Last week, Beyond the Box Score put together a chart of what they call the Pirates' "Window to Win" (I can't get the original to load so I've linked the cache). It's worth looking for a visual representation of what the Pirates have right now (there is one mistake in the Pedro Alvarez row; he should be eligible for arbitration starting in 2014, which will take him through 2017), but I think that all of the "window" talk, both in relation to the Pirates and in relation to everyone else, wears me out.
Here's the thing; you should always be able to see how the window will be open in the future. If that's not true, your favorite team needs a new general manager. That was when I was positive it was time for the Dave Littlefield era to end; when he was fired in 2007, there was absolutely no way forward with the team and the minor league system in the shape it was. Not only was there no window, the Pirates had been bricked into the wine cellar by their own Montresor.
It's not like that anymore. We can talk about a window to compete as it exists in relation to Andrew McCutchen, but the reality is that the Pirates could have a fantastic outfield when he leaves with Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman and Josh Bell. They could also have a terrible outfield when he leaves with those same three guys, but that's beyond the point. The Pirates' window should always be open when you look three years down the road. The thing is, three years ago we were all certain that by 2012, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez would be leading the Pirates back to glory. It obviously hasn't worked out like that.
I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out why the Pirates' relative lack of inactivity after the winter meetings has bugged me so much this year. They're probably not going to be very good in 2012, so why should I care if they're bad with Jeff Francis throwing 150 league average innings or Jo-Jo Reyes and Rudy Owens getting absolutely bombed away on for 150 innings? Why should I care if it happens with Garrett Jones butchering baseballs instead of fielding them at first base? I think the reason is that it seems to me like the club is waiting for some mystical convergance of events to take place, for the clouds to part and the angels to descend and blow their trumpets and the message to be written clearly in the sky with fire that "THE PIRATES WINDOW IS OPEN RIGHT NOW," and when it does, they'll bust out the checkbook and make an honest run at something and until that moment strikes, they're not going to waste resources on things that probably won't get them where they're going.
That's fine when you've inherited an awful mess and you're planning on trading away assets during the season because you need to do that to start cleaning things up, but the Pirates are beyond that now. Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are all in Pittsburgh and maybe things aren't quite as great as we as fans hoped they'd be with that quartet, but they're all here and that means that like it or not the window is open. There is no window, there are only players. By sitting back on their haunches in the second half of this winter, the Pirates have run the risk that when 2012 is over Andrew McCutchen's Pirate career will be more than half-over without the club making a serious run at anything. That's scary, because there's no guarantee that anyone in the Pirates' system will be as good as McCutchen is right now.
This isn't a criticism of the team for not spending enough, either. Frank Coonelly has straight up said that the Pirates are capable of spending more than they have this winter. I've said over and over again that I think that the Pirates' best course forward at least for 2012 is trying to surround McCutchen and Walker and Tabata and Alvarez with enough average-type players that the four of them can drag the team somewhere good if they all start to reach the potential that we hope they still have. That's pretty clearly what the club's plan this off-season was in signing guys like Barajas and Bedard and Barmes. I'm just not sure that they went far enough.
edwin jackson in agreement with #nationals on deal. (he was seen in airport for physical)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 2, 2012
kotchman is heading to the #indians— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 2, 2012
Not that it was terribly likely the Pirates were signing either of these guys, just that I thought maybe they should try.no comments
Allegedly, this movie is not about being a Pirate fan.no comments
Jonah Keri has a nice piece up at Grantland today that looks at two things that have more or less intersected for Pirate fans this winter: Edwin Jackson and pitching prospects. I strongly recommend a full read, but the basic idea of it is that Jackson was once a very highly touted pitching prospect and now he's just a guy that's pretty OK, but that that's a pretty good result for a highly-touted pitching prospect.
This all relates back to the Pirates in a couple ways. One is that it reinforces that nasty sinking feeling that building your minor league system almost exclusively around pitching prospects* is the same thing as building a giant sand castle half-way up the beach with absolutely no idea how far high-tide will be coming in. The other is that it's a reminder that it's worth waiting another year to see how Kyle Stark's "fastball command emphasis" plan is really going to pan out. I know that sometimes we as fans all grumble about the focus the Pirates put on fastballs in the low minors and when we see bad performances stack up we wonder if the Pirates' occasionally-extreme regiment is hurting their prospects more than helping them, but it's worth remembering that it'd be hard to be worse than the status quo when it comes to developing big league pitchers. The Pirates are trying something different to keep their young arms healthy and help them develop and it's worth seeing it through, because no one really has any idea exactly what's necessary to make those things happen.
* And yes, I know, the Pirates have some decent non-pitching prospects, too. But let's play this game: try to imagine the Pirates winning something significant in 2014 without Starling Marte, and then try again without Gerrit Cole. The pitching is the main feature here.
Right-handed pitcher Edwin Jackson, the best free agent remaining on the market, is much more likely to accept a one-year deal and test free agency again after the 2012 season than to ink a multiyear contract, according to an industry source.
And that almost certainly would take Jackson out of the running to come to Baltimore since free-agent pitchers coveting one-year, value-improving deals don’t usually seek out last-place American League East teams or hitter-friendly environments.
