How to fix the Pirates

Can one play—one second—change the course of two franchises for a generation?

Perhaps this one did.

That’s a link you simply have to click—1992 NLCS, Game 7, Pirates leading the Braves 2-1, bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and little-used reserve Francisco Cabrera, the last man on the Braves’ bench, hits a seeing-eye grounder into left field. Then comes an epic battle of early-’90s mustaches: That skinny guy who fields it and throws home is 1992 NL MVP Barry Bonds, the runner from second with the piano on his back is Sid Bream, and catcher Mike LaValliere fields the throw a few feet up the first base line, allowing Bream to slide in safely by a fraction of a second under the tag.

(Look closely at that video one more time…why was Bonds playing so deep? Francisco Cabrera hit 17 homers in his entire major league career, and there were two outs with the winning run on second. The outcome most likely to burn them was a single, and Bonds never had a terrific arm. On a side note, if the good folks of MLB get that video clip taken down before you get a chance to see it, you can find another one on YouTube if you’re resourceful enough).

Okay, are you back from that trip down NLCS memory lane? Good. Of course the rest is history—the Braves’ 3-2 victory sent them to the World Series, further establishing them as the new class of the National League en route to an unprecedented 14 straight division titles; conversely, the Pirates’ mini-dynasty of three straight NLCS apearances crumbled immediately.

In the ’92-’93 offseason the Giants, on the verge of being moved to Tampa, signed Bonds to arguably the greatest free-agent contract in major league history—a then-record six-year, $43.75 million deal—helping to reinvigorate the fanbase and save the franchise from relocation. Bonds wins the ’93 NL MVP, the Giants win 103 games, the groundwork is eventually laid for a downtown ballpark with Bonds and “Splash Hits” as the main attraction, he leads them to the World Series in ’02, and 15 years after it all started, the Giants and AT&T Park are one of baseball’s better generators of revenue.

And the Pirates? Fifteen years later, they are the on the verge of their 15th straight losing season, one shy of tying the major league record.

One play. What if it had gone differently? What if Bonds’ throw is dead-on, or even if he was just playing normal depth? What if the Pirates win Game 7 in extra innings, and somehow ride that momentum (like the ’06 Cardinals did) to shock the Blue Jays in the World Series? Does Bonds then reach cult-hero status in Pittsburgh, and make it politically necessary for the Pirates to match any offer and re-sign him? Does Bonds achieve the greatest statistical peak in major league history for the Pirates?

Do the Giants end up in Florida, after being unable to build enough fan support to justify staying in San Francisco? Do the Devil Rays never come to exist? Does MLB find itself instead with only 28 teams, nary a word about contraction and less scheduling headaches? Do the A’s, free of the Giants’ territorial rights, have a market all to themselves, complete with a beautiful stadium in downtown San Jose and all the wealth of Silicon Valley at their fingertips?

A Seemingly Unfixable Problem

Let’s save the suspense—the Pirates aren’t going to crack .500 yet again this year, for the 15th straight season. They opened the second half by losing 14 of 16 games and now sit at 20 games under .500, 44-64, the only sixth-place team in baseball.

Next year, the Pirates are a great bet to tie the 1933-1948 Philadelphia Phillies’ record for consecutive losing seasons by a major pro sports franchise, and they’re a decent bet to own that record outright after ’09; even if there’s a radical front-office shakeup on the horizon, there’s a lot of work to be done to stave off ignominy in time.

The company line from Pirates’ brass is that the team’s young pitching will continue to improve and coalesce with the team’s established hitters to form a contender, presumably in the near future. The problem with that logic is that the Pirates’ top 4 leaders in Runs Created this season Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Freddy Sanchez, and Adam LaRoche (basically, the entire heart of the order if you’re scoring at home) all happen to be free agents at the same time after the ’09 season.

All four will continue to get more expensive in the next two years and beyond, which means they’ll probably be ex-Pirates soon. So when the team’s young pitching has matured and is dominating the NL in two years, the team’s offense, already the second-worst in baseball, could conceivably be even worse. That’s gonna greatly hinder the, uh, coalescing.

We’ll come back to this point later, but its significance can’t be overstated: In the current baseball economy, all the large and mid-market teams have closed the Moneyball information gap completely, just within the last few years. Every GM has a pretty good idea what on-base percentage and good defense are actually worth, or they’ve smartly hired someone to study those things for them. The big “undervalued commodity” windows have been closed, which was inevitable.

