Kovacevic: If the baseball club ain't broke ...
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
A couple of times in the past week, Starling Marte failed to run full-throttle to first. Nothing egregious, mind you. He thought the play was dead each time and simply lapsed out.
But it was twice too many and, after the second, Gaby Sanchez pulled Marte aside in the dugout.
“We can't have that,” the veteran recalled telling the kid. “I don't care what the reason is. That's not how we do it.”
Later in that game, Marte hustled out a triple that had no business being a triple, dusted himself off and looked into the dugout hoping to make eye contact with Sanchez.
They did. And smiled.
“What he said was good,” Marte confessed with a tap of his heart. “My teammates are always helping me.”
Which leads me to ask: You want to mess with this?
You want to mess with Major League Baseball's best team, the one that fell to the Phillies, 3-1, on Tuesday night and was dented only by the demise of the franchise's finest streak in a decade?
The month leading up to the July 31 trading deadline will bring a barrage of rumors, random speculation and even the occasional credible report of talks between the Pirates and other teams. That's how it goes for contenders. Hopes soar for that star or stars who will put the team over the top.
But I'll ask again: You want to mess with this?
Infinitely more important, not the players.
Before the game Tuesday, I canvassed the clubhouse on whether management should make a major move at the deadline, including don't-quote-me talks with a half-dozen of the team's leaders.
The consensus: Let it be.
Those players universally shared the view that there's something special in play. That there's a firmly rooted foundation. That the tough lessons of the past two collapses have inspired a unique brand of determination. Above all, that this team, unlike last year's, has no real holes.
You and I don't have to believe any of that. But they do.
Even when I brought up right field — batting a collective .227 with a .366 slugging percentage, both lowest in the National League — they shot back with strong support of .229-hitting Travis Snider. They think he'll come around. They think there are platoon possibilities in the short term.
It's all here, they insist.
I can't begin to describe how different that is than last year, when most players — not all — eagerly sought significant additions at the deadline.
Hey, I did, too.
But that was then ...
“I think it shows that we're a stronger team,” Andrew McCutchen said, decidedly on the record. “Our pitching is better by far. The offense is starting to click a little bit.”
So, move or no move?
“We're winning with what we have. Whether somebody comes in or not, we're going to win regardless.”
That kind of confidence.
“It won't be an easy call,” Garrett Jones said, referring to management. “I think if you keep things the way they are, with the talent we have, the chemistry ... hey, we're winning. You can't go wrong.”
Brandon Inge was more pointed: “Honestly, I've always been a guy who says you never make a major move when you're going well. When you're making those moves, you're looking for, what, talent and character, right? Well, we have that. We're not missing anything. That's the truth.”
Roll your eyes at Inge, if you wish. The guys at the fringe of the roster always fear change.
But good luck building a case against what he says.
The starting pitching has been deep enough to absorb losing four of five Opening Day starters. Even if Wandy Rodriguez fails to return from his elbow issue, there are answers.
A Cy Young type would help, sure, but good luck with that.
The bullpen has been immaculate, well beyond Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon.
Show of hands: Who wants to be the one to boot Vin “Five Perfect Innings” Mazzaro?
The offense has ample room to improve, of course. But when looking at upgrades, take care to start with the premise that seven of the eight positions are set, now that Jordy Mercer has emerged.
We're talking about right field. That's it.
A bunch of names already are floating in connection with the Pirates. There will be more. And if there's an exceptional fit, sure, go nuts. It'll be worth even a high price.
For now, out of respect for what this team has done, I'd rather see internal options. Jose Tabata has far more talent than his injuries have allowed him to show. He should get a chance. And don't give up on Snider, whose .300 on-base percentage, keen eye and decent pop suggest there's more there than his .229 average. On big hits alone, as Russell Martin stressed, “he's been huge for us.”
Don't laugh that off. I'm not typically a believer in clutch and leadership and other intangibles, but if you don't think this team is positively oozing intangibles, you haven't been paying attention.
Be careful what you wish for, that's all.
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