Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Plan...

OK, the FO took over a floundering franchise in 2008. They scuttled it about as completely as a club has ever been sunk and vowed to refloat the ship with home grown Buccos.

The first wave has arrived - Andrew McCutchen and Neal Walker, thanks to Dave Littlefield and company, along with Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, brought in by Neal Huntington. In fact, just about the whole team belongs to the new order.

The last soldiers standing from the Littlefield era are McCutch, Walker, Steve Pearce, Dewey and Paul Maholm at the MLB level, and the remaining prospects from his days are Brad Lincoln, Starling Marte, Rudy Owens, Ramon Aguero and Diego Moreno. And they're shopping Maholm and Doumit.

Huntington and Frank Coonelly have virtually complete ownership over this team's on-field product. Their players, sold to us as the future of the franchise, are beginning to take the field and have an impact. But no franchise is entirely self-sustaining; free agents and trades are needed to fill in the gaps. Can the FO take that next step?

They went into the season knowing what they needed: more starting pitching, a couple of bullpen arms, an upgrade at short and a right handed stick for 1B/RF. The winter meetings are usually the catalyst to jump-start the deals. What has it brought Pittsburgh?

Let's start with the pitching. Basically, Pittsburgh has traded Zach Duke for Kevin Correia. Correia may be a bit of an upgrade, but it's still replacing one #4 pitcher with another, and no one's sure what the PETCO effect for Correia may be.

Scott Olsen was brought in to join the cage match for the fifth spot; we guess that would be the reason they have interest in Kenshin Kawakami.

If they do deal Maholm without getting an equal or better pitcher back, the rotation will actually be downgraded, not improved. Guys like Olsen and Kawakami don't build trade depth as much as organizational depth. And Pittsburgh already has its share of back end pitchers.

The bullpen, after being dismantled at the deadline, bounced back after a reconfiguration. Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek and Chris Resop seem like solid building blocks. So far, all the FO has done is bring in Fernando Nieve, a long relief type. Traditionally, the bullpen slots are filled later in the off season.

But all the omens point toward Pittsburgh moving Hanrahan. Other teams have interest in him, the Pirates have been sniffing around closer types like Kevin Gregg, and he's entering arbitration this year, 'nuff said.

In fact, while all the attention has been on Maholm and Doumit being dangled as trade bait, if the Pirates are to make a big move this off season, it will almost certainly involve Hanny.

With JR gone, the FO was on a mission to improve shortstop, manned by the human roller coaster Ronny Cedeno. There wasn't much available, and the Bucs let Jason Bartlett and JJ Hardy go; both were traded for a pair of relievers. In their defense, the Twins, as we understand, wanted Hanrahan for Hardy, and that would involve some additional talent from the Twin Cities that apparently wasn't forthcoming.

Still, even Cesar Izturis was signed; there's not much left but all glove and no bat Brendan Ryan and graybeard Edgar Renteria. It's a huge disappointment that the best they could do was come up with a Rule 5 SS, Josh Rodriguez, to do battle with Pedro Ciriaco for the back-up spot. Maybe that shows how thin the ice is that Cedeno is skating on.

Other back-ups the Pirates have kicked the tires on are Bill Hall and Alfredo Amezaga.

The first base/corner OF logjam was barely nudged when the FO dumped Lastings Milledge for Matt Diaz. Diaz has more power and is a wash defensively, which is being damned with faint praise, but is still a platoon guy statistically despite Huntington's full-time babble.

Ah, but platooning with who? Until and unless Doumit is traded, he'll be Diaz's partner in the pasture. If he goes, the LH job will likely go to John Bowker. If Jeff Clement outduels Bowker in the spring, then JC will go to first to split time with Pearce while Jones goes to the outfield, unless Andy Marte wins a roster spot. Clear as mud, hey?

Anyway, here's the point. This is the fourth year of the "plan" as envisioned by Huntington and Coonelly. They took over a 2007 team that won 68 games and had a 15 year losing streak. Last season, the team won 57 games and the streak reached eighteen years.

OK, we understand that it's always darkest before dawn, yada yada. We also understand that the Pirates refused to bid on or deal for any player with full time potential that could join the lineup and make the Pirates a better team than they were last year.

The Pirates are nine weeks away from the pitchers and catchers reporting to Bradenton. There's a lot of work to do, and the FO sure hasn't done theirs yet. We'll see what Maholm, Doumit and Hanrahan will fetch them in the market, but it won't be enough to get to 82 wins in the near future.

The Bucs will be better; the young players have some experience under their belt, and Clint Hurdle will probably use his pieces better with a platoon system. But 2010's holes are still 2011's holes; the brass has just played around with the fringes of the roster.

With the money that was supposed to be burning a hole in their pocket, this quiet hot stove season has been especially mystifying. And for those who have raised the specter of Bob Nutting's short pockets, well, this off-season has done nothing to dispel their fears.

Let's hope there's a boffo finale planned by the management between now and camp.


WilliamJPellas said...

Doumit and Hanrahan to the Red Sox or the Rays ought to get us a considerable return. Particularly the Rays, who aren't going to re-sign their closer.

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, Wil, the Rays have an overload of starters and we have an extra back-end bullpen guy. Seems like a match in the making.