Picture by Al Behrman/AP
Yah, we know we promised you guys that we wouldn't obsess on the current Pirates too much, but as a reprieve from the bios of the Bucco alums working in Pirate City, we thought we'd take a peek in the crystal ball and see who the Green Weenie suspects will break camp with the team:
The starting lineup:
Nate McLouth CF
Jack Wilson SS
Freddie Sanchez 2B (His shoulder looks like it's gonna be a problem of unknown duration. He may be headed to the DL. EDIT - he was diagnosed with shoulder inflammation. How that affects him in the field this season is still up in the air.)
Adam LaRoche 1B
Jason Bay LF
Xavier Nady RF
Ronny Paulino/Ryan Doumit C
Jose Bautista 3B
The alternate lineup:
Nyjer Morgan CF
No brainwork here. These lineups were pretty much set in stone after the league meetings failed to spark any deals.
The "If Freddie isn't ready" lineup:
Bay LF (He's the wildcard - Bay hit .285 out of the 5 hole in 2007, and only .226 batting third, .241 at cleanup. Nady also did his best work out of the five spot. LaRoche thrived at cleanup, but none of the group is a three hitter. So Russell could juggle the middle of this lineup a variety of ways. Maybe when McClouth and Morgan play together, Nate will bat third. Or maybe he'll pick a lineup out of a hat. It may work just as well.)
Luis Rivas 2B
The pieces fit much more nicely, though far from perfectly, with Sanchez, but he looks like he may be out of action for awhile. We don't really have a true top of the order, and his absence would make tweaking the lineup a lot more problematic. We have some guys for the 4-5-6 slot and lower, but we're still a few bricks shy for the first three spots of the batting order. There is no ideal way to put this mash up of hitters into a classic scoring lineup.
The 2009 lineup:
Chris Duffy CF (McClouth becomes our spare OF'er.)
Sanchez 2B (If he's not traded by then; Bixler and maybe Shelby Ford could be ready, although Ford is more likely a couple or three years away from the bigs.)
Andrew McCutcheon LF
Steve Pearce RF
Doumit C (He'll be ready to take over if he can prove to management that he can stay out of the tub, although the platoon play could continue if Paulino responds to some competition and a reduced workload that plays to his strengths. There are a lot of Leyland disciples in the organization, and he made a habit of platooning his catchers in Pittsburgh.)
Bautista 3B (Neil Walker arrives in 2010 and Bautista becomes a super sub.)
Wilson SS (We don't have anyone ready to take Jack Flash's spot yet in the system, so we think he'll still be around. He'll move to the two spot if Sanchez goes.)
Bench: Paulino/Doumit C (The Pirates seem serious about platooning them this year), Morgan OF (We think they'll keep him to showcase and up his value as trade bait; his age works against him), Luis Rivas 2B (Freddie's health is a big issue, and Rivas can play SS too), Doug Mientkiewicz & Chris Gomez (Utility guys that can pinch hit and fill in at the corners) and Josh Wilson SS only if Sanchez lands on the DL to start the season. In any case, Rivas looks like our Opening Day 2B.
Kevin Thompson is the OF insurance policy at Indy until the young pups are ready, and Josh Wilson joins him so that Brian Bixler can play 2B every day. It's too bad Ray Olmedo got away. He could have given us a little more depth up the middle, a real weakness in our system. Michel Hernadez, 30, and Raul Chavez, 35, buy the organization a little time to develop some catching.
Rotation: Tom Gorzelanny (LH), Ian Snell (RH), Paul Maholm (LH), Zach Duke (LH), and Matt Morris (RH) of the horrid spring and worse contract. We're not sure what order they'll pitch in; they could switch Gorzo and Snell or Morris and Duke.
And we're penciling in Morris very lightly. We think Phil Dumatrait (LH) and Ty Taubenhiem (RH) go to Indy to log some serious innings as starters to see if they're worth a bottom of the rotation spot. Whatever made Dave Littlefield saddle us with MM's albatross of a contract?
Bullpen: Matt Capps (RH - closer looking for a big contract), Damaso Marte (LH - setup), John Grabow (LH - 7th inning hold), Franquelis Osoria (RH - ground ball pitcher), Sean Burnett (LH - we think the move to the pen is permanent), Evan Meek (RH - a young power arm and Rule 5 pick that the Bucs will baby in 2008 so he can get some quality time in Indy in 2009, plus no other RH's have really stood out), and Byung-Hyun Kim (RH - only because of his contract. He's been lit up in Florida.)
If they don't carry Kim, there are three other righties that have looked OK in Bradenton that could take his spot - vets Hector Carrasco who had two strong seasons before bombing last year, Matsumi Kuwata and perpetual prospect Jonah Bayliss. Kim has some pedigree and the upside to pitch in the seventh if he gets it together; if he doesn't, the Pirates have a decision to make.
The Bucs are better off getting some innings for Dumatrait and Taubenheim in Indy instead of stunting their potential in the pen. They should put some heat on our underperforming number one picks pitching there. (EDIT - the drawback is that Dumatrait is out of options; we thought he had one left, our bad. That has to figure into their thinking, too.)
Outlook: Pittsburgh didn't lose much and didn't gain much from last year. It's a club in transition, and half or more of the positional players will be gone in a season or two. In the meanwhile, the honchos will be busy trying to restock the lower minor league system. If the pitching holds up, 75-80 wins in a weak division are possible. There are just too many holes in the lineup to overcome. But hey, in a couple of years, there just may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel. 2010 looks like our new window of opportunity.