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July 2, 2009

Prospectus Today

Whining

by Joe Sheehan

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One of the more arrogant positions I hold is the idea that just because you have or had the talent to be a major league player, it doesn't necessarily follow that you have the talent to evaluate players. You can extend this to "have the talent to evaluate teams" or any number of ideas that require a grasp of analysis, both skills and statistical. It's the difference between being an airline pilot and being an airline mechanic-both jobs are critical for keeping a plane in the air, but they're not interchangeable in any meaningful way, and they require competely different abilities. It's not an insult to say that a pilot probably couldn't fix an engine, and it's not an insult to say a shortstop probably couldn't run a roster.

"It's just hard for guys who have been here and seen these exact same trades happen and seen it absolutely do nothing. I've been here nine years. I've seen two or three of these trades every year and still haven't had a winning season."

That's Jack Wilson, who you may remember from such classics as "consecutive .312 OBPs" or "diminished range after his age-27 season," or-my favorite-"1.4 WARP per season in a nine-year career." If you're Jack Wilson, and you're wondering why you've never been on a winning team, do you think that he would you ever think, "maybe it's because I have a career .312 OBP, 36 steals, and have been taking down about 10-12 percent of the payroll for that production"?

Neal Huntington didn't make the Jason Bay, Nate McLouth or Nyjer Morgan trades because he doesn't want to have winning seasons. He did it because he knows that the Pittsburgh Pirates, as currenty constituted, don't have winning seasons. He did it because he knows that they're not going to unless he turns over 20 or maybe 22 of the guys in uniform for new ones, Jack Wilson inclusive. He's not breaking up the 1984 Tigers here; if you're part of a group of players that never finishes above .500, you forfeit the right to whine when you're treated as such.

Wilson, again, speaking of Morgan, who has 614 major-league plate appearances at the age of 28:

"What you saw on the field wasn't even close to what he brought to the team. That's the type of player, guys of that caliber, like Jason Bay, Nate McLouth ..."

This may be true, and it points to the blind spot that players have that makes them bad general managers, from either the front or the back seat. Players care a lot about intangibles and personality, because it makes their day-to-day lives better to work with people they like. All baseball personnel overrate soft factors because of this, even though it's been shown time and again that ephemera like "character" and "chemistry" are labels distributed as much after the fact as before, and as fleeting as the next losing streak. It's the GM's job to ignore the effect of a trade on Jack Wilson's job satisfaction. It's human to want to think that a positive workplace is a successful one, but in baseball, talent is paramount.

That's why this trade is such a great one for the Pirates. Lastings Milledge is more talented than the other three players in the deal combined. Perhaps he doesn't crack jokes or buck up the boys the way that Morgan does, but then again, Morgan had never even played for a .500 team, so how much value could that possibly have to winning? And as far as the reason for Milledge even being available is concerned, his reputation as a "bad guy," I'll take my chances on Lastings Milledge maturing into a better person over Nyjer Morgan's shot at becoming a great baseball player, and I'll so every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

This all sounds like I'm down on Morgan. I'm not. He's a good defensive outfielder who has some on-base skills, and he can be a sort of Gary Pettis clone for the next few years. I'd advocated him for the Pirates' job in center field, even when they had McLouth, and he'll be an asset for the Nationals, who have put some brutal outfield defenses out on the field this season. It's just that he has no upside, and the Nationals have no business trading upside and not getting some in return. The argument for acquiring Morgan is that good defense helps young pitchers develop, and the Nats' most important task right now is turning Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and others into a rotation. I just think they could have gotten a comparable talent without giving up on Milledge.