The Twins and A’s have taken a step back, in small part because the Royals and Devil Rays are now very well operated, too. The same types of little-known bargain players the A’s built their reputation on are now spread fairly equally amongst half a dozen savvy, small-market clubs (owners weren’t going to be giving GM jobs to old buddies and their family friends forever, given how much money is at stake in this business). Now, the only way for a truly small-market team to make the playoffs is to have a great crop of position and pitching prospects arrive on the scene almost simultaneously.

The division-leading Brewers are the new model for this. They’ve developed an entire infield of high-ceiling prospects that are making a combined $2.5 million this year, led by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, on whom they shrewdly saved themselves millions by finding a way to control him for an extra year through 2013. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s top pitching prospect, Yovani Gallardo, has shone since his midseason call-up as well. It remains to be seen if the Brewers prove to be one Gallardo clone shy of a playoff berth at season’s end, but clearly their success shows us one version of the blueprint for small-market success.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

With that in mind, we quickly see why the optimistic public outlook perpetuated by the Pirates’ front office is a mirage for their fans. They get excited about the young pitching, but by the time it asserts itself, the team’s best hitters will be gone, because the two groups are 2-3 years apart in service time. That cycle will continue on, again and again as it has since Bill Clinton was stumping for votes on his sax.

If the uninspired decision-making status quo is maintained, this franchise will register 70 wins a season into perpetuity. Meanwhile, as Nate Silver astutely observed last week, the gap between the haves and the have-nots only continues to grow, and even teams with fresh, innovative decision-makers like Andrew Friedman’s Devil Rays are struggling to see how they’ll ever ascend to postseason glory.

The Pirates are a mind-boggling 281 games below .500 since Barry Bonds patrolled left field in that history-altering NLCS game. It’s a sad state of affairs for a charter franchise with 115 years of history in the city of Pittsburgh, five World Series titles, and the most beautiful home park in the game. But at this point plenty of people have bagged on the Pirates, bemoaning a series of seemingly indefensible personnel decisions. The goal here is to try to avoid falling into blogosphere vitriol, and instead do exactly the opposite – propose some actual solutions.

How can this small-market team make it back to .500 and eventually into playoff contention—especially with an ownership group that seemingly prioritizes profit and financing stadium debt over investing their piece of the revenue sharing pie directly back into the product on the field? How can the Pirates keep their rightfully fed-up fans from retreating permanently into an Operation Shutdown of their own?

The ownership group, led by new majority owner Bob Nutting, is there to stay. Nutting is a businessman first and owning the Pirates is a profitable venture even as they struggle, thanks in part to revenue sharing, the new stadium, and ever-increasing Forbes franchise valuations. He’s sitting on a cash cow, and has no incentive to sell, so there’s no reason to expect he that he will, or that he even should for that matter.

But let’s focus on some things that can be changed.

1. Hire Mark Cuban to be the team’s new CEO

Yes, Mark Cuban has already put in an application to bid for the Chicago Cubs. No, he cannot have a vested interest in two major league teams simultaneously. But the Internet’s best authority on the Cubs situation, the esteemed Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball, has written recently that Cuban doesn’t stand much of a chance of being awarded the franchise. And really, it makes all the sense in the world that Cuban would be denied, despite his incredible wealth ($2.3 billion, according to Forbes).

Cuban has several factors working against him getting the Cubs:

*He doesn’t have Chicago roots. The recent trend of ownership sales in MLB has been that local bids get top priority, which appears likely to happen again in this case.

*He’s not a part of Bud Selig’s Good-Ole’-Boys Network (GOBN). John Henry, Jeffrey Loria, Lew Wolff, Stan Kasten/Ted Lerner, and now John Canning, Jr. – it’s increasing clear that before anyone is awarded a franchise, Selig has to know you and like you. Bonus points if you’ve intentionally run a franchise into the ground in order to expedite its no-bid sale and eventual relocation to Washington. Mark Cuban is Jay Gatsby—all the money in the world, but he can’t buy what he wants, because he apparently hasn’t had his money long enough or didn’t acquire it the right way.

