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Pirates shed talent, wait for prospects

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.

2009 record: 62-99
Finish: Sixth place, National League Central
2009 final payroll: $48 million
Estimated 2010 opening day payroll: $34 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

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Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is the centerpiece of the Pirates' offense.
(Getty Images)

Jan. 4 was a busy day for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a Hot Stove season punctuated by quietness, they made a flurry of moves. Among those they signed: Virgil Vasquez(notes), Brian Burres(notes), Jack Taschner(notes), Jimmy Barthmaier(notes), Neal Cotts(notes) and Tyler Yates(notes). It begged a new slogan.

Pirates baseball: Where unwanted relief pitchers seek employment.

More moves will come, certainly, as the Pirates and other low-revenue teams troll for bargains among the desperate unemployed. Pittsburgh isn't looking to build via free agency anyway, its budget so constricted that it really couldn't afford anybody worth pursuing.

General manager Neal Huntington did sign utilityman Bobby Crosby(notes) for $1 million and traded reliever Jesse Chavez(notes) for second baseman Akinori Iwamura(notes). Perhaps the most significant move was one where they lost a player. The Pirates, at very least, understand marginal value, and that a team destined for the basement needn't lavish a relief pitcher with big money.

Still, it was somewhat sad to see the frenzy around Matt Capps(notes) after the Pirates declined to offer him a contract. Half the teams in baseball pursued him, and he received $3.5 million from Washington. Only Iwamura will make more for Pittsburgh this season.

REALITY CHECK

As Huntington enters his third full season, the limitations that surround him are obvious. Zero money. A farm system still suffering from Dave Littlefield's disastrous reign. No potential stars aside from center fielder Andrew McCutchen(notes) and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who probably will move to first base.

A glance at Huntington's trade record reveals a different story. When he came to Pittsburgh, there were assets. Jason Bay(notes), Xavier Nady(notes), Nate McLouth(notes), Jack Wilson(notes), Ian Snell(notes), Damaso Marte(notes), Freddy Sanchez(notes), Adam LaRoche(notes), Nyjer Morgan(notes), John Grabow(notes) and Tom Gorzelanny(notes) all have been traded, and the return has been underwhelming at best.

Pittsburgh's outfield has potential. McCutchen is dynamic and will be an All-Star by 2012, if not sooner. Garrett Jones(notes), written off as a Triple-A lifer, hit more home runs in the second half (16) than all but eight players. Lastings Milledge(notes) is a five-tool player with a five-cent head, and if ever he can screw it on straight, he'll make the Morgan trade look genius.

The Pirates are so loaded with ifs – if Andy LaRoche(notes) can succeed at third, and if Alvarez can hit enough to make a move to first worthwhile, and if Charlie Morton(notes) can justify the McLouth deal – that 2010 really is a bellwether year. Though that's nothing new. Seventeen straight seasons of sub-.500 baseball should make every campaign fraught with urgency.

PIRATES IN HAIKU

When depression squeezes
Down hard, Pitt fans take solace
At least there's the Pens

NEXT: San Diego Padres