Looking at the Pirates moving forward into the 2013 many people keep hearing the same thing like they have for the last 20 seasons – The ‘if’ Factor. For two decades they would either trade for or sign a player that may have had good numbers in a previous season and always say things like, “If he returns to form it will be a great deal.” After two epic season collapses in a row, it is time to get the guarantee players instead of continually getting gambles.
Taking a look at the first signing of the offseason for the Pirates was Russell Martin for two years for $17M. A veteran catcher who has played on the Los Angeles Dodgers and most recently the New York Yankees, finished last season with a batting average of .211 with 21 homeruns and 53 RBIs. Now these numbers who very similar to Rod Barajas before signing with the Pirates when he was on the Dodgers, .230 with 16 home runs and 47 RBIs. We all know what he did with the Pirates, but hopefully though Martin can actually throw people out.
The risk here is the fact that Martin posted these numbers hitting half the time at very hitter friendly Yankee Stadium and now will have to hit at PNC Park which is one of the hardest ballparks for right handed hitters because of such a deep left field wall. This is another ‘if’ situation because if he can hit 21 home runs this season it could be a good deal but if he finishes like Barajas, he will be hearing the boo birds.
Francisco Liriano was the next signing for Pirates at two years, $14M that may be one of the biggest gambles. Liriano’s last winning season was in 2010 when he finished with a 14-10 record and a 3.62 ERA. Last season with the Minnesota Twins before getting traded to the Chicago White Sox, he posted a 3-10 record and a 5.31 ERA. With the White Sox, he was 3-2 with a 5.60 ERA. His best season, maybe his most famous season, was in 2006 with the Twins posting a 12-3 record and 2.16 ERA.
He had Tommy John surgery in 2006 and has never really gained back that talent. He has spurts of showing that great stuff he once had but like any other Pirates signing it is a gamble. If he can gain back that form he could a great pitcher for them for the next two seasons, and could be a great one-two with AJ Burnett. If he doesn’t or gets hurt again, it could be another waste of money.
The latest move by the Pirates, that most saw coming, was the trade of closer Joel Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox last week. In return for Hanrahan and shortstop Brock Holt, the Pirates received pitcher Mark Melancon, first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, along with prospects Stolmey Pimental and Ivan De Jesus Jr. This is just another classic Pirates move of trading All-Star talent for prospect gambles. The only Major League ready talent is Melancon. He saved 20 games for the Houston Astros in 2011, but struggled with the Red Sox last season and it sounds like they want to morph him into the set up role for Jason Grilli.
The biggest prospect in this deal is Sands, who was traded to the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. The 25-year-old, 6’4” 240 pound prospect has serious power potential. He hit .296 with 26 homers and 107 RBIs with AAA Albuquerque in the Dodgers system. In 2011 with the Dodgers he had 227 plate appearances and hit .253 with 4 home runs and 26 RBIs. Pirates fans know though that numbers can be deceiving. Who doesn’t remember Andy LaRoche who had AAA power but couldn’t find it at the MLB level? If Sands can find that power at the Major League level, it would be a great find for the Pirates for the future. If he doesn’t it is another lost prospect gamble.
At this point the Pirates need to be smart with their money and trades. They have a fan base that has shown they care about this team and their success as many could see at PNC Park the last two summers. They need to start spending money on actual guaranteed Major League talent instead of hoping they can turn a player around or banking on prospects. They need to make moves to the Major League club to get them out of the gutter and back to playing games in October.
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