Parsing Pittsburgh's P's and L's

August, 23, 2010
8/23/10
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As a fan -- of politics, sports, whatever -- you have to love leaks. Especially juicy leaks like the one exposing two full years of the Pirates' finances. The one showing the Pirates netted nearly $30 million in 2007 and 2008. Granted, nobody said every team is supposed to break even ever year ...
    Still, fans and critics ask how a team that won five World Series from 1909-1979 and nine division titles from 1969-92 can be so bad.

    "I think it's very important for smaller markets teams to be careful about spending payroll, but there's a reason to be skeptical and cynical about what's going on (in Pittsburgh)," Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist, said.

    To cut payroll, the Pirates have shed former All-Stars Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson in trades, along with nearly every other player who was arbitration eligible -- or close to it -- or free agency: Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, John Grabow, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Ronny Paulino and Sean Burnett.

    They also dealt slugger Jose Bautista to Toronto for a backup catcher who has since left their system, and cut NL All-Star closer Matt Capps without getting anything in return because he sought a $500,000 raise.

    The team says it needs money to have the flexibility to make better investments going forward.

Go back and re-read the names in that third paragraph ... Got 'em?

Now, which of those talented young men would you want on your roster right now if you were running the Pirates?

Without checking every one of them, I think the correct answer might be ZERO of them. Just for fun, click on each of those former All-Stars, see how they're doing this year. No time for that? Well, I'll tell you that Sanchez is the only one who's actually playing right now. And he's not playing nearly as well as Neil Walker (the Pirates' current second baseman).

OK, maybe I'll give you Adam LaRoche. He's earning just $6 million this season, and he's having a better season than Garrett Jones. But Garrett Jones was one of the few good things about the Pirates last year. Would anyone have argued, three months ago, that the Pirates would have been better off with LaRoche? Particularly given the $5.5 million difference between their 2010 salaries?

That's most of what I wanted to say about that. Except it doesn't bother me when a team doesn't spend every last cent -- or every last $10 million -- the moment it arrives. I believe the Pirates are, in their fashion, going to spend what they've got on trying to improve their fortunes on the field. Wealthy men don't buy into baseball teams to make money. With the exception of the New York Yankees and perhaps another franchise or two, that just wouldn't be a smart business decision.

(For a more extensive and Pirates-centric look at the leak, see Pittsburgh Lumber Co.'s report.)

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