Sometimes it helps to take a step back.
Think about what your expectations for the 2012 Pirates were before the season started. Personally, I expected a big season from Andrew McCutchen, and a team that would, overall, be vaguely watchable, if not exactly competitive.
That's exactly what I've gotten, with McCutchen posting a 170 OPS+ and the Pirates compiling a 19-22 record. If you'd heard six weeks ago that the Pirates would have a 19-22 record at that point, that wouldn't have shaken you to the core, would it?
Probably not, but the way in which the Pirates have compiled that record has fans in an uproar. The offense, you see, has been terrible, scoring just 118 runs so far, easily the worst figure in the majors. No one besides McCutchen has an OPS+ above 100. Shortstop Clint Barmes looks horrible, and Alex Presley has already been demoted. Rod Barajas has just woken up from a long slumber. Casey McGehee hasn't done anything since the first week of the season. Pedro Alvarez continues to be an enigma, and the Bucs aren't getting much from Jose Tabata.
The Pirates were nearly no-hit by Justin Verlander on Friday, and then they struck out 17 times against Max Scherzer and the Tigers bullpen on Sunday. There's little help from the minors on the way, either, with the Pirates' Class AAA team in Indianapolis also struggling mightily to score runs. This set of circumstances has led to a million hysterical rants about how the Pirates must do something now.
Here's a thought experiment, though. Replace the Pirates' worst two hitters with two competent ones, and replace a solid starting pitcher and reliever from the team's pitching staff (which has performed well so far) with a couple of bad ones. Would there be a significant difference in wins and losses? Probably not. Would the Pirates' problems be any more difficult to address on the trade market? Probably not. And yet you can bet the shouting on talk radio and on the internet would be a lot quieter, because a team like that, a team that's mediocre across the board, would lack an area of obvious weakness for the crowd to throw tomatoes at. The problem with the current team is the offense, don't you see. Why won't Neal Huntington do something to fix the offense?!?
It's admittedly true that Huntington should be trying to address the offense somehow. As if that weren't already obvious, this weekend's series in Detroit, in which the Bucs called up light-hitting Gorkys Hernandez to ride the bench during designated-hitter games while the team gave at-bats to struggling batters like Nate McLouth and Yamaico Navarro, made that even clearer.
Unfortunately, at this point in the season, there is little incentive for other teams to make big trades, so the Pirates will probably be stuck trying to address their offensive woes with waiver claims or by making a small-scale trade for another team's minor-league slugger. (And no, recent deals for Jeff Larish and Drew Sutton really don't count.) The acquisition of a Mauro Gomez or a Clint Robinson might help the team, but most fans probably haven't even heard of those players.
Until we get closer to the trading deadline, then, expect fans and commentators to continue to go nuts. Let's take a sampling of some of the ideas I heard on talk radio while driving through the Pittsburgh area this weekend. (I dictated some of them into my phone, in case you're wondering why I use quotes below.)
1. The Pirates need to "send a message" to their players and their fans by making a trade. That's ridiculous. Huntington's job is to help the Pirates try to win games, and to prepare the organization for the future. If he "sends a message" at the expense of those goals, he's shooting the organization in the foot.
2. The Pirates are "desperate" for offensive help. They're not desperate. They're 19-22, and if you're being honest with yourself, that's probably on the high end of what you would have expected of them at this point in the season. And any trade made out of "desperation" has a very high probability of looking stupid and hurting the organization in the future. Remember when the Bucs traded Aramis Ramirez for nothing? That's what a "desperation" trade looks like.
3. The Pirates "need to make a push" right now. Why? There's no real indication that this is a serious contender. The offense is a joke and would likely continue to be one even if the Pirates were to acquire another good hitter to join it. Based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Pirates should have had a 16-24 record entering Sunday's game. There is no good reason to think this team is likely to hang with the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers over 162 games.
4. The Pirates need to cut Nate McLouth. Well, actually, I agree with this one, but I disliked the McLouth signing from the beginning. It's hilarious to hear a bunch of people who probably joined in the standing ovation for McLouth on Opening Day now say that he should be cut, after about 60 bad plate appearances. Tough crowd, huh, Nate?
5. "The fans deserve better. The pitchers deserve better. Andrew McCutchen deserves better." We can think of this in terms of what people deserve, or we can think about this in terms of winning games and improving the health of the organization. I don't know -- you guys pick! Personally, I'm not too concerned about what the players, who all make more in a month than you probably make in a year, deserve. I think the universe has actually treated them pretty well.
6. The Pirates should be willing to trade Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, or Luis Heredia for a bat to help the big-league offense. Gah?!?! Amazingly, I heard this in several different iterations, with one guy arguing that the good thing about trading one of these guys is that hey, the Pirates have three of them. This is insanity on stilts, people. This is insanity with gigantism. This is insanity that can dunk a basketball without jumping.
7. The Pirates need to consider the following specific trade proposals: .... (silence). I heard none. And while I'm glad to have been spared some fan's suggestion that the Pirates trade Alex Presley, Rod Barajas and Danny Moskos for Matt Kemp, some specifics would have been nice. The problem is that very few teams are out of the race right now, and a lot of the teams that are don't have good bats to deal.
I don't mean to be too hard on talk radio listeners (and, um, hosts). It's not a very deliberative medium, and hosting a radio show is a hard job. I also understand the fans' frustration. It's ultimately Huntington's fault the offense has been this bad. (That's the real problem here, not the lack of a trade.) And it's annoying to be told (including at least a couple times by Huntington himself) that this isn't the right time to make big moves.
Unfortunately, now probably isn't the right time to make big moves. The Pirates aren't a very good team and they aren't particularly well-built for the present, and there's little incentive for other teams to trade right now. The Bucs should be hunting for under-the-radar hitters like Gomez or Robinson, and if they can swing a trade of, say, someone like Brad Lincoln for a young hitter who might be able to help, then hey, great. It's hardly a life-or-death situation, though, and hysterics about what the Pirates "must" do or what the players "deserve" ultimately don't do the team any good.