On last night’s Baseball Tonight, ESPN threw up a graphic showing what the Pirates have traded away since 2003, implying that we somehow gave up on a good team in the process. Other commentators have also noted the roster that could have been. The consensus looks a little something like this:
LF Jason Bay
CF Nate McLouth
RF Xavier Nady
1B Adam LaRoche
2B Freddy Sanchez
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Jack Wilson
C Jason Kendall
P Ian Snell, Oliver Perez, Mike Gonzalez, Jeff Suppan (or some combination thereof)
Let’s start with the pitchers.
Anybody who’s followed the Pirates on this long journey through the desert knows that Snell, Perez, and Gonzalez were million-dollar arms with ten-cent heads. Gonzalez has pulled it together since he left, but Perez has been just as mercurial inconsistent for the Mets as he was for the Buccos. The jury’s still out on Snell. (It sounds like he needs help off the field, and I hope he gets it.)
Otherwise, you’ll find a whole lot of one-year wonders, at best. Every time we think we have an ace we can build a rotation around, he starts the following season with an allergy to first pitch strikes. Six starts later, after nibbling at corners and 3-run innings, we’re looking for the next guy to have a phenomenal second half. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Now look at the position players in that line-up. With the exception of Ramirez and Kendall, those were the players we started the 2008 season with. Guess what?
Can any of you honestly say the Pirates were a 3rd baseman and a catcher away from contending last year? Or that they could overcome an inexperienced starting rotation and an ineffective bullpen? Were Ryan Doumit and Doug Mientkiewicz really the downfall of that team?
All of this talk about what the Pirates “could have had” is based on the misconception that the players we traded away were “stars,” when they were really just big fish in the little pond that is PNC Park. With the exception of Aramis, Bay, and Freddy, the Pirates didn’t trade away any stars in their prime. I’d argue that Brian Giles (who was traded for Bay) and Jack were on their way down when they were traded, and Kendall was never the same after that gruesome ankle injury.
Mostly, the Pirates have traded away Guys You’ve Heard Of.
What’s a Guy You’ve Heard Of? He’s the token All-Star from the perennial back-marker teams like the Pirates, Nationals, or Royals. He’s that one bright spot during a run of down years for the Padres or Astros. He’s the last man standing after the inevitable Marlins post-World Series fire sale. He’s Carl Crawford, pre-2008, or Jason Kendall, post-1999.
You build a team around Guys You’ve Heard Of, but you don’t build a team on them (as much as the Orioles try to, again and again).
That’s pretty much all the Pirates have produced since 1994, and that’s the great tragedy of the Bonifay/Littlefield Years. Our scouting and our farm system have failed to produce anything better than passable major league talent.
As I write this, the Pirates and Cubs are talking about a deal that would send Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow from one North Side to the other. Were these two pitchers ever going to be difference makers for the Pirates, short or long term? Who knows?
But there’s a good chance You’ve Heard Of them.