David Schoenfield has an article up at ESPN that’s like a breath of fresh air coming from one of the most empty-headed and reactionary corners of the sports media. (I’m referring to ESPN here, not Schoenfield, with whom I’m not familiar.) Schoenfield argues that the Pirates and Rays aren’t struggling because they’re cheap (although he specifically states that he’s not denying that they’re cheap). Instead, he argues that it’s because they simply haven’t done a good job of drafting and developing players.
Okay, it’s nothing that hasn’t been discussed here, but it’s so unusual to see this sort of nuance from anybody in the mainstream media, which normally begins and ends all sports discussions with the basic principle that $$ = wins. Schoenfield even points out that:
some reports [of the Pirates’ cheapness] haven’t been completely fair. One of the major criticisms of the Pirates is that they didn’t add enough in-season pieces during their playoff runs. That ignores the 2015 team that won 98 games and added J.A. Happ, Joakim Soria, Aramis Ramirez and Joe Blanton at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, that team still fell two games short of the division title and lost to a red-hot Jake Arrieta in the wild-card game.
Instead, Schoenfield notes that players originally signed and drafted by the Pirates trailed all other MLB teams in 2017 with just 12.3 WAR, while the Cubs led the majors with 58.1 WAR. He points out that the Pirates have gotten very limited production from a string of early, first-round picks, and adds that they “have fared poorly in Latin America.” (Not sure what a certain basement blogger and Rene Gayo fanboy would have to say about that.)
Anyway, as I said, this isn’t going to break any ground with anybody here. Even if you agree with everything Schoenfield has to say (and he doesn’t go into great depth on the Pirates’ farm system), that doesn’t necessarily mean that better scouting and development would have been enough to overcome the financial limitations imposed by ownership. It’s just a relief to me to see somebody out there in the mainstream pointing out that throwing money at free agents isn’t the be-all and end-all of building a successful team.