Here’s what Paul had to say about the Pirates as recently as last winter:

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.

Staff PhotographerIt’s one year later and I don’t have a whole lot to add. GM Neal Huntington continues to stay the course, stockpiling young talent and giving raw, inexpensive players the chance to prove themselves at the major league level.

The Pirates kicked off the offseason by trading for Tampa 2B Akinori Iwamura. Here’s what Huntington had to say about that deal:

“We’ll be looking for value, but we definitely don’t feel like we’re desperate to fill any hole,” Huntington said. “We made the trade for Akinori Iwamura because second base was the position we identified as the one we most wanted to improve, but we feel good about the options that we have, now and for the future, and we’re not going to abandon our plan. We absolutely will not do that.”

“Looking for value and “not going to abandon our plan” aren’t sexy phrases, but those words should put Pirates fans’ minds at ease. Huntington gets it, and it’s been a long time since Pittsburgh had somebody capable in charge.

Reports are Huntington has permission to spend a little this offseason, and he’s indicated a desire to bring back reliever Mike Gonzalez. But Gonzalez will probably pass on the chance to play for the rebuilding Pirates and I’d be surprised to see Pittsburgh make a big splash in the free agent market. In fact, while Huntington has the OK to increase payroll, it seems likely this season’s Pirates will be a less expensive group.

The 2010 Pirates will take their lumps. But they’ve got potential major leaguers in third baseman Andy LaRoche, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and first baseman Jeff Clement. It’s still too early to give up on Lastings Milledge, and Garrett Jones had a surprisingly powerful debut. Meanwhile, prospects Jose Tabata (RF), Pedro Alvarez (3B), Bryan Morris (RHP) and Brad Lincoln (RHP) are on the way. Tabata, in particular, looks like a baller after tearing up the Arizona Fall League. He could be in line for a midseason call-up.

Regarding the starting staff, Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton will return, and Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen will battle for the fifth spot. It’s not Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine-Avery-Other-guy, but the Pirates had better pitching in 2009 than both the Reds and Brewers, so that’s something.

What do the Pirates need? More patience, and a continued dedication to developing young players. Fortunately, Huntington seems to have patience in spades.

As for the fans, hey, when your team has lost for 16 years straight, what’s another season or two?

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