If They Can Do It, Then Why Not Chuck?

The career transformation of Charlie Morton has become a polarizing topic, both among the Pittsburgh Pirates’ fanbase as well as the media landscape on both the local and national levels.

Morton, who was 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA last season, was sent to the disabled list in late May and then assigned to Class AAA Indianapolis to regain his confidence and salvage his career. He was recalled in late August and recorded a 4.26 ERA in his last six starts.

Pirates minor league pitching coordinator Jim Benedict sat down with Morton during Spring Training this year and proposed something that would change everything: lowering Morton’s delivery from overhand to a three-quarters diagonal delivery and adding a sinker to his mix of pitches, totally revamping his pitching motion and repertoire to resemble that of Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay.

Morton has been spectacular so far this season with a 5-2 record and a 2.61 ERA in nine starts. Seven of those starts have been quality starts (at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs allowed). However, in those seven starts, the Pirates are only 4-3, scoring four runs or less in all three losses.

Morton's rebuilt delivery and arsenal have helped him to become a dominant pitcher so far in 2011.

While the video evidence of the similarity between Morton and Halladay is pretty self-explanatory, some are still skeptical of whether or not this trend will continue. (Many of them reside in the Pittsburgh area, where skepticism abounds in droves these days.)

But I present to you the following examples: two men who experienced situations similar to Morton’s and witnessed a career resurgence after being demoted to the minors to make some significant changes.

Pitcher A, age 23 at the time, had a 4-7 record with a 10.64 ERA in 67.2 innings in the majors before being sent all the way down to Class A at the beginning of the following season to reconfigure his delivery, adding a repertoire of pitches that had both vertical and horizontal movement. After making said adjustments he slowly rose through the system to return to the majors and post a 5-3 record with a 3.16 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 105.1 innings by the end of the year.

Since then he has a winning percentage of .686, a 3.01 ERA, two Cy Young Awards and has been named an All-Star eight times.

Pitcher B, then 25, was a starter having already undergone Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his torn elbow. His results as a starting pitcher in the major were mixed, causing him to be shuttled back and forth between the big show and Triple-A.

Patience began to wear thin, insomuch that his team’s general manager was ready to trade him to the Detroit Tigers for David Wells, but changed his mind at the last minute after learning of a sudden spike in the pitcher’s velocity, adding up to 6 mph to top out as high as 96. While nobody could explain the reason for the change in velocity, the pitcher himself simply called it an act of God.

He eventually returned to the major league club and threw a two-hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox with 11 strikeouts. However, his success in relief during the postseason convinced the team to convert him to a full-time reliever the following season. He eventually became the team’s closer and never relinquished the role.

One day, while playing catch with a teammate, he accidentally discovered the grip for a cut fastball that moved very sharply toward left-handed hitters. After trying and failing to regain the straight motion his fastball had before, he finally embraced it and began using the pitch in games.

Since the year he began throwing the cut fastball, he has recorded a .559 winning percentage with a 2.02 ERA and 567 saves and has been named to 11 All-Star games.

All it took was a small adjustment for Roy Halladay to eventually become the man simply known as "Doc."

Player A is Halladay in 2000. Pitcher B is Mariano Rivera in 1995.

Which leads me to this question: if these two pitchers can undergo the kind of changes they’ve made and enjoy success because of them, why can’t Morton?

Of course, the obvious answer is sample size. Nine starts with a new delivery does not a dominant pitcher make, which we all should understand. (For the record: those who quote sample size like it’s some cure-all to explain every sudden phenomenon, we non-smug, less-than-know-it-all baseball fans find you quite annoying. Moving on…)

A mixture of divine intervention and one mistake grip helped make "Mo" one of the best closers in the history of the game.

But if such an improvement can be made by Halladay and Lee to become successful and dominant pitchers, who’s to say the same thing couldn’t occur with Morton? Because he’s a Pittsburgh Pirate and not a Toronto Blue Jay or a New York Yankee?

When you package it with that kind of logic, it sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Let’s get something perfectly clear: I’m not polishing off Morton’s NL Cy Young Award or putting him on the mound for the first inning of this year’s All-Star game in Phoenix (although I do consider it a distinct possibility).

I’m simply saying that if these guys can turn it around, and this guy can go from replacement level utility player to league-leading slugger by making a slight adjustment, than maybe the reinvention of Charlie Morton isn’t that far-fetched of a scenario.

