I didn’t expect the Pittsburgh Pirates to improve a great deal during the offseason. I didn’t think they would sign any players to lucrative deals, and never counted on them to entertain me by making any blockbuster trades. If you did… well… wanna invest in my magic bean business?
In my mind, the best thing that the Pirates have done so far this winter is announce that Andy Laroche will be their starting third baseman. This is a sign that the Pittsburgh front office understands that if they are to have any chance of competing within the next few years, prospects like Laroche (who looks like the lovechild of David Wright and Luke Wilson) need to be a big part of the equation.
Just two years ago the younger brother of 1B Adam Laroche was ranked #1 by Baseball America, ahead of notables like Clayton Kershaw and James Loney. But due to injuries, Laroche’s stock has sunk considerably over this short span of time to the point where he’s almost forgotten. Rereading the John Heyman article regarding the Manny-Bay trade in July that brought Andy to Pittsburgh, the guy is treated like a throw-in.
No one can doubt that Andy’s career hasn’t exactly been sparkling thus far. He has a career OPS+ of 49 over 367 PAs. But it’s far too soon to give up on him as a potentially solid big leaguer. And the Pirates are one of the few teams who can give guys like him a shot without much consequence.
And I know that this sounds like a backhanded compliment, but the best thing the organization has going right now is roster flexibility. Aside from Jack Wilson, the team doesn’t have much in terms of stupid contracts, which allows them to provide playing time for their prospects in the coming years.
Currently, their top prospect (depending on who you ask) is Pedro Alvarez, who could become a monster offensively, but reviews on him are mixed. The former #1 pick arrived in mini-camp… well… not-so-mini. And I hardly ever hear anything about the guy without also hearing something akin to “if he gets his priorities straight…” He’s listed as a 3B but his future is more likely to be at a less demanding position.
Jose Tabata is another intriguing prospect who could become a very good player, but is known to be moody and is still a couple of years away from contributing in the Pirates outfield.
Then there’s of course, Andrew McCutchen, an outfielder whose stock has also fallen a bit of late. He used to be regarded as a five-tool prospect but his power is yet to arrive, leaving scouts to wonder if it ever will. However, he’s still very young and his glove and patience are already MLB-ready. He’s expected to be a better defensive CFer than Nate McLouth, but that’s kind of setting the bar low. They can certainly put him in the corners in 2009, but his lack of power decreases his value there.
So what this leaves us with at the moment is a team full of mediocre veterans. “Gold Glove” winner McLouth will “lead” this “team” in 2009 once more (I clearly need to stop reading Zagat’s guides). The Laroche Bros. will man the infield corners, while the combo of Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson should compete with the San Diego Padres’ double play duo to be crowned “worst starting middle infielders in baseball”. Their OF is in a state of flux aside from McLouth as I just refuse to believe that any team will dare start Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan at the corner spots when everyone is healthy. Perhaps their “big” winter pick up, Craig Monroe will fill one of those spots and/or they will decide that McCutchen deserves the gig. But as of now, the only above average player the team has is catcher Ryan “Why Are My Pupils Always Dilated” Doumit. However, Doumit’s going to be on the downside of his career by the time the Pirates will be able to even sniff contention. Anyone want a cheap, offensively talented catcher in exchange for pitching prospects?
Add: Craig Monroe, Jason Jaromillo, Ramon Vazquez, Jeremy Powell, Jeff Salazar, Andy Phillips, Brian Slocum
Lost: Doug Mientkiewicz, Ronny Paulino, Jason Michaels, Luis Rivas, John Van Benschoten, Raul Chavez
LF – Nyjer Morgan/Andrew McCutchen
2B – Freddy Sanchez
CF – Nate McLouth
C – Ryan Doumit
1B – Adam Laroche
3B – Andy Laroche
RF – Brandon Moss/Craig Monroe
SS – Jack Wilson
SP1 – Paul Maholm
SP2 – Zach Duke
SP3 – Ian Snell
SP4 – Ross Ohlendorf
SP5 – Tom Gorzellany/Jeff Karstens
CL – Matt Capps
The Pirates appear willing to let their kids play, which is good. They didn’t trade them away, didn’t foolishly sign any free agents to long term deals and maintained their flexibility, which is also good. The fact that I can pat the Pirates on the back for these seemingly innocuous decisions is further evidence that Dave Littlefield was an idiot. After years of failing to even tread water, Pittsburgh appears headed on the right track. Their system still lacks top-notch prospects, but it’s not entirely barren either. If they had some promising young pitchers, they’d be in decent shape. They don’t. At least, not yet. But they’re taking baby steps.