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Savran: Trading Fetters isn't rebuilding

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Idle thoughts from an often idle mind ...

Remember the Maine! Tippecanoe and Tyler too! Win one for the Gipper! Fight on for Fetters! Who knew that former Pirates reliever Mike Fetters would hold such emotional sway in the Pirates' clubhouse?

When asked about the motivation, the impetus for their post-All-Star Game surge, many Pirates veterans cited the trade of their former comrade in arms. These (alleged) clubhouse leaders were upset that Fetters was traded because, at least to them, it illustrated management's lack of confidence in their ability to compete for the division title.

Apparently a couple salient points escaped their rather myopic view.

For one thing, at the time of Fetters' trade to Arizona, this band of highly offended ballplayers was in the midst of a streak in which it lost 13 of 19 games as it stumbled toward the midseason break. Perhaps if the players had been as concerned about their own performance as they apparently are with Dave Littlefield's, the Pirates' general manager might not have traded the veteran reliever. But I doubt it.

Fetters did a great job this season. Plus he provided leadership in a clubhouse sorely lacking in same. But anyone with any sense of the situation understood that Fetters, at age 39 with a $2.25 million contract, was a goner from the start.

The fact that he pitched so well expedited the trade and probably increased the return.

In Duaner Sanchez, the Pirates get a player 17 years Fetters' junior, making $2 million less, throwing in the mid- to upper-90s, and most important, a player who will be factor when or if the Pirates become contenders.

Oh, and did I mention Fetters would have been a free agent at season's end?

I understand that players want to win now. But define "winning now."

Does that mean a couple more games this season, allowing them to inch a bit closer to .500?

No player wants to stand knee deep in dust as the team rebuilds, but trading Fetters wasn't rebuilding. It's the way a little guy builds.

When or if the Pirates get good, Sanchez might be an important component. At such a point, Fetters would be long gone, on the plus side of 40.

Maybe I'm a bit confused, but isn't it the job of the general manager to evaluate the performance of the players, and not the other way around? I wonder whether Littlefield has had a bellyful by now?

Joe Beimel's placement in the starting rotation has hurt the team in the bullpen, leaving just one late-inning left-hander, Scott Sauerbeck. Ron Villone isn't the kind of guy you bring in to get that one tough left-handed hitter, so now the manager has to be very careful when and where he uses Sauerbeck. Beimel hasn't been that bad as a starter, but the team would be better served with him back in the bullpen.

A year ago, the Pirates had only one minor-league club finish above .500. This year, both rookie teams and both Class A teams are well above the break-even point, and Nashville and Altoona are bobbing along at or near that mark. Generally you judge talent level on an individual basis, not on the record of the teams. But do these better records indicate that the talent level in this organization is actually improving?

When Governor Bill Clinton ran for the presidency in 1992, his aides constantly reminded him to stay on track with the message, "It's the economy!" Baseball would do well to stay on track with this advice: "It's the competitive balance!" Lost in the quagmire of rhetoric is the central issue that 80 percent of the teams go to spring training with the objective of just finishing the season. The "haves" and the players union alternately ignore or dismiss that fact.

George Steinbrenner and his Yankee flacks say the small-market guys are incapable of competing because of their own incompetence. To some degree they're right. But a payroll of $140 million greatly aids one's competence, does it not?

And for the players to totally ignore the decayed backbone of what's destroying the game is particularly disgusting. If it's not a problem, how come so many players demand clauses preventing them from being traded to teams that cannot win?

If competitive balance isn't the issue, why doesn't a player insist on a clause that allows him to be traded to Kansas City or Milwaukee? Or Pittsburgh? Can you say hypocrites, boys and girls? Why aren't the player representatives from these small market teams speaking out, standing up to their union leaders, keeping the message, and the negotiations, on point?

If I was walking down the street, and Martin Straka sidled up alongside, I would run the other way as fast as I could.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970)

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