Thursday, July 30, 2009

Giving up the ghost

Steelers open camp Friday.
That is good news for the Pirates organization, which hoisted the white flag on the season Wednesday by trading away shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez. The purge is probably complete as eight starters (not including pitchers) from the opening day lineup are gone.
These last moves assured a 17th consecutive losing season, the longest for any North American professional sports organization in history.
Well, at lest the Pirates are No. 1 in something.
The trades have left the Pirates in shambles. It is an awful team, maybe even worse the the Washington Nationals. I didn't think that was possible. It's difficult to lose 100 games in a major league season but the Pirates now have the pieces in place to do so.
Maybe you can defend these moves as a way to build a winner, except the Pirates are incredibly inept at developing talent. Quick, name one player this organization has drafted and developed into a star, or even a top-notch major leaguer.
Can't do it, can you?
So it's easy to see why Pirates fans have little or no faith in this organization's ability to build a quality team. It's a reputation that has been earned.
Just look at pitcher Ian Snell, a 20th-round selection who appeared to be the exception to this organization's dismal ability to handle players. He is in Seattle now, dumped there after a tumultuous year.
Why should Pittsburgh fans believe it will be any different with the players the Pirates received in return for this summer selloff?
Last season's trades of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady brought new faces, but none of them shows star potential. And some, such as outfielder Brandon Moss, are apalling inept. Even the success stories from those deals - pitchers Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton, and third baseman Andy LaRoche - are no more than above-average players.
The Pirates have insured a losing season for this and most likely the next three seasons. Their payroll, post trades, is just above $30 million so there is money available for free agent signings.
But who would want to play here?
The remainder of this season will be depressingly similary to next, and maybe the next, a continual string of losing that might be stopped if the organization can develop talent.
General manager Neal Huntington is gambling his job that these moves will turn the team around. If he is right, then he will be considered a hero in the eyes of long-suffering fans.
If he fails, then the next five-year plan will go into place with a new general manager. It's the Pirates' way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sanchez traded to Giants

SAN FRANCISCO - The Giants announce they have acquired second baseman Freddy Sanchez from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Minor League pitcher Tim Alderson.

For Sanchez, joining the Giants was a matter of walking from one clubhouse to the other. San Francisco completed a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh with a 1-0 victory Wednesday.

Sanchez, a three-time All-Star and the National League's 2006 batting champion, didn't play in the series due to a sore left knee. That reportedly threatened to scuttle the deal, but Giants management obviously decided to go ahead with the move.

The Giants parted with right-hander Tim Alderson, one of their top pitching prospects, in the deal.

Alderson, 20, has compiled a 6-1 record with 3.47 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A Connecticut this season. In 72 2/3 innings, he has allowed 76 runs while walking 14 and striking out 46.

Wilson, Snell traded to Mariners

SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners acquired shortstop Jack Wilson (above) and pitcher Ian Snell from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday for shortstop Ronny Cedeno, Triple-A catcher Jeff Clement and three minor league pitchers.

The 31-year-old Wilson, an All-Star in 2004, becomes Seattle's third everyday shortstop this season.

"This was an opportunity for us to acquire a veteran shortstop, a former All-Star player, with leadership qualities and above-average defensive skills," Mariners general manager Jack Zdurienick said. "As we move forward over the next few years it is nice to know that we have solidified the shortstop position."

The Mariners also think Snell can restart his stalled career. The 27-year-old Snell had a 0.96 ERA in six starts with Triple-A Indianapolis, after starting the season 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts for Pittsburgh.

Zdurienick called Snell "a talented pitcher with major league experience who now has an opportunity restart his career after a very successful reassignment in Indianapolis."

Seattle had acquired Cedeno in the offseason from the Chicago Cubs. He struggled after the Mariners gave him their shortstop job this month by trading Yuniesky Betancourt to Kansas City. Cedeno is hitless in his last 26 at bats and is batting .167 in 59 games. The 26-year-old's contract ends after this season.

In Clement, the Pirates are getting the third overall draft pick in 2005 who has shown impressive power but has been unable to catch consistently. He has played first base while being primary a DH at Triple A. Clement, who turns 26 next month, batted .237 with seven home runs in 75 games for Seattle in 2007 and '08. He was batting .288 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs in 92 games for Tacoma this season.

The Pirates also get minor league right-handed pitchers Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Strasburg a Pirate? Might happen

Pirates fans know how difficult it can be watching an organization deal with Scott Boras. The Pedro Alvarez signing was proof of that. But Boras' antics just might allow the Pirates to draft Stephen Strasburg in next year's draft. Here's how it could happen.

1. Washington, which made the right-handed power pitcher with a 100 mph fastball the No. 1 pick in the draft, must sign Strasburg by the Aug. 17 deadline. With Boras as his agen, er, advisor, that's not a sure thing. Boras was asking for a $50 million deal and reports have it down to $20 million.

2. If Washington does not sign Strasburg, he goes back into the draft. Here's the catch with that. Even though Washington has the worst record in baseball and is probably a lock for the No. 1 pick in 2010, Strasburg would have to agree to be redrafted by Washington. Can't see that happening if he doesn't sign by Aug. 17.

