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Starkey: Pirates' judgment in question

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Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009

In two years on the job, the newest Pirates regime has committed significant money (at least by Pirates' standards) and/or multiple contract years to the following players:

Ian Snell, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Adam LaRoche, Matt Capps, Freddy Sanchez and Nate McLouth.

Not exactly the '27 Yankees, to borrow a phrase from general manager Neal Huntington.

With final results pending, we'll generously say management is 2 for 7 (Sanchez, McLouth) on identifying quality investments.

That's not good. And it raises a serious question: If the Pirates can't evaluate their own players, why should we believe they've done a good job evaluating other teams' players in all of these trades?

Capps, Snell and Sanchez were signed before the 2008 season. All of those deals were defensible, but their struggles last season should have served as a warning to Huntington, team president Frank Coonelly and owner Bob Nutting: Don't be in such a rush to sign one of your own to a new deal.

So, what did they do• They committed 10 years and nearly $49 million to Doumit, Maholm, LaRoche and McLouth.

LaRoche, since traded, was coming off two monumentally disappointing seasons in which he did most of his hitting with nothing on the line.

Maholm had one good season out of his first three in the big leagues.

McLouth, since traded, had one full season on his resume.

Doumit didn't even have that.

The idea, if you're a small-revenue team, is to get ahead of the game by identifying talent-on-the-rise and securing it at a fixed cost for multiple years. It's a nice concept, but if you're striking out more than Jose Hernandez and Brian Bixler combined (Jose Bixler, anyone?), well, then it's not so nice.

The one plus, I suppose, is that fixed-cost players are easier to trade.

In their deals with McLouth, Doumit and Maholm, the Pirates trumpeted the fact they bought out all the players' arbitration years, as if that were cause for celebration.

Here's a better idea: Make a player prove himself. If he does so and wins a big contract in arbitration, pay up.

The Pirates should have made Maholm post back-to-back quality seasons, at least, before signing him. He got a three-year, $14.5 million deal, not including club-option years, and his ERA has ballooned by nearly a run.

They should have waited to see if the injury-prone Doumit could last even one full season behind the plate, at least, before signing him. He got a three-year, $11.5 million deal, not including club-option years, and was subsequently injured again.

Doumit turns 29 before next season. He has exceeded 252 at-bats once. He is below-average defensively. He has never played more than 116 games. He was a .269 lifetime hitter going into Monday's games. He was hitting .173 in August and apparently turning into such a problem that manager John Russell ripped him out of a recent game.

If Doumit truly is displeased with team management, as appears to be the case, it might be the most incredible sports story since the Miracle On Ice. This guy should be lavishing his bosses with thank-you notes, flowers and refunds, not ripping them.

It's possible, of course, that Doumit and Maholm will rebound and justify their deals. And it's true that no fair verdict can yet be rendered on this management team.

But if you're growing increasingly skeptical of the Pirates' player-evaluation skills, I don't blame you.




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