Monday, October 25, 2004

Ex-Pirates in the Series

Bob Smizik has a new column on former Pirates who are playing for the Red Sox and Cardinals.

Amazingly, there are eight of them:

Tony Womack
Reggie Sanders
Julian Tavarez
Al Reyes
Jeff Suppan
Pokey Reese
Tim Wakefield
Bronson Arroyo

Smizik concludes that the Pirates screwed up by not keeping Reyes and Arroyo. I'm not so worried about Reyes - he wasn't young when he and the Pirates parted ways, and while he put up good numbers this year, he pitched so few innings that those numbers probably don't mean much.

Arroyo is a different story. Dave Littlefield messed that one up badly - he let go of Arroyo in order to put Jim Mann on the 40 man roster. That was a bad move at the time, and it's looking much worse now. Arroyo was at the end of his age 25 season when the Pirates let him go, and while it's true, as Smizik notes, that the Pirates "gave him plenty of chances," it's also worth noting that Arroyo's performance improved each year. In 2002, Arroyo posted a 4.00 ERA in nine games with the Pirates, and he struck out 116 and walked 28 in 143 innings with Triple A Nashville, with a 2.96 ERA. Given that Arroyo was a 25 year old pitcher with good stuff, it was silly of the Pirates to let him go, particularly in order to acquire a generic Triple A reliever like Mann. Littlefield is rarely held accountable for this terrible move, which is strange, since it was almost as stupid as some other disastrous Littlefield transactions that are criticized all the time.

According to Smizik, Wakefield was released by the Pirates in 1995. It does appear that his pitching was a complete mess then, but Pirates coaches get a demerit for not figuring out what his problem was.

Smizik has a bizarre obsession with Tony Womack, and he says the Pirates were "dead wrong" about Womack and that "It's true his on-base percentage could be better, but it has been good enough for the Diamondbacks and Cardinals."

Sure - he was good enough for a team that had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling as its top starters and Luis Gonzalez hitting fifty-plus home runs. I'll concede that Womack was decent in 2004 for the Cardinals - until you consider his atrocious defense. Womack hasn't helped these teams succeed; they have succeeded in spite of him. He would make the Pirates worse now. Of all the decisions the Pirates have made in the last ten years, losing Womack was one of the few good ones, so it's strange for Smizik to repeatedly claim that the loss of Womack was a mistake.

Smizik says that the Pirates lost the other four players - Sanders, Tavarez, Suppan and Reese - for financial reasons. This is at least partly true, but let's not get carried away here. The Pirates could have afforded any of those guys, but they chose to do other things with their money - spend it on other players, and put it in their pockets. All clubs must consider finances when making personnel decisions; the Pirates are not unique in that regard.

Would the addition of these players to the 2004 Pirates have improved the team much? Well, Suppan and Tavarez would have certainly helped. But Reese is nothing more than a defensive sub at this point, and Sanders would have kept Craig Wilson glued to the bench. Suppan and Tavarez might have netted the Pirates and extra two or three wins, which wouldn't have been nearly enough to get the Pirates to the playoffs.

My point is that the losses of these players should not be used as excuses for the Pirates' poor play. Sanders, Suppan and Tavarez are all fun players to have around, but they're supporting players. Those guys help the Cardinals, but St. Louis be nothing without their core of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.

The Pirates are a small-market team, and their owners are cheapskates. That's not good. But the Pirates' recent failures have much more to do with their inability to (and apparent disinterest in) develop(ing) Pujols-type talents than with money. Until they develop a real core of excellent players (the Perez/Bay/Wilsons core they have now is okay, but it's not enough), we shouldn't hear excuses about how little money they have. And we shouldn't hear such excuses when the Pirates spend what little money they do have on buckets of Grade C free agents who block prospects who might become part of the Pirates' core if given the chance.

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