Especially if it’s working.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a pitcher learned how to do something better than the way he previously did it and succeeded, would it?

Just how good is Andrew McCutchen?

Those of you who know me personally know that one of my least favorite days of this baseball season was June 3: the day Nate McLouth was traded to the Atlanta Braves. As a McLouth fan, it was great to see his breakout season of last year, which resulted in a well-deserved All-Star nomination and a Gold Glove.

It was also, however, one of my favorite days of the season. The reason why was the promotion of Andrew Stefan McCutchen.

Of all of the first-round draft picks of former Pirates’ GM Dave Littlefield’s tenure, McCutchen was by far my favorite, perhaps the only one I really liked. McCutchen was a high school center fielder with outstanding speed and athletic ability. He also had impressive bat speed and the raw talent of another Pirates center field prospect of years past: one Barry Lamar Bonds of Arizona State.

Having met him at PirateFest this year, I was impressed with his maturity, his handling of the fans and media, and his improved physical conditioning. He put on a significant amount of muscle in the off-season to prepare himself for the rigors of playing a Major League schedule.

I was also present for his three-home run game on August 1 at PNC Park against the Nationals. He joined Pirate greats Willie Stargell (four times), Ralph Kiner (four times), and Roberto Clemente (twice) as the tenth to accomplish the feat, and is also the only rookie in team history to do so.

In his rookie year, McCutchen already has a three-homer game on his resume.

In his rookie year, McCutchen already has a three-homer game on his resume.

During his progression through the Pirates’ minor league system, and culminating with his impressive showing through his first 62 Major League games, McCutchen has made the case for being the most talented prospect to come out of the Pirates’ organization since Bonds. He is also making a case to be this year’s National League Rookie of the Year.

This blog will make a case for just how good he really is, and how important he can be to the team’s future.

Entering this afternoon’s game against the Cubs, McCutchen was hitting .289 with .357 on-base percentage, a .478 slugging percentage, 17 doubles, five triples, seven home runs, 33 RBIs, 43 runs scored and 12 stolen bases in 13 attempts, all coming in 283 plate appearances.

His numbers are comparable to the first full big league season of another Major League player, one that has already earned three All-Star nominations, two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award in six seasons: Grady Sizemore of the Cleveland Indians.

Some might argue that Cutch’s numbers are in too small of a sample size, so I projected McCutchen’s numbers over the same number of plate appearances that Sizemore had, 706, in his first full season in 2005. Here is what I found:

Sizemore (2005): .289/.348/.484, 111 R, 185 H, 37 2B, 11 3B, 22 HR, 81 RBI, 22 SB, 10 CS, 52 BB, 132 K

McCutchen (proj.): .289/.357/.478, 107 R, 182 H, 42 2B, 12 3B, 17 HR, 82 RBI, 30 SB, 2 CS, 65 BB, 115 K

Extrapolated over 700-plus times at bat, McCutchen matches Sizemore’s batting average with a slightly higher OBP and slightly lower SLG, nearly identical numbers in hits, doubles, triples and RBIs, more stolen bases, more walks, and significantly fewer strikeouts.

Now I know what you’re thinking: that I’m saying McCutchen is already better than Sizemore.

Slow down.

What I’m saying is that at this point in his career, McCutchen has the potential to put up superstar-type numbers like Sizemore and justify his scouting reports as a potential five-tool player: hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, defense, and throwing arm. If you want to compare the two based on their tools, you could say the two are even as far as hitting for average, giving Grady the nod in hitting power and defense, and Cutch the advantage in speed and throwing arm.

When you add the numbers, plus the tools, it’s practically a dead heat.

At 27, Sizemore is a bonafide star and one of the Indians' cornerstone players.

At 27, Sizemore is a bonafide star and one of the Indians' cornerstone players.

Given that current Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington was formerly an assistant GM in Cleveland when Sizemore was starting out, I could only imagine his excitement about finally turning McCutchen loose in the big leagues.

Having read this, I’m sure I know what some of you thinking now: now that we know how good McCutchen is, there’s no way he’s going to stick around in Pittsburgh. They’re going to trade him.

Not if Huntington does with McCutchen what his former employer did with Sizemore.

