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  1. How can we be sure how much of the inability to succeed is poor drafting and how much is poor development?

    When the organization’s draft pics end up being busts time after time, one would think the drafting was incompetent bordering on lunatic OR that the development bears much of the blame. In other words, what I’m getting at is perhaps the Pirate’s didn’t draft poorly as much as develop poorly.

    Comment by Heather — July 14, 2010 @ 8:22 am

  2. You accidentally put Jason Verlander instead of Justin.

    Comment by Paul — July 14, 2010 @ 9:22 am

  3. I’m sure there’s some truth to that Heather, but as a Pirate fan I think blame falls mostly on the “bad picks” side of the ledger. Bullington was chosen #1 overall ahead of consensus #1 pick BJ Upton. Moskos was chosen over Matt Wieters. Van Benschoten was a top college hitter and the Pirates wanted him to pitch.

    Outside of the first round, the Dave Littlefield years were characterized by a lot of college seniors drafted to stock the minor leagues with organizational guys who could win minor league games but weren’t likely to become MLB regulars. This gave the system the veneer of competence to anyone unable to tell the difference (ie: Pirates ownership under Kevin McClatchy) but in reality the team was just spinning their wheels.

    Comment by gorillagogo — July 14, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  4. I agree with gorilla that some of that probably does exist, but more so with non-1st round picks. The problem of course is that many of the Pirates’ picks are driven by signability so they would forgo better players to ensure they could sign the lesser one. That’s a big factor here, too.

    I’m not a prospect maven by any stretch of the imagination but over the years I would look at the Pirates and just think, WTF? And I’m talking about on draft day when we still don’t really have a clue about these guys, but it just seemed like they were drafting from a completely different list.

    We all have a Pirates in our fantasy league and guess what? Like they Pirates, the routinely finish at the bottom of the league because they are drafting like crap.

    Great piece RJ, it’s all in the player development for a team like Pirates. Always has been, always will be. I like what Huntington is doing there right now and I think if they can develop some pitching, they can start down the road to respectability.

    Comment by Paul — July 14, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  5. How about trading your good/decent players or letting them leave for nothing, such as Aramis Ramirez, Jose Bautista, Matt Caps, Tom Gorzelanny, etc. They did get something for Bay and some for Perez, but the P’s track record, up to a couple of years ago was a disaster when it pertained trading their productive players for anything in return.

    Comment by CesarV — July 14, 2010 @ 9:49 am

  6. Great piece RJ. I’d be lying if I said names like Bullington, Chris Duffy, Van Benschoten and TIKE REDMAN didn’t make me cringe at night. This organization is putrid.

    One thing to consider when looking at the Pirates draft strategy vs. Detroit’s or the Rays’ is our organization repeatedly balks at players who have power agents (e.g. Scott Boras, etc.) and will look for top dollar right away. If you guys remember this is a reason why the Pirates took Tony Sanchez at 4 in 2009, and Bullington at 1 over Fielder, Upton, etc. Therefore, I think we’d be remiss to think that the Pirates just whiff on big talent; they instead look for raw talent that will come cheap. Also, the Pirates unwillingness to sign players they draft has shown to be costly (anyone remember drafting Tanner Scheppers?)

    Bottom line is Dave Littlefield/Kevin McClatchy are out because of this “small market syndrome” and enter NH and Nutting. NH has shown a willingness to do the right things, but I’m so sick of hearing “years of control” as an excuse for acquiring a player. Dana Eveland sucks, and having a bad pitcher for several more years isn’t going to make him good. Look at what the Pirates did to Tim Alderson… went from top prospect to single-A demotion. The Pens and Steelers have shown these two that if they put a winner on the field, the city will rally behind it like the bunch of bandwagon fans they are.

    Comment by eblynch — July 14, 2010 @ 9:59 am

  7. The poop sandwich they got for Aramis is embarrassing, but I’m not too worried about the other guys you listed sans maybe Capps who had the high ERA last year but still posted a 2.7 K/BB after a 7.8 (!) the year before.

    Bautista was a .750 OPS guy for them, he was a negative WAR on the whole. Gorzelanny sucked and even when he was posting sub-4.00 ERAs, it was three parts smoke, two parts mirrors. He was essentially a 5.00 ERA pitcher.

    Comment by Paul — July 14, 2010 @ 10:02 am

  8. Are they done paying Matt Morris 9 million per year yet?

    Comment by Jason — July 14, 2010 @ 10:08 am

  9. Heather,

    I’m with you in that I think poor development played a significant role in the failure of the Pirates ability to produce successful major league talent through the draft.

