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So like the Royals... Three Years Ago- A Chat With Bucs Dugout

Bucs Dugout has always been one of my favorite baseball blogs. Like me, Charlie Wilmoth joined the SB Nation empire in the summer of 2005 (BD launched about a month after Royals Review) and because of the obvious similarities between the Pirates and Royals, its always been a site that I keep my eyes on. (Back in February of 2006, which is like the fifth century in blogging time, we exchanged a two-part dialogue about the Bucs and Royals.) If I come off as snarky and rude in the little exchange below, its simply because I am, not because I'm not respectful of Charlie.

If anything, the Pirates are much worse off than I'd first thought when I asked Charlie if I could interview him. They haven't won more than 68 games since 2004, which is no mean feat playing in the National League. They play in a tiny market surrounded by other teams and depending on who you ask, have between a mediocre to bad minor league system.



RR: Who is the greatest Pirate of the 00's? Other than Matt Morris, I mean.

Bucs Dugout: Brian Giles

RR: As a Pirates fan/blogger, what's the lowest you've ever felt?

Bucs Dugout: I'm still a fan, but I don't let the team affect my mood that much. If I let the Pirates' losing stop me from living my life, I'd be comatose.

I don't live near Pittsburgh anymore, which probably actually helps. In 2007, after the Pirates drafted Danny Moskos instead of Matt Wieters, there was a fan protest at PNC Park that I thought might be a fairly big deal. It turned out that only a couple thousand people walked out, and some of the Pirates fans who remained actually booed the protesters. That was incredibly depressing, and for a while, I wondered what percentage of the fanbase was actually comfortable with mediocrity; maybe the bobbleheads and fireworks were enough, you know?

Anyway, it turned out that the protest probably played a role in Dave Littlefield being fired, so it wasn't for naught. Things have been looking up since then.

RR: How do you feel about being in the Nl Central? I see one large market unbearable behemoth (the Cubs) and one well-run mid-market (STL) and... and.. oh, the Brewers.

Bucs Dugout: Fans complain about the six-team division, which they'd have a point about if the Pirates could compete in any division. Given that they're not competitive, it hasn't been so bad. Being in the Central keeps the Pirates from having to play tons of games against teams in huge coastal markets, and there have always been similarly bad teams in the Central with them. It's just that the other teams take turns, whereas the Pirates are always there. The Brewers were a joke for a long time and it looks like the Astros are now setting themselves up to be a punchline as well.

RR: The Pirates, since 2004, have won 67 games, 67 games, 68 games, and, oh, this is different, 67 games. Has it seemed that maddeningly consistent tou you? Which of those Pirate squads was the best?

Bucs Dugout: The one that won 68 games, obviously.

RR: What's your take on the Jason Bay trade?

Bucs Dugout: Trading Bay was necessary, and I liked the deal at the time. Unfortunately, a lot hinges on Andy LaRoche living up to his billing as a top prospect, and after watching him for two months, I have serious doubts about whether that will happen. Two of the other acquisitions, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen, are role players at best, so if LaRoche flops, all that's left of the trade is live-armed starting pitching prospect Bryan Morris. Fortunately, the trade of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte for Jose Tabata and three pitchers looks much better.

RR: What's the farthest you can travel from Pittsburgh where the majority of baseball fans are Pirates loyal?

Bucs Dugout: Maybe India, actually. The Pirates' recent signings of two Indian pitchers received a ton of attention internationally. India doesn't have many baseball fans, but I bet a lot of the ones that do exist at least know about the Pirates.

If you mean in North America, there are all kinds of factors that make that question problematic: the relatively close proximity of lots of other clubs (Indians, Orioles, Nats, Reds, Phillies), the closeness of Pittsburgh to the Ohio border, and sixteen years of losing, which has made hardcore Pirates fans a dying breed. I haven't spent enough time traveling through Northern and Central Pennsylvania to know whether the answer lies somewhere there or in my home state of West Virginia. For what it's worth, I did spend two summers in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, and I didn't sense much enthusiasm for the Bucs there.

RR: So what's the deal with former Royal Doug Mientkiewicz? I think at some point in August I noticed that he was almost playing everyday with the Pirates and was shocked.

Bucs Dugout: Well, as you know, he's a marginally useful player--a nice guy to have around, but not anyone worth throwing a fit over. Somehow, though, he's probably become the Pirates' most popular player after Jack Wilson, if you can believe that, because he got in Randy Johnson's face in one game and later told the press his teammates had quit on the season, and both these deeds obviously qualified him for sainthood. And so most Pirates fans have decided their absolute top priorities are signing Doug Mientkiewicz and giving him the key to the city. All this is, clearly, depressing on any number of levels.

RR: The Pirates might be the least talked about team in baseball (says the Royals blogger). So, what's the deal with the new leadership team? Good? Bad?

Bucs Dugout: Good so far. Like the Royals, the Pirates spent lavishly on the draft in 2008. They have also made great strides in re-establishing the Pirates in Latin America. Those are the keys to building a competitive Pirates team. The Bucs also got a very high-upside player in Jose Tabata for two veterans, which isn't something Dave Littlefield would have even tried to do.

The jury is still out, of course, and we'll have to see whether the Pirates will raise payroll once they're in a position for a free agent or two to put them over the top, and we'll also have to see what sorts of players they pick when it gets to the point where it really matters who their supporting players at the big league level are. Some of the choices of big-league players they've made have been less than inspiring. (I'm sure lots of Royals fans have similar worries about Dayton Moore.) Most Pirates fans hate the new ownership and management, but again, these are the same folks who have spend all winter gnashing their teeth about Doug Mientkiewicz.

RR: OK, quick odds, lets go to 2010: Pirates win 75 games or less, Pirates go over .500, Pirates win the NL Central?

Bucs Dugout: Yikes. 80%, 8%, .8%. The Pirates' new management inherited a terrible farm system, so they're really having to rebuild the organization from the ground up. I'm looking at 2011 at the earliest, and more likely 2012 or 2013, as the next season they can have a winning team.