Pirates edition -Sporting News Baseball 2010
Articles are blurry. I don’t understand why! I have a new camera. Ugh, anyway. If your interested in reading the Article from Sporting News Magazine on the Pittsburgh Pirates I’ve typed it below:
How low can they go?*
With their streak of losing seasons now at 17, the Pirates have become the league’s offical poster child for futility.
Anything that happens repeatedly without fail becomes cliche. And Pittsburgh has become baseball’s cliche for ineptitude.
True, the Pirates (barely) saved themselves from a 100-loss season (62-99) under second year manager John Russell in 2009, but they were powerless to avoid and industry-record 17th consecutive losing season. Pittsburgh has not witnessed winning baseball since Atlanta Braves pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera’s two-out, two-run single off Stan Belind wrested Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS away from then-manager Jim Leyland. The transformational game occured so long ago that the Pirates left fielder was Barry Bonds, whose throw just missed beating the lumbering Sid Bream.
Managers Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy, and now Russell and three ownership groups have been unable to reverse the ensuing negative momentum.
An entire generation of Pittsburgh fans has never experienced the rush of a winning season. The Pirates haven’t tasted even third place since 1999. (They’ve won more than 72 games just once since.)
Third baseman Andy LaRoche led last year’s team with 64 RBI’s and 135 hits. Utility player Garrett Jones had a team-leading 21 home runs in only 82 games. The Pirates have only 79 at-bats to players older than 31 (Craig Monroe, since released) .
Regular first baseman Adam Laroche, second baseman and former batting champion Freddy Sanchez and left fielder Nyjer Morgan were traded off before season’s end. After escaping June with a credible 36 total wins, the Pirates managed eight, nine and eight wins in the schedule’s final three months, respectively, and were outscored by 121 runs in their last 73 games.
If hope and change were the political themes for 2009, the Pirates can at least offer change in 2010.
Still nobody’s idea of a muscular team, the Pirates can at least market a dynamic young talent in 23-year-old center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.286, 12 HR, 54 RBI) who needed only 108 games to merit a fourth-place finish in Rookie-of-the-year balloting. IT was the best finish by a Pirates since Jason Bay won the 2004 award.
General manager Neal Huntington recognizes that the franchise needs (another) fresh start. Last summer he purged eight players, including the popular Sanchez, to receive 15 less-experienced ones in return.
Future hopes for a turnaround rest in youngsters such as McCutchen , outfielder Jose Tabata (21), righthanded pitcher Brad Lincon (24) and middle infielder Chase D’Arnaud (23).
The Pirates lack the financial capacity to swim in the deep end of the free agent pool; however, they do have the resources to increase their investment in player development. Pittsburgh ended last season with a puny $25 Million payroll–roughly half it’s opening day level–but expectantly awaits the arrival of 2008 frist-round pick Pedro Alvarez at third base. The franchise has invested more than $18 million in signing bonuses the last two drafts, and industry high.
It’s not a mixed message, because if the Pirates are ever going to contend within their small-market environment, it must be by building from the bottom up.
An abused fan base no longer flocks to PNC Park. The pirates drew only 1.57 million last season to rank 15th in the league.
Those who attend saw a team that actually led the NL in fielding but ranked last in runs scored, 14th in home runs and 14th in one-base percentage. The Pirates won only 12 one run games all season. A team that scored 99 fewer runs than its last-place predecessor can only move up offensively.
The Pirates did very little to address their lack of power before the new year. Andy LaRoche hit 12 home runs in his first full season as a regular while batting .258. He and catcher Ryan Doumit are the only holdovers from last season’s opening-day alignment, as Ronny Cedeno projects at shortstop and free agent signee Akinori Iwanmura comes over from the Tampa Bay Rays to play second base. Iwamura, 31, struck out 131 times in 2008 before managing one home run in 231 at bats last season.
First base offers an intriguing choice between Steve Pearceand Jeff Clement, who was part of a seven-player trade that sent shortstop Jack Wilson to the Seattle Mariners last July. Clement spend all of last season at Class AAA, where he hit 21 home runs with 90 RBI’s in 119 games. His lefthanded bat also has a better chance at PNC Park, which is heavily biased against righthanded hitters.
In the outfield, McCutchen projects as a franchise centerpiece alongside Lastings Milledge and Jones, who had played in only 31 major league ames for the Minnesota Twins before finishing seventh in NL Rookie-of-the-year balloting as a 28-year-old Pirate. Of Jones 92 hits, 43 were for extra bases, an eye-catching ratio within a team that labored for big innings.
Doumit, a switch hitter, struggled with injuires as a follow-up to his impressive offensive campaign in 2008. He served as the Pirates cleanup hitter before suffering a broken right wrist in late April. His absence not only complicated Pittsburgh’s offensive problems but also left a young pitching staff on it’s own. Neither fared well.
