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Thursday, December 25, 2003

Post-Gazette: Smizik: Pirates’ gift a lump of coal

There’s no money for high-priced free agents, no money for moderately priced free agents and no money to tie down young, talented players such as Kip Wells to long-term deals.

The Pirates are a wreck, and the man who steered the franchise into the rocks is Kevin McClatchy

Merry Christmas from the Smizik family!

Repoz Posted: December 25, 2003 at 06:20 PM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Robert Posted: December 25, 2003 at 06:36 PM (#403923)
The Pirates are just another example of a team that extorted their city for a new stadium. Now they claim they are financially limited and are thus are refusing to compete. They have left the taxpayers holding the bag. Who will pay to see these losers and throw good money after bad. The once proud Bucs join Detroit, Cincinnati, Milwaukee in the land of moral (if not fiscal) bankrupcy and no hope.
   2. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 25, 2003 at 06:39 PM (#403924)
" Financial flexibility, it turns out, means: 'We're outta money.'"

Not quite right, as it turns out. It works much better if you replace every occurrance of "financial flexibility" with "profit margin".
   3. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: December 25, 2003 at 06:55 PM (#403925)
Wasn't it just a few years ago that McClatchy was adored for keeping the Pirates in Pittsburgh?
   4. Tiboreau Posted: December 25, 2003 at 07:10 PM (#403926)
So Repoz, what are doing for this Holiday season?
   5. Repoz Posted: December 25, 2003 at 07:14 PM (#403927)
So Repoz, what are doing for this Holiday season?

Avoiding all family matters...
   6. Charlie Posted: December 25, 2003 at 08:31 PM (#403928)
Not a bad column by Smizik. McClatchy deserves that sort of vitriol.

The refusal to spend money is disappointing, but the refusal to just let talented young players play is what's going to cause the Pirates to eventually bottom out (no, it hasn't happened yet). The Pirates could have had an infield like this:

1b: C. Wilson
   7. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 25, 2003 at 10:18 PM (#403931)
" Has Littlefield actually done that poorly considering the circumstances?"

Yes.
   8. BrandonMO (U L) Posted: December 26, 2003 at 03:48 AM (#403935)
You'd think the Pirates would have more money with all the checks they get from teams picking their prospects in the Rule V draft.
   9. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 26, 2003 at 05:49 PM (#403939)
Littlefield did a good job signing low-priced FAs last year, but he didn't bring any of them back, he didn't offer any of them arbitration to garner draft picks, and (most seriously) he didn't do a very good job of shopping them to other teams for talent at the deadline. The Suppan deal is a plus in that area, but the Ramirez-Lofton deal is a major negative, pretty much canceling out the good work on the Suppan trade. Since nobody else from the 2003 FA group will be back, the long-term gains were negligible.

The farm system under Littlefield has been primarily focused on low-ceiling prospects (i.e. Taber Lee, Craig Stansberry, etc.), pretty much the opposite of what a rebuilding franchise needs. Most of the system's best prospects were added to the system under Mickey White, not Ed Creech (Littlefield's current director of scouting). The affiliates put up good records, but since everybody's 1-2 years too old for their leagues (thanks, Mr. Graham!), the players' status as actual prospects isn't really very good, and decent arms are routinely buried in the lower minors or lost to six-year free agency.

Littlefield's trade record is spotty, at best. Adding together the return for the Ritchie and Schmidt deals makes one not-quite fair transaction: Jason Schmidt, John Vander Wal, and Todd Ritchie for Kip Wells, Josh Fogg, Ryan Vogelsong, Sean Lowe, and Armando Rios. As a deal-maker, he's treading water. He got fair value for Giles, Sauerbeck, and Suppan, but failed to get an adequate return for Ramirez/Lofton or Marte, and he's displayed a worrying tendency to give up prospects (Kody Kirkland, Chris Young) for mediocre vets right at the non-tender deadline.

His roster management is, at best, suspect. He's waived several legitimate prospects during his tenure (Walter Young, Matt Bruback), the decision to drop Bronson Arroyo for Jim Mann (before completely ignoring Mann) really bit him on the butt, and the Rule 5 draft this year was a complete and total disaster. He hasn't brought in any prospects in the Rule 5, and his minor-league free agent signings have all been scrubs.
   10. WaltDavis Posted: December 26, 2003 at 08:02 PM (#403941)
an adequate return for Ramirez/Lofton and Marte

Once again, the Ramirez/Lofton trade was perfectly reasonable. He got a decent prospect, a low-level prospect, and $6+ M off the books. What more do you think he could have gotten? Can you point to a lot of recent trades where the salary-dumping team did better?

