Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s that time of year again – the time for us to settle back into our protective bubble where the Chicago Cubs are destined for greatness, and every other team in the National League Central is bound for spectacular failure. If you’d care to check out last year’s fare: St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros.
The 2011 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means every sports publication in the world puts out a season preview. Some are interesting, some aren’t. For the most part, folks just don’t have the time necessary to do the kind of in-depth preview that is going to be of any use to a reader that actually follows the team being previewed.
So most previews end up being pretty surface level, and boring. Well, we’re not going to do that here at Bleacher Nation. It’s much more interesting to simply examine/invent why the team currently sucks and is going to suck in 2011. Of course, had I anticipated the 2010 success of many NL Central teams, coupled with various excellent off-season moves, I may not have tied myself to such a cantankerous exercise. Let’s just say, establishing that the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals are going to suck in 2011 is not an easy enterprise. But this is the life I have chosen, so live it I must.
We’ve already previewed (with difficulty) the suckiness of the Cincinnati Reds and the suckiness of the Milwaukee Brewers, and (with ease) the suckiness of the Houston Astros. Now, we get to take a week off. The suckiness of the Pittsburgh Pirates writes itself.
Baseline for Suckitude
What a baseline the Pirates continue to set. The Pirates won just 57 times last year – four fewer than any other team in baseball. They finished 18 games out in the Central last year. You know, 18 games out of FIFTH PLACE.
Most amazingly? The Pirates were just one game under .500 – 40-41 – at home last year. They were 17-64 on the road.
Last year, we had this to say:
And sincerely – my heart goes out to hardcore Pirate fans. It just can’t be a very enjoyable time – when teams are rebuilding, sure, the Major League team suffers, but there a distant oasis on the horizon in the form of talented youth. For the Pirates, that oasis must have felt like a floating island, never drawing nearer as they paddled listlessly toward a team that they could finally call “rebuilt.”
The island floated even farther away last year. As I said, it writes itself.
Sucky Offseason Moves
Sad Arrivals: 1B Lyle Overbay (free agent), RHP Kevin Correia (free agent), LHP Scott Olsen (free agent), OF Matt Diaz (free agent), RHP Cesar Valdez (trade with Diamondbacks), 3B Josh Fields (minor league free agent), LHP Joe Beimel (free agent), LHP Garrett Olson (picked up off waivers).
Happy Departures: LHP Zach Duke (traded to Diamondbacks), LHP Dana Eveland (free agent, signed with Dodgers), RHP Chan Ho Park (free agent, will pitch in Japan), RHP Joe Martinez (traded to Indians), LHP Wil Ledezma (claimed off waivers by Blue Jays), 3B Andy LaRoche (free agent, signed minor league deal with A’s), OF Lastings Milledge (free agent, signed minor league deal with White Sox).
Believe it or not, the Pirates have actually had a good offseason, at least inasmuch as you might expect for the Pirates. That’s a bit like saying, “you played a great game of chess for a squirrel. You know, especially given the brain damage.”
The Pirates lost some eminently replaceable pieces, and replaced them with some nice low risk, medium reward players – who wouldn’t like to take a chance on Correia, Olsen, Beimel or Diaz? I mean that seriously. The problem, of course, is that the Pirates aren’t just taken a chance on them. The Pirates are counting on them.
Their Very Own Blogoverse Thinks They Suck
As a permanently-rebuilding team, it’s probably unfair to point to dour but reasonable assessments of the Pirates’ prospects for the 2011 season. No one in the Pirate Blogoverse really thinks the team will contend. But even when viewing them as a rebuilding team – you know, one whose future success must be predicated on prudent roster management, good free agency decisions, and sound drafting – their own Blogoverse is less than enthusiastic:
There are certainly cases where the Pirates should have been gaming the [free agent compensation] system a bit. For example, I know Nady turned out to be a nifty acquisition for the Bucs, in that he later got them Jose Tabata, but at the time, the Pirates really should have been thinking about Hernandez’s potential Type A free agent status. The Pirates under Littlefield could not have cared less about the draft, and therefore it’s no surprise that he never, ever got a compensation pick for anyone. But Neal Huntington does care about the draft, and he has never gotten a pick for a free agent either.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand how a team can be this bad for so long without eventually bundling together enough young talent to see some success, but this explanation is certainly a part of the problem.
The Suckiest Part of Their Suck
But seriously, the Pirates.
Ok, ok. It’s the rotation, for another year. The Pirates return with four of the same five starters as last year, when they sported the worst rotation in baseball. The only change is Kevin Correia, a guy the Padres saw fit to dump; a guy who hasn’t been league average in four years, and who was 32% below average last year.
And in the End
The worst team in baseball in 2010 is poised to compete for 5th or 6th worst in 2011. The streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons (dear God, just put yourself in the shoes of a Pirates fan) is almost certain to reach 19. If not for the horror show in Houston, the Pirates might not even have a realistic hope of climbing out of the NL Central cellar.
Is there hope? In 2011, no. But in the near-term future? I suppose it’s possible. Andrew McCutchen is one of the three best center fielders in baseball, and he’s just 24. Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata are themselves on the doorstep of meaningful success. Neil Walker proved to be a useful starter last year. If you squint, there is hope as soon as 2013, or maybe 2012.
But unfortunately for 2011, it writes itself: the Pittsburgh Pirates suck.