Pirates have to contend with improving Central

The impact that Nyjer Morgan and Steve Pearce are having on the Pirates in September isn’t to be brushed off as insignificant. I won’t go so far as to hand the pair roster spots in 2008, but Morgan and Pearce are showing that they have certain tools that are major-league ready.
We’ve heard throughout the front office changes that the Pirates are in good shape, relatively speaking—even with the doom and gloom surrounding a 15th consecutive losing season, we’re sure to have hope on Opening Day each year. We know that the National League Central Division is imminently winnable. Contrast that with a team like the Devil Rays, who are counted out from day one in a perennially tough A.L. East.
Part of our “maybe next year” fantasies are legitimized by the play of Morgan and Pearce, and the impending arrivals of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and even Brian Bixler. The Pirate farm system seems to be providing more talent than recent years, helping us to believe that the Pittsburgh Baseball Club may be only a few free agent signings or a big trade away from respectability.
But compared to our competitors, we don’t have anything special.
In Chicago, Felix Pie and Geovany Soto have debuted in the show, and Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot have proven to be solid infield options. Carlos Marmol, a 24-year-old righty, has thrived in a transition from the rotation to the bullpen, posting a 1.31 ERA through 52 games in 2007.
Manning first base in Cincinnati is Joey Votto, a name that was on my wish list last off-season when the Pirates were looking for a promising power bat. Homer Bailey is still B.M.O.C., and will likely team with Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to form a formidable top three in the Reds’ starting rotation for years to come. And Josh Hamilton, the storyline of the year, withstood the test of time.
Houston has a rookie of the year candidate in Hunter Pence, which starts to make up for a weak minor-league depth chart. Even our most hapless opposition has a gem of a prospect.
Milwaukee’s player development system has been looked at as a gold standard as the Pirates search for a new general manager. A home-grown infield of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun will stay intact for the next half-decade. That’s not to mention ace-in-waiting Yovani Gallardo or complementary players like Corey Hart and Tony Gwynn.
Despite relying on a veteran core, the St. Louis Cardinals have received contributions from power hitters such as Chris Duncan and The Unnatural, Rick Ankiel. To be honest, you can afford to lag behind in the youth movement when Albert Pujols is cemented in your batting order.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited about all of the recent goings on as the next Pirate fan is. But at the same time, I think we need a little perspective. The Central is wide open, and should be up for grabs in 2008—but the Pirates aren’t the only team that’ll be counting on performances from fresh faces.


5 Responses to “Pirates have to contend with improving Central”

  1. David Hannes Says:

    The Reds seem to have a lot of young talent that they are showcasing of late…whether these young pitchers have what it takes to be great remains to be seen. Of the Cubs, you only mentioned one young pitcher, and I think that will be their downfall down-the-road. The Astros need more than just Pence, while the Cardinals’ are also needing more pitching.
    If pressed to make predictions for next year already, I still think the Cubs have a slight edge, followed by the Brewers, Reds, Cardinals, Pirates and Astros. By 2010, I think the Brewers and Reds will be the teams to beat.

  2. Matt Bandi Says:

    Morgan needs to do much more with the bat. Right now I would rather have Duffy backing up McLouth in center in 2008.

  3. Cory Humes Says:

    I half-agree, Matt. Morgan’s not a major-league starter right now. The tool I alluded to is speed, and I suppose defense, too … he’s so quick it doesn’t matter that his fundamentals are lacking. He’d be a nice fifth outfielder I think.
    But I don’t want to go into 2008 with McLouth and Duffy as my center field tandem if I’m planning on making a serious attempt to win. Nate’s my fourth outfielder and Chris is trade bait.
    David, I think you’re selling your own team short. Milwaukee’s got an exciting core. Chicago’s certainly tough with Soriano – Lee – Ramirez, but I think people assume they’ll continue to spend and spend and spend. At some point they’ve got to hit a wall. The Brewers, on the other hand, have so many 0-6 players that they could probably afford to bring in an impact free agent or two.
    I think my early 2008 prediction would read Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis/Cincinnati/Pittsburgh, Houston.

  4. Newmie Says:

    How do we rebuild the minors? Be patient and draft well? Signing in Latin America? Trade our veterans? I say all three. Bay needs to be traded for one ML ready player and prospects. Pearce can slide into his slot. Jack’s trade value will never be higher than right now. Is Bixler ready? There is only one way to find out..play him. Part of the evaluation process will be evaluating our players. Many things need done to turn the corner, but it is very possible. I hope everyone is patient…that will be very difficult after all these years.

  5. Cory Humes Says:

    Brian Bixler’s numbers at Triple-A suggest he’s not ready now — I don’t think it’d be fair to throw him to the dogs just yet.
    Otherwise, I agree, Newmie. Moving Bay and Jack would allow the team to pull a now-and-later approach that could lead to decent results in 2008, and more importantly 2009, 2010 and the future.
    A long winter lies ahead…

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