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Savran: Time for Pirates to break up team

Saturday, June 09, 2001

Another day, another loss. Most days, not even close to a win. Separated shoulder on the team bus? Come on. Murphy's law is in effect: What can go wrong most likely will. What to do?

The Pirates' season is unsalvageable. It might get better, but better in this case is avoiding 100 losses.

That's not better, it's just not as horrible.

I understand the Pirates, currently engulfed by the forest fires du jour -- food, water, freedom of expression -- don't want to give the impression they're waving the white flag on this season. But by virtue of the players they're putting on the field, that's a given.

This team cannot compete, so it's time to wave the green flag signifying the start of the future.

If this team was going to show improvement over the disaster that was last season, that improvement was going to have to come from within. The Pirates did not have enough money to add enough talent to chop 12 losses from a 93-loss season to make themselves a .500 club. The core players that stumbled with a laissez-faire attitude last season were going to have to be the main source of improvement.

That hasn't happened and won't.

It's time to change the performers.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Imagine a little kid setting up a lemonade stand at the end of the driveway. On the front of the stand a sign reads, "Homemade lemonade. $25 a glass. And it doesn't taste very good, either." That's pretty much what it says on the lemonade stand in front of PNC Park. "Highly paid, underachieving ballplayers for sale!" That limits the market a bit.

Despite their performance relative to their salaries, and although the return might be highest, it doesn't make much sense to trade Brian Giles and Jason Kendall. I might consider trading one of them if the return was bountiful and the impact of the new players immediate. But you've got to maintain some kind of foundation, and those two, plus Aramis Ramirez and Kris Benson, would seem to be it.

Kevin Young, Pat Meares, and certainly Derek Bell are going to be difficult to unload. Nevertheless, the attempt must be made.

It's addition by subtraction. And if it can't be done, then there's little reason to play them regularly, even if you've still got to pay them ... even if they're the best the team has.

Let's see the future, not the ghosts of mistakes past.

The Pirates might view that as surrender, but I don't think the fans would. I think they'd feel that a new day was dawning instead of this continuing torturous nightmare.

What's the worst that could happen by playing the young guys every day? They might lose?

All is not lost, however. One month from the All-Star break, contending teams are discovering what they're lacking. Things are beginning to crystallize for these teams, and the Pirates could offer help.

Relief pitcher Mike Williams is better suited as a set-up man on a winning team than as a closer on a losing one. He would bring some value.

As would John Vander Wal.

Teams, especially American League teams, should be drooling over him. And since he's hitting, his value will never be higher. The Pirates would probably have to eat much of his salary, but left-handers being a premium commodity, Terry Mulholland would generate interest. And even though he's the best they currently have, the Pirates should strongly consider trading Jason Schmidt. He might not become the ace they hoped for when they acquired him, but he's still a strong No. 3 starter and might make the difference for a team in a playoff race. Plus, he's working on a one-year contract, so his future here is cloudy anyway.

Granted, trading any or all would most likely make this team worse in the short term. But in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if they lose 105 games instead of 100?

The Pirates' organization is at a critical juncture. It's one thing to be bad; it's another to be viewed as pathetic and hopeless. Three weeks ago at a Penguins-New Jersey playoff game at Mellon Arena, the announcement was made that the Pirates were losing to the Cardinals by a lopsided score. The crowd's reaction? Laughter.

It's not at all funny. It's catastrophic. The organization is viewed as inept, committing more errors in the front office than on the field, which is saying something. Fans calling my radio shows automatically assume every move they make is the wrong one. Perception is reality.

The Pirates should salvage what they can, and then, just like they did to Three Rivers Stadium, push the plunger and tear apart this team.

The baseball might not be any better, but at least there will be a sense of direction. If they continue wandering aimlessly in baseball's desert, the number of ballgames they lose will pale in comparison to the number of fans they're already losing.


Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show, weeknights 8-9 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970)

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