*He’d end up being Steinbrenner Part II. Who wants to win more than Mark Cuban (have you ever seen a Mavericks game on TV)? With the Mavericks, Cuban arguably has invested a greater combination of time, thought, creativity, energy, and money into his team than any other professional sports franchise owner. To a fan those are all great attributes; to the 29 other owners, they represent the ultimate red flag. See, the other 29 owners don’t want to invite anyone into the club that wants to win too much. If Cuban made the Cubs his philanthropy and invested tons of his own wealth into the club, profitability be damned, he would increase the price of labor (players) for the other 29 owners, just as Steinbrenner has for decades. That, of course, affects the owners’ collective profit margin—having Cuban own a team is akin to making a concession to the Player’s Union that they didn’t even have to ask for, because Cuban helps them to raise their salaries by driving up FA prices in his desperation to win. For this reason, it’s unlikely that another Steinbrenner-esque owner is ever annointed into the GOBN.

All of these factors conspire against Cuban ever owning not only the Cubs but any major league team, thereby blocking him from getting his pass into the Good-Ole’-Boys Network—which, incidentally, if it was a real cable network, would probably have home games blacked out locally and be tight-fisted with profit sharing.

Without the Cubs as a viable option, I believe Cuban’s best chance to break into MLB is to replace outgoing Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy. To be hired as CEO, Cuban doesn’t need Selig’s blessing, or the majority vote of the 29 other owners. He only needs the approval of the ownership, specifically Nutting. We’ll discuss why Cuban is a far more intriguing choice than either of the two names that have been whispered publicly thus far—former Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola, Jr. and current Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty.

Cuban as CEO could end up being a win for all three parties involved:

1. Cuban gets to pour his passion for sports and competiveness into the day-to-day operations of his hometown team. He’s obviously an astute baseball fan already, but he’d be too competitive to rest on the laurels of his current baseball knowledge. He’d hire an All-Star staff, some straight from the Internet, to teach him the minutaie—the Rule 5 draft, waiver priority, option rules, etc. Just as he has looked for inefficiencies in the NBA economy and found ways to win, he’d do the same with baseball. His competitiveness may even lead him to invest his own money in the team.

To Nutting: You write the checks for the major league roster, John, and I’ll pay for our draft every year out of my pocket. Never again will we pass on a player because of signability concerns. Instead, we’re gonna become the Yankees of the draft—we pay top dollar for top talent, and the best players in the draft will come to know that, and drop to us in the supplemental and second rounds. As of today, we’re doubling our annual draft budget, and I’m hiring the best scouts I can to help me. In exchange, the draft is my baby and I have carte blanche—I pull the trigger on signing bonuses, bid high dollar for the best talent, and pore over the data with my GM. I’m like Jerry Jones with the Cowboys, minus the awkward face lift.

Plus, as CEO, Cuban gets to know the powers-that-be throughout the league, has the opportunity to change his image in the eyes of the fellow owners, and positions himself as the no-brainer candidate to buy the Pirates if they ever are put up for sale by Nutting.

2. Selig gets to evaluate Cuban as a potential owner without ever taking the risk of handing him the keys to one of the league’s most beloved franchises. If Cuban becomes a headache—which I doubt he’d do, given what’s at stake—Selig just leans on Nutting to fire him.

3. Nutting makes out the best in this deal—once again he can slip into the background where he prefers to be and avoid scrutiny as Cuban absorbs the credit, fame, and blame. Most importantly for Nutting, he gets to have someone else pay for his draft, which allows him to continue his hobby of watching the franchise valuation grow – and the value will grow more rapidly as the team improves. All of which positions Nutting to eventually sell the team free of stadium debt and with a nice chunk of profit. All he sacrifices in the interim is a little bit of control, over to Cuban—but Nutting doesn’t appear to want to be front and center, anyway.

2. Hire Paul DePodesta to be the General Manager and reassign Dave Littlefield within the organization

Ironically, if you could put these two men together, you might have something close to the perfect skill set for a general manager.

Littlefield, for all his criticisms, does a few things very well:

*He publicly toes the company line like no one else. That goes a long way with a boss—especially an owner that knows he could be facing greater accountability and scrutiny than Nutting currently is. You’ll never read a negative or frustrated Dave Littlefield quote in the paper; there’s always a positive spin on the struggles, and hope for the future. He also never throws the ownership under the bus with a “well if we just had more payroll” or “that wasn’t my decision” quote. That shows class.

*He’s very good at P.R. How many GMs have a picture of themselves smiling in a suit on their team’s home page, with an “Ask the GM” recurring feature? That kind of access to the fans is terrific, and it’s smart reputation management – which anyone in a cutthroat business has to be cognizant of. As for the questions Littlefield responds to, they’re also very skillfully crafted…and awesomely homeriffic. Like this recent one, taken from Part Six of the “Ask the GM” series:

I like the Matt Morris trade. We got a veteran starter without the long-term contract risk. Why did you make the move now rather than in the offseason?
— Joe M., Cranberry Twp, Pa.