Looking over Grady Sizemore’s six-year, $23.45 million contract that he signed with Cleveland in March of ’06, this is the structure of the deal: ’06: $500,000; ’07: $750,000; ’08: $3 million; ’09: $4.6 million; ’10: $5.6 million; ’11: $7.5 million; ’12: $8.5 million club option ($500,000 buyout)

This type of contract is similar in structure and pay increase to those that the Indians agreed to with players like Travis Hafner, Fausto Carmona, Jhonny Peralta, and departed players Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez. They’re also similar to the contracts the Pirates committed to with McLouth, Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit, and Ian Snell, who has since been traded to the Seattle Mariners.

The advantage of these types of four, five, and six-year contracts for players that are so young, but proven is that it allows them to keep control of those players throughout their arbitration years, and even into their free agency years at a price that’s much more affordable compared to their inflated value through arbitration or on the open market.

The downside is, if the player’s production does not match the contract’s value (i.e. Hafner, Snell, Carmona), then the contract becomes an albatross and the team may be forced to make a trade in order to save the contract value.

Neal Huntington has identified McCutchen as a critical piece of the Pirates' future. But he will have to pay up to make sure it stays that way.

Neal Huntington has identified McCutchen as a critical piece of the Pirates' future. But he will have to pay up to make sure it stays that way.

I say all of that to say this: McCutchen is the Pirates’ future right now. He represents the only true talented player that can be identified as a piece of the Pirates’ future core talent.

That means the Pirates must move to sign McCutchen to a long-term deal similar – if not exactly identical, given the numbers and pedigree – to Sizemore’s. I’m sure that McCutchen’s agent, Steve Hammond, would be very excited about said opportunity. An agreement for guaranteed money over that period means his client will be well-paid for his worth, matching one of the best players in the game at the same position.

Also, a similar amount over six years guarantees McCutchen is a Pirate through 2015, and possibly 2016, at a very affordable rate. If they were willing to pay Adam LaRoche $7.05 million to perform way below expectations this season, $8.5 million for potentially one of the best outfielders and most naturally-talented players in the game (at 29 years old and in the prime of his career, no less) is a steal.

Pirates’ team president Frank Coonelly has publicly stated in the past that he cannot envision Andrew McCutchen not being in a Pirate uniform. Huntington has said that McCutchen has the potential to be a player the team can build around.

If McCutchen’s potential comes to fruition and Huntington’s history repeats itself, there’s no reason to think it can’t happen.

Pot Calling the Kettle Black & Gold

I can imagine what it would be like to be a Major League baseball player that has been traded from a perennially disappointing team like the Pirates. Just the change of scenery would be refreshing in one’s mind.

But one guy I could not imagine being is Sean Burnett, having been traded from the already-dismal Pirates to the league-worst Washington Nationals.

The only thing I could imagine even less is talking trash after the trade.

Burnett and Nyjer Morgan, who were sent together to the Nationals on June 30 for outfielder Lastings Milledge and relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan, are back in town this weekend to face their old mates in a four-game series at PNC Park.

It could have been a pleasant homecoming for both players… that is, until Burnett opened his mouth. He had some choice words for the Pirates that he shared with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic on the topic of all of the Pirates’ recent trades.

“They’re the laughingstock of baseball right now,” Burnett said. “They’ve gotten rid of everybody. They won’t keep anybody around. Some of the guys [in Washington] don’t understand it, but Nyjer and I knew this was coming.”

OK, let me get this straight, Mr. Burnett.

You just got traded to the WORST TEAM IN BASEBALL. There are teams that have almost as many wins as you have losses. And the Pirates are the laughingstock of baseball?! REALLY?!

You were a first-round draft pick nine years ago. NINE. It took you NINE years  to finally settle in as a Major League pitcher, and that was in the bullpen after you were drafted as a starter. Not to mention that there were a plethora of consecutive bad first-round draft picks just like you. And you have the nerve to wonder why they won’t keep anybody around?! When you’re an average of 24.5 games under .500 every year, there’s no reason to keep anybody around, not even you.

But wait, there’s more.

“What I keep telling the guys here,” he continues, “is that the hardest part is that Pittsburgh, as a sports town, is unbelievable. With what the Steelers and Penguins have done, they’re dying for a winner in baseball, too. They’re dying to cheer the Pirates on. And now, they don’t have anybody they even know. Guys like Jack [Wilson] and Freddy [Sanchez], the faces of the franchise, players they’re supposed to be locking up, they’re all gone. What’s going to bring people to the ballpark now?”

OK, hold on a second. A career .269 hitter with defense and a contact hitter with no power are supposed to be the faces of an MLB franchise? Am I hearing this correctly? Did I mention they were both over 30 years old?!

