OK, we're a month into the season. What do we know now about the team and organization?
Well, the eight players on the field are competitive, but there's nothing behind them. With the exception of the catcher's spot, with Doumit and Paulino (and who woulda thunk that at the start of the year?), the Pirates have no help on the horizon
There are no alternatives for John Russell to turn to if someone's hurt or slumping. He and the team have to ride out the storm until the diaper dandies in Indy are ready.
More distressing is the lack of arms, power or otherwise, in the organization. JVB and Sean Burnett are getting their shot thanks to Evan Meek and Matty Mo, and those promotions have just about dried up the pipeline.
The suits were acutely aware of this situation, and that explains why they picked up every available arm in the market during the off season. The only newcomers to make a dent, though, at the major league level have been Tyler Yates and Phil Dumatrait.
The cupboard is so bare that Burnett's call up forced the team to deal for 36-year old sidewinder Matt Miller to take his place in Indianapolis' bullpen. Management has said repeatedly that they won't rush anyone through the system.
The front office rolled the dice on Jason Bay and Xavier Nady building some value during the season, and so far they look like they're gonna collect on that bet. Both players are under control for another season and should bring a decent haul back to the Bucs when they're finally moved.
What moves are left? In addition to Bay and Nady, the Pirates either have to sign LaRoche or move him. If Burnett works out, Damaso Marte or John Grabow become moveable, and either should earn a nice return for the Bucs.
Meek may join Indy. Reports are that the Bucs are trying to pry his rights from Tampa, either through a trade - and Pittsburgh has precious little to offer at the lower levels to dangle - or a cash deal. That will play out soon.
The top pair of Bucco farm system pitchers are Brad Lincoln, coming off Tommy John surgery, and Daniel Moskos, who are toiling at the A level today.
Chris Duffy, if he ever rehabs his shoulder, could bring the team a warm body. Kevin Thompson should trade cities with Nyjer Morgan, who hasn't adapted very well to a bench role. If he's to have any value, he needs to get some at bats.
Don't expect the middle infield to go anywhere. There's no one now in the Pirate system to take Jack Wilson or Freddie Sanchez' place in the lineup, as Wilson's injury has made painfully obvious.
Their competition is still at the lower levels and at least two years from the show with Brian Bixler's exception. And BB hasn't exactly sparkled in his time here yet.
The two prospects with the best shot are 2B Shelby Ford, who is at Altoona, and SS Brian Friday at Lynchburg. Ford's on the DL, and is a good bat, so-so glove man that's been injury prone. Friday is the third round pick of 2007, a good fielding contact hitter.
What to look for in the future? A different roster, and probably sooner rather than later. Steve Pearce will be up for sure, and Andrew McCutcheon is a pretty safe bet, too. They'll join Nate McClouth to give the Bucs an outfield with a future.
The infield doesn't have any one on the radar to push them.
Neil Walker make the team next year. Other than that, help will have to come from the outside. And it won't be from free agency, but the from the draft and eventually the minors. With the second pick, the Buc's have choices this year.
We suspect they'll go for another arm, based on their past preferences. But it's a so-so draft and a little deeper in position players than hurlers, so it'll be an interesting selection for the new guys, especially further down the list.
We had hoped the Pirate window may start to open up in 2010, but it may be a couple of years past that. The timetable to become competitive will depend on the starting pitching, and the Pirates aren't showing much strength there.
The staff is still young, though. No starter is over 26, and they have room to grow. But the clock's ticking. Potential has to turn into performance. And as they go, so goes the Pirate future.
The suits have their work cut out for them.