And Marte? How much return is a 27 year-old reliever with 45 innings of below-average ML experience supposed to bring? And I assume he was injured in 2000 as he only had 10 IP that year. In his minor-league career, he had never K'd more than 1 per inning. Is that an attractive trade target? The Pirates picked him up for Enrique Wilson so what did you want in return, Willie Harris? Matt Guerrier was a starter coming off his age 22 season which he split between AA and AAA with an ERA around 3.30. The K-rate was low but the K/BB rate was solid. In what way is that not a good return for an unspectacular minor-league vet reliever? Even if he'd been spectacular, in what way is a solid 23 year-old starting prospect not a good return for a minor-league reliever who's 4 years older?

Here's what Prospectus' TA said about the move:

As for getting Matt Guerrier, another nice little move by Dave Littlefield. Damaso Marte isn't anything special, and Guerrier might be in the Bucs' rotation by the end of May. If the Pirates have three league-average or better starters (Guerrier, Sean Lowe, and Kip Wells) in their rotation in exchange for one (Todd Ritchie) and a spot lefty, and they're spending less money and have control of the players' careers for more time, then they're ahead of the other guy.

Here's what Primer's Transaction Oracle said:

Apparently, the Pirates want to do the KC/Oak relationship one better [by] trying to steal an entire starting rotation rather than an outfield.

I agree completely that Littlefield's roster management has been awful (e.g. he recently lost Guerrier on waivers).
   11. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 27, 2003 at 05:02 AM (#403942)
I've already provided the Boone trade as a comp for Ramirez in another thread, and I still don't understand your problem with it, Walt. Yeah, Ramirez was under contract for '04 and Boone wasn't, but the chance of Boone being non-tendered in '04 was vanishingly small. He could've gone 0-for-August (as he nearly did; .590 OPS) and still returned, so he was effectively under contract for '04 anyway. Both players are 3B with similar salaries and similar in-lineup values, and both were dealt to a contender in the middle of the season.

The Cubs needed a 3B more badly than the Yankees did. The Yankees were starting Robin Ventura, who had approximately the same '03 level of performance as Boone, and the Cubs were starting Lenny Harris at third (and Tom Goodwin in center). The Yankees were never really in danger of missing the playoffs, and the Cubs were on the down side of a three-way dogpile in the Central. Despite the enormous pressure being placed on Chicago to make a deal, the Cubs received more talent than the Yankees did while surrendering less talent and less money in return. That, to me, seems like a bad deal.

The Guerrier thing looked like a good idea at the time, and I said as much when it happened, but good intentions or not, the deal ended up hurting the Pirates. If you're looking at Littlefield's trade record strictly on the basis of what happened, he gave up a guy who's currently a B-/C+ prospect and a dominant lefty reliever for a generic righty soft-tosser who's out of the organization. It's a bad trade because he gave up something that currently has value for something that doesn't, and even though nobody realized that he gave up anything of value at the time, that doesn't make the loss any less serious.

This cuts both ways, of course. Ritchie's injury (and subsequent loss of effectiveness) is one of the things that makes the Wells trade look as good as it does. Yeah, the Pirates would've gotten the better pitcher anyway, but the fact that nobody believed at the time that Ritchie's arm was going to shrivel up and die didn't keep it from happening or keep it from sucking for the Sox when it did happen. If he'd been a solid #3 and they'd beaten the Twins out for a playoff slot, wouldn't that have affected the balance?
   12. WaltDavis Posted: December 27, 2003 at 07:36 PM (#403943)
I've already provided the Boone trade as a comp for Ramirez in another thread, and I still don't understand your problem with it, Walt. Yeah, Ramirez was under contract for '04 and Boone wasn't, but the chance of Boone being non-tendered in '04 was vanishingly small.

Because that last statement has no basis to be made. The Reds are cutting payroll and you think they'd have brought back Boone at $6 M for 2004 with Brandon Larson around? Geez, they were trying to sell players for straight cash before Selig nixed the deal. They traded off pretty much their entire bullpen, along with Boone and Guillen (who was cheap). Meanwhile, the Pirates had Ramirez under contract for $6 M.

But as I also pointed out in that other thread, Ramirez is two years from FA. If we assume the Reds would have brought back Boone at $6 M in 2004, we have to assume the Pirates would have brought back Ramirez at more than $6 M in 2005.

Whichever assumption you operate under, the Pirates saved a ton of money.

In essence the Pirates got the same return for Ramirez that the Reds got for Boone plus they got $3-5 M for Lofton (depending on how you distribute the money from the Reds-Yankees deals). Or to make it easier, we can consider Boone/White as one deal. That makes it Boone/White for a decent prospect, a middling prospect and $3 M (and a PTBNL maybe) vs. Ramirez/Lofton for a decent prospect, a middling prospect and $6 M.

And sure it sucks that you lost Marte, but don't blame the GM for making a smart trade that came out badly.

There's plenty to criticize Littlefield for, but the Ramirez/Lofton and Marte trades do not qualify as bad moves.
   13. WTM Posted: December 27, 2003 at 11:24 PM (#403944)
"And sure it sucks that you lost Marte, but don't blame the GM for making a smart trade that came out badly."

