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September 15, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Pittsburgh Pirates

by Marc Normandin, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Pittsburgh Pirates goodbye.


The overview

After many years of failure, many years of struggle and another 100-loss season, you can understand why Pirates fans might be skeptical about the plan in place.

But rival evaluators believe that the Pittsburgh organization is in a better place than it was a few years ago. The Pirates have more high-ceiling talent from Pedro Alvarez to Jameson Taillon, their top pick in June's draft. However, they have made little progress in putting together enough high-end pitching to compete for the NL Central title any time soon—although the deal for James McDonald appears as if it can pay off.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider


Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Most of the Pirates' positives did not show up in the standings, but this was a fruitful year for the franchise nonetheless. Chris Snyder and McDonald came over in trades for spare parts; McDonald gives the Pirates a much-needed pitcher who has plus stuff and can miss bats. Prospects Alvarez and Jose Tabata, along with Neil Walker, all have impressed. This is said many years, but the Pirates have hope to do something—maybe not win the NL Central, but be better—in 2011.

What went wrong: The Opening Day lineup. Aki Iwamura hit .182/.292/.267 before being demoted, then released. Andy LaRoche, in what may have been his last shot at becoming a major league regular, has hit .208/.270/.280 and lost his third baseman's job to Alvarez in June. Jeff Clement, who was picked up in a trade last summer, failed as the starting first baseman and was replaced by Garrett Jones, who didn't have the best of years either; Jones spent most of 2010 coming off his out-of-nowhere 2009 success and now sits at just .247/.307/.415, well below the offensive requirements for any of his possible positions. None of the Jeff Karstens, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf group is talented enough to overcome the horrendous defensive play behind him, but the four have combined for 521 2/3 innings anyway.

The key number: 67.5 percent. The percentage of balls in play converted into outs by the Pirates' defense, third-worst in the major leagues. Most of the pitchers on Pittsburgh's staff aren't strikeout guys, so this category must be improved in 2011.

What won't happen again: Thanks to Alvarez, McCutchen, Tabata and Walker, the Pirates will start 2011 with a lineup that isn't laughable—which isn't something you could say about the 2010 one. Squint a little bit, and you can see the beginnings of their turn toward putting a quality product on the field. It's almost impossible for Charlie Morton to be this terrible again, especially considering his peripherals. A full season of McDonald will be more valuable than people realize. If Alvarez shifts to first base and the Pirates are able to find defensive-minded contributors for shortstop and third base, they would greatly help a pitch-to-contact staff.—Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus


Rumor Central: 2011 options

Possible targets: GM Neal Huntington gained some credibility with the trade that brought in McDonald from the Dodgers for Octavio Dotel. If the Pirates make any major moves between now and Opening Day, it will likely be for more pitching. They could go for a middle-tier free agent such as Kevin Millwood to eat up innings. They might seek a bargain with a Brad Penny or Erik Bedard, whose value is down thanks to injury. The word is that the Pirates no longer view Jones as an everyday player, so they will look for a right-handed first baseman or a right fielder. Austin Kearns, unlikely to return to the Yankees, could be a fit.

Keeper league: The Pirates would love to upgrade a pitching staff that is last in the majors with a 5.08 ERA, but what do they have to sell? The Bucs have been trying Ryan Doumit in right field for a few months and may showcase him as possible trade bait. Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek will compete for the closer's job in spring training, and the loser of the race could be shopped as well. Small-market teams such as the Bucs will be under increased scrutiny because of the media reports that they are pocketing revenue-sharing cash. Even then, the Pirates learned a lesson in the Iwamura deal and will continue to be fiscally cautious.—Doug Mittler, ESPN Insider

Keep up with Rumor Central year-round here.


Organizational future

The Pirates are finally seeing some of their young talent in the big leagues, so is anyone left on the farm?

The answer is yes, but it's mostly players who are long-term bets as opposed to quick fixes. As desperate as the Pirates are for pitching, they do hope that right-hander Bryan Morris can continue to build on his 2010 breakout campaign. A first-round pick by the Dodgers in 2006 who came over in the complicated Jason Bay-Manny Ramirez three-way deal with the Red Sox, Morris found his command this year, allowing his above-average velocity and impressive curveball to play up, as he struck out 124 batters in 133 2/3 innings while walking just 38. The Pirates' truly high-ceiling arms are all teenagers and eons away, but Morris could provide a small rotation upgrade.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Pittsburgh Pirates,  The Who,  Pirates

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