Cook: Enough waiting -- it's time to address short-term goals
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The company line is clear.
"The nice thing about going into the trade deadline is we don't feel like we have to do anything," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
"I think we can [win as is]," manager Clint Hurdle said.
With all due respect to Huntington, who deserves much credit for building a team that was in first place when the second half of the season started Friday night, and Hurdle, who has to be the heavy favorite to be National League manager of the year, I couldn't disagree more.
The Pirates need another bat. They aren't always going to hit the way they did before the All-Star break. They need a better bench player, preferably a veteran with experience at one of the game's tougher jobs. And they really need another arm. They have to find someone better at the back of their rotation.
"I know we're looking," Hurdle said.
"This is an exciting club. We're going to do everything we can rationally and logically to add to it," Huntington said.
"What we won't do is mortgage the future for the present," Huntington said. "We won't do that this year. We won't do that next year. We won't do that in 2014. I know the fans don't want to hear that because they want to win now."
I was all in with Huntington last season when he expressed a similar sentiment about a Pirates team that was in first place through July 25. He moved right before the trade deadline to bring in Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, giving up almost nothing for the two free agents-to-be. Lee got off to a nice start before getting hurt, but he never was going to be the savior so many thought, not just last season but this spring when they begged him to come back. Ludwick was a bust here.
Giving up more highly regarded prospects last season for better rental players would have been short-sighted. That Pirates team wasn't ready to win. Second baseman Neil Walker admitted it was a "real shocker to us" when the team began to lose regularly. Soon, the shock turned into doubts. Walker called it stepping into "Negative Town." The doubts turned into defeats. The team lost 10 games in a row and 16 of 19 on its way to a 19-43 finish.
But this Pirates team has a different feel to it. It's way premature to predict a division title or even a wild-card slot, but it's hard to imagine a collapse similar to last season's. The National League Central Division doesn't have an overwhelming team. Nearly one-third of the Pirates' 75 remaining games are against the woeful Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs. Players such as Walker and Andrew McCutchen are better because of their experience last season. Veterans Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes and, especially, A.J. Burnett have been added with a decided settling effect. That's why the Pirates were able to take a 48-37 record into the second half despite lousy hitting in April and May and "subpar" -- Hurdle's word -- starting pitching in June.
"It's a really special group of people," Walker said. "The confidence we have is at an all-time high. It's better than any team I've ever been a part of on any level in any sport."
"I came over here [from the New York Yankees] and wanted to be a part of something special," Burnett said. "I'm proud to take the mound with these guys."
These Pirates deserve a more aggressive approach by Huntington as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. He says he doesn't want to mortgage the future. I say he has to be willing to take a risk for a team that hasn't been in this position for 20 years and might not be in it again soon.
Talented prospects don't have to help you at the big league level. They can help in trades just as well. Huntington can't be timid. Remember, aggressive is the word.
There has been speculation the Pirates have interest in Arizona outfielder Justin Upton. I have a hard time believing the Diamondbacks would trade a player, 24, who has made two All-Star teams, hit 31 home runs last season and is signed through the 2015 season. But if he's available, I would give up plenty to get him. Starling Marte? Sure. Jameson Taillon? Absolutely. Marte and Taillon? I'd give it much thought.
Of course, it would be much easier to give up Taillon -- a top-level pitching prospect -- in any deal if the Pirates had been able to sign this year's No. 1 draft pick, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. Huntington made the absolute right call by drafting Appel even though the selection was -- in Huntington's words -- "a calculated risk." Too often, the Pirates have failed to take the best available player because of signability issues. They did the right thing with Appel even if they didn't sign him before the Friday deadline. It just might end up being more his loss than the team's.
So I'm not counting on Upton. That's OK. Even more than a great bat, the Pirates need another starting pitcher, maybe two. Erik Bedard has not gotten it done. He might fix his game between now and the trade deadline, but are you really confident of that? Kevin Correia had pitched better going into his start Saturday night in Milwaukee, but he faded badly last season. Clearly, the team needs help.
It would be great if the Pirates picked up Philadelphia's Cole Hamels or Milwaukee's Zach Greinke, but the odds are overwhelming against it happening even if their teams put them on the market. For one thing, Hamels is making $15 million this season, Greinke $13.5 million. For another, each pitcher will be a free agent at the end of the season. You had better be damn sure you are going to get to the playoffs to give up the prospects it would take to get one of those guys.
But there are pitchers out there who wouldn't cost as much in terms of prospects. Wouldn't you take Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza from the Cubs? How about Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros? Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins? Dempster and Liriano will be free agents after the season. Garza will be eligible for arbitration next season before becoming a free agent in 2014. Rodriguez is signed through next season with a club option for 2014.
Hurdle made it clear he is willing to march on with what he has.
"I know we're mentally tougher [than last season]. I know we're physically tougher and in better shape. I just believe we have a better team and a team that's looking to get something done and not accepting anything less than winning the division."
I'll like the Pirates' chances a lot better if Huntington can add a key player or two. He knows all eyes will be on him as the trade deadline approaches. He talked of the challenge ahead.
"We're walking the balance between short-term, mid-term and long-term goals."
I get that.
But isn't it time, finally, for the Pirates to worry more about the short term than the long term?
First Published July 15, 2012 12:00 am