If I were the Pirates' GM, I'd have the most daunting task in the history of sports!
Nah, just kidding.
However, I would have an incredible challenge trying to put together a championship team in an organization with very little depth and minimal talent at the top, to boot.
In fact, one could argue that I should keep losing with my lovable yet low-salaried bunch, ensuring profits (assuming the team doesn't perform so horribly, as to prevent people from showing up), while stockpiling bunches of No. 1 picks, who will eventually explode onto the scene one right after another, bringing several championships back to the Steel City.
But, after 16 years, we can't wait any longer; we need to win now. Plus, I couldn't imagine the fans' reaction if our minor league affiliates, so flush with the hypothetical myriad of No. 1 picks, actually had a higher payroll than the big-league club.
Hey, it could happen; with the way we allocate money towards the draft, while trading away our high-priced vets, you just never know.
Anyway, as the new head honcho in the front office, I'd have one goal in building a playoff-caliber team this season, without sacrificing long-term success (Dave Littlefield) or bringing in high-priced vets (Dave Littlefield).
The key: finding under-valued, positionally-blocked, unneeded, unwanted or otherwise easily-acquired players with below-market values and bringing them to the 'Burgh, simply hoping that they suddenly put it all together (Kyle Lohse), stop being a head case (Jose Tabata, for now), benefit from a change of scenery (Oliver Perez, Aramis Ramirez) or bounce back from an exceptionally tough year—or two (Nick Swisher).
While the team has begun to accrue some nice organizational depth, do they really have the impact potential to bring home a championship? (see Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, etc...)
Here's what I'd do:
Infield (Right Side)
I think we are well-heeled at this position with Adam LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez at first and second base, respectively.
At their peak, they could perhaps be considered one of the best first-second tandems in the NL, exceeded only by Ryan Howard and Chase Utley of the Phillies and (maybe) the Mets' Carlos Delgado and Luis Castillo. Some day Cincinnatti's Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips may be better than all of the above.
I'd immediately sign both to 5-year extensions, as neither will have lower value than they do right now. Imagine the benefits of 2006-7 Freddy Sanchez and a second-half (insert year here) Adam LaRoche...
Infield (Left Side)
Jack Wilson is a great guy, don't get me wrong, but shortstop is one of the most key non-pitching positions on the field.
If you can get offensive production without sacrificing much defense (Jason Bartlett for the Rays), you have a significant advantage. While "Jack Flash" can turn a defensive gem as well as anyone in the game, his bat has just been too silent for too long to let him continue in the two-spot...Or has it?
Over the past three seasons:
I believe this qualifies him as a pretty good eight-hole hitter. The World Series Champion Phillies had Pedro Feliz bat eighth, mostly. Though he has more power than Wilson, his career OPS stands at .719, while last season it was a mere .704.
At third base, we have so much potential but so few results (and many worries about rushing our players). With a smorgasbord of not-quite-major-league-ready talent at the hot corner, we have our main opportunity to splurge a little, while relegating Andy LaRaoche, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez to AAA, AA, and A, respectively.
After some delightful window shopping, we will acquire the $9 million man, Melvin Mora (yes, he waved the no-trade clause) from the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Ronny Paulino and a player to be named later. (The Sox wouldn't part with Kevin Youkillis, Colorado wanted too much for Garrett Atkins, and Eric Chavez's salary was a bit too big.
We will send Brandon Moss to continue his development in the minors, instead inking Moises Alou to a two-year, $6 million contract.
Likewise, as we await the arrival of young phenom Andrew McCutchen, we quietly sign Rocco Baldelli to a two-year, $5.3 million contract. He will be slated for a platoon in center with the left-handed Nyjer Morgan.
In addition to taking advantage of their respective plate matchups (Morgan against right-handers OBP, SLG, AVG: .349, .385, .304; Baldelli against left-handers: .344, .475, .263), the platoon will give the "Woonsocket Rocket" the rest he needs to stay healthy, while not over-exposing either at the plate. Also, it allows for speed off the bench and a very capable fourth outfielder.
Then, we will move Nate McLouth to right field, in hopes that he has another good year at the plate, while his fine play of balls off the Clemente Wall will put him in line for another outstanding defensive season.
Ryan Doumit will be signed to a 7-year, $30 million extension, a great deal for the both of us! We will also retain backup Robinson Diaz.
In addition to Diaz and one of Morgan/Baldelli, we'll bring back Craig Wilson and Jose Castillio on minor league contracts. We'll also ink third baseman Russell Branyan to a one-year $1.5 million contract, while Doug Mientkiewicz still dreams of that starting role somewhere.
- Closer: Matt Capps (R)
- Set-up: John Grabow (L)
- Short: Doug Brocail (R) (one year, $2 million)
- Short: Tyler Yates (R)
- Middle: Sean Burnett/Craig Hansen (L/R) (whichever is less wild).
- Long: Phil Dumatrait (L)
- Paul Maholm (L)
- Ian Snell (R)
- Tom Gorzelanny (L)
- Zach Duke (L)
- Randy Wolf (L) (two years, $5 million)
If it looks like we're just leaving one of the worst starting rotations intact, we are. Why should we tweak the rotation that much? They still have potential and that is what Joe Kerrigan is for.
- Nate Mclouth: One of the best lead-off hitters in the game
- Morgan/Baldelli: Speed and high averages make them a good fit
- Freddy Sanchez:While he certainly lacks the pop of a prototypical No. 3 hitter, he always excels in the three-spot. If he can hit in the low to mid .300s, I'll sacrifice the power.
- Melvin Mora: Whoops, here comes the power (24 dingers, 29 doubles). His solid OBP (.355, lifetime) will help ensure there's men on for Alou, while his average and power will get Sanchez better pitches, not that he'd even need them.
- Ryan Doumit: He adjusted well to his non-fastball vulnerabilities last year, but being sandwiched between Mora and LaRoche will let him see even more hittable pitches. His switch-hitting is valuable here, putting two righties or two lefties in a row.
- Adam LaRoche: Perhaps not making him bat cleanup will take some pressure off and eliminate those slow first halves. He can easily move up as he heats up, perhaps switching with Sanchez.
- Moises Alou: Not the Alou of old but Alou, nonetheless.
- Jack Wilson: See above.
- Pitcher: No need to bat the pitcher eighth in this lineup.
A versatile (five lefties or seven righties), yet balanced lineup, sporting good average and decent power (see above).
Projected record: 85-77 Wildcard, anyone?