3. The next worst record would draft after Washington in 2010. Heading into Sunday's games, here is the order.

San Diego 38-59, .392
Kansas City 38-58 .396
Cleveland 40-58 .408
Arizona 41-56 .423
Baltimore 41-55 .427
Oakland 41-55 .427
Pittsburgh 43-53 .448

So Pittsburgh is 5 1/2 games off the pace. By Aug. 18, the league will know whether Strasburg will be available. Then, it's a game of what team can lose the most, and the Pirates are pretty good at that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

La Roche deal a good one

The trading of first baseman Adam La Roche was a good one for the Pirates, even if the minor league prospects don't pan out. Getting rid of La Roche's $7 million contract, or at least what was left this year, is worth it. La Roche came to Pittsburgh with the hope that he would be the power hitter who could carry the offense.

But he couldn't live up to those expectations. La Roche was a decent first baseman, not a $7 million a year player but a so-so power guy with a good glove. He went into maddening slumps to start each season in Pgh., and he never really took advantage of the short right-field wall at PNC Park. He should have been what Garrett Jones is now, a feared power threat in the lineup. Most of La Roche's home runs came when they mattered least, mainly late in the season when the Pirates were long out of the race.

He wasn't the type of player the Pirates need now, even in a power-starved lineup. And if the savings on his salary helps sign Jack Wilson, then it's a plus.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LaRoche traded

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Boston Red Sox added one of the Pirates' middle-of-the-order hitters for the second time in as many seasons, acquiring first baseman Adam LaRoche on Wednesday for two midlevel prospects.

The trade, possibly the first of several involving the last-place Pirates before the July 31 deadline for trading without waivers, follows up last July's three-team deal that sent All-Star outfielder Jason Bay to Boston.

The Pirates, who have traded five starting position players since last July, will receive Double-A shortstop Argenis Diaz and Class-A right-hander Hunter Strickland, an 18th-round draft pick two years ago.

The Red Sox lost their fourth consecutive game Tuesday night to fall out of first place in the AL East, a game behind the New York Yankees. Boston had been one of the teams pursuing Toronto starter Roy Halladay, but a bat turned into the bigger priority for a team that is hitting .236 since June 17 and has scored 12 runs in five games since the All-Star break.

LaRoche, eligible for free agency after this season, has been a disappointment to the Pirates, hitting .247 with 12 homers, 40 RBIs and 81 strikeouts in 87 games. He has been slumping since July 4, going 5 for 46 (.109) with one RBI and 16 strikeouts. LaRoche was hitless in 22 at-bats during the slide.

The 29-year-old LaRoche was expected to supply a much-needed left-handed power bat when the Pirates dealt left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez to Atlanta for him in January 2007, but he hasn't hit better than .272 in two-plus seasons and had poor starts in 2007 and 2008.

LaRoche hit 32 homers for Atlanta in 2006, but his best season with Pittsburgh was 25 homers and 85 RBIs a year ago.

Likely trade bait

With the trade deadline fast approaching, I thought I would lit the Pirates I believe will be traded in the order of their value to other teams. So here goes:

1. Zach Duke, SP: This is the only player the Pirates would be willing to trade who will bring back greater value than they would give up. The contending teams in the majors would be interested in offering top prospects to land him. Pulling the trigger on him would be difficult because of the PR hit the organization will take.

2. Robinzon Diaz, C: The Pirates have depth at this position and Diaz could bring a couple prospects. The question is do the Pirates believe Ryan Doumit can stay healthy for the remainder of the season.

3. Freddy Sanchez, 2B: The problem with trading Sanchez is his salary, $8 million. That is too high for a player of his ability: good hit, good field, no power, not enough speed. If Sanchez is traded, the Pirates would probably have to pick up some of his salary for next season.

4. Jack Wilson, SS: If it will be hard to trade Sanchez because of his salary, then it will be almost impossible to trade Wilson, who is making nearly $8 million. The best scenario for the Pirates is to let Sanchez and Wilson finish the season in Pgh., then see what other teams offer. If it's reasonable, then match it.

5. Adam LaRoche, 1B: With Garrett Jones emerging, LaRoche won't be back with the Pirates next season. But who wants to trade for him now? He's hit just 12 home runs this season in a homer-friendly PNC Park for lefties. Heck, even baseball Fantasy owners don't like him (only in 78 percent of the leagues on ESPN).

6. John Grabow, RP: He walks too many (24 in 43 inn.) but is a decent set-up man. Minnesota is interested. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. I can't see any team knocking the Pirates over with an offer for him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Who is this guy?

Since PNC Park opened, the Pirates have been trying to find a left-handed power hitter who could take advantage of the short right field wall. Jeremy Burnitz was a bust, so was Adam LaRoche.

Enter Garrett Jones, a 29-year-old rookie, stands 6-4 and weighs 245, has been the surprise of the season. He cracked his fifth home run in the last four games and has seven in his first 12 games since being recalled from the minors. His two home runs against San Francisco Friday night were all the runs the Pirates scored. He homered in the first inning and won it with a one-hopper into the river in the 14th.

Jones spent most of his career in the Minnesota Twins organization and landed in Pittsburgh after Minnesota released him. He was a 14th-round pick by the Atlanta Braves in 1999 but was released three years later.

The nice thing about Jones is that he can play first base, too. LaRoche is plodding along with another unremarkable season (12 HR, 39 RBI, .246 ave.) and has to be considered trade bait before the deadline at the end of the month.

Jones probably won't continue at this pace, but he just needs to provide consistent power and hit .260 or .270 to remain in the lineup. At least he has more promise than Steve Pearce and is providing a much-needed spark to this team.