Monday, August 4, 2008

Pellas on the Pirates: What We Have - And Need

How Many Pieces Does Pittsburgh Have?

Now that the dust from our recent Big Deals has settled, I thought I'd take a last look at the players we recently acquired and peer through the gloom to try and figure out what we do---and do not---have.

The pitching we acquired brings good numbers and some promise, if not much in the way of "sure things". Most observers have emphasized the pitching when they have analyzed the Nady/Marte and Bay trades, and rightly so for the most part. But not many have given much thought to our lineup, which is now substantially different---and much weaker.

One question that's readily apparent now that the team has been substantially reconfigured is, Where are we going to get the offense to replace what was lost? I like Brandon Moss, and if he reaches his maximum potential he might be roughly equivalent to what Xavier Nady gave us over the course of his Pittsburgh career (unless Nady continues for years to come at his current, unconscious-career year pace; stay tuned on that front).

Moss---in keeping with the Pirates' American League-style player acquisitions and player development philosophies---definitely doesn't, and won't, steal many bases. Nady didn't either, so that's a wash, and they seem to be comparable defensive players (which is to say, they're both better than average). Andy LaRoche, one would think, will ultimately hit more than Jose Bautista, the man he is replacing. How much better he will be than Bautista---if he really is better than Bautista---remains to be seen.

Meanwhile Andrew McCutchen is coming up from our own system and will presumably be in center while Nate McLouth shifts over to right, though with Nate possibly winning the Gold Glove in center this season, who knows? It might be that Nate will stay in center and McCutchen will go to right. In any event, while Moss might perhaps come close to Nady's production and LaRoche might be a bit better than Bautista, certainly neither Nate nor McCutchen = Jason Bay.

Seems to me, therefore, that we're still short a stick or two going forward, at least the way things look right now. This is particularly so because the Pirates, as they are being shaped and reshaped by Neil Huntington and Frank Coonelly, are simply not emphasizing traditional, National League "small ball".

Power arms, power bats, and sound defense are all part of the Huntington-Coonelly modus operandi, but stolen bases, the squeeze play, and the hit and run most definitely are not.

Even expert basestealer Nate McLouth has just 13 swipes all season, and unless he's hurt, the only explanation is that he's essentially forbidden to run unless expressly instructed to do so by manager John Russell. Jason Bay was second on the team in SBs prior to leaving town for Boston, and he wasn't even in double figures. Nobody else is even on the radar screen.

Now, before the sabremetricians and/or Chris Duffy - Nyjer Morgan apologists start popping off, I am well aware that you can't steal first base and that what counts most in "small ball" is not how much you do it, but rather how often you're successful when you try it.

But it's now clear that the Pirates under Huntington and Coonelly aren't even going to try it very often. That, in turn, means that losing two power bats in Nady and Bay hurts this team more than it would some others, and it means that we must acquire additional hitting going forward.

This is another reason why I am definitely in favor of re-signing Jason Michaels, because a solid veteran fourth outfielder bat at least gives us more depth, even if our starting lineup is somewhat weaker now than it was at the start of the season.

In any event, another big bat will have to either be developed in house, or signed as a free agent (perhaps to replace Adam LaRoche at first?), or acquired in trade. I do not believe that this team, as currently configured and as it is likely to look over the next couple of seasons, has enough hitting to be a contender.

(Will Pellas is GW's columnist at large and periodically posts on Pirate topics. Today he tackles the new-look Bucs.)

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