The Pirates aren't a very good baseball team. They're under .500, and while they've outscored their opponents by four runs, there's no looking at the talent here-or the talent here three weeks ago-and concluding that they're a contender. This same group of players, more or less, has failed year after year, and the veteran core here has no business whatsoever complaining about the direction that Neal Huntington has taken. Wilson is an overpaid mediocrity. Adam LaRoche is an adequate first baseman in the Paul Sorrento mode, and is probably the team's best player; if your best player is Adam LaRoche, you have no hope of contending. Freddy Sanchez is 31 and working on the fourth good season of his career, batting .315 despite a 45/14 K/BB in 302 ABs. Matt Capps is 25 but looks as if he's peaked. The decent ERAs put up by the soft-tossing starting rotation, probably the biggest reason why the Pirates are good enough to create this controversy, are likely to rise with the temperature. Every single Pirates starter is overperforming his peripherals right now-some of that was Morgan's defense-and when that changes, the Pirates will go away.

Huntington and Frank Coonelly have a difficult job, turning around a franchise that spent a decade in the woods. They're doing the job well so far, and that the players they inherited-the core of those .440 juggernauts-don't like it is perhaps the best indicator of their success. It's Neal Huntington's job to make Jack Wilson unhappy, no matter what the short-term ramifications of that are. Jack Wilson isn't a part of the future in Pittsburgh. Lastings Milledge is.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Nyjer Morgan,  The Who,  Jack Wilson,  Neal Huntington

55 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

greensox

How many teams have been built by selling off decent veterans over a series of years? I'm already hearing about how the hapless Indians are setting themselves up for 2010.

This is nothing new for the Pirates. They've been doing this for years and so far it's gotten them nowhere.
They finally have a reasonably competitive team and they do it again. Oh maybe this trade is better (Millege has been hyped for years, yet he keeps getting traded - I have my doubts), but the point remains. Maybe the Rangers did it this way but that's solely really from one trade: the Texiera trade.

Jul 02, 2009 10:41 AM
rating: -3
 
Ameer

"Reasonably competitive" only because all the other teams in the division are underperforming, not because the pirates are doing anything worthy of a playoff spot. This is a terrible team with some equally terrible contracts to shed.

Jul 02, 2009 11:19 AM
rating: 3
 
baserip4

How many more Pirates games are you willing to watch because the team went 76-86 instead of 71-91?

Jul 02, 2009 12:02 PM
rating: 1
 
sunpar

Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, et. al did not come from the Teixera trade. Of the current solid contributors they have, Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison are the only ones that stem from that trade.

Jul 02, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: 3
 
greensox

For Hamilton, they gave up an equally quality pitcher. Those other players you mention, yes, they got from other trades or via draft. And the Texiera trade netted them a big bounty.
But I ask you this - how long has it taken them? A decade? And how good are they?
Rebuilding is for suckers. Ask Pirate, Reds, Indians Blue Jay fans.

Jul 02, 2009 15:18 PM
rating: -1
 
buddaley

Rebuilding is for winners, not suckers. The model is the Rays who, it seems, Huntington is trying to emulate by trading veterans to deepen the talent in the system.

Your examples are not relevant because the circumstances of each is different from that of the Pirates, even the Pirates themselves who did not rebuild so much as squander resources on mediocrities.

Jul 02, 2009 16:59 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

What vets did the Rays trade off for prospects or minor leaguers? Most of their existing bad contracts they just let expire... Nope, the Rays aren't the model.

It seems the Pirates are trading mediocre vets for a lot of dice-rolling minor leaguers. They're not getting a ton of quality back and it is reducing the payroll slightly, but if even one person in each trade gets some value, then they'll have another person to flip. At worst, at least they save cash on a team that isn't really a sustainable contender right now.

Jul 02, 2009 17:09 PM
rating: 4
 
Aaron/YYZ

I think you hit the nail on the head. One of the things they've been collecting with guys like Milledge or Tabata is lottery tickets. They're not giving up a ton in the deals and if even one of them pans out with a star caliber player, they'll probably make their money back.

Jul 02, 2009 18:04 PM
rating: 1
 
greensox

The Rays built from quality scouting (see Twins) and a succession of high draft choices. They affirmatively did NOT sell off veterans - remember that closer (Baez)? Or Aubrey Huff? They wouldn't sell them off at a reasonable price.

