Have the Pirates Suddenly Found a Direction?

In a season that went down the tubes with amazing rapidity, even taking into account the truncated schedule, there haven’t been many illuminating moments.  So it was almost like the skies parting to see that one baseball executive says the Pirates are “trying to sell everything” with just a few days left until the trade deadline.

Naturally, Ben Cherington quickly denied the report.  In his best Neal Huntington voice, he said, “Our job is to listen and learn to determine if there is opportunity to match up with another team in a way that we see benefit.  We’ll continue to do that.”  The most optimistic way to take this is that you don’t advertise a fire sale if you hope to get any return at all.

But it’s not like nobody else realizes how bad the Pirates’ roster is.  Huntington was notorious for overrating the team’s players.  That made it especially disturbing when Cherington came aboard and immediately adopted the Huntington mantra of, “We have a good young core,” which is the pat excuse for not spending money.  But it’s very unlikely that anybody else in MLB needs a year to evaluate Jarrod Dyson’s career OPS+ of 77, or to decide that a bunch of pitchers who were rejected by teams that needed pitching probably aren’t much good.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Joe Musgrove and Keone Kela are hurt, or that Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Adam Frazier are off to abysmal starts.  But that’s not the only problem.  Cherington filled all the team’s many holes with the cheapest players he could find, which is another way of saying, players who weren’t wanted by any other team.  If he’d tried to bring in a few of the many second- or even third-tier players who were still available when he was hired, one or two of them might have played well enough to turn into useful trade chips.  Players that nobody else wanted, though, are just going to turn into players that nobody else wants.

Even if the “sell everything” report is accurate, or somewhat accurate, it still leaves the question of what on earth the Pirates were trying to accomplish up until now.  It defies reason that they truly needed a season to evaluate the late-20s players who fill their roster, or that a team that’s legitimately evaluating anybody would leave its top prospect, who already has a year in AAA, sitting at a training facility while being blocked by absolutely nobody of consequence.

More likely, it was a product of the Pirates’ paralyzing conservatism.  It’s not just that they aren’t willing to invest anything in the team.  They seem to cling endlessly to the ragged ends of failed strategies in apparent hope of hanging onto what little is left of their fanbase by entering that rapturous state of “competing,” which in Nickelville means losing by two runs most days instead of seven.

Of course, if the team has finally figured out what everybody else already knew — that the only viable solution for its problems is something approaching a tear-down — it may be too late.  Thanks to the injuries and slumps, as well as the shortened season, Cherington may already have bungled the situation in much the same way that Huntington bungled the situation with a certain, unnamed former closer.  We’ll see in a few days.

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