The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “Stats Geek,” Brian O’Neill, was on Mark Madden’s ESPN radio show yesterday afternoon discussing all things Pirates. Of course the talk eventually shifted to the hiring of Neal Huntington and the task at hand: rebuilding the Pittsburgh Baseball Club into the proud franchise it once was.
There are sure to be a number of problems for Huntington this off-season, most solvable with pink slips. Fire Jim Tracy? Fire Brian Graham? Fire Ed Creech?
All important questions to have answered quickly, certainly.
But there’s one question that reigns supreme—one question whose answer could very well determine what direction this team goes for the next half-decade or more: Should the Pirates continue trying to contend in a weak NL Central, or should they commit to rebuilding in 2008?
Pick the wrong path and you’re staring 20 consecutive losing seasons straight in the eye.
O’Neill said that Dave Littlefield had “Bonifayed” his successor, making a reference to the albatross contracts that the former general manager left in his wake in 2001. A quick look at the ledger proves his is a legitimate argument.
Matt Morris is due $9.5 million in 2008. Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady and Freddy Sanchez will combine for another $25 million or so. That doesn’t leave much room under the self-imposed $45-55 million cap, even for a team whose roster is made up primarily of inexperienced players earning the league’s minimum salary.
If the Pirates want to win and win now, they’ll have to pray for marked improvements from the likes of Ronny Paulino, Jose Bautista, Zach Duke, Morris and Bay. They aren’t willing to afford a big-ticket free agent; what you see is what you’ll get.
Much attention has been paid to the Cleveland Indians—Huntington’s former employer and the team after which Frank Coonelly has chosen to model the Pirates. As Wilbur said in yesterday’s PG chat, “The Cleveland way of doing things was to blow up the team when [Mark] Shapiro took over. That’s where much of their core came from.”
And that must be the direction the Pirates are headed.
You’d have to assume that Matt Morris won’t be wearing black and gold in 2008; as I’ve said time and again, you can only spend $10 million on a fourth starter if you’re going to increase payroll. Jack Wilson and Xavier Nady could be sell-high candidates. Jason Bay might price himself out of the Pittsburgh market, and would bring a handsome return even after a disappointing season.
Expect this winter to be a wild rollercoaster ride, and expect next year’s Pirates to have an appreciably different look than the 2007 version. Neal Huntington’s job is to bring a culture of winning to our ballclub, and I wish him the best as he heads to 115 Federal Street for his first full day at the office.