I agree with the long-term plan the Pirates are pursuing and I think the work they've done in building the Bucs for the future has mostly been exemplary, but that doesn't mean I can't laugh a bit at this article, in which Bob Nutting and Frank Coonelly express serious interest in the Pirates' 2009 record despite having done virtually nothing to address it:
"There's no question that my expectation in 2009 is that we have a better team than we did last year," he said. "Even as we continue to build for the long-term success of the franchise, a real, championship-caliber organization that can compete on a sustainable basis, we have to have a better team in 2009 and better than what Pittsburgh has seen lately."
The Pirates finished 67-95 last season, the 16th losing record in a row.
"It could be the pitching coach," Nutting continued, referring to newcomer Joe Kerrigan. "It could be the expectations we have for conditioning. I think that's a real fundamental change that's going to give our players -- the young players who we're going to give a chance to play -- a better opportunity to succeed than they've had in the past. That's cultural, and that's attitude, but I really believe that it can have an impact."
With all due respect to Joe Kerrigan, whose talents apparently are formidable, if the first thing Nutting points to as a potential source of improvement in 2009 is the frigging pitching coach... well, don't expect any improvement. Especially if the second thing he points to is "expectations we have for conditioning," particularly on the very same day it emerged that the most important player in the organization had reported to minicamp overweight.
Coonelly at least makes a bit more sense:
"We really believe that we're in much better shape going into this year with our starting pitching, which was our Achilles' heel last year, now that we have Joe Kerrigan. And what makes 2009 exciting for me is seeing what these players we added in the deadline deals can do."
If I were trying to make a case that the Pirates might improve in 2009 (and I'm not), this is where I'd start. Not with Kerrigan, exactly, but with the players acquired in the deadline deals and the depth in starting pitching. The Pirates entered 2008 with a set rotation of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Matt Morris and Zach Duke, and with no real plan of what to do in case of a problem. Snell and Gorzelanny stunk, Morris was off the team by April, and the Pirates slogged through with Yoslan Herrera, Phil Dumatrait, and John Van Benschoten while giving Gorzelanny in particular way too many innings to prove he had nothing. That won't happen this year, and the rotation is likely to be better, if only because the Van Benschotens of the world won't be allowed near it.
I know the Pirates' brass can't say they're going to phone in 2009. But allow me to savor a rare moment of absurdity from these guys. When Dave Littlefield was in charge the Pirates hardly said anything that wasn't absurd, and now that things are different I hardly know what to do with myself.