By David Schoenfield
Page 2

Here's how the Pittsburgh Pirates organization works.

In 2001, the Pirates drafted an apparent nonprospect from Utah in the 33rd round.

That year, he hit .305 for Williamsport.

The next year, he hit .340 with 17 home runs in 93 games for Hickory.

In 2003, he hit .359 with 21 home runs in 95 games for Lynchburg.

The Pirates didn't protect him on their 40-man roster that offseason, and the Detroit Tigers drafted this nonprospect in the Rule 5 draft for $50,000.

Chris Shelton is hitting .479 with eight home runs in his red-hot April for the Tigers.

Meanwhile, the Pirates traded for another first baseman this past offseason -- Sean Casey, who hit nine home runs in all of 2005 and has slugged more than .423 just once in the past four seasons.

Casey is the Pirates' highest-paid player in 2006, making $7.5 million. Shelton is making $365,000.

Pirates: Past Five Years
Year Record Pct.
2005 67-95 .414
2004 72-89 .447
2003 75-87 .463
2002 72-89 .447
2001 62-100 .383
Last winning season: 1992
Last playoff season: 1992

Readers, I give you the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that has suffered 13 consecutive losing seasons, is off to a 4-10 start and just rewarded general manager Dave Littlefield's four straight losing seasons with a contract extension through 2008.

Let the good times roll.

And don't blame Pittsburgh's "small-market" status. This team hasn't finished above .500 since 1992! That isn't lack of money; that's lack of competence.

In the interest of time, we'll skip over the ugliness of the Cam Bonifay Era (mid-1993 through June 11, 2001) and just describe some of the blunders this century.

• An affinity for overpaying mediocre scrappy-but-likable white players who don't hit home runs, such as Casey, Joe Randa and Jack Wilson.

• Trading Aramis Ramirez (and Kenny Lofton) to the Cubs for Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback and Bobby Hill.

Ramirez ostensibly was traded because the Pirates wouldn't be able to afford him. He eventually signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Cubs. Ramirez has hit 67 home runs the past two years and hit better than .300 both seasons. So, $10 million a year for 30-something home runs from your third baseman is too expensive, but $7.5 million for Casey is a good move?

And the nominees are ...
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As for Wilson, he's set to become the team's highest-paid player next year after recently signing a three-year, $20 million deal. His career on-base percentage: .304. This is ugly, folks.

Let's move on.

• Armed with the first overall pick in the 2002, the Pirates bypassed the consensus top talent, B.J. Upton, and drafted Ball State right-hander Bryan Bullington, who never showed his college velocity, didn't pitch well and eventually got hurt. Other first-rounders the Pirates could have drafted that year: Prince Fielder, Jeremy Hermida, Khalil Greene, Scott Kazmir, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain.

• The year before, they drafted Kent State slugger John VanBenschoten, who had led Division I in home runs, in the first round. The Pirates turned him into a pitcher.

• One of Littlefield's first moves after replacing Bonifay in July 2001 was trading Jason Schmidt to the Giants for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Oops.

All this is a shame because the Pirates play in perhaps the best ballpark in baseball. Maybe someday they'll field a team worthy of playing in it.