Pirates Strike Out on Baldelli: Early Offseason Review

Andrew KaufmanSenior Analyst IJanuary 9, 2009

Rocco Baldelli would have looked great in a Pirate uniform. He was the kind of low-cost, high-upside young player a team like the Bucs should be targeting.

But he won’t be playing in Pittsburgh next year.

Instead, Baldelli agreed to a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. The Pirates’ offer was financially competitive, but they fell short for a variety of reasons, including Baldelli’s preferences to play in the American League and close to his hometown of Cumberland, Rhode Island.

What went unmentioned was Baldelli’s assumed preference to play for a perennial contender as opposed to a team that is in rebuilding mode, even if the Pirates could have offered him more at-bats.

It’s encouraging that the Pirates’ offer was at least financially competitive—that’s the first step towards being a real player in the free agent market.

But, as the case of Baldelli—and earlier, Daniel Cabrera—shows, signing quality free agents isn’t as easy as throwing money at them. The Pirates’ reputation precedes them, and it will be difficult to attract good players to the Steel City until the Bucs either start winning games or showing signs of legitimate progress.

The Bucs’ pursuit of Baldelli was emblematic of the problem Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly face: They are trying to be proactive and creative in their efforts to improve the Pirates, but they are hindered by limited resources. All moves the Pirates make—or don’t make—must be evaluated within this context.

That said, the Pirates have done some good things this offseason, even if none of them are likely to lead to many more wins in 2009.

Ryan Doumit signs a contract extension.

At this point, the best resource the Pirates do have is their young talent, and locking up a player like Doumit is a big step in the right direction. The Pirates attempted to reach similar agreements with Paul Maholm and Nate McLouth, but could not come to any consensus.

If the Bucs are to be competitive in the future, keeping the players they develop is a critical first step. It is a very good sign that Coonelly and Huntington recognize this fact, as shown by their efforts to lock up all three players.

Jack Wilson is staying put.

If the right offer had been on the table, I would have supported a Jack Wilson trade—he is too old to be a part of the team’s long-term future at this point.

But the right trade wasn’t out there—the one name that was relatively exciting was Matt Joyce, at the time a Tiger, but it is unlikely that he was actually available—so the Pirates were better off keeping what they have instead of making a move just to shake things up.

The Bucs know what they are getting from Wilson. In a year in which they don’t expect to be contenders, the most important thing Wilson can give them is above-average defense and in turn more confidence for their young pitchers. That’s more valuable than anything a below-average prospect can offer.

The Bucs actually have Latin American prospects worth following.

I’m not saying Exciardo Cayones and Yonathan Barrios will amount to anything; they are way too young for anyone to know what will become of them. But it’s nice to know they could become something.

Under the leadership of Rene Gayo, the Pirates have seen a remarkable growth in their Latin American scouting and player development program during a very short period of time.

The Latin American market is one in which the Pirates can legitimately compete, and the Pirates’ work there is an example of the efforts of Huntington and Coonelly to improve the organization using methods that weren’t always considered conventional in Pittsburgh.

None of these moves is going to alter the 2009 NL Central balance of power—in fact, none of them will even affect the Bucs’ 2009 roster. But all three show that, though the climb won’t be easy, the Pirates are slowly, but surely heading in the right direction.