Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pirates' Coonelly Will Bring Back Front Office. What Does It Mean?

In a move that caused a lot of a stir on the internets among fans and media members Pirates President Frank Coonelly said that the front office was going to return in 2013 despite the downfall the past two season. When I speak front office that would include general managers Neal Huntington and his two main assistants Kyle Stark and Greg Smith.

Yon can click here for Coonley's full response from Pirates MLB reporter Tom Singer.

Once this came out people were angry to the point that I saw some tweets that people wouldn't be going to any more games because of this. Personally I think that is WAY over the top but people have their opinions on the organization and they are entitled to those opinions whether they are rational or not.

Saying that I still am not really sure how I feel about the situation as a whole. On one hand I can see why people want to sort of "clean house" and get someone else in here in all facets of the system. The Pirates made some strides the past few years but they have had two significant collapses the past two years and while you might be able to justify the collapse in 2011, the 2012 version is just unacceptable.

Fans are not rational. I am a fan and a lot of the time when I see something I am not rational in the least bit. Fan is short for fanatic and that is how they treat the teams they cheer, for the most part. With how much the Pirates got the fans hopes up it was a really hard pill to swallow now that they are possibly going to finish under .500 after being as many as 16 games over .500 about six or seven weeks ago.

What we can't do is just pick and choose what the reasoning for the firing of any, or all, of the members of the front office. As I said before people are emotional and for the last 20 years this has been a losing team and some people finally snapped. The last 60 or so games for the Pirates have been just horrible to watch and to some, or all, of this will be the main reason people want them gone. I understand that but I am not really sure if I agree with that. I think Matt Bandi of Pirates Prospects put it best in a series of tweets a short while ago:

I think Matt really hit the heart of the problem here, from what I see. People are so focused on this season and the collapse that they want the front office gone at any cost. I think that things don't work like this but what if the Pirates started the season how they ended it and then came on strong to finish around six games out of the wild card? Would that bring the same outrage? That isn't a very strong argument for keeping guys on payroll because that wasn't the context of the season and if we know anything it's that context does mean something.

As Matt talked about in his tweets I think that is is perfectly fine to ask why these guys are still being employed by the Pirates because they haven't had the drafting success that goes beyond the first round. Prized second round pick Stetson Allie was signed as a pitcher and is now a hitter and as it was discussed by the guys over at Pirates Prospects the 2009 draft has given the Pirates next to nothing where ninth round pick Brock Holt has already played some major league games for the big club and Victor Black is probably the next in line as the comp pick but he is still in AA Altoona.

You can talk about the Navy SEALS training and memo that Kyle Stark sent out this season. It was pretty out there in terms of what this was expected to do for the young team down in Florida but I think it was blown a bit out of proportion. It was a three or four day thing after the season (in the off season) that probably went a little too much of the physical aspect but I really don't see anything wrong with a team building exercise from some outstanding military personal. I can see how people wouldn't like it as it was laid out and this adds to the thought that Stark is a little more "out there" than some would like.

The Pirates might not have any of the top end talent but the notion that they haven't done anything with the draft is a bit off base. I know people say that "well if they have top three picks every year then they should be good." Well then how do you explain how the Pirates have struggled with top picks in the past and failed before this front office group got into control?

The Pirates struggled with Pedro Alvarez but he turned it around this year to have a really nice season and even though he is still struggling with the strikeouts he hit 30 balls out of the ballpark. Then there is sticking with Garrett Jones and having him reward you with a 25 home run year and hitting probably above his capabilities. There is getting A.J. Burnett for nothing. There is the international draft picks that are sitting in Class A where multiple players are considered breakout. Alen Hanson is considered to possibly stick at short and be a plus-plus hitter and where Gregory Polanco is considered to be better. They got Luis Heredia on track when he couldn't even do a pushup when he came to the Pirates to have a 17 year old year where he was in State College (A-) posting a 2.71 ERA in 66.1 innings.

