Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

I was reading articles in preparation for writing this and one of them started off by saying, "well, it's been a tough 17 years for the fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates." Geez, I'll say. How bad has it been? It's been bad; the Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992. That '92 season was the last time the Pirates made the post-season (obviously) and for 23 out of the last 30 seasons, the Pirates have fielded a below-.500 club. Add to that 3 consecutive NLCS losses in the early '90s and you've got a truly pathetic franchise. Will it turn around this season?

2009 Season: 62-99; 28.5 GB the St. Louis Cardinals; last place, NL Central

Key Departures:
For a team the routinely trades away the talent they develop, often mid-season, the Pirates had a pretty quiet off-season, but managed to lose Matt Capps, their fairly consistent closer who signed as a free-agent with the Nationals. They also lost Jesse Chavez (RHP) and Phil Dumatrait (LHP), neither of whom were very good.

Key Additions:
The Pirates were fairly busy adding players to their roster this off-season, including a couple of bigger names:

Bobby Crosby (INF) - free-agent from A's; Crosby, a former ROY has really not had the type of career, so far, that winning that award might have suggested. With a career .683 OPS, Bobby has struggled to stay in the lineup; add to that some suspect defense and it's no wonder that Crosby was considered "expendable" by the A's. Well see what happens, but I see more of the same from Crosby.

Akinori Iwamura (2B) - trade with the Rays; Even though Iwamura has only played 3 seasons in the League, he's 30 years old which, in some ways, limits his long-term value. The injury bug caught Iwamura last year as well, limiting him to only 69 games. Iwamura is a typical Japanese player, sporting a slap-bat and a good glove. He'll be a regular for Pirates.

Ryan Church (RF) - free-agent from the Braves; Church will be a regular as well, and will do a good job in the field, but at the bat, he's a career .272 hitter with more than twice as many strikeouts as walks. Bleacher Reports projects him as a 5-hole hitter, but staying there will likely depend on his ability to get on base.

Chris Jakubauskas (RHP) - claimed off waivers from the Mariners; I've talked about Jak in my write-up of the Mariners. Bottom-line? NOT IMPRESSIVE.

Talent En Route:
The Pirates are a lot like the Rays, A's and Twins in that they have never had trouble developing talent. Over the last several years, the Pirate farm system has produced players such as: Aramis Ramirez, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth, Jason Bay, Sean Casey, Adam/Andy LaRoche, Andrew McCutchen, Nyjer Morgan, Zack Duke, Ian Snell, etc, etc, etc. What do most of those players have in common? Most of them have broken into the majors with the Pirates, done well, and then been traded. That said, it's not surprising that the Pirates have some 5-star talents up and coming.

Andrew McCutchen (CF) - This guy is hard to consider a 'prospect' given that he played in 108 games as a Pirate last year. I think it's clear that this guy has great potential. His line in those game was .286 BA, 12HRs, 54RBI, and 22SB. Add to that some gold-glove defense and you're looking at a solid player.

Pedro Alvarez (3B) - Alvarez was drafted in the 1st round by the Pirates in 2008, being considered by most to be the #1 college player at the time. Between High-A and Double-A ball last year, Alvarez hit .288 with 27 HRs and 95 RBI in 126 games. Given that type of a line and the Pirates propensity to bring up their young talent early, it would not be surprising to see Alvarez in a Pirates uniform by the end of the season.

Jose Tabata (OF) - I would be remiss if I didn't mention Tabata in a discussion of Pirate prospects. Tabata was originally drafted by the Yankees out of Venezuela in the 2004 draft. A few years later, Tabata was traded to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady deal. There have been recent questions about Tabata's true age, but Tabata (at the alleged age of 20) has seemingly turned things around with the Pirates. In 93 games between AA and AAA last year, Tabata hit .293 with 52Rs and 35RBI. With the Pirates additions this off-season, their outfield appears crowded, but a slip-up by Church could provide Tabata with an opportunity.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
To be honest, I'm gonna skip this for the Pirates because frankly, I don't care enough to look into it. The Pirates will, in all likelyhood, be the bottom-feeders of the NL Central again this year.

The Future of the Pirates:
With the Pirates, it all comes down to the front-office. Until management decides that it's time to start hanging on to the players they develop, this team will continue to lose 85-100 games a year. Where the Rays and Marlins have succeeded with the strategy of 'develop and trade', the Pirates have failed miserably. It would not surprise me in the least if this team starts to get mentioned in relocation discussions simply because of their inability to field a competitive team year-in year-out. To that end I leave you with this quote (source).

"I'm a Pirates fan for 51 years. You can't fire an owner. You've got to sell 'em first. But we can always dream." — Hall of Fame hockey broadcaster Mike Emrick, during NBC's telecast of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Detroit Red Wings game on Jan. 31, about reports that Penguins owner Mario Lemieux had offered to buy the Pirates from Bob Nutting.

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