Thursday, February 23, 2006

Trouble for the Welfare Queens

Wilbur sums up the gathering suggestions that the next CBA will not shovel so much money in the direction of Pittsburgh.

One thought about the current payroll. Bones busted me for making some unclear comment in praise of DL for fielding a team that's built around giving chances to young guys and B prospects at half the positions and throughout the rotation.

Arguments that the Pirates' scouting and player development were not world-class are compelling, I think, simply in light of the talent that's been available on the field. My sense is that any time there is "regime change" within an organization, the new regime is pretty likely to screw things up pretty good for several years. Everyone has to make and learn from their own mistakes. The last few drafts have looked OK to me, and we do have Zach Duke, so I'm not sure that the drafting and player development remains the problem it surely was some time ago. It takes several years to judge a draft, right, and the current crop of the youngest guys, which includes Walker and McCutcheon, looks promising. So I'm no fan of arguments that we need a new owner & GM because I expect any new owner, most likely, would go back to screwing it up.

Acquiring players is one thing. Another thing is actually playing prospects at the major-league level. It can't be wise, I believe, to field a team that has prospects at every position. I'd guess that context has a lot to do with development. I'd rather see a player mature with habits of winning as opposed to improving with habits of losing. You may not win if you throw in some veterans on one-year deals, but you will surely lose if you tour the country with 25 college players.

This gets to the payroll. Clearly you want, as a team, to get the most value from your payroll dollars. This means exploiting the first six years of a player's career -- his indentured servitude, we might call it. To give up, right now, on low-cost players like Jose Castillo, Chris Duffy, Oliver Perez, and Paul Maholm, does not strike me as wise roster management. Some of these guys will have to come through for the Pirates to ever field a team that wins as many games as the high-payroll all-star teams assembled by more successful franchises.

It's also clear that a team should not invest much money in long-term deals. The good players, these days, always get long-term deals. I don't want to see the Pirates sign any pitcher, for example, to a five-year deal. The risk is too great.

The issue to me is not the payroll. If the Pirates were to have raised the payroll that much in the past offseason, it would have required that they spend their money less efficiently. About the only scenario I could concoct where they wisely blow huge sums of money involved the Pirates persuading another team to engage in a salary-dump that doubled the Sean Casey proportions. It's not going to happen; the Phillies will not trade us Bobby Abreu & his two remaining years for Oliver Perez and Craig Wilson.

The payroll is where it is because the team is (a) carrying a lot of indentured servants and (b) not participating in the market for free agents that demand long-term deals.

So the issue is this: what do they do with the rest of the money? If payroll is covered by revenue sharing, what do they do with the gate receipts, the TV money, the other ways they raise dough? We've been told the Pirates were in a lot of debt. If that's the case, have they paid it off? If they have, all of the remaining money should go into coaching, scouting, and player development. As I've said before, the Pirates need to become a research university of ball teams if they plan to contend with smaller payrolls. And, the owners and staff are entitled to some compensation. There are other ways of investing money; no one can credibly argue that the Pirates' owners have an ethical obligation to make nothing on their investment. We could never have a baseball team if that was the climate.

Until I know for sure that the Pirates' owners are "making money hand over fist" -- I don't think anyone has access to their finances and can prove that -- then all this hating on the small-franchise clubs strikes me as little more than the knee-jerk conservative mumbo-jumbo about bootstraps, hard work, and the good reasons we should hate on welfare mothers and further grind them beneath our heels. Of course the wealthiest teams want to grow their competitive advantage by choking off the revenue sharing. Duh. You don't get rich by giving your money away to competitors.

Why should fans sympathize with these most wealthiest owners? Both Wilbur Miller and Joe Sheehan seem to suggest that it's the Pirates and Royals who are in the wrong. How do they know that? Is this not jumping to conclusions? And if we are going to jump to conclusions, why are we choosing this of all conclusions?

Do the fans of the Yankees and Red Sox really want competition that is not competitive? If so, why don't those teams become the Harlem Globetrotters, and hire a team of patsies to trounce six days a week? Is that what the fans want?

There's no doubt that money plays a role in the kind of talent a team can field. We could point at the Steelers -- football's most popular franchise -- and argue that the Pirates can't really use the "small market" excuse. If the NFL would let the Steelers have their own cable channel, it would be available, by popular demand, in every quarter of the country.

But there's also no doubt that the Pirates are laid pretty low, and they are not going to become the Steelers of baseball this season or next or anytime soon, even if they win the World Series this year and next.

So what do the fans want? Because there is a perception that the owners might be profiting "excessively" from the team, now we are all to side with Steinbrenner and Red Sox?

Not me, man. Steinbrenner does not get an ounce of sympathy from me. I want more parity and competition. It will be hard enough for the Pirates to compete for the services of the best players graduating to unrestricted free agency, even with the current CBA. With this proposed CBA with reduced revenue sharing, teams laid low by incompetence and ill luck will have an even smaller chance of getting back up.

And it's not about the owners. Owners are a necessary evil. So too, these days, are many of the better players. The game and the CBA should be about the fans. Only fans of the Red Sox and the Yankees would be well served by a "winner takes all" CBA.

Pirate fans should be penalized because their owners were incompetent? C'mon, get real. The victor has gotten plenty of spoils under the current CBA. As fans, we have to get real about the next CBA and stop accepting whatever nonsense the victors want us to believe without study or reflection.

