Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Future of the Pirates

The Pirates need a little more time. This year is over. It has turned out to be a disaster, but with a few high points. I like the new management that did not stick with players that were not producing. It sends a good message, to me the fan at least. They demoted Ronnie Paulino, starting catcher from a year ago. They demoted Tom Grozelanny, who had the most wins on the team last year and was the starter for the home opener. They sort of forced a pitcher to retire at the beginning of the year, and they finally traded Jose Bautista who was a hole at third. That was also a good thing because they let Bautista go and try to make his mark with another team rather than keep him in the dungeon of the Pirate farm system.

September should always be an exciting time for people who are fans of teams out of the race. Ten players are joining the Pirate roster. Some are familiar like Ronnie Paulino, who played well at Triple A all year, Brain Bixler, who struggled while filling in for Jack Wilson, and Steven Pearce, who was called up when Xavier Nady was traded and would never have gone done except for a freak illness for our center fielder. Others have seen some time at the major league level, but are not so familiar like Criag Hansen, T.J. Beam, Marino Salas and Romulo Sanchez. All of which are bullpen guys. However, the people I am most excited about are Ross Ohlendorf, a pitcher who came over in the Xavier Nady trade. He saw some time in the bullpen for the Yankees, but he is going to be a starter for the Pirates. His first outing was a win for the team and a quality start for Ohlendorf. He is in the mix to be a starter next year. I am also excited to see about Robinson Diaz. Diaz is a catcher who was acquired in the Jose Bautista trade that came after the trading deadline. I want to see what kind of quality we got in this late season deal. Luis Cruz, who was just added to the 40 man roster. He is a middle infielder, where the Pirates are weak. He came out of no where this year with a decent Double A season and then got even better when promoted to Triple A. If he can show he is good, then the Pirates will be better off rather than putting all of their eggs in the Brian Bixler basket, which looked scary early in the season. In fairness it must be said that Bixler improved during the rest of the year at Triple A.

The real problem with the Pirates is not offense, it is pitching. Lots of pitchers are not living up to their expectations. The bullpen particularly is a problem. So far this season the Pirates have used 26 different pitchers, a franchise record. That is a lot of pitchers. This is where the Pirates are really going to look different next year and where September is important. The starting line up ought to be fairly set. They should have an outfield of McCutchen, McLouth, and Moss (with Morgan and Pierce backing up). They should start LaRoche at first (with Pierce backing up), Sanchez at second, Wilson at short (with middle infield back up is up for grabs), and Adam LaRoche at third (with Walker as back up) and Doumit catching (with Paulino as back up). The bullpen and starting rotation will be what to watch.

Take for example the bullpen. Matt Capps is the closer. John Grabow probably has a safe spot as does Tyler Yates. I will even go out on a limb as say Sean Burnett is in for next year. That means competing for the remaining spots are R. Sanchez, Beam, Hansen, Bautista, Davis, Chavez, and Salas. All of whom are getting their try out starting now. One could also throw in Evan Meek, who is not on the current 40 man roster and thus unable to be with the team, but is a possibility to earn a bullpen spot. That is a lot up in the air. The starting rotation is also a question. Right now the Pirates are doing a six man rotation with Snell, Grozelanny, Malhom, Duke, Olhendorf, and Karstens. That is six guys and five spots. Add into the mix for next year the currently injured Dumatrait, who looked good before the injury, and former top pick Van Benschoten. That makes 8 guys fighting for 5 spots.

The future of the Pirates looks bight with possibility, but it could also be a sign of complete mediocrity. It gets worse if you look further down in the Pirates organization. Their Triple A, Double A, and High Single A teams all finished at the bottom of their leagues. In fact, the only team that played well in the minors was the Rookie League organization, and that is a bad sign for the Pirates minor league system. No matter what, I am looking forward to seeing these new Pirates play.