Year of the Pirate

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992. Barry Bonds wasn’t on steroids and only weighed 185 pounds, the Pirates were coming off three straight NL East titles, and things were looking good. Name your excuse (bad management, poor coaching, and players not living up to expectations), but 17 years later the Pirates have stunk for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Every year has been the year that the “Succos” will pull out of the slide, but it never is, and Pittsburgh has been dubbed something of the farm team of the MLB because so many players leave just after they’ve become good. However, things are FINALLY starting to turn around at PNC Park, and this year will be the one that breaks the streak. Here are three reasons why 2010 is the year to watch the Pirates again.

1. Nobody from the losing teams is left:
Many people think the losing streak got into the players’ heads – they were so used to losing that they just didn’t know how to win. Well, if that’s the way you think, worry no more. In the past two seasons, GM Neal Huntington has cleaned the cupboards, shipping off almost every MLB-caliber player on the roster, including but not limited to: Damaso Marte, Xavier Nady, Salomon Torres, Jose Bautista, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Adam LaRoche, Ian Snell, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Tom Gorzelanny, and John Grabow. Count it up – there are 13 guys there, and, granted their positions overlap, you could field an entire team and have a reliever, a closer, and an infield and outfield sub each left over. This sets up my second point.

2. Everyone that is here now is young:
On the current 40-man roster, 19 guys have never played for the Pirates. Of those that have, only four played since before 2008 (Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Steve Pearce, and Ryan Doumit). Everyone else came in either 2008 or 2009, with their experience totaling 970 games. With 162 games in a MLB season, the Pirates’ 17 remaining players have almost exactly six years of experience among them. Granted the majority of the 19 who haven’t played for the Bucs have played for other MLB clubs, to say this team is young and inexperienced is something of an understatement. There’s been 100 percent roster turnover on this team in five years. That’s staggering when you think about franchise players like Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols, who have spent their whole careers with the same team. However, this is exactly why now is the time to get involved – these players will only get better. Which brings me to my third point.

3. The prospects and draft picks are finally coming along:
In the typical sports circle of life, a team is elite for a short time and can’t keep its dynasty together because of money. Eventually, when that team is out of postseason contention, it trades its best players who will be unrestricted free agents in the off-season, reloading the franchise with draft picks and prospects. With these acquired new players and draft picks, the team can rebuild and become elite once more.

The previous paragraph goes over better when read with a James Earl Jones voice, but my overall point is the Pirates have been stuck on the rebuilding part of the cycle for far too long. After 17 years of acquiring up-and-comers and high draft picks, one would think the Bucs would have a dynasty on their hands. This may come true in the near future, and just started to show signs of life last year.

Led by rookies Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, the Pirates showed that the franchise is making a comeback in a big way. 2008 No. 2 pick Pedro Alvarez, Nady/Marte trade return Jose Tabata, and 2006 No. 4 pick Brad Lincoln should all start the season in AAA Indianapolis but are expected to make the big club by mid-summer. Pitcher Tim Alderson was traded straight up for Freddy Sanchez, and I saw his first start in AA Altoona. I also got a chance to see some other prospects like Gorkys Hernandez (McLouth trade) and Alvarez, who is the real deal. 2010 – the year of the Pirate.