Pirates rich with 'fool's gold'

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:36 PM ET

TORONTO - If you were the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, what would you do?

Would you go all out over the final days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, do everything possible to acquire a Carlos Beltran bat and a Ubaldo Jimenez arm in one big push to finish first in the wide-open and winnable NL Central and break the decades long circle of failure that has all but entombed the franchise?

Or do you stay the course, hold on to your prospects and keep with the plan that this season has shown that you may have placed the franchise on the track that will have it in contention for seasons to come?

That’s the conundrum facing the Pirates’ Neal Huntington as he has to measure the success his team has achieved against the raised expectations from the fans.

The temptation to go for it and do something ‘big’ must be tantalizing for a franchise that has been a door mat for decades.

By all accounts, though, Huntington isn’t about to do anything rash.

“In theory, adding to this club is a no-brainer, but the practical application is a little more challenging because of the big picture,” Huntington said this week. “We don’t want to mortgage the future to make a desperate run in 2011. We have to be smart and make logical, rational decisions. That’s boring, and fans don’t like that, and I understand that. But for us to be successful, we have to remove as much emotion from the process as we can.”

When looking at the Pirates and where they sit in the standings — in first place, percentage points ahead of Milwaukee and a game up on St. Louis — there’s a case to be made that they are a mirage and not the real deal and will fade from the scene in the heat of battle.

The Pirates are in the bottom third of pretty much every offensive category in the NL and sit where they are on the strength of solid pitching from a lot of young arms and so called timely hitting. Few believe that recipe can last.

The worst scenario for the Pirates is that this season is so much fool’s gold, additional pieces don’t do the trick, the franchise loses quality prospects and the downward spiral begins anew.

“We don’t want to take one shot and fail, then have to circle the wagons and regroup and take another shot in five or 10 years,” Huntington said. “I have a ton of respect for the fan who just wants us to win 82 games and break the streak (18 losing seasons). If we can check off that box, great. But our goal is a consistent, championship-calibre major league team and organization. Winning 82 games may be an end result of that. But it’s not our goal.”

DROP THE TROP

Down in the Florida Gulf there has been a lot of moaning this week over the playpen of the Tampa Rays, the oddly shaped Tropicana Dome.

The Trop is an ill-conceived major league venue at best and its internal series of circular catwalks have to be seen to be believed.

It’s a quirky building, from its tilted roof and all, and is the only home the Rays have ever known.

Despite the recent success of the franchise, the fact remains the Rays play in St. Petersburg which is a haven for seniors but not a community that has the cash or the demographics to fill even a stadium of modest size.

The lone hope for growth would be if a stadium is built in Tampa, which is about a 40-minute drive to the north.

There has been plenty of talking and bitching about that pipedream and perhaps due to the frustration of their constant all-out chase of the Red Sox and Yankees and the fact that each year they have to shed quality veterans due to payroll concerns boiled over once again.

“Clearly, something has to be done,” Rays president Matt Silvermann intoned.

Having Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg reach into his own pocket and build a stadium with his own cash, though, isn’t the something he is referring to.

Silverman, though, didn’t stop there.

“It’s hard to combat the national media’s depiction of our stadium,” he said. “Our situation has become a distraction. It is affecting the clubhouse, and it spills over onto the field of play. It damages the national reputation of St. Pete and Tampa Bay, and it harms the Rays’ brand.”

Even Rays manager John Maddon took time to remove his rose coloured glasses before chiming in.

“He’s (ESPN’s John Kruk) right. We do need a new ballpark. He’s absolutely right. And he’s right, this ballpark is improper for major league baseball,” Maddon said. “You shouldn’t play with all these obstructions and all these caveats. Of course not. It’s run its course. It was here for a moment. It served its purpose. And now it’s time to move on. Absolutely it is. And to deny that, everybody has just got their head in the sand, period.”

St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster didn’t appreciate the shots and made some good points of his own.

“It didn’t appear that the stadium interfered with Boston or New York’s ability to win the ballgame (this past week), and it was that same stadium where the Rays were able to win the American League (East) championship the past two out of three years, so it obviously wasn’t that big of a distraction,” he said.

Better the Rays suck it up and concentrate on on-field issues.

The Trop isn’t going anywhere and they’ll be playing inside it.


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