I remember seeing a sign at PNC Park in 2002 that read “Small Market Domination.”
The Pirates started out 5-2 that year so obviously that sentiment was a bit premature. It got people excited, though. A winner was in Pittsburgh and to get off on the right foot like that fueled some excitement that has long lacked in the Western Pennsylvania baseball community.
It is still not there today.
Other small market areas, however, have found their their happy place with baseball. Minnesota, Tampa Bay and this past year, Cincinnati were successful despite the economic restraints placed upon them. Minnesota has one of the best run organizations in the game with their knack for competing year in and year out. It remains to be seen if Tampa Bay will remain with its head above water as key
departures this past season such as Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena have left to bigger areas. Cincinnati has a nice core in place with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce bolstering the line up. It should see the same post season strides like the Twins and Rays before it.
These three teams have something in common. Their use of the draft.
With lineups predominately filled with players homegrown through the farm system, the Twins, Rays and Reds have all took their rime with a unique path towards the top. All three teams made the playoffs last year thanks to these young players that have risen through the system, but it wasn’t just those players that got the respective teams to prominence. They had to go out and spend some money.
The Twins added Carl Pavano to their pitching staff. He not only got the job done on the mound, he won over the fan base with his phenomenal mustache. Jim Thome also helped in garnering attention. For the Rays it was Pat Burrell and Cliff Floyd that helped anchor a potent offensive threat. Cincinnati, on the other hand remained fairly quiet. Alrodis Chapman was their big money investment, though. It was his stellar pitching that ultimately positioned the Reds for a spot in the 2010 playoffs.
For the past three years Neil Huntington has been the general manager of the Pirates. During these three tumultuous seasons he has cited the aforementioned teams as being a model for Pittsburgh to build off.
With aggressive spending in the draft the Pirates have acquired top talent and could be seen as having some of the youngest players with the most potential compared to any low farm system across the majors.
Keeping with the plan that once the upper level prospects reach the major league level and show signs of success, then the free agent market will be attacked with the few missing pieces the team needs to contend. The Reds, Twins and Rays have all utilized their money properly with sufficient going to free agents, but still remaining loyal to their own homegrown players. The Pirates are taking this route, too with Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez all taking great strides at the major league level last year.
One team this off-season has taken a different approach.
The Orioles have one of the best young pitching staffs in the
game, today. As of late, they now have a lineup that mirrors a classic Yankees roster. With its aggressive stance in the Free Agent pool the Orioles have added Vladimir Guerrero, J.J. hardy and Derek Lee to accompany their own Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. While this hungry spending spree may pay off, it will be tough to compete, as always in the American League East. While some may argue that they are at least a year from reaching its competitive potential, the Orioles set out to silence the critics by going against the grain and landing some of the hottest free agents this off-season.
They spent money.
It is not exactly the plan the Pirates are heading on. As they finished with near identical records last year, the Orioles feel now is their time. It’s different strokes for different folks because Pittsburgh is still premature in its development.
I applaud the Orioles for their plan, but Huntington will still laud to the Twins, Rays and Reds as the Pirates blueprint towards success.
I don’t blame him.
photo credits: yublog.com, nodaktwinsfan.com, sportsblog.projo.com, cobf.mlblogs.com, piratesprospects.com, sportslogos.com