Joe Sheehan writes that the moves Neal Huntington made this offseason are about "about getting the payroll to some unstated minimum to keep the MLBPA off their backs."

Joe Sheehan Stirs The Pittsburgh Pirates Minimum Payroll Conspiracy Plot


Joe Sheehan has a very solid newsletter.  But today, I nearly fell out of my chair when I read it.   He always has an interesting take on subjects and today was no different.    He takes a look at the Pirates offseason thus far.  

I think the Pirates’ spate of signings this month, bringing in Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz and Scott Olsen, is entirely about getting the payroll to some unstated minimum to keep the MLBPA off their backs. I have absolutely no proof of this, but the other possibility — that the Pirates think paying Lyle Overbay five million dollars to play baseball for them is a productive use of their time and money — is too ridiculous to consider. It can’t be about trying to win to get people energized, because Lyle Overbay doesn’t change your fortunes in that regard.

Overbay would be a bad signing for a good team desperate for a left-handed-hitting first baseman to complete their roster. Since turning 30, Overbay has hit .255/.344/.427 with about 15 homers a year and a 420/242 K/BB. He hasn’t hit more than .270 in that time. His strikeout rate and K/BB went kablooey last year, an awful sign for a middling 33-year-old. He has a good defensive reputation and the numbers match that. This signing is a near-perfect re-creation of the Doug Mientkiewicz signing from two years ago. Same type of player, same age, same likelihood of having any impact at all on the fortunes of this franchise.

I have no idea if Steven Pearce can play, but wouldn’t 2011 be a decent time to find out by giving him 500 at-bats? The Pirates appear to have given up on Ryan Doumit as a catcher. Play him at first base and see if he can hit enough to get back his trade value. Hell, leave the position open for when you finally realize that both Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are playing out of position and you need to shuffle the infield. Do anything, but don’t sign Lyle Overbay. It’s not a sign you’re trying to win; it’s sign you don’t really know how.

The same thing applies to Matt Diaz. Diaz is a useful fourth outfielder on a team that lists to the left a bit and can get Diaz off the field in the seventh inning with a lead. He’s also not someone whose services need to be guaranteed past the next payday. Giving him two years commits a 40-man roster spot to someone who, coming off a .302 OBP, really should be an NRI. The Pirates non-tendered Lastings Milledge and signed Matt Diaz, and that sequence makes about as much sense as what the Cards did at shortstop. I’m telling you, it has to be about the money: the two signings boosted the 2011 payroll by 20%!

Oh, shortstop. I get to end this on a positive note. The Pirates grabbed Indians prospect Josh Rodriguez in the Rule 5 draft. Rodriguez is 26 years old, the Tribe’s second-round pick out of Rice back in 2006. His career stalled in part due to hamstring problems that cost him a big chunk of the ’09 season. The Indians used him as a utilityman at two levels last year, and while he’s a bit error-prone at shortstop, he’s also not much of a second baseman. The Pirates, who tried Ronny Cedeno last year to little effect, have very little to lose by giving Rodriguez a chance to win the everyday shortstop job. Rodriguez has a clue at the plate and a little bit of power, and while his defense would likely be shaky — and in an infield with Walker and Alvarez, that’s saying something — his upside makes him worth that risk.

Picking up Rodriguez was a good idea. The Pirates would have been better served by taking two other guys like him in the Rule 5 draft rather than committing time, money and roster spots to Overbay and Diaz

We can’t say we agree with Sheehan about the SS position, that’s a big stretch.  The Pirates infield will be as fragile as that 1960 World Series program Costas was holding last night. 

Sheehan suggests 2011 is about finding out if Pearce can play?  We know the guy can play.  He can’t hit a curveball to save his ass, but with some work he could improve.  We just don’t know why he doesn’t play in the offseason to improve that weakness.

Pearce didn’t stay healthy and we believe he hasn’t worked hard enough to be given a job.  Haven’t the Pirates done that already?  If we learned anything last season, it was that the Pirates didn’t have a back up plan. 

A platoon of Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones looks like a ‘Wonder Twins Activate’ mish-mash made in All-Star heaven, simply by looking at the numbers each player has put up each year.   It’s not hard to see the combination pulling a 300/360/500 line with 25 homers.  Sheehan’s comment on Lastings Milledge is hilarious, just hilarious. 

The Pittsburgh Pirates have made moves.   They were bound to be questioned.  But doing something anything, but signing Lyle Overbay wasn’t an option.  Pittsburgh has an opportunity to have a bounce back season and signing a player that can simply improve the defense at first base, keep the spot warm if you will, is something that the people paying the bills needed to see.     

This offseason the Pirates braintrust said they were going to spend money.  They have done it.  And need to continue to do it especially with their young players.  But what young player would want to stay in Pittsburgh if quality players aren’t around.  Sorry, but watching Jeff Clement get a true big league tryout last year was frustrating for me.  Can you imagine how Andrew McCutchen felt about it?

The Pirates spending money this offseason was never a secret.  Was Overbay redundant?  Sure.  But so are the losing seasons of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club.

The fans are tired of having our heads tapped and being sent to bed, like each of us are Cindy Lou Who.  Pittsburgh is watching this team with their foot impatiently tap, tap, tapping.   

2011 is a time for these players to bounce back.  A time for these players to prove their electric stuff, their downward plane, and their swing and miss. 

To turn the corner….move in a positive direction not just below the major league level but at the big league level as well.  The days of waiting on the players Neal Huntington and the braintrust have assembled is waning.

We must stop this losing.  We must stop this whole thing! Why, for ninteen years we’ve put up with it now. We must stop the losing from coming… but how?

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