And then there’s this.
Even in the midst of what NBCSports.com columnist Joe Posnanski no doubt considers an overall favorable assessment of the Pirates’ miraculous 2013 season, he manages to describe the team as a “rag-tag” collection of players, several of whom (Burnett, Rodriguez, Martin, etc.) were acquired primarily through the heretofore-unsuccessful method of trading for fading veterans.
He also compares the team unfavorably with previous surprises like the 2011 Brewers (grrrr), who boasted “Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun and four solid starters,” the 2012 Nationals, featuring “Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and a bunch of talented young players” and the 2010 Reds team that “led the league in home runs with league MVP Joey Votto leading the way.”
Posnanski’s point — assuming he has one — is that, despite their gaudy record, these are the same old Pirates doing the same things they’ve always done and making the same bone-headed moves they always have. Only this year they got lucky and some of their miscues actually turned out successfully.
My favorite moment came when he lumped last year’s selection of Mark Appel in with other draft “blunders,” completely ignoring that players like Daniel Moskos (and maybe Tony Sanchez) were taken ahead of more highly regarded players precisely because they figured to be more affordable, while Appel (and Josh Bell and Stetson Allie, to name just a few recent examples) were taken in spite of financial considerations. That represents a total departure from how things were done in previous years, not business as usual.
And, oh by the way, he also neglects to mention that by failing to sign Appel we still wound up with Austin Meadows, who isn’t exactly chopped liver.
But my main objection to his characterization of this Pirates’ team is the assertion it lacks young stars in the Strasburg/Braun/Harper/Fielder/Votto mold. This despite conceding Andrew McCutchen was arguably the best player in the league last year and that Starling Marte isn’t far behind him. He also notes that Pedro Alvarez is on pace to hit 40 (or more) homers this year and that Neil Walker has become a damned solid major leaguer.
Are any of them Hall of Famers? Maybe not, but it’s not a completely undistinguished group, either. Nor are they old or culled from other organizations.
Speaking of which, Posnanski refers to the acquisitions of Burnett and Martin as though they compare with those of Jeromy Burnitz and Matt Morris. But again, he neglects to mention that the most statistically interesting performers on the pitching staff this year aren’t Burnett or Wandy but former Pirate farmhands Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke (with Jameson Taillon and a host of others waiting in the wings), and that Martin was hardly a bargain basement signing, having been given the largest free agent contract in Pirate history.
Whether you thought Martin was worth it at the time — and in retrospect he absolutely was — you at least have to give the Bucs credit for rolling the dice rather than continuing to do things on the (Rod Barajas — cough, cough) cheap.
Lastly, Posnanski completely overlooks that the Pirates have invested heavily in Latin America recently, yielding a bumper crop of young talent that includes Marte, Gregory Polanco, Luis Heredia, Alen Hanson and other potential stars.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Overall, Posnanski cites the fact that no Pirate (with the possible exceptions of Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon) are having huge years statistically to suggest they’re doing it with smoke and mirrors. But I'd argue it’s just the opposite. The Pirates may lack a recognized (at least by the media) superstar, but they boast a lineup that plays hard night in and night out and has none of the gaping holes it used to have. Instead of hitching their wagon to one player, as they did last year with Cutch, these Pirates have a different hero every night.
That isn’t luck. It’s depth and balance.
Rag-tag? Baloney. This is a team with just the right mix of burgeoning young stars and canny, selfless veterans And they’re going to be even better in years to come as those veterans are supplanted by even more young talent and those youngsters already contributing at the Major League level blossom into the kind of household names even skeptics like Posnanski can recognize and respect.