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Pirates

Tim Benz: Contend this year? Don't buy what Pirates are selling

| Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, 8:14 p.m.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talks with team owner Bob Nutting before a game against the Giants at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talks with team owner Bob Nutting before a game against the Giants at PNC Park.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington watches batting practice from the dugout before the MLB Little League Classic against the Cardinals Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, at Bowman Field in Williamsport.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington watches batting practice from the dugout before the MLB Little League Classic against the Cardinals Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, at Bowman Field in Williamsport.

If Pittsburgh really is trying to get the new Amazon headquarters, the city should just offer Amazon an annual lease of PNC Park through autumn and winter.

Great view. Charming ambience. And goodness knows that no one will ever need it in October or beyond.

Pirates management will disagree, though. They'll try to tell you that their ball club may play into baseball's October playoffs.

This year!

I'll give you a moment to contain your laughter.

General manager Neal Huntington will try to convince you that recent trades of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen aren't a sign that the club is selling off assets as part of a massive rebuilding project.

"As we look at our next competitive team, our goal is to have it be 2018," Huntington said on MLB Network's High Heat. "We've got a group of players that are going to show up and compete every day and try to win every single game that they play. And they are fired up about this opportunity."

I'm glad Huntington and the players are fired up. Because the fan base sure isn't. News of trading Cole to Houston and McCutchen to San Francisco was met with the following reaction:

•An online petition to Major League Baseball to force a sale by owner Bob Nutting

•A Twitter movement to wear red on opening day to show anger over the moves

•A talk show phone caller suggested trying a staged walkout like the one we saw at the park in 2007

Well, that one didn't work before. MLB won't read that petition. And Bob Nutting doesn't care if you wear red. The only color he cares about is green. As in, your money.

The point is, though: Fans are mad.

I believe the fan base is less angry about the actual trades than they are at the team's spin control about them.

People don't appreciate being lied to.

A friend of mine went through divorce. That person told me that when they discovered the spouse cheated, that hurt. But when the spouse lied about it, that's when my friend got really angry.

Critically thinking people will see through the bologna that this team plans on contending this season after it has sold the best position player on the roster plus its likely opening day starter for five guys with fewer than 200 combined games of major league experience.

Clubs that plan on contending don't give away 27-year-old first-round-draft-choice pitchers who are making just $6.7 million.

Doug Drabek won the Cy Young Award when he was 27, by the way.

Contending clubs don't pawn off their face of the franchise before the season starts if they plan on contending. Especially coming off a year when he was the team's best hitter.

Sure, McCutchen will turn 31 in June. He makes $14.5 million. To these Pirates, that's too old and too expensive.

When Roberto Clemente was 31 he won the MVP. When Willie Stargell was 31, he finished second.

How much money do you think those guys would be making today?

Where the Pirates really seem to have angered their consumers is with their massively inconsistent and dishonest PR campaign.

Huntington turns more double talk than his infield turns double plays.

He tried to soften the blow of these deals while on 93.7 FM this week by saying, "Teams get themselves in a lot of trouble if they continue to hold onto some hope that may or may not be real and fail to make the moves that they need to make to restock and replenish and refresh. That's what we feel we did in these trades."

However — in the same interview, mind you — he balked at the notion that the team was going through a "rebuild."

"Rebuild implies that you're looking five years out, and you're going to punt the current season.

"We are not rebuilding," Huntington said.

So "restock", "replenish" and "refresh" are totally different from "rebuild." Ah! Got it, Neal.

I look forward to "Nuance Night" at PNC Park. The first 15,000 fans through the gates get a thesaurus.

Huntington also admitted organizational "projection models" predict the team will be worse than the 75-win team of 2016. Then — in the same response — the GM tried to convince listeners that the team could still be the wild-card Twins or the 86-win Brewers of last year.

Right. So tell me again what were you saying about "hope that may or may not be real?"

Whatever sales job Pittsburgh officials are making to Amazon, I hope they are doing better than the city's baseball team.

Maybe the pitch should include some sort of subsidized Pirates season-ticket plan for Amazon employees.

Plenty of good seats will be available.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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