With June fast approaching, this is the time of the year that Pirates fans have grown accustomed to, with the annual sell-off of talent. This year, though, some judicious moves can keep the Pirates in the the thick of the hunt in an unusually weak division. Not all involve players, however. Let's see how the Pirates can stay relevant this season and end their years of being the doormat of the National League.
I really hate "I-told-you-sos," and this is no exception—especially since it involves a Pirate player. However, ramming a kid through the minors is rarely a good thing. Pedro Alvarez has caused inordinate expectations since he was drafted from Vanderbilt. Fans kept hearing, "Wait 'til Pedro gets here," over and over again until there was almost mass hysteria in Pittsburgh last season when he was called up from Indianapolis.
In 95 games, Pedro struggled to hit .256 with 16 homers and 64 RBI, getting hot in mid-September. Meanwhile, Andy LaRoche rotted on the Pirate bench, hitting a paltry .206, four homers and a mere 16 RBI. This year, Alvarez continues to struggle, hitting .210, one HR, and seven RBI so far. LaRoche? He's hitting .239 for Oakland, but no homers and just two RBI.
Some say it would be cruel to send Alvarez back to Triple A at this point. However, it's far more cruel to watch him struggle at the big league level, knowing that the team is depending on him to light the power fuse. It's time to let him go back a notch, figure things out and come back on his own terms and time frame and to hell with everybody else.
Michael Young has fallen out of favor in Texas. It began with the Rangers signing Adrian Beltre over the winter and moving Young to DH. Young began his career as a shortstop, moving to second when the Rangers brought in Alex Rodriguez from Seattle. He moved back to short when the Rangers sent A-Rod to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano. Then, the team traded for Elvis Andrus, moving Young to third. Now, this.
At the moment, Young wants out of Dallas-Fort Worth and is ripping the ball at a .343 pace, with two HRs and 31 RBI. He'd fit in well in Pittsburgh and, if Pedro's stay at Indianapolis proves to be really short, Young could move over one position and supplant Ronny Cedeno at shortstop. What does Pittsburgh have to offer Texas? Well, Paul Maholm grew up there and the Rangers could use a left-handed starter. Just sayin'...
A solid jack-of-all-trades is essential to any bench of a contending ball club. Melvin Mora is really versatile—the likes of which hasn't been seen in Pittsburgh since Jeff King last played there. Mora is a solid .278 career hitter. This season, Mora is just under that at .262, with zero HRs and 11 RBI, but offers protection at seven positions. He'd come fairly cheap, too.
Jason Marquis has been a Pirate-killer his entire career. Although long thought to be washed up, Marquis is turning in some good numbers for a lousy Washington Nationals team at 5-1, with a 3.54 ERA and one complete game. He's second on the team in strikeouts with 31, behind ex-Buc Tom Gorzelany, and Jordan Zimmerman who have 35 K's each.
Another veteran Pirate-killer is Jamey Wright, who has been impressive for the Seattle Mariners this season at 0-1, 1.89 ERA and 13 K's in 19 appearances. Wright can be an innings-eater, either as a starter or out of the bullpen. His WHIP (walks and hits divided by innings pitched) is 1.15 and that's not bad for a 35-year-old pitcher.
The Pirates' sluggish offense needs a special touch and that's why the team needs to call in a special guru—not that Clint Hurdle can't be of service to the hitters. Hurdle's got enough to worry about as manager, and a hitting expert like Walt Hriniak should be consulted if even on a limited basis. Walt had a very fleeting career as a player, but became a much sought-after instructor. Such players as Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs and Frank Thomas swore by Hriniak over the years.
If not Hriniak, either of two of Hurdle's former teammates will do—Don Slaught, another catcher-turned hitting professor, or the great George Brett will do nicely for a little instruction. Former closer Kent Tekulve said on a recent post-game show that four is the magic number. Pitchers need to hold the opposition to four runs or less and the hitters need to score four runs or more in order to maintain their competitive edge. So far, the pitchers have done a good job of keeping the opposition from scoring big, but the offense hasn't done its job.