In the movie “Rounders,” Matt Damon said, “Why do you think the same six guys end up at the final table at the World Series of Poker each year? Are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? No. It’s because they have skills.”
Major League Baseball’s World Series of Poker is here. It is called free agent season. If a GM can play their hand right, a few players can vault a team to the next level. If a GM makes the wrong decision, you can end up like the legendary poker superstar Stu Ungar. Out of the game entirely.
Pirate fans will be happy with respectability after five straight seasons with at least 94 losses.
The agents have the ‘best available’ talent ready to rescue each and every team in the league. The talent is is on the table. The agents proclaim, sign my guy and your team will be saved! Most of the time it isn’t the case as we are all familar with the drill by now.
The GM’s of each team do their best to put on their poker faces. However, it’s tough for many of them to have a poker face while drool seeps from the corner of their mouth.
So the scene is set for free agent season and the first words were spoken at the poker table in Pittsburgh recently.
The room is smoked filled…and it’s obvious all the big players are here at the table today. Scott Boras is here, Pirates GM Neal Huntington is here too. Mr. Huntington fires the first words….
“We do want to improve our offense, and we’re going to continue looking hard for ways to do that. But I’m not sure that, even if we bring in someone from the outside, it’s going to help us win more games right away than what we have.”
A little boy wearing a Pirate hat in the first row says….”Psssst…. excuse me Mr. Huntington, pull the sunglasses closer to your face. Your lying eyes are giving you away.”
Scott Boras was at the other end of the table and boastfully pronounced, “Ok, Mr. Huntington. I have news for you. A sentence that begins with ‘we do want to improve our offense’ followed later with the word BUT really blows my mind. I mean is anyone at this table buying this?? In fact, ‘what the Pirates have’ as you put it so eloquently provided the following production in 2009:
Worst in Batting in MLB
Least Amount of Runs Scored in MLB
.705OPS Second Worst in MLB
.387SLG Second Worst in MLB
612 RBI Second Worst in MLB
Now Mr. Huntington, you really think you don’t need another card or two to go with that two of spades, three of diamonds, six of diamonds, and that Ace named McCutchen?”
The little boy in the first row handed Neal a motorcycle helmet and said, ”Mr. Huntington put this on before you answer him and please wipe the drool from your chin! Here give me that Boras client list!”
With the helmet firmly in place Huntington took a look at his hand then lifted his head in the direction of Boras saying, “Well we’re not going to spend money just to say we did it.”
Boras didn’t say anything just stared into the smoked lens of the black helmet.
Finally after twenty seconds, Huntington couldn’t take it anymore.
“I think I’m clausterphobic…ok, ok, God it’s hot in this thing…We’ll be looking for value, but we definitely don’t feel like we’re desperate to fill any hole”
The entire table filled with laughter. The little boy hung his head in shame. His fandom crushed yet again.
Welcome to Black Friday at Rum Bunter.
Here is our take on this….the most talented free agents are represented by some of the best negotiating agents in baseball. We clearly remember this interviewon Extra Innings in which Huntington told Rocco DeMaro during the end of the season saying he was going to play things closer to the vest moving forward. He especially mentions how the draft negotiations went awry by speaking too much in regard to the Pirates strategy. ”Draft picks thought they hit the lottery,” said Huntington.
The challenge for Huntington is the current roster is filled with so many offensively challenged players. The Pirates, despite all of the denial we hear, desperately need offensive production. However, they don’t want to overpay for such production. Hell, who does?
To be a winner in negotiations, which has been something that has evaded Huntington and his staff throughout their tenure, he will need to be skillful, talented, cool and gutsy.
Well, he definently is gutsy. We think Frank is the skillful, talented, and cool one. Frank, you ever play poker?
In Rounders, Damon says, “ the key is to play the man, not the hand.” Let’s trust Huntington learns something from his past negotitations. Because in this scene from the movie below, Damon didn’t. He was agressive, he went all in and lost. He forgot to play the man, he played the hand. Or what he thought was the hand.
Could Huntington be playing the free agent game conservatively so he doesn’t lose his job? Is he afraid to make a bad call again?
The Pirates have a pile of cash and Huntington has been given approval to spend it. But Huntington and the Pirates certainly can’t afford to lose again as they did last year with Eric Hinske, Craig Monroe, and Ramon Vasquez . Perhaps the free agents they pursued, but didn’t land, the likes of Daniel Cabrera, Rooco Baldelli, and Derrick Turnbow are an even more glaring sign that free agent evaluation is another weakness within the Pirates staff.
So, perhaps that is the telling sign in this game. The Pirates don’t want to play in the Free Agent game, because they suck at it.
But, Mr. Huntington that is your call. What are you going to do?
No pressure of course. Only, the 2010 season is riding on it.
*Neal Huntington quotes from interview in PG