Footprints in the Snow: Pittsburgh Pirates
Generally, losing doesn't get you anywhere. If you do enough of it, though, you might grab some attention for it. Meet the Pittsburgh Pirates. They haven't had a winning season since 1992. That's 16 years, which ties the all-time record for losing seasons in any North American sport. As things stand, the Pirates are pretty well lined up to break the record with losing season No. 17 in 2009.
And yet, not all is lost for the Pirates. After taking over last year, GM Neal Huntington has started to restock the minor league system with some actual talent. Still, he was left quite a mess by his predecessors. The Pirates might not be able to avoid losing season No. 17, but can they avoid 18, 19, or 20?
Who May Leave?
Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
Chris Gomez, INF
Luis Rivas, 2B/SS
Jason Michaels, OF
What Do They Need?
As it always goes with teams like this, there are two ways to look at what they "need." There's what they need to rebuild the team to actually contend, and then there's what they need if they want to try to stem the tide and finish above .500 in 2009.
When it comes to rebuilding, the Pirates need pretty much everything besides third basemen and outfielders. They have a lot of players at those positions, but little elsewhere. Huntington seems focused on simply acquiring talent at this point in time and figuring out how the puzzle pieces fit together later. It's a similar approach to the one Tampa used, so there's some precedent for success. So I guess that means the answer to this question is, "talent."
The other way to answer the question would be to say that maybe if they build their generally terrible defense up, their pitching will finally take the step forward that Pirate fans have been waiting for since about 1998 and if that happens, they could surprise people. Not the way the Rays surprised people, but maybe the way you're surprised when you find $5 in a pair of jeans you haven't worn in six months.
What Should They Do?
Keep their eyes firmly focused on the future. They're stuck in the bottom of a good division in the National League that will probably have three and maybe even four playoff contenders next year. There is almost nothing they can do this winter, save having Albert Pujols and CC Sabathia assigned to them by Bud Selig because he's bored, that will make them contenders in 2009. Trying to build a bad team into a respectable one while rebuilding the minor league system at the same time is a very difficult task.
This means that the Pirates should be listening to any and all offers they get. Obviously they can't just give a player like Nate McLouth away, but they can't ignore offers for him either. The same thing goes for guys like Ryan Doumit and Adam LaRoche.
What will they do?
They probably won't deviate much from the path they set in July by dealing Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, which is to say that the Pirates are in full-on rebuilding mode for at least the third time since 1993. It seems likely that the longest-tenured Pirate, Jack Wilson, will be traded this winter and it wouldn't be surprising to see Freddy Sanchez follow him out the door. McLouth rumors are already circulating, though nothing seems certain to happen at this point. Huntington has also said he expects to be somewhat active in the free agency market. He's interested in signing a veteran starter in hopes that they can avoid the pitching disaster they had last year. Whatever Huntington does probably won't keep the Pirates from setting the futility record, but at least he's providing some hope for Pirate fans down the road.