Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Pirates can rebuild and be respectable at the same time

It is no secret to anyone on OnlyBucs that I love prospects. There's something very rewarding in following a guy from draft day through the meat grinder of the minor leagues to the majors. But remember something about prospects....they're prospects. There's no guarantee they pan out. Even if they make it to the majors, there's no guarantee they will live up to their "projections" or "comps" to existing players.

Prospects are good for 2 things:
1. Providing cost-controlled talent for either slave wages (0-3 seasons) or below-market prices (4-6 seasons).
2. Being traded to get proven ML talent.

The Phillies recently traded 3 blue-chip prospects (Drabek, D'arnaud, Taylor) for Roy Halladay. And guess what? The Phillies didn't shut the minor leagues down for the year just because they lost 3 guys. There's still more (especially after they semi-replenished in the Cliff Lee trade) in the pipeline.

Many people on OnlyBucs and other boards want to see the Pirates "sort out what we got" and "wait to see what we have with Alvarez, Tabata, and Lincoln in July" before committing to any free agents. I understand that and, for the most part, agree with it.

However, the Pirates and all these posters need to realize that the casual fan...not the stats dork who obsesses over K/BB rate, FIP for pitchers, or ISO for hitters (ahem)....needs to see something positive for THEIR "internal value" when they go to PNC Park.

You need to build with the cost-controlled assets, but you also should take advantage of an available opportunity to improve if it comes along.

That opportunity is Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres.

The Padres just got new ownership, as their previous owner got divorced, lost 1/2 of his money to his wife, and sold the team. They are pretty much in the same situation now as when Neil Huntington took over as GM. They have one asset at the majors (Gonzalez, like we did with Bay) and one potential building block (Mat Latos, like we had McCutchen). And just like us in 2007, the farm is fairly barren. They need to tear it down and start over.

Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzamanoff and Chris Young are the only players they have scheduled to make decent money this year. They are stuck with Young as he is coming off injury, but they have both Gonzalez and Kouz on the block.

Here's Gonzalez's 2009:
.277/.407/.551 (958 OPS) all in that canyon known as Petco Park
His WAR was 6.3 wins above replacement
He had 40 HR's, 119 BB, and 109 K's.
In 2010 he will make $4.87M and in 2011 he will make $5.5M on a club option.
I'm pretty sure the Pirates could find a space for him at 1B.

But you hear all the wails...
"We need to find out about Clement, Pearce, and Moss!"
"We won't be contending until Gonzalez is a free agent in 2012!"
This is equivalent to a gold prospector keeping his head down so intently, studying his gold flakes in the sifter, that he misses a gold nugget floating by him in the stream.

This is a cheap, productive asset that will be 28 in 2010. With him, the Pirates would be respectable in 2010 and contend for a wild card in 2011. As for him being a FA in 2012, you have 2 years to evaluate if Alvarez can stay at 3B defensively. If he can't he slides into Gonzalez's spot at 1B and you take 2 draft picks for Gonz as a Type A FA.

Here's the potential lineup in 2010:

If you squint, that's respectable.
So what do you give up for Gonzalez? People think you would have to empty out the farm, but recent deals are showing 2-3 blue chips and 1 so-so guy. Alvarez and McCutchen are off limits so I would do:
Jeff Locke, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Ramon Aguero and go from there.

If that looks a lot like the package we got for Bay, it should...that was the template. The difference is that Morris was very far away, whereas Locke is closer in AA. Tabata is a hitter who could be the next Tony Gwynn in that park of Petco, Walker is Walker, and Aguero is a near-ML-ready bullpen arm.

What if Alvarez can stay at 3B and Gonzalez wants to stay here as a free agent in 2012? Then you sign him to a 4 year - $60M dollar deal. That's what real teams do. And as for the payroll in 2012...
Doumit will be gone and Tony Sanchez will be making the minimum
Alvarez will be in his 2nd year of the minimum
McCutchen will be in his last year of the minimum
Duke and Maholm will be gone and replaced with Lincoln, Alderson or others making the minimum.

In short...we can handle his salary requirements because we will have cost-controlled talent (that is actually good) around him.

It won't happen, most likely, but if it did....

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