Let's assume for one moment that the offered extensions for Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson are not ploys to gain leverage in trade talks or with the fans. I'm not remotely convinced of this, but let's assume it for now for the purpose of this exercise. Signing Wilson and Sanchez to extensions would be a signal from the front office that they think the Pirates are ready to contend in 2010 and 2011.
This is insane. Right? Alternately, what has to happen to make this not insane? The best lineup I can scrape from what's currently available to the Pirates for next year is along these lines:
- Andrew McCutchen, CF
- Freddy Sanchez, 2B
- Andy LaRoche, 3B
- Pedro Alvarez, 1B
- Ryan Doumit, C
- Lastings Milledge, LF
- Brandon Moss/Steve Pearce, RF
- Jack Wilson, SS
This line, admittedly, has the potential to be not awful, predicated on the following conditions (which are listed in what I believe is the order of likelihood, starting with the most likely and ending with the completely improbable):
- Lastings Milledge gets his sh*t together.
- Jack and Freddy stay healthy
- Andy LaRoche has a full season that resembles May of 2008 (.330/.411/.457)
- A Brandon Moss/Steve Pearce platoon is a productive corner outfield spot.
- Pedro Alvarez is ready for the Major Leagues on Opening Day next year.
You know what I think of Wilson and Sanchez's health prospects, so the fact that I think that's the second most likely thing to happen on this list should tell you something.But let's say Milledge gets it together and hits .280/.380/.450, Jack and Freddy both play 140 games, Andy LaRoche breaks through, and Pedro Alvarez doesn't hit .219/.298/.490 (imply that he hits much better and not worse) when he's thrust into a situation he's clearly not ready for next year. We're still sorely lacking in power, as neither Milledge nor LaRoche will provide many home runs, even if they slug above .450. We've really got no choice but to go out and get a right fielder.
Besides going out and severely overpaying someone like Jermaine Dye, I don't see any immediately apparent free agent options. And we don't have anyone that's a potential trade chip right now (Adam LaRoche, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow) that can bring a return that would be immediately better than a Moss/Pearce platoon.
So we've got to make a trade to fill that hole. Let's say the Rays are desperate for catching now that Dioner Navarro sucks and agree to Ryan Doumit for Matt Joyce (very hypothetical). Now, we've got to toss one more condition on to the list; that Robinzon Diaz and Jason Jaramillo can provide acceptable offense behind the plate to make giving up Doumit worth it.
But let's say that all those things happen because hey, we're due for a break (or five) as Pirate fans. We haven't even discussed pitching yet. Zach Duke and Paul Maholm are what they are, so Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton have to mature into top of the rotation guys. That's probably a long-shot, but it's possible, I guess. So our rotation is something like Morton/Ohlendorf/Maholm/Lincoln/Duke (this assumes, of course, that Lincoln is ready to be a passable big league starter next year), but we've still got a bullpen to worry about. John Grabow's a free agent, but so long as we're assuming things, we'll assume that a good left-handed reliever able to cash in huge on the free agent market decides to stick with the crappy team that's given him nothing over the first six years of his career. And we'll assume that Matt Capps doesn't suck, his arm isn't about to fall off, and he hasn't been figured out by the better part of the league. And Joe Kerrigan fixes Joel Hanrahan. And Jesse Chavez and Evan Meek move forward instead of backwards.
The point is this; teams that are rebuilding don't have everything click at once. Everyone loves to point at last year's Rays and say that it did all click at once for them, but the people that do that forget that the Rays were a popular pick to breakout in 2007. Their pitching and defense were awful and the Rays had to readjust on the fly by dealing Delmon Young, one of the players that everyone thought would be a main catalyst for the turnaround of their franchise.
More than likely, a few players will start to take steps forward for the Pirates next year and a few won't, meaning that things will have to be done to adjust. I know the front office is pointing to 2011 and there's a chance we'll finish .500 by then, but the real building that I see being done is for 2012 and beyond, and anchoring in a pair of 30+ year old middle infielders in 2009 just doesn't build anything towards that.