The Gamer

On the Rise: Pittsburgh Pirates


Pirates Manager John Russell and GM Neal Huntington (AP Photo/Al Behrman) ESPN

Pirates Manager John Russell and GM Neal Huntington (AP Photo/Al Behrman) ESPN



Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates finished the 2007 Season with the worst record in Major League Baseball (68-94).  However, despite the Pirates 53-64 record through August 11th, there have been many surprising notes regarding their season.  Who would have thought Nate McClouth (.277/22/74/.354/.517) would be leading the Pirates in virtually every offensive category, in addition to scoring the third most runs in the National League?  Also, catcher Ryan Doumit is hitting .331 on the season, and posting a team best .913 OPS, among some of baseballs best hitters such as Josh Hamilton and Mark Teixeira.  In addition, the Pirates are scoring an average of 4.79 runs per game, which is 5th best in the National League.  


Pitching woes have been hurting the Pirates all season, as reflected in their National League worst Team E.R.A. (5.18), Runs Per Game (5.47), Opponents Batting Average (.289), and Walks/Hits Per Innings Pitched (1.59).  The pitchers aren’t getting much help from their defense, which is posting a .674 Defensive Efficiency Rating (28th in MLB, 15th in NL).  


Much of the offensive credit is due to the combined performance of the Pirates outfield trio of Xavier Nady, Jason Bay and Nate McClouth.  However, the compounded salaries and age of outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, in addition to a commitment to rebuilding a young Pirates team for the future, led the Pirates to trade their two sluggers in search of pitching aid and young Major League Ready prospects.  

  • On July 22nd, the Pirates sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte (RP) to the New York Yankees for pitchers Ross Olendorf, Daniel McCutchen (AAA), Jeff Karstens and Outfielder Jose Tabata.  
  • On July 31st, literally at the deadline, the Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox were involved in a trade that sent Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles, Jason Bay to Boston, and Boston players Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen, Dodger Prospects Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris (A).  


So far, Jeff Kastens has pitched 15 scoreless innings and against Arizona flirted with a perfect game.  Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche have started out slowly for the Pirates, while Craig Hansen has consistently thrown hard but has been touched up a bit in his few appearances.  However scouting reports indicate that these players have good potential for the Pirates and will undoubtedly have an impact as regulars on the 2009 Roster.


It will be very interesting to see how the Pittsburgh Pirates will contend in the future with a younger team and saving $13 million dollars for next season (excluding departing free agents) to expend on the possible signing of Vanderbilt third baseman and 2nd overall pick, Pedro Alvarez.  In 2009, the Pirates will most likely build their team around young players Nate McClouth, Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm.  I also suspect they will try and extend Adam LaRoche’s contract, as he has provided consistent power and plays a decent first base.  Also, top prospect Andrew McCutchen will be competing for a spot in the outfield.  


Player Notes

  • It’s no surprise Jack Wilson has been mentioned in trade talks. He is making $6.5 million this season and is schedule to get $7.25 million in 2009. That’s not a salary a team in rebuilding mode wants to pay, particularly to a shortstop who will be 31 in December and had a .316 on-base percentage and a .332 slugging percentage. 
  • It’s more peculiar the Pirates would be trying to move Grabow, who is making $1.135 million this season and probably will make in the $2.5 million range next year. Considering they have no one to replace Grabow, attempts to trade him smack of a pure salary dump.
  • With that in mind, here are some other players who might be in their last season with the Pirates.
  • Jose Bautista: His salary this season, his first in arbitration, is $1.8 million. That will probably jump into the $2 million range next season. It’s unlikely the Pirates want to carry a $2 million utility man, which is Bautista’s role since Andy LaRoche was acquired.
  • Zach Duke: He’ll be arbitration eligible next season, and with the new depth the Pirates have on their pitching staff, it’s doubtful the team will go that route with him. Although Duke had an outstanding start last week, he is 4-10 with a 5.13 earned run average. In his five starts before his last one, his ERA was 11.10.
  • Jason Michaels: He has a $2.6 million option for next season. The Pirates aren’t likely to pick that up. Based on the good job he’s done this season, there will be a market for Michaels, and his return is unlikely.
  • Doug Mientkiewicz: If he’s not dealt by the end of the season, he’ll be a free agent. Like Michaels, he has enhanced his value, particularly with his versatility, and is probably out of the Pirates’ price range.
  • Chris Gomez: Same as above.
  • Tyler Yates: He’s arbitration eligible, which means he could be non-tendered.


Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein Projects the Pirates 2010 Lineup:


Catcher: Optimistic, with caveats. Ryan Doumit is one of the better-hitting catchers in the game, he’s cheap, and he’s under control for a while. That said, he comes with huge concerns about his ability to stay in the lineup consistently; last year it was wrist and hamstring problems, but those were just additions to the long series of health issues that Doumit has suffered since being a second-round pick in 1999. Those injuries are one of the reasons it’s taken so long for Doumit to establish himself; during his first three full seasons in the minors, he played in just 184 games. He teases with All-Star possibilities as a hitter, but at the same time, you need a backup plan with him, and the Pirates have no real catching prospects of note in the system.

First Base: Neither good nor bad. Adam LaRoche has yet to duplicate his success with Atlanta, and just when it seemed like that might never happen, he hit .390/.472/.805 in July before hitting the disabled list with a rib cage injury. He’s not a star, but he doesn’t create a huge hole in the lineup either—he’s a solid placeholder until someone better comes along. Could that someone better be 2008 first-round pick Pedro Alvarez? Alvarez is hardly a great defensive third baseman, and with the acquisition of Adam’s brother Andy, Alvarez might end up quickly transitioning to either first base or left field.

Second Base: Push. After winning the batting title in 2006, Freddy Sanchez slipped a bit last year, then slipped a ton this season. Like LaRoche, he’s picked it up of late, hitting .302 since July began, and the Pirates are on the hook for him in 2009, with a 2010 club option for $8 million. He’ll surely stick around next year, as the Pirates have no replacement for him in the minors.

Third Base: Highly optimistic. The hot corner has long been a troublesome spot for the Pirates, and they hope they’ve found their long-term solution in Andy LaRoche. As I wrote in BP2008, “Everyone loves Andy LaRoche, except, perhaps, for the Dodgers,” and that still seemed to be the case. He was the All-Star third baseman on the official Players Who Need a Change of Scenery squad, and playing in an environment where the pressure of every mis-timed strikeout or error meant a trip to Las Vegas (can you believe that’s a negative thing?) could be the key to him turning into the star-level player that many scouts have been projecting him to be for years.

Shortstop: Still a nightmare. One of the more frustrating combinations of a non-productive starter (Jack Wilson) with a bad contract, paired with a system with no short-term prospects at the position. The Jack Wilson era likely ends after 2009, as Pittsburgh will almost gladly pay $600,000 to avoid giving him another $8.4 million, but as far as who takes over the position at that time, it’s a bit of a mystery. The organization spent their third- (Jordy Mercer) and fourth-round (Chase D’Arnaud) picks on polished college shortstops without a ton of upside, and they already have one of those in the system in Brian Friday, a third-round selection from last year who has plus defensive skills, good speed, excellent contact abilities, and no power.

Outfield: No holes, and more players than positions. That’s a pretty surprising outcome considering that the team just traded two everyday above-average corner men in Bay and Nady. But those moves did not create holes, as much as they created opportunities. For 2009, the three starters with likely be Nate McLouthAndrew McCutchen, and Brandon Moss. McLouth has been one of the more surprising performers in the game this year, already slugging 22 home runs on the season when PECOTA saw him maxing out at 13. If there’s one deficiency in his game, it’s his defense, as he merely holds his own in center and is far better suited for a corner, making his offensive breakthrough not only important, but a necessity. McCutchen is penciled in as the everyday player up the middle, provides an immediate upgrade with the glove, and over time should develop into a multi-faceted force at the top of the lineup. Moss was expendable for the Red Sox—he’s not good enough to be an everyday corner outfielder for Boston, but he still should be one of the top 60 corner outfielders around. Finally, don’t forget about Jose Tabata. The Pirates are hoping that this deal will be a wake-up call for the outfielder once considered to be one of the brightest young hitters in the game. With a second chance, and more of an opportunity, he could turn it around.

With that, let’s take a quick guess at the 2010 starting nine for the Pirates:

Catcher:      Ryan Doumit
First Base:   Pedro Alvarez
Second Base:  Freddy Sanchez/TBD
Third Base:   Andy LaRoche
Shortstop:    TBD
Left Field:   Nate McLouth
Centerfield:  Andrew McCutchen
Rightfield:   Brandon Moss

That may not be enough to create a murderer’s row, but it can be the parts for putting together a young lineup with several players holding impact potential. The Pirates were an above-average offense entering the year, but with the recent deals, they’ve shored up their future on the mound while ensuring that runs will be scored for years to come.


August 10, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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