Sunday, November 23, 2008

FA FA FA: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates (67-95)

Significant FAs: Doug Mientkiewicz (1B/3B)

Significant Gaps: SP, LF, RF, SS, 3B

The Pittsburgh Pirates face significant hurdles this upcoming season. While they don't lose any significant free agents, this past season saw trades that lead to the departure of Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, and Jose Bautista. The return on these players include many prospects that will not be ready for a callup to the majors in the immediate future but also some players that will be immediate starters in the Pirates lineup/rotation, mainly Andy LaRoche, Brendan Moss, and Jeff Karstens.

The Pirates' pitching staff is the biggest weakness on the team. In 2008, the team posted a team ERA+ of 81. The only starter who pitched more than 10 games with an ERA+ over 90 was Paul Maholm. They desperately need some help and while Jeff Karstens has some decent minor league numbers (1.26 WHIP, 7.47 K/9) he has only pitched in 24 games over three years in the majors. The Pirates need some more quality two and three starters in order to be able to compete in the Central. The Pirates should attempt to sign someone like Mark Hendrickson (1.45 WHIP, 89 ERA+ career) or Jason Jennings (1.55 WHIP, 97 ERA+). They may also want to gamble on a player like Mike Hampton (1.43 WHIP, 109 ERA+; so many injury issues that Mike Hampton is a euphemism for injury issues) or Bartolo Colon (1.33 WHIP, 112 ERA+; probable Mike Hamptons). Their strongest starting pitcher prospect, Brad Lincoln, is coming off of Tommy John surgery so he will need much more rehabilitation work before he will be ready.

Pirates batters posted a team OPS+ of 99 this past year. This is really not that bad and would be very good for them coming into this season considering Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson had poor years (.271/.298/.371, .272/.312/.348 respectively) and they could hope for some more production from the two of them. However the team OPS+ of 99 includes Jason Bay (137), Xavier Nady (144) and Jose Bautista (95, but his replacement, LaRoche, was a staggeringly bad 24). Their likely replacement for Jason Bay is Brandon Moss, a good prospect (.287/.355/.460) but he has not had much production in the majors (.249/.312/.437, 261 AB). Replacing Xavier Nady I wouldn't be surprised to see Steven Pearce get significant playing time in RF. While his production in the majors (.266/.313/.412, 478 AB) has been poor, he has some monster numbers in the minors (.290/.361/.519) and may just need the chance to turn it around (or maybe he's pissed that those monster numbers didn't translate into a major league job in 2007, I don't know). Regardless, it may be wise for the Pirates to add a veteran OF to step in should one or both of these young players fail to perform. Moises Alou (.303/.369/.516, 42 years old next year and possible health hamptons), Eric Hinske (.254/.335/.438), Greg Norton (.252/.339/.427) or Brad Wilkerson (.247/.350/.440) would be good additions to the roster, although admittedly I don't know how any of these individuals would react to being offered a part-time job in the Pirates' outfield.

The Pirates' infield is pretty solid with Doumit, LaRoche, Sanchez, Wilson, and LaRoche (yeah, another one). Sanchez and Wilson, as I said, are coming off of bad years but I would expect them to be given the chance to bounce back in 2009. Even though I say this, it should be noted that while Freddy Sanchez played significantly below his career numbers in 2008 (.271/.298/.371 2008 vs. .300/.336/.417 career), Jack Wilson didn't significantly perform below his career numbers (.272/.312/.348 2008 vs. .269/.312/.375 career). I expect him to be given a chance to play up to his 2007 numbers (.296/.350/.440) however there are rumors that they could look to trade him. If this is the case and the Pirates don't receive a SS in return (or even if they do depending on the quality), they should look at Nomar Garciaparra (.314/.363/.525) despite him being all Mike Hampton and find a decent quality SS (Alex Cintron) to fill in if there is a problem.

Of the remaining players, the weakest and only player that they could look to improve on is Andy LaRoche (3B). While it's cute as hell that two brothers are playing in the same infield, Andy LaRoche's major league numbers (.184/.288/.272, 316 AB) are a cause for concern. He has some powerful minor league numbers (.294/.380/.517) and the small sample size probably is a major factor, and honestly the move to Pittsburgh to play with his brother may show dividends in improved numbers due to more comfort or some other anecdotal thing that I can't possibly look up. He should get a chance to play but the Pirates should have a backup plan. They traded Jose Bautista which takes away one option. They may want to try to retain Mientkiewicz (.271/.360/.405 career).

So the Pirates should be looking primarily at starting pitchers, emphasis on the plural. While it would be nice to land a big name pitcher this offseason, i.e. Randy Johnson or Derek Lowe, they have too many holes to fill and should instead focus on signing multiple pitchers that could be decent starters, i.e. Hendrickson or Jennings, or possible gamble on pitchers that have had All-Star years but recent problems, i.e. Hampton, Colon or Penny. A good outfielder to provide insurance to the young bats currently patrolling the outfield would be a good idea as well. SS and 3B are positions that they could improve on however honestly their efforts should be pitching before anything else and to enter into a bidding war for a quality infielder could take away team funds from acquiring pitching closer to league average.

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