July 15, 2011

The Romantic Trade Market

Film officially died with the release of "Tooth Fairy," but life is long and there's not much to do so I still watch Movies on Demand. Amid the typical disappointments - the main character in "Hendrix" dies at age 27! - once in a while I am still able to take some inspiration from a true piece of art. My recent viewing of "She's out of My League" is a perfect example. It inspired me to win the World Series.

The main character spends most of the movie pursuing a woman with great success, despite his friends' claims that he'll never get anywhere with someone so attractive. This culminates in what should have been a sex scene. The couple is making out, clothes are coming off, music is playing, the characters have wanted this for a long time. But what does our hero do? He blows it by stopping all this to give an explanation of the fact that she's too good looking to possibly have sex with him.

Of course, this is Hollywood so the two end up reconciling. Rest assured that this move will not lead to success if tried in real life.

It's fitting that this movie was filmed in Pittsburgh, because the plot could have been lifted from the Pirates' 2011 season. This spring, fans hoped for 74 wins, a fifth place finish, and continued improvement from the young core - basically our awful ex back complete with a couple of promises to change. It seemed like a joke that the Pirates listed the opportunity to buy playoff tickets as one of my season ticket holder benefits. The Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers were out of our league and we were as likely to finish ahead of all three as we were to meet a natural blonde on East Carson Street. Yet we pursued them nonetheless. There was a goal we wanted. We got enough positive feedback that we didn't give up - and now here we are, 60% of the way through the movie, a game behind the Cardinals and half a game behind the Brewers. First place wants us, first place has put on sexy music to seduce us, first place's top is on the floor next to our bed. And Pittsburgh wants to tell first place that we're not good enough.

I've been listening to more sports radio than anyone should, and the overwhelming sense I get is that Pirates fans don't want to go all in this year. Don't "mortgage the future." This year is just a step ahead in building for 2012, or 2013, or 2014. A new player could mess with the team chemistry. The pitching can't hold up long enough to stay in the race. The Pirates would just lose to the Phillies even if they won the division. Getting our injured players back is just as good as trading for a star player. Winning even 75, or 82, games would be a big improvement. Basically, Pirates fans don't think we're good enough for first place. And it's not just fans - Neil Huntington has already said that the Pirates won't trade a major prospect. God forbid, indeed.

In fact, there are more people who want to trade away Paul Maholm for prospects than who want to add a big bat to this year's team. Many of these same fans were against dismantling a 67 win team by trading Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, and Xavier Nady. Yet it's fine to trade a pitcher who leads the team in innings and is #9 in the league in ERA.

Speaking of World Series titles, the 2006 Cardinals had just 83 wins, four poor hitters in their starting lineup, and only two starters with under a 5.00 ERA. The 2010 Giants fielded an everyday lineup of guys who were last good five years ago, finishing 17th in baseball in runs scored. Unless you're in a four team league, a World Series title is a longshot for every team, every year. It's still the goal.

I would absolutely trade a major prospect for a big bat. Life happens in the present tense. What future are we building for, if not the future where the Pirates are a game out of first place in mid-July? A pennant race is something this town hasn't seen in 19 years. Nobody calls in sick to their first day of work.

I hear our #2 prospect Starling Marte is untouchable. I would absolutely trade Starling Marte for a legitimate power hitter. I hear he's great defensively, but his career high in walks is 16 and he's never hit double digit home runs. He's the same age as Jose Tabata and both are getting on base at the same rate, except that Marte is doing it in Altoona and Tabata is doing it in the big leagues. Carlos Pena has 19 major league home runs this year and 163 since 2007. Who's a better bet to succeed, Pena right now or Marte in 2014? Which team is guaranteed to be in a pennant race, this one or the one in 2014?

Our #2 prospect, Tony Sanchez, certainly won't be moved. He's hitting .239 and slugging .307 for Altoona right now. He's a 23-year old catcher who has allowed 80% of opposing baserunners to steal successfully since 2010. I wouldn't sell low on him, but I don't see why he's off limits. Carlos Beltran has 28 doubles, 13 home runs, and 47 walks this year.

In real life, there's no last chance right before the credits roll. A team that's a game out of first place is a player away from winning the division, and July is the time to get one. Whether their fans know it or not, the Pirates owe it to the city to add a true impact bat this month.

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