And to answer your question, the same thing that will bring people to the ballpark now was the same thing they did when they came to watch you stink up the joint. Apparently, you weren’t bringing them there with your lights-out performance (of course I’m being heavily sarcastic), so what the hell do you care? What brought them there over the last 16 years? Obviously not you.

And you think he would be done talking, right? Wrong. There’s more. In fact, Morgan gets in on the show.

Morgan says of the transition to Washington, they’ve welcomed us with open arms here, and it’s been awesome.”

Since July 1, the Nationals are 7-16. How awesome can things possibly be?! You just went from bad to worse, and it’s been awesome?! WOW.

Remember, this was the guy that teammates said was the one that made it so fun for them in the clubhouse. Wilson said he “brought so much on and off the field.” He was a guy that helped a team have fun while they were losing. Interesting.

Hearing things like this from professional athletes, is it so shocking that Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington is using words like, “changing the losing culture” in the clubhouse? I guess we’re discovering that the reason why the Pirates have struggled for so long is because the players are having too much fun losing!

Let’s put this in perspective: I’ve played baseball and softball for more than half of my life. I’ve played on some great teams that won championships, and I’ve played on some horrible teams that struggled to win games. The teams I remember the most fondly and had the most fun with? The teams what WON. I never had fun on the teams that lost.

Show me a team that has fun losing, and I’ll show you a team that will never win.

And then, of course, is the crown jewel quote of all. Burnett has a source of motivation for the series which is just flat out hilarious.

“We want to make them look stupid for making that trade,” he said.

Let me tell you something, Sean. In your 8.5 years with the organization, they got only 172.2 Major League innings out of you. And during that span, your ERA was 4.27, with a WHIP of 1.448. You were an average player with this team, and they blew the 19th overall pick in the 2000 amateur draft on you.

They stuck with you when elbow surgery probably should have ended your career, but they took you and your average ability and tried to make the best of you after you became even more mediocre.

In seven seasons with the Pirates organization, they got 644 at-bats out of Morgan (a little more than one season’s worth). He hit .304 with only four home runs, and while he stole 48 bases, he was caught stealing 22 times. And he was a 33rd round pick.

So, basically the team put up with the two of you over a nine-year span, to get an equivalent of three combined years of average Major League service out of you. And you have the nerve to criticize the team for the melancholy that you so miserably helped to create, especially when you are on a team that is even worse.

Make no mistake about it, Sean and Nyjer. You don’t need to make the Pirates look stupid for trading you.

They already look stupid for drafting you.

But thankfully, you are two mistakes they (and the fans) no longer have to live with.

Is Garrett Jones For Real? Let’s Find Out

There has been a lot of attention cast on the Pirates’ trade moves this season, shipping off popular players like Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan, and, recently, the rather unpopular Adam LaRoche.

There has also been a lot of attention paid to the minor leaguers who were called up to serve as their replacements: rookie centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones.

While McCutchen has been a true delight to watch on the field with his athleticism, speed, and natural instincts as a ball-player, Jones has been quite the enigma.

A 14th-round draft choice of the Atlanta Braves in 1999, Jones was released in May of 2002, and then signed to a minor league contract by the Minnesota Twins, where he played seven seasons in their system and a total of 12 games with the big league team before being granted free agency on November 3, 2008. A month later, he signed a minor league deal with the Pirates, was invited to Spring Training, and eventually optioned to AAA Indianapolis before being re-called and making his Pirates’ debut on July 1.

With LaRoche as the recently departed, Jones is now the team leader in home runs with nine. (Ironically, LaRoche had only 12, and at the current pace, Jones would’ve probably passed him by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.)

But Jones’ nearly-Ruthian performance in his first 17 games in Pittsburgh has everybody asking the same question: Is this guy for real? Let’s weigh the evidence and find out.

Reasons Why Garrett Jones Is For Real

1. 9 HR in 17 games. Anytime a guy comes up from the minors and gets off to a hot start, he’s going to turn heads. And he hasn’t just hit nine home runs. He’s smacked the tar out of them. Not to mention, 15 of his 21 hits so far have come for extra bases, and he’s slugging .821.

2. He’s hitting left-handers. Of the nine home runs, four have been against left-handers. He came close to a fifth off lefty side-winder Mitch Stetter.

