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23 July 2008

Baseball Anyone?

I think that the owners and general managers of the Steelers and the Penguins need to have a sit down with the owners and general manager of the Pirates to discuss how they made their respective franchises so desirable for players, good players, to want to play for their teams. I think this might go a long way in turning this Pirates organization around. I think it will take alot of patience on the fans part to deal with what we have for a few more seasons and support all we can. I think we need to keep the leadership there and give them a chance. Like this article says, there is alot of work to do to fix what Littlefield and Company screwed up in the organization. What I want you to get out of what I have said here is that we need to be true fans of the team, players and most of all, the sport of baseball.

Littlefield's plague is pervasive
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Pirates won another game last night, beating the Houston Astros, 8-2, but that doesn't alter their immediate or distant future. This is a franchise in serious trouble.

The bad news for this franchise -- which is eight games below. 500 and appears headed for its 16th consecutive losing season -- is this: It's going to get worse, much worse, before it gets better -- if it ever gets better.

The Pirates should double general manager Neal Huntington's salary immediately. He has taken on one of the most difficult jobs in the history of baseball, and we say that with no attempt at exaggeration. It's true, the Philadelphia Phillies lost for 16 consecutive seasons from 1933-48. But in the final year of that infamous streak, they were two seasons away from the World Series.

The Pirates are not two seasons away from the World Series. More like two decades -- if ever.

At the risk of being charged with pouring it on, we'll remind everyone that the man most responsible for this mess is Dave Littlefield, who served as general manager from July 2001 until late last season. But Littlefield does not deserve all the blame. Just a half-step behind him are his director of player development, Brian Graham, and his scouting director, Ed Creech.

The scouting and the developing of players during the Littlefield-Graham-Creech era were uncomprehendingly bad. Those three might have done better by throwing darts at the draft board or having people off the street coach and manage their minor league teams.

The inability of Littlefield, Graham and Creech, along with their associates -- many of whom still work for the Pirates -- to draft talented players and develop them well is what has done this franchise in and what will continue to do so in the years ahead.

The list of horrendous major league deals cooked up by Littlefield and his associates is well known. What is less known is the bumbling and stumbling that took place in early June every year in the amateur draft.

Here's an example of how Littlefield left the franchise barren of talent: When injuries this season sidelined starting pitchers, manager John Russell has been forced to use the likes of John Van Benschoten, Yoslan Herrera, Jimmy Barthmaier and Ty Taubenheim. Combined they have four major league wins -- and might not get another.

Compare this bare cupboard to what Littlefield inherited. In his first full season, 2002, behind his five-man rotation, the following pitchers were used as starters: Bronson Arroyo, Salomon Torres, Ron Villone, Joe Beimel and Dave Williams. All except Williams are still pitching in the majors.

Because of this run of drafting and development incompetence, there is next to nothing in the minor leagues. The only truly outstanding prospect is Andrew McCutchen, the No. 1 draft choice in 2005 who, by most accounts, will be a major league star.

The only Littlefield-drafted players to make an appreciable mark on the major league level are Paul Maholm, Matt Capps and Tom Gorzelanny, who recently was demoted after a terrible first half of the season.

Most of the other Pirates who came up through the team's minor league system were drafted and/or developed by Littlefield's predecessor, Cam Bonifay. Those players include Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Jose Bautista, Ian Snell, Zach Duke and John Grabow. Jack Wilson was acquired in a trade during the Bonifay era.

The first five picks of the Littlefield era in the 2002 draft were Bryan Bullington, Blair Johnson, Taber Lee, Wardell Starling and Alex Hart. That's pretty much the story of all his drafts, with most of the first five picks having already failed or on the road to failure.

That's what makes Huntington's job so difficult. There is no organizational depth. Some suggest trading all of the veterans -- Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche and Wilson -- who might fetch decent prospects. In some circumstances, that might be a reasonable strategy. But with no minor league talent, that's not a strategy Huntington can afford. If he employed it, the Pirates would lose 100 games next year and probably the year after, and PNC Park would become a ghost town.

It would be unfair to call the Pirates' situation hopeless. But it would be correct to call it almost hopeless.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.
First published on July 23, 2008 at 12:00 am

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