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.

Zack Wheeler headed to IL due to shoulder fatigue

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Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler will be placed on the 10-day injured list due to fatigue in his right shoulder, Newsday’s Tim Healey reports. The roster move is retroactive to July 12. Steven Matz will open up a two-game series in Minnesota, starting in Wheeler’s place on Tuesday.

As Healey notes, the soonest Wheeler can return is July 23, which would give him at most two starts ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Wheeler has frequently been brought up in trade conversations as he can become a free agent after the season and the 42-51 Mets have been freefalling.

Wheeler, 29, owns a 4.69 ERA with 130 strikeouts and 34 walks across 119 innings of work this season.