2010 Pittsburgh Pirates:
Time Enough for Countin'
When the Dealin's Done
BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
March 29, 2010
The 2009 Pirates made history by sporting a losing record for the 17th consecutive
season, the most ever for a North American pro sports team. In last year's
preview, I noted that a lot of fat would be trimmed from the Pirates' payroll by
2010, meaning that they would be able to spend a lot of money to compete if they so
desired. With the unexpected departures of Nate McLouth and Ian Snell, even more
money came off the books than I had anticipated. Nevertheless, the
organization has elected not to use it to improve their major league roster...
at least, not yet.
| Key Transactions |
| Acquired || Pos. |
| Akinori Iwamura|| 2B|
| Ryan Church|| RF |
| Octavio Dotel|| RP|
| Brendan Donnelly|| RP |
| Javier Lopez|| RP|
| D.J. Carrasco || RP |
| || |
| Departed || Pos. |
| Matt Capps|| RP |
| Jesse Chavez|| RP|
| Luis Cruz|| SS |
| Craig Monroe|| OF |
| Robinson Diaz|| C|
Uninformed Pirates fans will blame team owner Tom Nutting for pocketing the
profits made from a low-budget team playing in a publicly-funded stadium.
Although the Pirates' opening day payroll is likely to be lower in 2010 than it
has been any year since 2004, this is not an instance of an indifferent owner
profiting off two decades of fan misery. Pittsburgh's front office finally
has a plan that could work in a small market, and part of that plan included the
Pirates spending more money on the amateur draft in the past two years than any
Moreover, the Pirates spent $5 million on a new academy in the Dominican
Republic last April and have been aggressively handing bonuses Latin American players
ever since general manager Neal Huntington took the ship's helm in 2007.
They aren't just throwing money around aimlessly, either; they are pioneers in tapping
parts of the world for baseball talent that other franchises haven't considered.
Infielder Mpho' Gift Ngoepe became the first black South African to play minor
league baseball last year. Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh became both the first
professional cricket players and the first India natives to play professional
ball in the United States. Each of these players is in the Pirates'
The point is that the Pirates are now throwing less money at mediocre,
past-their-prime players and putting more money into scouting and player
development. That makes a lot of sense for a team with limited resources.
This doesn't mean that the Pirates are completely done spending money on bad
players, however. Even though the Buccos only have ten players slated to
make seven-figure salaries in 2010, some of them clearly do not deserve such
wealth. Among them, Zach Duke ($4.3 M), Paul Maholm ($4.5 M), and Ryan
Doumit ($3.55 M) are legitimate young talents who could still be a part of the
team when it finally contends; Akinori Iwamura ($4.85 M), Octavio Dotel ($3.5
M), Ryan Church ($1.5 M), and Brendan Donnelly ($1.35 M) could have solid
seasons, but their age makes them nothing more than trade bait come July; and Ramon
Vazquez ($2M), Ronny Cedeno ($1.25 M), and Bobby Crosby ($1 M) are, at best,
replacement-level players who are grossly overpaid.
But for the most part, the Pirates are hoarding their treasure this year.
Top prospects Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata will remain in the minor leagues
until late May in order to delay their arbitration/free agent eligibility for
one more season. That's not only a good pecuniary move; it also gives
the Pirates a chance to showcase/evaluate their current major league talent
before the prospects start eating into their at-bats. Without the benefit
of that evaluation window, I will do my best to separate the key components of
the Pirates' roster into four groups: Hold 'em, Fold'em, Walk Away, and Run!
Hold 'em: Andrew McCutcheon, Andy LaRoche, Ryan Doumit, Ross Ohlendorf
McCutchen is obvious. Even though he is a below average defensive
centerfielder right now, he has the physical tools to become above average.
At age 23, he is already an elite offensive centerfielder. He will be the
face of the franchise for the next decade.
Many people will be surprised to see LaRoche listed in this category.
I was surprised that I listed him here myself. But LaRoche is a very good
defender at the hot corner and batted .313 with 5 homers and 18 RBI after August
31. I realize that those hundred at-bats do not nullify the hundreds
of terrible at-bats that preceded them, but LaRoche is 26, has a .900 minor
league OPS, and was second on the Pirates with 50 walks last year (to McCutchen,
of course). Tony Alvarez made 25 errors in 109 games last year, so he is
likely going to move to first base. At worst, LaRoche can be a solid
contributor at third base. At best, he breaks out like his brother did
after 800 major league at-bats and becomes a similar offensive player at a more
premium defensive position.
Ryan Doumit is not without his faults. He doesn't walk enough, he gets
injured too often, and he is only average behind the dish. But when
healthy, this guy can rake with all but the elite catchers in baseball.
Moreover, he hasn't logged many innings behind the plate, which bodes well for
how he will hit after the age of 30. He is signed through 2012 with a club
option for 2013. First-rounder Tony Sanchez figures to be ready before
then, but Doumit's ability to play first base and outfield makes the idea of
having both players on the roster tenable.
Fold'em: Lastings Milledge, Garrett Jones, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke
Turns 29 in June and has a .312 OBP in over a thousand minor league games
Hit .346 in September after injuries plagued him during the summer
You might ask why the Pirates' best hitter from last season should be traded
away. Basically, he is a standard Pirates star: way older than you think
he is and not particularly successful in the minor leagues. His success
will be fleeting, so the Bucs should deal him at peak value. Lastings
Milledge hit an empty .291 last year, and the Pirates will want to consider trading him
in before he reminds people of his former behavioral problems, even though he only
turns 25 in April.
You might also ask why the Pirates should rid themselves of Maholm and Duke
but keep Ohlendorf, when all three appear to be mediocre pitch-to-contact
hurlers of similar age. In this case, it really is all about money. Maholm will
make $5.75 million in 2011 and the Pirates would have to pay him $9.75 M to
retain him in 2012. Duke essentially doubled his 2009 salary in his second
year of arbitration-eligibility. If he does that again, he would be due
more than $8 M next year before becoming a free agent in 2012. Ohlendorf, however, won't even become
arbitration-eligible for another two years.
Walk Away: Just About Everyone Else
Run!: Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce, Delwyn Young, Kevin Hart
Steve Pearce and Lastings Milledge
Clement and Pearce are both 26 and haven't shown that they can hit major
league pitching yet. It's likely that one of them will hit
this year, and it could either mean that at-bats are taken away from better
hitters like Alvarez, Doumit, and Jones, or that someone who should be limited
to first base is being played at another position. Similarly, Delwyn Young
has played second and third base despite his being a shorter version of his
brother, Dmitri. He's a defensive disaster, but his six home runs in 47
spring at-bats (as compared to seven in 354 at-bats last year) could prompt the
Bucs to invent harmful ways to get his bat into the lineup. Kevin Hart offers the
best strikeout ratio of any Pirates starter, but he also gets crushed because of
how many mistake pitches he makes. He's 27-years old and not likely going
to turn around his 1.88 WHIP from last season.
1997 was the last time the Pirates seriously contended for a winning season
or a playoff berth. They were over .500 as late as August 26 and 1.5 games
out of first place in early September despite having an opening day payroll
under $10 million and failing to acquire any help at the trade deadline.
This year's Pirates will also likely have the lowest opening day payroll in
baseball. Should the unthinkable happen and the Pirates find themselves
hanging around the .500 mark in mid-July, they will not only have built-in
acquisitions Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez, but they have money enough stored up
to add even more to their squad.
The more likely scenario, however, is that these Pirates battle Houston
for last place in the NL Central and gear up for a serious run in either 2011 or
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