Wednesday, March 09, 2005

J.R. House - Now With Nuance

I've had a bit more time to think about the J.R. House situation and I'd like to soften some aspects of the post below. I'll do my best to be objective, but I'm warning you: even at my most balanced, I can't talk about this move without also finding new ways of saying that the Pirates don't have any idea what they're doing or that they don't care about winning.

So, objectivity. Here's my full disclosure: I really like House. I want him to succeed. I grew up a Pirates fan; stopped paying serious attention in 1992 or so as I approached my teenage years, the Pirates stopped winning and Bobby Bonilla left; and then I returned to baseball in 2000 or so when a roommate sucked me back in. The Pirates were just as bad in 2000 as they are now, so guys like House, J.J. Davis, Aramis Ramirez, Bobby Bradley, and Sean Burnett - and then John VanBenschoten - were the future. They were among the few Pirates worth getting excited about. Over the last couple of years, it has been all kinds of frustrating to see these players' stars fade, implode or disappear due to horrible trades (Ramirez), injuries (Bradley, Burnett, VanBenschoten and now House), and outright neglect (Davis). Of the exciting young guys the Pirates had back then, the only one to live up to his promise in a Pirate uniform has been Craig Wilson, who was handled so stupidly during his first three years in the big leagues that he was perhaps more frustrating than any of the above.

So I apologize if I've been a bit harsh on Pirates management for what they've now done to House, especially since I didn't really do my research with regard to the reason why the Pirates were cutting him. House recently had surgery to repair a torn labrum and a partially torn rotator cuff. A poster at Honest Wagner just pointed out that a full recovery in time to compete for a job next season is unlikely. The poster also suggested that the Pirates' decision to cut House might have had to do with information about his medical history to which the Pirates have access and we do not.

I'll believe this last point when I see it - during the first couple of years I was a fan, I saw the Pirates make a number of moves I found inexplicable at the time, such as cutting Bronson Arroyo or playing Kevin Young instead of Wilson, and I thought, "Maybe they know something I don't." Usually, it turned out that the Pirates didn't know anything I didn't know, and that even a novice fan like myself could see how clueless they were. I'm not saying that I'm smart, even - just that it's clear that the Pirates under Dave Littlefield have made so many ridiculous moves that it seems unwise to assume they know anything that's not in the papers, unless real evidence to the contrary emerges.

All that said, House's shoulder is probably a huge mess right now. The torn labrum problem is an extremely messy one. It's not nearly as bad for hitters as it is for pitchers, but some of House's value stems from his ability to play catcher, and one important skill for catchers is the ability to throw the ball really hard to second. House had problems throwing runners out even before the surgery; in 2006 it would be pretty likely that Cecil Fielder could steal second off him.

Does this mean he can't or shouldn't play catcher? I don't know. Ideally, he wouldn't, but keep in mind that House plays for an organization that just 'solved' its catcher problem by acquiring a 40 year-old catcher who's thrown out only about twenty percent of the runners who have tried to steal on him the past two seasons. It's not at all clear that House would be worse in that area in 2006 than Santiago will be in 2005. If that's why the Pirates cut House, it's funny that they don't apply the same logic to players who are older, more expensive, and worse hitters. Meanwhile, much of House's offensive ability could stick next year.

I'm not saying that House is a great prospect, or that his hitting will continue to improve, or anything all that positive about him. But I don't need to. Keeping House around to try out for the team in 2006 would be, essentially, a $300,000 gamble. $300,000 is nothing in baseball terms, so if there's any upside at all it would have behooved the Pirates to keep House, since the downside is almost nonexistent.

Yesterday, Honest Wagner wrote:

For what they were going to pay House, the Bucs could hire eight secretaries to... do nothing but throw pencils at the ceiling. Or they could hire two pediatricians. Or they could hire three lawyers.

These observations seemed completely irrelevant and even sort of sweetly absurd to me at the time - after all, pediatricians won't ever help the Pirates win baseball games, and House might. But now I think Rowdy's words might be relevant in ways he didn't intend. After all, we've seen these cost-cutting moves before - Ramirez was traded for nothing, Jason Kendall was traded for very little, real free agents have been avoided, and so on. Even the 2003 Rule 5 fiasco may have been motivated by financial concerns.

As far as we fans are concerned, the Pirates might as well be using the money saved to hire secretaries to make holes in the ceiling. We won't see it. I imagine it'll be used on another car for the McClatchy family, or a new yacht for the Nuttings, or something along those lines. House isn't a great prospect anymore - everyone can agree on that. But here's something else we can agree on: he was released, and all his cheap years and upside were forfeited, for no other reason than to save three hundred thousand dollars. That's peanuts, per diem money. And that money will almost certainly not be used to help the team.


Blogger BRANDON said...

At what point will you understand that House is not a good prospect. He rarely finished seasons and had not been a hitter since he was player of the year. Believe me i am a House fan. As a fellow West Virigian I would love to se him suceed, but it looks like he is headed to college football.Please understand that Benito Santiago is a good fit for the Pirates because of the way that he handles the pitching staff By the end of the year Perez, Wells , Fogg and Duke should all be much improved because of his handling of the staff. The Pirates are postioning themselves for contention is 06 and 07. I think that they will have a chance with healthy returns of Burnet and Van Benshotenas well as Duffy, Eldred and Doumit in the lineup.If after 2007 we are not contending then there is reason to be upset.
but 2007 looks bright
sp perez
sp van benschoten
sp duke
sp burnet
sp bullington

1. cf Duffy
2. ss wilson
3. lf bay
4. rf wilson
5. 1b eldred
6. 3b wigginton
7. c doumit
8. 2b castillo
The only thing that concerns me is wiggington. I am not sure he is going to develop into a big league
hitter. I would rather see if Eldred could make the switch to 3b and have wilson move back to 1st and keep more speed in he of. I think this team is going to break out towards the end of the season. Personally i hope Mackowiak, Mesa, Mark Redman,Fogg and maybe even Kip wells are dealt to bring more talent to this team. Dont get me wrong i am not happy with some of these moves ,but House and Kendell had to go . If there is one position that the Bus farm system is loaded with after pitching its catching

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