The Pirates have a barren minor league system, mostly devoid of impact talent. The Major League team has won less than 70 games in three consecutive seasons. The majority of the teamís offense is made up of average players in their prime who will be eligible for free agency in two or three years. General Manager Neal Huntington is new to the organization, with fresh plans to rebuild the farm system. It is obvious that several starters could be on their way out in the next year or so. I would like to examine the pros and cons of dealing each of these players. I will start with Xavier Nady.
Nady was productive in 2007 when he was healthy. However, that was rarely the case. He twice missed significant periods due to injury (despite never going on the disabled list), and was bothered by a hamstring injury for most of the season. The fact that Jim Tracy continued putting him on the field at less than 100% in a lost season was one of the main reasons I wanted to see a new manager for 2008. Despite a potentially serious stomach ailment in spring training, season-long issues with his hamstring and even a fastball to the head on September 3, Nady managed to have the best offensive season of his career. He hit .278/.330/.476 with 20 home runs, and raised his OPS to 1.108 when faced with runners in scoring position and two outs. The latter statistic helped increase his popularity dramatically among Pirate fans. In addition, he appeared to be one of the few players on the team that stayed motivated throughout the season. An argument could definitely be made that Nady was the most valuable Pirate in 2007.
The two candidates that would be most likely to replace Nady if he were dealt are Steve Pearce and Ryan Doumit. We all know the road that Pearce took to the Pirates last season. He began the season in High-A ball, and quickly showed that he did not belong at that level. After putting up a 1.278 OPS in 75 at-bats, he was promoted to Altoona. He spent the majority of the season in Double-A, and kept hitting. He had a .334/.400/.586 line in 290 at-bats, and earned a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis. That did not slow him down, as his OPS was .924 in 122 at-bats with the Indians. Overall, he hit 31 home runs in 487 minor league at-bats on the season. His final stop was Pittsburgh for the month of September. He held his own in the big leagues, hitting .294/.342/.397. The only issue that came up during the season was his lack of power after joining the Pirates. Pearce did not hit a single home run after being called up.
Ryan Doumit put up solid numbers in the minor leagues when he was healthy. He hit .295/.368/.459 in parts of nine minor league seasons, but has managed over 400 at-bats in a year only once at any level. After struggling through an injury plagued 2006 in which he hit only .208/.322/.389 in 149 at-bats with the Pirates, Doumit found himself in Triple-A early in 2007. He quickly took over that level, hitting .415/.493/.717 in 53 at-bats. He returned to Pittsburgh and continued pounding the baseball. In the first 15 games after his recall, Doumit hit .442/.500/.731. He began to cool down after that and eventually was injured. He made only one appearance after August 13, and finished the season with only 252 at-bats. But he enjoyed the most successful season of his career, batting .274/.341/.472. If he can stay healthy for any significant period, Doumit is a decent option in right. His bat would be much more valuable behind the plate, but an .800+ OPS in right field for a rebuilding team is adequate.
Nady turned 29 yesterday and has likely reached his ceiling. It is unlikely that he will ever get much better than he is right now, and his injury history makes a decline very possible. He is not the type of player whom the Pirates should view as important, as he will not be a part of the next competitive Pirate team. Pearce and Doumit are each exactly the type of player that should be playing every day. Both are talented hitters with some pop, but both bring question marks with their potential. Doumit has injury issues and will be 27 next year. Pearce came out of nowhere to an extent last season and will turn 25 in April. It is time to find out if either has a chance to help the team in the future. Huntington should make an aggressive attempt to deal Nady this offseason while his value is high, and let Pearce and Doumit battle for the right field job in 2008.
Final Verdict: Trade