While I would trade 17 straight losing Braves seasons for 2 Falcons Super Bowls in 5 years, it has got to be tough on the baseball fans in Pittsburgh. How did it get this bad? Other teams with limited payrolls like Kansas City have struggled as well, but Pittsburgh has never ever sniffed the playoffs since 1992. Now, another sale of their top level major league talent in the last year has put them back at ground zero again. You would think with the prospects acquired in these deals, along with top 10 picks virtually every year this decade, their chances of making some noise should be forthcoming.
They do have money to keep some of these guys, but seem to have gone into panic mode the last 2 seasons at the trade deadline. Lets take a quick look at these trades and who has been drafted recently to see exactly where this franchise is right now...
1) Jason Bay for Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss, and Bryan Morris - Morris has a 5.70 ERA in class A ball, Hansen is on the 60 day DL and looks like a middle reliever, and LaRoche/Moss are currently playing every day. While LaRoche and Moss are still highly thought of, they are both 26 now and still hitting around .250 without a lot of power. Bay on the other hand is on pace for another 30 HR/100 RBI season.
2) Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte for Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen - Nady and Marte have been injured all year for NY, and Pittsburgh looks like they got a good return for them. Ohlendorf throws gas and is already in the rotation, Karstens has had some success starting and relieving in the bigs, and McCutchen is a solid starter in AAA. Tabata is the Pirates #3 prospect and is hitting over .300 in AA. Great deal for the Bucs.
3) Nate McLouth for Gorkys Hernandez, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton - Curious deal that they would deal McLouth at the point in the season that they did, but Pittsburgh got a pretty good return. Morton has been solid in the rotation, Hernandez is still a good OF prospect, and Locke is good lower level lefty.
4) Adam LaRoche for Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland - LaRoche had to be dealt after the McLouth move and his contract, and they got a decent amount in return. Strickland has great upside as a RH starter and Diaz is a decent SS prospect. Not bad considering everyone knew LaRoche was going to be dealt.
5) Freddy Sanchez for Tim Alderson - Pittsburgh did a good job here, getting the Giants 1st round pick from 2007. Alderson is already pitching well in AA and projects as a front line starter in 2011. Sanchez is solid, but after not getting the contract done, they got a good amount back for him.
6) Jack Wilson and Ian Snell for Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Brett Lorin, Nathan Adcock, Aaron Pribanic - I this seven player deal, Cedeno gives Pitt a SS fill in for Wilson. Clement is major league ready, after being the M's top pick in 2005. He is currently .288/14/68 in AAA. The other 3 players are all Class A pitchers and decent prospects.
Now to the draft, which can be a crapshoot sometimes. Here is who Pittsburgh drafted in the 1st round the past 8 years, with the pick number in parentheses.
2009 - Tony Sanchez (4) - Hitting .337 in his 1st 20 minor league games.
2008 - Pedro Alvarez (2) - Bucs #1 prospect, is .258/20/75 in A/AA this year.
2007 - Daniel Moskos (4) - 7-8 3.90 LHP has been underwhelming at best.
2006 - Brad Lincoln (4) - 2.99 ERA in 19 starts in AA this year, good curve and Bucs #4 prospect.
2005 - Andrew McCutchen (11) - Already made a splash in the bigs, McCutchen looks like the leadoff man/CF of the future.
2004 - Neil Walker (11) - Walker is in AAA and still projects as an everyday player in the bigs.
2003 - Paul Maholm (8) - Maholm has been steady in the rotation this year, and looks like a middle line starter for years to come.
2002 - Bryan Bullington (1) - The one the Bucs really blew - Bullington has been a bust, and is now trying to make it up as a reliever for the Jays. Immeditely after Bullington, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, and BJ Upton were selected.
If you go back another five years, none of the Bucs 1st rounders even sniffed success in the big leagues. So, where does that leave the franchise? Actually, in 2 years, the rotation looks pretty strong. The key will be the Moss/LaRoche combo turning into good, middle of the order hitters.
1) Zach Duke
2) Brad Lincoln
3) Tim Alderson
4) Paul Maholm
5) Charlie Morton/Ohlendorf/Karstens/Morris
A. McCutchen - CF
J. Tabata/G. Hernandez - RF
P. Alvarez - 3B
A. LaRoche - 1B
T. Sanchez - C
B. Moss/D. Young - LF
N. Walker - 2B
A. Diaz - SS
A pretty good core, but probably not a winner until 2012 at the earliest. They will also have great depth at SP, and could trade a starter or 2 to acquire more help at middle infield.
Hopefully, for Pirates fans, there is not another sell-fest before this team can show what they have...