Pittsburgh's Baseball Team: Pirates Or Pirated?

Lou DiPietroAnalyst IJuly 29, 2009

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 22: John Grabow #34 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses during photo day at the Pirates spring training complex on February 22, 2009 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

If you have no idea who that is to the left, don't worry, you're not alone.

That's John Grabow. He's currently the longest tenured Pittsburgh Pirate, and after six seasons, he's long overdue to be traded for a carton of baseballs or some other equally useless reward. 

Useless, that is, you just don't care.

See, there’s a difference between being uncompetitive but having a long term plan, and just plain being uncompetitive.

The Florida Marlins have a plan. Yes, they’re cheap, but they develop players through their farm system and try to win with what they have while finding a way to keep payroll low. It’s worked to the tune of a 2003 World Series Championship and a 78-win season for a 2006 team that started Miguel Cabrera, six rookies and a journeyman catcher.

Then there’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re just plain uncompetitive, and it’s time for MLB to step in and do something about it—because if they don’t, the Pirates will turn into the living version of the Cleveland Indians in Major League.

Through 100 games, the Pirates were 14 under .500—not a shock for a franchise that’s had 16 straight losing seasons and shows no signs of avoiding No. 17.

But it’s the reason why that’s maddening: Much like the Montreal Expos earlier this decade, it seems as if Pittsburgh has become a glorified developmental franchise for the rest of the league.

And you see where that’s gotten the now-Nationals.

At last year’s trade deadline, the trio of Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte started the bleeding. Earlier this year, it was Nate McLouth, Eric Hinske, Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. Last week, Adam LaRoche said goodbye.

Now today, another trio is headed out of the Steel City, as former NL Batting Champion Freddy Sanchez has been traded to San Francisco for a minor league pitcher while Jack Wilson and Ian Snell are headed to Seattle for three minor-leaguers and a couple spare parts.

For those keeping tabs, that’s 11 players in the last 370 days—and if you count Craig Monroe’s quick stint as a Pirate, they’ve turned over their outfield twice in one year.

And what have they gotten in return?

Not much. Sure, they’ve gotten some “major-league ready” players, but there’s a big difference between ready and “good.”

Bay was the most established star in that group, and he turned into Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche and Craig Hansen.

In about 400 AB, Moss is hitting .239 with 11 HR, while LaRoche—who, at least, has been the starting 3B since his acquisition—is batting a robust .199 with 4 HR since his acquisition. Hansen, meanwhile, has pitched a whole 22 innings, and it’s a wonder he’s managed to get 66 outs with his 7+ ERA.  

Sadly, it doesn’t get much better, folks.

Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf (part of the Nady and Marte trade) are a combined 11-12 with about a 4.50 ERA. However, they were emergency starters or middle relievers at best on a Yankee team that could hardly be called pitching rich at the time of their trade. Morgan and Burnett fetched Joel Hanrahan—who actually lost his job as Washington’s closer—and Lastings Milledge, who even with a pair of outfield turnovers is still in Triple-A.

See where I’m going with this? It’s too early to tell what they got out of the McLouth deal, but today’s deals fetched them a spare part in Ronny Cedeno, a poor defender at the one position where defense matters most (Jeff Clement) and prospects.

And it’s not over yet.

Rumors swirl that relievers John Grabow and Matt Capps are on the block, teams are reportedly interested in Zach Duke and there may be someone out there who will give ownership $50 for an extra bat bag.

So don’t get too attached to Andrew McCutchen, Steve Pearce, or any of the other new Pirates—because if history has taught us anything, they’ll be elsewhere before they’re able to cash in on any talent they may have.

But hey, when you put out a starting lineup featuring Delwyn Young hitting third, you’re clearly not thinking about winning.

Come to think of it, they’re already the fictitious Indians—because even their die-hard fans have never heard of those guys.

If only Roger Dorn could save them now.