Are you then that Virgil, and that fountain, that pours out so great a river of speech? O, glory and light to other poets, may that long study, and the great love that made me search your work, be worth something now. You are my master , and my author: you are alone are the one from whom I learned the high style that has brought me honor. See the creature that I turned back from: O, sage, famous in wisdom, save me from her, she that makes my veings and pulse tremble. –Dante’s Inferno, Canto I
OK, so that’s probably asking a bit much from Virgil Vasquez. But I did find myself in a classic literature class at Duquesne four years ago in which I head to read Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante and dammit, when I have a chance to put some of that into action, well I’m going to do it.
There are two ways you can possibly react to the news that the Pirates claimed Virgil Vasquez. You can shrug and say, “Oh well, we need as many arms as we can get next year,” which is about what I did, or you can be upset and say something along the lines of, “HOW COULD THE PIRATES CLAIM VIRGIL VASQUEZ OFF OF WAIVERS WHEN BEN SHEETS IS A FREE AGENT?!? GAWD THIS FRONT OFFICE IS CLUELESS, WE’RE NEVER GOING TO WIN.”
The dichotomy of the reaction about describes where Pirate fans are right now. There’s a great discussion about this at Bucs Dugout today between Charlie and Dejan, stemming from Dejan’s blog post this morning discussing that very divide. If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend that you take some time and read the entire discussion. It’s a very interesting discussion about both the future of the Pirates and what happens when blogging and reporting cross paths.
While I may have some more to add to the second part of that discussion in the future, right now I’m mostly concerned with the future of the Pirates. And the only thing I can add to the conversation is this: if you honestly believe that the Pirates can rebuild and contend at the same time in 2009, you are wrong. This off-season, the Yankees added half a billion dollars in future salary through free agency and they still might be the third best team in the AL East. Think about that for a second. They went out and signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and now have brought Andy Pettitte back, and they still might not be a playoff team. The Pirates, while they may have enough money to support a much larger payroll than the one they’re going to take the field with in 2009, certainly can’t bankroll the kind of off-season the Yankees did.
And that’s the problem. The Pirates can certainly afford a few one-year deals right now and if guys like Adam Dunn or Bobby Abreu or Ben Sheets are amenable, the Pirates certainly might be able to swoop in in February and pick up one or two of them the way they did with Sanders, Lofton, and Suppan in 2003, then deal them at the deadline for something they wouldn’t have had to start with. And so long as the draft and Latin American scouting budget remain untouched, there’s nothing wrong with that. But none of those moves are going to make the Pirates competitive and if the price isn’t right, there’s no reason to get bent out of shape over the Pirates not signing anyone.
The Pirates have been losing for 16 years. When you really break it down, 50 or 62 or 70 or 85 wins are all fungible if the Pirates don’t make the playoffs. All that matters right now in 2009 is what the Pirates do to set themselves up for the future. It’s terrible and it’s awful that we as fans have to think like this, but it’s not Neal Huntington’s fault.
It’s true that the front office will eventually be judged on big league results, but there’s nothing to judge right now. If in 2012, the Pirates are a Bobby Abreu or Ben Sheets-type player away from competing for the NL Central and the team sits on their hands with a $50 million payroll, yeah, I’m going to be as pissed about it as anyone. But for now, it’s hard to ignore the money being spent in Latin America. It’s impossible to ignore the talent that last year’s draft brought in. You can’t look at the farm system right now and tell me that it’s not better than it was when Littlefield was in charge. Will this yield better future results for the club? It’s true that I can’t say with certainty that it will, but I can say that for the first time since I’ve started blogging (and we’re almost to four years now), I feel like the team is headed somewhere.
Let’s do this. Right now, I’ll write down Goldstein’s top 11, Sickels’ top 10, and WTM’s top 20. In a year, when these lists come out again, we’ll reevaluate. THEN, we’ll have something to judge. Is the farm system still moving forward? Is it moving backwards? How did the trades from the 2008 deadline really pan out? What moves did Huntington make in 2009? Yeah, it’s a year from now. Yeah, it sucks to wait that long. But you can’t build a baseball team overnight.