Looking Back On 2010

I usually try to avoid using anything that isn't related to baseball as an excuse to write about it, but since tomorrow is the last day of the year, and I'm really hard up for things to write about right now, here are a few thoughts on the Pirates in 2010.

-P- As usual, the draft went very well this year, with the additions of Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and several interesting late-round talents. And for the first time, the Pirates made a splash internationally, by signing Luis Heredia. This is probably the most important thing about 2010, and I try to keep that in perspective when things get bleak.

-P- I don't remember how close I came to saying so on the blog, and I don't really care to go back and look it up, but there was a time early in the season when I was very close to freaking out because the Pirates were doing so poorly. Akinori Iwamura was terrible, Lastings Milledge hadn't shown any power at all, Ronny Cedeno and Jeff Clement were completely absent ... and the pitching! We had the Hayden Penn disaster, and then the Charlie Morton mega-disaster. It seemed that Neal Huntington's acquisitions were all failing at once.

-P- Relatedly, this was the first year I started to think about Huntington's legacy, whatever that's going to be, and how it might be ... complex. Whatever path his career ends up taking, he has restored a measure of sanity to the way the Pirates are run. No longer are decisions seemingly made without thinking about what things might be like two years from now, or five. No longer do the Pirates punt the draft. Rarely does he acquire someone important without it being clear exactly why. But the Pirates looked so bad in 2010 that it got hard to think of things in the long term. John Russell ended up taking the fall because of that. If things don't improve, and improve drastically, within the next two years, Huntington is going to be gone before getting to enjoy the fruits of his labor. That's not necessarily the way I would want things to be, but it certainly is the way things will be.

-P- "Talent evaluation" is important, obviously, but do we really know what we're talking about when we say Neal Huntington is bad at it? I don't know, which is one of the things that was keeping me from freaking out and disowning Huntington early in the season. If Huntington trades for Morton, Clement, Milledge, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Tim Alderson, etc. and most of those guys fail, what does that prove about Huntington? It's still only a handful of players, and most of them came with a fair amount of risk because the players they were traded for weren't very good. There are huge problems with sample size and with understanding the balance of risk and reward that we have to weigh before we say much of anything about Huntington's "talent evaluation" abilities. Still, one of the most important themes of the 2010 season was that a lot of Huntington's players were so bad that you could hardly blame fans for starting that debate.

-P- The Octavio Dotel deal was one of Huntington's best, and that and the excellent draft were huge reliefs for me. The Dotel deal was straight out of the Huntington playbook - trade a veteran for some young players who come with some measure of risk. Only this time it worked brilliantly, or at least it has so far.

-P- Also a relief: the additions of Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata to the Pirates' lineup in midseason, and the further development of Andrew McCutchen into a fearsome hitter. With these four guys around for the next several years, the future can't be so bad, can it?

-P- Speaking of the future, the story of the year in the minor leagues was the injuries to many of the Bucs' best prospects - Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Victor Black, Quinton Miller, Brock Holt, Brett Lorin. Many of those injuries pretty clearly were freak things that had nothing to do with the Pirates' development plans, though, and the performances of most of the prospects who stayed healthy suggest that Kyle Stark and the Pirates' development team have some idea what they're doing. Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke all got a lot closer to the big leagues, Alex Presley emerged from nowhere and made it all the way to the majors, lower-level guys like Robbie Grossman and Nate Baker took steps forward, and pretty much all of the Pirates' high school arms from their 2009 draft class still look like prospects.

-P- The Pirates' 2010 pitcher of the year: I'd have to say Joel Hanrahan, for striking out a ridiculous 100 batters in less than 70 innings. Their hitter of the year: McCutchen. Their defender of the year: Tabata, although that's not saying much in a year that featured so much terrible defense.

-P- The offseason the Pirates are having scares me. A lot. The Bucs will pay Lyle Overbay $5 million to be their starting first baseman despite it being pretty clear that he can't hit anymore. They also signed Kevin Correia and Matt Diaz to two-year deals and, while those guys arguably aren't totally worthless, the sum of the offseason so far basically has been to spend north of $15 million on a bunch of guys who are at best marginal improvements. They probably won't get much more out of Diaz than they would have gotten out of Lastings Milledge, and they won't get much more out of Overbay than they would have gotten from Steve Pearce and John Bowker. We'll have to wait to see if this offseason was a one-time occurrence, or if Huntington will now be doing this every year. This offseason reminds me of Dave Littlefield's Drives for 75, and that makes me fret a lot more about Huntington's "talent evaluation" skills than the LaRoche and Morton flops ever will.

-P- I feel like I should write about Clint Hurdle here, but I don't really know what to say. Sidney Crosby has gotten a lot of attention for his 25-game scoring streak, which ended last night. Well, the Pirates have been losing almost as long as Crosby has been alive. Until that changes, the Pirates' manager position will just look like some sort of absurdist experiment, with different guys shuffling in and out for no reason. I didn't really like John Russell, but he pretty obviously wasn't in the top ten in the Pirates' list of problems, and yet he lost his job anyway. I understand it's possible that Hurdle could help, especially with the Pirates' young hitters, but I feel nothing when I think about him.

-P- On a personal note, it was hard to leave California, but I'm happy to be living in Ohio now. Not only do I get to see my girlfriend and my family and play in my band a lot more, but I'll also be able to see a lot more of the Pirates' minor-league affiliates. The Columbus Clippers play within walking distance of my house, so I'll get to see Indianapolis play there. I'll also be able to drive to see Altoona in Akron, West Virginia in Lexington, and State College in Mahoning Valley. So expect a whole lot of first-hand stuff on the Pirates minor leaguers in 2011.

-P- Also on a personal note, thanks to all of you for hanging out and commenting here. It's been kind of a tough year for me personally - I finished grad school at a time when jobs in my field were pretty much nonexistent, moved across the country to a city I didn't really know well at all, and started trying to cobble together a living with writing gigs. It sounds silly, but this blog has been a big source of stability. Certainly not financially, since I make almost nothing from it, but in that I know I'm part of something that matters to people, because I can check the site when I wake up and there will be tons of comments and new FanPosts and stuff. I forget who said it first, but Pirates fans really are the best fans in the world for following a team that has given us so little for so long. To be a part of a community that is not just surviving but thriving despite all the years of losing means so much to me. So, thank you.

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