OK, so how does the immediate future of the club look after three months of hot stove tinkering? Well, not a heck of lot different than it did when they were losing 99 games last year.
Starting Pitching: Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton are in, pending some late wheeling-and-dealing; Dan McCutchen and Kevin Hart will go mano-a-mano for the last spot. Jose Ascanio has a shot to step in later during the year. Brad Lincoln is probably the only guy in the system with a chance to crack the rotation sometime during the season.
Bullpen: Bye-bye, Matt Capps and Jesse Chavez. 2010's firemen look like Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan, Javier Lopez, Steven Jackson, Chris Jakubauskas, the loser of the McCutchen-Hart mashup (although McC could end up at Indy if they want to work him as a starter), and Jose Ascanio. Hanrahan and Meek will audition for the closers' role, although closer-by-committee could well be in the cards for 2010. There's a cast of thousands waiting if a seventh spot opens up.
Infield: It should be Garrett Jones, Akinori Iwamura, the winner of the Ronny Cedeno/Bobby Crosby cage match, and Andy LaRoche. What it will look like in August, if Iwamura goes and Pedro Alvarez arrives, is anybody's guess. Jeff Clements may get a shot at first, although we consider him a long shot. But the suits love him, so we'll see; he and Jones create a crowd. There's not much help in the upper levels yet; the cavalry is still a couple of seasons away from PNC.
Catcher: Assuming they hold on to Ryan Doumit, he and Jason Jaramillo are set. But the question is: Can Doumit give them 135 games behind the plate? His history suggests not. So a position that was deep enough last year is iffy this season with Robby Diaz gone. We expect to see the Pirates pick up a veteran, good glove guy along the lines of Raul Chavez to split time with Eric Kratz at Indy. Minor league depth consists mainly of Tony Sanchez.
Outfield: Start with Andrew McCutchen. End with Andrew McCutchen. Lastings Milledge will start, but has to keep improving and show some power. Who knows where Jones will end up? Rule 5 pick John Raynor will be all that Brandon Moss can handle; that should be one of the storylines of Spring Training. Jose Tabata could pop up in June, and Nyjo clone Gorkys Hernandez shouldn't be far behind. All in all, a competitive spot for Pittsburgh with a lot of possible end points.
Bench: Delwyn Young. Jason Jaramillo. Ronny Cedeno/Bobby Crosby loser. Brandon Moss/John Raynor winner. We think Ramon Vazquez, despite his $2M deal, is on thin ice. Steve Pearce and Neil Walker have options left, so we expect them to be at Indy. That final spot on the pine could easily be filled with a late-signee from the free agent market that can play the corners and has a little pop.
Overall: Lots of questions remain. They're still a couple of years from filling the gaps with internal talent, and don't seem likely to bring in a difference maker until the dots are connected, so any dealing will be for prospects, not players.
The offense counts on Jones, Milledge, LaRoche, and Doumit producing and a shortstop that can put up at least Jack Wilson-like numbers. The pitching should be OK, but the lack of an ace stopper hurts. Capps was going sooner or later; so it's time to get the bullpen merry-go-round in gear.
The pieces are slowly starting to arrive, but not soon enough to make the 2010 club a contender.