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Thread: Pirates camp tour: Building goes on for NL's futile serfs

      
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    Default Pirates camp tour: Building goes on for NL's futile serfs

    Some interesting quotes in this Sportsline piece from Scott Miller.


    Pirates camp tour: Building goes on for NL's futile serfs
    March 4, 2010
    By Scott Miller
    CBSSports.com Senior Writer


    BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates are not practicing in hard hats this spring, but evidence of the construction zone this franchise has become is right there in the middle of Paul Waner Field at Pirate City, on display for the moment just in front of the second-base bag.

    At the behest of hitting coach Don Long, 17 orange highway construction cones are lined up on the edge of the infield grass, from just in front of where the second baseman would play across to the shortstop position.

    It is a situational hitting drill and, on this day, in this group, Andrew McCutchen, Andy LaRoche and others are taking batting practice with specific goals in mind.

    "Runner on second!" calls out a coach.

    So Rule V draft pick John Raynor shoots a B.P. pitch between the cones on the far right. Perfect, a gapper to right-center.

    All that's missing are the bulldozers and lunch buckets.

    "It's tough, but as we came in here to work in September of '07, we knew we had to accumulate more talent," says Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, entering his third full season on the job. "The amateur draft and signings on the international level are one way, but that takes time.

    "There was a group of players over whom we had two years or less of control, and we had to figure out a way to maximize that, and to do that we had to make trades."

    Huntington would be the man behind the wheel if there was a bulldozer parked here in Pirate City. The dramatic changes to the roster since he took control have been either alarming or welcome, depending on your perspective.

    Only four players remain on the Pirates' active roster from when Huntington and his crew moved in: Pitchers Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, catcher Ryan Doumit and infielder Steve Pearce.

    Only two of the eight position players -- Doumit and LaRoche -- who were in Pittsburgh's opening day lineup last summer are expected to make it to manager John Russell's lineup card for opening day 2010.

    Huntington engineered a caffeine-laced flurry of seven trades last June and July alone, cashiering, among others, shortstop Jack Wilson, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, first baseman Adam LaRoche and center fielder Nate McLouth. This after dealing away outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady in 2008.

    The only things missing in the normally conservative Huntington's appearance are a Panama Jack hat, a cigar and a nickname. Trader Neal. Open for business.

    To take on this job, and then to handle everything that's come with it -- including local outrage when he traded away the popular McLouth -- the man has got to be the bravest GM in the game.

    "[Owner] Bob Nutting deserves a ton of credit -- he's probably the bravest man in sports," Huntington says, chuckling. "Because we were out-spending anybody in the draft the last two years [nearly $19 million in bonuses], we tripled the budget in international scouting [and] he's given us the ability to add to our player development and amateur development budgets.

    "And yet he gets criticized time and time again for our payroll and for the results."

    The results. Ah, yes, the Pirates last season set a North American professional sports record with their 17th consecutive losing season.

    By the time Huntington finished re-arranging the roster, player payroll was down to a Kmart-esque $23 million at season's end.

    But, here's the kicker: Huntington says that's on him, not Nutting. The financial effort right now is going into player development. In the teeth of fierce criticism, the Pirates GM is stubbornly sticking to his plan. And when it comes to Pittsburgh baseball, it's been a long time since anybody has done that.

    Yes, he feels the weight of that 17-year drought.

    No, he says, he will not look to make a quick-strike for a tempting veteran on the free-agent market that maybe will help the Bucs win five more games one season and push their win total up to 82 or 83. That's not the goal.

    "The playoffs are the goal," Huntington says. "If we get to 82 wins, OK. But it's not the goal."

    He acknowledges that "a lot of fans would like to see us get to 82 wins." Those were many of the same fans who hit the roof the first week of June last summer when the Pirates dispatched McLouth to Atlanta.

    "I understand," Huntington says. "That was the one that shocked our fans. No. 1, there were no press leaks. No. 2, we had just signed him that February to a multiyear contract and we had 2 1/2 years left of control over him."

    Back to Pittsburgh came two pitchers, Charlie Morton, who should open this season in the rotation, and Jeff Locke, a lefty who throws in the low 90s with a good curveball and a good future; and an outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez, with speed and range.

    "If we get six solid years out of one of those guys, it's a good trade for us," Huntington says. "If we get 12 solid years out of two guys, it's great. And if we get 18 solid years out of the three of them, then it becomes exceptional."

