Before we begin today, a Q on my end ...
Which is more important to the Pirates:
1. The window of opportunity that exists from having this group together until 2009?
2. The window that exists this year by the division being so down?
Seems to me that the division scenario is more precious. Look back over the history of the Central since it was formed, and there always have been one or two teams -- almost always St. Louis and Houston -- that rose well above the pack. And they rose so high, in some years, that even a very, very good Pirates team would not have been able to catch them.
With that in mind, why should the Pirates wait until 2008 or 2009 to employ a this-is-our-chance approach? Why wait until July to determine whether to be buyers or sellers? Why hold onto $4 million in unspent payroll? For that matter, why wait until those two years to raise payroll when it could be done now?
Think about it: If the Pirates' plan is, as they have stated, to keep the current group intact through 2009 and, perhaps, beyond, what would be the point of that if the current group is only this good or maybe a little better? Surely, the Cardinals, Astros, Cubs, Brewers and maybe the Reds are not going to stand pat. If this group of Pirates improves by, say, 15 or 20 games by 2009 -- a lofty goal, actually -- would it not be reasonable to expect that one or more of those other teams will improve by considerably more?
Always interested in your feedback.
Q: I know this is a long shot but, with the current state of the division, it is possible: What if the Pirates somehow managed to win the division with a sub-.500 record. Would the reaction in Pittsburgh be celebrating the title or looking at 15 consecutive years of losing?
David Custer of Berlin, Pa.
KOVACEVIC: Something tells me the reaction would be focused a bit more on the division title and playoffs, David, but I could be wrong ...
Q: Dejan, as I look at the standings, I see the Pirates six games below .500, but only five losses behind the division-leading Brewers. Let's say the Pirates stay in contention for the lead throughout the summer and maybe actually win it. (I don't think they will, but let's amuse ourselves.) There is a good chance the record still would be below .500 based on the ineptitude of the entire division.
So, what would that mean for the franchise? One could make a strong argument that winning the division would give management a false sense of success and business would continue on as usual: Poor Drafting. Terrible or no free-agent signings. Subpar player development. Zero accountability in upper management and ownership.
I would hate to say that winning the division is a bad thing, but is it?
Justin Kelly of Birmingham, Ala.
KOVACEVIC: In the view of the public, again, one would think nobody would care what the Pirates' regular-season record was once they participated in a ... a ... sorry, the spellcheck will not allow the P-word to stay on my screen.
Could it be a setback in the way you describe? Sure, that seems possible. Clearly, this franchise did not arrive in its current predicament by accident. And be quite sure the Pirates' management -- all levels of it -- would embrace any semblance of success. Already this year, we have heard untold numbers of references to the 37-35 second half last season and, in the latest incarnation, statements that the current record is not so bad because it is better than the record at the same point a year ago. Never mind that, at this time a year ago, we were tearing through 120 years of history to find the most recent time the PBC had started so badly.
But, to step back from this a moment, a reminder might be in order: No matter how awful this division remains over the course of the long summer, some team is going to have to achieve at least mediocrity to win it. These Pirates have yet to do that.
Q: The coverage of the Pirates' Dominican program is fascinating and much appreciated, but something's not quite adding up: According to the Pirates, the problem isn't money, but the fact is that they haven't spent more on any player than a small fraction of what the top prospects are getting. And they think their staff in the Dominican is great, but they haven't actually come up with any real prospects yet. The Nationals have turned their Dominican scouting around in a matter of months after having no program at all under MLB's ownership, so the notion that the three years since Rene Gayo was hired isn't enough time doesn't hold a lot of water.
So, what exactly do the Pirates think is the problem? Is it really just the facility?
Wilbur Miller of Silver Spring, Md.
KOVACEVIC: No, of course not.
For those who do not know, Gayo became Latin American scouting director in November 2003. With the way signing cycles work in that part of the world, that means Gayo has had three turns. And that means his first class of 16-year-old signees should be about 19-20 years old right now.
As I type this -- and as I wrote in the piece a few days back -- the Pirates have no impact-type prospects in their system who were a product of this group of signings.
(A disclaimer: Gayo and his group took the lead in signing the two Cuban defectors, pitchers Yoslan Herrera and Serguey Linares, but I tend to refer to those players parenthetically because they are in their mid-20s and, even if they are successful, they would not provide a sign that the core system -- signing 16-year-olds -- is working.)
You are correct, Wilbur, as you invariably are in these matters, that the pool of Latin American talent is insufficient based on the time this group has had there. But you are also correct that it requires more than a facility. It takes money for signing bonuses, and my understanding is that this pool will be increased, as well.
The proof comes from seeing if that happens.
Until tomorrow ...