3. His list of victims. Pedro Feliciano, Andrew Miller, Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, J.C. Romero, Bob Howry, Tim Lincecum, Carlos Villenueva, and Jeff Suppan. That means out of that group of pitchers he has gone deep on a total of four first round draft picks, two All-Stars, a Cy Young winner and a World Series MVP. That’s a resume the average good-looking frat boy can’t even top.

4. He’s hitting the ball really hard. He hit one in Philly that only Ryan Howard has beaten in distance, muscled a change-up the opposite way over the spacious left field at PNC Park, and deposited his walk-off shot in last Friday night’s extra-inning win into the Allegheny River on one hop.

Another thing to mention: the majority of his home runs have been line drives, as opposed to towering fly balls. Any guy hitting a line drive that hard and that far should be paid a lot of attention.

(In other news, I have unofficially dubbed the Allegheny River “Garrett Jones’ Locker.” Don’t be mad cause you didn’t think of it!)

5. His hitting approach. Two of his home runs have been hit on the first pitch, one on an 0-1 count, one in an 1-0 count, one in a 1-1 count, one in a 2-1 count, two in a 3-1 count and one in a full count.

What this means is that he has a good enough hitting eye that he is getting himself into favorable counts, and as a result, getting good pitches to drive. Patience like that is rarely exhibited in so few Major League at-bats.

He also has seven walks and a .378 on-base percentage. Even without the demonstrated power, his ability to get on base is helpful. He walked on five pitches with two outs to set up Ryan Doumit’s first-inning, two-run home run in yesterday’s win.

6. Speed and athleticism. At 6’4″, 245 lbs., he would seem to be better suited as Willie Parker’s lead blocker with the Steelers than John Russell’s #3 hitter. But he can also run the bases well. So far he has stolen three bases for the Pirates, and stole 14 in 18 attempts at Indy.

Reasons Why Garrett Jones Isn’t For Real

1. 47 combined games of MLB experience. When he was first called up by Minnesota in 2007, he hit only .208 with two home runs and five RBIs in 31 games, a far cry from his totals in Pittsburgh. He also struck out 20 times with only six walks.

2. He’s a career minor leaguer. And his numbers would indicate an average-to-above-average one, at best. His one standout season was in 2004, when he hit 30 home runs with 92 RBIs at AA New Britain. He matched the RBI totals twice in AAA, but never the home runs and the .949 OPS; the best after that was last year’s .821.

3. Not producing enough runs. How does a guy with an average of a home run every other game not produce enough runs? Simple. When all of the home runs are solo home runs. Kind of reminds you of Jason Bay when he was still a Pirate.

4. He’s 28. It is believed that once you reach your mid-to-late 20’s as a player, essentially, you are what you are. Usually, by 28, if you’re not in the majors, you’re out of baseball altogether. But there have been a few exceptional cases of late bloomers. Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington cited the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Casey Blake as the most recent.

5. No MLB experience with his former team. Many have asked if Garrett Jones is so good, then why didn’t he play in Minnesota? The answer is because the man ahead of him at his natural position of first base was Justin Morneau. And from 2005-08, the time that Jones was with AAA Rochester, Morneau hit a combined 110 HR’s with 449 RBIs, made two All-Star teams, and won two Silver Slugger awards and an MVP award. (Then again, maybe this isn’t a knock against Jones after all.)

Bottom Line: After weighing all the statistical evidence and recalling two eyewitness sightings of the subject in question, I have decided that I believe that Garrett Jones is legit for the reasons I listed above, plus more.

Many may not be impressed with his minor league OPS totals or his home run numbers, but his career average of at-bats per home run was a little more than 24. (To compare, Morneau’s was just over 21.) That ratio isn’t on the level of a Hall of Famer, but it’s respectable enough to notice and cement himself as one of the Pirates’ true home run threats.

I have seen this guy hit live twice, and every ball I have seen him hit has been hit hard. His ability to drive the ball when he gets it on the barrel of the bat makes him lethal with every swing. Also, Pirates’ hitting coach Don Long worked extensively with Jones in Spring Training on his approach and adjusting his swing to maximize his power potential. I think it’s safe to say it’s working.

Am I saying Garrett Jones is going to save the Pirates from nearly two decades of despair? No. Am I calling him the second coming of Willie Stargell? No. Am I saying he’s a viable replacement at first base for Adam LaRoche? Well, he could be.

