Since Dejan Kovacevic first broke the story about the Kyle Stark-lead Navy SEAL training last week, I've been thinking about the whole situation and trying to figure out how much I really care about it. Last night, DK put up a second column that goes into more detail, and I was able to corral my thoughts a little bit better. They go something like this:
I don't care at all if Stark wants to put his players through crazy Navy SEAL training. It's three days, and we're mostly talking about young guys and trying to instill some work ethic. It seems a little intense and maybe a little extreme, but I don't really think it's out of bounds for the Pirates to do something like this at their fall instructionals.
I don't really care about Stark's slightly crazy e-mail, either. The Hells Angels stuff was a bad comparison to draw, but I think that invoking the name of any organized crime group is something that's done colloquially quite a bit by people too young to remember when those sorts of organizations were a bigger deal in the country (I'm talking about people my age, of course; Stark is seven years older than I am). I'm not necessarily condoning that kind of speaking/writing without thinking and I'm not denying that he comes off like a little bit of a crazy person, I'm just saying that neither of those things prevent him from being good at his job and I'm not really willing to judge him based on those things.
I'm honestly not sure that I care that an American League scout thinks that the Pirates' development program is a joke, either. The reality is that there are a lot of things we don't know about player development and I think that the biggest sin is not doing things differently. I'm not sure that the way the Pirates do things is the right way, mind you, just that I'm not sure that I care what other teams think about the Pirates.
I think that the development/scouting question is definitely a chicken/egg question and for all of the draft busts that the Pirates have had in the Huntington era, you can definitely point to the Rudy Owenses and Alex Presleys as players that no one thought had a chance that blossomed into Major Leaguers (well, I'm extrapolating for Owens here) under the Huntington/Stark regime. Who gets credit for Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco exploding this year? The scouting staff that found them, or the development staff that brought them into a new country and helped them adapt and use their raw talent? I definitely agree with the idea that the Pirates don't have as much talent in their system as they should given the money that they spent from 2008-2011 in the draft, but I'm not at all sure where to point that finger, other than to point it at the guy at the top. Neal Huntington is his own post, though; we'll talk more about him and Clint Hurdle and Frank Coonelly next week.
All of which is to say that a lot of the things that have been discussed about Kyle Stark in the last week are weird and off-putting, but I don't think they're necessarily damning to his ability to do his job. There's a big exception, though. It's really concerning to me that DK wrote his story calling Stark's methods into question last week and that that apparently lead to an avalanche of unsolicited criticism of Stark from within the team. It's one thing if players are complaining about unconventional training or other teams are skeptical of what the Pirates are doing, but it's worrisome to me that team employees are forwarding internal e-mails to the media to basically say, "You think this guy's crazy? Check this out!" Being unconventional is one thing, but creating an environment that leads to your employees just chomping at the bit to sell you out, well, now in that light, all that other stuff starts to look really bad. And of course, if people are just waiting to sell Stark out because he's a megalomaniac, that's on the people that have continually employed him every bit as much as it's on Stark himself.
I sincerely doubt that the Pirates will stand pat after a second straight collapse this winter, in terms of the people running the club. The biggest question I have after reading things like this is exactly how much change is necessary.