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More on the Trades

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Sometimes I wonder why I still write about the Pirates when it is so obvious that the ownership's goals for the team are completely different from the fans' interests, or from anyone's ideas of what the goals of a baseball team should be.

One of the reasons I do is because of stuff like this. On a poll of the main sports page of the Post-Gazette, readers are asked what they think of the Pirates' performance at the deadline. Amazingly, 52% rate it either "good" or "O.K."

Now, it's possible Pirates employees are stuffing those e-ballots the same way they stuffed All-Star ballots for Jason Bay, but I think it's more likely that a lot of fans - even fans who care enough about Pittsburgh sports to visit the Post-Gazette's website in the middle of the night - actually think the Pirates did a decent job.

Without having spoken to any of these fans, I suspect they are suffering from two misconceptions: first, that the Pirates didn't get ripped off, and second, that trades don't need to be put in any kind of context as long as the Pirates don't get ripped off.

First: The Pirates got ripped off. They got two mediocre minor league relievers for Sean Casey and Kip Wells. Minor league relievers are a dime a dozen, and even before today, the Pirates had several (Josh Sharpless, Jonah Bayliss, Scott Strickland and so on) ready to step in at the major league level. They're easy to acquire. So unless you can grab a potentially great one, they're no big shakes. Casey was desired by several teams. Wells has had some success in the big leagues and has been good in his last several starts - if the Pirates hadn't shortened his minor-league rehab stay, he might have been a very valuable trading chit, and he might have landed the Pirates a solid prospect. Jesse Chavez, who the Pirates got for Wells, throws hard and has an okay statistical record, but so what? Guys like him are a dime a dozen, and even if everything breaks well for him, he'll only improve the Pirates by a few runs a year over a freely-available Strickland type of pitcher.

Those were the good trades. Xavier Nady, who the Bucs got for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez, is not a great player in the best of circumstances, and he's damaged goods - he has a "cracked bone in his right wrist." Like most hitters good enough to play the corners in the big leagues, Nady might have a 25-homer season in him. But so might lots of guys who can't play defense. Heck, Jody Gerut hit 22 homers in 127 games one year. Besides - Perez may have frustrated us all, and his velocity probably isn't going to come back, but he's 24. Someone pointed out earlier today that at age 22, Perez was having a better season than Scott Kazmir is now having at age 22.

Shawn Chacon for Craig Wilson is just so preposterous and awful that it's not worth even bothering to analyze. So instead I'll say this: I think we should nickname Chacon "Busted Paperclip." Busted Paperclip Chacon. Not only does it remind us that Chacon was traded for Craig Wilson, but it also abbreviates to "B.P."

Second: the Pirates' trades need to be put in context. I've seen a few posters on message boards write approvingly of the fact that these trades save the Pirates money. To which I respond: so? Who gets that money? Where is it going?

Aside from money, the Pirates' owners have been without a plan to win for so long, it can be easy to forget they're supposed to have one. When are the Pirates going to contend? With what core of players do they plan to do that? The entire organization, from top to bottom, is so hopelessly screwed that I just can't imagine how that will ever happen. Today's trades didn't improve that situation. The relievers they received are fungible; Nady is an injured mediocrity in the baseball equivalent of middle age; and B.P. Chacon is good for, well, B.P. Not one of these players is a potential core member of a playoff team.

While contending teams are understandably reluctant to deal these potential core types of players for rentals and spare parts, it does happen. The Rays got Joel Guzman and another good hitter for Julio Lugo. The Royals picked up Ryan Shealy for very little. The Indians got 20-year-old Asdrubal Cabrera, a defensive whiz with a potentially very good bat for Eduardo Perez. And any number of teams (such as the Nationals and Royals) picked up young pitchers who might one day turn into something special.

The Pirates have plenty of players like Nady. In fact, their main problem the past few years is that they have too many players like Nady. He's a shade better than Ty Wigginton, Daryle Ward and Bobby Hill, but only a shade.

If the Pirates are ever going to contend, they need special players, not decent ones. Decent ones are easy to come by. They have their uses, certainly, but they're the sorts of guys that contending teams should be plugging holes with, not the sorts of guys the Pirates should be building around.

The Pirates make player personnel decisions as if they have no idea what their record is or who else is on their roster. If your goal is to contend, it's not hard to at least act like that's your goal, as the Brewers have begun to do in the past couple years and as the Royals and Devil Rays (and their new GMs) are now doing. The Pirates aren't even pretending to try to contend anymore.

Speaking of which, I've been thinking about the rumors earlier today that Jack Wilson demanded a trade. If this is true, then here's the tally from the past few years:

  1. Raul Mondesi quit the team
  2. Chris Duffy quit the team, then came back and groused when he was promoted because he wanted to be traded
  3. Jody Gerut shut himself down after being demoted
  4. Zach Duke, Kip Wells, John Grabow and Ryan Vogelsong all complained about the Pirates' coaching
  5. Jack Wilson demanded a trade
  6. Even the mild-mannered Craig Wilson complained about his playing time before leaving
I'm all for these sorts of things. If I were a player who cared about winning, I would be steamed about having to play for the Pirates. I would be especially steamed right now. Jason Bay and Zach Duke seem like fairly bright guys; I wonder what they really think of the moves that Pirates management just made. I wonder how there'd be any option but for the players to just quit worrying about the team and start playing for themselves, as Dejan Kovacevic has suggested they're doing. The players benefit from the Pirates in the sense that they get their paychecks from the Pirates, but most of them are good enough to be paid by other teams. If I were a young Pirate - not one who chose to come here through free agency - and I had no choice but to play for the Pirates, I'd hope I'd have the guts to demand a trade or complain about the management. If I cared about winning, it'd be the right thing to do.