Big League Stew - MLB

Excuse me if I don't understand the point of walkouts. OK, so fans, incensed at a team – or, in the case of the planned walkout at the Pittsburgh Pirates game Saturday, at the ownership and management – send their message by, um, buying a ticket and streaming more revenue to the oppressors simply so they can leave in the third inning and send a message?

Excuse me if I don't understand the point of walkouts. OK, so fans, incensed at a team – or, in the case of at the Pittsburgh Pirates game Saturday, at the ownership and management – send their message by, um, buying a ticket and streaming more revenue to the oppressors simply so they can leave in the third inning and send a message?

Hey, I'm all for righteous causes, and aggrieved Pirates fans do have one. Their streak of 14 seasons below .500 will almost certainly stretch to 15, as the Pirates continue to operate on a $38 million payroll better suited for the NHL than baseball.

Pittsburgh's highest-paid player is catcher Jason Kendall, who they are paying $5.5 million to wear an Oakland Athletics uniform. The Pirates' second-highest-paid player is shortstop Jack Wilson, whose on-base-plus-slugging of .677 ranks 151st among major-league regulars. Third is Shawn Chacon, farmed off to middle-relief duty.

No wonder, then, the Pirates want to hide evidence of the protest. While the effort to make it go Hoffa isn't as conspiratorial as some Pirates fans want to believe – amid a few deleted posts, the message board on Pirates.com teems with protest talk, and local television stations will be allowed to film the crowd during the game – no one from the organization wants to acknowledge the walkout.

And why should they? If they did, they'd only confirm what's quickly becoming more obvious: With Dayton Moore overhauling Kansas City, the Pirates have now taken the mantel as worst-run franchise in baseball.

Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield has bombed in free agency (last year Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz, this year Tony Armas Jr. and his 81 baserunners in 37 1/3 innings) and the draft, where pitchers seem to make a habit of blowing out their arms once in Pittsburgh's hands.

Robert Nutting, now the Pirates' majority owner, seems perfectly content raking in the revenue-sharing money baseball distributes to the lowest-revenue teams. The Pirates profited more than $25.3 million last year, according to Forbes, the third-highest number behind Florida ($43.3 million) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($27.5 million). And while Major League Baseball always contests Forbes' numbers, they are more accurate than what baseball would like the public to believe.

Point being: Pirates fans have every reason to be mad, and what stings so much is their limited options. Stop buying tickets? Nutting will just stay on MLB's teat – and, with the decreased local revenue, have an excuse for doing so. Force a change in upper management? Littlefield should have been canned two years ago.

Like disgruntled Baltimore Orioles fans in September last year, those in Pittsburgh on Saturday will walk out of their beautiful park because what's happening inside of it feels like an inescapable trap, and they just don't know what else to do.

FIVE …

• San Diego, the well-established king of the buy-low move, made another Thursday when it traded for injured Oakland outfielder Milton Bradley. Padres assistant general manager Paul DePodesta, who was GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers when Bradley combusted on what seemed like a monthly basis – slamming a water bottle tossed on the field by a fan or provoking a fight with a reporter, saying Jeff Kent couldn't co-exist with black players – used to work for the A's and certainly had a hand in bringing Bradley south.

If Bradley is fully recovered from a calf injury – Kansas City canceled a trade with Oakland after Bradley's physical – he should play left field full time and join catcher Michael Barrett, recently acquired from the Cubs, in the middle of the Padres' batting order. Barrett's value plummeted after boneheaded mistakes and fights with teammates in Chicago made him expendable.

So the Padres pounced, as they have so often with the $20,000 waiver claim, which has netted them effective set-up reliever Scott Linebrink, starter Justin Germano, lefty specialist Justin Hampson, utilityman Hiram Bocachica and catcher Rob Bowen, the main piece in the Barrett deal.

• As Colorado mulls how to construct its franchise under a tight budget, one luxury it can't likely afford is an established closer. Which makes Brian Fuentes' implosion of late that much more damaging. Said one executive, whose team hopes to trade for bullpen help: "He scares me."

In his last three outings, Fuentes has three blown saves and allowed nine runs in 1 2/3 innings. Granted, some was bad luck – Kaz Matsui's error lost the second game, and Hunter Pence hit a soft-ground-ball-up-the-middle double in the third – but if it's enough to give front offices pause, it's enough to drive down GM Dan O'Dowd's asking price.

Kenny Rogers' scoreless-innings streak ended at 34 last night in a victory that vaulted Detroit back into first place. At 42 years old, coming off surgery to remove a blood clot from his throwing shoulder, Rogers looked as good as he did last postseason, when he finished with a 0.00 earned-run average in 23 innings.

• On the other hand, 43-year-old Randy Johnson, just off the disabled list with another herniated disk in his back, was pinch-hit for in the third inning, not long after Dodgers catcher Russell Martin crushed a home run almost 440 feet. In his six starts before hitting the DL, Johnson had struck out 51 in 35 2/3 innings and given up only eight earned runs. And the Diamondbacks need that kind of work from their starters, as their young offense ranks 23rd in the majors in runs.

• And it's come to this for the Phillies, so flush in starting pitching before the season that they moved Jon Lieber to the bullpen: "The Real Deal" J.D. Durbin – a nickname he gave himself, since no one would dare say that about someone with a 94.50 ERA – starts tonight. And should he implode, as he did in a 2/3-inning, seven-run performance for Arizona in April, Durbin could get a new nickname: J.D.F.A. Already Durbin has been designated for assignment four times this season: Minnesota at the end of spring training, Arizona following the one-outing debacle, Boston one day after signing him and Philadelphia, so it could send him to Triple-A.

… AND FLY

Mother Nature, the only being able to keep the Yankees from losing these days.

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