Before we get to Littlefield’s response, kudos to him for hunting down the Pirates fan who liked the Morris trade. Always nice of Uncle Joe M. Littlefield to email in some support for his embattled nephew.

All kidding aside, it’s a skillfully worded P.R. question: already presented in a way that validates the move, and sets the reader up to buy into the logic of Littlefield’s response. Here’s the response from Littlefield:

We’ve tried the last couple of offseasons to acquire a veteran pitcher through a trade or free agency because we felt it would be a very good fit with so many young starters. At one time, we were the only Major League team to have a starting rotation consisting of players that we drafted and developed ourselves, but it is a tough task to have all of your starters lack big-league experience.

We felt all along that it would beneficial to have a player who was durable, could give us some innings and who obviously was productive, as well. Morris is a good fit not only because he fits this profile, but he also will be very beneficial for our young pitchers and help us become a better team. In this situation with Morris, we have him for the rest of this season, next season and we also have a club option in 2009. A guy like Morris is someone we’ve tried to get in the offseason, but did not because it usually takes a three- to five-year contract to acquire such a player.

Sounds reasonable, right? We’ll break down why it isn’t a little later on, but that’s not the point right now—the point is, it sounds reasonable, if you don’t read it too critically. It’s actually pretty smart reputation management: preventative damage control. Littlefield spares himself at least a little bit of the typically caustic treatment he’d receive in cyberspace because the blogosphere instantly knows what his rationale was for the move, whether the masses agree or not.

Fans and pundits alike feel more comfortable with a move when they at least have a rationale. Not coincidentally, when the mainstream media outlets weighed in on this trade in the following days, the criticism came in droves but it also offered a rationale for the deal that was seemingly taken straight from the team site.

But even excellent P.R. skills can’t mask the fact that the current regime has made a litany of personnel blunders, and more importantly, doesn’t appear to be learning from them. It’s clear that Dave Littlefield has many skills that are useful in a major league front office. But it’s even more clear that he’s not adequately equipped to lead the task of managing a franchise’s payroll or evaluating player personnel.

Now, we had a pretty good philosophical debate over at Baseball Think Factory about what every team should want in a GM here, after I wrote a piece last month stating that Paul DePodesta is the best future GM candidate in baseball. The consensus from that debate, and from a few emails I received from people within the game after writing it, was that DePodesta struggled at handling many of the P.R.-related tasks of the job in his brief Dodgers’ tenure.

Those same tasks, including reputation management, appear to be some of Littlefield’s greatest skills (obviously Littlefield doesn’t have a good reputation, but the fact that he has still has his job is nonetheless a testament to this skill. Most people with his track record would not still be employed).

I still maintain that the skills that DePodesta possesses—the ability to predict market changes in advance, accurately value the worth of players, and predict future performance relatively well—are the most important skills for a general manager, especially a small-market one, to have. It’s an unfortunate paradox: a general manager with DePodesta’s skill set will have more success, and yet one with Littlefield’s skill set will be better able to keep his job. That’s probably true in a lot of work fields, though. Anyone who’s ever expended effort trying to look like they were working, or at least seen the movie Office Space, can at least vaguely relate to that sentiment.

So why does DePodesta need to call the shots? Why can’t he play puppeteer to Littlefield’s good-looking face of the franchise, and spare the conflict of firing a good man? For one, DePodesta certainly wouldn’t accept the position otherwise, not after failing to get the uniquivocal support of his manager, owner, or personnel in his 18 months with Dodgers. Pittsburgh’s small market and desperate situation are the perfect opportunity for DePodesta’s ingenuity to get the five-year window it needs – but he wouldn’t go back into a situation where he lacked creative control all over again. It’s the Howard Roark in him.

More to the point, the smartest and most valuable guy should be calling the shots. DePodesta’s skill set is more in demand than Littlefield’s. You can hire a lot of intelligent people who love baseball to represent the franchise publicly, keep DePodesta organized, and be the media’s sound bite. It’s much harder to find someone who recognizes and correctly predicts the future of a lucrative financial market (in his case, it was pitching) two years in advance. On Wall Street, the people who can do that are multi-millionaires. In baseball, they should be small-market general managers.

