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Cook: Giles trade would have been big hit if it included Kendall

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Pirates made a horrible blunder in trading Brian Giles yesterday, but not for the reason you might think.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with dealing Giles, who was one of the all-time great Pirates and will be an even better Padre now that he's going home to San Diego. Talented as he is, he was a big part of the losing culture that has afflicted the Pirates for more than a decade. The team was going nowhere with him in the short term. His estimable skills will decline in the long run. Two of the players the Pirates got for him -- left-handed pitcher Oliver Perez and outfielder Jason Bay -- are highly regarded and have a chance, repeat, a chance, to be stars long after Giles is done. The third -- perhaps minor-league left-hander Cory Stewart -- is "going to be someone you like," Lloyd McClendon promised, although he and Dave Littlefield declined to identify the player.

But how do you trade Giles to the Padres without insisting that they take Jason Kendall?

If you're Littlefield, how do you place your biggest chip on the table and not get rid of the player whose contract has doomed the franchise and will continue to do so for four more seasons or as long as he's here?

Let's face it, the Pirates need a complete break with the past and a fresh start, painful as the thought of another rebuilding period might be. It's not as if Littlefield is tearing apart the '27 Yankees. The Pirates haven't had a winning team in 11 years.

Attendance has dropped in each of their three years in PNC Park even as their payroll jumped to more than $50 million. Last month, Kevin McClatchy revealed the franchise would lose $30 million during that three-year period.

McClatchy must take most of the blame. He and his front-office people made some horrendous business decisions. Cam Bonifay also is at fault. The millions he wasted on Pat Meares and Derek Bell, not to mention Kendall and Kevin Young, set the franchise back years.

But that's getting away from the point.

How can you blame Littlefield for trying to clean up the mess?

How can anyone scream about him trading any of his players?

Even Giles?

Say Littlefield didn't get enough in return, if you must. Only time will tell, not just with the players he has brought in but with the newfound "financial flexibility" he keeps talking about. His trades pared millions from the payroll. It won't be fair to judge his work until we see how much of the savings McClatchy allows him to put back into the product and what he does with it.

In the meantime, save the hysterics about Giles being traded.

Sadly, his legacy here will be the same as the Pirates' other big-money players in PNC Park, Kendall and Young.

As a loser.

That's why it made sense for Littlefield to move Giles, especially after he started his big purge by trading Mike Williams, Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Scott Sauerbeck, Jeff Suppan and Randall Simon. "I've been asked why I don't build around Brian Giles," Littlefield said. "But you need more than one player. You need eight or 10 to build around. We need to accumulate talent. It was our decision that trading Brian at this time was the best way for us to acquire some of that talent."

For the same reason, the Pirates need to trade Kendall.

That isn't to say Giles and Kendall are bad guys. They are not. It's just that constant losing beats down a player, any player. Giles was 96 games under .500 during his nearly five seasons here. Kendall is 139 under in his nearly eight seasons.

It doesn't matter how much a player makes. That kind of losing is going to make him miserable. Everything is going to bother him. The fans. The media. The manager. His teammates ...

It's hard to do anything well when you're miserable.

Giles' performance clearly suffered this season, especially after Littlefield started his dealing last month. Forget that he missed 23 games early in the season. The numbers beside his name -- 16 home runs and 70 RBIs -- are barely recognizable. It hurt to watch him misplay a fly ball and lose a game in Milwaukee the other night. He's one of the best left fielders in baseball.

To his credit, Kendall has continued to play hard through the summer's turmoil. On what had to be one of the toughest nights of his career, he was the star of the 4-3 win against the Florida Marlins last night with three hits, including the decisive home run in the seventh inning. He's always going to give everything he has. He's not nearly the player Pete Rose was, but he's every bit the hustler.

"He's a tough s.o.b., that's for sure," McClendon said.

Still, it's time for Kendall to go.

That's why it was so intriguing last month when there were reports the Padres would take Giles and Kendall in a trade. So what if the Pirates were willing to pay the Padres $20 million to take Kendall away? At least that would have enabled them to save the other $20 million or so they owe him during the next four seasons.

But the Padres were able to get Giles without taking Kendall. Now, short of eating, say, $30 million of Kendall's contract -- can you imagine McClatchy doing that? -- the Pirates appear to be stuck with him.

Kendall declined comment about the trade before and after the game, but that thought can't please him. His close friends are gone. First, it was Williams. Now, Giles. He can't possibly be happy about being the last one standing on a team that's tearing everything down and starting over again.

"I would have liked to have seen Jason coming with me," Giles said.

It's too bad for everyone involved that it didn't go down that way.

Most of all, the Pirates.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.

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