    As others indicated, certainly the strategy of drafting “signable” picks compromised the amount of talent that was chosen in the draft for several years, but like you I suspect that poor development capabilities has played a bigger role than many folks suspect.

    Comment by NuttingHostage — July 14, 2010 @ 10:18 am

  10. Along the lines of Cesar’s comment, the worst thing about that list of Pirates prospects is the number of guys who’s success has come with different organizations. Actually, I think this gives credence to the belief that the Pirates problem is more player development than it is player selection. Why else would guys like Arroyo, Young, Guthrie, Shelton, Gorzo, and Davis become much better players when they leave Pittsburgh? Maybe Pittsburgh was just as cheap when it came to hiring coaches as they were when it came to signing draft picks. Of course, the Littlefield teams also showed a complete lack sense when it came to trades. Remember the Suppan and Morris trades? They made no sense.

    Comment by Bill — July 14, 2010 @ 10:19 am

  11. They also didn’t sign Guthrie; he was drafted again by the Indians in the first round in 2002.

    Comment by Mitch — July 14, 2010 @ 10:23 am

  12. When it’s that bad, your usually talking about a good combination of both. They had a horrible eye for talent, and did a crap job developing anyone. Combine the two, and you get their recent never ending suckitude.

    Comment by Mr. Sanchez — July 14, 2010 @ 10:39 am

  13. I don’t think you can completely blame Pitt for what happened to Alderson. My understanding is that SF overhauled his mechanics and he hasn’t been the same since.

    Comment by odbsol — July 14, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  14. Yep. – Completely agree.

    It would be interesting to have experienced baseball people, GM’s, scouting directors, player development directors, etc…..to attempt a % breakdown.

    Example: 50% of the problem has been bad picks vs. 50% has been poor development.

    Comment by NuttingHostage — July 14, 2010 @ 10:52 am

  15. The spending philosophy of the NH era has been significantly different than that of the Littlefield era. At this point, the Pirates are willing to spend money in the draft and internationally to get talent. The Sanchez pick is a valid concern, but IIRC the 2009 draft didn’t have that kind of high upside pick available at #4 that wasn’t looking for Porcello-money (and without the benefit of hindsight with Trout). Rather than go for Matzek, the Pirates drafted and signed Sanchez along with Dodson, ZVR, Cain, and Stevenson, all upside HS arms. The argument could be made to go for Matzek AND all four HS arms, but they got a nice catcher out of the pick.

    The Scheppers pick could have been a good one, but he was also a health concern at that point. His hurt shoulder led the Pirates to offer him less money than he wanted, which is understandable given that those same concerns have some projecting him as a reliever in the majors (benefit of hindsight, but any should injury for a young pitcher should be cause for caution). The Pirates also signed Alvarez in 2008 and look to sign Taillon this year (on Aug 16, no earlier)

    People also seem to forget that the Penguins from 2001-2006 were awful & went through rebuilding like the Pirates are doing now. Unlike previous efforts, they’re actually going all in for future success.

    Comment by Miles — July 14, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  16. Great piece RJ.

    The are a combination of factors at work here. First and foremost is draft evaluation. While there are signability issues at work for some of these picks, the fact of the matter is that the Pirates talent evaluation at the draft level is terrible over time. Second, there is a development issue for sure. Pirates pitching prospects, first round or no, have a long history of getting hurt. Position player prospects seem to scuffle. Many seem to get better once they get to another organization.

    Third, and equally important, is talent evaluation when it comes to trades. The Pirates never seemt to get enough for their trade commodities, and the players they do get do not seem to pan out.

    Ultimately, if you cannot identify talent in the draft, cannot identify another organization’s talent and cannot develop the little talent you have in the system, well, you are going to lose a lot of games for a long time.

    Comment by Toz — July 14, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  17. someone’s writing about the pirates being terrible? someone’s writing about how the pirates have consistently made bad moves for an unthinkable amount of years? must be the day after the all-star game…RJ, if we were sitting around a tv watching a ballgame this is would be where one of your buddies would tell you to chug a beer for being master of the obvious and to move on to something more interesting and relevant

    Comment by pirate — July 14, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  18. Heh–I can think of no other transaction more befitting of the Dave Littlefield and Cam Bonifay era of the Pirates from 1993-2007 than trading a decent OF in Rajai Davis for Matt Morris in 2007. Especially since it was literally the last great “F U” from management to the fans before the new owner cleaned house and brought in Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington in the fall of 2007, once the season had ended.

