Hot Stove Daily: Pittsburgh Pirates
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
2008 record: 67-95
Finish: Sixth place in National League Central, 30.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs
2008 opening-day payroll: $48.7 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $45 million
Sign a washed-up big name who no longer can help a good team win, but who might help a bad team draw. It’s a tried and true means of increasing attendance in a depressed market.
Pittsburgh, meet Pedro. Pedro, Pittsburgh.
Yes, the Pirates would like to bring Pedro Martinez on board for a year, pay him no more than $5 million and build a marketing campaign around him. That’s lower than the $7 million Martinez wants, but he has no other offers, no leverage besides retirement unless the Cleveland Indians or Florida Marlins step up their interest.
Martinez can’t keep the Pirates from their 17th consecutive losing season (which would set a major league record), but his presence might make the losing more fun. Martinez, 37, has had trouble staying healthy and getting outs, going 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA for the New York Mets last season, but he’s quotable and still plays the game with a rascally enthusiasm.
Those numbers would fit right in with the Pirates, whose only notable offseason acquisition is utility infielder Ramon Vazquez, to whom they will pay $4 million over two years. Vazquez will start somewhere eventually because shortstop Jack Wilson or second baseman Freddy Sanchez could be traded, and third baseman Andy LaRoche is on tenuous ground after being unimpressive upon his midseason acquisition from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Catcher won’t be a problem after switch-hitter Ryan Doumit signed a three-year, $11.5 million deal that could be worth $27 million over five years if club options are exercised in 2012 and 2013.
Otherwise, the low-budget Pirates have brought in misfits, has-beens and never-will-be’s. The most promising might be outfielder Craig Monroe, who batted .202 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs in 58 games with the Minnesota Twins last season. It was barely more than two years ago that he had 28 homers and 92 RBIs to help the Detroit Tigers to the World Series, but it seems a lot longer.
Mostly, the Pirates are as poorly regarded as McClatchy Company stock, which has tumbled from about $75 a share in 2005 to under a buck. Kevin McClatchy, an heir to the family company, was CEO of the Pirates for 11 years before accepting a reduced role as a limited partner the last two years and resigning this offseason. He sold his stake in the team to principal owner Bob Nutting.
McClatchy’s primary contribution was to broker the $260 million PNC Park deal with public officials, but he will be remembered mostly for continually promising the losing would end. It never did.
The Pirates began last season with one of the most productive outfields in baseball: Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth. Only McLouth remains, and the replacements for Bay and Nady have little power or experience. Nyjer Morgan is a base-stealing threat with a spotty record of actually reaching base, and Brandon Moss had a promising August before spiraling in September to finish with 70 strikeouts in 236 at-bats.
A potential power bat that has bobbed between the minor leagues and Pittsburgh the last two years is that of Steve Pearce, who hit 33 minor league home runs in 2007 but dropped to 12 last year in Triple-A. Pearce couldn’t get traction in a late-season big-league call-up until hitting three home runs the last week of the season to finish with four, along with a .248 average in 109 at-bats.
McLouth is the only consistent producer, and the Pirates tried to sign him to a long-term deal the way they did with Doumit. Talks fell apart, however, and it looks like the All-Star who had 26 homers and 23 stolen bases will end up in arbitration.
The Pirates’ best starting pitcher, Paul Maholm, also is entering his first arbitration season and has talked with GM Neal Huntington about a long-term deal. The rest of the rotation is iffy, Martinez or no Martinez. Ian Snell and Zach Duke can be tough to beat one day and beat themselves five days later.
Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny was a spectacular flameout after going 14-10 and eclipsing 200 innings in 2007. He endured such a horrific first half in 2008 that he spent most of July and August in the minors. Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Jimmy Barthmaier, Phil Dumatrait and Daniel McCutchen are other rotation candidates.
Matt Capps is a solid closer; he just doesn’t get enough opportunities. The Pirates were 17-37 after trading Nady and Bay. They will open 2009 without them, too. Maybe the fans won’t notice if Pedro Martinez is in the starting rotation.
NEXT: Baltimore Orioles