The Baseball Notebook

February 24, 2010 11:00 AM

Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

If the New York Yankees are the showcase for what’s wrong with baseball’s economic structure on one extreme, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the showcase on the other. This is a team that willfully destroys itself each year by virtually giving away its top parts for next to nothing in return. This is not a case of a Billy Beane trading a player away for prospects they really like. This is a team just giving up anyone who might make a respectable salary and then hiding behind the small-market label. In recent years, the Pirates have traded away Nate McClouth, Xavier Nady, Jason Bay and given up promising prospects like Nyjer Morgan. And the organization wonders why fans just count the days until the Steelers open preseason action. I lived in Pittsburgh for eight years and it remains a shame that such a beautiful ballpark, the best in baseball, is run by a front office that clearly cares nothing about winning.

But I digress. On the field, the Pirates have only two legitimate power threats this year and we’re giving big benefit of the doubt in both cases. Garrett Jones posted big numbers last year, hitting 21 home runs and slugging .567, but he did only play 82 games. How will they fare under a full season of action? And centerfielder Andrew McCrutchen had a nice a nice .471 slugging figure, but that was in 108 games. Beyond that, the Buccos are hoping for either Lastings Milledge or Brandon Moss, former prize prospects in the Met and Red Sox organization to fulfill their potential. Milledge has been in decline since a decent showing in 2007, and Moss wasn’t able to thrive beyond the part-time role he had in the shadow of Manny Ramirez in Boston.

Pittsburgh did pick up Akinori Iwamure from Tampa to play second base. Iwamura is a consistent on-base threat, plays a good defensive game and can also shift over to third if necessary. His middle infield mate is Bobby Crosby, another one-time prize prospect in another organization (Oakland) whom Peter Gammons once had pegged for an MVP award, but Crosby has not stayed healthy or produced much when he has.

The starting rotation has a little more promise and its here that any hopes for a Revival on the River must begin. Zach Duke has been reasonably consistent since his 2005 arrival in the major leagues and threw over 200 innings a year ago. A cynic (me for instance) would have him marked as the next one to be traded). Paul Maholm posted a respectable 4.44 ERA, but has shown the potential to be better. Ross Ohlendor won 11 games with a 3.92 ERA last year. In fairness to the front office I’ve been ripping, he was picked up in the deal for Xavier Nady, although I think his performance last year was probably his ceiling. In the bullpen, there are problems. Brendan Donnelly is a good setup man, but is likely to have arm or shoulder problems, based on recent history. And even if he doesn’t, there’s precious little help for him. Octavio Dotel is slated to close. He pitched well for the White Sox in setup work last year, and has closed before. But this is another pitcher with an injury history that is not heartening.

Pittsburgh isn’t without some interesting players. But not nearly enough, and the only real question in the Steel City is which ones will be traded. No reason for my old hometown to take its thoughts off Big Ben, James Farrior and the rest of the Steelers.

Up Tomorrow: Oakland
Final NL Central Picks & Preview: March 30

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