3. Philosophical Changes in the Roster Composition

Let’s revisit the Littlefield quote posted above, because it’s revealing:

We’ve tried the last couple of offseasons to acquire a veteran pitcher through a trade or free agency because we felt it would be a very good fit with so many young starters. At one time, we were the only Major League team to have a starting rotation consisting of players that we drafted and developed ourselves, but it is a tough task to have all of your starters lack big-league experience.

We felt all along that it would beneficial to have a player who was durable, could give us some innings and who obviously was productive, as well. Morris is a good fit not only because he fits this profile, but he also will be very beneficial for our young pitchers and help us become a better team. In this situation with Morris, we have him for the rest of this season, next season and we also have a club option in 2009. A guy like Morris is someone we’ve tried to get in the offseason, but did not because it usually takes a three- to five-year contract to acquire such a player.

If there was a study that suggested that adding a $10 million “veteran presence/innings-eater/gamer” to a pitching staff would definitely lower the collective era of the staff significantly, this statement would be acceptable. In fact, unlike some scouts vs. stats debates, that’s something that can be studied—certainly there have been enough thirtysomething pitchers changing hands in the last 20 years to determine if having old farts on the staff helps the spring chickens pitch better.

I suspect, however, that if that were the case, there would already be a famous study proliferating the Internet baseball world that hailed that eye-opening discovery. And there isn’t. So I’m skeptical that Matt Morris can somehow sprinkle his veteran crafty pitcher pixie dust all over the Pirates’ youngsters and turn them into Cy Young candidates.

The Pirates already have someone to coach their young pitchers—his name is Jim Colborn, and he is their pitching coach. He probably makes $100,000. A team with an Opening Day payroll of $38.5 million can’t throw an additional $12 million-plus at their 4th or 5th starter, even if he moonlights as a pitching coach on the side.

The Marlins, Nationals, and Devil Rays all currently have teams that are better, cheaper, and with more potential going forward than the Pirates have. None of them see fit to acquire an expensive “veteran presence” to bolster their staffs—and they haven’t for a while. They correctly see that this would not be a wise allocation of their limited resources. If any of the them were lucky enough to already play in the crown jewel of a stadium that Pittsburgh does, they’d be absolutely crushing Pittsburgh competitively, because undoubtedly, they’re running a better operation.

Littlefield’s quote also shows why the Pirates have been treading water for so long. He’s been trying to acquire a veteran starting pitcher for a few offseasons? Why? All else being equal, why would the type of established free agent pitcher that Littlefield covets (like a Jeff Suppan, whom he shouldn’t be pursuing anyway) pick the Pirates as their destination? They wouldn’t, and that’s why Littlefield’s search hasn’t borne any fruit—until he finally acquired a player who had no choice but to come.

But the biggest problem is that with the Morris acquisition, the Pirates have admittedly already spent any money that was going to go toward offseason acquistions. Which is a shame, because Matt Morris, while offering some degree of certainty, offers absolutely zero long term upside.

And this next group of players do have upside.

4. Creating Value And Selling High

Morris is now an untradeable asset; no one would have paid nearly as much for him as the Pirates did, and he will never become more valuable over the remaining life of the deal, as he turns 33 this week. That can be instructive in showing us what types of players the Pirates should instead target on the open market.

A few free agent premises that we have to accept:

1.) All other things being equal, no free agent really wants to be a Pirate.
2.) Therefore, in order to sign a free agent, the Pirates need to either a) pay more than everyone else or b) provide a unique opportunity to that player.

Unique opportunities include getting to be a starting pitcher instead of a reliever, the opportunity to be a closer, getting the opportunity to play and prove your value and inflate it for your next free agent contract. Granted, this may build a mercenary mentality. Far more important, though, is that it’s building motivation to succeed, regardless of how pure the intentions.

As for point a) This is incredibly important – paying more than everyone else does not necessarily mean overpaying. The Gil Meche deal was criticized at first, because the Royals offered more than anyone else. By the same logic, the Jason Schmidt deal was praised, because the Dodgers appeared to get Schmidt for less years than he might’ve received elsewhere.

But even though the Royals offered more than anyone for Meche, it now looks like one of the best of the large free agent deals signed last offseason. Which means that even if the Royals aren’t contenders in the next three years, they can deal their “top of the rotation starter Gil Meche” to a contender pretty easily. They bought “top of the rotation starter Gil Meche” at “back of the rotation starter Gil Meche” sticker price.

