Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pirates' Offseason - Good But Incomplete

As one who is perpetually frustrated by the Pirates’ front office  – exacerbated after its failure to really support the team at last year’s trading deadline – it’s a pleasure to feel a bit optimistic for this coming season. I remain skeptical; we’re still talking a pretty minuscule payroll in baseball terms, and there were a lot of things they could have happened this offseason which didn’t get done.  We all watched, for example, as one potential 1B after another was taken off the board. And I am not talking about the Pujols and the Fielder types; they were never realistic. But the Penas, the Kotchmans, even the Cuddyers or Willinghams, were all grabbed up by teams not called the Pirates.

But let’s focus on what did get done. I would put it this way. Generically speaking, the Pirates had three big needs – bring strength and consistency up the middle; bolster the SP staff; and improve the offense. I would give them credit on two of these.

As much as I liked catcher Ryan Doumit, he was a defensive liability, and on a team that has trouble scoring runs, you need to be as strong up the middle as possible.  Cedeno was Cedeno. Obviously a capable SS but his mental lapses – in the field as well as at the plate – clearly drove Clint Hurdle nuts.  The guys who replaced them are not going to add offensive pop but should add consistency, at least, defensively – at least that’s their reputation. I think we know what to expect from Barmes and Barajas, and we’ll get it. Barajas, known for his ability to handle starting pitchers, may prove an important addition (and he just may hit too, though I’m in wait-and-see mode on that).

Starting pitching? Well, Bedard and Burnett are not only upgrades over what we had, but they bring the strikeout dimension to the staff, which has been sorely lacking. That alone can prove to be a huge relief for the defense.  I have no doubt that Burnett will improve the rest of the staff as well, and I happily give Neal credit for both these acquisitions.

The significance of the Bedard acquisition should not be lost. If the Bucs are competing, we keep him at the deadline and most likely he’ll eventually walk, but we’ll get his services for a full year and even under the new problematic CBA, we still get an extra draft pick.  If we’re not competing, he could be valuable trade bait. These were good moves and our SP is stronger than it was last year.

Where I remain worried is with respect to offense. I don’t believe it’s too late though – but I admit it was disappointing to watch one solid hitter after another get swept up by teams not named the Pirates. This is particularly true at 1B, but I personally am a little nervous about an OF with both Tabata and Presley. One or the other, but a legit power hitter would be my preference over having both of them.  Alternately, if you keep this OF, upgrade at 1B and in fact, if I could only make one move or the other, it would be to upgrade at 1B. And there were opportunities.

On the surface, the plan is to display confidence that Pedro will hit again, and that the new 1B platoon of Jones and Casey McGeehee will solidify that slot. I wish I could buy it, but I would prefer a plan that featured someone like Casey Kotchman or Carlos Pena at first. Or perhaps a Cuddyer or Willingham or Kubel brought on board. I feel that not upgrading the offense when there were opportunities to do so is the most glaring error on the Pirates’ part this off-season and it leaves me apprehensive.

I will say this though: the acquisition of McGeehee could prove extremely critical. If he can return to form, the Bucs could prove to be a strong team. Coming off a bad year, this move doesn’t seem to me to get the scrutiny it deserves. I think there’s hope he WILL come back, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him full time at 1B or gradually taking over 3B duties from Pedro. It will be very, very interesting to see if Pedro gets some opportunities at 1B in spring training.

Is it too late? NO. There are guys still out there that can help this team. One name that comes to my mind is Johnny Damon. But he’s had limited time at 1B and I don’t see where there’s much value added in the OF, given that his style isn’t all that different from Tabata’s (some power, but mainly a speed guy), and he’s on the decline anyway.

What I’d like to see is a trade. Our GM does not like giving up prospects and we understand why, but the opportunity to compete may be upon us and if there’s a chance to pick up an Ike Davis or someone of that ilk, we’ve got to try to go for it. What I am hoping is that like everyone else in MLB, Neal is watching the situation in Anaheim very, very closely. I think it’s safe to say that the Angels satisfied their 1B needs for a while.  That leaves a couple players over there that the Bucs should be interested in. Is Morales healthy? Is Mark Trumbo expendable? We’ve got to be thinking about that. Can you imagine a healthy Kendry Morales in a Pirates uniform?

The Bucs did a good job this offseason, especially with the Bedard and Burnett acquisitions. McGeehee could prove more pivotal to the team that folks expect. But I am still sticking with a grade of “incomplete” because I think one more reliable hitter – ideally, with power - is needed to round out this team.  And I assume the money is there – they were willing to give Edwin Jackson $10M a season, and Burnett cost them half that. 

With the Burnett trade, I am more optimistic than I was. It was a good move and I think he’ll improve considerably in a weakened NL Central. But there’s still a piece of unfinished business. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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