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Savran: Pirates botched Indians' blueprint

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Since the Kevin McClatchy era began in 1996, the Pirates have consistently cited the Cleveland Indians as the model for how small-market franchises can succeed. New stadium, new revenue streams and subsequent streams of success.

Well, as Meatloaf crooned, two out of three ain't bad.

There's obviously nothing wrong with the Indians' blueprint, but rather with the Pirates' execution of same. With their role model in town, they get an up-close look at the divergent paths taken.

When Jacobs Field was merely a glint in ownership's eye, the Indians began unloading productive veteran ballplayers. More accurately, they dumped salaries they couldn't afford and proactively dealt with impending free agents they couldn't or had no desire to keep.

So Joe Carter was dealt to San Diego in return for Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga, both cornerstone players for years.

In the early 1990's the Astros, a contender, were in need of a catcher, so Ed Taubensee was dispatched to Houston. The return? A relatively unknown named Kenny Lofton. Felix Fermin was dealt for Omar Vizquel.

When the Pirates attempted to execute the same strategy, instead of receiving cornerstone players, they got guys you could find on any corner.

And it's not just the trades.

Cleveland's homegrown players have formed the nucleus for a decade: Charles Nagy, Jim Thome, Bartolo Colon, Paul Shuey.

The list of those drafted and developed by Cleveland, but no longer wearing an Indians uniform is even more impressive. Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Sean Casey, Brian Giles, Danny Graves, Richie Sexson.

They used their surpluses to acquire what they lacked. That's how you build ... from within. Then and only then do you seek free agents to fill gaps.

Cleveland is not much bigger than Pittsburgh. That they have big-market money is a result of executing small-market strategies to perfection.

Even before the financial floodgates opened, you can bet the Indians didn't slash scouts or the scouting budget or the money necessary to sign those drafted. Which the Pirates did after the winning ended abruptly after 1992.

Not only have their drafts suffered as a result, but outside of Aramis Ramirez, how many outstanding Latin ballplayers has the organization produced?

This franchise used to be renowned for culling the fields of Latin America. And since Latin players aren't subject to the amateur draft, finding them first and signing them fast is paramount.

The demolition of the scouting department is one big reason the Pirates are what they are and where they are.

So exactly what is it J.R. House wants? A key to the city? A key to the executive washroom? A promise that the Pirates will never again sign any catcher other than him?

House was upset when the Pirates signed Jason Kendall long term, even though he was told that Kendall would be playing another position by the time House was ready for the big time. And that is Kendall I see in left field on occasion, is it not?

Were the Pirates supposed to tell a three-time All-Star to hit the road because House's feelings might be hurt? Did he expect to be the big club's starting catcher based on one season at Hickory? Boo-hoo kid. Earn your stripes. Go play football if you think that's best. You, too, can be Chris Weinke, a 42-year-old college quarterback.

I wonder if Tike Redman is upset because Giles got a long-term contract?

When Kendall signed, he talked about hitting for more power and about how he had bulked up to accomplish just that. Well, I don't care if he becomes Mr. Universe, that's not the kind of hitter he is. Is it as obvious to you as it is to me that the reason he's struggling is because he's trying to pull everything?

Believe it or not, as of this weekend, Kendall has only three hits to right field this season! Kendall has made a living going to right and right center, a primary reason his lifetime average is.314.

No, you're not going to increase your power numbers by going the other way, but you're not going to increase them by grounding out to short or third when you try to pull pitches on the outside corner, either.

You do what you can do. And Kendall needs to get hits, even if most of them are singles. And with the jungle-length infield grass at PNC Park high enough to hide a diminutive shortstop, those ground balls that skipped through at Three Rivers are now outs. Kendall needs to close his stance and rip a few to right. Especially now that he's been forced to hit leadoff.

When Yankees' de facto GM Brian Cashman screws up, most of what he risks is a tongue lashing from George Steinbrenner. Then, he buys his way out of the mistake. Cam Bonifay had no such margin for error.

Please tell me Roy Smith isn't the one who insisted Brant Brown could play center field.

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh.

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