Let me be honest with everyone that might be reading this. I am having a very difficult time getting excited about the 2009 Pirates season. Yes, there are segments of the season in which I have a great deal of interest. I cannot wait to see how Andy LaRoche performs. I am eager to learn whether guys like Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm can repeat their strong 2008 campaigns. I want to know which roles players like Brandon Moss, Steve Pearce and Ross Ohlendorf seize. But as far as the 2009 major league season as a whole, I really cannot get into it. Maybe that is because the minor league system is finally somewhat interesting. I don’t know.
This is a weird situation for me. Anyone that I know considers me as the guy that will always be enthusiastic about the baseball season, no matter how many consecutive losing seasons the Pirates have endured. As we journey through February and March, the first question from most people that I encounter is, “How are the Bucs looking this year?” For the first time in my life, my response to that question is usually a halfhearted shrug.
Don’t get me wrong. The passion for this team still flourishes inside of me. I constantly ponder potential starting lineups and pitching rotations that we might see in 2010 and 2011. I dream about kids that are currently 18 or 19 years old roaming the PNC Park grass five or six years down the road. For the first time in years, I have hope for the future of this franchise.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Not one of you really cares about my hopes and dreams, or about my Pirate daydreams throughout the day. You want to know what the team looks like for 2009. So let’s take a bulleted look at what I expect to see from this team.
Andy LaRoche will thrive
With a fresh start, the younger LaRoche hit very well in Bradenton. I picked him as a breakout player at the conclusion of the 2008 season, and his impressive showing this spring has cemented that expectation. I see him being at least a three-win player this season.
Craig Monroe will be a disaster
For all the talk about Monroe’s hot spring, the fact that he barely managed a .300 on-base percentage seems to have been overlooked. He put up tremendous power numbers, but should we really trust a home run total from the Grapefruit League? Monroe was never very good, and he has been declining for years. His bat will be nonexistent and his defense will be poor.
Zach Duke will be decent
Duke has actually been decent most of his career, outside of his disastrous 2007 season. He will always allow too many balls in play and will never strike out many batters, but he keeps the ball in the park and does not hand out free passes. His FIP and tRA were both slightly below average last year, and the list of pitchers below him in those categories might surprise you. With a decent defense behind him, he would be downright average.
Andrew McCutchen will make his debut and many will be disappointed
I think too many people are expecting McCutchen to be a star this season. We have to remember that he is still only 22, which is why it makes sense to give him some more time in Triple-A. McCutchen will play good defense and his bat will be strong as he develops, but I don’t expect more than a .270/.330/.400 line from him this season. Those numbers, which are more optimistic than most projections for McCutchen, will improve over the next few years, but anyone expecting him to dominate the league right off the bat is likely to be let down.
The bullpen will be awful
Adam LaRoche will have a career year and will be dealt before the deadline
LaRoche has been an average player for most of his career and is playing in his age 29 season. That is an ideal age for a fluke performance, and the Pirates will capitalize by picking up some prospects. Expect a repeat of Xavier Nady‘s 2008 campaign.
The team will outperform expectations
But not by much. I expect 70 – 72 wins this year. However, the important thing is that the future of the team will be much clearer by the end of the season. Let’s hope that clarity brings us optimism.
The season starts in 11 hours.