano's agent had let them. I do agree, however, with the broader point that the Neal Huntington Pirates still have yet to sign a real blue-chip player from Latin America. And I'll be furious if they don't sign 2010 top pick Jameson Taillon.)
Also, while it's certainly true the money paid to Iwamura and Vazquez plus the money paid to the Mariners does equal the salary the Pirates paid to Morris in 2008, I'm not sure that's a fair comparison. For one thing, the prospects acquired from the Mariners (plus Clement and Cedeno) easily have much more value to the Pirates than Matt Morris ever could have. Nathan Adcock has quietly put together one of the better seasons of any Pirates prospect, in fact. And the money the Bucs sent to the Mariners wasn't just cash the Pirates randomly threw in - that money covered most of the rest of Jack Wilson and Ian Snell's 2009 pay. Wilson and Snell did very little to earn that money with the Mariners, but if they'd stuck with the Pirates, the Bucs would have been on the hook for it anyway, and without getting prospects in return. (Snell probably would have stayed in the minors, providing no value whatsoever.) Oh, and the Pirates got the Mariners to pay the $4.25 million they would have owed Snell in 2010. The Wilson/Snell trade was a clear win for the Pirates, and the $3 million or so they shipped to the Mariners wasn't wasted in the least.
As for Akinori Iwamura and Ramon Vazquez, yes, that was wasted money. But come on - Vazquez's deal was for $2 million. Show me a team that hasn't had a busted $2 million contract in the past two years. The Iwamura acquisition was bad, particularly if the Pirates could have given him a physical and didn't, but comparing him to Morris seems harsh, particularly since he cost less than half as much. It's pretty easy to add up a couple of bad contracts and equate that with one really awful one. In fact, you can do it with nearly any team. Here, watch - the 2010 Rays:
Pat Burrell - $9 million for a .625 OPS
Dioner Navarro - $2 million for a .576 OPS
Gabe Kapler - $1.05 million for a .596 OPS
= Matt Morris
The reasons the Matt Morris trade were so bad were that the Pirates had just had an opportunity to spend that money in the draft and they didn't, and also that the trade that brought him to Pittsburgh made no sense. He was acquired for a stretch run in which the team had no chance of making the playoffs, and he already had so little value that the Giants couldn't believe how lucky they were to clear his salary from the books.
In contrast, while I wasn't a huge fan of the Iwamura deal when it was announced, it did at least make some amount of sense - the Pirates needed a second baseman, and they paid the going rate for one who figured to be roughly average. Again, if the Bucs could have given him a physical and didn't, that's on them, but even in that case, they didn't skimp on the draft to pay for him, the way the Pirates did with Morris.
The Vazquez deal at the time also made some degree of sense: he was coming off a good year in Texas, and the Pirates needed a spare infielder. And again, the Jack Wilson money wasn't wasted money at all. Lumping these three transactions together and saying they add up to the ridiculous, indefensible mess that was the Matt Morris trade just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
A final point: veteran free agents go bust. This happens all the time, even when a team does its due diligence before signing or trading for one. If we're serious about wanting the Pirates to spend money, and we should be, we have to accept that these things will happen. Again, the Rays are a good example - their opening day payroll was around $73 million this year, and they completely blew $12 million of that on Burrell, Navarro and Kapler. It's never good to waste money, but every team will waste some if it's serious about winning. The Pirates wasted $7 million on Iwamura and Vazquez, but I won't fret much about a sum that small. That's just the price of doing business, and there's going to be more where that came from if the Pirates start really spending money.