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San Diego vs. Pittsburgh, 30 May 2007

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7:05 PM

FSNP, WPGB

Chris Young (5-3, 2.70) vs. Paul Maholm (2-6, 5.43).

I'll be in the comments for this one.

Here's the box. Ryan Doumit starts in right field for the Bucs.

Young's start tonight has me in the mood to discuss a couple of recent items in the Post-Gazette. First:

Who says the Pirates received zero return for their $10.7 million investment in Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa last season?

It was Randa, lest anyone forget, who spared them the indignation of being no-hit for the first time since Bob Gibson did it 37 years ago.

Chris Young surely never will forget: On Sept. 22, 2006, in San Diego's Petco Park, Young had held the Pirates hitless through 8 1/3 innings when Randa stepped to the plate with a man aboard, then drilled a flat fastball deep into the center-field bleachers.

As you may remember, I was at that game, and Randa's homer frustrated me to no end. The game was basically lost at that point - Young was completely exhausted and was all over the place, and his manager, Bruce Bochy, was just keeping him in there so he had a chance to throw the no-hitter. He had at least one lights-out reliever, Cla Meredith, warming up in the 'pen in case Young ran into trouble. If I understand Fangraphs correctly, Randa's homer increased the Pirates' chances of winning the game by four-tenths of one percent - and that's even before considering San Diego's excellent bullpen, or the fact that the next two batters would've been Chris Duffy and Jack Wilson.

Basically, Randa's homer ended a chance for me - and anyone else who might have been watching on TV - to see something historic. Personally, when it comes to baseball, I'll take historic and awful over boring and merely bad any time. Also, it would've been cool to see Young no-hit the Pirates simply because it would've been a huge embarrassment for Dave Littlefield, who traded Young away for nothing.

Also in the Post-Gazette, Dejan Kovacevic asks an interesting question:

Which is more important to the Pirates:
  1. The window of opportunity that exists from having this group together until 2009?
  2. The window that exists this year by the division being so down?
Seems to me that the division scenario is more precious. Look back over the history of the Central since it was formed, and there always have been one or two teams -- almost always St. Louis and Houston -- that rose well above the pack. And they rose so high, in some years, that even a very, very good Pirates team would not have been able to catch them.

With that in mind, why should the Pirates wait until 2008 or 2009 to employ a this-is-our-chance approach? Why wait until July to determine whether to be buyers or sellers? Why hold onto $4 million in unspent payroll? For that matter, why wait until those two years to raise payroll when it could be done now?

It is worth pointing out, again, that the Pirates currently have a .451 winning percentage, which is about the equivalent of a 73-win season. I'm not sure how to do the research on this one - I don't have ELIAS on speed dial - but I'm pretty sure that if the Pirates won 73 games, or even, say, 77, and got to the playoffs, it'd be historic. If they did manage to win 77 and get to the dance, I'd love it - again, it'd be great to have this team do something historic - but I don't think it's possible. In this article, Baseball Prospectus calls the 2005 Padres, who won 82 games, "the worst playoff team ever to roam the earth." I'm watching in the 2007 Pirates, and I watched the 2005 Padres. And believe me, these Pirates are no 2005 Padres.

Also, keep in mind that the Bucs are already 5.5 games back of the Brewers, who are almost inarguably a much better team. Also, the Bucs are only a half-game ahead of the Cubs, who are probably also a better team. BP's adjusted standings give the Pirates less than a 2% chance of making the playoffs. Is that worth pushing all-in for? Given the state of some of its franchises (messy contracts, bad farm systems, and so on), this division is probably going to be bad for a while. If Littlefield only has $4 million or so to spend the rest of this season, he's probably only going to be able to trade for the next Tony Armas, or he's going to have to give up talent that could help us next year or in 2009. Maybe it's silly of me, but I'd like to hold out hope that our chances of making the playoffs will be better than 2% in 2009.

But! Can you imagine how much better this team would be if it still had Oliver Perez, Bronson Arroyo and Young on it? With some smarter management (and, in the cases of Perez and Young, better coaching) these past few years, the Pirates could have the best rotation in baseball. Then we'd be buyers at the deadline.