Pirates' problems more complex than media seems to think

Jared Wickerham - Getty Images

The Pirates' management should be held accountable for the team's performance this season, but the media' focus on the turnstiles and the trade deadline isn't quite right.

Newspaper editorials about the Pirates are usually so obnoxious and poorly-argued that I have to fight the temptation to disagree with them when they aren't totally wrong. The Post-Gazette's latest editorial on the Pirates is like that.

It's titled, "Loyal Pirates fans deliver 2 million -- for what?" It's odd how we've seen this line of argument so frequently lately, as if Pirates fans showed up in such enormous numbers that the Pirates' supposed inaction at the trade deadline constitutes some sort of tragedy. In reality, the 2,091,918 fans the Pirates drew this season ranks them 15th out of 16 teams in the National League. They ranked 23rd in overall attendance. Two million is a lot in Pirates terms, but it's a small number compared to the rest of the sport. That's not the fault of the fans who do show up, of course, and no group of fans deserves what Pirates fans have gone through in the past 20 years. But it's not as if, just because a couple hundred thousand extra fans turned up to see the Pirates this summer, the Bucs had hundreds of millions of dollars of extra revenue coming in that they failed to to spend. If attendance is your standard for how much commitment the owner should be willing to show, well, the numbers aren't on your side.

Then there's this:

If only the Nutting ownership had acquired another big bat down the stretch. If only it had shored up the crumbled pitching staff.

Why do Pirates fans so frequently ignore the Wandy Rodriguez deal when making these kinds of arguments? You'll recall that the Bucs acquired Rodriguez in late July, paying a significant cost in prospects and new salary. You may also recall that he was one of the few Pirates who performed well down the stretch. The Pirates did shore up their pitching staff. It worked. And they were still terrible.

The Post-Gazette's argument is not, of course, 100 percent wrong -- the Pirates' lack of depth, and their bizarre mishandling of the depth they did have, both contributed to their struggles. That's on Pirates management. But the insistence here that the Pirates' problem was the trade deadline, rather than simply the lack of talent in the organization to begin with, is just weird.

In its search for a villain, the mainstream media frequently makes the Pirates' problems seem much simpler than they actually are. The problem is not that the Pirates' brain trust stood idly by, leaving the virtuous fans out in the cold. In reality, there are many problems, and few clear villains.

Two million fans or no, the Pirates still draw much less than most teams, and have access to less revenue; the lack of a salary cap in Major League Baseball is a significant problem, and editorials like these rarely seem to mention that.

Meanwhile, Nutting has stepped up, at least to a degree, in taking on salary in deals for Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett and in paying for the Pirates' very expensive drafts.

Of course, some small-market teams are going to the playoffs, and the Pirates aren't one of them. At this stage, that is partly on the front office. And the Bucs' rather weak performance in some of their very expensive drafts the past few years will likely hold the organization back in the future, as well. The Pirates' front office has serious issues, and I don't think anyone's job should be safe. The Post-Gazette would, presumably, agree with me on that. But the reasons are more complex than the paper seems to think.

In the end, though, this kind of opinion piece -- and we've seen many over the past couple weeks -- adds more heat than light to the conversation. This one boils a complex set of problems down to one simple one: Bob Nutting somehow wouldn't commit to building a winner. Fans good! Bob Nutting bad! In reality, the situation is much more complicated.

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