...as the GM. You haven't been fired, even though a plurality (41%) of you traded a popular player and almost no one (3%) went out and hired a free agent. About 1/4 of you untraded Jason Schmidt - I was not able to follow the Pirates in the late 90's, so I was surprised that this many people saw promise in him given his age and numbers. Another 25% thought it best to build from within.
If you were among the 25% who chose to build from within by promoting Mackowiak, Wilson, Fogg, etc., - you could be smarter than a Pirates GM.
The Pirates’ management did very little during the 2001 off-season, We again had a core of Jason Kendall, Jack Wilson (who improved his BA to .250), Aramis Ramirez (whose BA dropped to .234 and HRs dropped to 18) and Brian Giles, who had a monster year with a .298 BA and 38 HR; he also drew 135 walks. Free agent “Pokey” Reese looked like a definite upgrade over Pat Meares at 2B; for fun, try counting how many second basemen Jack Wilson gets teamed with before Freddy Sanchez arrives. Adrian Brown started the year in CF and was awful. Craig Wilson got the majority of ABs as our RF and was serviceable – a .264 BA, 16 HR, and 16 2B. Rob Mackowiak got a lot of playing time for a utility player (385 AB), and hit only .244, but had 16 HR and 22 2B. Humberto Cota, who hit .294 in limited playing time, looked like a capable back-up for Jason Kendall. But 33-year old Keith Osik was blocking him. Even with some improvement, our offensive totals ranged from 14th to 16th among the National League. Incredibly, we scored fewer runs.
The pitching staff’s ERA, like a drunk on a high-wire, had nowhere to go but down and it did, falling to 4.24 (10/16 in the NL) and the bullpen was 3rd best with 47 saves. Most of the improvement came from a trio of new pitchers – Wells, Fogg, and Kris Benson. Between them, they had 33 wins and only 32 losses. Eight other pitchers started for the Pirates, trying to fill the 3 and 5 spots in the rotation; most came and went unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can. There are a lot of familiar names among our spot starters and middle relieves, but except for Bronson Arroyo and Ron Villone, none appear to have done much after leaving the Pirates. Bronson is another pitcher who makes me wonder if Spin Williams was part of the problem. He spent most of the 2002 season in AAA. In 3 years in Pittsburgh, Arroyo was 9 and 14, with a 5.44 ERA. His HR, SO, and K/9 innings stayed roughly the same when he pitched for the Reds and Red Sox, but his ERA fell to 4.00 and 4.19, respectively. Was that from our defense or Spin Williams’ coaching?
Unfortunately, in trying how to build on this success and get to .500 (or the NL Central title), our minor league system does not have much in the pipeline for the future. The AAA affiliate in Nashville is full of 27-30+ year old players. The only youngsters are Duaner Sanchez (who we traded for in 2002), Tike Redman, Tony McKnight, Chad Hermansen (who we traded away in 2002), and (for part of the year) Humberto Cota. John Grabow is the only familiar name in AA, but Ian Snell, Jose Bautista, and Ryan Doumit were all at Hickory. Sean Burnett made his first appearance as part of the Pirates organization, as did some guys named Matt Capps and Zach Duke (8-1 in rookie league). Skimming the Pirates minor league roster, you don’t see a lot of names that jump out at you as having left the Pirates and then making a name for themselves with other organizations.
The 2002 draft brought Bryan “where is he now?” Bullington, Brad “Big Country” Eldred, the “Mad Capper”, and – in the 33rd round – Nyjer “Nate the Grate” Morgan. Seriously, does anyone know whatever happened to Bullington? Shockingly, Nate the Grate was not called up immediately to play CF, as he was clearly the keystone for this organization. During the season, the Pirates only made two moves – Mike Fetters was traded for Duaner Sanchez and Chad Hermansen (oops, there goes our already-thin depth in AAA) was traded for Darren Lewis.
This in-house rebuilding resulted in the Pirates having a 72-81 record (10 more wins and 11 fewer losses but I don’t know how) than the 2001 season. The team appears to have the core of a competent pitching staff and appears to be headed in the right direction – that is quite a turnaround in only one year.