But if nothing else, Garrett Jones has provided Pittsburgh a true left-handed power bat, something it has lacked for nearly six years, since Brian Giles was traded. And that alone is a reason to give him every chance he can get to help the Pirates’ lineup.

After all, what better option is there?

Losing McLouth was a “Cutch-22”

At the current moment I’m writing this post while watching the Pirates and the Braves in extra innings at Turner Field. Of course this game holds a certain meaning because it’s the Bucs’ first game against their former mate, Nate McLouth. McLouth was traded to Atlanta last week in a move that surprised everybody from team president Frank Coonelly to the players in the clubhouse to the fans. Even McLouth himself was taken aback by the move.

Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington even wrote a letter to the fans explaining the move and how it benefits the team in the long run.

Consequently, the Pirates announced they were re-calling their top outfield prospect, Andrew McCutchen, the same day, and he would make his Major League debut the next day in center field at PNC Park.

McCutchen made quite a splash in his debut, going 2-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base, and three runs scored in an 11-6 win over the Mets. Of course, it wasn’t enough to silence the trade critics for McLouth’s departure, but it was at least something to be excited about.

My feelings on the trade are quite mixed. I was initially frustrated because McLouth was such a likeable player, as well as an All-Star and Gold Glove Award recipient last season. But after hearing about McCutchen’s promotion, I was excited because the Pirates now had a legitimate leadoff hitter. Granted, Nyjer Morgan has done a commendable job so far this season at the top of the order, with a .275 batting average and a .356 on-base percentage, but McCutchen creates an even more exciting option because of his tremendous bat speed and gap power, creating more opportunities for doubles and triples.

And then there’s the reason why McCutchen is actually an upgrade over McLouth: his defense.

While it’s true you can’t replace McLouth’s 26 home runs, 94 RBI’s and league-best 46 doubles from last season, one would wonder why you would replace a 99.7% fielding percentage. The answer is quite simple: McCutchen is faster than McLouth, which means he can cover more ground and make the plays McLouth might make, plus some more that he might not. Also, McCutchen’s arm is stronger. The kid threw a runner from center field early in Spring Training, and it wasn’t lost on anybody.

Pirates fans, I do empathize with you. I’m not more thrilled than the next man to lose such a rare beloved figure in the Pirates’ organization, even at the cost of three minor league prospects. But I am thrilled because McLouth’s exit has led to the beginning of an era for a player who can have a higher impact than the man he replaced.

Yes, the Pirates management has done the dubious deed of trading their entire starting outfield from last year’s Opening Day within the last 11 months, but the truth of the matter is that while Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth may have been Pittsburgh’s three best players, none of the three would have been among the top 10 in the Major Leagues at the time they were traded (granted Jason Bay has gone on to greener pastures with the Red Sox, hitting .285 with 25 homers, 92 RBI’s and a .951 OPS — on-base  plus slugging percentage —  in only 105 games).

If the Pirates’ best players aren’t among the best in the league, what does that say about the quality of talent in the rest of the organization? I think Huntington’s message is simple: while the team’s talent may be the best it has been in quite some time, it simply isn’t good enough.

With that in mind, this is my theory: Huntington and his staff have determined that this organization is in dire need of impact talent from top to bottom. In order to re-stock that needed talent at each level, they need to liquidate the talent on-hand. I expect to see more trades, players being released and designated for assignment, and moves made to replenish this team with the talent it needs to contend on a perpetual basis.

Yes, the fans are fed up with 16 consecutive seasons of sub par baseball, and rightfully so. Yes, the possibility of a record-setting 17th season appears imminent. But let’s be honest here: most of the fans, media, and so-called “experts” expected it to happen anyway, before this trade took place. So who are we really fooling by being so up in arms about this trade?

The Pirates were expected to lose 81-plus games with McLouth. Losing a few more without him isn’t going to change anything.

And to further illustrate just how much of an impact McCutchen can have: McLouth is 3-for-7 in tonight’s game with a solo home run in the 3rd inning. McCutchen is 4-for-7 with a double and two triples. Both have an RBI and two runs scored, but McCutchen has nine total bases while McLouth only has six. And the game is still tied in the top of the 15th inning.

And I know what some of you are thinking: if they’re willing to part with Bay, Nady and McLouth when they have the best seasons of their careers, how do we know McCutchen won’t be next?

Well, we don’t, just like we don’t know how the Pirates fortunes will change in the future.

For now, it appears they remain about the same. The Braves just scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the 15th inning.