The concept continues to get raised, as it surely will for years to come: What if previous management had selected Matt Wieters in that fateful draft of June 2007?
Fans write and email wistfully about how rich the system would have been with Wieters, the sport's No. 1 prospect who could join the Baltimore Orioles soon, especially when imagining how he would look alongside Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. Even team president Frank Coonelly brought it up at PirateFest in January, saying, "Matt Wieters should have been a Pirate."
Well ... not so fast.
Before going too far with this, perhaps two pertinent questions should be asked:
1. If previous management did draft Wieters at No. 4 overall, rather than Clemson University reliever Danny Moskos, could it have signed him?
Seeing the money ownership authorized for Alvarez a year later, the obvious answer would be yes. But Dave Littlefield, general manager at the time, was known to have an aversion to dealing with Wieters' agent, Scott Boras. And it is believed that Boras, whose company does intensive diligence on all teams and their practices, had a like aversion.
To boot, Littlefield ticked off Boras well before the draft by letting Boras know of his scouts' view that Wieters was not a player they were considering at No. 4 because of some perceived defensive shortcomings.
Bad fit all around. And, seeing all that transpired with Alvarez, Boras and the new management team a year later, it is hard to envision the always-had-to-be-in-control Littlefield having the temerity to patch things up in such a scenario.
2. If Littlefield had drafted Wieters and succeeded in signing him, might he still have his job?
If so, could he possibly have pulled off back-to-back draft specials by repeating with Alvarez?
And would he really have been able to cull Tabata from the New York Yankees in a two-for-four trade?
There is a widely held view that owner Bob Nutting fired Littlefield primarily for the Matt Morris trade, which ended up costing the Pirates $14 million. That misfire surely did not boost Nutting's view of his baseball people as a whole, but it is known that nothing troubled Nutting nearly as much as the immediate and vocal criticism of bypassing Wieters earlier that year. And it was not the criticism from the public, according to those close to him. Rather, Nutting heard it, loud and clear, from other executives in Major League Baseball.
It might be a stretch to suggest Littlefield would have been retained for at least another year if he had drafted and signed Wieters, though one never knows.
While discussing Littlefield and Morris, here is something fresh on that front: The Pirates' initial approach to the San Francisco Giants regarding Morris was to offer shortstop Jack Wilson, a transaction that actually would have saved the Pirates money in the long term as opposed to costing them dearly, as Morris and his wasted $14 million did.
One might wonder how that would have changed Littlefield's fortunes.
The pregame festivities for the Pirates' home opener tomorrow will begin -- at 12:50 p.m. -- with the formal presentation of center fielder Nate McLouth's Gold Glove for 2008. And, no matter how many of the sport's more statistical-minded followers might protest, no one will be able to take it away.
"That's right," McLouth said. "You know, no matter what you do, there's always someone who says, 'Well, this' or 'Well, that.' "
Fielding statistics are the most difficult to compile, as even statistical guru Bill James has acknowledged, if only because errors are a subjective decision and determining range is a challenge based on how hard or soft the ball is struck. (All the Pirates' awful pitching last year would suggest it most often was struck with great force.) Still, there is evidence that McLouth's range was limited, and that trait, according to most crunching the numbers, overshadow to some the fact that he was charged with only one error.
"Whatever system that is, I'm not sure where it gains credibility," McLouth said of the statistical model. "There are so many variables. But you know what? I'll take the votes from the field staff. I'll take the vote of Tony La Russa. Or Joe Torre. Those are big league managers and coaches, and those are the people who vote. I'll take their votes."
Another element to those pregame festivities will be the Pirates' recognition of Steve Blass for 50 seasons with the franchise, from World Series champion pitcher to broadcaster. He and his family will receive a gift from owner Bob Nutting, after which he will address the crowd.
"Once again, the Pirates made me feel like a million bucks with this honor," Blass said. "It gives me a chance to reflect on 50 seasons of living my dream that started back in 1960. There have been so many more peaks than valleys, but I will never forget the support of Pirates fans during my difficult times. The relationship with this team, this city, the people here and our friends have been a great constant."
Blass will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, too, to -- who else? -- former battery mate Manny Sanguillen. No word on whether or not he will then leap into Bob Robertson's arms.