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Why the Pirates Didn't Do What Oakland Did

If you haven't yet read this brilliant article, please do so right now. Here's the money quote, and it's a big one:

It was tempting, all concerned acknowledge, to travel the Oakland route right away [by trading veterans for prospects].

"We're not going to have the system be as deep as we need it to be as quickly as we want. We know that," Coonelly said. "If we moved Snell or Gorzelanny or Capps, the players people wanted in the types of deals we wanted to make, we could accelerate that process. That's a fact. And that would not be the most illogical step for this team to take."

But ...

"We decided against it because, one, it is not financially necessary to do so. Two, we think we can infuse talent to the group we have even as we continually look for right trades that can bring prospects. Three, we want to give this team a chance to contend, to win. We think these players and our fans deserve it."

This line of reasoning probably won't be unpopular with some fans but, if we can take this stuff at face value, it's pretty amazing. Coonelly's admitting he delayed the organization's chances of acquiring the talent it needs to contend in the future because he wants to have his cake and eat it too - he wants to win with this team while simultaneously building the future.

To me, there are a bunch of good excuses for not trading Snell or Gorzelanny, starting with the one that says that at this point, they're not far enough along in their careers and in their service-time clocks that they're going to bring back talent that's more valuable to the Pirates in the long term than Snell and Gorzelanny themselves are. But the excuse that Coonelly's offering here is, in my mind, not a valid one, and it requires quite a lot of cheek to believe you can both build around the players you have and build for the future, especially when someone as smart as Billy Beane spent the winter more or less admitting he could only do one.

Yes, there's a lot more to this issue (Oakland plays in a tougher league, had a better group of veterans to deal, and so on), but still, Coonelly's comments, taken at face value, are very interesting and audacious and, if I may say so, kind of unfortunate.

This article - which is about what would happen if, by some miracle, the Pirates were to contend in 2008 - is a very complex one. Part of that is because it's written with about a hundred times the care that most mainstream media articles are, but I worry that another part of that is that this ownership group still hasn't made up its mind about what it wants the Pirates to be. In a shifting market, some second-guessing is inevitable, and of course not all the comments that Bob Nutting, Neal Huntington and Coonelly make in the papers can be taken at face value, but this is still looks like a portrait of a bunch of guys who can't make up their minds.

First they're looking to trade players like Jason Bay in the offseason. Then they're realizing they can't get the players they want in return. Then they're repeating the (rather weird, in my opinion) claim that last year's team underachieved in some significant way. Then they're claiming that they'd add players if they started winning. Then they're saying that even if they started winning, they wouldn't break from the plan (which presumably involves building through the farm system - so how would they add significant players if they started winning, given that prospects are how you get those players?).

I realize that running a baseball team is a complex business, and that the world is full of shades of gray. I also know that it's not uncommon for new GMs of moribund franchises to wait awhile before really going crazy with trades. But this article begins to seem downright ominous when you keep in mind that Huntington and Coonelly did almost nothing of consequence this winter.

The Pirates have had 15 consecutive losing seasons. They have little talent in the majors and a below-average farm system. In defense of the Pirates' management, they were probably asked a ton of questions for this article about a scenario (winning in 2008) that is highly unlikely to ever happen. But still, I'd like them to show me that they know that desperate times call for desperate measures. Forget all the hemming and hawing, and make a bold move or three.