Big Lead Sports Bar


10 Worst McClatchy/Nutting Pirates Moves

In order of how they brought down the organization, here are the 10 worst moves orchestrated by McClatchy, Nutting, Littlefield, and Bonifay (inept baseball executives, not a law firm) since taking over the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996.

1. Clueless Drafting, the only thing consistent about the Pirates

The Pirates are the LA Clippers ("Veterans of the lottery process") of baseball. For all their losing and high picks, very few players have ever turned out. Do read on...

1997, picking 8th, they choose J.J. Davis, he of a .179 average in 106 MLB at-bats to date. Anyone think #16, Lance Berkman, would look good in a Pirate uni right now?

1998, picking #15, they choose Clint Johnston, a pitcher who never rose above AA. They passed on a couple other pitchers you may have heard of: C.C. Sabathia, Brad Lidge, and Mark Prior.

1999, picking 8th, it's Bobby Bradley, one of many Pirate pitchers who would blow out his arm. They passed on #9 Barry Zito, #10 Ben Sheets, #12 Brett Myers, and #19 Alexis Rios. Wow.

2000, picking 19th, time for Sean Burnett, another Pirate of the blown out arm variety.

2001, 8th again, the card says John Van Benschoten, record-setting HR hitter for Kent State. Of course, the Pirates turn him into a pitcher and he blows out his arm. By the way, they missed out on #25 Bobby Crosby, #26 Jeremy Bonderman, and #38 David Wright.

2002, #1, and it's Bryan Bullington. Yep, blown out arm. Who'd we miss this year? BJ Upton, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Hermida, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Jeff Francoeur...

2003, the magic 8 spot yet again, and the call is Paul Maholm, who doesn't blow out his arm, but does manage to get hit in the face with a line drive. Anyone think #12 Lastings Milledge would look good in the PNC outfield?

2A and 2B. The signings of Derek Bell (2000) and Raul Mondesi (2004).
While this site is named in honor of Raul, the Bell signing is equally bad, and fit to be tied as the worst free agent signing of this period. To recap, Bell hit .266 with 18 HR and 69 RBI in 2000 with the NY Mets. For his efforts, GM Cam Bonifay rewarded DBell with a 2-year, $10 million deal to join the Pirates in their new digs at PNC Park. Let's just say that 2001 did not produce great results for this marriage. Bell managed a mind-numbingly horrible .173 average, to go along with 5 HR and 13 RBI in 46 games. In 2002, Bell announced that if he would not open the season as the starting outfielder, he would enter "Operation Shutdown". The Pirates cut him loose before the season, and "The Ultimate Pirate" was born: Bell stole $10 million and literally bought a boat and sailed into the sunset.

Mondesi's signing was equally ridiculous. He hit a respectable .272 with 24 HR and 71 RBI with the Yankees and Diamondbacks in 2003. However, Mondesi was a sinking ship, and his career was clearly on the decline. Those are perfect characteristics for a Pirate free agent signing, and he inked with the Pirates in February 2004. By May he was talking of leaving the team for personal reasons in the Dominican Republic, later known to be threats from hitting instructor Mario Guerrero. He left the team on May 11 and for all purposes quit on the Pirates, refusing to return to the team while using the legal issues as an excuse. His contract was terminated roughly a week later, and after another 10 days, he signed with Anaheim. The deal was investigated by MLB, as the circumstances were, shall we say, "shady", but they were cleared of any wrongdoing. Shortly after he signed with the Angels, he tore his quad (karma?) and was placed on the DL. He was released by the Angels in July for not showing up for his rehab therapy. Atlanta arrogantly signed Mondesi as a reclamation project in 2005 and proved once and for all that he was at the end of the line, appearing in just 41 games and producing 4 HR.

4. 2003: Pirates trade 3B Aramis Ramirez and OF Kenny Lofton to the Cubs for 2B Bobby Hill, 3B Jose Hernandez, and minor leaguer Matt Bruback
This is the ones that the masses can't forgive. Faced with not making payroll (or so the story goes), the Pirates HAD to make a move in the summer of 2003. With Kris Benson injured and unable to be traded, the Pirates dumped their 3B of the future (along with Lofton, a veteran still capable of contributing) in exchange for three players. Hill had one season (2004) as the main starter at 2B for the Pirates but was released in 2005 and has not surfaced in the major leagues since. Hernandez, who once fanned 188 times with the Brewers, was brought in for Ramirez. He hit .223 over the remaining months, and was released on October 1, 2003. Like a phoenix, he rose again, this time with the 2006 Pirates, contributing a .177 batting average to the Steel City Buccaneers. Bruback never reached the major leagues. Ramirez's career averages are 29 HR/100 RBI and .277 average, a perennial all star candidate. Lofton was a key cog in the 2003 Cubs playoff run and is now the starting CF for the Dodgers.

