Saturday, October 18, 2008

"What Would the Outsider Do" - Pittsburgh Pirates

This may very well be the most difficult WWOD I am going to write. The problem, there truly is nothing in the cupboards. There are some pieces which can be utilized as organizational depth, however, there are so few solid pieces, that the Pirates will need these middle to bottom of the road prospects to be contributors.

At this point I am struggling to come up with an idea of whether the Pirates should sell the few Major League prospects they have, or wait another season before selling off their 'valuable' pieces. These pieces being far and few between.

Between Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata, the Pirates do have the makings of a nice core. McCutchen and Alvarez specifically are a duo that many teams would love to build around. In addition to this trio, the Bucs have a handful of wildcard prospects and prospects which the franchise 'bought' in 2008's first year player draft. It will be another 2 or 3 years before the rewards of this draft are fully understood.

At the Major League level, the Pirates have 'youngsters' Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, and Andy LaRoche to build around offensively, with Matt Capps, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, and bounce back candidate Ian Snell as good, but not great, arms.

The question then, what should the Pirates do with pieces that do not have much, if any future with the club? Pieces such as Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Zach Duke, and John Grabow would all have value in the trade market, but without replacements, can the Pirates afford to make these moves?

What the Pirates don't need:

Major League contracts. The object for the Pirates for the next season or two should be to absolutely tank. Grab a top five pick and take the absolutely best player available. In addition to this, all the money that would have been used on free agents can be pumped into player development, namely international signings.

Major League ready prospects. The Pirates are not one piece away. They are not two pieces away. In fact, the Pirates aren't an Albert Pujols away from being a contender. Thus, while a Brandon Wood may be an attractive piece to a team starved for talent, the club is better off acquiring higher risk, higher reward players. Jose Tabata was the perfect example of what type of player the Pirates should be looking to acquire.

Old prospects. Either the Pirates had no clue how to draft for the previous decade plus, or they simply drafted low ceiling old players. It seems as though every player in the system is already too old to be tabbed as a prospect. The few that are young, have been around forever and haven't done anything to warrant being called a prospect. Combine that with what appears to be baseball's worst international scouting department, and there is a sure fire formula for a brutal farm system-but you already knew that.

What the Pirates need:

Prospects! While there is the makings of something, there still isn't much. As I mentioned, two more years of losing, coupled with a front office willing to strip down to the bare bones and spend all of their money on player development, and the Pirates should be on their way. This is obviously easier said then done-or is it? With the pathetic cast the Pirates currently have, losing shouldn't be an issue.

Middle infield help. Currently, the Pirates have what equals to a slightly below average middle infield-this is assuming Freddy Sanchez remembers how to hit. With both he, and Jack Wilson set to come off the books after this season, the Pirates can give their top middle infield prospects a shot at the show. The issue, both Shelby Ford and Brian Friday do not project out as solid Major League infielders. In fact, one could argue this is a fairly parallel move.

Trades. While this is not of dire consequence for the Pirates, I feel the club would be better served moving LaRoche, Sanchez, and Grabow at some point this off season. Salary relief is not required, so if the Pirates need to eat part of the contracts, that is certainly an option. The major objective should be to obtain some high ceiling, low level prospects. Because the Pirates are not in a financial situation to need to make these moves, they can simply wait for the market to offer them the best trades.

Here are possible destinations for the aforementioned trio:
  • LaRoche - New York (AL), Toronto, LA of Anaheim, Seattle, New York, Colardo, and San Francisco. Toronto, Seattle, and San Francisco are three teams that currently need LaRoche and have an open spot for him. The other clubs have a pending free agent to take care of and could subsequently close the first base/designated hitter spot.
  • Sanchez - Cleveland, Houston, St. Louis, San Diego, and Arizona. Each of these teams could either use an upgrade, or simply have a blackhole at second base.
  • Grabow - What team couldn't use the left handed Grabow?
WWOD would decide to wait the market out here. There isn't any use in making a hypothetical trade with the Yankees, who will spend the first weeks of their offseason pursuing Mark Teixeira.