Two organizations that this site routinely scoffs at and ranks as bottomm tier organizations at are competitive 4/5 years: the Astros and the White Sox. They don't rebuild.
The Jays, As, Pirates, Reds, Padres constantly rebuild.

The Cardinals, BoSox, Phillies, White Sox don't rebuild - they win world championships.

Jul 03, 2009 07:03 AM
rating: -1
 
Aaron/YYZ

I don't know what Jays you've been watching, but they've been one of the 10 best teams in baseball the past few years and keep going for it instead of rebuilding...

Jul 03, 2009 11:05 AM
rating: 1
 
Aaron/YYZ

It's really more a combination of things. You draft well. You turn short term assets (veterans) into long term assets (prospects) giving up some certainty for higher upside. You sign under-valued players to favorable contracts. Putting all of these things together takes a lot of time, especially if you have to do all of them at once (like the Pirates) rather than just fixing up one component (which is more like the Indians or Rangers).

Most importantly, you have to have an actual plan, stick with it, and get some luck. The Pirates have never really shown much of a plan or dedication to one until now. They're basically starting from scratch.

Jul 02, 2009 12:15 PM
rating: 5
 
Evan
(47)

I want someone to explain to me why the Nationals felt the need to acquire Morgan at all, the day after giving away the virtually identical Ryan Langerhans.

Jul 02, 2009 10:51 AM
rating: 8
 
TheBunk

I appreciate that someone wrote this article, it had to be done.

Jul 02, 2009 11:09 AM
rating: 8
 
LindInMoskva

No one really knows why trades are made, and while this may not be a Rafael Palmeiro (http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=41;t=000537;p=1) type dumping it could very well be a Jeremy Giambi (http://www.berkeleydaily.org/issue/2001-12-14/article/8953?headline=Jeremy-Giambi-cited-for-marijuana-possession) type dumping that you didn't like either (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1482). Sometimes it is just not about the talent that is involved.

Jul 02, 2009 11:13 AM
rating: 0
 
ephinz

"...who you may remember from such classics as..." Absolutely one of the funniest things said by a serious baseball analyst in a long time.

Just as thought snark was played out.

Jul 02, 2009 11:19 AM
rating: 1
 
Eusebio

Hasn't the problem with the Pirates been too many veteran stop-gaps and low ceiling draft picks? Shouldn't a trade swapping a decent complementary player-type/stop-gap-tyoe for a player with a much higher ceiling the sort of move the Pirates should have been making under their former GM?

Jul 02, 2009 11:23 AM
rating: 5
 
Aaron/YYZ

Yes, except their former GM was terrible.

Jul 02, 2009 12:16 PM
rating: 2
 
BaseballGod

Loved this article, Joe. Great point and very well written. The pilots-engineers analogy could and should become an industry standard.

Jul 02, 2009 11:28 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Dan Malkiel
BP staff

Past trades have not worked out; therefore, management should stop trading. Sounds like ironclad reasoning to me.

Jul 02, 2009 12:08 PM
 
Travis Leleu

*Standing applause*

Jul 02, 2009 12:14 PM
rating: 2
 
roughcarrigan

This is (possibly) selling high on Morgan and definitely buying low on Milledge. Isn't that trading 101?

Jul 02, 2009 12:18 PM
rating: 10
 
Hawkeye

THIS is why the Joe Sheehan artcles are MUST READ for me.

Jul 02, 2009 12:19 PM
rating: 6
 
antoine6

Didn't you write a year and a half ago that Milledge was a part of the Nats' future too? Maybe it says something that two teams have dumped him for 50 cents on the dollar now. And he hasn't yet produced anything.

Jul 02, 2009 12:20 PM
rating: 2
 
RayDiPerna

"Didn't you write a year and a half ago that Milledge was a part of the Nats' future too?"

Milledge was. And then they traded him.

"Maybe it says something that two teams have dumped him for 50 cents on the dollar now."

