Reboot: The Pirates’ Movement for .500

We already know that the Mariners have made a remarkable turnaround following the switch from the dunderheaded Bill Bavasi to this era’s Billy Beane, Jeff Zdurflip. So now we come to face the Pittsburgh Pirates who have suffered losing seasons something like the past 236 straight years. The final straw leading to now-GM Neal Huntington’s hiring was the regime of David Littlefield.
Littlefield left several Buc prospects open for the 2003 Rule 5 draft despite room on the 40-man roster and sure enough 5 of them were gone within the first 6 picks. Other teams had had their eyes on the foolish Pirate’s gems, but had to settle for nothing or something less appealing. Oh, and then the Pirates didn’t even select anyone despite all the ridiculous space they had on the 40. Littlefield also traded away several big-talent players (Aramis Ramirez, Sean Casey) for basically nothing, but also managed to get some gems occasionally (Jason Bay). In the real draft he was apparently given carte blanche to make the most boneheaded decisions ever. Admittedly, he had little money to work with for those Boras-type bonuses, but still, how can you not draft Wieters. From the 2002 draft I will supply you with a list of names and you shall select the lame-o they selected: BJ Upton, Fielder, Swisher, Kazmir, Hamels, Bullington, Cain, Francouer. Success!
Towards the end of the ’07 season someone finally decided this continuing crapfest wasn’t good for business and so Littlefield out, Huntington in. Soon after the team began a transformation…and by transformation I mean most of the veteran starters were traded and hordes of prospects came flowing into the minors. Nealio also managed to convince ownership to at least up the money for scouting, development, and drafting (salary/bonuses) of players. The payroll still remains at one year of A-Rod.
The past two drafts have seen a total of $18.7 million tossed out for young blood including a couple of seven figure bonuses for a 6th rounder and an 8th rounder (hmm, better be worth it). They have also signed a couple of Indians (real ones, not Native Americans) who were winners of a game show so that Pittsburgh can become India’s team (sure!) and a South African, but on the whole have expanded their scouting scope a great deal (for the better).
From December 7th, 2007 through November 3rd, 2009 the Pirates made 15 trades gutting their team of their bigger names in return for promising to not-so-promising prospects. And here they are:

12/07/07 Marino Salas, RHP
Kevin Roberts, RHP
Salomon Torres, RHP MIL
03/26/08 Tyler Yates, RHP Todd Redmond, RHP ATL
07/25/08 Jose Tabata, OF
Ross Ohlendorf, RHP
Dan McCutchen, RHP
Jeff Karstens, RHP
Xavier Nady, OF
Damaso Marte, LHP
07/31/08 Andy LaRoche, 3B L
Bryan Morris, RHP L
Craig Hansen, RHP B
Brandon Moss, OF B
Jason Bay, OF (Manny) LAD, BOS
08/21/08 Robinzon Diaz, C Jose Bautista, 3B TOR
12/10/08 Jason Jaramillo, C Ronny Paulino, C PHI
04/15/09 Delwyn Young, 2B/OF Eric Krebs, RHP LAD
06/03/09 Gorkys Hernandez, OF
Jeff Locke, LHP
Charlie Morton, RHP
Nate McLouth, OF ATL
06/29/09 Eric Fryer, OF
Casey Erickson, RHP
Eric Hinske, OF NYY
06/30/09 Lastings Milledge, OF
Joel Hanrahan, RHP
Nyjer Morgan, OF
Sean Burnett, LHP
07/22/09 Argenis Diaz, SS
Hunter Strickland, RHP
Adam LaRoche, 1B BOS
07/29/09 Jeff Clement, C/1B
Ronny Cedeno, SS
Nathan Adcock, RHP
Brett Lorin, RHP
Aaron Pribanic, RHP
Ian Snell, RHP
Jack Wilson, SS
07/29/09 Tim Alderson, RHP Freddy Sanchez, 2B SF
07/30/09 Kevin Hart, RHP
Jose Ascanio, RHP
Josh Harrison, 2B/OF
John Grabow, LHP
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP
11/03/09 Akinori Iwamura, 2B Jesse Chavez, RHP TB

And now we run the numbers:
-19 Players Out, 33 Players In
-9 Pitchers Out: 5 Righty, 4 Lefty
-19 Pitchers In: 18 Righty, 1 Lefty -that is a worrying number.
-1 Catcher Out, 3 Catchers In: I mention this because they drafted a catcher (Tony Sanchez) with their first ’09 pick and he is now their 3rd ranked prospect (Baseball America Org. Ranks).

This is a Gorkys...a jedi?

-Jose Tabata (#2), Tim Alderson (#7), and Gorkys Hernandez (#10) are acquisitions that also feature in the top 10.
-Jose Tabata – Best Hitter for Average, Dan McCutchen – Best Changeup, Argenis Diaz – Best Defensive Infielder and Best Infield Arm, Gorkys Hernandez – Best Defensive Outfielder.
-Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, and Delwyn Young all played over 100 games for Pitt in ’09. The extent of their use can be debated, but they still have time on their sides.
-Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Hart all started 10 or more games for Pitt in ’09.
-Incoming batters (7 of them, not counting pitchers) made 2173 plate appearances for the club in ’09.
-Incoming pitchers (9 of them) threw 523.2 innings for the club in ’09.

Other notables for the future that the Pirates drafted are Andrew McCutchen (deserving of ROY consideration last year), Pedro Alvarez (soon to push Andy LaRoche out of 3rd), Tony Sanchez, and Brad Lincoln (a Littlefield bright spot, nope, they passed on Lincecum). At this point the Pirates minor league system must be busting at the seams with players who all require playing time to sharpen their futures. The Iwamura trade is curious since the Pirates have young players who can play his two positions so you have to wonder if he is trade fodder for sometime later on, say some LHPs come trade deadline time?
The real problem is upside. How many of these players will hit the high point of their upside and is that enough to make the Pirates a real contender some 2-5 years down the line? You can read all the scouting reports you want on a player and come away thinking the world of every single one of them, but the reality is that it could just keep them at the status quo wherein they develop a few bright spots that get traded away for prospects every trade deadline as they wallow in the basement. They have poured more money into the Latin American talent market and this is where they can finally push themselves out into the open (let’s call that .500). Playing in the NL Central is also a bonus, since if you catch a weak Cardinals team then a mid 80’s win record could land you the division.
The sky is the limit with a ton of unfinished prospects, of course the other limit is last place.
At least they have a plan, though.

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