As 2009 draws to a close, let’s remember where we were when it started. The Pirates entered the year with Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, and John Grabow facing free agency, questions lingering about Pedro Alvarez after his long vacation, questions about what sort of Major Leaguer Andrew McCutchen would become, questions about Jose Tabata in general, questions about Brad Lincoln’s recovery from Tommy John surgery, and almost no pitching at all behind Lincoln in the minor league system. Which is to say that Neal Huntington’s front office got the ball rolling towards cleaning the franchise up in 2008, but there was still a lot of work to do.
In the span of a year, all of the pending free agents were moved in trades, Alvarez had a great first year in the minor leagues, excelling at the Double-A level, McCutchen was the best rookie in the National League in the 108 games he played for the Pirates, Tabata had a solid second half after some injuries, Lincoln’s recovery appears on track, and the Pirates added a huge group of arms (Zach von Rosenberg, Trent Stevenson, Billy Cain, Tim Alderson, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Adcock, and Jeff Locke, to name a few) with varying levels of promise into the minor league system. That doesn’t even consider minor league breakouts like Rudy Owens, or position players like Chase D’Arnaud, Starling Marte, and Tony Sanchez who started to come into their own this year.
2010 is beginning with a whole host of new questions, which I’ll tackle as the new year begins but the Pirates really accomplished a lot for a team that lost 99 games. It’s clear that we’ve come a long way under Huntington, but it’s equally clear that there’s a long ways to go before we see the Pirate team that we all want in PNC Park.
Let’s all raise a glass to 2009, and hope that 2010 reveals that the path the team is on now is the right now.