Liabilities: The franchise's recent legacy of superhuman incompetence has to be acknowledged here. Maybe I'm missing somebody, but by my count the Pirates have drafted and developed exactly zero star position players since Aramis Ramirez. They gave him away to the Cubbies, just as they did Oliver Perez to the Mets, Jason Schmidt to the Giants and Bronson Arroyo to the waiver-wire ether.
But gosh, they've got Jack Wilson and his balsa-wood bat tied up for $13.75 million over the next two seasons, plus the $600,000 buyout of his 2010 option. And they sure stabilized that tricky fifth rotation slot when they took Matt Morris and the remaining $13.7 million on his deal off the Giants' hands last July. That second maneuver had to be the final nail in recently axed GM Dave Littlefield's coffin. Making Giants GM Brian Sabean look intelligent is more challenging than smoking a cigarette in the shower, and the Pirates did it twice (with the Schmidt and Morris trades).
There's depth in the rotation, in the form of Morris, Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, but let's not confuse quantity and mild reliability with quality. It makes no sense to me when sunny optimists point to mediocre pitchers like these three and say, "They're inning-eaters!" Yeah, sure, fine. At some point, though, wouldn't you like at least a few of those innings to be good ones?
Totally non-helpful and semi-realistic suggestions:
1. The second that any of the team's middling spare parts (3B/OF Jose Bautista, OF Xavier Nady, lefty relievers Damaso Marte and John Grabow) show some spark, deal 'em for organizational depth. None of those guys is going to bring back a monster-grade prospect, obviously, but maybe they can be exchanged for a former top guy who has fallen out of favor because of nagging injuries, attitude concerns or that unfortunate incident at the holiday party involving the GM's niece.
2. Along those lines, the Pirates ought to be aping what the Nationals did this offseason, taking chances on high-upside wackjobs like Elijah Dukes. No, the decent people of Pittsburgh won't take too well to the adjustments any team employing Dukes has to make (stocking the clubhouse with riot gear, arming every woman over the age of 10 with a Taser, etc.), but that's the only way the Pirates are getting their hands on a prodigious young talent anytime soon.
3. Explore trading LaRoche. I dig him and all, but he'll soon start getting way expensive via arbitration. Maybe the Pirates should quietly seek out a deal that would open up first base for prospect Steve Pearce's MLB-ready bat. The kid might hurt himself and others out in right field.
4. Take Bay off the trade market. Only an organization as downtrodden as the Pirates would seriously consider dealing him when his value has bottomed out. He's still only 29, and the proposed packages for him (the Indians may or may not have offered Kelly Shoppach, Franklin Gutierrez and Cliff Lee for Bay and Ronny Paulino) didn't amount to much. Let the guy rebuild his value and then, and only then, entertain offers. This is Economics 101 stuff.
5. Codify an organizational bylaw preventing the employment of anybody surnamed Chacon, Vogelsong, Burnitz, Randa, Lawton, Mesa or Santiago. Yes, the Pirates are required by MLB bylaws to field a 25-man team, but that's not reason enough to stock the roster with vaguely recognizable veterans who, if every ball bounces just right, might achieve something close to mediocrity. Even if they're only spending $1 million on him, the recent addition of 36-year-old utility twerp Chris Gomez is a step in the wrong direction. As bereft as their farm system might be, the Pirates gotta have some minimum-salary utility shlub lying around somewhere who can equal Gomez's output.
6. Cross your fingers that the new guys have a clue. Over the past several months, the Pirates have ditched their GM, manager, farm director and scouting director, replacing them with soldiers from the upper reaches of the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Detroit systems. We're not going to have an answer on this for several years, of course.
Odds of becoming the next Colorado Rockies: Slimmer than a diseased Christmas goose and thinner than an anorexic latke. Even in the short-bus NL Central, only an act of God -- a plumbing rupture that waterlogs every other team, perhaps -- will get the Pirates into the postseason.
There's not a lot to suggest here. You can't just nuke a franchise and sell it for insurance cash (don't get any ideas, Mr. Loria). The Pirates have to start from scratch, purging the organization of all but the few promising parts that are left. This takes time and money.
At least the organization, as witnessed by its recent torching of all the administrative dead wood, finally seems to comprehend this. That ain't exactly a Wii under the Christmas tree, but it's still the best gift Pirates fans have received in years.