Pirates' GM rolling the dice for future

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So where were we when we were interrupted by all of that Stanley Cup business?

That's right, the Nate McLouth trade.

I like it.

Let me rephrase: I like the concept of the trade. I couldn't agree more with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who told the Post-Gazette this week: "If we didn't care about winning, it would be easy to just coast along, make the popular moves, make the low-impact moves. We care about winning this much. We're doing this to win."

Huntington gets big points with me for trying, for having the nerve to make a bold and unpopular move in an attempt to overcome the overwhelming odds against all small-market clubs -- not to mention maybe the worst ownership in sports -- to make the team a winner again.

Before you accuse me of drinking the Kool-Aid, you should know I'm on record many times as saying I don't believe the Pirates will ever win a championship again in our lifetime, at least not without an ownership change. I also have no reason yet to believe Huntington is the guy to get it done. "We trust what we're doing," he said in the article. That makes one of us. The plan, I trust. It's absolutely the right plan. But the execution? I need to see a lot more in terms of talent evaluation.

All I'm saying is, if you are Huntington and you are working under the debilitating financial restraints of owner Bob Nutting, you have to take big gambles and hope for miracles. You have to trade a McLouth -- a very good, but hardly great player -- for three prospects who you think have a chance to be very good-to-great down the road, just as you had to trade a Jason Bay and a Xavier Nady last season.

It's the right thing to do.

Sure, that's hard to accept after 16, soon-to-be 17, consecutive seasons of losing baseball. But this is just the second year for the current management team. While I'm not suggesting you buy into Nutting's absurd contention last summer that it's "the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe all of sports," I am saying you shouldn't hold the sins of the previous regimes against this one. It's not as if Huntington gave away Aramis Ramirez. And believe me, we'll be able to fairly evaluate Huntington's work soon enough.

If you want to argue that the Pirates didn't get enough back in the Nady, Bay and McLouth trades, that's your right, although it's far too soon to pass final judgment. Actually, the Nady trade looks pretty good to me: Ross Ohlendorf is doing OK as the fourth starter, Jeff Karstens is on the pitching staff and minor league outfielder Jose Tabata is considered an excellent prospect despite his rather unusual personal problems. The Bay trade still could be good if minor league pitcher Bryan Morris ever stays healthy and develops into a quality big-leaguer, as some baseball people believe he will. Unfortunately, outfielder Brandon Moss has been a bust so far. Third baseman Andy LaRoche has been the highlight of that deal, which isn't nearly enough. Although he's playing much better after a rough start with the Pirates, he hasn't shown any of the home run pop that you like at that position.

As for the McLouth trade, fans are screaming that the Pirates settled for much less than the Atlanta Braves' top prospects. Huntington and his staff beg to disagree. Only time will tell if they're right about pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. If they're not, Huntington and his staff should be fired.

But I'm thinking Huntington could live with that if it happened. At least he would have gone down taking his best shot. There is no way he could have maintained the status quo. That would have guaranteed more losing, mediocrity at best. "We don't want to settle for mediocrity," Huntington has said.

Nor should he.

That's why the fan outrage over the Nady, Bay and McLouth trades is almost humorous. People act as though the Pirates are a contending team and gave up Bonds, Van Slyke and Bonilla. Nady is hurt -- again -- with the New York Yankees. Bay is having a monstrous year with the Boston Red Sox, but, had he stayed with the Pirates, does anyone really believe Nutting would have paid to keep him as a free agent after this season? And McLouth, well, Andrew McCutchen has done a pretty fair imitation so far in center field, without the power stroke unfortunately.

The reaction of the Pirates' players to the trades -- especially the McLouth deal -- was just as silly. They just don't get it. They just can't see that, if they were better and winning more games, the McLouth trade wouldn't have been made. Instead, Huntington would be trading for veterans.

At least that's the plan.

My doubts notwithstanding, I guess I can see Huntington getting the Pirates to that point, both at the major and minor league levels. But that's where I see ultimate failure because of the ownership. Nutting has said he will increase the payroll when the team is ready to win, but, really, why should we believe him? Because he spent $6 million to sign top prospect Pedro Alvarez last summer? Because he has spent more trying to make inroads in Latin America? Sorry, that's just the cost of doing the business of baseball. Let's see what happens when the time comes to really step up. I'm guessing Nutting will disappear if it means keeping a nice, healthy bottom line.

But don't miss the point.

That doesn't change what Huntington is trying to do.

I applaud him for it.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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