The Pirates made it official last night. By losing their 82nd game of the season, they have guaranteed and 18th consecutive losing season. As Rocco DeMaro (Pirates Extra Innings Post-game Show host) said, "The losing streak is now old enough to vote." Ouch. Kids that are graduating high school weren't even alive the last time the Pirates had a winning record back in 1992. It couldn't look worse, right?
I submit to you that success is right around the corner. Now I know that really sounds optimistic, but you can FINALLY see the groundwork being laid.
THE CORE POSITION PLAYERS
First of all, you can see it in their starting lineup:
1. Andrew McCutchen CF
2. Jose Tabata LF
3. Neil Walker 2B
4. Garret Jones 1B/RF
5. Pedro Alvarez 3B
All of these guys are in their rookie year or first full season. That sounds like an exciting group to grow with. You need to surround that with a long-term solution in right field/first base (Doumit, Clement, Bowker, Moss, or a FA), catcher (Snyder for now and Sanchez in 1-2 yrs) and shortstop (not sure here, maybe a FA for 2 years or so until D'Arnaud is ready).
Okay, so the pitching staff. Currently:
Maholm - inconsistent between solid and below average but good to have around
Duke - see Paul Maholm. He's in his last arbitration year this off-season, so you wonder if the Pirates will pay the $$ for a #5 pitcher.
Ohlendorf - he of the 1-10 record, but has pitched great the last month. He also was statistically one of the best pitchers in the NL for the second half of last year. I think his back issue that first week of the year really set him back this year.
MacDonald - What a steal in the Dotel trade to get a solid starting pitcher and a 22 year old power bat in AA (Lambo)
Karstens - He's just a filler until we can find someone better. You know what you'll get out of him.
I think Maholm is good to have around, Duke is expendable, Ohlendorf and MacDonald can be part of the future, and Karsten's time is limited. So, that leaves two spots open. One spot should be filled with a legitimate starter though free agency. Obviously it doesn't make sense to allocate 50% of your payroll to a guy like Cliff Lee. However, there has to be a guy that you can sell to make a case of the up and coming team, a clear spot to be a leader of a staff, and a solid home park to pitch in.
Spot number 5 needs to come from someone stepping up from the minor leagues: Lincoln, Morton, Veal, Ascanio, D McCutchen, Hart, Crotta, or one of the AA guys midway through the year (Morris, Locke, Owens, Wilson). There are plenty of options, the Pirates just need that guy (or guys) to show they're major league caliber.
The bullpen looks solid with Hanrahan and Meek at the end. I really like the pickup of Resop. I was hoping Dan Moskos would be up by now but he regressed to the point that the Pirates sent him back down to AA. Just like the last two years, I trust managements philosophy of filling in parts of the bullpen in the offseason and figure they'll do that again.
THE DRAFT AND LATIN AMERICA
The Pirates are finally doing what Dave Littlefield's administration was unwilling to do--get the big time upside guys regardless of their agent or asking price. Had they been doing this before, those guys would now be up in the big leagues. Since they didn't, we're left waiting for 3 or 4 years for Tallion, Allie, and Heredia to make their way up. Also, since the Pirates now have invested in a state-of-the-art Domincan Facility, they should make more progress there (again since Littlefield essentially ignored that area).
It's so exciting to see what's coming. When Dave Littlefield made that horrendous trade of acquiring Matt Morris and his two years at $10 mil/yr while giving away Rajai Davis (a decent fantasy baseball option for those looking for SB) in the deal, I was angry, had too much time on my hands (it was the summer after all) and decided to take an in-depth analysis of the minor league system. What I found was scary. 27 and 28 year olds at most of the start spots at AA. No high-impact players in the entire system (5 teams) other than Andrew McCutchen. The result of that is the current mess in the major leagues. I can't speak to what happened earlier in the decade, but I feel confident that the current 40-82 mess is directly thanks to Dave Littlefield's administration.
HOWEVER, the future looks bright with all the well-regarded prospects that look like they can begin to annually have players ready for the major leagues. I think I mentioned earlier this year how different this year is where there are impact guys coming up from the minor leagues. Like multiple guys. Before, the Pirates were lucky to have one legitimate contributor from the minor leagues per year.
Consider that, on average, a player moves up a classification per year, you can see the waves of players that are coming:
AAA - SP (Lincoln, Morton), SS (Friday), OF (Moss, Bowker, Presley?)
AA - SP (Morris, Locke, Owens, Wilson), SS (D'Arnaud), 2B (Mercer), 3B (Harrison), 1B/OF (Hague), CF (Hernandez), OF (Lambo)
Hi A - OF (Marte, Grossman, Latimore), 3B (Farrell), C (Sanchez)
Lo A - SS (Cunningham), OF (Chambers)
Rookie - P (Van Rosenberg, Pounders, Dodson, Waldron, Fuesser, Cain), OF (Rojas)
Just drafted - SP (Tallion, Allie, Heredia)
While obviously not even half of these guys will be major league contributors, the Pirates are at least putting themselves in a position of having more options to reach to the major leagues.
It stinks that Neal Huntingdon had to get rid of the average guys like Bay, McLouth, Wilson, Sanchez, and others but it had to be done to help solidify this minor league system so they can have a self-replenishing system much like the Twins, Rays, Marlins, and A's have done and been successful with. While it would be nice to spend like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, and Angels there is another way to do it.
Still holding out hope and looking forward to the day when the Pirates will be relevant again...