Wow – the Winter Meetings are different as a Pirates fan.  Depending on the state of the Nation (and/or Empire, and whatever imperialistic nickname Miami will soon earn), the Winter Meetings are like watching a 400-pound man pull up a chair to the all-you-can eat buffet.  Large market GMs strut around some fancy hotel with oversized novelty checks while Scott Boras eats Bengal tiger steaks and pays bellhops to fight to the death in cages. 

In the past, this has been like an early Christmas present.  The Red Sox roll into town looking to fill ‘holes’ in their line up with the best of the best.  Theo Epstein was always fun to follow with his cool demeanor and tricky multi-team trade approaches.  In recent years, the Red Sox have shifted to a player acquisition model akin to the traditional Yankee-style ‘briefcase full of cash’.

This year’s meetings hearken back to a near-forgotten age of my baseball fandom.  Before my full awareness of the joy that comes with the Winter Meetings, I was always intrigued by the signings of the unknowns, the marginals, the retreads.   Guys like Brad Penny and Wade Miller.  Guys like  Kyle Snyder and Jeremy Hermida.  I mean, you never know, right?  They don’t often work out, but 2003 will forever keep me interested in these types of players.  Sox fans- remember when they signed Jeremy Giambi, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, and David Ortiz to compete with Shea Hillenbrand for three spots?  Remember that angry guy in ‘Still We Believe’?  “Who ahhh these guys?  Mullah, Millah, Ortriz?!’  Good stuff. 

But those days are seemingly done in Boston.  Those were baseball moves- not the corporate, ratings-driven PR moves the ownership seems to favor these days.  But with my hope restored through my newfound allegience to the Pittsburgh Pirates (yeah!), Winter Meetings are fun again!  The Pirates’ holes in the line up are real holes.  You bet they’re real holes.  There’s no major league first baseman on this team!  The pitching staff is, well, different than I’m used to.  The whole offense hinges on a third baseman of questionable fitness and no (no!) major league track record.  These are real problems.  These problems have little to do with image in the local market; they have to do with fielding a viable baseball team.  Now that’s a real problem!

Real problems need real solutions.  In professional sports, the most common solution to these types of problems is money.   Now the really fun thing about the Pirates is that, in addition to these real holes in the roster, they have no money!  This means the Pirates have to be the most creative team in the history of North American professional sports – which means we’ll probably hear some wacky rumors and be left scratching our heads after players are signed and trades are made. The beauty of this is that the grossly huge free agent signings rarely bring the immediate desired results.  (Although the Marlins are about to approach the kind of half-billion dollar off-season that purchased the 2009 World Series trophy.)  In contrast, the weird odd-parts signings are sometimes the difference makers as teams look to take the next step. 

Some thoughts on a few specific rumors:

Jeff Francis – NO!  If I remember correctly, he was the game 1 starter in the ’07 Series.  He’s awful.  No reason to dump money on a guy that can’t outperform a AAA replacement.  Really.

Ervin Santana – YES!  At one point I was in favor of trading Manny straight up for Santana.  It would have been a pretty dumb move (I think it was around 2005 or so).   Although, who knows what the Sox would’ve done with the added pitching depth and payroll flexibility…  Anyway, Santana’s a guy that could be a solid innings-eater until Cole/Taillon make him a one of the best #3 starters in the NL.

Jed Lowrie – MAYBE!  If he’s packaged with Ryan Kalish and Felix Doubront like the rumors suggest, you’d have to consider it.  (If the Pirates could get Alfredo Aceves in this deal instead of Doubront, it’d be a definate go in my book.)  Hanrahan will never have more value, so get what you can right now.  $50M & $27M contracts for players that pitch 1 inning every-other-day is just stupid.  The Red Sox are looking to convert Dan Bard to a starter, so let’s take advantage of their inane adherance to the ‘closer’ paradigm.  Just because Grady Little completely mis-understood and screwed up the ‘closer by committee’ doesn’t mean closers should earn $10M a year for 70 innings. 

More on Jed Lowrie…  We must understand that Jed Lowrie will never be more than an unreliable utility guy.  He only really hits lefties and is guaranteed to hit the DL at some point.  He’s like an old Honda Civic with a bad tapedeck.  He’ll get you from here to there… Most of the time… But not in snow…  And he’ll kill your old Allman Bros. tapes…  But he’s paid for and doesn’t cost you much on gas. 

The real problem for me is that he’s like that old Civic… the one that used to belong to the ex….  and has some memories attached that I’m kind of trying to forget.  I could get over this pretty quickly though, remembering that he was near-MVP Jacoby Ellsbury’s only friend on the team last year.  With that in mind, his departure could send Ellsbury spiralling into his statistically predictable (an emotionally overwhelming) regression.  A regressive depth that he’ll have no friends to help him through.  Ellsbury’s young.  He hasn’t had to deal with this type of stuff before.  The media will kill him.  The fickle, baseball ignorant, fans will boo unmercifully.  Maybe he’ll turn to drinking- maybe gambling- maybe loose, sycophantic fans looking to get a piece of the big leagues- maybe Heidi Watney.  It’s all becoming clearer.  This trade must happen!   

Come on, Neal!  Pull the trigger!  End Ellsbury’s career!

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