Kovacevic: Pirates clueless about winning

Pirates owner Bob Nutting and manager Clint Hurdle cannot escape blame for the the team's second-half collapse.

By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012

If nothing else about these collapsing Pirates brings you comfort, consider this: Soon, their prospects will be infinitely better prepared to invade walled compounds in Pakistan.

No, really.

On this very Friday, as I learned over the past week, the team’s Florida Instructional League sessions in Bradenton will open with three days in which 100-plus minor leaguers never touch a bat or ball, and no team instructors take the field.

Instead, they’ll be put through drills by a group of former Navy SEALS.

Yeah, those SEALS. All caps.

As Kyle Stark, the assistant general manager in charge of this, explained upon my asking, the goal will be “to give our guys a unique training experience to reinforce various lessons we stress all the time pertaining to leadership, team building and mental toughness.”

Stop there for a moment.

Let me ask: Who was the last player to come up from Triple-A Indianapolis who could execute a simple sacrifice bunt?

Ever seen a good bunt from Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, Brock Holt or Chase d’Arnaud?

The last I can recall bunting well was Pedro Ciriaco. He was taught in the Arizona system.

OK, back to Fort Bradenton.

There are players, agents, even team personnel who are fuming over Stark’s plan. And I can see why. By all accounts, the exercises will be grueling bordering on punishing — as if the SEALS have any other kind — and have absolutely zero to do with their chosen profession.

Stark has a thing for military methods, and I’m sure that brings some benefits.

But this is too far.

This is what you do once you’ve gained the reputation of, say, the Twins for masterful fundamentals. You don’t do it when, as we saw Monday in Cincinnati, d’Arnaud steps on the bag with his left foot — wrong one — to get no outs from what could have been a double play. The next day, he had to be taught the right way by the major league staff.

I share this not because it’s pertinent to the Pirates losing 23 of their past 32 games.

It isn’t.

Neither was that silly Aug. 23 expedition to Seven Springs, fresh off a San Diego red-eye, to shoot clay pigeons for charity.

But both are emblematic of a franchise that — it’s clearer than ever — has no clue how to prioritize winning.

No urgency for it.

No fire.

And if that’s off base, please feel free to tell me how.

Tell me what Bob Nutting, the man with the most say, has done this summer to advance the cause of the 2012 Pirates.

He authorized trading for Wandy Rodriguez and his guaranteed $12.2 million at the deadline. It was the right move.

But was that same authorization in place to get the more sorely needed bat?

The Pirates could have had Chase Headley from the Padres for a top-five prospect, either Brad Lincoln or a sandwich draft pick, plus a third piece. That was a fair, affordable price, even before Headley erupted into the National League’s best player in the second half.

Moreover, Headley’s rights could be controlled through 2014, assuming the team would pay a high salary through arbitration the next two years.

Was cost the problem?

Tell me where Frank Coonelly has been seen or heard of late.

Where’s the all-in leadership from the man running the ship?

Tell me what Neal Huntington did at the deadline beyond getting Rodriguez and giving up little for Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez. Assuming the GM worked without financial restraint, that was a case of little ventured, little gained.

Even if he was restrained, he easily could have upgraded his roster fringe. He didn’t. That’s why minor leaguers are doing the pinch-hitting now.

Tell me how Clint Hurdle has overseen two collapses now.

I applaud the man for turning the Pirates around. Really, it took a special personality. But he’s the one who came up with the slogan FINISH for his team, and he, maybe more than anyone, must come to grips with why that line gets drawn in July.

Have you seen Hurdle lately?

Looks like a beaten man.

And don’t let the players off, by any means.

Tell me who, beyond A.J. Burnett, Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones and a few others, should escape blame.

Tell me how, all over again, Andrew McCutchen’s rise and fall will mirror that of the team.


Not anymore.

Tell me how Pedro Alvarez slugs 27 home runs but utterly disappears for weeks.

Tell me how Jose Tabata was demoted for laziness in the heat of a pennant race.

Tell me how Huntington will ever be allowed to sign another free agent after his latest misfires with Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas and Nate McLouth.

The entire organization, top to bottom, has hard questions it must answer.

Why is winning such an issue, even after some winning actually takes place?

How are they still losers?

Maybe one of those hard questions, eventually, will be why it was ever important to teach prospects how to pick off the next Osama when they can’t pick off a runner at first.