What I blame the GM for here is poor judgment of talent. The cuts that spring came down to a choice between Marte and Joe Beimel. Beimel had been rushed to the majors and still had options left, but the Pirates chose to trade Marte rather than send Beimel back to the minors. Of course, every GM in the game has made misjudgments that bad or worse. But when you add Marte to this fall's idiotic roster decisions; the decision to give up actual talent for Randall Simon rather than play Craig Wilson; the decision to pay over half a million each to guys like Abe Nunez, Brian Meadows, and Beimel (to say nothing of Stynes) while being unwilling to pay over $700K for Matt Stairs; the decision to sign a mediocre utility guy as a regular 3B rather than go with Freddy Sanchez or Mackowiak; and the bizarre blunderings with Matt Herges, Matt Bruback and Brandon Lyon--all in the space of about a year and a half--you've got a growing body of evidence that Littlefield has some serious shortcomings. Marte is just a drop in an increasingly large bucket.
   14. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 28, 2003 at 12:14 AM (#403945)
"But as I also pointed out in that other thread, Ramirez is two years from FA. If we assume the Reds would have brought back Boone at $6 M in 2004, we have to assume the Pirates would have brought back Ramirez at more than $6 M in 2005."

Why is this the case? The assumption that both would be kept in 2004 is based in part on the fact that there were no other decent options on the FA market this year. As things stand right now, there will be LOTS of decent 3Bs available in 2005. A team could let a 3B of Ramirez's caliber go and still have several better options with which to replace him. It's much easier to trade someting that's in short supply than something that's plentiful.

"And sure it sucks that you lost Marte, but don't blame the GM for making a smart trade that came out badly."

See, this is another fundamental disagreement. Barring the intrusion of certain random catastrophic incidents, I don't think a trade can be "smart" if it turns out this badly. It can seem smart at the time, but that's only because we don't have access to the necessary intel (or if we have that intel, we make the decision not to regard it). In this case, Kenny Williams was obviously basing his decision on different info than both Littlefield and the general sabermetric population were, and it seems that he was correct to do so.

Littlefield overestimated Guerrier's capabilities, and he underestimated Marte's. Those were mistakes. The fact that reasonably-talented amateurs like you and I also made the same mistakes doesn't excuse his error.
   15. Darren Posted: December 28, 2003 at 12:42 AM (#403946)
Littlefield overestimated Guerrier's capabilities, and he underestimated Marte's. Those were mistakes. The fact that reasonably-talented amateurs like you and I also made the same mistakes doesn't excuse his error.

At the same time, should reasonably-talented amateurs be able to conclude that Littlefield actually made a mistake? Perhaps Williams got lucky.

I agree with you on this much though: If you want to evaluate a GM's work, you can usually just look at the end results and get a pretty clear picture. If his methods are sound, then most of his moves will work out.
   16. Charlie Posted: December 28, 2003 at 07:27 AM (#403947)
Littlefield overestimated Guerrier's capabilities, and he underestimated Marte's. Those were mistakes.

But that's not fair, Vlad. You act as if individual players' "capabilities" accurately predict future performance, as if their futures are predetermined by their performance up to the point of the trade. Maybe Littlefield DIDN'T overestimate Guerrier's capabilities, since any one player's future performance is actually more like a range of possible outcomes than one predetermined one. Maybe Littlefield was right about Guerrier, and things still didn't work out.

If you spent your life's savings on lottery tickets and then you actually won the lottery, would that make your decision to spend all your money a smart one?

I think in evalutating GMs, we should look at whether their moves seem smart at the time. If they are consistently able to get good results by using principles that are different from ours, then we need to change our thinking, so the system of evaluating trades at the time obviously isn't foolproof. But I think it's the best we have. Thus I have to agree with Walt that the Guerrier trade was not a bad one.

That said, many of Littlefield's recent moves (along with the Simon, Arroyo and Herges fiascos) were indefensible.
   17. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 28, 2003 at 06:03 PM (#403948)
"If you spent your life's savings on lottery tickets and then you actually won the lottery, would that make your decision to spend all your money a smart one?"

Yes, because you're obviously a lucky, lucky bastard. You can't completely ignore the ends and look solely at the means while maintaining any sort of connection to reality. If something works, it works, and it's not going to stop working just because it wasn't achieved the "right" way. The perception of an increased chance of success is the only thing that distinguishes the "right" way from the "wrong" way, and if you already know the outcome, that perception can't sustain itself.

Maybe Guerrier was capable of becoming a top-notch starting pitcher, but only in a different environment with a different defense, ballpark, or instructional method, something like that. He still didn't work out in Pittsburgh, and it's not going to make the franchise any better to point out that he was the right tool for the wrong job.

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