Hot Stove Daily: Pittsburgh Pirates

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

2007 record: 68-94

Finish: Sixth place in the National League Central

2007 opening-day payroll: $39 million

Free agents: Tony Armas, SP; Shawn Chacon, SP; Cesar Izturis, SS


The phrase wish list applies particularly well to organizations such as Pittsburgh, because everyone for whom the Pirates yearn feels the same way about them as Britney Spears does sobriety.

It's not so much that the Pirates are in a bad situation. Their new ballpark is beautiful, their fans still devoted, their history rich. It's just that the systemic losing has worn thinner than the enamel on the loyalists' teeth, ground down by the frustration of bad management and worse ownership.

An overhaul of the front office ought to help in the first respect; the second is a horse pill without water to ease it down. The Pirates might increase their payroll, but not to the level needed to compete when the big league club is so downtrodden. New general manager Neal Huntington has already recused the Pirates from bidding on any of the high-profile free agents, so instead the focus turns to how Pittsburgh can improve itself with spare parts and trades.

Pittsburgh declined its option on Izturis, meaning one of its chips, shortstop Jack Wilson, is likely to stay, his $6.5 million a reasonable salary and the team not convinced Brian Bixler is an everyday shortstop. Starter Matt Morris could go to a team searching for a 200-inning horse that would rather commit $9.5 million for one year than $30 million for three years of Livan Hernandez. Relievers Damaso Marte and Salomon Torres are kettle chips in a Lay's market, both with plenty of value at $2 million and $3.2 million, respectively.





How Huntington handles this offseason should say a lot about how he plans on constructing the Pirates. Is this a total rebuilding year, readying for 2009, when center fielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Neil Walker should be ready to fulfill their promise as top prospects? Or does he want to take advantage of the NL Central's misery, play out until July and then unload guys, if necessary?

Certainly the former makes more sense. Huntington, new manager John Russell and the man who hired both, former MLB honcho Frank Coonelly, have at least a couple years to right the ship, and with Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell at the top of the rotation, they've got a good start. The closer position is set as well, Matt Capps shining in the role last season, and surely Jason Bay will look more the .900-OPS hitter of his first three seasons than the .745 mess of last year.

Beyond that, the Pirates are a big tangle of iffy. Is Adam LaRoche closer to the .239 hitter of the first half or the .312 of the second? Is Steve Pearce – he of 31 home runs in 487 minor-league at-bats last year – going to back up Xavier Nady? Is Paul Maholm or Zach Duke going to join Gorzelanny and Snell as a productive member of the rotation? And is Nyjer MorganNyjer Morgan? – really the answer in center field?

Fifteen consecutive losing seasons tends to put a permanent kink in an organizational road map, so it's no wonder the Pirates, as currently constructed, are lost. They've got a bright leader in Coonelly, a GM who came from one of the best organizations in baseball (Cleveland) and a manager in whom both believe, even if his minor-league record is only a shade above .500.

Their biggest wish: That it's enough to straighten out this wreck of an organization.

More Hot Stove Dailies

NEXT: San Diego Padres

What to Read Next