    That trade is a snapshot of what Huntington has done across the board with the single-minded focus of an assassin: Re-stock the talent pipeline as quickly, thoroughly and deeply as possible. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez (second overall in the 2008 draft), outfielder Jose Tabata (just 21, he eventually should be part of the foundation) and pitcher Brad Lincoln (drafted ahead of Tim Lincecum in 2006) right now represent a significant part of the future.

    The blueprints have been in Huntington's office practically since Day 1.

    Those orange cones on the batting-practice field? According to the Pirates' timetable, they should be among the last remnants of the figurative "Please Pardon Our Mess During the Construction" signs that have been hung for much of the past two decades.

    Now, it seems like I've been writing about a new day in Pittsburgh forever.

    And it must seem like you've been reading about it forever.

    So what's different this spring?

    Why should either one of us bite now?

    Probably as good an answer as any is the message that Nutting and team president Frank Coonelly delivered to the team earlier this spring.

    "The message was that the restructuring time is over with," Duke says. "It's time to take the guys we have in this clubhouse and move forward with it."

    Duke mentions McCutchen, Alvarez and others.

    "I see all kinds of positives," he says. "I see all kinds of things. There's a chance for us to do some special things."

    "We're through the talent accumulation mode," Huntington says. "We still need to invest in resources, in the draft and in the international level, but the days of feeling compelled to make a trade to add depth, we're beyond that.

    "There will still be trades when players' contracts are expiring, but that's the nature of this business. That's not isolated to Pittsburgh."

    As the GM says, "At times last year and in '08, after the trades, we were in survival mode. We had young players who were just trying to survive.

    "You hear it now from some of the veterans we've brought in, guys like [reliever] Brendan Donnelly. It's not about survival anymore. It's about winning. The focus is on winning games. Getting that key hit in a key situation.

    "We've got some guys ready to take that step forward."

    At this point, it's either that ... or simply affix an eye patch over both eyes in their Pirate logo. There isn't much else left.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Pirates camp tour: Building goes on for NL's futile serfs

    As the GM says, "At times last year and in '08, after the trades, we were in survival mode. We had young players who were just trying to survive.

    "You hear it now from some of the veterans we've brought in, guys like [reliever] Brendan Donnelly. It's not about survival anymore. It's about winning. The focus is on winning games. Getting that key hit in a key situation.
    I liked that.

    That is honestly what has happened after each of the past 2 trade deadlines. Younger guys lacking experience are thrown into starting roles, more experienced guys slump due to the distractions, the changes, getting acclimated to new faces and personalities... Players and the team as whole simply take nose dives. What's laughable is how so many idiots are out there that point to what the team accomplishes after the trade deadline and form a dumb and wrong opinion that those numbers are definitely the norm.

    They never are.

    What's hysterical is that people that will suggest that less than a half of a seasons worth of results is the ultimate conclusion and ceiling for a team when there's so much factual proof out there to suggest this to not be true. It's all about fulfilling and pushing idiotic, moronic and stupid personal agendas. Pittsburgh Pirates fans as a whole act as if they want the Pirates to fail. they want any management team to fail. they want any majority owner to fail. There's nothing but constantly complaining about every single thing that is done. There's ridiculous amounts of fact ignoring, twisting, manipulating and agenda pushing by "so-called" fans that it is amazing how some people function in life.

    Rational and Logical thinking will tell you that the vast amount and degree of changes that have occurred after each trade deadline the past 2 years was enough to alter a team overall. It should come as no surprise that younger inexperienced players, clubhouse filed with new faces, experienced players getting thrown off struggle as the Pirates have after each Trade Deadline. Add in that these changes are coming a little more than half of the season through when a lot of teams and players and such are hitting strides and the results are supposed to be ugly...

    However, it is simply easier to ignore the logical point that can smack one in the face in order to continue pushing that personal agenda so that people can read ******bag comments on the Post-Gazette's blogs

    I've said it before numerous times and I'll say it again... Pecota and Zips doesn't and can't take this into account but IMO it is one of the most important factors in figuring out the 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates. Simply eliminating a mass exodus at the Trade Deadline will by default increase the teams W-L record by 5-10 wins without even trying to figure out who slumps, who improves etc... Team chemistry, familiarity, cohesiveness are important. Nate McLouth at least managed to say 1 intelligent thing while he was on his rag answering a Q&A ... add to it a team whose newest leader appears to be a 22 year old enthusiastic player that others enjoy and We're talking about a team moving up on a big way.

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    Default Re: Pirates camp tour: Building goes on for NL's futile serfs

    personally, I prefer Peons

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Pirates camp tour: Building goes on for NL's futile serfs

    Peons works... It's sort of difficult to come up with one single title wen there's so many words that are excellent descriptions.

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