Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cream City Outlook for 2008-09

Having won their first BRASS League title in 2006-07 with a convincing 4 game to 1 series victory over the game Andover Cougars, the Cream City Pirates management team took one look at the team and realized the $2,000,000 in the bank (after salary payment) would not fill the numerous holes on the roster. The holes were caused by injuries to key players like Hideki Matsui and Mike Matheny along with some departures. With little money remaining to pay for replacements, and to fill in a few other areas, the Pirates decided to try an accelerated rebuild. The plan was to contend again after suffering through a one-year hiatus. The plan has largely succeeded.

As of this article (and including the February 26 infusion of cash into Pirate coffers) the bank account now stands at $29,002,030. Most impressive about this number is that every position is filled on the team and this total is accurate AFTER all salaries are paid for the coming year. The Pirates are building for the long-term. It is the goal of management to be on par with those exemplary Diamond Gem and Plainsfield Hitmen franchises, each of which has won 14 division titles. In the Pirates short time, they have managed to win three division titles and one BRASS championship. They want to take the next step.

Pitching Staff -Rotation
The Pirates have put together a young and talented pitching staff that was augmented recently by the acquisition of A.J. Burnett. The oft-injured Burnett had ace-quality numbers this past year in 165 innings of work. His salary of $3,450,000 was the only instance in which Pirate management succumbed to bringing in a player somewhat overpriced. He's overpriced because of his propensity for injury, but if he stays healthy, a big “if”, he will be a more than adequate top of the rotation stalwart.

The number two through four starters are Rich Hill, Ian Snell and Jeff Francis. Hill had a spectacular first full season in the majors. His WHIP was a microscopic 1.19 and he held opposing hitters to a .235 BA. With a year of experience under his belt, he might make a run at 200 strikeouts.

Snell's sophomore year was also a success. He had an excellent 2.7/1 strikeout-walk ratio and looks ready to take the next step toward elite pitcher status.

Meanwhile, despite pitching in Colorado, Francis took another step toward becoming listed with the top pitchers in the game. His strikeout-walk ration was only slightly less than Snell's, and his ERA was actually lower at home than on the road. I know that ERA is an overblown stat, especially for Strat fans, but it is still indicative of a pitcher not afraid of the Coors Field effect.

The number five spot in the rotation is held by the erratic, but still promising Daniel Cabrera. Pirates management hopes that like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson's, all who were just a bit wild early in their careers, Cabrera will harness his talent. He could become the ace of the group.

Rounding out the rotation is spot starter, Joe Saunders. This coming year is important for Saunders. With the unfortunate injury to Kelvim Escobar, Saunders is being thrust into the rotation. We shall see.

On a final note regarding the Pirates rotation ... did I mention that other than Burnett, none of the others is more than 28 years old, and future salary considerations have already been built in. They're going to be around for awhile.

Pitching Staff – Bullpen
Heading the Pirates' bullpen this is primary closer Jose Valverde. He compiled a 1.12 WHIP last year. However, the load of closing is not primarily on his shoulders. He'll be ably backed up by hard-throwing lefty, Billy Wagner, and death-on-lefties righty, Jeremy Accardo. The setup men are impressive, too. Russ Springer and Justin Speier both bring nastiness to their encounters with right-handed batters, while Reynel Pinto will bring it with an attitude versus lefties. Kyle Farnsworth provides junk innings and mop-up.

1st Base: One of the Pirates most recent acquisitions came at the cost of yielding young star outfielder, Chris Young. However, given that the Pirates outfield is loaded, sending away Young in exchange for slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira was a no-brainer. And given the Pirates tradition of stellar defense, Teixeira's gold-glove caliber fielding fits in nicely. He's priced reasonably for another three years at $2,333,333 per year. Aubrey Huff will back up Teixeira.

2nd Base: Brian Roberts returns to reprise his role at second base. He brings a near .300 batting average, high OBA and 50 steals in addition to excellent defense as evidenced by the 2e8 rating he received from Strat. He will be the primary lead off hitter for the Pirates.

Shortstop: JJ Hardy came into his own last year. Probably occupying the number 8 spot in the Pirates' lineup (yeah it's that good), Hardy brings 26 home runs and a low strikeout rate in addition to his 2e14 excellent shortstop rating. Shortstop and second base are high on the X-result list for chances and the Pirates are fortunate to be strong in the middle infield.

3rd Base: Brandon Inge and Aubrey Huff are slated to split third base duty this year ... Inge facing lefties and Huff the rest. Inge's defense (2e20) will see him coming in to replace Huff near the end of games. The two of them banged nearly 30 home runs last year. Any sort of production close to that will be fine.

Catcher: Johnny Estrada holds down the catching position, but Pirates management would be remiss if it wasn't said that some improvement is bing looked at, possibly in free agency. Estrada's +2 arm is not satisfactory, not is his plodding speed and low OBA. He was not one of our better acquisitions, especially now that he is a backup for the Mets, thereby not justifying his $1.6M salary with the Pirates. A backup catcher also needs to be found.

Outfield: Here is where the young Pirates shine. BJ Upton (.300 BA 20-20 man), Jeremy Hermida (second half .339 BA), Corey Hart (.295 BA, 33-9-24 and 20+ steals) and recently acquired Shane Victorino (1e5[-3] RF defense and 37 steals) bring combinations of youth, power and speed to the outfield positions. And, Aaron Rowand (.300+ BA, 45-0-27 and 1e2[0] defense) brings stability along with stellar defense in center field.

Pirates' management is very excited about the future of the franchise. With the bank account stabilized and salary extensions accounted for the next 4-5 years, this team could see, with some luck, a couple more championship banners joining the one earned last year.

0 Swings of the bat: