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Savran: Questions to make or break a season

Saturday, July 07, 2001

Ten questions to be answered by the end of the All-Star break: 1. Is there such a thing as an instant turnaround? On occasion, professional sports teams have adopted a seasonlong slogan of "Why not us?" -- a reference to teams that have traveled the worst-to first, outhouse-to-penthouse highway. And while that might give fans hope, it's hope of a false nature. There are no overnight sensations. Last year, it was the White Sox and Athletics. This year, it's the Twins and Phillies. In actuality, the foundations for these "overnight" success stories were years in the making.

Over the past few years, the Twins have drafted and/or made astute trades for young talent such as Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz and Matt Lawton. Then, the impetus provided by financial distress, they were forced to trade their best player, Chuck Knoblauch. Another small-market surrender? Could have been. But look at what the Twins got in return. Cristian Guzman, who soon will be mentioned with the Derek Jeters and Alex Rodriguezes of the shortstop world. They got pitcher Eric Milton, who has won 21 games in the past year and a half. While it's all dovetailed nicely this season, elevating the Twins to first place, the process was initiated a while back.

Even if the Phillies wilt under the Braves' siege, will that diminish the rebuilding job in Philadelphia? The acquisitions, through various modes, of Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu and Scott Rolen give them a sound nucleus. When finances/free agency forced them into dealing their best player, Curt Schilling, they faced the reality of the situation and got the best return they could. Schilling forced their hand, but sometimes, just as was the case in the Twins/Knoblauch deal, a team needs a little push into making a bold move.

Blockbuster deals or not, forced or not, the foundation for the Phillies' and Twins' seemingly short-term turnarounds actually began years earlier. So using these teams as a model for the Pirates to contend next season is a case of being in the right church, but the wrong pew. Teams might unexpectedly jump into contention one year, but those teams were in the basement, building a contender for quite some time.

2. Are the Pirates doomed because Frank Wren turned down Kevin McClatchy's invitation to be the Pirates' general manager? Wren might have been the best candidate for the job. He might be the greatest baseball mind since Connie Mack. I don't know. However, those hanging their heads in despair because he rejected the Pirates might be doing so for the wrong reasons. Affix Atlanta Braves to any baseball man's resume, and his genius quotient goes up significantly.

Not so fast, Einstein.

Wren wasn't with the Braves long enough to have much of an impact. Their successes were cemented in a foundation poured a very long time ago. How many young players have the Braves developed recently? Andruw and Chipper Jones, Rafael Furcal and Javy Lopez were productive players long before Wren arrived. I don't know how many budding stars they currently have in their system, but I do know the Braves always have had to supplement their everyday lineup with free agents. So just because Wren comes from an organization with a winning pedigree doesn't automatically mean he shares that same pedigree.

Reminds me of the Penguins 20 years ago. They were always ecstatic when they acquired a player who could even spell Montreal. The theory was that if you came out of the Canadiens' organization, you had to be good. Rod Schutt and Peter Lee proved otherwise. One would hope that McClatchy will be mindful that, if anything, doing it in Minnesota or Milwaukee is a heck of a lot more impressive than doing it where ownership takes sponge baths in $100 bills.

3. Say what you will about Cam Bonifay, but can you deny it appears he was right about Jack Wilson? And Aramis Ramirez? And perhaps David Williams, Joe Beimel, and others as well?

4. Why was Jimmy Anderson introduced to the slide-step halfway through the season? Isn't spring training the time and place for that?

5. I don't subscribe to the theory that any old slug can play first base, but can Craig Wilson be so bad defensively that he can't get a start once in a blue moon?

6. Do you read the minor-league report in the Post Gazette every day? Have you noticed Chad Hermansen has been crushing the ball the past week?

7. How many hits will Adam Hyzdu get this time before he's sent down? Sounds like a good office pool.

8. If Keith Osik continues to sport a subterranean batting average, can the Pirates continue to play him in order to further the grand experiment of Jason Kendall in the outfield? Any number of Pirates outfielders can outdo Osik's .170.

9. Who will get the loudest boos in Seattle Tuesday night? Rodriguez, Joe Torre or any of the seven Yankees he selected?

10. Is signing Brett Hull really that far-fetched?

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

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