Springtime Storylines: Wait! What's that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: A team they used to call the Buccos, but no one seems to do anymore.


The
big question: Wait! What’s that? Is there actually hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

You know what? I think so.  Yes, the Pirates have attempted to rebuild and tear down multiple times since the early 90s, but I’m kinda hopeful now for some reason. They won’t be winning anything anytime soon — in fact, I think they may have the worst record in baseball this year — but at least they allowed themselves to hit bottom and have stopped drafting like total morons in recent years.

The hope comes in the form of two guys right now: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. McCutcheon seems like he’s been around forever because he was drafted in 2005 alongside some guys who have been in the bigs for a while such as Jay Bruce, but he’s still only 23. That extra time may have done him some good. While Bruce is still searching for his stroke, McCutcheon came up last year and posted a .286/.365/.471 line and seems poised to for some truly great things.

Alvarez hit .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBI across A and AA ball last year. He may or may not stick at third base and he may or may not see any time in Pittsburgh this year, but he’s got a ton of raw power and actually improved after his promotion in 2009.

Overall the Pirates are improving the organization. Nothing fantastic is happening right now and the big league club is going to be pretty horrendous, but the question I asked was “is there hope?”  The answer is yes.

So
what
else is
going on?

  • I’ll admit that I didn’t watch a ton of Pirates’ games last year, but I was kinda surprised to look at the Pirates Baseball-Reference.com page and see that their four primary starters — Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton — all had quite respectable ERAs in 2009, with the highest being Morton’s 4.55.  That’s better than I thought, and having Octavio Dotel in the pen is an improvement over Matt Capps.
  • But even if the rotation is acceptable, they’re not going to get a ton of help from their defense. Jack Wilson and Nyjer Morgan are gone and apart from McCutcheon in center, there isn’t a lot of leather on this team.
  • One smart thing the Pirates have done recently is to become the island of misfit toys. Taking chances on guys who crashed and burned or simply weren’t given opportunities elsewhere — think: Lastings Milledge and to lesser degrees Jeff Clement and Andy LaRoche — is probably a pretty decent strategy for a team in the Pirates’ position on the success cycle.  Why not take a chance on Elijah Dukes at this point? Zero downside so you can release him if he’s a headache, and if he turns into anything, flip the guy.
  • Misfit toys aside, this is going to be a pretty brutal offense. A healthy Ryan Doumit will be nice and the blossoming of McCutcheon could make things better, but overall there’s no reason to think that they’ll do much to improve what was a league worst offense.

So
how
are they gonna do?

Arguably respectable pitching + poor defense + poor hitting = a pretty bad team. The Buccos are going to lose a lot of games this year, no question. But like I said, there is hope, and if the teams keeps drafting well they could be genuinely competitive in a few years.  Given how bad things have been since, oh, December 8, 1992, that has to count for something.

Prediction: Sixth place, NL Central.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.