There's certainly very little positive that any casual baseball fan might have to say about the Pittsburgh Pirates. In a general overview, the organization is commonly thought of for long-gone greatness, long-current futility and a fielded product unworthy of so stately a home as PNC Park. The losing has gone on for so long that even the most devoted in the fan base seem to annually question their allegiance to the club.
But those who remain are treated to something oddly special: the Post-Gazette's Pirates coverage -- led by Dejan Kovacevic with help from Chuck Finder -- is without a peer among newspapers in major league cities -- a nice reward for those fans who love baseball enough to stick with the team as it closes in on its 17th straight losing season. If you still follow the Pirates, chances are that you love baseball enough to care about more than just the big league club's win-loss record. Knowing this, Kovacevic and Finder write the PBC Blog, and do a masterful job of covering all the ins and outs of the game from the big-league club and the intricacies of the coaching philosophy to the very smallest nuts-and-bolts details of how MLB organizations, specifically Pittsburgh's, operate.
That said, it was shocking to see the Post-Gazette's editorial board, in last Friday's edition, slam the Pirates' trade of center fielder Nate McLouth to Atlanta in the manner it did. The printed editorial panned the deal as "ownership's latest salary dump" and an "affront to the fans..."
Without judging the trade either way, it's clear to this reader that the PG's editorial board doesn't read its own baseball coverage.
"Front-office apologists will defend the trade by pointing to Mr. McLouth's .256 average and his replacement in the field by farm-system talent Andrew McCutchen."
First of all, the three-year extension McLouth signed with the club not three months ago all but guarantees that this move was not motivated by money. Additionally, no intelligent baseball fan would simply cite McLouth's current batting average or replacement as motivation or justification for this trade, and a cursory review of Kovacevic's reporting on the deal reveals a great deal of insight as to why General Manager Neal Huntington pulled the trigger (not the least of which includes evidence of a consistent organizational philosophy and a plethora of complicated, telling statistics).
It's unfair for Huntington and team President Frank Coonelly, who haven't even controlled the club for two full years, to be judged by same stick and for the same failures as the Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield administrations, just as it would be unfair to hold President Obama accountable for mistakes made by Presidents Bush and Clinton.
In their brief tenures, Coonelly and Huntington have demonstrated a calculated methodology centered around investing more heavily in the farm system than their predecessors, stockpiling power arms and utilizing the newest and most accurate methods of player evaluation available. The facts as reported by the PG all point to the notion that, unlike their last two predecessors, these guys have a plan.
No one, not even anyone in the Pirates' front office, is asking fans to like this trade. But if you're going to disagree with it, disagree for reasons with legitimate factual bases rather than hersey and bitterness. And at the very least, give the men with the plan a chance to make it work. At this point, we've very little left to lose.
- Matthew Wein