Back in October, there was doom and gloom about the 2011 offseason from not only fans, but also writers that follow the Pirates closely. At the time, I consistently said that it was OCTOBER and you can’t write the story for the upcoming offseason when it hasn’t…ya know….started.
At the time, there was widespread consternation about the impending decline of options on Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm. Hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth, shaking of fists kind of stuff. Ronny Cedeno would soon share the fate of not having his option picked up and that add another bough to the bonfire.
“The Pirates are too cheap to sign anybody!!” “The Pirates will never get a free agent to sign here unless they have no other possible options.”
…and then a funny thing happened on the way to PNC. The Pirates jumped right into the fray early on in free agency and got Rod Barajas (considered the 2nd best catcher option in free agency) and Clint Barmes to sign right away with no bidding war with other teams. Both of them signed for $5M+ deals.
“But the Pirates don’t have any pitchers!!! Paul Maholm was our only hope!”
….and then the Pirates signed Erik Bedard. Bedard is, to be kind, an injury risk. Personally, I’m hoping we get 140 innings out of him and I’ll be happy. But if he’s right, the early $4.5M deal he signed will be one of the steals of the offseason.
Maholm and Doumit both signed deals that were for significantly less than their declined options, which justified the decision that the Pirates made to turn them down. I was glad to see neither player (plus Cedeno) re-signed. Doumit and Maholm needed a change of scenery. Cedeno’s head was just never in the game and it was obvious that he and Hurdle had some tension.
The Edwin Jackson saga gave some fuel to the anti-front office crowd….
“The Pirates will never be able to get a good player! They can’t give their money away!”
…and then Huntington realized that if he couldn’t sign a free agent this offseason, he would just shanghai a player in a trade and force them to take the Pirates money. This is how the Pirates got A.J. Burnett from the Yankees, with the Pirates only paying 40% of his salary over the next 2 years and giving up 2 players that will not be missed.
By Pirate standards, this was a very good offseason for the team in terms of player acquisition, but there are still 3 things that Huntington/Coonelly/Nutting must do to complete the turnaround of this franchise:
1. Sign a mid-level free agent. By this I mean a free agent for more than $10M average annual value. The Pirates have notably pursued 2 of these types the past 2 years — Jorge de la Rosa and Edwin Jackson, but come away empty. Players still in the prime of their career need to see a light at the end of the tunnel to justify signing here.
2. Extend key players on this team into their free agency years. OK, technically they have done this in the past. Nate McLouth was signed, but then traded shortly thereafter. There was also the Jose Tabata signing, but that was such a ridiculously team-friendly deal that it was Evan Longoria-esque. McLouth and Tabata were/are good players at the time, but not impact players among the best at their positions. So pretty much I guess I mean McCutchen and Walker. These players need to be signed to reward the faith of the fans of this franchise.
3. Win. Ahhhh…yes. That thing. At some point in every addict’s path, they need to bottom out and say “That’s it. I’m done feeling like this and I’m going to change.” Perhaps that bottoming out was the 2010 season. But it’s time that every player just says, with no hint of bravado, “I’m done losing.” Easier said than done, but with the talent acquired this team should be within shouting distance of 81 wins (I have them at 78, myself). No one associated with the Pirates will say that breaking The Streak is important, but…it’s important. It’s a psychological monkey on this franchise and fanbase’s backs. Just winning 82 games, on the heels of 72 in 2011, would start to sharpen the focus of those mid-tier free agents mentioned in number 1.
That’s a healthy checklist for Neal Huntington and company, but each year has brought about a different change in the mentality of Pirates fans — from the draft outlays to international free agents to spending in the offseason.
It can be done. It’s time to just say enough is enough and do it.