    IIRC, they paid him(Morris) the remainder of what he was owed when they acquired him in 2007. He made slightly above $10 million in 2008. Of course, at the end of 2007, the Coonelly/Huntington regime took over, and they had the good sense to release him about 3 weeks into the 2008 season–they were still on the hook for that entire salary even after the release, plus a 2009 option buyout that cost $1 million. So yes, it seems that Morris’ contract lasted forever cause it almost did. What a horrible contract–and Morris retired within a few days of being released, not surprisingly.

    Having said that, this new regime has made many positive strides, and hopefully that list above of draft results will soon include positive contributions from 2008, 2009, and 2010 draftees who were drafted and signed by the new regime. It’s just so unfortunate for them that the current attempt to turn things around was preceded by 15+ years of total and complete ineptitude on every imaginable scale. :(

    Comment by Jim — July 14, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

  19. Another point goes along with the idea that the Pirates drafted to stock their farm system (especially with mid-round picks, drafting guys in round 6 that had no hope but would make great Double-A players) : they seemed to be slow at promoting players. Or maybe it would be better to say that they were terrible at figuring out WHEN to promote players.

    Even now they were letting Tony Sanchez tear up high-A when he was drafted last year out of a big-time college program. They did push McCutchen (correctly) and probably rushed Alvarez, but I wonder how much of their failure to develop players had to do with them being at the wrong levels. Hermanson was pushed hard and stalled at AAA. Benson was pushed very hard and it worked out until he got hurt. Walker kept succeeding, getting promoted and cratering. There’s no consistent pattern, it’s just random… but it seems like it’s always wrong.

    Comment by John Franco — July 14, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  20. That’s a great point. It seems that promoting players at the right time is more art than science. This goes along with knowing how to evaluate talent esp. your own teams.

    Comment by odbsol — July 14, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  21. As a side note on the Eveland trade, Uviedo was just DFA’d by the Jays after the Yunel Escobar trade. The Pirates need pitchers at the major league level, adn they have one in Eveland for a prospect deemed worthless by both clubs. He’s a good reliever, but doesn’t look like he has a future in starting.

    Comment by Miles — July 14, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

  22. I agree… The Pirates are getting better, at least much more interesting, but I think it’ll prove to be too little too late. With this crop of young talent, they’ll probably get good enough to float around .500 from time to time, but not good enough to keep any of these guys over the long-term. They’ll loose control and/or be forced to ship out too many of these guys because of their dismal pitching situation.

    I think they’ll keep getting better with their drafts, but with how lousy they drafted earlier this decade there are way too many holes that could have been filled, but aren’t. I think the foundation of a competitive future might end up featuring the Taillons and Stetsons rather than McCutchen and Alvarez as long as they keep shooting for high ceiling picks. I worry that they’ll resort back to loading the system with mediocre quick returns in the draft to supplement the core they have now before loosing them.

    Their key will be how they treat the hitting core they have now. Signing Alvarez to a Tulowitzki/Longoria type “long-term” deal has to be part of the equation if he warrants that. Does Boras do those types of contracts? I don’t see McCutchen being around long enough to see a pitching staff develop.

    Comment by baty — July 14, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

  23. The pirates are a fun team to use in video games and pc sims b/c you can get young talent develop them and play them at the ML level and do decently in a challenging situation. In short, they’re the ultimate “if I were in charge” team.

    Their problems are “multifold” (to quote the great Lee Elia rant). They spent money on MLB vets instead of through the draft, and they have traded away big talent. They never seem to have more than one good player at a time.

    Having Ramirez, Bay, FSanchez, during peak years combined with high talent draftees would likely have resulted in some competitive teams in the NLC.

    Their WAR value seems to mostly come from speedy, good defense OF’s which shows some understanding of player value. But, they never seem to have it all at the same time.

    If they had good OF defense and speed, combined with Ramirez and Jones at the corners, Sanchez and Wilson up the middle, and a pitching staff that pounded the zone and limited HRs, they could likely have a decent team focused on run prevention and getting into scoring position.

    Compred to the Rays and Tiggers, who inject young talent with productive vets and solid pitching, the Pirates never put all 3 facets on the field at the same time. Like I said, their problems are multifold.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — July 14, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  24. Every year I always look at some of the obvious first round selections they could have made. For instance if they would have selected Weiters in ’07, they wouldn’t have stretched for a much larger developmental project in Tony Sanchez for ’09.

