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Savran: Pirates must pay 'em, not play 'em

Saturday, March 30, 2002

The premise Pirates management should use when making roster decisions is the one employed by Syd Thrift upon his arrival in 1986. After surveying Pittsburgh's charred baseball landscape, the bombastic one drawled, "I may have to pay 'em, but I don't have to play 'em." Whether Derek Bell, Pat Meares and Mike Benjamin are here, elsewhere, or nowhere, the Pirates still have to pay them. Bell is gone, so why keep two other guys who can't help you? Especially when you can do better.

The beauty is the three can be replaced with players who won't dent the payroll for much more than $1.5 million. It would be one thing if the Pirates were contenders and had to protect their status by replacing those three with similar players and comparable salaries. Then, the prospect of eating $9 million would be much harder to digest because, in effect, they'd be paying twice for the same position. But when you consider any combination of roster replacements such as Craig Wilson, Abraham Nunez, Rob Mackowiak or Chad Hermansen cost not much more than a ninth of what Bell, Meares and Benjamin are guaranteed, what's the downside? Especially when each of the replacements figures to outperform the players they would replace. Wilson, Nunez and Mackowiak did last season. All three, plus Hermansen, did so again this spring.

So, there's no financial advantage to keeping them, because you have to pay them anyway. There's certainly no compelling competitive advantage to keeping them. Are there intangibles involved? Leadership? In Bell's case, "Operation Shutdown" shut down any possibility of that.

As for Meares, he has been silent all spring. Verbally, I mean. We've been conditioned to expect silence from him at the plate. I suspect, however, he isn't so quiet in the locker room. He strikes me as a grumbler, grouser and griper in that clubhouse, and I further suspect his attitude has been pervasive, potentially influencing others. A perennial loser like the Pirates is a petri dish for diseased attitudes. An obvious lack of talent is defeating enough. What talent they do have cannot be poisoned by malcontents.

Lloyd McClendon is considering naming a captain at some point this season. There's a small group of candidates, and I'm guessing it will be Kevin Young. If that happens, Young would need the support of the best players on the team, and I'm not sure he -- or the Pirates -- would get it if they're being influenced negatively. The first step is eliminating obstacles to that end.

The last benefit of making cuts is it would beam a positive message to an angered fan base. Generally, it's a bad idea to allow fans and media to dictate your roster's composition if that's the only reason you're doing it. That's not the case here. There are a number of good reasons to jettison deadweight, and it would have a positive effect on the ticket-buying, game-watching public. The fans are angry. It's bad enough they endured an embarrassing, bag-over-the-head, 100-loss season. Bad enough they might have to watch another one -- at higher ticket prices, no less. Now they've been insulted by players who think playing baseball for guaranteed millions is a birthright.

There is an opportunity for the Pirates to engage in some damage control. Fans, despite their unhappiness with the way things have unfolded, remain fiercely loyal. In other words, "I'm a Pirates fan. I can criticize them all I want. But don't let me catch you doing it." Especially when such criticism is internal, from one of the players they're expected to support. Taking a deep breath; eliminating mistakes of the past would result in a huge public-relations benefit.

There was no good reason to keep Bell, nor is there to keep others in similar situations; not even the current rash of minor injuries. I'd much prefer to see Adam Hyzdu or a kid like Tony Alvarez make it than any member of the "Operation Shutdown" gang. If they kept young players like that, what's the worst that could happen? They might lose 100 games?

This team needs a bloodletting. The best way to begin the process is to rid themselves of the leeches.

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

Sunday, March 31, 2002

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