By signing a healthy pitcher under the age of 30 who hadn’t pitched very well in his career yet, and putting him in a position that instantly creates value (top of the rotation starter), the Royals gave themselves the best chance to succeed of anyone who played Free Agent Pitcher Roulette this past offseason. At this point, Matt Morris and Gil Meche make a similar salary and are both “durable veteran pitchers”, but one is a very tradeable, liquid asset – and the other clearly is not.

That’s what I’m advocating Pittsburgh do annually in free agency, only on a smaller scale. These are five pitchers on the upcoming FA market, none of whom is the least bit sexy: Jeremy Affeldt, Joe Kennedy, Joel Pineiro, Kyle Lohse, and Casey Fossum.

What do they have in common? All five are under the age of 30, healthy, and have struggled mightily at times in the last three years. They’ve also never had the opportunity to be starters in a low-pressure, NL pitcher’s park environment, where they may be able to outperform their perceived expectations. The switch to the friendlier NL is still underestimated on the market—look no further than the success of Ted Lilly this season and Bronson Arroyo before him.

All five of the above pitchers could also be had for three-year deals and less than $15 million, meaning that the Pirates could diversify their risk and perhaps sign their two or three favorites from that group for the price of one declining Matt Morris. Better yet, if one of them enjoyed a surprising, poor man’s Aaron Harang-like resurgence with an opportunity to start, he could easily be traded for prospects, because the team bought low when they signed him to a contract.

On the other side of the coin, the Pirates need to attempt to copy Larry Beinfest’s model and trade the arbitration-eligible major league assets they do have while they still can get some value in return. Right now, Freddy Sanchez is “two-time All-Star Freddy Sanchez“, and he should be traded while he still has two years left of control for players with less service time and more upside, before he’s lost even more sheen off that 2006 batting title.

The Pirates would be wise to explore these deals with all their abitration-eligible position players to see what younger, cheaper value they could command in return. Then, after creating an outfield opening or two, they should fill their holes with the best two or three pieces of freely available talent, to see if they can stumble upon the next Jack Cust and benefit from a few years of a 400K player posting an .800 OPS. Creating perceived and real value in players who previously had none—that’s what the A’s did with Cust by giving him an opportunity, and the Pirates would be wise to try to do the same.

This can also be done creatively by cutting the fat off the 40-man roster—in the Pirates’ case Brad Eldred, Yoslan Herrera, Nyjer Morgan, Josh Phelps, and Masumi Kuwata—to allow the team to take two or three Rule 5 picks and to always be ready for the next potential Jeremy Guthrie to be DFA’d and swooped up to improve the fringes of the 40-man roster.

5. The Rule 5 Draft—The Final Frontier?

Unfortunately the Rule 5 Draft, which is one of the last frontiers of significantly undervalued talent,was never David Littlefield’s specialty. It’s never a good sign when the other general managers are openly laughing at your personnel decisions.

But there’s great value to be found there. I consider studying the Rule 5 draft one of my biggest hobbies. I have a list of players throughout the league who fit the profile of Joakim Soria, Jesus Flores and some of the other most recent Rule 5 successes that are currently unprotected, but there’s no use in posting it until teams set their 40-man rosters in the offseason and we see who’s left off. If my drivel still isn’t worthy of being proprietary by then, I’ll post it here on THT prior to the Rule 5 draft in early December, and preview it beforehand. As much of a pipe dream as it is, I’d much rather something like this happened first.

6. Hope in Pittsburgh

It’s long since been time to end this opus. Bottom line, the fans of Pittsburgh deserve better. An entire generation has grown up with uninspiring Pirates baseball.

Instead, it’s time to restore this franchise to the penthouse where it belongs. In Pittsburgh’s market, and without an owner that views the team as his philanthropy, that won’t ever happen with a Peter Keating-esque, follow-the-leader, I’m-afraid-to-make-mistakes mentality.

This is meant to be a bold and yet feasible blueprint to get the Pirates back to .500 or perhaps better on exactly the same ownership budget. In a way, Pittsburgh’s on-field turmoil and front-office turnover is a unique blessing—it gives Bob Nutting and the future CEO/GM carte blanche to make the radical changes necessary to succeed, because a new regime and ideology is virtually guaranteed to fare better than the status quo.

For their fans, the good of the game, and the intrigue of seeing Mark Cuban in MLB, I hope the Pirates’ ownership uses that opportunity to enact some version of the ideas expressed above. I would bet that the product on the field would soon be better if they did.

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