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What to Make of the Pirates' Purge

It's becoming a annual rite of summer: The Pirates deal off their most marketable and lucrative assets, stripping the team of its highest salaries and those who are in line to earn them soon. There's just one problem: The trades tend to strip Pittsburgh of all its talent, too.

Yesterday, this season's paring of players was all but officially completed in a matter of hours, with the Pirates sending short stop Jack Wilson and pitcher Ian Snell to Seattle for Ronny Cedeno, a AAA first baseman/catcher (Jeff Clement) and three minor league pitchers (the proverbial low level pu pu platter that might pan out or might go nowhere) AND sending All-Star second baseman Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson, a highly thought of right-hander in Class AA.

Do the trades make sense? Of course not. Wilson and Sanchez were the heart of Pittsburgh's order, the last remnants of a team that, had it kept all its pieces of recent seasons might have been an outsider for a playoff berth. Think about it: Jason Bay and Xavier Nady in the outfield, Jeff Suppan and Snell starting, with Mike Gonzalez in relief. Add in the recently shopped Adam LaRoche at first base, and you have nearly an entire team of solid players that are now playing somewhere else.

The bigger question is why these players aren't still suiting up in Pittsburgh. It's a tough call. On one hand, the Pirates are among the smallest of the "small market" clubs. Yet that does little to dissuade the idea that a successful franchise can be built in the steel city. The Steelers, rapidly re-emerging as the blue ribbon of success in the NFL, play right next door. The Penguins emerged from abject dormancy to win a Stanley Cup after being resurrected with Sidney Crosby.

In fact, the only franchise that hasn't done it in Pittsburgh is the Pirates. What are they doing wrong?

To an extent, they just constantly cut their own knees out from under themselves. A complete reluctance to pay to keep their own top talent dissuades other players who might consider playing there from signing up. Maybe that refusal to pay above bottom dollar has something to do with feeling burned from past contracts for the likes of Sean Casey and adding guys like LaRoche. Who knows.

Whatever it is, it's officially transformed the Pirates into a feeding ground for other teams, a AAA-level organization with some major league ready talent that happens to be competing against other top flight teams.

But that's the most confounding thing about this entire debacle: The Pirates aren't stripped completely bare. Pittsburgh has a core of young starting pitching, the kind another season of positive development could transform into the backbone of a legitimate NL Central contender (if only a dark horse, but a contender nonetheless).

So, what good does it do to trade away all the team's already strapped offensive assets to lay bare a young pitching staff that needs confidence as much as anything else?

It doesn't do any good at all, which is precisely why the most recent welcomed run on Pittsburgh talent is so perplexing. Whether the Pirates could have extended Wilson and Sanchez or not, trading them away at the expense of some support for the team's young starting pitching won't help the organization get any closer to the promised land that the city's other professional franchises sit atop right now.

By Cameron Smith  |  July 30, 2009; 4:16 PM ET
Categories:  Pirates  | Tags: Freddy Sanchez, Giants, Ian Snell, Jack Wilson, Mariners, Pirates, Ronny Cedeno, minor league baseball, prospects, trade  
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Cameron: The Pirates ownership & FO clearly have turned this once-proud franchise into the KC A's for this decade; Simply a "feeder" team for everyone else.

With a few rare exceptions, they have been highlighting, then flipping players for more "prospects" constantly over the last 3-4 years or more. As long as that behaviour is allowed by MLB, they will continue to be a AAAA team with a MLB franchise license.

Posted by: BinM | July 30, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

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