Here's how the Pirates hitters should shake out:

RF - N. Morgan
CF - N. McLouth
C - R. Doumit
1B - Ad. LaRoche
2B - F. Sanchez
LF - B. Moss
3B - An. LaRoche
SS - J. Wilson

There are a couple things I want to point out with this starting lineup. The first, is Nyjer Morgan's spot atop the batting order. Morgan certainly is not a Major League leadoff hitter, afterall, he is 28 years old with 86 MLB games under his belt. However, in those 86 games, he has posted an efficient .351 OBP, nothing spectacular, but worthy of a shot.

The second issue, where's Andrew McCutchen? A very legitimate question given that McCutchen would likely be the Bucs best player and is clearly Major League ready. The reason I have chosen to not have McCutchen on the Opening Day roster is to delay his service time clock. That said, a mid-May, early June call-up is the direction I would take with McCutchen.

Next issue, where is the 2006 and 2007 organizational best prospect? There is a two-fold answer to this question, the first, if LaRoche is traded, Steven Pearce will be handed the first base job. The second, Pearce is a right handed bat and will 'platoon' with Morgan and Moss predominantly, spelling LaRoche once a week, and occassionally giving McLouth a day off. In other words, any time the Bucs are facing a lefty, he will be in the lineup.

This lineup isn't pretty. There isn't much to like about. However, we can see two potential break-out candidates in Moss and An. LaRoche. In addition to this, we can see a few strong trade possibilities to begin opening up roster spots. Putting together the Bucs 2010 Opening Day roster will be much more enjoyable.

The bench would be made up of R. Paulino, S. Pearce, L. Cruz, B. Bixler, and the re-newed option of J. Michaels. At the very least there are some platoon options on this bench. It is also quite inexpensive.

Another option for the bench would be Canadian Jamie Romak. The 23 year old right handed hitter is still fairly raw, as are most Canadian's. However, he possesses solid power and a strong eye at the plate. He could very well be an excellent platoon mate with Brandon Moss by season's end.

The rotation is a strength of the Pirates, although that is relatively speaking. The club does have a few young arms, which are a nice commodity for a terrible team, but nobody is going to be challenging for the Cy Young any time soon. Here's how it looks:

P. Maholm
I. Snell
R. Ohlendorf
Z. Duke
J. Barthmaier

With Ian Snell as the oldest pitcher in this rotation, at least the Pirates can expect some development. While that wasn't the case with Snell in 2008, Maholm and Duke both officially became 'reliable' starters. Expect a bounce back season from Snell and for Maholm and Duke to simply keep on, keepin' on.

Ross Ohlendorf was probably the best Major League ready piece the Pirates received from the Yankees in the Nady-Marte trade. He is a pitcher whom I am very high on. His stuff is excellent. The major issue may be consistently getting long outings from the 26 year old. But keep an eye on Ohlendorf, as he will surprise a lot of National League hitters in 2009.

Barthmaier isn't going to dominate, but I feel as though he can be an effective Major League pitcher. Keep in mind, when I suggest that, I am talking about an 'effective Major League 5th starter', so the bar is relatively low.

There isn't really anything else on it's way up in this system. Brad Lincoln is still recovering from 2007 Tommy John and may make a push to be on the Pirates September roster. Tom Boleska is in a similar situation although arguably further away.

Compared to the hitters, the Pirates pitching looks like a squad of all stars. This holds true for the Pirates bullpen, which features a cast of arms that would be one or two rungs down on any playoff team. However, their roles may be enough to boost their current value on the trade market.

Here's how the bullpen shakes out:

CL - M. Capps
SU - J. Grabow
RP - J. Chavez
RP - C. Hansen
RP - T. Yates
LR - P. Dumatrait

Maybe it was a stretch to call this group 'comparative All Stars'. However, with a core of hard throwers, if these pitchers can keep the walks down, they could be a scary group to face. Adding promise to this group, 23 year old Eric Krebs, and 22 year old soon-to-be-converted Daniel Moskos.

After approaching the clubs best record in a decade, the Pirates made some good choices for what feels like the first time in two decades. The club added pieces for the future and took care of what they had. Fortunate for the Pirates, the Pedro Alvarez situation worked itself out and the front office can begin to look to the future. With a fairly bleak outlook immediately, acquiring high-ceiling youngsters should be the #1 goal of this team.

While having a currently weak farm system does not give the fans a lot to cheer about, it could also represent some pleasent surprises. A couple players on my watch list are Eddie Prasch, Jamie Romak, and Tom Boleska.

Next up - The Detroit Tigers

BallHype: hype it up!

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