Van Slyke goes on to say that he has no faith that the Pirates' management will do what it should take to make that happen. (Neither do I, obviously.)
There's no need for cold water here - the fire's not exactly out of control to begin with - but I can't even agree with the assertion that the Pirates aren't that far from being a .500 team, even in the horrible National League. The Pirates are 27 games below 500. Their equivalent runs and equivalent runs allowed suggest that they're about 120 runs from being a .500 team, even before considering the weak schedule they've played this year.
120 runs is a whole lot. Let's take, for example, one of the Stats Geek's suggestions, which is to give 30 Victor Santos / B.P. Chacon / Kip Wells / Oliver Perez starts to a "real pitcher."
Okay. Let's give those 30 starts to, let's say, Brad Penny. The Pirates aren't getting Penny or anyone anywhere near as good as Penny, but he is a "real pitcher" and he's made 28 starts. This year, Penny has been 35 runs better than a replacement-level pitcher, according to Baseball Prospectus. 30 starts by the Santos / Chacon / Wells /Perez group, who had a 5.88 ERA with the Pirates, would be worth about 10 runs below replacement level. So replacing 30 starts by bad pitchers with Penny, a pitcher much better than any the Pirates are likely to get, improves the Bucs by 45 runs, only a little more than a third of the distance back to .500.
The trouble with even that analysis is that you can't make 30 starts of bad pitching disappear by acquiring a single player. Remember, the reason Perez and Wells were in the rotation in the first place is because the Pirates hoped, with some cause, that they'd produce this year. What if one of the Pirates' young pitchers pulls a Perez next year? Or what if one of them gets injured? There's no depth left in the minors, so if one bad thing happens to any of the Pirates' starters, well, it's B.P. time.
The Pirates aren't an average starter away from having a .500 team. They're a Vlad Guerrero and a Johan Santana away from having a .500 team, and that's only if those guys replace replacement-level players.
The Pirates might get some improvement from players they already have, of course - Ryan Doumit, Jose Castillo and Zach Duke all come to mind. But a lot of that will be offset by regressions by other players - Freddy Sanchez, for example. As young as this team is, it's not exactly brimming with upside.
In a fantasy universe where the Pirates have a good GM and a bit of money to spend, their best hope for finishing .500 is to sign a star player, grab one or two starters in case someone has an injury, and hope for big improvements from Castillo and the starting pitchers. And even that's a longshot.