MLB Insiders - Pittsburgh Pirates

Nyjer Morgan

The year 2007 was one of change for the Pirates, though it didn't change the result on the field.

Bob Nutting took over as principal owner in January for Kevin McClatchy, who then stepped down as chief executive officer at end of the season. Frank Coonelly, Major League Baseball's chief labor counsel, was brought in as club president in September and hired Neal Huntington from the Cleveland organization to replace the fired Dave Littlefield as general manager.

And after the season ended, manager Jim Tracy was fired along with three team executives -- Brian Graham, senior director of player development; Ed Creech, scouting director; and Jon Mercurio, director of baseball operations. Graham once worked with Huntington in Cleveland.

The charge of Coonelly and Huntington will be to turn around a franchise that went 68-94 this year for a last-place finish in the National League Central and the Pirates' 15th consecutive losing season. That leaves them one away from the major league record of 16 straight sub-.500 finishes by Philadelphia Phillies from 1933-48.

"It gets frustrating," Pirates left fielder Jason Bay said. "It doesn't matter what we do, what changes are made, we end up with basically the same record year after year after year. I know we had some talent on this team this year. I'm not saying pennant-winning talent, but certainly better than a team that lost 94 games. It just never seems to end."

The Pirates opened the season on a positive note by sweeping a three-game series in Houston, but that was as good as it got. The Pirates did go 9-4 in a 13-game span leading into the All-Star break, and they scored more runs that any major league team during a 17-13 August.

However, there were also plenty of low points. The Pirates lost 14 of 16 immediately after the All-Star break and 13 of 15 to end the season.

"Inconsistency. That would sum up our season in one word," said Tracy, who compiled a 135-189 record in his two seasons with the Pirates. "We played outstanding baseball in some stretches, but we also had some tough times. If you take away those rough spots, we had a good year."

Unfortunately for the Pirates, Major League Baseball doesn't allow teams to take 31-game mulligans. Thus, the 4-27 record of those two second-half dry spells remain on the record and gives the Pirates three straight 90-loss seasons for the first time since 1952-54.

The Pirates finished 12th in the 16-team NL in runs scored with an average of 4.47 a game and 14th in the league with a 4.94 ERA. Yet, the general consensus among baseball observers is that Huntington does not have to completely overhaul the roster.

The Pirates will need help in the bullpen, as their only significant free agent is right-hander Shawn Chacon, who emerged as the top setup man during a season in which he went 5-4 with a 3.94 ERA in 66 games. Chacon and left-hander Damaso Marte, who was 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA in 65 games, were two of only a few reliable arms in a bullpen in which Matt Capps made a seamless transition from setup man to closer during the final four months of the season. Capps converted 18 of 20 save opportunities and posted a 4-7 record and a 2.28 ERA in 76 games.

Capps replaced right-hander Salomon Torres as closer. After pitching in more games than any major league reliever from 2004-06, Torres struggled, going 2-4 with 12 saves and a 5.47 ERA in 56 games.

The Pirates have the makings of a fine starting rotation with left-handers Tom Gorzelanny (14-10, 3.88 in 32 starts) and Paul Maholm (10-15, 5.02 in 29 starts) and right-hander Ian Snell (9-12, 3.76 in 32 starts). All are 26 or younger.

Left-hander Zach Duke (3-8, 5.53 in 20 games) and right-hander Matt Morris (3-4, 6.10 in 11 starts) are question marks. In Duke's case, the question is if he will be able to bounce back after missing nearly three months of this season with elbow tendinitis. And will Huntington keep the 33-year-old Morris, who is in decline and was Littlefield's last and most curious acquisition?

Bay was a major disappointment offensively after three outstanding seasons, as he hit just .247 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs in 145 games. None of the Pirates' other key contributors had overwhelming seasons: catcher Ronny Paulino (.263-11-55 in 123 games), first baseman Adam LaRoche (.272-21-88 in 152 games), second baseman Freddy Sanchez (.304-11-81 in 147 games), third baseman Jose Bautista (.254-15-63 in 142 games) and right fielder Xavier Nady (.278-20-72 in 125 games).

Rookie Nyjer Morgan came up from Class AAA Indianapolis in September and added excitement by making a number of highlight-reel catches in center field while hitting .299 with one homer, seven RBIs and seven stolen bases in 28 games.

First baseman/right fielder Steve Pearce also played well as a September call-up, as he hit .294 with six RBIs in 23 games after a monster minor league season that saw him have a combined .333 batting average with 31 homers, 113 RBIs and 14 steals in 134 games with high Class A Lynchburg, Class AA Altoona and Indianapolis.

Outfielder Nate McLouth hit .258 with 13 homers, 38 RBIs and 22 steals in 137 games. He showed in the second half of the season that he could handle regular playing duty, giving the Pirates the type of outfield depth that could lead them to trade Bay in an attempt to upgrade the pitching or catching.