Lefthander Paul Maholm, 27, returns as the Pirate’s staff ace after allowing 221 hits and a 4.44 ERA during an 8-9 campaign in 2009. Maholm has averaged almost 200 innings the last two seasons but also carries the dubious distinction of allowing 200 hits or more in each of his four full major league seasons. Maholm won three of his first four starts in 2009 before managing only three more victories in his next 20 outings. Three times he failed to earn a win when his team broke out for at least eight runs. His talent, however, suggests there is better stuff to come.
Fellow lefthander Zach Duke (11-16, 4.06 ERA) surrendered 231 hits and became especially hittable after leaving July with a 3.26 ERA. Opponenets strafed him for 10 homeruns in his last 11 starts, which inclueded five outings in which he allowed five or more earned runs. There was little middle ground for Duke, as he allowed 16 home runs and a .331 average in his losses compared with four homers and a .226 average in his wins.
Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, and Kevin Hart will likely fall in behind the two lefthanders in the starting rotation. Jeff Karstens, who was signed to a minor league deal in December and invited to spring training, could resurface after making 13 starts last season.
The Pirates lost closer Matt Capps to the Nationals in free agency and will give Joel Hanrahan the first crack at filling that vacancy. The former second-round pick of the Dodgers prospered after a midseason trade from Washington.
Evan Meek and Steven Jackson return from offering solid 2009 seasons from the right side. Fellow righthander Jose Ascanio will likely join that duo in the bullpen.
Donnie Veal and Javier Lopez are the leading lefthanded options.
Like much of what surrounds it, the Pirates bullpen struggled last season, yielding the sixth-most total bases despite working the third-fewest innings in the NL.
Pulling the Strings
John Russell enters his third season as a manager, this time with a team stripped of its most veteran position players and a bullpen missing closer Matt Capps. Russell was a highly successful minor league manager and will now use those same skills in what is hardly a fair enviorment. Russell does not complain and provides a low-key, firm manager that has served him well, but no Pirates manager has survived three straight 90-loss seasons. General Manager Neal Huntington, 40, brought a strong background in player development when he was hired away from the Cleveland Indians in 2007. The Pirates apprear ready to trust their minor league system as its top prospects ripen.
Andrew McCutchen- OF
With four months of major league servive time, McCutchen is an unlikely leader. But this is an unlikely situation. The Pirates have sought a signature player since trading Jason Bay, and McCutchen fits that discription. For a player so young (23), McCutchen has a presence and a strong sense of responsibility to himself and his team. He handled atention conected to his Rookie-of-the-year candidacy with grace. Some believe there are comparisons with what Troy Tulowitzki meant to the Rockies in 2007. The Pirates small-market status does not bode well for carrying many veterans. Leadership often becomes an issue. McCutchen, who already serves as a symbol for a revitalized player-development system, may fill another void as well.
Pedro Alvarez 3B (6-3, 240)
Alvarez is considered a cornerstone of the Pirates future. That shouldn’t be a stretch for a player who commanded a $6.35 million bonus as the second overall pick in the 2008 draft. Few disagreed when Baseball America ranked him as its top minor league prospect last Decemeber. Alvarez spend only a half-season at Class A Lynchburg before being moved to Class AA Altoona last June. The Vanderbilt alum finished with a combined .288 average, 27 home runs and 95 RBI’s.
Alvarez is expected to reach Pittsburgh at some point this season. The club would like him to improved his conditioning, as Alvarez carries 240 pounds on a 6-3 frame. The Pirates look forward to seeing the fruits of an intensive offseason workout program.
For a franchise that has sorely lacked righthanded power since moving into spacious PNC Park, Alvarez represents the face of its future.
View from the Other Dugout
(How a rival scout sizes up the Pirates)
”The Pirates moved a lot of bodies last year to future stock their minor league system and to create oppurtunities for some players they believe are close. It’s easy to be negative about them because they’ve been bad forever, but to have a young player like Andrew McCutchen is invaluable. He’s a potential superstar. …
“Ownership apprears commited to (scouting) the Caribbean and spent big time to get (top prospect) Pedro Alvarez two years ago. It’s hard to project significant improvement this year because they have so little power, no depth and few roles withhin the bullpen. Garrett Jones and Bobby Crosby are the only players on the roster who have hit 20 homeruns in a season. Catcher Ryan Doumit isn’t a prototypical cleanup hitter. Left fielder Lastings Milledge has always been viewed as a guy with talent and some baggage, but he may be maturing both on the field and in the clubhouse. …
“Letting Matt Capps go via free agency and trading John Grabow removed their two most consistent relievers. People forget they got Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens in the same 2008 deal from the New York Yankees. Ohlendorf pitched very well at home (8-2, 2.64 ERA) but was a different guy on the road (3-8, 5.56). …
“The Pirates were an underrated defensive team much of last season but weren’t the same after trading Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez. They’ll be missed.”
*Article from Sporting News Magazine Baseball 2010