PITTSBURGH, PA: An exterior view of PNC park behind right field during the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Can we learn anything about the Pirates from recent reports concerning Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt? Do we really need to?
All things considered, it hasn't been that quiet an offseason for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They lost a handful of Pirates-y free agents. They added Rod Barajas. They added Clint Barmes. They added Nate McLouth. They added Erik Bedard. They added Yamaico Navarro. They added Casey McGehee. And other stuff. The Pirates have kept busy.
But while the Pirates' offseason hasn't been quiet, it could've been louder. Recently, reports emerged that the Pirates offered Edwin Jackson a three-year contract. Other reports said the Pirates expressed interest in Roy Oswalt. Jackson turned the Pirates down, signing with the Washington Nationals for a year. Oswalt also turned the Pirates down, before talks could even go anywhere. He remains unsigned.
Incidentally, things like this are why off-seasons can be so hard to evaluate. Say you're a fan of a team, and you're frustrated with your team's front office for its winter inactivity. Who's to say how active the front office really was? Who's to say which moves were available and which weren't? There is so, so much that goes on that we don't know about as fans. Occasionally we get a glimpse. We'll never get the full picture. There are a lot more moves that don't get made than moves that do get made, and the moves that don't get made contain critical information.
Anyway, what of the Pirates? Edwin Jackson didn't want to sign with them. Roy Oswalt didn't want to sign with them. Derrek Lee is reportedly thinking about retirement even though the Pirates are interested in a boost at first base. Are the Pirates suffering from being the Pirates? Is this evidence that the Pirates are an unattractive destination?
Not necessarily. It would be easy to interpret it that way, but you have to look at these things on a case-by-case basis. Oswalt doesn't seem to want to pitch in Boston, either. Boston's hardly an unattractive destination. Oswalt wants to stay as close to home as he can, which is why he's been crossing his fingers for a shot in St. Louis or Texas. Jackson's represented by Scott Boras, and Boras sees an opportunity to re-enter the market in November and land a big contract. As for Lee, we don't know a whole lot about that situation. It's possible he just wants more money than he probably deserves as a 36-year-old with a 108 OPS+ the last two seasons.
There's also the matter of some free agents having already signed with the Pirates. The Pirates are not completely and utterly player-repellent. What's happened with Oswalt, Jackson and Lee is not proof that players just want to avoid going to Pittsburgh. That said, let's be real. The Pirates are not out-and-out unappealing. One figures, however, that they are less appealing than many teams elsewhere.
The argument in favor of the Pirates is that they play in a beautiful ballpark, they have a loyal fan base, and they're an organization on the rise. All of those points are correct. The ballpark is stunning. Last year's team was over .500 as late as August. As the team hung around, the crowds showed up. There's youth and direction, where in the past there has been youth, and sometimes not even much of that.
But the Pirates are still that team that hasn't won more games than it's lost since 1992. Nineteen years. The Pirates' streak of sub-.500 seasons is a sophomore in college. It's true that they're building a talent base. It's true that the organization is improving. But free agents, or at least free agents with leverage, aren't drawn by teams that might become good. They're drawn by teams that are good, or, if nothing else, are competitive. Potential only means so much to a major leaguer. Next time you see a major leaguer, ask him what he thinks about a prospect.
Even with their improvement in 2011, the Pirates are still in a position where they'd need to overpay a significant free agent to compensate for their Piratesness. It'll stay that way until people stop thinking of the Pirates as the Pirates.
I was going to say that that might actually be in the Pirates' best interests. Free agents can be dangerous. Free-agent contracts can get messy. One ordinarily doesn't recommend trying to add too many big pieces from the free-agent market. But then, in the case of, say, an Edwin Jackson or a Roy Oswalt, those weren't potential albatrosses. So. Shades of gray, and absolute statements, and everything.
Slowly but surely, the Pittsburgh Pirates are getting better. I think most people would acknowledge that the Pittsburgh Pirates are getting better. Most players would probably acknowledge that the Pittsburgh Pirates are getting better. But there's still a long way yet before Pittsburgh is considered an attractive destination, which some recent events might or might not show. Maybe this isn't Earth-shattering. Maybe this is nothing you couldn't have written on your own. What's important, though, is that you've already read this far. There's nothing you can do about the time you just spent.