Predicting what the Pittsburgh Pirates will do in a given offseason has to be one of the hardest tasks in the world.
Granted, the Buccos are under a brand new management team, so we can suppose that they'll do what it takes to build a championship team. But, before the Coonely-Huntington era, our beloved Pirates were operating under perhaps the worst management team in all of professional sports: Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield.
Since 2001, the Pirates fan base has been among the most confused and poorly treated in baseball. After a few losing seasons, we're told that we're in complete overhaul mode; be prepared for some drastic changes.
So what happens?
Over the next several years: we dump promising third baseman Aramis Ramirez for nearly nothing, then trade Brian Giles for two potential superstars in Jason Bay and Oliver Perez (Corey Stewart was in there, too). And then there was Jason Kendall; inked, to a huge, long-term contract as a future franchise cornerstone, he was then shipped off to Oakland for high-priced veterans Arthur Rhodes and Mark Redman.
Then, while rebuilding again in 2006, the Pirates decided to spend millions of dollars upgrading the team with over-priced free agents Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa (who soon lost his job to Freddy Sanchez).
Amid a midseason slump, Burnitz, in fact, commented on the state of the '06 Pirates, "I'm Joe High-Paid Free Agent. That, in and of itself, should tell you the big picture that the team's in."
Oh, and who can forget, amidst our last rebuilding process in 2007, the $10 million acquisition of Matt Morris?
So when I'm told we're in "rebuilding mode," forgive me if I'm confused as to what that actually means.
With a 16th consecutive losing season under the collective belt of the Bucco faithful, one can only hope the new management will begin to address our long-term needs, once and for all.
Pirates outlook for 2009 and this off season
One of the few areas of depth in the organization, the Pirates should be well- positioned over the next few years with Brandon Moss, Andrew McCutchen, and Nate McLouth expected to comprise a promising young outfield.
In fact, with the likes of Nyjer Morgan, Jose Tabata, Robbie Grossman, Jamie Romak and Steve Pearce all at various stages of development, the Pirates will have a steady stream of outfield talent for the next few years and, perhaps, can deal from a position of strength.
However, few of the aforementioned have established themselves enough to command anything of significance in return, and those who have—McLouth and (to a lesser extent) Morgan—are both young, talented and cheap enough that they'll probably be around for a while.
Prediction: No trades this off season. McLouth signs a long-term deal and Morgan takes Jason Michael’s vacated spot as a primary fourth outfielder.
Seeing that Adam LaRoche is the only major league-caliber first baseman in the system (Pearce is close, but he's probably more suited for a super backup role, long term), he'll definitely be staying in a Pirates uniform for at least one more season.
Despite his supernaturally-slow first halves and his relatively high salary (probably $6.5-7.5 million after arbitration), his promising potential and his high value as a left-handed power hitter in PNC Park mean he might even be around a lot longer than ’08-‘09.
Prediction: No trade this off season. LaRoche may be approached about a long-term deal, before he starts to put it all together. Breakout season, anyone?
The 2008 version of Freddy Sanchez was a far cry from the 2007 NL Batting Champ we all knew and loved.
Despite a chronically-ailing shoulder that the Pirates brass feel will sufficiently heal this off season, many in the Pirates community have called for a trade—especially given his hefty price tag. Sanchez’s recently-signed contract runs through 2009 with a club option for 2010 and is worth up to $18.9 million, after which he’ll be eligible for free agency, basically guaranteeing he signs elsewhere.
With prospect Shelby Ford waiting in the wings, it would be reasonable to expect the fan favorite to be in another uniform by spring training. While I think he’s a likely trade candidate, he shouldn’t be traded this off season.
Huntington and Coonley have repeatedly emphasized their mantra of getting full value in return. Now that Freddy’s stock is down, they’d be hard-pressed to find a buyer willing to part with prospects a 2007-esque Sanchez would command.
I think Sanchez will bounce back nicely in ’09, but could be traded nearer the deadline, with teams feeling the pressure of the playoff race.
Prediction: No trade this off season, though he could be traded at the ’09 trading deadline.
Likely Destinations: Arizona comes to mind, especially if neither David Eckstein nor Orlando Hudson returns. However, the Pirates will be looking to pull in a nice cache of prospects (especially power pitching prospects) that the D-Backs may not be willing to part with given the recent depletion their system has endured.
Oh, the king of them all… Jack Wilson’s name has been floating around in trade rumors for most of the past two seasons. The supposed inevitability of a trade was so certain that Jack received a raucous standing ovation during his last home at-bat this season, showing the fans’ appreciation for his dedication and hard-nosed play in Pittsburgh.
With all the community ties he’s built and with the lack of a suitable replacement anywhere in the Pirates farm system, a Wilson trade is sure to be unpopular, to say the least.
While his salary is somewhat high (for a Pirate), there aren’t many cheap, capable shortstops readily available to replace him. Add to that the noticeable improvement of the Pirates defense when he’s playing, and…
Prediction: No trade this off season! Don’t get me wrong—he’s still one of the most likely to be traded, I just don’t think the Pirates will find a team willing to give up the right value in return. Nonetheless, if an appropriate trade presents itself, don’t be surprised to see Wilson in a different uniform next season.
Personally, I think he’ll end up with the Dodgers, if they can’t bring back Furcal. If they do, I don’t see him going anywhere until perhaps mid-season.
By far, third base has the most organizational depth of any of the infield positions. With Andy LaRoche somewhat major-league ready and Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez maybe a year away, there seems to be a bit of a logjam at the third base position.
While no starting role is guaranteed (a la Huntington), no one is ready to push LaRoche for the right to man the hot corner on opening day.
Prediction: Two scenarios...
A—The Pirates bring in a one-year 3B (Doug Mientkiewicz, Rich Aurillia, Russell Branyan, Mike Lamb) to allow the others to develop. Management certainly won’t rush Alvarez so he could be in the minors through 2010, allowing Walker and LaRoche to develop more, then battle it out in late ’09 or ‘10, at which point a position change or trade will be in order.
B—More likely in my opinion: LaRoche gets the job opening day and retains it throughout the season. Then, in ’10, his development at that point will predicate a trade or a trip back to the minors. As for Neil Walker, he may be traded for a prospect at another position sometime this off season.
One thing is for sure: this murky situation will be resolved by midseason.
Ryan Doumit is the Pirates’ starting catcher and will be, for at least a few more seasons. Ronny Paulino, on the other hand, has greatly fallen out of favor with management since exploding two seasons ago and probably won’t see much time outside AAA Indy, given Diaz’s suitability as a backup.
Prediction: Doumit gets approached about a long-term deal and Paulino is dealt for pitching prospect. Don’t be surprised to see Paulino in Houston or Cincinnati, despite being in the Buccos’ division.
I’ll add my thoughts about the pitching staff in a separate article. I didn’t realize how long this one was going to be. Comments Welcome :)