Yes. It says that two teams have let perceived character problems drive poor decisionmaking.

"And he hasn't yet produced anything."

This is not true at all. There was nothing wrong with his performance as a 22 yo CF for the Mets, or with, say, his performance as a 21 yo CF in AAA. The last year+ has been disappointing, but there's still upside here.

Jul 02, 2009 12:55 PM
rating: 2
 
Steve D.

Count me among those who doubt that Milledge will ever amount to anything, and I don't really mind this trade for either side.

For the Nats... Rizzo's supposed to be the great judge of talent, right? Two teams have now sold Milledge for peanuts, so I have to think that might be informative of something. Still, if you're the Pirates, it only cost you peanuts, and if there's a 25% chance Milledge becomes a steak, then it's well worth it.

In short, I think Joe is dead on in theory, but probably too high on Milledge. There's at least an even chance that none of these players are relevant in 2011, a la the CIN/WAS Kearns trade.

Jul 02, 2009 13:35 PM
rating: 7
 
Aaron/YYZ

Peanuts for lottery tickets is a worthwhile strategy for a down in the dumps team like Pittsburgh. It only takes a couple to pan out for you to suddenly be much farther along than you expected.

Jul 02, 2009 18:06 PM
rating: 1
 
antoine6
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Yeah, trading away talented headcases is never good. The Rays went straight into the tubes once they got rid of Elijah Dukes...

Jul 02, 2009 13:42 PM
rating: -10
 
RayDiPerna
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I'm sure what you wrote makes sense in some language.

I'm also sure that language is not English.

Jul 02, 2009 14:04 PM
rating: -13
 
Cardinals645

It's different when you have a bounty of other talented prospects to replace him. I'm not sure that the Nationals do.

Jul 04, 2009 10:30 AM
rating: 1
 
Andrew
(38)

At least the Pirates are now trading mediocre veterans, instead of acquiring them and/or signing them to crazy extensions. Several steps in the right direction.

Jul 02, 2009 13:42 PM
rating: 9
 
Edwincnelson

I think it's clear that this might not be a good trade for the Pirates. However, the point is that Morgan is clearly not an All Star caliber player because he lack the natural ability to do so. Milledge, despite the possibility of becoming a total bust, does have all the skills to be a top tier player. Whether he realizes the potential or not remains to be seen, but for the Pirates to get better they must accumulate these types of players. Now retaining them when/if their talent is actualized is another issue...

Jul 02, 2009 13:46 PM
rating: 2
 
vtadave

Joe may have just gotten himself banned from PNC Park a la Rany in KC. Kudos Joe.

Jul 02, 2009 14:01 PM
rating: 1
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

Wilson is just jealous -- all Pirates want to be traded.

Jul 02, 2009 14:12 PM
rating: 11
 
Ira

What Joe didn't say was that Morgan is an example of a "found player." That is, he's a AAA all-star who is peaking now, and that peak looks like a major league player. So the Pirates are trading high, (Morgan) for low (Milledge).

I love this trade for the Pirates. Its probably horrific for the Nats, but they haven't shown much anyway. (shifting deck chairs more or less).

Jul 02, 2009 15:38 PM
rating: 3
 
BrewersTT

The Pirates are not giving up anything they will miss in the long run, so the trade makes sense. But Milledge seems to me like a long shot to develop.

One commenter mentioned "perceived character problems", as though they may be illusory. I doubt they are. Anyone who has watched him in DC and listened to Acta can see that he has ignored coaching. He is a wild swinger despite long emphasis on discipline, but Vlad Guerrero he ain't. He is an anti-instinctual and often atrocious outfielder who cannot handle CF despite his physical gifts, and seems unlikely to hit enough to carry LF even if he develops.

Sure, he could mature. That's what it comes down to. Is there a long list of success stories for guys like this?

