Another offseason is in full swing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, which means that one thing is inevitable: Pirates fans are restless with the annual reconstruction of the club’s roster that this time of year brings.
Add in now that the team is coming off of a 98-win season that saw them come up short in baseball’s toughest division and a second consecutive wildcard game loss, and the anxiety only deepens for a fan base not far removed from two decades of baseball futility.
What do I mean? I’m talking about the nervous feeling of cynicism and doubt that many Bucco faithful have in ownership, management, and even all the way down to the roster.
Of course you can’t take everything you read and hear from a fan to heart, but would it really be unfair to say that your average Pirates fan is constantly a little bit nervous about slipping back into that aforementioned futility again?
Now don’t get me wrong, the distrust and anxiety that I speak of is very much present throughout spring training, the regular season, and lately the playoffs as well. The Pirates went from Cinderella to lethal competitor pretty darn quick, and in Pittsburgh, a sports hotbed, it doesn’t take long for expectations to rise of the charts.
The real question here is this: is it justified?
One of the main arguments that Pirates fans have made in their critiques of the front office of the organization, and mainly General Manager Neal Huntington, is that the Pirates are unwilling to make splashy moves that break the bank and bring bigger names to Pittsburgh.
But it is worth noting that the pocketbooks have opened up considerably as is. The Pirates, according to numbers found via USA Today, have nearly doubled their payroll in the past five seasons. In 2011, the Pirates dished out a cool $ 45,047,000. In 2015, that number had climbed to $85,885,832.
While these figures still place the Pirates towards the bottom third overall in terms of payroll, the argument can still be made that this organization is stepping up where it needs to, even if the names and signings aren’t flashy or expensive.
Certainly you can also counter that there’s been Clint Barmes, Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez, and Jose Tabata. These signings marked almost nothing but frustration and disappointment for fans, and yielded little return on the investment when it came to performance on the field.
But let’s also take, for instance, names like Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Joe Blanton, Francisco Cervelli, and Jung Ho Kang. I could definitely continue on (Russel Martin, most recently J.A. Happ), but you get the point. Most of these, if not all of these signings were underwhelming in the eyes of Pittsburgh’s baseball fan base, yet without them, we’re not talking about a club that accumulated the second-highest win total in all of baseball over the past three seasons.
The point is, there have been some pretty egregious misses, but there have also been some unbelievable home runs (pun intended) when it’s come to these signings. Big names and money or not, some credit has to be given to this organization when it comes to how savvy and thrifty they’ve been in building an elite squad in a small market in a sport that has no salary cap.
So before we cast any more doom or gloom onto the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates, who don’t open their regular season for another 87 days, mind you, let’s take a second to appreciate what has been built thus far. If the Pirates have earned anything over the past three years, it’s the right to demand a little bit of patience from their fans.