time to make some moves?
We’re still a ways a way from the July 31st trade deadline but I’m starting to think the time might be right for the Pirates to begin making moves now.
The Bucs were given a second chance to make amends with their fans when MLB named Pittsburgh the host city for the 2006 All Star Game. The Pirates blew it the first time when they opened up PNC Park and went on to lose 100 games. The five-year plan was a flop and the team has been trying to recover ever since.
The organization appears to be in a "must-win" mode. The string of consecutive losing seasons has reached an almost unthinkable 12 straight years. The club has to move forward with the idea that victories will outnumber losses by 2006. There can be no excuses.
In order for the Pirates to reach that goal, it seems to me, they must make some difficult decisions.
On his Sunday radio show on June 25th, Dave Littlefield presented us with "locks" at only a few positions for 2006.
Shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Jose Castillo are set as the double play combination. Littlefield said the club is happy with the job Humberto Cota has done behind the plate. Jason Bay is certainly the leftfielder for the foreseeable future. Firstbaseman Darlye Ward’s contract is up after this season; as is Matt Lawton’s.
Third baseman Ty Wigginton has not produced like the team had hoped and in center field the club has used both Tike Redman and Rob Mackowiak.
The rotation for 2006 will start with Oliver Perez and the remaining four will probably be chosen from among Kip Wells, Josh Fogg, Dave Williams, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Sean Burnett and John Van Benschoten.
I have left out Mark Redman because there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable scenario which would bring him back for 2006. The monkey wrench is the mutual option between Redman and the Pirates. Both parties would have to agree on the team picking up the some $4.5 million dollars for 2006. However, if Redman continues to pitch the way he did for most of his first 15 starts, his agent knows full well that a lefthander with great numbers could land twice as much on the open market than that which is called for in the option year of his contract.
On the flip-side, if Redman does not pitch well and has more games like his first two starts against the Cardinals, the Pirates aren’t going to be willing to pay that same sum for another season. It appears as though the best option for the Pirates would be to deal the lefthander to a contending team before the deadline and receive some value in return for Redman. If that were to occur, a spot in the rotation would open up for lefthander Zach Duke who leads the AAA level in wins this season for the Pirates International League affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians.
Duke in the rotation for an entire half of a major league season would give him and the Pirates a jump-start on the ’06 campaign. He’s certain to experience a few bumps in the road while pitching in the big leagues but wouldn’t it serve the club better in the long run to have their top lefthanded pitching prospect getting his feet wet THIS season? It might cost Duke and the Pirates some wins this year but I would bet most fans would take the trade-off for the benefit of next year’s club.
In that regard, perhaps a couple of wholesale changes in the outfield would pay huge dividends for the 2006 Pirates. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the team is not sold on Tike Redman as their "answer" in centerfield and that Rob Mackowiak’s best role might be as a "super-sub" for the time being.
Between now and the July 31st trade deadline, one must wonder if a club might like to have an experienced left-handed hitter in the person of Matt Lawton. If the Bucs were to move Lawton, they would then be able to get Ryan Doumit the at-bats they so desparately want him to get at the major league level. Who knows? With a short porch in right field, Doumit might be able to adapt to the outfield while providing the Pirates with some offensive punch from both sides of the plate.
There seems to be little doubt that the only pure centerfielder in the offing for the Pirates is playing at AAA Indianapolis in the person of Chris Duffy. He put on quite a show in spring training down in Bradenton but the Pirates made a mistake by bringing him to the big leagues earlier this year and not playing him. The lack of playing time hurt his progress when he was returned to Indy and got off to a very slow start. By all accounts, he’s playing some of the best centerfield in the minor leagues these days and his average has been around .300 for over the past several weeks.
Two months (August and September) isn’t much time to allow rookies to adjust to the major leagues but, in my opinion, it’s a whole lot better than asking them to perform at a high level when a club leaves their spring training site and begins the regular season. The quicker these moves are made, the better off the Pirates will be in 2006.
While we’re making big (and exciting) changes to the 2005 Bucs, let’s start grooming a closer for next year! Jose Mesa has been nothing short of spectacular in his two seasons as the Pirates stopper. However, at some point, a successor needs to be thrown into the fire. Contending clubs will be looking for an inexpensive closer soon. It’s possible they’ll be calling Pittsburgh to inquire of Mesa’s availability.
It’s becoming more and more apparant in baseball that there are plenty of closers out there…. you just have to find them. The Brewers discoverd Dan Kolb a couple of years ago. This season, Derrek Turnbow has come out of nowhere. The Cubs tried a handful before settling on Ryan Dempster. The Nationals have the top closer in the league right now in Chad Cordero. How about B.J.Ryan? You can name a dozen closers who have only recently come on the scene and have enjoyed much success.
The Pirates have that new closer somewhere. Is it Mike Gonzalez? Perhaps. Perhaps not. He didn’t look nearly as unhittable when put in pressure set-up roles this season but that might be due to his sore knee. What about Rick White? He’s done it before on a handful of occasions with other clubs and, though he doesn’t seem to be your protype closer, he just might be your guy. Perhaps he’s somewhere else. Sometimes clubs have to get creative in these situations. Maybe a guy like Ryan Vogelsong (who has struggled mightily in the starters role and surely doesn’t seem to have the command necessary to pull of the role as stopper) would rise to the challenge and turn into one of the league’s best closers if given that chance. How about Ian Snell? They say his stuff is electric and he certainly has the demeanor for the job with an air of cockiness and confidence that would fit the mold.
All this is to say that the Pirates look to be at a crossroads. They don’t seem to have what it takes to challenge for a playoff spot this year and, in order to be ready to contend for something next year (which the fans are practically demanding), some bold moves just might need to be made in the coming weeks or even days.
That’s my two cents on the state-of-the-Bucs. What say you???????