Andrew McCutchen - trigger25/Flickr.com
No beat writer at the Bellagio is going to accuse the Pittsburgh Pirates of being big-time players for the hot-ticket free agents at this year's winter meetings. Instead, Neal Huntington and Co. have been sticking a toe in the shallow end of the player pool, testing the waters with utility types such as Mark Loretta and David Eckstein.
The attention-grabbing headlines tied to the team are all related to sending away major-league talent, not bringing it in. Jack Wilson to the Dodgers, Tigers or Twins; Ian Snell to the Nationals; Paul Maholm and Nate McLouth to the Braves. The most persistent trade rumors focus on the Pirates' interest in restocking their top prospect list, and no veteran is seemingly off limits.
The casual fan would probably be more interested in seeing the Pirates linked to Jon Garland or Pedro Martinez, Bobby Abreu or Adam Dunn. And part of me thought earlier this winter that signing a recognizable name or two might not be a terrible idea: Secure a talented veteran presence capable of leading a youthful clubhouse and driving ticket sales. The last time MLB's general managers were stingy with cash was 2003, when the Pirates signed Kenny Lofton, Reggie Sanders and Jeff Suppan and won 75 games (their highest total of this decade).
But given that the Pirates appear to be truly rebuilding for the first time in a couple general managers' terms, I've turned to supporting the notion of running out a baby-faced lineup. Even though much more work remains to be done, the organization boasts a sufficient number of developing starters and a growing group of legitimate prospects.
What if on April 6, 2009 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, these 25 men were your Pittsburgh Pirates?
Catcher: Ryan Doumit
Infield: Steve Pearce, Brian Bixler, Luis Cruz, Andy LaRoche
Outfield: Nate McLouth, Andrew McCutchen, Brandon Moss
Bench: Robinzon Diaz, Jordan Brown, Robert Andino, Doug Mientkiewicz, Nyjer Morgan
Rotation: Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf
Relief: Matt Capps, Tyler Yates, Eduardo Morlan, Sean Burnett, Evan Meek, Craig Hansen, Phil Dumatrait
Mientkiewicz, 34, and Yates, 31, would be the only players on the Opening Day roster over the age of 28. And yet, the construction isn't beyond belief. These players have been proven capable of producing in Triple-A. Now they need to prove worthy of major-league spots and of consideration in Che's long-term plans.
It's the tweeners who would see the most benefit in a full-on youth movement, in my estimation. Huntington would get a clear view of exactly what Pearce, Bixler, Cruz, Diaz and Morgan can do when given extended playing time without any pressure at the highest level. If and when prospects are ready to be promoted, no one would be blocking their paths. Sink or swim.
To make this work, Huntington would need to find new homes for Ronny Paulino, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson and John Grabow. Finding takers wouldn't be an issue; only finding adequate returns would be. LaRoche, Sanchez and Grabow still have good value, and so I'd expect about five or six solid prospects total in trades. Paulino and Wilson could go more cheaply. At the end of the day, the Pirates would have saved millions of dollars in payroll which could be invested in another strong draft class and in more foreign scouting and signings.
While Huntington won't go to this extreme, it will be interesting to see how he replaces those veteran players who are inevitably traded this offseason. Using a Rule 5 pick -- or even two -- to acquire talent on the cheap, plugging gaps with developing players: It's these types of moves that would really get me excited for 2009 and beyond. Put the free agent market out of mind for another year.
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- The Trades That We Could Have Done Without
- Rule 5 Draft Day
- Rule 5 recap
- Winter meetings, day 4 - Rule 5 Draft, Pirates near deal with Vazquez
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