This is part of a series of posts wherein we castigate teams for their cruddy offseason crusades and applaud them for their excellent additions.
Look, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t going to make the playoffs in 2010. I know it. You know it. Heck, even the Pirates know it.
So why did the team bother to trade for 2B Akinori Iwamura, or sign free agents OF Ryan Church and RP Octavio Dotel when it would have been cheaper to promote minor leaguers?
Pittsburgh signed Iwamura because the organization felt there were no internal candidates to play second base. Moreover, it’s important for the sanity of the team’s pitchers and fans that the guys up the middle be able to field their positions. You don’t want to retard a minor leaguer’s progress by promoting him prematurely. While not a screaming deal ($4.25M), Iwamura will be a free agent after 2010 (and Pittsburgh should get at least one draft pick when he departs) so the team maintained flexibility.*
The Pirates’ other two big additions, Church and Dotel, were affordable pieces who will likely be worth more than they cost.
Church won’t make much money ($1.5M) and will give Pittsburgh some flexibility in its outfield and at first base should any of the team’s young players struggle. That’s a good thing since Lastings Milledge and Jeff Clement are far from safe bets (though for different reasons). CHONE predicts Church will be worth $4M in 2010.
Dotel, who will only earn $3.25M this season, could be a valuable trade chip come July. If he has a good first half, the Pirates could flip him to a contender, who would likely pay a pro-rated portion of his salary and send Pittsburgh a prospect or two in return. For a team that is solely focused on adding young talent, that would be a great result. Nor is it unlikely. Dotel hasn’t closed since early 2007, but he was a reliable arm for the White Sox the past two seasons, maintaining a strikeout rate of 10.83 per nine innings. He’s still got it.
From a financial standpoint, the organization probably saved a little money non-tendering closer Matt Capps and signing Dotel. GM Neal Huntington explained the non-tender decision, saying, “we felt that the risk of an arbitration award at a substantially higher amount was not a good business decision for us….” That makes sense. Also, there’s a good chance Dotel will be the better pitcher in 2010. He was in 2009.
It’s easy to look at the Pirates’ offseason acquisitions and say, “why bother?” But these vets won’t steal playing time from youngers, at least not for long. That’s not how Pittsburgh rolls. Whenever possible and practical, the Pirates have given young players the chance to win starting jobs. That’s the correct strategy for a midmarket team with a still-recovering farm system (damn you Dave Littlefield!).
GM Neal Huntington has been unflinching in his willingness to pull the trigger on a trade that will improve his team’s long term chances. Gone from the team’s 2009 opening day lineup are Nyjer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, and John Grabow. Eric Hinske, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, and Sean Burnett were also traded.
Huntington’s got this team headed in the right direction. We knew it wouldn’t be quick, nor easy. But the Pirates are getting closer to respectability everyday.
I can’t give the Pirates an A, because they still stink. But so far management is making all the right moves.
NOTE: Nick emailed me earlier and said, “I feel the Bucs are foolish to sign those players, because it can’t really ever hurt to let young guys play and see what you have – it can only help – so there’s no need to waste that money on free agents.” In baseball matters and pretty much everything else, Nick is smarter than me. So I should probably just agree with him. But I’m going to go against my better judgment this once and say that I think if a team is really dedicated to developing young players, then they will surround those young players with a few talented veterans. I’m not as big a proponent of intangibles as Sarah, but I do think a certain amount of leadership is a good thing. Plus, from a marketing standpoint, it’s nice to have a couple of names that the fans recognize.
Added: Akinori Iwamura, Octavio Dotel, Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby, Brendan Donnelly, Javier Lopez
Lost: Matt Capps, Phil Dumatrait
C – Ryan Doumit
1B – Jeff Clement
2B – Akinori Iwamura
SS – Ronnie Cedeno
3B – Andy Laroche
CF –Andrew McCutchen
LF – Lastings Milledge
RF – Garrett Jones
SP1 – Paul Maholm
SP2 – Ross Ohlendorf
SP3 – Zach Duke
SP4 – Charlie Morton
SP5 – Kevin Hart
CL – Octavio Dotel