Last week, Beyond the Box Score put together a chart of what they call the Pirates’ “Window to Win” (I can’t get the original to load so I’ve linked the cache). It’s worth looking for a visual representation of what the Pirates have right now (there is one mistake in the Pedro Alvarez row; he should be eligible for arbitration starting in 2014, which will take him through 2017), but I think that all of the “window” talk, both in relation to the Pirates and in relation to everyone else, wears me out.
Here’s the thing; you should always be able to see how the window will be open in the future. If that’s not true, your favorite team needs a new general manager. That was when I was positive it was time for the Dave Littlefield era to end; when he was fired in 2007, there was absolutely no way forward with the team and the minor league system in the shape it was. Not only was there no window, the Pirates had been bricked into the wine cellar by their own Montresor.
It’s not like that anymore. We can talk about a window to compete as it exists in relation to Andrew McCutchen, but the reality is that the Pirates could have a fantastic outfield when he leaves with Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman and Josh Bell. They could also have a terrible outfield when he leaves with those same three guys, but that’s beyond the point. The Pirates’ window should always be open when you look three years down the road. The thing is, three years ago we were all certain that by 2012, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez would be leading the Pirates back to glory. It obviously hasn’t worked out like that.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out why the Pirates’ relative lack of inactivity after the winter meetings has bugged me so much this year. They’re probably not going to be very good in 2012, so why should I care if they’re bad with Jeff Francis throwing 150 league average innings or Jo-Jo Reyes and Rudy Owens getting absolutely bombed away on for 150 innings? Why should I care if it happens with Garrett Jones butchering baseballs instead of fielding them at first base? I think the reason is that it seems to me like the club is waiting for some mystical convergance of events to take place, for the clouds to part and the angels to descend and blow their trumpets and the message to be written clearly in the sky with fire that “THE PIRATES WINDOW IS OPEN RIGHT NOW,” and when it does, they’ll bust out the checkbook and make an honest run at something and until that moment strikes, they’re not going to waste resources on things that probably won’t get them where they’re going.
That’s fine when you’ve inherited an awful mess and you’re planning on trading away assets during the season because you need to do that to start cleaning things up, but the Pirates are beyond that now. Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are all in Pittsburgh and maybe things aren’t quite as great as we as fans hoped they’d be with that quartet, but they’re all here and that means that like it or not the window is open. There is no window, there are only players. By sitting back on their haunches in the second half of this winter, the Pirates have run the risk that when 2012 is over Andrew McCutchen’s Pirate career will be more than half-over without the club making a serious run at anything. That’s scary, because there’s no guarantee that anyone in the Pirates’ system will be as good as McCutchen is right now.
This isn’t a criticism of the team for not spending enough, either. Frank Coonelly has straight up said that the Pirates are capable of spending more than they have this winter. I’ve said over and over again that I think that the Pirates’ best course forward at least for 2012 is trying to surround McCutchen and Walker and Tabata and Alvarez with enough average-type players that the four of them can drag the team somewhere good if they all start to reach the potential that we hope they still have. That’s pretty clearly what the club’s plan this off-season was in signing guys like Barajas and Bedard and Barmes. I’m just not sure that they went far enough.