Monday, August 22, 2011

Pirates Still Lead the League in Lowering the Bar

By Artistry

Pittsburgh sports fans usually demand excellence.  The Steelers have 6 Super Bowl trophies?  We think they should have 7 or 8.  The Penguins won a Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?  They better win a couple more.  Jamie Dixon's hair is now a fixture in the Sweet 16?  Let's see that body and sheen in the Final Four.  It's this kind of mentality, this competitive pride, that has for many of us made it so difficult for so long to even acknowledge the "efforts" of our Pittsburgh Pirates.  There is nothing lovable about having the longest losing streak by anybody ever. 

With the caveat that we really do admire the diehards who stuck with the team through two decades of near hopelessness - we diehard Penguins fans know suffering, too - the resurgent optimism surrounding the Pirates never entirely made sense to us, and the reaction to news this week that the Bucs just signed the statistical equivalent of a 40-year-old Kenny Lofton to a possible 9-year contract really has us puzzled.

That's a lotta Tabata.
Jose Tabata is a fine player, from what I understand. It's swell that he likes Pittsburgh and signed a very team-friendly deal. And it's nice that we haven't already traded him to the Cubs for a AA league back-up catcher.  But anybody celebrating this news is looking at the wrong headline.  You should be looking at the one that says, "Compromise will be key to McCutchen deal."  Andrew McCutchen is far and away the Pirates' best player, there is no way he is going to "compromise" his ability to command an enormous contract, and - here is the real key - Neil Huntington knows it.

"Andrew McCutchen is certainly a great young player in the making," the PPG quotes Huntington as saying. "We hope to keep him here many, many years into the future. But, if we're not able to find common ground, we've still got many years left with Andrew."

Inspiring stuff. We don't even need to break out the GTOG translator for this, do we?  There is no chance - zero - that McCutchen is a Pirate after his contract expires in 2015.* He'll likely be gone in a trade before then. That's not Huntington's fault, and it's not McCutchen's. That's baseball in the 21st century. Unless and until Bob Nutting sells to Ron Burkle, the best the Pirates can hope for is periodic quasi-contention. There has never been any sign - regardless of how much the team is spending on draft picks - that these Bucs will pay real superstar money to anybody.  So please spare us the pep talk about how great things will be before the next great inevitable disappointment.

* I really, really hope I'm wrong. I'm not wrong.

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