Since Dejan Kovacevic first broke the story about the Kyle Stark-lead Navy SEAL training last week, I've been thinking about the whole situation and trying to figure out how much I really care about it. Last night, DK put up a second column that goes into more detail, and I was able to corral my thoughts a little bit better. They go something like this:
I don't care at all if Stark wants to put his players through crazy Navy SEAL training. It's three days, and we're mostly talking about young guys and trying to instill some work ethic. It seems a little intense and maybe a little extreme, but I don't really think it's out of bounds for the Pirates to do something like this at their fall instructionals.
I don't really care about Stark's slightly crazy e-mail, either. The Hells Angels stuff was a bad comparison to draw, but I think that invoking the name of any organized crime group is something that's done colloquially quite a bit by people too young to remember when those sorts of organizations were a bigger deal in the country (I'm talking about people my age, of course; Stark is seven years older than I am). I'm not necessarily condoning that kind of speaking/writing without thinking and I'm not denying that he comes off like a little bit of a crazy person, I'm just saying that neither of those things prevent him from being good at his job and I'm not really willing to judge him based on those things.
I'm honestly not sure that I care that an American League scout thinks that the Pirates' development program is a joke, either. The reality is that there are a lot of things we don't know about player development and I think that the biggest sin is not doing things differently. I'm not sure that the way the Pirates do things is the right way, mind you, just that I'm not sure that I care what other teams think about the Pirates.
I think that the development/scouting question is definitely a chicken/egg question and for all of the draft busts that the Pirates have had in the Huntington era, you can definitely point to the Rudy Owenses and Alex Presleys as players that no one thought had a chance that blossomed into Major Leaguers (well, I'm extrapolating for Owens here) under the Huntington/Stark regime. Who gets credit for Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco exploding this year? The scouting staff that found them, or the development staff that brought them into a new country and helped them adapt and use their raw talent? I definitely agree with the idea that the Pirates don't have as much talent in their system as they should given the money that they spent from 2008-2011 in the draft, but I'm not at all sure where to point that finger, other than to point it at the guy at the top. Neal Huntington is his own post, though; we'll talk more about him and Clint Hurdle and Frank Coonelly next week.
All of which is to say that a lot of the things that have been discussed about Kyle Stark in the last week are weird and off-putting, but I don't think they're necessarily damning to his ability to do his job. There's a big exception, though. It's really concerning to me that DK wrote his story calling Stark's methods into question last week and that that apparently lead to an avalanche of unsolicited criticism of Stark from within the team. It's one thing if players are complaining about unconventional training or other teams are skeptical of what the Pirates are doing, but it's worrisome to me that team employees are forwarding internal e-mails to the media to basically say, "You think this guy's crazy? Check this out!" Being unconventional is one thing, but creating an environment that leads to your employees just chomping at the bit to sell you out, well, now in that light, all that other stuff starts to look really bad. And of course, if people are just waiting to sell Stark out because he's a megalomaniac, that's on the people that have continually employed him every bit as much as it's on Stark himself.
I sincerely doubt that the Pirates will stand pat after a second straight collapse this winter, in terms of the people running the club. The biggest question I have after reading things like this is exactly how much change is necessary.
Last apology for damn IPhone spell check. Also, I realize this is a Stark article, but I guess the point is leadership comes from the top down. A strong competent leader would never put someone in the position to go all Hells Angels on Pirates over slot futures.
Contd from below: December (sorry...silly Iphone) and I'd believe you. Pirates need a Rooney or a Lemieux. Hell, Lemieux tried to buy them 2 yrs ago and Nutting turned him down. If he did it out of an 'all-in' commitment than fine. But that's not the case. Hell, did he even chine in during CBA re: slot maximums? Nope. Silent. Laid up. Did he send a firey message when team slumped in August? Nope. Acted like it was already lost. Steinbrenner never would of stood for that. Nor would Mario or a Rooney. Pirates have win last 2 years IN SPITE OF management. Hell, Cutch and Marte and Walker came from previous regime even! Nope, fans deserve better. Not Hells Angels speeches, but MLB big boy talk.
Pat, you should care.....and I think you do. The biggest issue to me us ownership. We've been winning in SPITE of ownership. Even when things were awesome in May and June...where was Nutting during all of this? Was he making comments to the press about how 'the time us now' or 'Pirates are here to stay'? Nope. Coonelly? You could tell me he's still behind bars for DUI in Fecember
I tend to agree with your take and commented essentially as such over at the Trib Blog. There's a tendency to focus on an email or an incident rather than the larger picture. I imagine there's a context , say if the Pirates hadn't collapsed, in which all of the above (hells angels, navy seals, etc) would be lauded as being responsible for success. How we view these things tends to be influenced by the present narrative.
However I think it's impossible to ignore the larger point, which is that there may well be a significant problem with the culture of the Pirates management. I often find myself 'defending the front office' on blogs and in conversation, not because I think there aren't things one should be critical of, but because I think a particular criticism lacks merit. For instance local journalists and/or commenters will often derisively bring up the Pirates 'obsession with years of control.' The reality is that pretty much every team (except perhaps for the Dodgers and Yankees) value years of control but if you're only getting your baseball news from local sources you might not realize this isn't unique to the Pirates. But to say the Pirates farm system (which is by all accounts pretty good and certainly improved talent wise) should be even better based high picks on the $ spent is a totally reasonable criticism. To build any sort of sustainable success the Pirates need to not simply be average at acquiring and developing amateur talent they need to be well above average, and there's a fair amount of evidence to suggest this not the case. Yes there are some exciting prospects in the system. But can we say with confidence that they can continue to add such players with draft spending constraints and without the benefit of Top 5 picks? I can't.
