Now that I’ve run through the various positions that the Pirates need to upgrade this winter and ways they might go about doing so (if you missed the individual pieces: starting pitching, shortstop, catcher, first base), let’s take a step back and look at the team as a whole. This is a tall task facing Neal Huntington this winter. The Pirates have problems attracting decent free agents, Huntington may or may not have trouble identifying scrap-heap players that aren’t pitchers (it depends on how much of the blame you place on the first problem of convincing free agents to play for the Pirates), and the Pirates have a number of places they need to upgrade. If they can’t upgrade all of them, they face making huge downgrades over even the marginal players that they’ve let go or may let go in the near future. That means that if the Pirates do manage to find, say, a better-than-Ronny-Cedeno shortstop, they may give that upgrade back by playing Mike McKenry and Matt Pagnozzi all year.
On top of that, the Pirates were awful last year. Much worse than their record indicated. Let’s say that they do, in fact, go out and get Chris Capuano and Kelly Shoppach and Clint Barmes and they convince Derrek Lee to come back and Charlie Morton gets healthy and Chris Leroux isn’t a terrible starter. Guess what? That team still might stink. At the least, it’s a distinct possibility.
That’s why Charlie’s dead-on with this post about the Pirates having a near-impossible task this winter. He closes by saying that in order to really get anything done, the Pirates need to be creative this winter, which is something I’ve been saying that I hope the Pirates will do for a while. The thing about being creative is this, though: creative is almost certain to mean unpopular.
You know what I think the best way for the Pirates to be creative this winter is? Trading Joel Hanrahan. Huntington’s done a great job putting bullpens together the last couple of years and despite what you may hear or read from traditional sources, closers are pretty fungible. How many consistently good closers have really existed in baseball in the last 15 or so years? It’s a surprisingly low number. The reality is that a lot of teams over-value closers and there’s a really good chance that Hanrahan is at or near the absolute peak of his value. They might be better of leveraging him at the trade deadline for a contending team that really needs a closer or set-up man (the Rangers paid quite a haul for Mike Adams and Koji Uehara both at the deadline this year), but if the Pirates aren’t actively shopping Hanrahan this weekend, I’d tell you that the front office isn’t doing its job. Trading Hanrahan would probably have an angry mob rush Federal Street with pitchforks, but Hanrahan’s trade value is much greater than his actual value to the Pirates and the Pirates don’t have many guys like that.
The same goes for pretty much every outfielder above Double-A not named Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates simply won’t be able to use Jose Tabata AND Alex Presley AND Gorkys Hernandez AND Starling Marte, nor should they be counting on all of them to become regular contributors. There are significant questions about all of them and they all have individual value at this point. They don’t have to trade all of them (or even more than one), of course, but this is where the Pirates have an excess and a chance to cash in on it. Would trading Tabata so close to his extension or Presley on the heels of his breakout or Marte before he even reaches the Majors be popular? Of course not. It’d probably send Pirate fans into a rage. Dealing from strength is something the Pirates are going to have to do at some point, though, because they have a lot of weaknesses and they have quite a few players that could potentially be overvalued by someone else right now. That might not be true in a year.
The Pirates are always going to have to make tough decisions and if they want any hope of 2012 being more than a wasted season, they’re going to have to make one or two of those tough decisions this winter. Would the Pirates make a hugely unpopular trade that improves the team so close to actually getting fans back into PNC Park during the summer of 2011? Honestly, I’m worried that they’d be slow to make that decision. I hope I’m wrong.