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2006 Pittsburgh Pirates Team Preview
by Brad Keller, BaseballEvolution.com
April 1, 2006

2005 Record: 67-95 (Last Place NL Central Division)

2005 Runs Scored: 680

2005 Runs Allowed: 769

Pythagorean 2005 Record: 71-91

Well, weíre back for another exciting year of Pirates baseball! Itís a team that works just as hard you do. I love this game. So what if weíre 20 games under .500, tonight weíre giving away bobble heads and having fireworks!

I have to hand it to the Piratesí marketing people. It could just be that baseball was my first love and Iíll never be able to leave it behind, but every year, they seem to make me believe that this itÖ this is the year weíre finally going to break .500! And really, thatís all Iím hoping for. If the Buccos finish 82-80 this year, Iíll grab a tree branch, start jumping up and down, and start trying to set off car alarms.

I doubt it will happen, but a lot has changed since last season (new manger, new pitching staff, some veteran bats in the heart of the order), so who knows? I have faith. Letís see how much of that is left in June.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Piratesí changes:

Catcher

2005 Starters: Ryan Doumit, Humberto Cota,
Projected 2005 Starters: Ryan Doumit, Humberto Cota

Iím sensing a theme here. I want to be perfectly clear and say that Iím glad we traded Jason Kendall and his gigantic contract away. That thing was an albatross and it felt good to get it off our collective necks.

However, the position is now in flux. No matter how badly the Pirates have played over the years, you could always count on Kendall behind the plate. Now you canít. And, I had held out some vain hope that the Pirates traded Kendall because they had some hot, young prospect waiting in the wings.

Not so much.

Cota and Doumit are serviceable at best, but hey, everyone needs someone to hit 8th, right? Pencil in ďtodayís catcherĒ for that spot in the line-up for the remainder of the year. Unless, of course, the Pirates manage to find a position for Craig Wilson and just tell him to play catcher. We can hope, but I donít think anyone can hold their breath until July. Or possibly later.

First Base

2005 Starters: Daryle Ward, Brad Eldred, sometimes Craig Wilson
Projected 2006 Starter: Sean Casey

I like the Casey signing, but Iím a little leery of the idea of batting him 5th. Iím not even sure he was a #5 hitter when he played for the Reds and he was good. Heíll be consistent, heíll get his hits, make contact, drive in runs, and have a high OBP. I just donít think heís productive enough to play first base in the major leagues anymore. This is why I think that we should platoon Casey with Eldred, because, for all his flaws, Eldred might actually hit 30 HRs and have a .900 OPS at some point before he dies. Donít see that happening with Casey.

But, sadly, heís much better than the three-headed monster of Ward, Eldred, and sometimes Wilson.

Second Base

2005 Starter: Jose Castillo
Projected 2006 Starter: Castillo

Iím more of a traditionalist, so I prefer solid glove-work up the middle to offensive production. I think that the Pirates are pretty well set in the middle of their infield for years to come.

While Castillo isnít flashy, heís a solid defensive 2nd baseman that will hit .280, drive in about 60 or 70 runs, and hit about 10 or 15 homers a year. He and Wilson make up a solid defensive, yet solidly unspectacular offensive middle infield.

Third Base

2005 Starters: Freddy ďDirtyĒ Sanchez, Rob Mackowiak, Twiggi
Projected 2006 Starter: Joe Randa

Iím going to get exceedingly negative if I write too much about this. Iíll just say this: I liked Joe Randa. I was sorry to see him go. IN NINETEEN NINETY FRICKINí SIX WHEN HE WAS GOOD.

Shortstop

2005 Starter: Jack Wilson
Projected 2006 Starter: Wilson

Aside from the fact that my wife wants to have an affair with him, I have nothing against Jack Wilson. Heís going to put up Castillo-like numbers every year, play outstanding defense, and do whatever he can to help his team win. Do I wish he was as talented as A-Rod or Jeter offensively? Of course. Am I absolutely ecstatic that we signed him to a long-term deal without breaking the bank?

You bet.

Outfield

2005 Starters: Jason Bay, Tike Redman, Chris Duffy, Jody Gerut, Matt Lawton, sometimes Craig Wilson, sometimes Daryle Ward, sometimes Ryan Doumit
Projected 2006 Starters: Jeromy Burnitz, Duffy, Bay, Wilson (sometimes)

Okay. Iíve made my point. The Pirates either need to trade Wilson or find a position for him. There are always teams that are willing to pay money and prospects for a suspect defensive player that strikes out too much and hits for power. After all, we signed Burnitz.

Really, though, I started this paragraph off on the wrong foot. I actually like the Burnitz signing. He absolutely LOVES hitting in PNC Park (though that could be more as a result of the quality of Pirates pitching than the park itself) and he kills us every year. So, we might as well take away his production against us and make it work for us. Honestly, Iím not sure why we didnít sign him 3 or 4 years ago. Maybe he was too expensive.