But back to the matter at hand. My take away from the Stark email is essentially that it seems to be full of a lot of empty bluster and hollow rhetoric. This might not mean much in and of itself but I'm being to think increasingly as I stated above that this might be indicative of large organizational culture. More disturbing than any of this recently reported news to me is this first hand account that was posted on Bucsdugout as well Dejan's blog, which I assume you've likely read Pat. If not the link is below, I'd be curious at your thoughts:
So....You really don't care?
Well, this is exactly why the Pirates are facing losing season #20, and losing season #16 under the Nutting Regime.
Fans (?) that just don't care.....They just want to have an association with an organization that is run like a broken down farm thirty two miles out of Downingtown.
When you attend that mixer at Pirate Fest later this winter.....Don't be excited.....Feel guilty.
You are a contributer to the dreaded, iron fisted Nutting Regime.
The worst ownership in the history of sports.
It gets worse:
"They are general manager Neal Huntington and assistant GM Kyle Stark, who have implemented a training program unlike any other in the industry. From getting blasted with water after 5 a.m. wakeup calls to hand-to-hand combat in which, according to two sources, ***top prospect Jameson Taillon once suffered a knee injury"***
Stark should have been fired on the spot.
Despite Branch Rickey's assertion to the contrary, there is such a thing as bad publicity. What concerns me is that ownership may decide that what the organization needs is more "traditional" baseball men--you know, like Clint Hurdle--and show NH the door so they could bring in some re-tread like, say, Ed Wade.
While I agree with this statement:
"I definitely agree with the idea that the Pirates don't have as much talent in their system as they should given the money that they spent from 2008-2011 in the draft"
the idea that "the development/scouting question is definitely a chicken/egg question" isn't necessarily true. It might not be simply an either/or proposition... it could very well be both.
Just looking at the development side, Kyle Stark's listed job title is "Director of Player Development", but almost everyone would agree that it's actually "Director of Baseball Player Development". As such, Stark is responsible for the development of fundamentally sound baseball players. And by that metric, Stark should be fired immediately.
@whygavs Great perspective. Not sure which Dejan to believe. The one raking them over the coals, or the one earlier telling me to believe.
@MBandi @whygavs Much better than Dejan, who has been out of his mind & out for blood over this year's collapse.
@MBandi @whygavs Much better than what Dejan has. Een providing. Dejan is out of his mind & out for blood with this collapse.
Well said. I still would like to hear things from someone other than "Anonymous Scouts" and "Anonymous Employees".
@BlknGld4life There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of the Pirates front office. I made several below. In terms of broad strokes Bob Nutting has as an owner committed resources in the only fashion that makes sense for a small market team rebuilding, to Latin America, the amateur draft etc. Did he hire the right people to spend that money and execute the strategy of building from within? Based on what we're hearing, quite possibly not.
There are a lot of reasons for the Pirates two decades of losing. From my perspective one of major ones was completely ignoring Latin America (from which about 33% of players on ML rosters currently hail). In doing so they reduced their pool of players enormously and in doing so it's no surprise they were so terrible for so long. That Starling Marte was the first LA signing to come through the system and play in the majors since Jose Castillo tells you all you need to know. The shambles the Latin American program was in is well documented by DK during his time at the PG: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/pirates/pirates-in-the-caribbean-mining-for-diamonds-623478/
You could certainly argue the Pirates should have more talent in their system to show for their overslot spending (I would). However if you follow the system closely it's pretty clear there's been a vast improvement in the past 5 years.
Harold Ballard called from Hell; he'd like a word with you.
@dbazz5 Have you read Pat's blog before? I would guess not because if you had you'd know that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone more deeply invested in the team, who's spirits are lifted higher by their successes and crushed by their failures.
Whether your intentional skewing what Pat wrote or simply choosing to view it through a lens that fits your preconceived notions I don't know. But in this very post Pat simply said those criticisms, at least as individual entities resonate with him less than say the manner in which the Pirates chose to spend in the draft or internal criticisms from employees working under Stark et al.
You do realize that Taillon was so injured that he didn't miss a single day of practice or a single start during the Instructional League season, right?
I guess we shouldn't allow players to walk down stairs, cross streets or do any other activities wehre they could get hurt like play sports. Oh wait.
@wkkortas If the Pirates hire Ed Wade, I am through with them until ownership changes. Period.
@gallaghered When team had everyone going, 16 over, how logical do you think it would have been to forecast utter doom? Be serious, Ed.
@BenjaminPGlaser Well, he did put a call on his blog for some of these people to speak publicly ... but seriously, when are you going to get an employee to go on the record for something like that?
Are you familiar with the "career" of Brien Taylor?
If Taillon had torn up his knee during a dumbass physical activity like hand-to-hand combat, or if Cole had severely injured his shoulder because he tripped while running along the beach and helping carry a telephone pole, those injuries would make Taylor's career-ending injury look positively sensible.
@Dejan_Kovacevic If Nutting was on the fence about making major changes again, I can imagine that he has no choice now.
@Dejan_Kovacevic utter doom no. Quails? Have said 162 evens things out. I knew the "holding runners/bad catching" would have an impact.
@Dejan_Kovacevic never utter doom. I have tweeted before 162 games has a way of evening things out. I knew the "holding runners