It's going to cost a little more to see your new-and-improved Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012.
Rob Biertempfel, of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, reported today that the Pittsburgh Pirates will be increasing ticket prices for the 2012 baseball season. It will be the first major increase in 10 years for the franchise.
Given the success of this year's squad and the tremendous fan support, and the fact that the Pirates have already been a profitable team for several years, the timing and announcement of the increase seems to be an indicator that the Bucs are getting serious about raising some cash to compete in the off-season free-agent frenzy.
The Pirates are going to spend.
The early accomplishments of the Pirates through mid-season was very successful at energizing the fan base. The team hovered around first place near the end of the trade deadline in July. General Manager Neal Huntington explored several potential acquisitions, repeatedly mentioning at that time that the Pirates had cash to spend for improvements to the roster. Ultimately, they spent virtually nothing and gave up only a couple of minor prospects for the acquisitions of Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick.
A devastating free-fall at the beginning of August saw the Pirates realistically fall out of contention, leaving the Pirates with little pressure to pursue any waiver trades.
The focus for improvement now shifts to the offseason.
When fans began filling PNC Park on the wave of the team's early season success, they were driven by a team that was a winner. The attendance numbers were proof that Pittsburgh is willing, able and anxious to support a quality baseball club.
At that point, the Pirate ownership and upper-management became not only pressured, but obligated to change their vision for building for the future, with the risk being that they might lose hard-earned fans should they not commit to improve the team's current situation.
Couple this with the fact that Neal Huntington had already informed the fans that the Pirates had money for improvements and then did not spend any. Then add the fact that ticket prices are going up, which is one sure way to alienate more than a few of the faithful, should the organization regress.
With owner Bob Nutting and Huntington now squarely in a position that they cannot allow the Pirates to backslide, the vision for the future becomes more urgent for short-term progress. Huntington can only accomplish this by pursuing meaningful acquisitions through the free-agent pool this off-season.
The recent 10-game losing streak revealed several short-comings on the current roster that need to be addressed. Priority areas requiring critical upgrade include starting pitching, bullpen help, much of the infield and a need for a power hitter.
The pool of free agents is expected to be extremely deep with talent. Names like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and possibly C.C. Sabathia headline an All-Star list of quality players whose contracts expire at the end of this season.
Available first basemen include Lance Berkman, Fielder, Eric Hinske, Xavier Nady, Carlos Pena, Jim Thome, and perhaps, the brightest jewel of all, Pujols.
Among infielders, the New York Mets' Jose Reyes leads a group of shortstops that includes Rafael Furcal, Edgar Renteria and Jimmy Collins.
Free agent pitchers include Mark Buehrle, Chris Carpenter, Ryan Dempster, Jason Marquis, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny, Sabathia and Adam Wainwright.
Potential help in the bullpen could come from Danys Baez, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Capps or Brad Lidge, among others.
The list of quality free agents is long, and the above players represent just a small sample of the talent that's available.
Raising ticket prices is the best way to pursue the soon-to-be available talent. For the Pirates, this is not a money-grab. This is an investment.
Free-agent acquisition is the optimal solution for Huntington to buy some time for the farm system, which is still a little ways from supplying quality talent to the big league team.
Huntington's big picture of assembling some home-grown talent remains the same over the long term.
But acquiring a few quality free agents will provide a much-needed boost toward continued credibility and instilling more faith among the Pirates' faithful.