by Stephen Zielinski
Every so often I’ll write a few pertinent — or useless — comments for the Front Page. It keeps me out of trouble. The eleventh installment:
They just can’t help but to win a few games
The Pirates might drop out of the top (bottom) five if they continue to beat up on their betters. Thanks to their recent surge, the Pirates, Rockies and Devil Rays are neck-in-neck as the three teams enter the final turn of the 2005 season. Still, they’ve dropped their last three games.
Like Old Man River, Jason Bay just keeps rolling along. Stolen bases, a high OBA and SLG and steady work in left field — these are the makings of a superstar and they have been features of Jason Bay’s game since he became a Pirate. What this means is that the long-term contract Littlefield and McClatchy want to give Bay in order to buy out his arbitration years will be and can only be a costly one for the team. Bay keeps expensive company, as the following table shows:
Heh, Littlefield and McClatchy could increase Bay’s 2006 salary by a factor of 14.8 before he would reach the second lowest salary on this list!
Bay’s great success raises a few questions for the Pirates. Firstly, will Bay and his agent willingly trade a few dollars in the short-term — actually, it would be millions of dollars — for four to five years of financial security that a guaranteed contract would provide? I believe this question is relevant because financial security comprises the bulk of what Littlefield can offer Bay in return for his long-term commitment to the team. We should not expect the Pirates to overpay Bay much if they overpay him at all. By overpaying Bay I mean that Littlefield would not want to compensate him much more than Bay would have gotten if the two sides were to go to an arbitrator at any time over the life of the contract. Nor, for that matters, would the McClatchy partnership want to pay Bay a premium in order to keep him happy, hoping that the team’s generosity in the near-term would lead to a second, favorable long-term contract when Bay becomes eligible for free agency. It probably won’t given the brief careers most major leaguers have. For another thing, it’s yet unclear that the McClatchy partnership will still own the team when Bay’s free agency arrives. Why would the partnership care about another owner’s financial situation once they no longer have a stake in the team? Yet another reason: No lucid person would accuse the Pirates of having taken pride in paying well for the quality players the team has had on its roster. Rather, the McClatchy partnership has become disgracefully cheap since the 2003 Ramirez salary dump trade. With that trade the team began to jettisoned talent when it became too expensive for its tastes. Offering Bay a long-term contract through his arbitration years might appear to be a departure from the team’s skinflint ways, but it isn’t really. With this contract the Pirates would not only keep the one marquee player on the team, thus placating the fans who want McClatchy and Nutting’s heads on their pikes, they would also give themselves a bit of a break on his salary and a measure of cost certainty for the immediate future. The risk, of course, is a Bay injury, just as had been with Benson (elbow), Ramirez (ankle) and Kendall’s (hand) contracts. Are the Pirates willing to take that risk to build a team around Jason Bay? They might but only if Bay were willing to take trade cash for security.
Bobby Hill: Classy Guy
Having had a chance to study the mostly clear signs the Pirates gave him this summer, Bobby Hill knows he won’t play for the team next season, according to Joe Rutter. This was a tough break for him. Yet, Hill took the very high road when his well-considered response to the situation and a reporter’s question did not feature an attack on the team and General Manager that traded for him but failed to give him a fair chance to succeed as a player with the team:
“To gain respect, you’ve got to give respect, and I feel like I’ve always respected the organization [the Pirates]. I’m also proud I earned the respect of my teammates.”
Hill not only earned the respect of his teammates, some of whom were upset that he wasn’t recalled this month, but he earned the respect of many fans too.
Good luck Bobby Hill!
Leyland & Littlefield
I believe John Perrotto got it right when he argued that Jim Leyland would not fit in well as the next Pirates’ manager. The best reason Perrotto gave for drawing this conclusion:
Leyland is from the old school where the general manager provides the talent and the field manager decided what to do with it. Littlefield is from the new school in which GMs get involved in deciding how the personnel should be used.
It’s difficult to imagine a feasible scenario in which Littlefield and Leyland would work together without generating friction or backbiting. Surely one or both also could sense this danger. For instance, since the new manager would be a Littlefield hire, would count as a mark on Littlefield’s Pirates tally sheet and since a publicly fought power struggle with the popular Leyland would do him no good whatsoever, I can’t imagine Littlefield hiring Leyland unless the McClatchy partnership forced him to do so. On the other hand, why would Leyland want to work in such an environment? He’s respected if not loved in Pittsburgh for what he accomplished during his time as manager. He’s also respected around the major leagues. Jumping on this train wreck of a franchise would be more risky than not for a fussy manager like Jim Leyland. I also can’t imagine Leyland wanting to work for a micromanaging General Manager like Littlefield, especially a control freak with a poor track record and good reason to fear the Turk.
Still, Leyland wants a job. The young players on the 2005 team certainly have the talent to succeed as major leaguers. The Pirates could field a winning sometime in the near future. So, Leyland putting his name into the mix is not thoroughly daft.
Yet, if Leyland won’t become the next Pirate manager, and we shouldn’t expect him to be that man, what good — if any — has his tactful politicking for the manager’s job accomplished for Pirate fans?
Well, firstly, if Littlefield were to go with another manager he could dominate, a manager much like Lloyd McClendon, instead of an interested, independent and powerful figure like Jim Leyland, Littlefield’s decision would shine a very bright light on his heavy hand in running (ruining!) the team. The good here lies in the fact that Littlefield could not easily use his manager as a scapegoat as he could with Lloyd McClendon, a McClatchy-Bonifay hire. For all of his faults, McClendon was not the decisive problem with this team. Yet, McClendon was a lightening rod for fan criticism while the Pirates’ manager. Another cat’s paw would only serve to make Littlefield the culprit if the team continues to play poorly under a new manager.
Second, Leyland’s candidacy and his good reputation perform the same debunking function with respect to events of the recent past. What, we might now ask, was McClendon’s role in fashioning the Pirates’ teams he led? Was his compulsive need to use relief pitchers and crappy veteran position players more of a Littlefield (or McClatchy) choice than it had seemed even in the last months of his tenure? Was it Littlefield who bears the greater responsibility for wrecking prospects such as Chad Hermansen, J.J. Davis, Tony Alvarez and Bronson Arroyo?
Third, Leyland’s efforts raises the bar for whomever the Pirates do hire. Leyland not only was a good manager, his teams won championships. The man the Pirates do hire will have to prove to the fans that he is Leyland’s equal lest the fans draw the conclusion that the Pirates went cheap once again or Littlefield the control freak put his ego needs ahead of the team’s needs.
It’s not farfetched to claim that the coming off-season will define Littlefield’s tenure as the Pirates’ General Manager.
One down, four to go
Calvin Maybin just signed with the Tigers. The details can be found here . The Maybin contract leaves four unsigned players for the first round of the 2005 draft: Shortstop Justin Upton (first overall, Arizona); third baseman Alex Gordon (second overall, Royals); righthanded starting pitchers Mike Pelfrey (ninth, Mets) and Luke Hochevar (40th, Dodgers).
What’s that you say: The Pirates won’t have the opportunity to select any of these four players because they’ll sign with the teams that drafted them in 2005.
Well, I can hope, can’t I?