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Introducing Pirate Fan Pathology (PFP)

The Pirates are still interested in Adam LaRoche, but since they seem unwilling to give up the starter the Braves crave, this will probably have to remain a dream. And with slim pickings on the free agent market, the chances are looking good that the Pirates will stick with what they have.

This would be an enormous mistake. What the Pirates have just isn't good enough. The thing is, I've seen a number of Pirate fans express the opinion that Dave Littlefield should be praised for doing nothing, since prices for free agents are much more expensive than usual. I don't mean to call out fans for expressing their opinions, but this one is so characteristic of Pirate Fan Pathology (PFP) that I feel compelled to address it here. There are a number of reasons why this opinion is a strange one.

  1. The free agent market appears to be crazy for a reason - major league baseball is swimming in cash. The Pirates are also, by all accounts, swimming in cash. Therefore, we should expect that  they pay going rates for players who will help them. A team that continually has artificially low payrolls and suddenly drops out of the market entirely when prices rise isn't being savvy, it's just continuing its policy of having artificially low payrolls.
  2. The Pirates are in desperate need of better talent, and there are many ways to find talent outside the free agent market. Other than acquiring a bunch of players who probably won't start the year with the Bucs and have little chance of helping much in the future, Littlefield hasn't pursued any of those other avenues.
  3. This is the most important one. Fans of good teams don't merely expect their managers to avoid horrible mistakes. They expect them to be proactive in finding ways to improve their teams. Regardless of the conditions of the market, a team in the Pirates' position simply cannot afford to sit tight, and a good, or even competent, GM would not be sitting on his hands right now.
In fact, one would think it would be relatively easy to take advantage of the escalating market for players by trading players who are currently under contract. Salomon Torres and Mike Gonzalez would have a lot more value to other teams than they'd have to the Pirates. Jack Wilson could probably be moved now, and the Pirates have two shortstop prospects in the upper levels of the minors and a good player (Freddy Sanchez) who can handle short while the Bucs wait.

Not only is the notion that the Pirates are wise to simply stop making moves wrongheaded, it's characteristic of Pirates' fans' incredibly low expectations for the team. Rather than expecting good general managing, we thank our lucky stars that Littlefield isn't flushing $6 million down the toilet on the next Jeromy Burnitz. Rather than fuming about Lloyd McClendon's awful tactical managing, we say, "At least he's not abusing our young pitchers." Rather than expecting our team to find a way to contend, we suggest that it'd be okay if we just got to .500.

I'm not saying that most Pirates fans aren't aware that Littlefield is a bad GM or that lots of lower-revenue teams make the playoffs. I'm saying that I don't think fans of most teams would even bother with this "Well, at least..." stuff. The Bucs' current predicament is totally unacceptable.