The team should make it official. It's time to change their name to the Pittsburgh Prospects.
That's how it feels little more than a day after All-Star, Gold Glove center fielder Nate McLouth was traded for three minor-leaguers.
The team's latest home run and RBI leader was dispatched to Atlanta after management signed him to a three-year, $15.75 million contract in February and team President Frank Coonelly declared him one of the Pirates' three core players. The Nutting ownership's latest salary dump comes two months into this year's schedule and four months before the Pirates, after 17 straight losing seasons, will claim the distinction of losingest franchise in pro sports history.
You can now be sure of that.
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 (who was 2-for-4 in his PNC Park debut yesterday).
But this affront to the fans hurt because of more than numbers.
The Pirates ownership pledged to start winning. And after fans endured the previous painful trades of stars Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, the team promised to build around Nate McLouth, catcher Ryan Doumit and pitcher Paul Maholm.
"The long-term commitments we have made to core players developed here, both this year and last year, reflect our commitment to build a strong core from within our system," Mr. Coonelly said four months ago. "Ryan, Paul and Nate all dedicated themselves to becoming championship-caliber players, and all three demonstrated a strong desire to play integral roles in this organization's turnaround."
That assurance rings hollow and the McLouth trade breaks faith with the fans, who were the lead partner in building for this team one of America's most beautiful ballparks. Eight years later the talent on the field has yet to measure up, while each successive Pirates executive says only the same thing: next year, next year, next year.
You don't build a contender with a revolving door. You don't put a face on a team with players who are here one year and gone the next.
It's time Pittsburgh baseball had ownership worthy of the game. Mark Cuban, where are you?
Given the quality and depth of the PG's baseball coverage, as well as the Coonelly/Huntington administration's clear use of a calculated methodology in devising a concrete plan to rebuild the organization, I found this totally infuriating. And so I've written to the PG editorial board to express my displeasure. The first draft of the letter came out to 574 words, complete with mixed metaphors and misspellings, as I authored it while exhausted and slightly intoxicated. But for whatever reason, I got an e-mail back from one of their editorial page copy editors today, asking me to cut it down to 250 words or less and send it back. So I think that means they want to publish it, yeah?
Here's what I'm sending them now. It clocks in at 264 words:
To casual baseball fans, there’s little positive to be found in the Pittsburgh Pirates. The club has lost for so long that even its most devoted fans annually question their allegiance.
The Post-Gazette treats those remaining to something oddly special: its baseball coverage is without a peer among major league cities’ newspapers — a reward for those who’ve stuck with the Bucs throughout record-setting futility. The print and Internet reporting do a masterful job mapping the intricacies of how the organization works.
That said, it was shocking to see a PG editorial slam the club’s trade of Nate McLouth, labeling it "ownership's latest salary dump," and adding that “front-office apologists" would defend the move by pointing to McLouth’s lackluster batting average and the readiness of prospect Andrew McCutchen.
Without judging the trade, it's clear to this reader that the PG's editorial board doesn't read its own baseball coverage.
The three-year contract McLouth signed in February precludes this from being a salary dump, and no intelligent baseball fan would simply cite McLouth's current batting average or replacement as justification for the trade. The facts as reported in the PG’s coverage reveal a calculated methodology behind the club’s decision to deal McLouth, and they point to a notion that unlike his two immediate predecessors, General Manager Neal Huntington has a plan to rebuild the organization.
Nobody is asking fans to like this trade, but if you're going to disagree with it, disagree for legitimate, factual reasons rather than uninformed bitterness, and give Huntington a chance to make it work. After all, we've very little left to lose.