One of the stranger things about running Bucs Dugout has been that, as it has become a gathering place for Pirates fans with a particular outlook, there are now commenters - lots of them - who, if I saw them arguing with a typical Pirates fan in a bar, I would probably agree with 95 percent of what they were saying. And yet, when we get down to brass tacks in a place like this, where most of the commenters aren't necessarily typical Pirates fans, I wonder if we might be acting a little bit inflexible.
I think I understand where this comes from. In the Dave Littlefield era, it was hard for an informed Pirates fan to not sound single-minded about things like draft picks and the importance of building a team around young players, because neither the Pirates nor most of the fans had any idea how absolutely crucial most of those things are.
But this is a different time. Love him or hate him, Neal Huntington does understand that robust drafts are important. And while the average fan still might be a little hazy on draft strategy, exactly which young players are important, and so on, the overwhelming majority of Bucs Dugout commenters are aware that the only likely path to success for a team like the Pirates runs through the minor leagues (and, more broadly, with players with less than six years of service time).
Now that almost everyone here understands that these things are important, we should acknowledge that the Pirates have to put a team on the field, and that while we don't want Huntington's actions to seriously conflict with his long-term goals, he'll sometimes have to do things to meet other, short-term goals. He can multitask. And that's fine.
For example, if the Pirates have a hole at first base and are in the midst of a pennant race, even one in which their talent level dictates they're a bit of a longshot to win, I want them to be able to trade Aaron Baker for Derrek Lee. Baker is young and Lee is old, but Lee is helpful, and losing Baker will probably turn out to be no big deal. I think most folks here agreed with that when it happened, right? So most of us accept that, while we all want the Pirates to build with youth in the long term, we accept that it's sometimes okay to make small sacrifices towards that long-term goal in order to make the team better in the short term.
Well, actually, maybe that's a bad example, because of the possibility that the Pirates will get a compensation pick for Lee, and will therefore come out ahead in both the long term and the short term. But even if the Bucs don't end up getting a comp pick, I think most of us would agree that it was still a good trade.
I also think that the ultimate goal of building with youth - which, again, I think almost everyone here is down with - is not as simple as 'young players = good, veterans = bad.' As an example, let's take the possibility of adding Ian Stewart. When I write about the possibility of adding Ian Stewart or Wilson Betemit as a contingency plan for a Pedro Alvarez collapse, I'm obviously not suggesting something like the Joe Randa / Freddy Sanchez debacle in 2006, where the mediocre veteran is given a starting job in front of a youngster who's ready to contribute. That would be terrible, and I think almost everyone here understands why.
What I'm talking about is that Alvarez batted .191/.272/.289 last year, and never batted over .229 or had more than one home run in any month of the season. I'm talking about the fact that the Pirates eventually had to send him back to Class AAA to learn to lay off breaking junk in the dirt.
And if Alvarez has a .272 OBP and gets in 0-and-2 counts in every single at-bat next year, I'd like there to be someone around who can step in and start - not only because The Bad Alvarez is thoroughly painful to watch and because he costs the Pirates games, but because it's not at all clear to me that sending him out there every day to do a job for which he's thoroughly unprepared is the best thing for him. Yes, by ignoring third base this offseason you follow the cardinal rule of playing a talented young player whenever possible. But you might not be helping the team in the short term if Alvarez flops, and you might not even be helping the team in the long term if you feel like you have to stick with Alvarez come hell or high water. And you might not be helping anyone if Alvarez plays terribly and you absolutely have to send him to the minors, thus guaranteeing yourself 300 hacktastic at-bats by Josh Harrison or whoever.
I don't want to go after any commenter by name, and I certainly don't intend to freak out too much about comments I don't agree with, because like I said, I think I would agree with a lot of the posters I'm talking about most of the time. I'm just advocating a less rigid approach:
-P- There is no problem with acquiring a Stewart or a Betemit if you understand that those guys shouldn't get in the way. (And if Alvarez tanks and it turns out Josh Harrison is actually better than the veteran you've signed, then Harrison should be ahead of the Stewart or Betemit, too.) If Alvarez plays well, great - Stewart or Betemit might make a good bench player.
-P- Young players are very important, and you don't want to make a habit of trading prospects, but if you're able to trade an Aaron Baker or a Todd Redmond to get something you really like, that's not automatically bad. (And yes, I know Tyler Yates, who the Pirates got for Redmond, was terrible, but losing Redmond was no big deal.)
-P- Comp picks are great to have, but the compensation round only produces a couple genuinely good players most years, so those picks really aren't worth fetishizing. I think we've probably had more discussion about the comp pick the Pirates might get for Derrek Lee than about Derrek Lee himself. I'm not saying it wasn't a huge problem that some teams were picking 10 times before the Pirates made their second pick, only that a single comp pick is really just a nifty bonus to have, and that's all, particularly now that the Pirates' draft will have to abide by the rules of the new CBA.
-P- If you think the Pirates are mostly being run well, I think rooting for the team to lose in order to get a higher draft pick is pretty silly, unless the Pirates are in contention for the top overall pick.
The Pirates need to build with youth. I've been saying that for years, and I'll keep saying it. But that shouldn't preclude the Pirates from trying to do some basic things to put a competent team on the field. There's no need to be rigid about it. The Bucs can build for the future and do basic housekeeping at the same time.