Again, as with last week, I would like to keep the Thursday Q&A limited to the Building Blocks piece, barring significant news in the interim. The one today, if you click over to the Pirates page, is about scouting ...
Q: Dejan, my head is spinning, and I am counting on you to set things straight.
Assume that I order a Berlitz course in Spanish so that I can welcome all these phenoms that will be coming out of the Pirates' Latin American Academy. I needn't hurry, however, because I won't need it for four, five, six years.
Assume that I am culturally sated with large helpings of Tanner, Bream, Garcia, Mazeroski and other blasts from the past.
Assume that the underachievers of 2007 become the achievers of 2008, and increase their win total an unimaginable 20 percent to 81.
Assume that, as predicted, management trades some of the "achievers" of 2008 for prospects to stock the minor-league system.
Assume that 2009 dips back toward the 70 win level because the "achievers" are playing elsewhere and the prospects are perfecting their craft in Indy or Altoona.
Assume that I am still one starving and dissatisfied Pirates fan. Not a stretch by any means.
When, oh, when will it end? You've talked to these guys. Surely, someone has predicted a timetable, a light at the end of this interminable.
Tom Davis of Allentown, Pa.
KOVACEVIC: Actually, sounds to me like you have as good grasp on the timeline as anyone, Tom. You certainly have an understanding for what it is the Pirates say they hope to ... um, achieve.
But, since you asked, no, there is no timetable given. Nothing even close. Nor, for that matter, is any window given.
And the reason for that, as management people often tell me, is that their focus is on creating a methodology - and practice -- where the talent keeps moving through the system nonstop. Great prospects replace great players. Great draft picks or other amateur signings replace great prospects. And so on.
This, of course, is asking a whole lot, to put it mildly. Even the Oakland Athletics, who work this cycle as well as anyone, and the Minnesota Twins, who draft as well as anyone, have to take the occasional pause to set things right. We will see that this year with Oakland for sure and, maybe to a lesser extent, with Minnesota if the Twins can ever get the Johan Santana deal done.
As for the Pirates, they obviously are in a far less attractive and far less defined scenario ...
Most of the points you laid out above will take time, as you correctly note. But what happens if your "achievers" actually overachieve? What if players who might have looked like part of the past suddenly look like pieces of the future? And what if the future no longer looks so nearly far off?
This is unlikely, obviously. Sixty-eight wins do not dramatically transform into 86, especially not when the roster pretty much remains the same.
Q: Count me as someone who is cynical about the Nuttings. In this 40th anniversary year of perhaps Hollywood's best comedy ever, Mel Brooks' "The Producers," it is "Springtime for Nutting in Old Pittsburgh." Like the team of Bialystock & Bloom, isn't it true that, with the revenue-sharing system, the Pirates can make more money with a bad team than with a good or decent one?
In other words, do you believe that, if the Pirates pumped another $25 million into payroll to bring them to the level of a Milwaukee, Colorado or Cleveland, that they'd get it back in revenues?
Lee Moses of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh
KOVACEVIC: You know, one of my new year's resolutions should be a real attempt to expunge the plural from the term "Nutting." There is one Nutting in this equation. The elder, by all accounts, has as much to do with running the Pirates as Mel Brooks does.
No, revenue-sharing is not a dollar-for-dollar match. If the Pirates miss out on a dollar of local revenue, it is not replaced by a dollar from MLB offices. Rather, the system divides the pool of revenue-sharing money by a team-by-team formula, meaning Team No. 30 in the revenue pool gets X amount, Team No. 29 gets Y amount and so forth. It is not quite that precise, but that is the basic structure.
As for your second question, the only way the Pirates could make back the additional $25 million spent in payroll is for them to make $25 million in local revenues, obviously. And, because financial elements such as broadcasting deals are set in advance, that means attendance and suite sales would have to rise accordingly. That would be up to the public's response to the team, which, of course, would depend largely on the quality of the team. No givens on either front.
A final point: If the Pirates raise payroll, that does not in any way diminish the revenue-sharing check they get. That formula is not based on expenditures or profit level. It is based on the amount of money that actually comes in to the franchise.
Hope some of that made sense.
Q: I read that Chris Shelton was cut from the Rangers last week. Funny how quickly he fell. I'm sure you had a mailbox full of Pirates faithful slamming the Buccos' front office when he started out on fire two years ago and looked to be the next coming of Babe Ruth two years ago.
Is he still worth a look, seeing as the Pirates are in desperate need of a good cheap bat coming off the bench?
Jim Ledgar of Allison Park
KOVACEVIC: The primary reason I try to avoid revisionist topics - and printed your Q only after a whole bunch like it showed up - is that this easily could turn into the Aramis Ramirez/Rule 5 Q&A. There never seems to be enough written on those matters, even years after the fact.
All I will do is repeat two positions I have made known many times regarding Rule 5:
One, it remains the absolute king of mistakes Dave Littlefield made, if only because of the inherent error of allowing promising players to go unprotected while protecting so many dubious veterans ahead of them. And then, to see one of those veterans getting released shortly thereafter only underscores the folly. Nothing touches this. Not Ramirez, which was forced on Littlefield by ownership. Not the Chris Young/Matt Herges fiasco. Nothing.
Two, how those players lost in that Rule 5 fared is mostly immaterial, in my view. Whether Shelton had gone on to boom or bust is not the issue. It was the quality of the decision that was made at the time. It was the gamble itself that was not worth taking. It was utterly pointless to find out whether or not Shelton, coming off the season he just had in the minors, was going to get claimed or not. It never should have happened.
Anyway, no, I have not heard that the Pirates are looking at any additional bench help. And, if that were to change, they would have a far more attractive - and maybe just as cheap - option by signing still-available Craig Wilson.
Until tomorrow ...