Jul 02, 2009 15:44 PM
rating: 5
 
Doom Service

Not sure the list is THAT long, but I can't ever think of Milledge without thinking a bit about Gary Sheffield. Sheffield had some of the same "bad attitude" raps as a young player breaking in with Milwaukee, and within a little more than a year was traded twice, by Milwaukee to San Diego, and then from the Padres to Florida. On the other hand, there's always Ruben Rivera and probably dozens of others...

Jul 03, 2009 17:19 PM
rating: 2
 
ofMontreal

Everyone seems to be forgetting that the Pirates had to take J Hanrahan back too. That counts for something in the Nationals defense. Not that the Pirates don't deserve credit, but the Nats really want to clean house. And after watching Milledge for years now, I don't think the odds of him being better than Morgan are THAT high. Nonetheless, great article Joe.

Jul 02, 2009 15:53 PM
rating: 0
 
antoine6

People act as though just because character issues can't be known for sure by them or by Joe, that they don't exist. Just because they can't be measured, doesn't mean they don't exist. The fact that two organizations have given up on a talented young kid makes me think they know something we don't.

At some point, you have to produce, and if Milledge can't behave himself or stay healthy enough to stay on the field, you can take all the upside you want, but it ain't equaling production.

Also, what's the upside, exactly? A .280/.360/.470 leftfielder? Sounds like Nate McClouth, a guy everyone on here just praised the Pirates for trading away.

Jul 02, 2009 16:23 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

If Milledge mirrors McClouth's performance is able to replicate McLouth's performance while being younger and cheaper, that's a good thing. Either way, both players have value but both are ultimately replaceable. The thing is that McLouth might be at his peak and might have nowhere to go but down... though I'd like to think the Pirates could've gotten more for him.

Jul 02, 2009 17:12 PM
rating: 2
 
Drew Miller

Ultimately, there *does* seem to be a plan in Pittsburgh. Whatever it is, the effects of it have been defensible. Over two years they've picked up a whole pile of high-upside players. For a team that hasn't been over .500 in 17 years, it's hard to call that bad, whatever you might think of the individual players acquired or the players traded away.

Jul 03, 2009 07:57 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

As they say, if you want a major league pitcher, draft three or four. Perhaps the Pirates, with so many holes, are just rolling as many dice as they can instead of overpaying for a prospect that might flame out.

Maybe I'm thinking of the Braves or Yankees here, where most of the top prospects that they trade off don't develop... and if that's the case, is it worth trading a vet for one "great" prospect (who still might not pan out), or two "good" prospects, especially if you have as many holes in their organization as the Pirates have?

Jul 04, 2009 11:06 AM
rating: 0
 
DigBaseball

For that matter, would the Twins be any better off with Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, and whatever else instead of Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, and whatever else, when trading Johan 18 months ago?

Jul 06, 2009 22:35 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Kopec

I take half a day away from the internet and I miss the chance to post on this article while it is fresh...

One of the problems in Buccoland is that the fanbase (such that it is) has no idea what an effective offense in 2009 looks like. They see players like Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Jack Wilson, and Adam LaRoche and think they can be the core of a division winner. In other words, the fans see outfielders with an OPS of .800 or first basemen who hit 24 home runs and think those are cornerstone type players. And I don't blame them because the Pirates haven't been competitive since before the PED/bandbox/expansion/juiced ball offensive explosion began in 1994. So if you squint, McLouth's numbers look a hell of a lot like Andy Van Slyke's numbers, Jack Wilson does a passable Jay Bell inpersonation, and Adam LaRoche might as well be Jeff King. The problem is that 2009 is a vastly different offensive environment than 1990.

Mix in some impatience and a healthy and well-earned dose of skepticism and there is no wonder why these trades don't play well in Pittsburgh.

Jul 02, 2009 20:14 PM
rating: 7
 
dzahniser

This is why I get BP. Well that and the PFM.

Jul 02, 2009 20:18 PM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

No surprise Jack Wilson likes crappy management that makes him rich, and dislikes decent management that knows he's an albatross.