The Pirates also will consider adding a third baseman or center fielder, though the presence of top prospects Neil Walker, converted from catcher to the hot corner in spring training, and Andrew McCutchen do not make it a high priority. Both finished this season at Class AAA despite being 21.

--3B Jose Bautista underwent an MRI on his right ankle that showed no structural damage. Bautista was bothered by weakness in the ankle most of the season. He hit .254 with 15 homers and 63 RBIs in 142 games.

Bautista still plans to play in the playoffs during the winter ball season in his native Dominican Republic.

--LHP John Grabow plans to have his left elbow examined by Los Angeles Angels orthopedist Lewis Yocum. Grabow has been bothered by bone chips in the elbow the past two seasons but wants to consult with Yocum before deciding whether to have surgery.

--RHP Salomon Torres tentatively plans to make five winter ball starts in his native Dominican Republic, as he feels inactivity last winter led him to having a poor 2007 season. Torres began the season as the closer but was removed from that role on June 1 and finished the year 2-4 with 12 saves and a 5.47 ERA in 56 relief appearances.

--The final attendance was 1,749,712 in 79 dates at PNC Park, an average of 22,141, down 5 percent from 23,269 last season. While it was the ninth-highest attendance in Pirates history, they outdrew only three other major league teams -- Florida, Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

--1B/OF Steve Pearce and SS Brian Bixler, two of the Pirates' top prospects, will play for the United States in the 14-team World Cup that will be held from Nov. 6-18 in Taiwan. That could lead to them participating in next year's Olympics in Beijing if they are not on the major league roster at that time.

Pearce hit .294 with six RBIs in 24 games for the Pirates during a September call-up after batting a combined .333 with 31 homers, 113 RBIs and 14 steals in 134 games with high Class A Lynchburg, Class AA Altoona and Class AAA Indianapolis. Bixler hit .274 with five homers, 51 RBIs and 28 steals in 129 games with Indianapolis.

BY THE NUMBERS: 135-189 -- Manager Jim Tracy's record in his first two years on the job, making it questionable that he will return for the third and final year of his $3.3 million contract in 2008.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're still evaluating all facets of the organization and trying to gather as much information as possible to make the most informed decisions we can." -- GM Neal Huntington on why manager Jim Tracy's future was still unclear four days after the season ended.

The Pirates, despite going 68-94 for their third consecutive 90-loss season, have a fairly solid roster, and it is not anticipated that Neal Huntington will make massive changes in the his first offseason as the general manager. The Pirates have everyone on the 40-man roster under contract except for RHP Shawn Chacon.

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Pirates need help in the bullpen, as they lack a lot of solid options in front of RHP Matt Capps, who converted 18 of 20 save opportunities after being promoted from setup man to closer June 1. The Pirates might also look to upgrade at catcher, third base or center field, though they have decent in-house options at each position. The organization lacks pitching depth, particularly at the upper levels of the farm system, and a trade for some frontline prospects would help.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Tony Armas, RHP Shawn Chacon, INF Cesar Izturis.

Chacon almost most certainly won't be back, as he figures to get a raise over the $3.8 million he made this season. The Pirates hold options on Armas and Izturis but won't exercise them, buying out Armas for $500,000 on a $5 million option and Izturis for $300,000 on a $5.45 million option.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: 3B Jose Bautista, INF Jose Castillo, LHP John Grabow, 1B Adam LaRoche, RF Xavier Nady, 1B Josh Phelps, 2B Freddy Sanchez.

The Pirates are likely to go through the arbitration process with everyone but Castillo, who was buried deep on the bench by manager Jim Tracy this year after being the starting second baseman the previous three seasons. The Pirates will try to trade Castillo, but other teams are likely to wait until he is non-tendered before trying to sign him as a free agent instead of going through arbitration with him.

IN LIMBO: LF Jason Bay, CF Chris Duffy, RHP Matt Morris, SS Jack Wilson.

The Pirates have decent outfield depth and may try to trade Bay in order to fill other holes and build on their reserve of prospects. Morris was the last acquisition by Dave Littlefield before he was fired, and it was a puzzling move for a last-place team to trade for a veteran pitcher who was owed more than $13.7 million at the time. Morris will make $9.5 next season in the final year of a three-year, $27 million deal. Even with in a market thin on starting pitching, Pittsburgh likely would have to eat part of that salary in order to trade him.

Detroit made a run at Wilson before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline and will attempt to pry him away from the Pirates again now that Huntington has taken over as GM. Duffy now stands No. 4 on the Pirates' depth chart in center fielder behind Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth and top prospect Andrew McCutchen after missing the second half of the season with a sprained right ankle and a left shoulder that needed surgery.

MEDICAL WATCH:
CF Chris Duffy (left shoulder surgery) is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

LHP John Grabow (bone chips in left elbow) is considering having arthroscopic surgery.

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