You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. In the case of the Pittsburgh Pirates at this year's trade deadline, a good deal of eggs were broken.
The Pirates undertook a fire sale of historic proportions, trading most position players on the team. Of the eight starters on Opening Day 2009, only two remain in Pittsburgh—third baseman Andy LaRoche and catcher Ryan Doumit.
If not for an injury that sidelined Doumit for all but 15 games in the first half, he likely would have been traded as well. Relative to position, Doumit was the best offensive player on the team, and would have brought a large bounty to a team looking for a good offensive catcher.
However, even as a supporter of the "blow it up and start over" philosophy employed by the Pittsburgh front office, Doumit's injury was a blessing in disguise.
With a newly strong minor league system, the Pirates are shaping up to be competitors as soon as 2011, when the cream from these trades will rise to the top. The Pirates loaded themselves with talent in AA or above that's poised to fast-track it to the Majors.
Let's take a moment to look at what the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates might look like based on what's in the minor league system.
Obviously, there's a caveat here. All of these prospects may not pan out, and further trades may bring better players than the ones I'm projecting right now. But the idea remains the same.
The 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates lineup may look something like this:
1. Andrew McCutchen - CF
2. Lastings Millege - LF
This part of the team is in place on the Major League roster, and looks very productive. They're both young, cost-controlled players that the team plans to build around. I don't think further explanation for my rationale is needed.
3. Jose Tabata - RF
Tabata is currently on the cusp of 21 years old, and was called up to AAA after thoroughly dominating AA. He's shown the ability to do everything except hit for power—the last tool to develop.
ETA: The power will play the biggest part in determining when he gets the call. If he starts hitting tons of doubles and a decent amount of home runs in AAA, it could be as early as mid-season next year. If not, a midseason 2011 call.
4. Pedro Alvarez - 3B
Most scouts say that Alvarez will eventually move to first base. I agree, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect him to start his Major League career at third. More on that later.
Alvarez is the big power bat in this lineup. Since he was drafted, he's shown no problem piling up homers in the minors, and his contact rate and walks are improving. He's playing like the phenomenal hitter he was expected to be, and he's going to be a fixture in Pittsburgh for a long time.
ETA: He should start next year in AAA and get a call-up mid season. The opposite of Tabata, the thing the Pirates will be looking for is a lowering of his unacceptably high K-rate. That trend is already starting to happen, but they'll want to see it continue in AAA first to be sure.
5. Jeff Clement/Steve Pearce/Garrett Jones - 1B
Next season and the remainder of this one will give the Pirates plenty of time to see who the best of this triumvirate of similar players is.
My money is on Clement to be the starter. He's the youngest, has the best draft pedigree, and has the best minor league numbers.
I don't see the hype in any of these guys. I think Jones will peak this year and never regain his form, Pearce will be a good backup but nothing more, and Clement will be a league-average first baseman that the Pirates will seek to upgrade.
ETA: This September for Clement. The other two are already on the MLB roster.
6. Ryan Doumit - C
Already a Major Leaguer and the crux of this article. More on him later.
7. Andy LaRoche/Delwyn Young - 2B
Statistically speaking, Andy LaRoche is a fringe Major League third baseman. If he hit for more power, he could be above average, but he has yet to show that.
LaRoche is nowhere close to being as good as Pedro Alvarez, and he's unlikely to bounce Alvarez to first and put Jeff Clement on the bench. His only option to remain a starter is to play second.
The Pirates currently have Delwyn Young installed at second base. His bat profiles well there, but his glove is a question mark.
I don't think it would be a bad idea for the Pirates to try LaRoche at second. Opinion is split with both scouts and fans as to whether he has the range to play there, but there's only one way to find out. Unless Delwyn Young flashes some good leather, there's no harm in giving both players reps there just to see.
The loser of this battle will be used mostly as a pinch hitter, with some starts in the field to give players rest. Young has more versatility in that regard, which is bad news for LaRoche if he doesn't learn to play another position.
8. Ronny Cedeno/Chase D'Arnaud/Argenis Diaz - SS
It seems obvious to me that Chase D'Arnaud has the best chance of being a productive player of this trio. He's a sure-handed fielder who's putting up potent offensive numbers at high A right now, making him my choice for SS of the future.
The other would seem to be battling for a backup spot.
Cedeno has experience at second as well as SS, and he's the starter for the team this year. If he proves that he belongs in the Major Leagues for the rest of this season, I expect that to be the end of the discussion with Cedeno as the utility infielder.
If not, enter Argenis Diaz.
Diaz is a highly regarded defensive SS with a noodle bat. Cedeno is a hair better with the stick, but Diaz blows him away defensively. Beginning next season, I expect to see Diaz and Cedeno split time at SS to determine which one will back up Chase D'Arnaud.
ETA: Midseason 2010 for Diaz, midseason 2011 for D'Arnaud. Cedeno is already on the MLB roster.
Bench: Pearce/Clement/Jones - 1B, OF, C (Clement), Brandon Moss - OF, Tony Sanchez - C, Cedeno/Diaz - MI, Young/LaRoche - 2B, OF (Young), 3B (LaRoche), PH
That's a good team that looks better with a rotation that will feature some combination of Tim Alderson, Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm, Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris.
Herein lies the rub: Without Ryan Doumit, the team doesn't look as good.
In 2011, Doumit will be 30 years old. Traditionally, that's the last of a player's peak years. Doumit seems a good candidate to me to develop "old player skills," which is something this lineup will lack.
The thing this team needs most in 2011 is power hitting. Most of the players should have a decent amount of pop when they fully develop, but not all of them will be peaking in 2011.
Doumit would stabilize the lineup by providing power from an unlikely position, thus being able to give the team some leeway in homer production from other positions.
The Pirates' catcher of the future—Tony Sanchez—will be able to provide a great glove at catcher, but the offense is a big question mark.
I say let Doumit pick up Sanchez's offensive slack for 2011 and 2012, then cut him loose in free agency when the other players on the diamond should be coming into their own power wise.
Sign a big bat at one of the corner infield positions to replace Clement/Jones/Pearce and subsidize some of Doumit's lost power, move Pedro Alvarez to first if needed, and let Tony Sanchez do his defensive wizardry when the team won't hurt from losing the offense.
The question mark with Doumit has always been health—injuries have plagued him for his Major League career, and it's difficult to think that it will go away as he gets older. However, the team has a contingency plan for Doumit's inevitable DL stint—Tony Sanchez.
2009 first-round pick Sanchez is on the fast-track to the Majors, and will surely be up at some point in 2011-2012. He would be able to step in if Doumit were to get injured, with Jason Jaramillo being recalled from AAA to back him up.
This would get the post-Doumit catcher tandem necessary reps to pick up the slack when he eventually leaves the team, but would also allow the best offense to be on the field most days.
That's my long-winded take on this issue. If the Pirates get a good offer for Doumit, I think they'll take it. But based on what I've said tonight, they may need to set the bar for a "good offer" high.
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