Things are looking up in Pittsburgh, but that hasn’t manifested itself on the playing field this season. The Pirates are 25-39 and sit 11 games back of the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central. The team has simply been inept in every phase of the game, scoring only 3.4 runs per game while allowing 4.9. The main bright spots for this team have been budding star CF Andrew McCutchen and rising 1B Garrett Jones, both of whom are hitting well. Each is on pace for a 3+ WAR season, with McCutchen looking at a potential 5 WAR campaign.
Buy Or Sell?
The obvious answer is to sell; what’s less obvious is who to sell. Octavio Dotel is an interesting flamethrowing reliever, but he’s performed right around replacement level this season. Akinori Iwamura likely doesn’t have a future with this Pirates team, but given his terrible performance this year, the return for him would be minimal, and similarly for Ryan Church and Brendan Donnelly. Right now, this Pirates team really doesn’t have anybody to sell.
Paul Maholm has been the team’s best starting pitcher this season, posting a 4.28 FIP in nearly 80 innings. He’s locked up for 2011 at $5.75M and the Pirates hold a $9.75M club option on him for the 2012 season. That’s a team-friendly contract, and not one the Pirates should be looking to sell. McCutchen and Jones clearly aren’t going anywhere. One possibility may be catcher Ryan Doumit, who is projected to post a .350 wOBA for the rest of the season. Doumit is under contract for 2011 and the Pirates hold options on his 2012 and 2013 season, but he’s already 29 years old and they may wish to make room for Tony Sanchez. Also, Doumit’s defense is suspect, as 47 of 51 attempted basestealers have been successful this season.
If the Pirates can get any sort of return for their struggling veterans, that has to be the choice for Neal Huntington, and he certainly hasn’t been afraid to do that in recent years, acquiring over 100 years of service time through trades, as he acquired players like Tim Alderson for aging major leaguers such as Freddy Sanchez.
On The Farm
The Pirates have already dipped into their farm system this season, calling up SP Brad Lincoln and OF Jose Tabata. Pedro Alvarez, the former #2 overall pick, is likely next. The Pirates have all kinds of talent waiting around in the minor leagues now, including the aforementioned Tony Sanchez and Tim Alderson.
The Pirates had the second overall pick once again in 2010 and selected high school RHP Jameson Taillon. Taillon has tremendous upside, and would be yet another boost to a growing farm system if Huntington and co. can sign him.
Attendance in Pittsburgh is very low despite PNC Park being one of the most beautiful stadiums in the big leagues. The Pirates payroll dropped below $40 million for the first time since 2007 this season. One would think that, if the chips fall correctly, the Pirates could spend this winter, but Huntington would have to believe that the team would immediately be in a setting to compete for a division title. I’m not sure that’s going to happen by next season, and so Huntington will likely be content with building with all the young talent on his roster and in his system for 2011. Any salary that the Pirates can clear this trade deadline has to be considered gravy.
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