So, the Pirates' front office evidently had some kind of plan going into this offseason, after all. No sooner had the virtual ink from my last missive on The Green Weenie dried, than the suits went ahead and did exactly what we've been clamoring for them to do: they went out and signed a handful of carefully chosen, fairly affordable, good-but-not-great-but-definitely-helpful veterans.
This is good news, and if Octavio Dotel puts his "X" on the dotted line in the near future (as has been rumored for weeks), so much the better. All of which makes the 2010 edition of the Pirates look a lot like the fondly-remembered 1997 "Freak Show", a team that rode on the back of several similar veterans to stay improbably in contention until September.
To be sure, long-suffering fans have more reason to invest in the Bucs now than they did during the second half of the 2009 season. That period of time saw what many observers consider to be the very worst stretch of baseball this city has ever witnessed from its home nine. I am personally still more than a little steamed at what I still consider to have been a far more radical than necessary demolition job.
I'll say again that it's one thing to do a substantial teardown-rebuild, something we all agree was necessary. It's quite another to abandon even the smallest pretense of professional and competitive integrity while you're doing surgery on the organization. In my view, the Pirates came perilously close to that point in 2009.
Still, with or without Dotel, the combination of relative bargain veteran free agents (Carrasco, Lopez, Donnelly) with a few holdovers who can reasonably be expected to be solid contributors (Jones, McCutchen, Milledge, LaRoche), added to trade acquisition Akinori Iwamura and if-he-could-only-stay-healthy Ryan Doumit, all of a sudden makes this team, at least on paper, one that is approaching respectability.
If any of the nearly ready for prime time players, ie, Lincoln, Tabata, and Daniel McCutchen, rises to the top and makes a significant impact, things could actually get interesting past the All Star break.
So, while it appears we were right to cry foul about the disaster that was the second half of 2009, and while we were not out of bounds in urging the team to pursue at least a few free agents, apparently either the front office was listening or they had already decided they were going to follow the same course of action we had in mind. We just didn't believe them. Thus, a mea culpa of sorts is in order.
That said, the vast majority of the Pirates' offseason activity has been in the bullpen. The bullpen last year, to put it kindly, was horrible after the trade deadline.
Without John Grabow as the veteran glue to hold things together, with Evan Meek and Phil Dumatrait hurt and with Jesse Sanchez wilting from overuse, there was little or no hope for the team unless the starting pitchers went the distance. The relief corps, then, definitely needed a makeover.
But at the risk of sounding like sour grapes, where was Huntington's free agent alacrity during his first two seasons? If, as he has obviously shown this winter, a functional if not overwhelming 'pen can be assembled mostly from veteran spare parts, why wasn't this done in 2008 and 2009? If nothing else, it might have been fun to see how many more games Paul Maholm would have won with any kind of support behind him.
And even if the suits had already decided to blow up the team as part of the rebuilding, wouldn't things have been better with more reliable relievers? Surely the team didn't decide to deliberately ignore the 'pen in order to make the team less competitive so the demolition would be more palatable to fans...did they?
Sorry to go all Oliver Stone here, but when I see how much really good work the front office has done this offseason to address bullpen weaknesses, then compare it with the almost total silence on that front over the previous two offseasons...I wonder.
Unprovable conspiracy theories aside, we might quibble just a tad with the position player signings this winter. It's not that they're bad. It's that they weren't as good as they could have been and really, should have been given the softest free agent market in decades thanks to the recession.
Bobby Crosby? He's not an unreasonable gamble and he's not the worst one or perhaps two year bridge to our minor league middle infield prospects, but he's also not likely to recapture his previous form and he might fall off the table altogether.
Ryan Church? Yeah, he's got some skills and he's probably serviceable as a fourth outfielder, but he's been hurt repeatedly most years and there were better players on the market who wouldn't have cost much more than Church did, if they cost more at all.
A similarly favorable economic climate is not likely to be in the offing anytime soon, if ever. Thus it seems to me that the Pirates blew a real opportunity to snag some veteran impact position players for relative chump change, whether the team was rebuilding or not.
So as I said, this is a sort-of mea culpa. The team definitely made some smart moves this offseason, and it's certainly far better to be quibbling over which moves weren't made than it was to be howling about the aimless and hopeless McClatchy - Littlefield Reign of Error.
At the same time, it's hard not to wonder what took them so long to address the bullpen, and it's difficult to be particularly excited about the position players who were added via free agency. But all in all, the Pirates are in a better place now than they were just three months ago, and that's a good thing.
But, onward from here. The team looks at least semi-interesting as we get ready for Bradenton
(Will Pellas is considering a new sackcloth suit...sort of)