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This is one of a series of posts in which we grade each team’s wily hot stove maneuvers and tragic offseason blunders.

Jason Bay - trade bait?

It’s getting hard to find new ways to talk about the Phillies when I’m supposed to be talking about other teams. But let me give it a shot.

It was common knowledge that the 1964 Phillies had set the standard for most epic late-season collapse, blowing a 6½-game lead on the Reds with 12 games remaining in the season — until last year, when the 2007 Mets became the new biggest choker.

This season, another shameful Phillies record is in play. The Pirates are in the midst of a 15-year losing streak. The longest losing streak ever was the Phillies’ 16 sucky seasons from 1933-1948.

So what do you think, loyal readers? Can the Pirates break the record? Yeah, I think so too.

Expectations for the 2008 Pirates are low. And for good reason. The team lost 94 games in 2007 and didn’t do much in the offseason to improve. The team’s website says “the club’s new management is banking on bounce-back years from those who underperformed a year ago to lift the franchise towards the top of the NL Central standings.”

Did you catch that? Not “to the top of the NL Central.” Towards the top. Just, you know, in the direction of the top.

So what did the Pirates do this offseason?

Craig Wilson - trade bait?They signed former batting champ 2B Freddy Sanchez to a two-year extension ($10.5 million). Hard to argue with that move. Sanchez is a proven hitter. And the Pirates still aren’t paying him so much that they won’t be able to unload him if the right offer comes along.

The Pirates approached closer Matt Capps about an extension, but didn’t get anything done. Capps had 18 saves in 20 chances after taking the job June 1, posted a 2.28 ERA, held right-handed batters to a .181 average and a team-leading 76 appearances.

The Pirates were able to sign RHP Hector Carrasco, LHP Casey Fossum and RHP Jaret Wright to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training. And they agreed to terms with OF Xavier Nady and LHP John Grabow on one-year contracts.

Exciting stuff, no?

Acquisitions: Chris Gomez, Jaret Wright, Hector Carrasco, Casey Fossum,

Losses: Cesar Izturis, Salomon Torres

Projected Lineup and Rotation:

CF McLouth

2B Sanchez

1B LaRoche

LF Bay

3B Nady

C Doumit

RF Nady

SS Wilson

SP Tom Gorzelanny

SP Ian Snell

SP Paul Maholm

SP Matt Morris

SP Zack Duke

Set up Demasco Marte

CL Matt Caps

Offseason Grade: D

A couple of interesting storylines:

1. Will Jason Bay play well enough to raise his trade value?

2. Will Matt Morris pitch well enough to raise his trade value?

3. Will the Bucs trade Jack Wilson before the start of the season?

4. Will Ryan Doumit’s offense be enough for the Bucs to ignore his game calling deficiencies and make him the starting catcher?

BONUS: Pirates Prospects

1) Andrew McCutchen, OF — Keith Law says he’s the 13th best prospect in all of baseball and that he should be with the big club as early as 2009.

2) Neil Walker, 3B — Law says his defense at third remains unacceptable, so he may end up a ‘tweener who doesn’t hit enough to play first and can’t handle any tougher position on defense.

3) Brad Lincoln, RHP — Lincoln missed 2007 after Tommy John surgery, but is expected to be ready to go in March. Law says he has an above-average fastball and power curve with some feel for a changeup. The question is how he’ll bounce back from Tommy John surgery.

Others:

4) Daniel Moskos, LHP

5) Shelby Ford, 2B

6) Jamie Romak, OF

7) Brian Bixler, SS/2B

8) Duke Welker, LHP

9) Brad Corley, OF

- Hot Offseason Action Index -

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