Defense = Good

All hail the Stats Geek, who finally returns from his six-month vacation. Must be a rough life, being a stats geek, with all that Honolulu down time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Spring training reports

Jim Sullivan has contributed some quality, full reports for OnlyBucs. The news on Sean Burnett is encouraging, and the change of managers appears to have done much for the better.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Steeler merchandise

I highly recommend the Terrible Towel with the XL score printed on it. Looks killer on the wall of the old drinking room.

KHALIFA projections

So, should we do the KHALIFA projections this year, or should we just blow it off? The short version would be Good Jack, Good Casey, Mediocre Burnitz, .320/.420 Castillo, Average Randa. Since everyone is coming off a bad year, it can't get much worse. It's the starting pitching I worry about, when I worry, which is rare. Why worry? Give 'em hell, Kip. Throw strikes, Ollie. Not much else to say.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Jack Wilson a Pirate through 2007

Ed Eagle explains how it is the Pirates have his rights through the 2007 season. Like Eagle, I thought Wilson would be eligible to file for free agency at the end of the 2006 season. a reminder, here's Jeff's site from last year with the rights info. Of the guys that have been around, only Kip and Craig will be free agents at the end of this season. Here's to hoping both those guys play well enough to attract interest at the trade deadline. And here's to hoping the team plays well enough to make such trades undesirable.

No greenies in baseball

2006 will be our first "amphetamine-free" season. If reports, such as those from Baseball Prospectus's Will Carroll, are accurate, players have already moved past Dexedrine and other street pills for drugs designed for ADHD. Carroll reports that teams have had to invent policies for granting the "therapeutic use" waivers that Ritalin etc. users (and abusers) might want to file to continue playing in their usual self-consciously "amped-up" condition. I wonder what's the Pirates' policy? And, will it matter?

Bones, who used to comb the news for evidence of sudden steroids use (looking for fantasy sleepers), may hope the team has, uh, the most competitive policy. My guess is the effects of any such drug, taken regularly, are as much imaginary or projected as real. Once a stimulant feels normal, it's no longer so much of a stimulant. When the relational shifts are so familiar, they aren't really shifts at all.

(This is not to say that drugs are not addictive, or that they do not cause real physical effects. My point is that a cup of coffee for the grizzled caffeine addict is not "doing" as much as it does for a first-time drinker or a young person in his first summer of semi-daily espressos. The habitual use of anything blunts the initial advantage that initially encouraged habitual use. [I write this while aiming an accusing, sleepy-eyed glare toward my third cup of coffee.])

Given the ballplayer's proverbial respect for superstition and ritual, we might expect they would stick with whatever "works" and not be so willing to experiment with any deviation from usual practice. So I guess they'll all be on something like Dexedrine that's not yet banned. Anyhoo, I doubt it matters much one way or the other, though I do wonder if a team could not gain a competitive advantage by improving their quality of sleep (and speed of recovery) over the course of a season.

Carroll writes that some teams have decided to implement polices that are "more strict." Any idea what the Pirates have done? Any reason we should care?

Bettis to join NBC

Good times. His first game will be opening day, which will also feature the ring ceremony for the Super Bowl champs.

Jose Castillo out of classic

Good idea; there was no sense in sending him there to stand around as a backup.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

John Madden's lousy game

Compelling article by Fred Pasek of, breaking down Madden's lousy Super Bowl performance in considerable detail.

Here's to Clark Haggans.

A defensive Michael Vick

Here is a long article, a few days old, on Polamalu from Jim Corbett of USA Today Sports Weekly. Seeing that I regard Mike Vick as Kordell Stewart in a dome, I'm not a fan of that comparison. But the article was good to read.

Interesting take here on the Super Bowl as a battle of Big Plays:

LeBeau changed his scheme the night before the game. Instead of blitzing Polamalu from everywhere, LeBeau mainly dropped Polamalu as an extra man into coverage, anti-cipating the Seahawks' maximum protection scheme and limiting Seattle's big plays to a minimum.

One of the three times he did blitz, Polamalu pressured quarterback Matt Hasselbeck into a critical, fourth-quarter interception that set up Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard pass off a reverse for the game-sealing touchdown to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward.

And now Polamalu pretty much walks on water for his peers:

"It's hard to say Troy Polamalu is not the best defensive player in the game right now," Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks says. "I love Brian Urlacher and I understand the need for edge rushers. But as far as a guy having the most impact, I'm not sure there's anyone better than Troy Polamalu for his impact in the passing game, the running game and the blitz game."

With the draft coming up, I've been thinking about that 2003 draft. Polamalu was everyone's top safety, with Mike Doss a close second. If I remember right, a lot of mock drafts had him slipping -- because of injury concerns -- to the end of round 1. Then the Steelers traded lower picks to get him at #16. What was the injury concern? Concussions? Back problem? Maybe it wasn't injury concerns, but there was some knock on Polamalu that had him available on everyone's mock draft board for the Steelers. Then the Steelers had to go get him at #16, surprising a lot of people; was it because everyone knew the Steelers wanted him (and nobody else--remember the Dexter Jackson "snub")? And you know the rest of the league looks up to the Steelers when it's time to study the art of the draft. Did any other news about that trading up ever come out?

That was also the draft, right, where they "reached" on CB Ike Taylor?

How not to drink like a champion today

First example, Trai Essex.

Yurendell De Caster

Is he making this team? When you read about his winter play, you have to be rooting for him. He sounds like a super-Mackowiak.

And I wonder if & how it's true that versatility tends to hurt a player's statistics. I certainly believe that statistics do not wholly express a player's ability, and that one player in different situations will produce different rate stats at the plate. How would versatility depress slugging percentage, for example? In Mackowiak's case, it led the manager to start him in centerfield, which he obviously could not handle well enough to have good at-bats between innings.