Thursday, May 25, 2006

Harold Reynolds Is Right*

The Reds and Brewers are serious about getting better, and the Pirates are not.

In addition to unloading a popular but overpaid first baseman in the off-season to the Pirates, the Reds have now traded the guy they got for Casey--Dave Williams--to the Mets. This is the kind of move that the McClatchy-Littlefield Pirates never make: a public admission of a mistake that makes them look bad but that is the correct baseball decision.

The Reds understand the concept of sunk cost. Sure, they traded away The Mayor and got nothing for him, but the cost of that decision was already incurred, nothing they could do would undo the trade, and they needed the roster spot--so they acted. If McClatchy and Littlefield were running the Reds, they'd have held on to Williams all year, hoping that he would turn things around and give them a chance to save face. They are more serious about their public image than they are about winning baseball games. (See also this April post on sunk cost.)

After watching these first two months, could anyone in their right mind think that the Pirates would be better off playing Burnitz, Randa, and Casey everyday than they would be playing Bautista, Sanchez, and Wilson? Maybe a not entirely unreasonable case could be made for Casey over Wilson, but Randa over Sanchez or Burnitz over anyone (except maybe Jose Hernandez)? No way. Yet Dejan Kovacevic assured those he was chatting with on Tuesday that, when the Terrible Trio are all healthy, they will play. Excerpts:
Oh_No_Marte: What should happen to Burnitz/Wilson once Casey Returns?

Dejan Kovacevic: You can bet everything you own Craig Wilson will be relegated once again to bench duty. Already, in the past couple weeks, we have seen Wilson being benched for Jose Hernandez, so there very clearly is no trepidation on the Pirates' part to keep him out of the lineup. I have yet to figure out why that is.

Steve_Z: Geez Dejan, Tracy's killing us with...Jeremy B.? What's he thinking about?

Dejan Kovacevic: ...Don't overthink it. Management signs someone to a guaranteed $6.7 million, and he is going to play. Even Burnitz has acknowledged this much.

Mark: ...what do you think happens to Freddy Sanchez once Randa returns?

Dejan Kovacevic: Back to the bench. Bank on it.
Oddly, though, there is a slightly different tone in this week's Pirates Q&A--something like a public challenge to the Pirates that provides just the vaguest possibility of hope:
I consider the Pirates' coming decision regarding Sanchez to be a flashpoint for the season.

If Sanchez is benched after the outstanding two months he has had -- and do not forget he was no less productive and dynamic in the final month of last season -- it will reveal much about the direction the team is taking.

At some point, as so many have written to this forum, it would behoove the Pirates to abandon the concept that 2006 should be used as anything other than a springboard for 2007 and beyond. One can debate the merits of having placed any importance in 2006 to begin with -- I happen to feel 82 victories would have helped the franchise in many ways -- but the current combination of a terrible record and poor production from high-paid veterans is a very bad one.

The Pirates have everything to gain from finding out all they can about Sanchez, Jose Bautista at various positions, Ryan Doumit and...Castillo at second. ...I do feel that learning more about these players and others should be the only priority.
The idea that the Pirates are bound to improve mostly because things would appear they can't get any worse is to go against 14 years of precedent. Especially considering this year is the worst of those 14.

They teach you never to bet against streaks, so I reserve my right to continuing pessimism.

I also reserve my right, though, to alter that stance if the Pirates decide to use the rest of this season toward finding out about the future.
I know that Dejan has written and Littlefield has said on his Sunday show that the vets are going to play, but I simply cannot believe that, if Randa's foot were to make a quick recovery, they really would take Sanchez out of the lineup. Even Paul Meyer would flame them for it. And bloggers would roam the streets in gangs carrying pitchforks and setting fire to everything in sight.

Wouldn't it be great if they abandoned the Proven Vets experiment now and just went with all the guys we like? Do we dare to hope that such a thing could happen?

* This is likely the first and last time I will ever write this sentence.


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