Friday, October 20, 2006

The art of interpreting DL-speak

It's now been five years and four months since Dave Littlefield was installed as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In that time, Littlefield has accomplished absolutely nothing in the way of moving the Buccos towards respectability, instead aiding and abetting Kevin McClatchy and the Nuttings in their annual "drive for 75."

(note: the term "drive for 75" is used quite often in conjunction with the Pirates these days, and in case you're unsure, it simply a reference to the yearly offseason gathering of mediocre veterans who may have had a good year in 1998 or so in an attempt to win approximately 75 games and thus make it appear as if the club is making progress. Then management and ownership can have a big circle jerk while everyone else realizes the team isn't actually any better than it was six months ago.)

All Littlefield has done during his tenure at the head of the Pirates front office is enable the team to run in circles while he at the same time talks circles around any member of the media who should be unfortunate enough to find themselves in his vicinity.

A few days ago, Littlefield sat down with's Ed Eagle, who seems to be the only person who covers the Pirates on a regular basis who gladly accepts huge Littlefield's diarrhea of the mouth and doesn't question it. Granted, doesn't hire beat writers unless they're willing to be unabashedly positive about the team they're covering. Basically, they have to be the Greg Brown of internet journalism, a role at which Ed Eagle is second-to-none.

In this most recent conversation, Littlefield comes dangerously close to breaking the world record for most words used to say the least amount of relevant information (currently held by some guy named Dickens). Here are snippets from the exchange, with explanations of what Littlefield is actually trying to say. Before we get into your offseason plans, what did you think of the job that Jim Tracy did in his first year as your manager?

Littlefield: I was very pleased overall with Jim's work and what the staff did, but obviously none of us are pleased with the overall record. We realize that we are in this business to win and we want to win the World Series.

We're more pleased, of course, with how the second half went. The young team is getting much better. I think it bodes well for next year and the future.

The Pirates finished over .500 in the second half, which is just the latest in a long series of statistics taken from a small sample that fit our desire to act as if any progress is being made. Like the time Tike Redman hit .340 in August and September. Several of the players told me that they were doing a better job of buying into Tracy's philosophy in the second half. Did you get that sense as you watched the club?

Littlefield: I think it's a combination of things. First of all, we performed better, which is the key component to anything. You've got to perform.

A barrel full of laughs. It translates directly into Littlefield saying the team's record was significantly better in the second half because the players played significantly better. I hope you're starting to see why my ears hemorrhage regularly. But here's where it gets good: You've said that you will be targeting a veteran right-handed starter and a left-handed power bat for first base or right field. Are there any other needs that you see on your roster?

Littlefield: We're going to try to upgrade wherever possible. As we look at the bullpen, the long man and another right-hander in the 'pen are probably likely.

Holy cow. A guy who's acquired five minor league relievers in trades in the past calendar year, claimed another one off waivers, and has a stable of minor league retreads at his disposal says we need more relievers.

We're always looking at our internal options first and then the possibility of a trade and whatever free agents may be out there.

We're just going to go with the status quo and see if that works before we try bringing in players that actually could end up being competent.

And probably a utility infielder who can play some shortstop would be a possibility.

We're going to continue to stock up on the positions that already have the most organizational depth. Excellent idea.

Overall, you're always looking to improve wherever possible.

He said literally the exact same thing four sentences ago. Phenomenal.

One thing I would say about the veteran starter -- ideally, I would like to have a player, in whatever roles that we're looking to fill, that falls in line with the same kind of age group and service time as that of the large group of core players that we have so that we can all grow together.

The "large group of core players" Littlefield speaks of are all 23-28. Since such players are usually nonexistent in the free agent market, something even Ed Eagle realizes ( It's difficult to find a player in that age group as a free agent, isn't it?), and Littlefield isn't any good at making trades, he's eventually going to give Cory Lidle Jeff Suppan way too much money and say something like "with where we're at now, we need someone with the veteran presence (and mid-4 ERA) that a pitcher like Jeff Suppan provides." [Pirates managing partner] Kevin McClatchy has said publicly that the payroll will be about the same for next season as it was in 2006. With several players likely to come off of the books this winter, will you use the resources that you have left over to target a marquee player or players to fill your needs, either via free agency or trades, or will you spread the money to acquire several players as you have done in the past?

Littlefield: That depends on who is out there and who we have a chance to get. We're open to all different possibilities. But it's got to be something that fits for us and that we think we can acquire.

We're not even going to consider the possibility of attaining one or two very expensive, very good players because I'm just not creative enough to do that. Instead, we're going to do the same thing we do every offseason, which is pay a bunch of guys who used to be good a few million dollars apiece and then pawn them off for more relievers in July. What do you consider to be the team's areas of strength and depth that can be used to make trades to fill areas of weakness?

Littlefield: The team's strength, and the organization's strength, is pitching. Although, in general, one of the organization's strengths also is that we've got a large number of players who have low service time at the Major League level that have some ceiling that gives us a lot of possibilities for trades.

Wait wait, I thought you wanted more players with low Major League service time, and now you're talking about trading them away? More proof that there's absolutely no plan here whatsoever.

We also have some players who are flexible, who can play some different positions. That gives us the opportunity to not just focus in on one position, but look at a couple of different positions.

A TEAM OF 25 ROB MACKOWIAKS... Will you be open to trading one of your young starting pitchers for a position player?

Littlefield: I'm open to everything. But I do think that starting pitching, particularly young starting pitching, is very, very valuable, especially when it's talented like the four that we have.

There are no absolutes. It depends on, as with everything, what the deal is.

We're going to wait until the young pitchers flame out completely (Ollie Perez comes to mind) before we try to trade them and then act surprised when no one offers anything substantial in return. Then we'll end up with either another relief prospect or a corner outfielder who's no better than what we already have. You have several players who will be eligible for arbitration this winter, including Freddy Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez. Do you plan to offer any long-term contract extensions along the lines of the deal that you signed with Jason Bay last fall?

Littlefield: That is nothing that has been determined at this point. It's something that, with so many young players, we'll be looking at throughout the fall. There is a possibility, then, that the arbitration-eligible players won't be signed for just one year.

Littlefield: There is a possibility, but there is nothing done at this point.

Go on, Ed. Ask him again. I dare you. Brad Eldred, Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington are former top prospects who have been sidelined in the past two seasons by injuries. How much are you counting on these players to be contributors to the big-league club in 2007?

Littlefield: I would say that I am not counting on anything. But they will be looked at as potential backups or insurance. I'm sure we'll get one or two of them to come out and be surprises next year. I think it would be a mistake to count on it.

So Dave, would you say it's not advisable to count on injured players contributing next year?

Now you know my pain. One bit of fortune is that Littlefield managed to leave his favorite catch phrase, "with where we're at now," out of the entire conversation. Apart from that, though, an utterly cringe-worthy performance. I would expect nothing less at this point.

Being a Major League general manager should be an extremely elite job. There's only thirty such openings in the entire world! That Dave Littlefield has held onto his position for so long while displaying such a gross level of incompetence is absolutely disgraceful.

1 comment:

Medical Blog said...

Then we'll end up with either another relief prospect or a corner outfielder who's no better than what we already have.