The Pirates as a Blueprint
I just published a 2,200 word piece over at FanGraphs on five things the Pirates did right as an organization to build a playoff team after 21 years of losing. I think it’s an instructive piece for Mariners fans, especially ones who have bought into the BS the organization has been selling for the last year and change. The Pirates are winning with almost exactly the kind of roster that the early-Jack-Zduriencik-era management teams tried to put together; an average offense, elite defense, good baserunning, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Despite the narrative that some people like to push, it is entirely possible to build a winning team through intelligent roster design, and the Pirates are a great example of how a team in this situation can do exactly that. Obviously, having Andrew McCutchen as the centerpiece is pretty helpful, but the rest of the Pirates roster is essentially undervalued role players and solid buy low acquisitions from a front office that knew what they were doing. Over the last few years, the team brought in key contributors like Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli, and Mark Melancon for basically peanuts, and the core of this Pirates team is mostly discarded veterans from other clubs.
The Pirates are proof of concept that the original plan that the M’s tried to implement five years ago was a pretty good one. The problem came when they overreacted to the 2010 team’s failures and changed course entirely, eventually getting away from finding value and putting an emphasis on things that don’t actually matter.
The 2013 Pirates should give Mariners fans hope. If they can bring in a front office that is actually committed to the concepts that lead to winning baseball, putting together a contending club is possible, even with their long history of losing. All the things that are regularly said about the Mariners organization and ownership have also been said of the Pirates, with accusations of apathy towards winning and a sole desire to maximize profits. The Pirates were basically the east coast Mariners, just with an extra decade of lousy seasons in the bank. And now they’re one of the best teams in baseball, primarily thanks to a front office that pursued the strategy that the Mariners started to implement back in 2009.
Had they stuck with it, perhaps the Mariners would be the Pirates today. Had they not radically changed course and pursued dingers and veteran leadership, shipping out those who objected to placing a premium on things that don’t matter, the Mariners might very well be a winning team right now. That is both a frustrating and hopeful reality at the same time. On the one hand, it’s a lament of what the organization actually did, but it’s also a reminder that this is fixable with the right people in charge.
Maybe you’re skeptical that Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong will hire the right people. Maybe they won’t. Maybe we’ll get more of the same, and the Mariners will continue to slide into irrelevance. But at this point, there are so many blueprints that point to how this should work that it is hard to believe that they can’t at least give an analytical front office a real shot at fixing this thing. It’s not just the A’s and Rays anymore. The Indians are in wild card position after having the off-season the Mariners should have had last year. The Pirates are winning with the plan the Mariners abandoned.
It’s time for the Mariners to get on board. The Pirates have, and they’re going to the postseason.