Pirates need to explain Littlefield's trading blunders
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It says a lot about how the Pirates have been run for the better part of the past two decades that when they do nothing more than the right thing -- releasing Matt Morris -- they are praised as if they have taken a major competitive step forward.
They did nothing of the kind. They did what they absolutely had to do.
The Pirates had two choices:
• Pay Morris approximately $10 million to start every fifth day and virtually guarantee a loss.
• Pay Morris approximately $10 million to go away and give the team a better chance of winning every fifth day.
What's hard about that? What about that simple decision deserves congratulations?
This is not to suggest the Pirates were seeking the congratulations they received from some fans and media members. They were not. General manager Neal Huntington was all business with this decision. He's a guy who's new to this job, new to regularly dealing with the media but who clearly knows how to handle himself and say the right thing.
The Pirates weren't exactly breaking new ground in swallowing this contract. It's a tactic that is approaching standard operating procedure in Major League Baseball. The Baltimore Orioles didn't even wait for the season to start to release outfielder Jay Gibbons, who was owed $11.9 million. Earlier this month, the Toronto Blue Jays released Hall-of-Fame-bound slugger Frank Thomas, who had 26 home runs and 95 RBIs last season and was owed about $7 million.
Even the Pirates have a history of swallowing contracts. In May 2005, they released catcher Benito Santiago, who was owed about $900,000. We bring this move up not because there was a significant amount of money involved but because the Pirates acquired Santiago, who was 40 when he was released, from Kansas City in exchange for prospect Leo Nunez.
The trading of Nunez, now 24 and pitching superbly out of the bullpen for Kansas City, is another notch on the list of unbelievably bad trades made by former general manager Dave Littlefield, a man who ushered in the era of no accountability or at least did much to enhance and prolong it. For reasons not altogether clear -- in what now is supposed to be an era of accountability -- many of Littlefield's top aides, men who might have advised him on some of these horrific deals, remain on the payroll.
A good argument might be which was Littlefield's worst deal. Was it the one in July 2005 when he sent Aramis Ramirez, the best player the Pirates have developed since Barry Bonds, to the Chicago Cubs for a bag of retreads? Or was it the deal in July, when Littlefield agreed to pay all of Morris' bloated contract -- about $14 million over two seasons -- when by most accounts the San Francisco Giants would have anted up a healthy portion of it, if pressed?
Now that we're in the era of accountability, so designated by the Pirates' top management, maybe it's time for the team to come forward with some answers on these trades.
The Ramirez trade was so preposterous -- Littlefield also gave the Cubs Kenny Lofton -- that it defied belief. There has been much speculation that the Pirates had to make that deal because they immediately had to unload salaries to get under some kind of limit established by MLB. If that is so, at least it's possible to understand why such a lopsided deal was made.
There appears to be no such rationale for the Morris trade. What could Littlefield possibly have been thinking? Even if the Giants had picked up some of the salary, it made no sense. It wasn't like the Pirates needed one more pitcher to propel them to some sort of championship. They were going nowhere. What's more, no one in their right mind would have thought Morris could have propelled them anywhere. In his eight starts before the trade, Morris had pitched 45 1/3 innings and allowed 80 hits while compiling a 7.94 ERA.
Littlefield, clearly, was a desperate man when he made this trade. He was trying to save his job and not even his top advisers, the ones still on the payroll, would have been able to talk him out of this. But if they couldn't, why couldn't owner Bob Nutting?
Nutting absolutely had to OK this deal. There's no way the Pirates could add that kind of payroll without his approval.
Nutting is known as a man who closely watches his dollars. So -- in the name of accountability and to put the Matt Morris deal behind us -- please tell us, Mr. Nutting, what was it that persuaded you to give Dave Littlefield permission to throw about $14 million down the sewer?
First Published April 30, 2008 12:00 am