Weekly wrap, and Lemieux makes a splash
Authors’ NOTE: Someone just wrote saying I forgot the weekly wrap. I notice that’s true! But there wasn’t much to wrap in hindsight, save more non-roster invitees. I’ll post something on it tomorrow, if I don’t find something more interesting!
After another hum-ho week, things came to life yesterday night when Dejan Kovacevic reported that Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle had made an offer to buy the Pirates. There are two thoughts that spring to my mind immediately. One, its not going to happen, certainly not anytime soon. A few people have been interested- Mark Cuban, Chuck Greenberg- and haven’t made progress. If anything, this is the time Nutting is much much less likely to sell. Two, the timing of the news is too perfect to be accidental! It was designed to hit the Pirate fanfest slap-bang in the middle with absolutely no way out. (I am not at the Q and A today, but wish I was; and I am certainly waiting with baited breath for Dejan’s coverage of the matter.) The Pirates could have had nothing to gain from such news leaking, so it must have been the other side. More of my thoughts on the stunning development after the splash jump.
Let’s assume to start with that the fact that the news reached Dejan so late simply means that it was leaked at this point. The Pirates have absolutely nothing to gain from such a revelation, with their stock in the city at the lowest it could possibly be. So, it would have been the “Pens” side that leaked it? I am not sure that it’s fair to call it the “Pens” side- while the offer may have come from Lemieux and Burkle, it seems to me that Burkle is far more likely to be the one interested. I believe there were reports of his interest in baseball a while back (although I couldn’t find a good article to link to, thanks to search results being dominated by the recent news! Here’s one, though) and it’s more likely that he is the one really interested. I doubt Lemieux is more than marginally interested, but with the appropriate escape and buyout clauses, it makes sense for Burkle to involve Lemieux. The city of Pittsburgh loves its Pens’ and the man they associate with all the Stanley Cup wins is Mario Lemieux- as player and then owner. Nothing works as well as success- forget the threats to move the team, forget that the team floundered badly in an uncapped league, Lemieux is a hero in Pittsburgh! (I am not saying he shouldn’t be, regardless of the fact that there might have been much luck involved in the Penguins’ turnaround, starting with the Sidney Crosby lottery to the salary capping- as owner of one of the top hockey teams, he deserves the respect.) So, what is the common fan looking at? A penny-pinching owner who owns the team with the second worst record in baseball, being offered to be bought out by the man who took control of a team at the bottom of its fortunes, and who is now saying he wants to take on the Pirates as well, again at the bottom of their fortune. It’s understandable that the common refrain is that Nutting should take the money and run.
Nutting has already stated he will not. I can see two obvious reasons:
1. If he did, his legacy in Pittsburgh would be that of a person responsible for the darkest hours in a once-proud franchise’s history. He has already been accused of being cheap, and the single-most important reason for the dismal performance of the Pirates. As Pittsburgh prepares to enter the 2010 baseball season with the lowest payroll in the majors, those accusations are not going to go away. Nutting, clearly, has bought into Huntington’s assessment that this team can be competitive regularly in a couple of years, maybe 3, and he would certainly like to turn things around before he turns the reins over to someone else. Even if we assume he is, in fact, cheap, this argument holds- he has payroll low enough that it won’t bother him, so why not see if they can turn it around!
2. The Pirates are not at the lowest point in their recent history. In fact, if things go as they are expected to, they could be close to one of their highest points in the millennia. The upper minor league levels are just starting to fill with legitimate prospects, and the team is better in every respect, and at every level, since the dark days of Dave Littlefield. Nutting would not be wrong to hope that this team could have shot at contending as early as 2011. There is little doubt that the value of this franchise is on an upswing, even if its not immediately apparent from the results, and selling now would be a very questionable decision, on Nutting’s part.
Personally, I don’t believe anything will come of it, and I don’t mind. Neal Huntington has this team on the right track, and I buy into the principle of building around youngsters. As long as the core is cheap, the team can fill a couple of holes every year with acquisitions like the A’s Ben Sheets contract in 2010 and Matt Holliday acquisition in 2009. If they contend, they will be valuable players, if not, valuable trade chips. I also don’t know how high the Pirates payroll can go, but assuming it can’t go very far past the $70M mark (in the best of years), we cannot afford contracts like Holliday’s with the Cards, or Sabathia with the Yanks. Building around the farm is the best approach, and we’ll just have to be patient for another year or so.
In other news, this is ranking week. Pedro Alvarez appears as a consensus elite prospect in baseball except in Keith Law’s rankings, who has him at 35. I don’t particularly care about the exact ranking- the top 100 prospects in baseball are all being projected to be very very good. The Pirates have 3- Alvarez, Tabata and Sanchez, with Lincoln just outside- and I am fine with tht without nit-picking on the exact positions. Much of exactly how good they turn out to be will depend on their temperament, ability to adjust, to raise their game to the intensity of the majors and their makeup.
The farm ratings seem to have the Pirates as middle of the pack in the 15-20 range. Fanhouse has them at 28th in a ranking I am happy to call bogus, but I could see the Pirates as being in the early 20s too depending on how much you like some prospects. However, next season will be the key, when Pedro Alvarez, the man who single-handedly raises that ranking a couple of notches, graduates to the big leagues. If the recently-acquired minor league depth performs with no one’s star falling off the map (read: Alderson, Sanchez, Tabata), and the PBC has a good draft again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them jump to the 8-12 range. Zach von Rosenberg should start in the rookie leagues, make mincemeat of it, and reach West Virginia as the story of the year. Cain and possibly Stevenson could do the same. This may not mean much, since their real test will come in the upper levels, West Virginia onward, but it should boost the rankings, if you care about it.
The others to really watch would be Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Brett Lorin, Quinton Miller, Justin Wilson, Nathan Adcock, Hunter Strickland and Aaron Pribanic. Some (not all) of them will start in High-A in Bradenton, and might be helped by the pitcher’s park there. The Pirates will need to be careful in evaluating them as they rise through the minors.
The 2010 draft is starting to move into focus. Andy Seiler has some information you might be interested in. Bryce Harper made his debut for the College of Southern Nevada yesterday, and went 1 for 3 with a walk. The one hit was a seeing eye single through the right side of the infield. Among others, Anthony Ranaudo, Jameson Taillion and Christian Colon have been suggested as potential picks by the Pirates with the overall second pick in the 2010 draft. We should hear more as the 2010 season starts.