What should the new brass be aiming for when they blow up the team this summer and draft in a couple of weeks? We think they should be considering a 2011-12 time frame to introduce a bright, shiny new team to Pittsburgh.
For the current roster, that means precious few players should be off limits. Nate McLouth is 26, Ryan Doumit is 27, and they should be the only untouchables, along with perhaps Matt Capps, 24. The starting pitching ranges from Phil Dumatrait at age 27 to Zach Duke at 25, and some hard decisions will have to made there both in terms of talent and cost.
The middle infield is untouchable, too, unless a replacement player is dealt for, not because of age or ability issues, but simply because there's just no one else in the organization ready to man the center of the diamond.
As far as the draft, we believe that going after Georgia SS Tim Beckham, an 18 year old high school player, is a no-brainer if he's available. If they fast track him, he could be in the show in 2011, just when Jack Wilson's contract runs out.
Pittsburgh already has Shelby Ford, 23, in Altoona and he looks like the heir apparent to Freddie Sanchez, whose deal runs concurrent with Jack Splat's.
Pedro Alvarez may be more major league ready, but the Bucs are still a punt, pass and a kick away from becoming a team ready to take a flag. We'd stick with high school talent to stock the skill challenged farm system, at least for a couple of years, before we'd start bringing in college kids.
That way, they can get all the levels back to snuff in three or four years with some luck and foresight. The bean counters get to delay the contract clock by a couple of ticks, too. Both the business and operations people should be happy.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to get to the point where the system is self sustaining. It would be a welcome change to be able to reload instead of rebuild.
We'll find out in a few weeks what formula the new Pirates are gonna use. We hope they're looking down the road a bit and not just filling in the blanks. Pittsburgh has more needs than one toss of the dice can overcome, and we think the focus should be three or four seasons in the future.
It would be nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel instead of the usual onrushing train.