The Pirates need to pretend to go all-in

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The Pittsburgh Pirates need to make a big splash when they arrive at the Winter Meetings this December. I’m not talking about having a press conference or posting something on their website telling their fans that they are going to try hard.

No, they need to arrive at the meetings the same way Rodney Dangerfield arrived at Bushwood in “Caddyshack.” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington needs to be driving a limo with a horn blaring “We’re in the Money,” and be a big tipper wherever he goes. He needs to point to every agent wandering around the lobby and say, “I’ll sign one of your players, and one of yours…” And if he sees Bud Selig he has to stop and say, “Last time I saw a mouth like that, it had a hook in it…”

OK, so maybe I’m taking the “Caddyshack” analogy too far…

The point is, the Pirates need to LOOK and ACT like they are big shots with money to spend. They need to at least pretend to be going all-in for 2011.

There’s a rumor that they are interested in a short term offer for Adrian Beltre. But that’s not enough.

I want Huntington saying loudly, publicly and on Twitter, “Hey! Cliff Lee! I got a contract for you. You too, Carl Crawford! Jayson Werth? I’ve got something Werth your time!”

He needs to hold press conferences saying “We are actively working on bringing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to the Pittsburgh Pirates—where they belong.”

They need to constantly throw their names into the free agent mix and act like high rollers.

“But Sully,” you say. “How can the cheap Pirates, with the lowest payroll in baseball, possibly afford such an elaborate spending spree?”

Easy.

They won’t have to spend one cent.

Why?

Because no right-minded agent would send a top-tier client to baseball’s Siberia—Pittsburgh.

Cliff Lee? He’s heading to New York. A few unruly fans spitting on Mrs. Lee isn’t going to prevent the Yankees from reeling in the big fish. $125 million can buy a nice umbrella.

Carl Crawford? He’s going to be an Angel.
Jayson Werth? He’s a Red Sox for sure.
Paul Konerko? He’s going back to Chicago.
Jeter and Rivera?
Puh-lease, they are Yankees for life.

But the Pirates need to make offers to each of them, and make sure there is at least one reporter at each press conference who asks, on the record, “Did Pittsburgh contact you?” If nothing else, it creates the illusion that the Pirates are trying to make their team better.

The Nationals have done this a few times recently. Did they REALLY think Mark Teixeira was coming to the Nats? Of course not—but at least they can turn to their fans and say, “We tried.” Now they’re throwing a hat into the ring for Cliff Lee, knowing damn well they might not even crack Lee’s “Top 29 Big League Destinations.”

The Culture of the Pittsburgh Pirates needs to change; the first step might be simply PRETENDING to change.

I read a Hot Stove preview for this offseason that said that the Pittsburgh Pirates are aiming to have a .500 team by 2013. Take your time, Pirates.

You haven’t put a MEDIOCRE team on the field since George Bush was President—the elder George Bush. There are kids in the Pirates minor league system who have no memory of Poppy Bush in office.

There are no acceptable excuses for why the Pirates are on the verge of going an entire generation without a .500 team. They can’t blame city support. Pittsburgh built them a brand new beautiful ballpark for them to suck in.

They can’t blame payroll. The Padres won 90 games last year with just $3 million more on the books than the Pirates. The delta between their payrolls was less than Kevin Correia’s salary. One contended until the last day of the season. The other was out of it by Memorial Day.

Yeah, a team can stink for a long, long time—but even blind squirrels like the Brewers and Royals found a .500 nut in the 2000s. Not Pittsburgh.

Teams like the Rays and A’s field competitive teams with low payrolls and good drafts. The Pirates have flopped in draft after draft, blowing #1 overall picks on Kris Benson and Bryan Bullington, and taking non-entities like Mark Farris, J. J. Davis, Bobby Bradley, John Van Benschoten and Brad Lincoln while passing on Tim Lincecum, David Wright, Prince Fielder, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Nomar Garciaparra (among others.)

They’ve made horrible trades, dumping players like Jason Bay, Nate McClouth and Freddy Sanchez in recent years when they had trade value. Who did they get in return? Andy LaRoche? Charlie Morton? Craig Hansen? Gorkys Hernandez?

How can teams like the Marlins be able to snag players like Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Ricky Nolasco from other teams while the Pirates can not even pick up a serviceable big leaguer?

Last trading deadline, the Pirates didn’t do their annual purging of veteran talent—because they didn’t have any!

And I don’t know where their revenue sharing money is going, but it clearly isn’t going into payroll, scouting or player development.

Let me put into perspective how bad things are for the Pirates—they haven’t been relevant since the 1992 National League Championship Series. The hard luck loser of Game seven was Doug Drabek. His son, Kyle, is now a prospect for Toronto.

That literally means a more effective way for the Pirates to rebuild would have been to take the 1992 team and put them out to stud.

The Pirates desperately need a .500 season if for no other reason than to lift that stigma off the team.

I know the Pirates have some good talent on their current team. And I know that Huntington is a better GM than his predecessor, David Littlefield. But let’s not go crazy—the Pirates are STILL the worst team in baseball, and .500 doesn’t look realistic until after the next Presidential election.

I am not asking to Pirates to scale the heights all the way to the World Series. Their Everest right now is having a team that doesn’t totally suck.

The first step is to LOOK like big spenders.

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