There have been more than a few posts lately that have had people arguing once again about how the Pirates need to spend money and trade prospects. The recent Royals trade has spurred all reactions from "dumbest trade in history" to "this is the reason the Pirates don't win, because they wont trade their prospects." In short, the Royals overpaid majorly for what they got and they are seemingly throwing all of their eggs in a couple of year basket, hoping to force the issue of winning. Here is the thing... what happens if Shields goes down with an arm injury? There are too many what ifs in baseball to go all in.
How is it that teams are supposed to become winners if you don't go all in every now and again? Two different approaches can bring you winning teams, aside from the all in and maybe it will work out(Sort of the Florida Marlins approach). You can charge ungodly amounts to bring in revenue. The Yankees avg. ticket price is almost $90. The Rangers and Cardinals are around $75. The Mets, White Sox and Red Sox are all above $60. For a reference point, the Pirates avg. ticket price hovers around $25.( A humorous note: The Royals are 9th in the league at almost $60, god it sucks to be a Royals fan). Along with the higher ticket prices, you can assume everything in the ballpark is more expensive as well. Further more, big city teams sign TV contracts for ungodly amounts which allow them to turn around and spend spend spend. The first approach to winning, is living in a major market (NY, LA, Chi, Boston), having a ton of money and spending what Boras wants in order to get the best proven players out there. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. This is baseball, anything can happen, spending money and bringing in the "best players" is just giving you better odds to win.
Since we all know the Pirates are not a large market city, they wont have the money from big tv contracts. Also, since many people on here and elsewhere already complain about "spending their hard earned money on a crappy product", raising prices doesn't seem to be a popular solution either. So then how is it possible for the Pirates to become a winning ball team?
The blueprint has been placed out there by a couple of teams already. If you look at the A's, the Rays, the Rangers and to a lesser extent the Marlins and the Braves, you can come up with a way to constantly put a team out on the field that can win. No I am not talking about the glorified A's that put together a group of guys with high .OBP. (Stop me if Im wrong, but didn't the A's have 3 pretty darn good pitchers that year which weren't really talked about in the movie...but I digress.) The simple solution is to scout well, draft well, sign international players with high upside, develop well, and trade players at their peak trade value for other players who you can develop. Sure you can throw in signing a few smart free agent signings and knowing the value of position players vs. sp vs rp vs bench blah blah blah..... but those are all branching out further than I would like to. This is actually something the Pirates have done well over the past couple of years, with rebuilding their bullpen, getting AJ and finding players like GIJones who came cheap with high upside.
So we now know the Pirates aren't going to spend their way to a winning team. We also know the blueprint is laid out there, so what is it the Pirates need to do in order to constantly put a winning team on the field? Do they have it figured out and we just need to be patient? Partly.... The problems seem to be in two main areas. When the new Mang. came in, they had no problem unloading every player they had in order to get maximum return and rebuild. There was no emotional attachment to the team. That has since changed, and NH seems to overvalue all of his own players and prospects based on an emotional attachment. These are his players, these are his prospects.... if you want them you are going to have to pay for them. This is why some deals may be out there that the Pirates have not cashed in on. I was a strong advocate for them trading McCutchen when it seemed like contract negotiations were dragging on. The fact of the matter is, he was and is one of the best chips in baseball. He can't win a World Series by himself. If at some point in the future the Pirates are not winning and it looks as though Cutch might have more good seasons behind him than in front of him, the Bucs will need to make the unpopular choice to maximize his value and get what they can for the future. This is why they need to trade the Hammer now. This is why they need to trade Jones now. The game of baseball is changing, and NH needs to see players much like stocks. You sell high and buy low and try to develop enough to constantly be good. Which leads me to my final point on why the Pirates have not won. Recently they have drafted well, they have signed international players well, they unload a bunch of players and are still in the process of developing before they need to trade players away again. They have done a horrible job of developing talent. Whether it is rushing players, moving them around to too many positions, not focusing on the right approaches or anything in between, the fact of the matter is the Pirates system is not developing players like they should. The A's seem to turn good players into great ones and mediocre ones into serviceable major leaguers. Atlanta seems to be a pitching factory for a minor league system. I don't know if the Rays and Rangers also have great systems, or if they have just been lucky over the past few years with can't miss prospects that would flourish in any system. The Pirates have been spending more money on developing than in the past, so maybe they are onto something.
The future seems much brighter now than in the past. The Pirates need to stay the course and focus more and more on developing and scouting. Soon the time will come when the Pirates need to trade away popular big name guys for prospects. The key will be to do so while the Bucs have leverage. Face it, Pedro Alvarez is going to leave when his contract is up. He is going to sign somewhere for more money. Management needs to evaluate between now and then when the best time to trade him will be to get a maximum return. Let's just hope they can make the right decisions so that we can do what we do best and cheer on the buccos!