Comparing the Pirates to the Yankees is just stupid. The Yankees are an attraction in their own right in the biggest media market in the world, in a city with a robust tourism industry. Thousands of people from all over the country vacation in New York during the baseball season and decide to take in a game at Yankee Stadium as part if the experience. As beautiful as PNC Park is, I don’t think nearly as many people would do the same in Pittsburgh, even if the Pirates became a perennial playoff team. The Yankees also have their own television network, and face a much more competitive environment for attracting consumer entertainment spending. It’s just apples and oranges, and faulting the Pirates for not operating like the Yankees is like saying I don’t have more net worth because I don’t manage my finances like Warren Buffett.
Club executives vehemently disagreed with that assessment. Yet the numbers show Pittsburgh hasn’t spent as much as its opponents — and hasn’t won.
Would it be facetious to point out that correlation does not equal causation here? It would? Ok, then I won’t. But of course, that is what’s going on because, even if they acknowledge it later, right here the writer is ignoring low payroll teams who have had or are having success, as well as high payroll teams who aren’t. And even if they’re not directly making the argument, they’re certainly implying that the Pirates aren’t winning because their payroll isn’t higher.
The Pirates’ strategy of building with prospects rather than with proven players was illustrated this month when they paid nearly $12 million for amateur draft picks, putting them at or near the top of baseball, and raising their draft expenditures to $31 million for the last three years.
They also spent another $2.6 million for 16-year-old Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia, the highest price they’ve paid for an international prospect. General manager Neal Huntington, who was hired three years ago, said the team has a plan for the future and is in the middle of executing it.
Again, you get a bit of loaded language here, describing the trade-off between prospects and “proven players.” Of course, proven players are generally either not available, because teams don’t want to trade the productive players they have under contract, or are very expensive on the free agent market. Almost by definition, it’s nearly impossible to “build” a team with “proven” talent, in any sport.
But the most obvious example of the writer stretching to make their point is this rather hilarious graf:
To cut payroll, the Pirates have shed former All-Stars Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson in trades, along with nearly every other player who was arbitration eligible — or close to it — or free agency: Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, John Grabow, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Ronny Paulino and Sean Burnett.
They also dealt slugger Jose Bautista to Toronto for a backup catcher who has since left their system, and cut NL All-Star closer Matt Capps without getting anything in return because he sought a $500,000 raise.
I rather like how the author characterizes the first group of players as “former All-Stars” without bothering to note how many of them might not have made it if not for the requirement for every team to be represented in the game, but then, I’m a bit of a fan of trying to decide whether AP writers are more prone to ignorance or chutzpah in their writing.
But, of course, this is where the case against the Pirates kind of falls apart. Yes, they’ve gotten rid of basically every player their fans have recognized over the last decade but, a) the Pirates weren’t winning with those guys anyway, b) for the most part those players haven’t gone on to set the world on fire with other teams. And the final pair may be even worse. Matt Capps is a mediocre relief pitcher who was set to be overpaid. Non-tendering him was a good sign that the Pirates front office finally has some clue what it’s doing, and won’t just toss away money. Noted slugger Jose Bautista might be killing the ball this year, but prior to hitting 40 home runs so far this season, he’d never hit more than 16 and his career best slugging percentage was a decidedly non-Ruthian .420. It’s hard to fault the Pirates for not anticipating the rather remarkable break out Bautista has had this year.
At the end of the day, it looks to me like the AP writer is just pandering to common fan sentiment. Fans generally want their team, especially losing teams, to pour every drop of revenue back into the team. I tend to think that’s short-sighted. After all, looking at what’s available that the Pirates could spend money on, how is an extra $20-30 million going to significantly help them this season? We can argue about how much is enough, but personally I tend to think that the flexability that goes along with holding onto cash rather than spending it just for the sake of spending it is a better avenue towards long-term success for re-building, small-market, franchises. But it’s perfectly understandable why fans of struggling clubs don’t necessarily see things the same way as I do. What’s not understandable, or right, is for journalistic outfits like the AP to write shoddy articles like this one to grab eyeballs by pandering to fan sentiment.