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Playing Pepper 2009: Pittsburgh Pirates

Posted on February 19, 2009 at 3:30 PM
Filed Under: Pittsburgh Pirates | Playing Pepper
As the players start getting themselves ready for another season, I thought it'd be a good idea to do the same.  I contacted a blogger for each major league team and posted them five questions.  This is the result.  You can find the tentative schedule of teams here and today's main post is right here.

While the Pirates have some institutional memories of the good times, including three consecutive years as the NL East representative in the playoffs, it's been much tougher to be a Pittsburgh fan lately.  16 years of a sub-.500 record can wear down anybody.

However, there are still some hardy fans over in Pittsburgh.  I got in touch with Pat from Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? (there's a trade Cardinal fans probably still regret) and asked him about the future of the Pirates as well as what will happen on the field in 2009.

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C70: Does the fan base, in general, think that the Pirates are finally heading in the right direction?

AVS: Well, there's really two factions of the fan base right now.

There are a lot of fans (myself included) that see the improvements that the new front office has made to the farm system in 2008, along with the new commitment to Latin America and the huge amount of money spent on the draft, and really see all this as moving in the right direction.

There's another (and I suspect much larger) group of fans who take the stance that the Pirates have been losing for 16 years and they're sick of that and don't want to be asked to wait three or four more years for all of Littlefield's mess to be cleaned up. It's understandable, but I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation.

C70: Will any part of the Jason Bay trade make an impact for Pittsburgh in 2009?

AVS: Well, three fourths of the players acquired in that deal will likely start the season out on the Pirates' roster, so they'll certainly have an impact. As for what kind of impact, well, that's another question entirely.

Andy LaRoche says his thumb is finally completely healthy and he's ready to play this year. I don't think it's possible for him to be as bad as he was after the trade with the Dodgers last year, but I'm not entirely certain I'm ready to say he'll be an "impact" player, either. We'll know a lot about him by how he starts the season, I think.

Brandon Moss, acquired from Boston, is the chic pick for a breakout this year, but his health is still a question after knee surgery late last season and I think he may strike out a bit too much to make the Nate McLouth like breakout that some see for him.

And Craig Hansen, well, he's gotta throw a strike.

C70: It's been rumored that the Pirates were looking at Pedro Martinez.  Would the fans be glad to have him on the staff?

AVS: I'm sure some fans would love to see Pedro in black and gold and he's always been a favorite of mine, but to be honest I just don't see much the Pirates can get out of signing him. He probably won't work that many innings and there's no real reason to expect him to be effective if he does.

C70: Can the Pirates break the sub-.500 streak in 2009?

AVS: Well, I never want to say never, but the reality is that this was a 67-win team last year with Jason Bay and Xavier Nady on the team for most of the season. I will say that I don't expect them to be as bad as a lot of people expect (I'd be shocked to see them lose 100 games), but there are a LOT of chips that have to fall in place for this team to win more than even 75 games in 2009.

It's hard to swallow as a fan, but the focus just isn't on the Major League team yet. The new front office is focused on rebuilding things from the bottom up and while things are looking up in the minors, we're not going to see the results in Pittsburgh for a few years.

C70: How many of the young pitchers (Zack Duke, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell) will take a step forward this season?

AVS: I think that Snell will benefit the most from Joe Kerrigan being hired as pitching coach and he might be able to get back to his 2006/2007 levels. Gorzelanny's improvement is going to depend mostly on his health, though it's fair to note that he outpitched his peripherals a bit in his breakout year in 2007, so I doubt he'll get back to that level.

Maholm, I think, will probably continue along at the pretty steady pace he set towards the end of 2007 and in all of 2008 (barring injury) as his strikeout rates indicate pretty constant improvement. Duke, well, who knows with Duke. I think our defense really hurts him a lot, but his biggest problem is just doesn't get enough swings and misses. If he can't improve that, I really don't see him pitching much better in 2009 than he did in 2008.

Thanks to Pat for talking Bucs ball with us.  If nothing else, the Pirates do have one of the most beautiful ballparks in MLB.  Hopefully soon the product on the field will complement that beauty.


1 Comment | Leave a comment

re. the van slyke trade; I bet they regret the Billy Virdon deal more (if they can remember that far back).

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