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NL Central Preview/Roundtable Part Two: Pirates


Pittsburgh Pirates

1. The Pirates were busy this offseason, stocking up on veterans to play alongside the multitude of younger players on the roster. What were your favorite and least favorite moves? How would you have run the offseason transactions? Was restocking with veterans the proper thing to do, or is it reminiscent of the late 1990's in Pittsburgh?

Brew Crew Ball: There is definitely a pattern to Pittsburgh's most conspicuous acquisitions.  Joe Randa is their new third baseman, except he probably isn't any better than Freddy Sanchez.  Sean Casey is their new first baseman, costing the Pirates $7.5m and an innings-eater, but he probably isn't any better than Craig Wilson.  Jeromy Burnitz gets $6m of McClatchy's money--oops, I mean revenue-sharing cash--though he also isn't much better than Craig Wilson.  If the Pirates get John Thomson in trade for Wilson, as has been rumored, all of that might be a tiny bit defensible.  But still not very.  

Low-revenue teams need to be able to identify and correctly value the assets they have, because in-house resources are what they're going have to build around.  The Pirates may be even richer in home-grown talent than the Brewers are, with a potentially spectactular '07 starting rotation and the most underrated player in baseball in Jason Bay.  But when you feel the need to blow your wad on a "name" veteran reliever every year, and you think a below-average first baseman is worth $7.5m, you're squandering opportunity.  Doug Melvin, Terry Ryan, or Billy Beane would, I'm sure, love to build a team around that core.  But no team is being built: another 75-win juggernaut remains under construction.

Bleed Cubbie Blue: The Pirates? Are the Pirates still in the League?

I disagree again with Jeff. Jason Bay's hardly underrated -- he may be under*appreciated*, because he plays in virtual anonymity in Pittsburgh. But that was one of the best deals anyone's made in recent years -- not only did the Pirates get Bay, but they also got Oliver Perez, who I am convinced will be a star soon. He is still only 24.

The Pirates are going to make their future on players like Bay, Nate McLouth, and their other young pitchers. Why they felt the need for a Jeromy Burnitz, or a Joe Randa, is beyond me.

Bucs Dugout: These moves aren't just reminiscent of the late 1990s, it's almost as if the late '90s haven't ended in Pittsburgh. True, the Bucs aren't committed to Casey, Burnitz, Randa and Roberto Hernandez long-term like they were to Pat Meares, but the pattern is still the same: bring in veterans to convince the fanbase the team will be competitive while forgetting about building a team that will actually contend in the future. The Pirates have been doing this since 1998, when the Bucs disappointed their fans after overachieving in 1997. Casey will be a minor upgrade over Daryle Ward and Brad Eldred, but that's not saying much. Burnitz is actively worse than Craig Wilson. And Randa's not improvement. But the fans have heard of those guys, especially Casey, who played high school ball in Pittsburgh, and Randa, who was on that 1997 team.

The Crawfish Boxes:  -- Jason Bay is obviously your best player, but Craig Wilson is probably your second best.  And they've been bouncing him back and forth between first and right.  I might wonder whether some continuity might help Craig a little further.  First, I would definitely jettison Daryle Ward.  And then I might trade for a first baseman as good as Wilson with a little more upside in Sean Casey.  And if he sells you some tickets, what's wrong with that?  But if I did trade for Casey, I certainly wouldn't go out and acquire Jeromy Burnitz one month later, coz Burnitz can't play center and Bay is playing left.  If they really intend to play Burnitz and Casey, they've now relegated  one of their top players to a backup role!  

Have I said I like Perez and Duke and Maholm yet?

2. The Pirates have quite a few young players on the roster, with last year's pitching sensation Zach Duke leading the charge. Give me your take on a few of these players 2006 outlooks and beyond if you care to delve that deep.

Brew Crew Ball: I love those pitchers.  And having to watch Geoff Jenkins flail against the likes of Duke and Perez, I hate those pitchers.  With a possible rotation next year of Perez/Duke/Maholm/Snell/Burnett, any team with an earth-bound (or extremely expensive) rotation has got to drool.  Beyond the starters, though, I'm not sold on the rest.  One of the catchers (Paulino, Cota, or Doumit) may emerge as a solid everyday player, and of course you've gotta love Jason Bay, but I don't see much upside from the rest.  I was mortified at the value of the Jack Wilson contract, and there's nobody else in that infield that I'd even want on the Brewers roster.

Bucs Dugout: I love Duke, Maholm and Snell, but as always with pitchers that young, we've got to keep expectations in check. Some combination of those three along with Perez, Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny might or might not be a great rotation in two years. They'll probably hit some rough spots this year, though. And Brew Crew is right, even if those guys do turn out to be great, the Bucs are still going to need more offense to contend.

Jack Wilson is an amazing defender, but his contract is a terrible idea for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that the team already controlled his rights for 2006 and 2007. In 2008 he'll be 30, at an age when light-hitting middle infielders start to hit so lightly that they can't be in the lineup anymore. It'll probably be an albatross, and it was completely unnecessary - except insofar as, again, it's going to convince the casual fan that the Bucs want to be competitive. It's a PR move.

3. Oliver Perez quickly went from one of the most talented left-handed starters in the game to almost completely forgotten in the course of two seasons. How do you see him pitching in 2006 for the Bucs?

Brew Crew Ball: I guess it all depends on whether his story is true.  You know, did he really sit around and get fat all last offseason because he thought the club told him to?  Or is that just the spin that the team has put on it to get everybody excited in March?  I'm perfectly willing to believe the latter: I'll accept the hypothesis that some pitchers aren't that deceptive once the league has seen them a few times.  But when he's on his game, he has some nasty stuff, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Bleed Cubbie Blue: I noted my appreciation of Perez above, but I'll mention it again: I think Perez has a chance to be the ace of this staff, even with Zach Duke on it. Yes, he had a bad year last year. I choose to think his 2004 season is closer to his real abilities. Again, at the age of 24, he's got a lot of upside, and as we all know, lefthanders can be a little flaky when they're younger.

Bucs Dugout: Brew Crew, that was one of the few cases when what the Pirates' management was saying wasn't just spin. Perez wasn't ready to pitch when he showed up at camp, and he had injuries or mechanical issues most of the year.

I'm writing this on the 29th of March. If I'd answered this question yesterday, I'd have expressed serious concerns that Perez would never return to 2004 form, what with reports that his velocity was shot while pitching in spring training and for Mexico in the WBC. But I saw him pitch against the Red Sox today and he looked great - he was back to throwing hard and had a nice breaking ball. I think he'll have a good year, but with his age and history, it might not be reasonable to expect him to maintain his 2004 level of excellence again.

The Crawfish Boxes: Yeah, I've heard it told that Perez had an off year in 2005.  It's just that I have no idea what people are talking about, having watched Perez throw 8-2/3 innings of 4-hit shutout ball against the Astros April 25 in his only appearance all year against them.  

I still have great respect for Perez, his fastball, and his slider.  His selection as Opening Day starter for the Bucs makes infinite sense to me, and seems to me you could be down on the guy only if you've got a thing against lefties who throw in the mid 90's and feature a quality breaking pitch.