Bayís an All-Star, a former Rookie of the Year, and one half of the second best trade in the franchiseís history (replace Gilesí production, add Oliver Perez, subtract salary, remove from heat and stir). Bay and Burnitz give the middle of the line-up (Bay #3, Burnitz #4, and Casey #5) power and consistency that it has lacked for some time. At long last, we have two guys in the middle of the line-up that you need to respect and actually have a very good chance of hitting 30 home-runs this year. I know itís all about OPS, but that comes with home-runs. Trust me.

And, last year, I had a HUGE man-crush on Chris Duffy. I love his defense, his hustle, and his competitive nature. However, the hitting coach does need does need to show him the playerís lot so he doesnít come to the batterís box each time as though heís double parked. Heís going to be batting 1st. He needs to learn how to do that. Iím not saying itís imperative that he draws 150 walks this year, but when you lead off, you need to run the count to 3-1 or 3-2 every once and a while just to see what happens.

Pitching

2005 Front Three Starters: Oliver Perez, Kip Wells, Josh Fogg
Projected 2006 Front Three: Oliver Perez, Zack Duke, Paul Maholm/Ian Snell

After Perez and Duke, everything is subject to change. Duke told the world by storm last year before getting hurt. Perez took it by storm in 2004Ö before getting hurt. If both can return to their former glory, weíll have two great, young left-handers at the front of the rotation.

Maholm and Snell (like everyone in the front four) are long on talent, but short on experience, with no starter being over the age of 24.

In my opinion, the entire season hinges on how these four young men perform. I have a great deal of confidence in the bullpen. I have hopes that the offense will score some runs, or at least more than they did last year (when they were ranked 14th out of 16 NL teams). If these kids pitch to their potential, we could reach the elusive .500 mark. If notÖ at least Kip Wells should be ready after the All-Star Break!

Other 2005 Starters: Zach Duke, Mark Redman, Dave Williams Other Possible 2006 Starters: Snell/Maholm, Victor Santos

Santos was kept in the line-up because of a Rule 5 technicality and Brandon Duckworth was shown the door. I really think Duckworth wouldíve been a better #5, but I donít know that thereís a huge difference and that it really matters how good the 5th starter is on a team that has had 13 consecutive losing seasons.

ButÖ if Maholm, Snell, Perez, and Duke hold up their end of the bargain, we could have a pretty potent starting 5 when Wells returns after the All-Star Break.

2005 Top Relievers: Jose Mesa, John Grabow, Ryan Vogelsong, Saloman Torres
Projected 2006 Top Relievers: Mike Gonzalez (closer), Vogelsong, Torres, Grabow, Matt Capps

For all the ineptitude the Pirates have displayed over the past 10 years, the one mainstay has been their bullpen. Itís my theory that theyíve gone into the regular season every year with 6 legitimate starters and usually move the worst one to the bullpen, which bolsters the overall quality and depth.

The one big loss is Jose Mesa. The Ageless One decided not to come back to the Buccos for another year and will be missed. However, I do subscribe to the Billy Beane school of thought that closers are made, not born. I just wonít be sure that Gonzalez can fill Mesaís shoes until he actually does it. Weíre usually in a lot of close games. And every win counts when youíre trying to get to that ďMagic 81.Ē Aside from that, weíre in good shape. From solid long-relievers (Vogelsong), to excellent set-up men (Torres), to situational guys (Grabow), to rookies who can show what theyíre made of (Capps), weíve got a good, solid bullpen.

Letís just hope we donít have to use them too much. We have had to lean on them too heavily in previous seasons, and they tended to run out of gas in August and September.

Final Word:

Will this be the season that the Pirates finally put it all together and make it to (or past) .500?

Will Casey, Randa, and Burnitz hold up for an entire season? When they donít, will their replacements step in and produce?

In my mind, weíve added enough bats and have enough productive young guys in place that we will score more runs. I mean, in theory, we canít do much worse than last year, right? We canít, can we? Seriously, though, if Duffy figures how to be a lead-off man, Wilson rebounds from a suspect 2005 and returns to somewhere approaching his 2004 form, the new bats (Burnitz, Casey, and Joe Frickiní Randa) produce to their historical averages, and Bay and Castillo stay constant, we canít help but score more runs.

Therefore, it all comes down to six men. And no, I donít mean the starting 5 and Craig Wilson. I mean the starting 5 and Jim Tracy.

As much as I love Lloyd McClendonís tenacity, I was never a fan of his in-game management skills and the level of production that he was able to extract from his young talent. While Tracy wonít be able to match olí Lloydís passion, he definitely has a track record of making chicken pot pie out of chicken droppings. Can he do it again?

I guess weíll see, now wonít we?



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