Blow it up
It was another lousy weekend of Pirate baseball. To be honest, these past three games are a blur in my memory. All I can recall are eight-run innings, crucial Pirate errors and hitters that belong on a Triple-A roster hitting harmless ground balls. But the specifics have been lost in my mind.
It is time to blow up this team. The starting pitching is young and has some promise, so I would not deal any of them. A future built around the arms of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and hopefully a renewed Zach Duke is enticing. There is some hope there.
However, the offense is made up of players in their upper 20's, or in other words, their peak years. These are not players that we can look forward to developing into worthwhile talent in the near future. We know what to expect from them by now. The most valuable offensive players in the lineup right now are Jason Bay (28 years old), Adam LaRoche (27), Xavier Nady (28), Freddy Sanchez (29), and Ryan Doumit (26). Removing Doumit, you have a group of established players, all of whom will become much more expensive to keep in the next two years. There are definitely some solid hitters mentioned above. But combined with the likes of Jack Wilson, Ronny Paulino, Nate McLouth, Chris Duffy, and a number of other scrubs, they have led the Pirates to a .310 team OBP and .385 team SLG thus far in 2007. Even a dramatic improvement on those numbers in 2008 would be unlikely to save this team.
Now imagine this. The Pirates deal Salomon Torres, Shawn Chacon and Damaso Marte before tomorrow's trade deadline. They net a couple of solid Double-A/Triple-A position players. Bay and LaRoche finish the year strong. In the offseason, the Bucs deal Nady, Bay, LaRoche and possibly Sanchez. Assuming somebody doesn't screw up those moves, they should result in a large return of good high minors position players. Also, they trade Wilson and hopefully a large portion of his salary to a team with deep pockets. 2008 is a disaster. But in 2009, we start seeing some improvement. The young guys that we received in all of those trades start reaching the Majors. They are joined by the likes of Brian Bixler, Steve Pearce (who was just moved up to Triple-A), Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jamie Romak and others. The starting pitchers are now in their upper 20's and are much more seasoned. The bullpen may need to be strengthened through some smart free agent signings, but suddenly we have a core group of players with some upside.
The reason this won't happen is simple. 2008 is the team's chance to avoid catching the Phillies for the distinction of longest run of losing seasons in sports history. Rebuilding would assure the team of another season below .500 in 2008. That would be a huge PR hit for the ownership. If we could manage a winning season next year, much of the heat on Nutting and Co. would lighten. Ownership is playing for a winning season by 2009. The problem with that is that even if the team does reach .500, there is little chance of improving on that as we move into 2010. The roster will be getting older, and many players will be lost to free agency after 2009. We will be forced to rebuild anyway, but without any valuable players left to use as trade bait.
I dread the day that the Pirates break the record for consecutive losing seasons. But I am definitely willing to go through those difficult times if there is hope for a contending team in the future. I would hate to waste the next seven years or so simply to avoid the record of futility. The smart thing to do is rebuild.