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Bucs' perpetual slide looks to continue

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

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.

2010 record: 57-105
Finish: Sixth place, NL Central
2010 final payroll: $44.1 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $40 million

Offseason action

Welcome to this special edition of Misguided In-Limbo Spending! On this episode, we'll take you through a wild and voyeuristic look at a team throwing around money for no good reason other than it can! The Pittsburgh Pirates are our subject today, and they are the rarest breed: perpetual losers! It's been 18 years now since the Pirates have even mustered a record above .500, a feat impressive in length and futility. And how do the Pirates plan to extract themselves from baseball destitute?

Kevin Correia(notes), Matt Diaz(notes) and Lyle Overbay(notes), of course! Since the end of the 2010 season, the Pirates have committed nearly $12 million – around 40 percent of their projected payroll – to a starter who mustered a 5.40 ERA in baseball's best pitchers' park last year, a part-time outfielder with a heavy platoon split and a meek-hitting first baseman. Tack on a catcher with a $3.2 million salary and slugging percentage below .300 with the Pirates last year (Chris Snyder(notes)), and the Pirates are repeating the mistakes of yore.

Until there is a salary floor – and there almost surely never will be – such expenditures from teams that simply don't have the talent to win are absurd. Yes, general manager Neal Huntington wants to keep his job. Frivolous spending on players who might turn a 60-win team into one with 65 victories doesn't exactly support his cause. Better to sport a small payroll than engage in false hustle.

Where Pittsburgh and all downtrodden teams can survive is through the draft and international free agency, and the Pirates have amped up their spending in recent years. It would be a shame, then, to see them skimp in later rounds – where they've bought players out of college scholarships with money well above the recommended slot – because the No. 1 pick this year, which in all likelihood is Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, will demand something in the $7 million neighborhood. If even one player the Pirates want ends up elsewhere because of cash flow, that is damning toward this administration.

This is Huntington's fourth season. The fruit from rotten trades has stunk up his tenure like bad drafts and signings did that of his predecessor, Dave Littlefield. Gone is Huntington's hand-picked manager, John Russell. And unless Correia turns into Clemens, Diaz into DiMaggio and Overbay into Ott, Huntington may be next.

Reality check

There are pieces. Not enough to win this year, and probably not enough to win next year, but if the Pirates can ever muster a couple starting pitchers out of their farm system to complement what's coming on offense, there's a chance that the streak may end at 20.

Now, this takes a little dreaming. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen(notes) is the business, and he's only 24. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez(notes) should hit fourth in Pittsburgh's lineup for the next six years, and if he can cut his strikeout percentage – 119 in 347 at-bats last year was near-Reynolds-ian – he'll be a superstar. The good parts about second baseman Neil Walker(notes) and left fielder Jose Tabata(notes): They impressed in their debuts last season. The bad: Scouts believe neither is likely to improve much.

So that's four pieces, and should Rendon recover well from a broken and dislocated ankle, he'll make five. A healthy Ryan Doumit(notes) – we can dream, can't we? – is six, and in the NL Central, that's a mighty fine core.

Only then we get to the pitching. Hmmmm. It might be better to skip the Pirates' rotation altogether, for such gruesome scenes usually come with an R rating. Let's put it this way: On the Pirates' official site, they list James McDonald(notes) as their No. 1 starter. McDonald has thrown 140 2/3 innings in his major league career. No. 2 is Paul Maholm(notes) (his 5.10 ERA was fifth worst among qualified starters last season), No. 3 Correia (he made Maholm look effective), No. 4 Ross Ohlendorf(notes) (who had a 4.07 ERA – and a 1-11 record) and No. 5 Charlie Morton(notes) (and his 7.57 ERA, the worst of any pitcher with more than 35 innings).

Perhaps new manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage can coax something from the ragtag group. A reasonable goal is not to be the worst group of starters in their division. A more realistic one is to not be the worst in all of baseball.

Such is the standard in Pittsburgh, a place where endemic losing has crippled the franchise. How the Pirates haven't pulled themselves out of the morass is no mystery. Bad decisions lead to more bad decisions, and until Pittsburgh finds itself a group that can build upon whatever's left after this round of retooling, it's back to a drawing board already chalked up with blunders of the past.

Pirates in haiku

We yearn for the days
When our players did cocaine
At least they were good

Next: Arizona Diamondbacks