You can pretty much replace "Orioles" with "Pirates" in that last line and save the part about the AL East, it would hold true. Jackson, being just 28 right now, can certainly hope that a good season increases his value a bit more over the winter. And I can't imagine that he'd want that one-year deal to increase his value to be in Pittsburgh. Maybe the Pirates could've signed Jackson for something close to his initial asking price (five years/$60 million), but I've said in the past that I think a five year deal for Jackson is a risky proposition for the Pirates.
It's an interesting market for free agent pitchers this winter: a lot of guys have ended up taking quite a bit less than they're worth because the market is bad, but once guys get cheap enough to put them into the Pirates' range, very few of those players are actually interesting in taking that money from the Pirates.
Rob Biertempfel is reporting at the Trib this morning that Tony Sanchez broke his jaw in a bar fight about three months ago while playing in the Florida Instructional League. He also notes that Sanchez appeared fine at minicamp three weeks ago. The math in this case would appear to indicate that Sanchez's broken jaw is less serious this time around, though being allowed to attend minicamp isn't quite the same thing as being cweleared to play.
Everyone is, of course, referring to this as Sanchez's second "incident" after last year's mini Twitter furor, when Sanchez said some dumb things and the team got made and told him to shut down his Twitter account. I still don't think that a 23-year old saying dumb things on Twitter is an "incident" because I say dumb things on Twitter all the time and I'm 27 now. I do think that a 23-year old getting his jaw broken in a bar fight is an "incident" because, well, I've managed to avoid that to this point in my life.
The biggest concern, of course, is that one of the potential causes for Sanchez's complete power outage last year was that he never fully regained the weight that he lost when he broke his jaw in the summer of 2010 and he wore down over the course of the season. Thinking that he'd have a fall in the instructional leagues, a winter to condition, and an invite to camp was more or less the best hope that he'd rebound this year. If he spent even more time this winter eating poorly because of another jaw injury, well, that's worrisome.
It's not the end of the world, of course. He's not technically missing any time and we have no idea how serious this injury was because the team, as per usual, is refusing to comment on it. It is disappointing, though. At this point last year, Sanchez was Baseball America's 46th best prospect. He had a rough year, but it was the sort of rough year that you just kind of hoped would make him bear down and work harder over the winter and bounce back strongly in 2012. And instead, he broke his jar in a bar fight.
Disappointing, yeah. Like that's something Pirate fans have never experienced before.
At ESPN, Christina Kahrl lists the "most average" hitters at every position on the field using Clay Davenport's EqA. She found that Rod Barajas is the most average catcher and that Clay Barmes is the most average shortstop. Given that the Pirates will be spending nearly $10 million on the duo in 2012, that certainly seems uninspiring.
Of course, the point of the most isn't to be "inspiring." The Pirates got no offensive performance at all from shortstop last year and they got nothing from third base and the got nothing from first base until September and they got nothing from their catcher while Ryan Doumit was hurt. If the Pirates just get average from Barmes and Barajas, they'll be a better team in 2012.
The real question is whether or not they'll get "average" from those two. EqA, like any offensive stat, is park-adjusted, but park adjustments don't take handedness splits into account. In an asymmetrical park like PNC, that can make a difference. Especially when you're looking at two aging right-handed hitters whose main offensive value is wrapped up in the ability to hit the ball over the left/left-center field fence.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion at this point that the Pirates won't be making any more significant upgrades to their rotation. In the last few weeks two guys they seemed to have targeted this winter based on prior connections to Clint Hurdle -- Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis -- both signed minor league deals with contenders. Former Pirate Paul Maholm signed a very reasonable deal with the Cubs. Maholm said that the Pirates expressed little to no interest in bringing him back, while I can't really see any reason to think that Cook or Francis were on the club's radar for the last six weeks or so. They haven't shown any interest in Edwin Jackson, either, so it really seems unlkely that anything else is in the offing.
This seems like a problem to me. The rotation is currently comprised of the oft-injured Erik Bedard, the already-injured Charlie Morton, the inconsistent James McDonald, the magician Jeff Karstens, the not-very-good Kevin Correia, and the unproven Brad Lincoln. Help from the minor leagues at this point is Jeff Locke, maybe Rudy Owens if he's healthy (which we're not sure he is), and a longshot (at least early in the year) in Kyle McPherson. The NRIs at the moment that are capable of starting are Shairon Martis and Jo-Jo Reyes (and Gerrit Cole, who's not coming to Pittsburgh until September at the absolute very earliest and probably won't arrive until 2013 or later). You can make a fair argument that Martis and Reyes are higher-upside guys than Cook or Francis, but that doesn't mean that they're going to be good and that doesn't solve the club's current problem of just not having enough Major League quality pitchers to adequately cover a starting rotation.
That just doesn't sit well with me. The club has at least a little bit more money to spend and I thought it was pretty clear that the rotation was what needed the most help entering the off-season. It's possible that the rotation will be fine, of course, because Bedard and McDonald and Morton and even Lincoln to a lesser extent give them guys much more talented than the Pirates usually have in their rotation. For that rotation to really be useful, Bedard would have to be unusually healthy and Morton would have to have pretty much no down time in recovery from his hip surgery. It could happen, just like Reyes or Martis could suddenly turn the clock back to 1998, but it seems to me that the club has had plenty of chances to add some more depth and insurance to this pitching staff at a reasonable cost and the front office has failed to do so.