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Starkey: Pirates doing right by fan base

| Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
REUTERS
Toronto Blue Jays batter Travis Snider successfully bunts against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning of their American League game at Safeco Field in Seattle on July 30, 2012. (Reuters)
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Pirates acquired first baseman Gaby Sanchez from the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in exchange for Triple-A outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and their sandwich pick between the first two rounds of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. The Pirates also landed Kyle Kaminska, a right-handed reliever. (Wilfredo Lee | AP)
Pirates pitcher Wandy Rodriguez delivers in the first inning against the Houston Astros on Saturday July 28, 2012, in Houston. (AP)

Up here in Latrobe, it would have taken some story to knock the Pirates off the front page — and rumblings of Ben Roethlisberger having a slightly torn rotator cuff did not qualify.

Not after a reporter asked general manager Kevin Colbert about it, and Colbert smiled as Ben threw bullet passes behind him.

Not after coach Mike Tomlin was asked if he had any concerns and if Ben was being held back in any way.

Tomlin's answers to both questions were the same: “None.”

So let's get back to the Pirates, who embark on their biggest series in 15 years when they visit Cincinnati on Friday.

Let's start with a question: When exactly did this season become a now-or-never proposition?

When did everyone who predicted 90 losses suddenly decide the Pirates MUST WIN NOW or possibly never win again?

You've heard this before, but the idea really is to build a team that can consistently contend. And unless I'm missing something, the arrow is heading in that direction.

After manning the radio airwaves Tuesday and listening to all the doom-and-gloom and how-dare-they-do-nothing-at-the-deadline ranting, I feel the need to say something:

What are you people thinking?

First of all, the Pirates did do something — and they did it without touching their best prospects. They did more than their closest competitors in the NL Central, the Cardinals and Reds, merely by acquiring a bona fide starter in Wandy Rodriguez.

As for Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez, who knows?

For what it's worth, longtime major leaguer Sean Casey says Snider “has thunder in his bat” and will thrive with regular duty. Others say he's a swing-and-miss guy who wasn't worth Brad Lincoln.

I plan on giving him at least three more at-bats before I make a final judgment.

Sanchez was an all-star last season. His three-year split against lefties offers a .310 average and 12 home runs in 277 at-bats.

Has he recovered from a slump that stretched back to last season? No idea. He seemed to regain his stroke in Triple-A.

I'll give him 11 at-bats.

Yes, the Pirates missed out on Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. I just have a hard time understanding the outrage over that.

Victorino, a leadoff guy, is 49th in the NL in on-base percentage.

Pence was hitting .271 with 17 home runs, sort of in the Garrett Jones ballpark. His defense, as described by one Phillies beat writer, was “atrocious at times.” He is expected to earn $13 million to $14 million next season before he could become an unrestricted free agent.

Nice player, but was Pence the guy to take the Pirates to the Promised Land? If the price for was, say, Starling Marte and Lincoln, as broadcaster Greg Brown suggested during Tuesday's game, the Pirates did the right thing by passing.

I believe Neal Huntington, who said if he'd met the Phillies' price (Huntington didn't give details), “Your phone lines would be lit because I'd be the biggest idiot in the history of the world.”

The Pirates are not averse to taking on salary (they did so in the Rodriguez deal) and adding rental players. They did both last season to mixed results.

Derrek Lee was fabulous before he got injured. Ryan Ludwick stunk. He has rebounded to hit 20 home runs for the Reds this season. You never know what you're going to get with a two-month sampling.

In the meantime, why can't people enjoy the process of watching a young team grow up?

Why can't people admit that management, for all its past sins, is acting in good faith these days?

The signing of Andrew McCutchen was an excellent example. So was picking up Rodriguez.

You can understand why fans who've been beaten down for 19 years don't trust it when they are suddenly treated well.

It's hard to love again.

But instead of looking for evidence of betrayal, how about looking at the standings? The Pirates are 16 games over .500.

I've spent much of my adult life reflexively ripping this franchise, but if you ask me to identify my major complaints at the moment, I'm quoting Tomlin.

“None.”

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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