Bob Smizik: About Pirates’ commitment to winning

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The subject of the Pirates commitment to winning often is broached in the comment section. Many believe the Pirates, specifically owner Bob Nutting, don’t want to win. That’s silly. Wanting to win is a human condition. Everyone wants to win. If you don’t win, you lose, and no one wants to lose.

Some, however, desire victory more than others. They’ll work harder, train longer, spend more to help ensure victory. Others will bend the rules.

The Pirates’ decision yesterday to part ways with pitcher Wandy Rodriguez was viewed by some as a positive concerning commitment. Why? Neal Huntington and whomever was responsible for that decision were only doing their jobs. The Pirates are trying to get back into the pennant race. It would make no sense to continue to pitch Rodriguez. They did what they had to do. There’s nothing extraordinary about cutting loose a player who can’t help a team win.

Rodriguez was going to get his money whether he was designated for assignment yesterday or made 20 more starts. The only bump for the Pirates is the money they’ll have to pay his replacement, which in all likelihood will be the MLB minimum.

A greater example of commitment -- or lack of it -- was how the Pirates built their team for the 2014 season, the team, which after last night’s 3-1 win over Washington, is 20-26.

Four notable players came off the roster at the end of last season: starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, right fielder Marlon Byrd and first basemen Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau. The Pirates made no serious attempt to keep any of them.

They did not make Burnett a qualifying offer. He went off to free agency and signed with Philadelphia for two years, $22.5 million. Jones was non-tendered and signed with Miami for two years, $7.75 million. Byrd was a free agent and signed with Philadelphia for two years, $16 million. Morneau was a free agent and signed with Colorado for two years, $12.5 million.

As it turns out, all could have helped the Pirates.

Burnett is 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. Byrd has five homers, 27 RBIs and an .834 OPS. Jones has six homers 23 RBIs and an .828 OPS. Morneau has nine homers, 32 RBIs and a .930 OPS (all stats through Wed.).

What the Pirates did to replace those players in the offseason speaks far more eloquently to their commitment to winning than does the release of Rodriguez.

The Pirates added pitcher Edinson Volquez, shortstop Clint Barmes, catcher Chris Stewart and first baseman Travis Ishikawa. Their combined salaries were about $8.6 million. It would not be a stretch to say without the Pirates all four could have been out of MLB at the start of this season.

There were 81 MLB pitchers who threw more than 162 inning last year. Here’s how Volquez ranked in various important categories: ERA, 81; WHIP, 80; BAA 76; OPS-against, 80, K/B 77; K/9 40. ESPN ranked 679 players based on their WAR. Volquez ranked 678.

There were 254 MLB players who had more than 300 plate appearances last season.

These are Barmes’ rankings in offensive categories: BA, 244; OPS, 252; slugging, 244; OPS, 251.

These are Stewart’s rankings: BA, 243; OBP, 219; slugging, 254; OPS, 248.

Ishikawa, who had 19 MLB at bats in 2013, was soon found to be unacceptable -- surprise, surprise -- and Ike Davis was acquired.

In review: To replace the players who left after 2013, the Pirates added the pitcher who was the worst statistically in MLB and two of the weakest hitters. What kind of commitment is that? When it came time to stand up and add some talent to replace the departed players, the Pirates failed the test.

Volquez has been fine as a fifth starter and had a strong performance last night. Stewart and Barmes, as expected, are well below-average offensive performers. But this isn’t about 2014 performance. It’s about how the Pirates went about building their team. They did it on the cheap. They showed a greater commitment to saving money than to building a championship team.

Bob Nutting and the Pirates want to win. Just not that badly.


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