    Too many of their picks have relied on fans expecting a player to develop beyond reasonable expectations. Sanchez should be a decent regular, but we can’t expect him to produce as a typical top five selection. Lincoln is the perfect example. You can develop the heck out of him, but it won’t change the fact that he’ll never be more than a 4 starter. For the most part those are the types of players they had been focusing on. The Pirates were over shooting most of those picks.

    I think Stetson Allie would be the perfect benchmark in evaluating their player development. He’s a very high ceiling very low floor type of pitcher. With great development he could be a top of the rotation kind of guy. With poor development he might barely make it as a situational reliever.

    Comment by baty — July 14, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  25. It’s also important to note the hole that previous management put the current one in. Good small market baseball teams run like a cycle. As their good talent at the MLB level gets older, they’re able to trade premium players for premium prospects. The Rays could easily trade any one of their starters and inject all sorts of talent into their minors b/c they have Hellickson ready to take charge. In the alternative, if they’re happy with the five at the top, they can trade Hellickson and make a run. When the current management came on, they had no chips to re-fill an empty tank. I love Jason Bay. He’s probably one of my favorite players of all time. But he’s a subpar defensive outfielder who strikes out way too much. I love Freddy Sanchez even more. But he’s a plus defending 2b with little power who never walks. While both of those guys can fetch a bit, neither of them can fetch what Carl Crawford, James Shields, or even probably Carlos Pena could fetch on the open market (ok the last one was probably a stretch). Look at what the guys this management has trade away have done after being traded. There’s not a guy out there save Sanchez (who’s been hurt most of the time he’s been a Giant) and Bay (who arguably was meant for Fenway and never should’ve left) who were quality players when they left and are still quality players. LaRoche has done well, but he was AWFUL for Pittsburgh. Bautista has had a miracle season, but I couldn’t wait to get rid of him. Capps? While I would’ve liked to get something for him, he wasn’t exactly a prize..and the Pirates really shouldn’t have offered him arbitration anyhow. I think the only deal that you can definitively call a loss for the current Buccos management right now would be the Gorzo/Grabow deal for Hart/Ascaino. OTher than that, I’d say they have either won or are still TBD.

    Finally, I think the Buccos’ current management have been a bit unlucky by being bad, but not quite bad enough in the last couple of years. The Nats have been able to inject two amazingly good talents by having the number one picks in the last two drafts. We’ve fallen just short of those. I know a lot of teams can play that game, but still it seems like we’re just on the outside of the “prodigies” in the draft. (Wieters excluded).

    Comment by ndbrian — July 14, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

  26. Pittsburgh Suck Salad (serves several million western Pennsylvanians for years)

    1 cup small market budget
    1 cup bad draft evaluation
    1 cup poor minor league development

    Before kneading the limited budget, be careful to first strain out the biggest stars available each June. You don’t want any of them ending up in your salad. Of the remaining top players, choose the blandest ones, so your salad doesn’t surprise anyone with spikes of spicy hot. Stir well with poor development, making sure the best players dissolve in a slurry of williegreenishmush and settle to the bottom.

    Serve cold with a garnish of perfunctory annual optimism. Change the serving bowl every few years to keep the sucky salad looking fresh.

    Comment by Mark — July 14, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

  27. At the time the Pirates (and Royals, it’s not like they’re alone) sank to the bottom of the heap in their respective leagues, I don’t think anyone really thought it would be possible they’d stay this bad for this long – the amateur draft was supposed to keep this kind of thing from happening. I think it’s well worth writing about (I’d like to see a piece looking for common ground between the two…)

    Comment by Carligula — July 14, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  28. hmmmmm, bottom feeder

    Comment by Sen-Baldacci — July 15, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  29. mmmmmmmmmmm

    Comment by Sen-Baldacci — July 15, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  30. There seem to be people who say that the Tony Sanchez pick was an excuse not to spend money in the draft when the Pirates OUTSPENT EVERYBODY in the draft that year, (I’m pretty sure, it is possible they spent between 2nd most and 5th most, but I think they were top). Am I the only person who finds that amusing?

    Comment by Justin Mosovsky — July 15, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

  31. The Ramirez trade was a travesty, a horrible evaluation of talent and resources. It appeared at the time and continues to appear as a payroll dump. Quite simply you can’t dump payroll if there is not a pipeline of talent in place. Bautista is not a decent player. Do not let 2010 numbers fool you. He is 30 and putting up a career year (mostly just in the power department too). How many quality players have done that? I was confused by the Capps DFA, but with the signing of Dotel it does not really matter. That turned out to be a wash. The Gorzelanny deal was also questionable, but overall the players the bucs have given up simply aren’t that good.

    Comment by KJ — July 15, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

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