Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Getting the car repaired this morning, I read in a recent Sports Illustrated - can't find the text online - a piece by Jon Heyman about the Tiger's "slot-busting" draft strategy. Basically, they gamed the league's prohibition on paying "over slot" to scoop up the best talent in the draft. It cost more, but it's still cheaper than signing free agents. The example touted was Rick Porcello. (Biography, recent news.)

Obviously, this is what the Pirates have to do to compete. They can't afford top talent on the free agent market. They can't win championships without top talent. The only strategy that might bring top talent to this team will focus on the draft. There are other things that can be done. They can make smart trades, and they can be the team that best educates its young players. But the draft has to be the heart of it all. They have to get the best players available in every round.

And that means they will have to pay "above slot." Given Coonelly's job before he joined the Pirates, this issue has been, for me, one of the bigger tests for him. None of us believe Littlefield truly rated Moskos above Wieters in pure baseball terms. It appears that he picked Moskos to prove that he can eat shit and like it. It was a suck up move. "Oh yes, Boss, don't worry, there will be no conflict; we will not rock the boat; I don't know why the other 29 teams rate Wieters higher than Moskos; we don't; thank goodness we will avoid the dilemma that would be how to sign Wieters."

All that said, Moskos is also great, and he doesn't need to keep hearing it from the fans that he's not Wieters. But it's plain as the nose on your face that the Pirates need offense, and that they did not need another relief-pitching or even starting-pitching prospect with that pick.

Coonelly and Huntington are doing pretty well, I think, so far. The big test is not going to be the April win-loss record but what they do in the draft. Do they put the team first, or do they put the league first?

The team could also take a lesson from the Steelers: you want to be the team that young players most admire for draft prowess. Getting drafted by the Pirates should be a distinction, and not a curse or insult. Ask Danny Moskos. Since they are not winning games at the big-league level, all the Pirates can do to remedy their loathsome reputation with young players is pay them better than other teams -- and become known as the team that stops at nothing to get the best young players. Then Pittsburgh may not be the place to win a championship next year, but it would be one of the best places to go right out of the draft.

If not hiring players represented by Scott Boras is somehow good for the Pirates, then I would love to hear what Pirate-first arguments support that position.

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