In the last post, we took a look at the upcoming mix-and-match makeup of the 2009 Pirates. Now it's time to hop into the GW time machine and set the dials for August 1st, 2009. (Don't worry - H.G. Wells approves. He even lent us the machine.)
The Cubbies were easily atop the division, while the surprising Reds and steady Cards were both alive in the wildcard race. The Pirates were dueling with the Astros for the last spot in the NL Central, with the Bucs sitting at 45-58 at the end of July.
The pitching had turned the corner under Joe Kerrigan, compiling a 4.45 ERA, near the league norm, and was on pace to cut walks and pump up the Ks by 5%. The pre-game planning paid off, too, as the starters averaged 6-2/3 innings per outing in 2009, a full inning deeper than it went 2008.
The bullpen had benefited from fewer appearances and innings, although free passes were still a problem. Matt Capps, after a slow start, had been money in the bank after mastering an off speed pitch, adding a foot to his heater and making batters look silly.
But the offense struggled. The middle of the lineup lacked big boppers, and the team wasn't constructed to play effective small ball, with little speed to speak of and in the midst of transitioning to an AL model attack. The result was a lot of 2 and 3 run games, and that just wasn't enough. Something had to give. And it did, on deadline day.
The usually dapper Neal Huntington stepped in front of the cameras, suit wrinkled and some stubble showing, to announce that Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, and John Grabow had been traded to contenders and pretenders just under the deadline, fulfilling season-long predictions.
All were performing at about their MLB average - LaRoche was earning $7.25M after arbitration, and had a line of .273/19/65. Grabow was 2-1 with 12 holds and a 3.78 ERA, showing good control and equal effectiveness against righties and lefties, and had won $1.75M in his arbitration hearing for 2009. Both were in their walk year.
Wilson, making $7.25M and due $8.4 next year, was healthy and hitting .269/5/35. Sanchez had some minor bumps and bruises, but still had steady if limited range in the field and a batting line of .298/6/55, while taking home $6.1M with another $8M coming in 2010. Both of these guys had team options for next season, with $600K buyouts.
The return? Six minor league players, four reporting to AA and a pair to AAA. One was a middle infielder, two were outfielders with some power, and the other three were starting pitchers.
The fans and media were aghast. Losing Jack Splat and Sanchez, two guys deeply embedded in the community, took its toll at the gate, along with the universally held suspicion that the Bucs were more concerned about the bottom line than a winning team. The Pirates averaged under 13,000 fans for the final two months of the season.
The lineup took on an entirely new look. Steve Pearce and Garrett Ford began platooning at first base, Luis Cruz and Andy Phillips shared the chores at second, fighting for an everyday gig, and Ramon Vazquez took over at short, while Pedro Lopez and Neil Walker came up as a spare infielders. The Pirates were out of MLB ready lefties for the bullpen, and Evan Meek got his long-awaited call back to the show.
But other pieces were beginning to fall into place. Andrew McCutchen finally punched his ticket, and with an outfield going from left to right of Nate McLouth, McCutchen, and Brandon Moss, balls that routinely fell in were now being run down. McCutchen looked lost for a month at the dish, but came around to hit .285 in September, ending his rookie year with a .250 average.
Ryan Doumit was still susceptible to nagging injuries behind the plate, but caught 130 games and avoided the DL. Jason Jamarillo proved adequate as his back-up, hitting .260 and playing solid defense with a decent arm. (Ronny Paulino, meanwhile, was hitting .280 at Philly, with a dozen HR and 50 RBI, after Carlos Ruiz broke his ankle in June.)
But unlike 2008, these guys didn't mope around the diamond. Sensing that jobs and careers were to be had, they hustled and dove all over the yard for nine innings, under the watchful eye of clubhouse leader Doumit, who had taken on the roles of big brother and team sheriff when needed.
Oh, the rag-tag bunch didn't fare particularly better than last year's version - they would finish last, with a 68-94 record - but they were beginning to take on the look of a team.
The future was fast approaching. After tearing it up for the Curve, both Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata would start 2010 in Indy. Shelby Ford, Jim Negrych, and Jamie Romak were already there. Bryan Morris and Brad Lincoln were both working their way up the ladder and were in AA, and several members of the 2008 draft class were settled in at Lynchburg on the way to Altoona. The Pirates had bottomed out; now it was time to finally put a team together.
Change at long last had arrived in Pittsburgh.
(GW warns his long suffering readers that no number or scenario in this post, except for Wilson and Sanchez's contracts, have any basis in reality other than GW's imagination and prognostication skills, convoluted as they may be. No voodoo rites were called upon for technical assistance, like Ouija boards, fresh chicken entrails, tea leaves, Delphi oracles, VOR, Baseball Bibles, or PECOTA, although there was this quatrain by Nostradamus...)