Bob Smizik: Fans meekly accept Pirates' foibles

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What’s happened to the heavy dose of skepticism toward management some Pirates fans once wore as a badge of honor and as a testimony to their deep-rooted loyalty to the team?

Has one winning season erased all of that?

Where’s BFD when you need him? Where have you gone Nutting Hostage? Speak to me, Daquido!

The unrelenting negativity of those three readers, who mostly have disappeared, and others might have gone too far, but their watchdog spirit is sorely missed. Worse, it has been replaced by fans who simply accept almost everything the team does as the right move.

When I started writing for the Post-Gazette’s Internet site almost five years ago, I was stunned by the outrage of some over the practices of Pirates ownership and management. I agreed with some of their discontent, but other parts were too over the top.

But I never wanted or expected this mentality to fade away in the glow of one winning season and a highly ranked farm system. Good fans support their team but they also make demands on their team. Too many Pirates fans have succumbed to what I snarkily referred to recently as the disease known as "nealisgod."

Well, general manager Neal Huntington is not. He’s been a really good GM for much of the past three seasons, but he is not above criticism.

The Pirates are about to enter the 2014 season with a questionable rookie at first base. Their right field is expected to be predominantly manned by the two players who got the most at bats at that position last season when it was among the most unproductive in the National League, despite the fact Marlon Byrd played there for the final month.

Yet what I mostly see in the comment section are nods of approval with these decisions.

Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, for example, are expected to get most of the playing time at the power position of right field despite the fact over their careers they’ve combined to homer every 48 at bats?

Better still, why aren’t people upset that the Pirates payroll currently stands at about $76 million, which is a clear violation of the spirit of Frank Coonelly's statement that when attendance increased, the payroll would follow.

Yes, payroll has gone up. But $76 million is not typically the payroll of a team that really wants to win now.

This is no suggestion that the Pirates should go on some crazy spending spree. But they do have money to spend. They are expected to receive close to an additional $20 million in national television revenue this year. Why are they hoarding that money?

What could the Pirates have done?

• Offered A.J. Burnett a $14.2 million contract that would have told him how much he was wanted and would have given the team a high draft choice if he signed elsewhere.

• Been in on the bidding for free-agent first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, who signed with the Seattle Mariners for one year, $6 million. Does anyone seriously believe the Pirates could not have used a player who from 2010-12 hit 87 home runs and had an OPS over .850? Go ahead, tell me he’s not a better bat to have than Tabata.

• Chased after a better answer for the 2014 rotation than Edinson Volquez, who was signed for one-year, $5 million when his record indicated he’d be more in line for a minor-league deal. In his three previous seasons, Volquez had a combined ERA of 5.09. The fiscally prudent Oakland Athletics spent $22 million to sign Scott Kazmir for two years. The Milwaukee Brewers are reportedly close to a deal with Matt Garza, a free-agent pitcher who hasn't had an ERA over 4.00 since 2006.

Part of the problem is a large segment of the fan base treats the payroll like it’s coming out of their family budget. The Pirates have the money. They had one of their best revenue years in history last year and are getting about an additional $20 million in national TV money. And their payroll remains almost status quo.

As much as some fans believe, and with reason, the Pirates will be contenders for the foreseeable future, those forecasts don’t always hold true. A team needs to push hard when it has such an opportunity. With money to spend, the Pirates were in position this offseason to make such a push without mortgaging their future. That they have not done so is disheartening and only slightly more so that the fact the fan base seems content with that philosophy.

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