Pirates passing Reds in pace of rebuilding
Deals net Pittsburgh bounty of talent
By John Erardi
Cincinnati fans know all about Pittsburgh's baseball team, which has been struggling almost since the Reds beat them in the National League Championship Series on the way to winning the World Championship in 1990.
(It pains us to think there isn't a Reds fan under the age of 25 with a meaningful memory of that great NLCS. Remember Game 2, when the Pirates had two on and none out in a one-run game and a one-game-to-none lead in the series and Barry Bonds flew out to Reds right fielder Paul O'Neill, who gunned down Andy Van Slyke trying to advance to third base? Remember Game 4, when the Pirates were down a run and trailing 2-1 in the series and Reds left fielder Eric Davis, who was backing up center fielder Billy Hatcher on the play, deftly judged a carom off the wall and threw a strike to third base to nail Bobby Bonilla, who was trying to stretch a double into a triple? If there's an outfield model for the 2009 Reds, it's Davis-Hatcher-O'Neill.)
Now, the Pirates are working on a 16th straight losing season - twice the length of the Reds' streak.
So why can't we shake this feeling that the Pirates - who appear to be racing neck-and-neck with the Reds to finish in the National League Central basement - have taken a huge lead in a more important race?
The race to return to the postseason.
The Pirates and the Reds have almost everything in common. (Well, except this: The Pirates went into this season with a payroll $25 million lower than the Reds' $74 million.)
Each team has had a lot of managerial turnover, new general managers, relatively new ownership and relatively new ballparks. Each has similar run-differentials (the Pirates have given up 77 more runs than they've scored; the Reds, 89).
Each has a mix of veterans and young position players. Each team is woeful defensively; each has mostly young pitchers.
At the All Star break, the Reds were 46-50, 111/2 games back. The Pirates were 44-50, 12.5 games back. The Pirates faced the same decision at the trading deadline as the Reds: "Should be play for 82 wins?"
The Pirates said no, and proceeded to move everything useful on their roster to begin retooling for 2009.
We realize the Reds couldn't have gotten the same haul of prospects the Pirates did. The Pirates' trade chips were more marketable.
Jason Bay, a right-handed hitter, was what Boston was looking for, and was a better value than Dunn because Bay was signed for 2009. Reliever Damaso Marte was probably better than Jeremy Affeldt, and the Reds really didn't have any equivalent to Xavier Nady.
But couldn't the Reds have gotten something for some of their 13 free agents besides Nick Massett and Danny Richar for Ken Griffey Jr.? (We like that trade, by the way, and we like that the White Sox are splitting half of Junior's $4 million buyout.)
There's no way the Reds are going to re-sign most, if any, of their free agents. Why didn't they try to get something for them, even if it was 70 cents on the dollar?
When's the last time the Reds made a rebuilding-trade of great substance? Would you believe five years ago? Jose Guillen for Aaron Harang by interim co-general manager Brad Kullman on July 30, 2003.
The Reds continue to labor under the fantasy that they are one or two players away, or that 82 wins is some sort of meaningful goal.
Meanwhile, the Pirates acquired a potential starting third baseman, two likely outfield starters for 2009 and a high upside 20-year-old outfield prospect. They also got some immediate pitching help. (Jeff Karstens, 2-0, 0.00 ERA.)
So, which team do you think is going to be the first to .500? The team that sucked it up and said that to contend "we need more talent," and then made moves to acquire It?
Or the team that fantasized about 82 wins and now says the reason they are losing so many games is because they are the team of former general manager Wayne Krivsky (who was fired 97 games ago), not the team of Reds manager Dusty Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty?
Right now, our money's on the Pirates.
Sabermetrician Greg Gajus contributed most of the information for this piece. Also contributing were sabermetricians Justin Inaz and Joel Luckhaupt.