Pirates majority owner Bob Nutting gave his leadership very little to work with this offseason.
Throughout the off-season, most of the questions surrounding the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates have been centered on the areas of first base and in a smaller portion, right field. The questions should have been directed at Bob Nutting, the majority owner of the ball club. The limited amount of money allocated by Nutting led to a shotgun approach when a sniper rifle should have been used by his leadership team.
Not quite enough money for Josh Johnson. Not quite enough money or years for James Loney. Not near enough money for A.J. Burnett.
Sure, Pirates fans know that if everything goes according to plan, Gregory Polanco will assume the starting job at some point in June. The first base situation is not so clear cut as no one has stepped up and blown the competition away at this point. The front office and coaching staff was hoping for Andrew Lambo to step up and take the job but he has been so locked in working on his defense that his offense has been anemic up until this point.
While that is obviously an area of concern, the Pirates have a much bigger problem. A five million dollar one to be exact.
You see, since the Pirates are a small market team when they go out “Bargain Shopping” on the free agent market, they need to be almost perfect when they allocate a large chunk of their resources on any one particular player. When they decided not to make AJ Burnett a qualifying offer last fall, they were taking his word that he would either re-sign with them or retire. that is another story all together.
Mar 21, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez (36) in the dugout between inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
They decided to bring in Edinson Volquez. The hope was that pitching guru Ray Searage could weave his magic once again and that he might turn Volquez back into the pitcher he was when he was a standout with the Cincinnati Reds. While I think Searage is a phenomenal pitching coach, they are starting to think he is also a miracle worker.
After Volquez’s breakout season, he has never been able to even come close to duplicating it. The fact that Searage was able to help both AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano turn around their careers led the Pirates front office to believe that he can continuously catch lightning in a bottle. Here is the Rub. Volquez is absolutely terrible right now.
Is spring training a time to work the bugs out? Absolutely. The thing is, he shows no signs that he is improving outside of a couple decent innings in his start last night against New York.
Sure, he says all the right things when asked about some poor outings, “Don’t think about it,” or “I’m working on getting my location down”, the popular “I’m adjusting my delivery so I follow through with my foot facing the plate”, “I’m starting to feel more comfortable out there”, all of the things that you expect someone who is doing terribly to be saying.
Now on most Major League clubs, this would not be as big as big of a deal. They would simply choose a starter who has shown he is worthy of a spot in the rotation. Most teams reward effort and results. Not the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bob Nutting hamstrings his team and coaches with the mandate that it’s not the best players who will make the trip North, but the one’s who make the most financial sense for the Pirates.
Pirates fans may be a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them. They are one of the most knowledgeable fan bases in baseball. Do you think that you’re going to convince them that Polanco should not be on the opening day roster because he is not ready and needs two months more of seasoning in the Minor Leagues? Seriously?! It’s all about keeping him under control for another year before he hits the arbitration process. It’s that simple.
The Pirates really have no option other then to let Volquez be the fifth starter simply because they are not willing to admit that they have made a five million dollar blunder. Do you think they are going to pay him all that cash and send him to the minors to try and become at least serviceable? I have a better chance of winning the Lotto. The sad part is that players that have not only been pitching well have no realistic shot of earning the fifth starters spot.
Mar 19, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Brandon Cumpton (58) throws the ball against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
How would you like to be Brandon Cumpton or Adam Wilk for that matter and know that even if you put up zeros every time you take the hill, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about money when it comes to Bob Nutting.
I can’t fault Neil Huntington for the job he has done at all. He has worked more magic with less resources then any General Manager in the game. He only has the ability to do what the owner allows him too. On any other team, or to take it a step farther in almost any profession in America, the most qualified person is given a chance to earn a job. Did you hear the magic word? Earn. Not given. Volquez knows that that he has to earn nothing as long as Nutting has the final say. I mean, do you think he is going to walk into Clint Hurdle’s office and say ” Coach, I’m just not getting it done. Give someone else a shot because I want what’s best for the team”? Not going to happen.
One thing I do know is the Pirate fans deserve better. Here’s to hoping that Clint Hurdle “discovers” that Volquez has developed a mysterious leg injury and is sent to the minors until he is “recovered” and while that is happening that someone who has actually earned a shot at the job takes it and runs with it making it impossible for the Pirates to even consider removing them from the line up.
This is not an attack on Volquez. If you told most people “Here is five million dollars even though you have not performed up to everyone else over the last number of years take it, its yours” they would. It’s more then likely the last time this guy is going to see this kind of money in his life.
I’m simply saying this. Pirates fans have put up with a lot over the course of the past two decades. Yes they had a special club and a special year in 2013. It’s time they got to see the best players they can when they pay there money to come and see the Pirates play. They deserve that much and so much more. Here’s hoping that someday fans in Pittsburgh will get to do just that.