On the Pirates: A winning season at the expense of the future is not the Pirates' goal
It was a tough week for the Pirates, who lugged an eight-game losing streak into Saturday night's game vs. San Diego at PNC Park. Xavier Paul endures the final outs of an 11-6 loss to the Cubs Tuesday at PNC Park.
Share with others:
Success breeds success, or so the saying goes. But just as often, success gives way to failure. In baseball, teams that break long streaks of consecutive losing seasons are not likely to keep up their winning ways.
Take, for instance, the Kansas City Royals from 2003. They broke out of a streak of eight consecutive losing seasons with an 83-79 season. With a group of talented young stars such as Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney and Angel Berroa and a two big-name free-agent signings in the offseason -- Benito Santiago and Juan Gonzalez -- the Royals had high hopes. Manager Tony Pena was so confident after a 7-15 start to the 2004 season, he guaranteed the Royals would win the American League Central Division.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the pennant.
For one, the Royals finished last in the division. Plagued by injuries, they crumbled in 2004 -- team batting average plummeted and ERA jumped. Pena didn't last to the end of the season, and the Royals have not had a winning season since.
Then, there are the Philadelphia Phillies of the first half of the 20th century. They broke out of a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons with a 78-76 record in 1932. But that success was fleeting. The Phillies finished last in the eight-team National League. They did not have another winning season until 1949, setting a North American team sports record of 16 consecutive losing seasons.
It is no secret who owns that distinction now.
Whether the Pirates finish the 2011 season with a winning record -- breaking a streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons -- will be determined over the course of the next two months. But the Pirates have been careful not to pursue a winning season this year at the expense of the future.
"That's not our endgame," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "Our endgame is to be a consistent championship caliber organization. As long as we keep that in our sights, we're going to continue to strive to move forward."
Most teams that string together nine or more consecutive losing seasons fail to post consecutive winning seasons once those streaks are snapped. In addition to the Royals and Phillies, the Chicago Cubs of the mid-1900s and the Milwaukee Brewers of the past decade snapped double-digit losing season streaks but failed to follow one winning season with another.
"We are interested in winning baseball, not only in 2011, but 2012, 2013 and moving forward," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said last week as the trade deadline came and went. "To do that, we thought it was important to retain our top prospects, particularly those that are getting close to being in a position to help us."
To that end, Huntington said the team's plan remains making "logical, rational decisions."
"Not getting caught up in the emotion of it," Huntington said. "We have to continue to think with our heads. Our fans, who are among the best in baseball, can think with their hearts."
While the Pirates acquired talent, as opposed to previous years where they unloaded it, they were not as aggressive as they could have been. Beltran and Hunter Pence, the two highest-profile players available, landed elsewhere in part because the Pirates were not willing to part with the necessary prospects to acquire them.
In trading for Derrek Lee, the Pirates sent minor leaguer Aaron Baker to the Baltimore Orioles. In trading for Ryan Ludwick, the Pirates will send a player to be named later to the San Diego Padres.
"We gave up players [where] we feel like we've got some other options there," Huntington said.
The front office protected players it believes eventually will become contributors -- or that could be traded later for players who can.
Some teams have managed to win consistently after successive losing seasons, perhaps providing a model for a team such as the Pirates.
The Athletics, between stops in Philadelphia and Kansas City, had strung together 15 consecutive losing seasons. A move to Oakland in 1968 seemed to change their fortune. The team had nine consecutive winning seasons, highlighted by three World Series titles from 1972-74.
More recently, the Detroit Tigers ended a streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons in 2005, winning 95 games and advancing to the World Series. It was the first of two consecutive winning campaigns for the Tigers, who have finished better than .500 in five of the past six seasons.
Still, before the Pirates can think about starting a streak of consecutive winning seasons, they have to have one. But, as Huntington and Coonelly have made clear, they don't want to be one and done.
First Published August 7, 2011 12:00 am