Improving in 2010

Dejan Kovacevic capped off the 2009 season with ten steps he feels will improve the team in 2010. I figured I would go through the list and add my two cents. Dejan’s steps are in bold, with my thoughts following each heading.

10. Focus on Pittsburgh.

I agree with this line of thinking to some degree. Assuming Andy LaRoche moves to second and Garrett Jones plays full-time at first, the Pirates have plenty of room to improve in right field and at shortstop, as well as third base until Pedro Alvarez‘s arrival. It will not hurt to bring players in to man those positions, assuming they do not block any young talented players. I am still wary of say, bringing in Rick Ankiel just to do a Brandon Moss impression in right. The younger, less expensive Moss can do that on his own. But if there are significant, short-term opportunities to improve, I am all for that. The days of trading major leaguers for prospects are probably behind us, for now.

9. Stick by Jones.

Jones definitely earned a starting spot in 2010 with his performance this past year. But he is due some major regression next season. In Jones’ first 19 games in Pittsburgh, he hit .342/.398/.842 with ten home runs. In the 63 games following that stretch, he hit .277/.364/.479 with 11 home runs in 275 plate appearances. Expect something closer to the latter performance next year. For a poor defender at relatively undemanding positions, that is about average production. Any additional drop-off and Jones becomes a bench player at best. He may be a decent placeholder for a year or two, but the Pirates should not be giving him an extremely long leash.

8. Evaluate the moves.

The Pirates traded a bunch of aging mediocrity for younger mediocrity with some upside. Some trades look better than others do. While looking back at the moves and evaluating the process is important, the much more significant issue is Huntington’s ability to let go of players he acquired. Someone like Brandon Moss may need to give up his roster spot at some point in the next year or two. It is important that Huntington is willing to do that, if necessary.

7. Find left-handed relief.

I would like to see some lefties added to the bullpen next year. But I think way too much has been made about this issue.

6. Bolster the middle.

Definitely. Neither Ronny Cedeno nor Delwyn Young is a starter. Moving Andy LaRoche to second should fill one hole, but adding a shortstop should be an offseason priority.

5. Fix Hart and Capps.

Capps should be better next year, as he was a victim of a high BABIP this year. However, I don’t think he should close for much longer. I would love to see someone like Evan Meek groomed for that role. Hart has looked terrible, and he is probably better suited for the bullpen. Daniel McCutchen should make the rotation over Hart. Replacing these two players in their current roles is more important than fixing them.

4. Manage emotions.

This does not seem very significant to me, nor is it very relevant for the 2010 performance.

3. Promote Alvarez, Lincoln.

Alvarez could use a bit more time in the minors, to improve his approach at the plate and his defense. And keeping him down long enough to gain an extra year of club control is very significant. This is not an issue of the Pirates being cheap; it is simply smart baseball. Teams all over the league do it. Lincoln is a bit of a different situation. He will be 25 next year, meaning the Pirates should feel more urgency in getting him to Pittsburgh. If he is ready in spring training, I would bring him north with the club. That being said, I think he will also need a few more months in Triple-A for development purposes.

2. Improve individually.

Certainly. Improvement from the players will clearly help the team perform better in the win-loss column.

1. Spend.

Absolutely not. The Pirates should not spend just to spend. One of the biggest myths in baseball is that established, expensive mediocre talent is better than young, cheap mediocre talent. Like I said, signing Ankiel to produce like Moss doesn’t help the team. It may satisfy the incensed fan base, but it doesn’t improve the team. If there is a player that can help the team improve, the Pirates clearly have the payroll flexibility to pursue him. But signing players just to raise the payroll is not an intelligent approach.

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The Pirates have 3 main holes – corner outfielder, 2nd/3rd base, and shortstop.
1. The Pirates being the Pirates, they will have to overpay for free agents. That said, they should do it within reason if there’s one that will help the team and not hinder the future.
For me, Marlon Byrd might fit that category.
He’s a slightly above average bat and slightly above average corner outfielder, and has been those things for 3 years in a row.
I would make a serious push for him, so that Tabata can develop some power in the minors. Tabata projects to be a similar player to Byrd when he matures, with medium power, nice average and good fielding skills. Tabata can step up in year 2 or 3 of Byrd’s 3 year contract.
2. For shortstop, trading Zach Duke for JJ Hardy could work, or bringing back Jack Wilson for a couple of years.
3. Of course, if Alvarez arrives mid-season and Andy moves to 2B, that should hopefully solve that hole as well.

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