Starkey: Pirates finally in the game
TribLIVE Sports Videos
As the Pirates look to move up in the world — toward winning a division title and maybe even a playoff series or three — one perceived obstacle is frighteningly real. Another is a mirage.
The St. Louis Cardinals are real. They're a problem. Major League Baseball's economic system shouldn't be.
Let's address the second matter first.
If you're like me, you raged for years against MLB's systemic silliness. You ridiculed commissioner Bud Selig every time he took another drag from his parity pipe.
Just four years ago, I detailed baseball's economic disparities in a column titled, “MLB parity a sham.”
I can no longer hold that position with credibility. Times have changed.
The field remains uneven, for sure, but hardly to the point of ruining the sport. Not even close. Every team has a legitimate chance to win — and to do so consistently.
No fewer than nine franchises have won the World Series since 2000. Low-payroll teams such as the Oakland A's, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays have experienced sustained success. There is no reason the Pirates cannot.
Slowly but surely, the playing field has leveled. It simply doesn't cost as much to make the playoffs anymore.
Check out this nugget from SI.com's Jay Jaffe: “In 2004-2005, the über-rich playoff field had payrolls more than 40 percent above average, but from 2006-2011, that fell to 15-20 percent above average, and the past two years, it's been less than 10 percent above average for the first time since 1995.”
I don't see that trend changing. The system isn't perfect. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who might be the NL favorite next season, likely will carry a payroll more than double that of the Pirates. But lower-revenue teams have been presented with so many equalizers, from revenue-sharing funds to significant draft-pick compensation for losing free agents (and for failing to sign a first-round pick) to that precious extra wild-card spot.
The draft, of course, always was designed to be a worst-to-first equalizer — although it tends to work better when you take Gerrit Cole and not Bryan Bullington; Matt Wieters and not Daniel Moskos. The Pirates finally took advantage of their misery by making the right picks early.
This offseason, as usual, will see the Pirates pick and choose among mid- and low-level free agents. Nothing wrong with that.The Boston Red Sox just won the World Series largely on the strength of savvy mid-level signings.
Bolstered by those three home playoff games, increased ticket prices and a larger chunk of national TV revenue (money to be spread evenly among all teams), the Pirates are in excellent shape to improve their roster. They have shown a willingness to spend. Now they just need to spend a little more.
This franchise will rise or fall based on its merits, which is as it should be.Unfortunately for the Pirates, they're looking up at baseball's equivalent to the San Antonio Spurs and the New England Patriots.
The Cardinals are a machine. They have made the playoffs seven of the past 10 years, deftly combining trade acquisitions (Dave Freese, Adam Wainwright), free-agent signings (Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday) and an unmatched draft-and-development system to establish themselves as NL's crown jewel.
Draft picks rocket through the Cardinals' system like Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton on the base paths. Consider: They had six rookie pitchers on their playoff roster. More elite young talent (outfielder Oscar Taveras, for one) is quickly bubbling to the surface
You can bet the Cardinals will be a contending team for years to come.
The Pirates can be, too. It's up to them.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Police officer fatally shot in New Florence; suspect in custody
- Four downs: Steelers might still be Adams’ best bet
- Steelers find success vs. NFC
- Zatkoff’s, Malkin’s heroics not enough as Oilers down Penguins in shootout
- Thomas Jefferson uses defense, running game to capture WPIAL title
- America could use more concealed carry gun permit holders
- Small Business Saturday a boon to Alle-Kiski Valley merchants
- As historic breakup nears, Alcoa works to redefine its ‘advantage’
- Steelers notebook: Brown downplays possible matchup against Seahawks’ Sherman
- Aliquippa wins 16th WPIAL title, ends South Fayette’s 44-game winning streak
- Woman dies after bleeding on sidewalk outside Carrick pizzeria