Friday Focus – Foundation of the Franchise

Friday Focus

Well, as some of you know, once a week or so I like to put out a piece called Five Thoughts at Five. These always get some fun conversations going with all of you, and this one was no different Wednesday night.

The question I was hoping would draw response was number three and here is the gist, in the last forty years of Pirates baseball, which one player would you choose as your first pick if you were starting an expansion team? I asked that everyone take some pretty tough looks at this too. This should in no way just be “my favorite player ever”, there is much to consider.

Here was the exact question “If you could choose one player from the Pirates 40 years with no World Series rosters to start a franchise with, who would it be? We’re talking you’ve seen what you’ve seen, you know what you know, career still ongoing or not. Factor in everything, like Doug Drabek was really good, but pretty short career, sure you want to start your franchise with him? Gerrit Cole could have seven more excellent seasons or he could get TJ next year, want to take the risk. Barry Bonds is the all-time homerun king, but man is that the guy you want as your core leader? Think about this one and tell me why.”

The replies were anything but predictable, this one was from Joe “As far as a core leader from the last 40 years I would have to go with Jason Kendall. Though he wasn’t much of a power hitter he was able to consistently hit for average. More importantly he was able to play 140 plus games as catcher constantly every year for 9 years with us. We have not been able to have a catcher give us that kind of durability year after year since he left for Oakland.” So, Joe places a huge amount of importance on the durability factor when building his team.

Randomly, one gentleman simply said, Bob Walk. Ummm.

Brian said, “Bonds….look at when he hit his prime. Could bat him 1st, 3rd, or 4th. Build a lineup around him yet plug him in where he fits best in regard to the other talents. Also was still more than capable of playing CF if your other two guys had to play LF n RF.” Solid argument, no? Certainly, he never was punished for his perceived use of steroids, so the “fear” of that cropping up is long gone.

This is a simple difference between super talented and someone you want to build around and I’m glad to see some out of the box thinking going on.

So, where do I come down? I was able to narrow it to three candidates and I’ll elaborate on those along with my top three who just missed the cut.

The Just Missed Candidates
1. Tony Pena
– Harkening back to what Joe said up there, catcher is quite possibly the most important place to start as he can affect the offense and defense. Tony was simply amazing. In his 17 seasons in MLB he posted a 24.7 WAR, with 107 HR and a .260 BA. These totally acceptable numbers were dragged down by his time out of Pittsburgh where he was a perennial all-star. That’s the exact reason he doesn’t quite make it, his career went on a pretty steady decline after his trade from the Burgh.

2. Gerrit Cole – He is still in the middle of writing his story and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s a fine candidate for starting a club, you’d have an anchor for years in your rotation and a chance to win even if your bats weren’t ready for primetime. But if his career did end now due to some catastrophic injury or it just changed how he pitches, there just isn’t enough already in the bank for me to pick Gerrit.

3. Austin Meadows – I seriously considered Austin. First, I hear from folks almost daily that losing him will ultimately be the most painful thing we remember from the Huntington era, and second, you could do worse than starting your franchise with a speedy outfielder who has power too. This would be the ultimate High floor, high ceiling guy, right? He just misses out for one fact; I think I have 3 betters.

The Candidates
1. Andrew McCutchen
– Let’s start with his career (so far) numbers shall we, a 44.8 WAR, 233 HR, and a .286 BA. He’s a consummate pro on and off the field and his ability to patrol CF ups the ante. Early in his career he was a real threat to steal a base every time you held him to a single and while he has evolved into less of a threat to steal, it didn’t come with much reduction in speed. He’s 11 years in and looks like he’ll go for a few more at least. That’s a nice stretch of consistency and leadership I would be very comfortable hanging my hat on.

2. Barry Bonds – Everything my man Brian said up there. Literally. At the same time, Barry had to be that good to rise above the personality traits I personally find unbecoming of someone I’d like to start my franchise with. That said, 162.8 WAR, 762 HR, .298 BA in 22 seasons. There was a time, specifically 2001 where Barry was intentionally walked with the bases loaded, more than once. Let’s just say that doesn’t happen often.

3. A.J. Burnett – In 17 seasons A.J. posted a 28.8 WAR, and a 3.99 ERA. His Wins and Losses sit at 164-157 which is pretty understandable when you consider some of the teams he played on in Florida and Toronto. He grew into leadership which does give me pause but not enough to take him out of my top three. In no way do I think he is the best pitcher to every wear black and gold, but the length of his career and the attitude he brought to the club pushed him over the edge for me.

Well, how did I do? Anyone I missed? If you have a name, bring your reasons too. Happy Friday everyone.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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