If there’s one thing that drives me mad at this time of season, it’s the tendency of a large portion of the Talking Head portion of Pittsburgh’s chattering media clash to write the Pirates off before April even starts. Between newspaper columnists and certain sports talk radio stations that broadcast at frequencies including the numbers 3 9 and 7 (which I thankfully can’t hear and don’t have to here in Chapel Hill, but then I do know who’s on their broadcasts and I have read and received numerous complaints about their Pirates “coverage”) and the AP story that completely wrote the Pirates off for dead without even bothering to look online for young fans or thriving fan communities, I’ve had just about my fill of Bob Nutting Is the Boogeyman/Frank Coonelly is a disingenuous jerk/Neal Huntington is dumb/the Pirates are doomed stories for a lifetime. As Wilbur Miller pointed out at Bucs Dugout last week, there’s usually not even an attempt made to try and understand what the Pirates are doing
The Pirates will probably not put together a winning season in 2011, but that doesn’t mean that this year is already doomed or that it can’t be a fun season. For the first time since probably 1997, the Pirates have a team that will be lead by young players that are almost entirely under club control for the next half-decade. They have some of the league’s brightest young talent in Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, they have some very intriguing young players in Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, they have a handful of decent pitching talent in the upper minors, a very good catching prospect rushing his way to Pittsburgh, some elite young pitchers in the low minors, and the first pick in the 2011 draft with a chance to bring in a player that could help the club sooner rather than later.
They are by no means guaranteed success in the next three or five or ten years. Young players and prospects have a success rate somewhere well below 100% and it looks like the Pirates are treading pretty thinly on the line between having enough players to turn the club into a contender and being doomed to 75-80 wins for a couple years before dismantling again. That doesn’t mean it’s fair to damn this group of players and this front office with the sins of the past.
Besides Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm, no player on the 40-man roster was on the team before the trade deadline in 2008 (a few others –Andrew McCutchen, Danny Moskos, Brad Lincoln, Neil Walker, and Rudy Owens — were in the organization but not on the Pirates). Most of them can barely be blamed for one losing season, let alone 18. Bob Nutting, despite most people’s cries to the contrary, wasn’t directly involved in running the team before 2007 and he spent 2007 evaluating the mess that Kevin McClatchy had left for him and firing the people responsible for it. The Coonelly/Huntington front office took over after that season, which means they’ve had three in charge of the club and really, just one in which the team on the field could directly be called “theirs.”
All I want to see is people give this Pirate team a chance without dismissing them out of hand in February. Andrew McCutchen is already one of my favorite Pirates to watch in my entire lifetime and Jose Tabata isn’t far behind. Pedro Alvarez only had 95 games under his belt, but in those 95 games he’s created what will always been one of my best PNC Park memories with his walkoff against the Rockies and one of my favorite, “Yep, these are Pirate fans” memories when his first homer caused my phone to blow up with text messages and resulted in a crowd of friends gathered around me at a wedding to watch his first blast on my phone.
I have absolutely no illusions about what this team is capable of this year in terms of contending or even finishing .500, but I already really like the group of young players on this team and if they can manage to win somewhere in the ballpark of 70-75 games this year, I think I’m going to feel pretty good about their chances of surprising the hell out of people in 2012. At the very least, I think this team is going to be more fun and interesting to watch than any club in recent memory and the results of this season will have a direct bearing on future success, and that’s something that I don’t think could be truthfully said about the Pirates in any season since the early Bonifay years.