Now that most of the Pirates' starting lineup has left PNC Park, can the team's dispirited fan base be far behind? That's the question that didn't seem to faze the Bob Nutting ownership regime as it dismantled first the outfield, then the infield of an entire team of popular players.
Beginning with last summer's trades of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, followed by this season's rapid-fire departures of Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Freddy Sanchez, John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny, the loyal public who built and opened America's most beautiful ballpark eight years ago are still getting hit in the face with the Pirates' revolving-door style of team building.
Sure, the fans are tired of the now-guaranteed 17 consecutive losing seasons. Sure, as the front office likes to cite, this collection of players -- for as popular and accomplished as some of them are -- was not able to keep the team near a .500 winning percentage.
But it seems clear that around June 2008, the ownership had two choices on how to rebuild this team: spend money to buy impact players to fill in the gaps around its proven stars or trade away its players of value for inexpensive prospects who, on a hope and a prayer, might peak together around 2011 as a competitive force.
Other owners may have opted for the former and embarked on a quick turnaround that would have built on the loyalty to high-performing players and put more fans in the ballpark to cheer on the team's new winning ways. But the Nutting group chose the low-cost latter route, unnerving Pirate supporters, demanding yet more patience from them and risking a further drop in attendance from 2001, which is already down by 39 percent (based on the first 45 home dates of the season).
We won't argue that every player just traded away will be missed; Adam LaRoche and Ian Snell were clearly under-performers. Nor will we claim that all of that young, incoming talent is unimpressive; Class AA pitcher Tim Alderson was hard for Giants fans to sacrifice.
But of all the stats swirling around all the players in the blow-up of the Pittsburgh Pirates, these are the two worth keeping in mind: 31 and 50. The Nutting payroll for a Major League Baseball team was a little more than $50 million on opening day; after all the trades it's down to $31 million. Mission accomplished.
Sure, these owners want to win, but they want to win on the cheap. That's why it will take another two years or more to put a competitive team on the field.
That's not what Pittsburghers did when they committed to PNC Park. They built the best in the majors, figuring they'd finally get a great team out of the deal. We're still waiting.