I've made jokes about Ben Zobrist for a few seasons now. Back in the Corcoran, Huff, Ty, Crawford the future Yankees days, the Huff trade was a killer. It seemed like spinning of the wheels on a million dollar platform.
Fan favorites were sold for prospects. Zobrist was in there with Dioner and Dan Wheeler—the guys we got for fan favorites that seemed like crap at the time.
I went to an Astros message board after the Wigginton deal to look into this setup man we were picking up. The title of the thread was Super Dan Wheeler. Oh man, I'm getting excited, a possible good bullpen man?
lloyd: stepped up to the plate and did the decent thing: blew it.... to save his buddy Lidge from the Great Unspeakable. what a stand-up team guy and an all round Team Player.
My mouse went across the room. PC's at the time weren't built for my temper. What was the reasoning behind these moves?
Hendrickson was traded to the Dodgers for a catcher hitting below the Mendoza line, Navarro, and starter Jae Seo. I had to get excited about Seo. He used to warm up by himself by throwing the ball into the outfield wall by himself because I'm pretty sure he didn't speak english.
Zobrist was a shortstop when we had baseball prodigy Upton in the minors still slotted for short. The scouting report I read at the time had his ceiling as "maybe could be a backup shortstop." What were we doing?
In the span of two seasons, the players who got me out of my house for a bottom feeder team were gone, and it seemed like whatever our scouting department was looking at, it wasn't what the rest of the league was.
Little did I know that final season in the green jerseys was going to be a fun experience.
We got Pena, who I knew less about than any Devil Rays player to trot out there. Sure his name was dropped into Moneyball, but I hadn't read it yet and was focusing on finally having the three prospects that local radio had fetishes for.
We knew about Upton, but Dukes and Delmon Young were going to be up in the majors. We had spent $4 million on Aki, who was like our own little version of Dice-K. He was a bat, and bat prospects come through more than pitching, so it seemed like we had gotten the better player, and at $46 million less. Maybe it was weird we were drafting Longoria then buying a third basemen from Japan, but whatever.
That season wasn't great, no season where you finish last in the division ever is. But we saw flashes. We may not have been winning a lot of games, but we sure did seem to contend in the AL East more than we used to.
We had the best farm system in baseball, I mean we had to with all those number one picks.
The team got sold to someone who we could convince ourselves cared. Hell, he gave us free parking, and when tickets are only nine bucks, that was damn good. I could go see the Devil Rays for the same price as I could go see a movie, and their lax employees who sold me beer underage made up for the insane cost of the beer.
The mentality was changing. I was skyping with my friend away in Belarus for a semester and sending him illegal internet feeds to watch these games.
James Shields, my god I loved James Shields. A young pitching prospect who had it together and pitched instead of threw.
We had two young starters. We had young outfielders. We had prospects who were like trailers for summer movies. Sure we didn't know if they were going to end up as Star Treks, but the promise was there and that buoyed us.
Every walk off homer from Greg Norton, every Pena bomb that shocked us. Hell, even the Al Reyes scrap heap pick up excited us. El Assassino.
Maybe the mentality is different in Pittsburgh. We were so used to the idea of the Rays sucking, maybe the promise of one day contending meant more to us. But I don't get how. The Pirates have had a decade plus of losing seasons.
The LaRoche brothers are promising. The Catch-22 NL Rookie of the Year campaign is underway.
Wilson is still there, as much as the Tigers and Red Sox have tried to crow bar him out. Ross Ohlendorf came gift wrapped from the Yankees for Damaso and Xavier Nady's double Tommy John surgeries. There's also Sanchez, a farm system enhanced by years of losing seasons, and high draft picks from free agent jail breaks.
I get it, next to the Penguins and Steelers, the Pirates look like crap. But there's real promise there. You might have a winning season. Your best players will only get better rather than get older.
Is it tough to be a doormat? Yeah. But the team you're building sure does seem promising. And if they pull it all together next season? Boy will you laugh at those stories of players pissed off about trades.