A lot of people have been questioning the farm system, but is it really that bad? Here is what Baseball America's Ben Badler had to say about it:

This is only one person's opinion but Ben does this for a living. He studies these players and he certainly sees something there and for the most part I agree with him. I know there is a huge backlash because the Pirates don't have anything in the system and these international prospects are young but to say that the Pirates aren't doing anything in the system seems a bit foolish.

Obviously the drafting hasn't been great and whether it is the development of the talent at different levels or the actual picks they made it seems to have rubbed the people the wrong way. While I don't think the Pirates have the best talent in the minor league system I still think they have some depth but it could always be better. I fall somewhere more in the middle of the drafting discussion but based on things like the 2009 draft class you have to think there are some problems but we are still waiting to see what some of their draft picks hold such as Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and others so it will be fun to watch next year when most, or all, of these guys will be mainstays in the major leagues to some degree.

Most are going have a problem with having no real impact talent at shortstop and catcher and still haven't been able to find the power hitting first baseman. Those are very logical reasons to question the drafting and development and identification of talent but I think that a lot of teams are still looking for the combination of that. I am sure that the Pirates wish they had made different decisions with their free agent signings in the past years but it does sting.

Now on the opposite side the biggest beef you should have with the front office is identifying talent at the major league level. There aren't too many people who can name multiple major league talents that have come from this crew and it really has been a glaring. Just looking at this year and you see the names of Clint Barmes, Rod Barjas, Nate McLouth and Erik Bedard and if you go back to 2011 you will cringe at the signing of Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz. Lastings Milledge, Andy LaRoche, Aki Iwamura, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby are all from prior years and you really didn't add much of anything to the team and hurt them in a huge way. This is my biggest beef of the front office and could probably be the main reason they should not be back for another year. While they have done a decent to good job of stocking the farm system they have failed, miserably, when it comes to getting the complimentary pieces to add to the major league team.

The trading block is probably where the Pirates hurt the most besides identifying talent and for the most part you can lump them into the same as we talked above. The Pirates got LaRoche in a trade and they have brought in some other players via trades such as Milledge and Casey McGehee and while I don't think this is strength they did a nice job this year to acquire talent. They got Travis Snider in exchange for a relief pitcher and they were able to get Gaby Sanchez for a defensively only player in Gorkys Hernandez. Sanchez has been quite good for the Pirates in limited action (.262/.347/.430) and if Snider can stay healthy he will be able to play every day in 2013 and beyond based on what we saw this season.

I am in no way saying that all trades were good because the Pirates went out and got a pretty old Wandy Rodriguez for a few prospects that were performing well and they have also been burned a few times but saying that this front office is terrible at this is probably taking it too far. James McDonald has had for Octavio Dotel and while McDonald hasn't had the best second half he has shown that he can be a number two or three starter which is nothing to sneeze at.

As I said before the collapse is a huge reason for people wanting everyone gone. I have made no secret that I want Clint Hurdle gone but I think it is pretty hard to peg a collapse on one person. A systematic failure of every person in the system was a part of this season and just making a scapegoat of one or two people might make you feel good now but that doesn't guarantee anything going forward. I still don't know how to qualify the collapse this season and I am not sure I ever will.

I know that I have been talking in circles here and I am pretty sure that I confused myself by reading over what I wrote but I do know that keeping the front office isn't as horrible as some may make it out to be. They definitely haven their shortcoming and maybe a little more than I let myself believe but I don't think they have been as horrible as most might want to believe. The Pirates are moving forward and even though they took a huge step back at the halfway point of the season (for the second year in a row) they were a better team this year and they exceeded my expectations as only a 72 win team this season. The context of the season can't be changed but I don't feel like I did in previous regimes and I still think this team can make some noise. Maybe as soon as next year.

The fact remains that as of today the front office is coming back and I think I am OK with that.

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