Jul 02, 2009 23:04 PM
rating: 3
 
gluckschmerz

A kid in Pittsburgh can wear a Jack Wilson shirt without apology. He plays hard every inning.

I think Jack Wilson is entitled to gripe and/or whine for a day or two, like the rest of us Pirates fans. Then he'll go back to work and wonder if this once proud franchise will ever turn things around...., like the rest of us Pirates fans.

Perhaps he was/is overpaid, but he plays hard and is one of the few Pirates who seems invested in how the team is doing. Isn't he allowed to get annoyed once in a while?

Who among the BP staff and readership would turn down his paycheck?

Jul 03, 2009 05:31 AM
rating: 3
 
eighteen

That Jack Wilson has to "work hard" to put up a carrer .269/.312/.375 line is an indictment, not a Good Thing.

A person who's part of the problem is not entitled to whine.

You'll know when the once great franchise is turning around when Wilson and his bloated contract are gone.

Just because no one would turn down $7 million a year doesn't mean it's OK for a ballclub of limited means to give a slightly better than replacement level player that kind of money.

Jul 03, 2009 09:11 AM
rating: 2
 
sbnirish77

Joe ... falling on your sword for Lastings Milledge ... there are better wars to fight ...

Jul 03, 2009 17:27 PM
rating: -1
 
sbnirish77

"One of the more arrogant positions I hold is the idea that just because you have or had the talent to be a major league player, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you have the talent to evaluate players."

Good thing we don't judge BP's ability to evaluate talent based on 10 of 12 writers picking the Cleveland Indians to win their dvision.

Jack Wilson might just be having a better year than that pick ....

Jul 03, 2009 17:30 PM
rating: -3
 
IAPiratesFan

Huntington did a Q&A on the Pirates official website right after the trade. Some of the comments there are just priceless...

"Neal Huntington will never achieve that goal because he trades away all his young talented players for minor league trash."

"Instead, Huntington wants to give away Nyjer's ability to steal bases and high on base % and great clubhouse chemistry"

"16 years of losing baseball because of Neal Huntington"

The summary of all the comments there: The Pirates will never win because they traded away Nyjer Morgan and all the losing can be blamed on Neal Huntington. Nyjer Morgan, the 2009 World Series MVP, ya know if the Pirates kept him, of course. There was no way he was going to be on the next winning Pirates team. If he was a Red Sox, Dodger, Yankee or Brewer, he'd be a AAA player. Also, when he was sent to AAA early last season, I didn't hear a single complaint from anyone about that. Send him to AAA because he can't hit above the Mendoza line, nobody says a thing. Trade him for a player five years younger with more upside, it's the end of the World!

Jul 05, 2009 06:09 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Hey how's that Brandon Moss working out?

Jul 05, 2009 18:00 PM
rating: -4
 
IAPiratesFan

He plays pretty well in RF defensively, certainly an upgrade from Xavier Nady. Playing through May 10th, he had a .174/.228/.244 start, since then he's been hitting .325/.371/.480. His home run total has been very disappointing, however with only two so far, especially since he hit 6 of them last year after coming over in the trade.

Jul 06, 2009 02:54 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

not exactly Jason Bay numbers, is it now? I can't beleive it - another Pirate fan willing to wait 3 years - again and again and again ....

Those who don't know history are bound to repeat it ... and the Pirates are exhibit A.

Jul 06, 2009 03:16 AM
rating: -3
 
eighteen

Please don't feed the troll.

Jul 06, 2009 11:30 AM
rating: 2
 
cliffvoliva

I like the moves Neal Huntington has made in Pitt since he took over, but Morgan for Milledge bothers me.

Why would you trade a very good fielder and very good human who will hit .270 and swipe 35-45 bags each of the next three seasons for a questionable character who was just dumped by the worst team in the majors. Youth equals what?

If Milledge can't play for the Gnats now and doesn't project to be in their future, why should the Pirates want him?

Jul 06, 2009 15:04 PM
rating: 0
 
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