5. 2001: Pirates trade P Jason Schmidt traded to the Giants (with OF John Vander wal) for P Ryan Vogelsong and OF Armando Rios
Schmidt would blossom into one of the majors' finest starters, finishing as runner up for the 2003 NL Cy Young with a 2.34 ERA and 17-5 record. He is still recognized as one of the league's dominant hurlers. Vander wal was a part-time starter for the Pirates who whacked 35 HR over two seasons with the black and gold. Vogelsong, who was supposedly a dominant pitcher in the making, has become the go-to "mop up man" for the Pirates, often referred to as "The White Flag". His career line: 10-22, 5.86 ERA. Rios had all of three at-bats with the Pirates before an injury. He responded with a mediocre 76 game run in 2002, was released after the season, and appeared in only 49 more MLB games.

6. 1999: Pirates sign IF Pat Meares
Meares was signed as a free agent from the Twins, and hit .308 over 21 games before an injury sidelined him for the season. He was signed to an extension before the 2000 season, and was paid nearly $15 million over the next four years in exchange for 219 games, a .230 average, and unofficial position as clubhouse martyr after an injury debate with the team.

7. 2004: Pirates trade P Kris Benson and 2B Jeff Keppinger to the Mets for 3B Ty Wigginton and OF Jose Bautista
Benson was the #1 overall pick in 1997 and was once thought of so highly that Peter Gammons picked him to win the Cy Young Award. So Pirate fans were a little upset that in 2004 all the Pirates could do was acquire Ty Wigginton in exchange, especially when considering that the Pirates' asking price was believed to be none other than DAVID WRIGHT! Asking for Wright and settling for Wigginton is akin to asking $10,000 for a car and settling for $100. "Wiggy" hit .237 with 12 HR over two years with the Pirates. Benson is now on to Baltimore, 8-5 with a 4.06 ERA so far in 2006. Keppinger is hitting .297 at AAA for the Mets.

8. 1999: Pirates sign 1B Kevin Young to a 6-year, $24 million contract in 1999
Be careful, those two words may cause some Pittsburghers to spontaneously combust. Young got his first major shot in the bigs on the Pirates' 1993 "post-Bonds" team, where he struggled, hitting .236 in 141 games. He had played himself out of baseball, and in 1997, the Pirates signed him off the waiver wire after being cut loose by the feared KC Royals. Young responded by hitting .300 in '97, followed by .270/27/108 in 1998 (looking back, was it a product of the era?). The Pirates responded by tossing him $24 million over the next four years. As a thank you, Young responded with the following seasons:
2000: .258/20/88
2001: .232/14/65
2002: .246/16/51
2003: .202/2/7 (mercifully cut after 52 games)

9. 2000: Pirates sign C Jason Kendall to 6-year, $60 million contract
The pressure was mounting on the Pirates to build upon some cornerstones for the future with the christening of PNC Park in 2001. Kendall was a hard worker who had come back from a horrendous ankle injury in 1999. Unfortunately, after the signing, Kendall seemed to lose any of the little power he had while simultaneously polluting the clubhouse with a sour attitude towards young players. He has averaged three home runs per season since 2002.

10. 1998: Pirates trade P Jon Lieber to Cubs for OF Brant Brown
Brown was a starting OF for the Pirates in 1999, and responded with a .232 average and 16 HR. He was dealt a year later for journeyman OF Bruce Aven and was out of baseball by the end of 2000. Lieber had four very productive seasons with the Cubs and signed with the Yankees in 2003. Not spectacular, but an effective innings eater and quality pitcher the Pirates sorely lacked.


THN said...

I hate to rip teams for their draft, when it is such a crap-shoot. But a lot of those guys who they passed on (Zito is the biggest) were huge "can't miss" guys. Did the Pirates pass on Weaver a couple of years ago, too?

Ben said...

Also, when the Pirates signed Bell didn't they snub Jon Vanderwal who had earned the LF spot the previous season? I seem to remember there being a story there.

Pat said...

Besides Bullington and Clint Johnson, the guys the Pirates picked in most of the drafts mentioned were highly regarded at the time. It's entirely possible that had we picked Lance Berkman and the Astros picked JJ Davis that the two would have had entirely different careers. Same goes for, say Zito, Sheets, or Myers instead of Bobby Bradley, those guys could've blown their arms out in Pittsburgh just like Bradley and Burnett and Van Benschoten and Benson and Lieber and...

I'm not defending the Pirates drafting here because it's been bad, I'm just saying that it's likely that the player development is just as much to blame as bad drafting.

Anonymous said...

This might be the best Pittsburgh sports post ever. God bless you Mondesi's House.

~The Jim

Anonymous said...

Great list, but I don't think the Benson deal ended up to be that bad.....

Benson was damaged goods, and he hasn't been amazing since the trade.

Bautista has the potential to be a very solid starter for the Bucs in the upcoming years.

The trade was nowhere near as bad as some of the other moves made in the last few years...

Anonymous said...

Clitn Johnston was a signability pick as the Pirates let it be known ahead of time they were not going to spend money on the Rule 4 draft that year. He was not a consensus 1st round pick that year.

As others have noted, the draft is a crapshoot and the first round picks of Mickey White and Ed Creech have been defensible given the known strategy of the Pirates - low risk low reward.

Also, Benson was drafted in 1996 but signed late because of the Olympics.