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Starkey: Would one big move kill Pirates' future?

Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates outfield prospect Josh Bell takes batting practice before making his Double-A debut with the Altoona Curve on Thursday, July 17, 2014, at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Blair County.

Pirates/MLB Videos

Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 6:09 p.m.
 

Let's explore the ridiculous notion that going “all in” — trading choice prospects for a short-term player this year, next year or any year — would ruin the Pirates' future.

I have come to believe that a significant chunk of the fan base has been brainwashed into believing as much. And that is sad.

To hear some tell it, the Pirates would risk another 20-year losing streak if they gave up one top-five prospect, let alone two. Three of their top 10? Bite your tongue! They'd disband the franchise by 2020.

I'm not sure how these people explain the small-market, big-win-total Oakland A's, who at one point this season featured a 25-man roster with all of two homegrown players. And that was before they raided their already sparse farm system to acquire Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

What motivated A's general manager Billy Beane? The common perception is that he's sick of losing playoff series and believes this team is positioned to win it all.

Maybe that's true. So is this: Beane believes he can find players anywhere, and if you can find players anywhere, there is no such thing as “mortgaging the future.” The amateur player draft, as Beane well knows, is but one of many ways to acquire talent.

I'm guessing the A's will survive.

Look, if you don't believe the Pirates' allegedly deep and elite system could withstand a significant hit, then you must not believe it's all that deep and elite. And you must not believe in the other avenues of player procurement.

Here's hoping general manager Neal Huntington was blowing smoke the other day when he characterized an “all-in” type of trade in apocalyptic terms. Maybe he doesn't want anyone believing the Pirates are looking for such a deal — looking for David Price or Jon Lester — to put them over the top.

Or maybe he believes what he told Greg Brown on his radio show. Certainly, plenty of fans and media types believe what Huntington said.

“Anything (big) we do to help the current team win more,” Huntington said, “is going to cause the future teams to lose more.”

Really? One would absolutely, indisputably lead to the other?

Forget the A's. If an all-in mentality ruins the hope of a bright future, how do you explain the Milwaukee Brewers?

Positioned in a similar market, the Brewers went head-first for CC Sabathia at the 2008 deadline. They dived in again in winter 2010 when they acquired Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

Each time, the Brewers gave up highly regarded prospects. Each time, they were accused of further gutting their system in a shortsighted attempt to win immediately.

But now look: The Brewers again are contending for a division title with young talent all over the diamond. They didn't mortgage the future, after all. They had some losing seasons, but none of the relinquished prospects was going to prevent that. The few who've panned out have done so only recently.

I once held the opinion that the Pirates should never touch their top-prospect arms. But the Jameson Taillon injury provided a stark reminder that the road from “prospect” to “impact” is a long one. Projecting undeveloped baseball players is a fool's errand.

For Sabathia, the Brewers gave up the next Ryan Braun (Matt LaPorta) and two pitchers. The “player to be named later” was center fielder Michael Brantley.

Guess who became the only viable major leaguer of the crew?

Brantley, of course. After four average seasons, he has blossomed into an All-Star. LaPorta is batting .286 for the Piratas de Campeche of The Mexican League.

Sabathia was brilliant in his half-season in Milwaukee. He helped a sad-sack franchise reach the playoffs for the first time in a quarter-century and push attendance past 3 million. Did losing Brantley compromise Milwaukee's ability to win? Hardly. The Brewers' outfield consists of Braun, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis.

That leads us to the Greinke trade and to the fact that after helping the Brewers to within two wins of the World Series, he was flipped for Jean Segura at the following year's trade deadline. You're allowed to do that, you know. If a team acquires Price for the stretch run this year, they could flip him at next year's deadline. It's legal and everything.

For Greinke, the Brewers gave up shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and right-handed pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. The only high-impact player could be Odorizzi, who took a large step this season in Tampa Bay.

And that leads to an overlooked (at least in these parts) method of player acquisition: free agency. The Brewers have spent big on free agent pitchers, so losing one potentially talented young starter hardly ransacked the franchise.

Again, there are many ways to procure talent.

None of this is to suggest the Pirates absolutely have to get Price or Lester this year or some other huge name next year. But the idea that going “all in” would guarantee a future decline is nothing more than hysterical propaganda.

Don't be brainwashed.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

 

 

 
 


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