If you haven't noticed, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been in a tailspin. If you are a Pirates fan, you'd like to think the team's recent play during the month of August is due to a slump that happens to have occurred at a very bad time of the season.
Whatever the case may be, Pirates GM Neal Huntington needs to make some kind of move prior to Friday's waiver trade deadline.
How dedicated is the Pirates GM to attempting to make a deal? Hopefully very dedicated.
I understand it isn't all that easy to make a splash in the trade market after July 31. The Pirates nor most organizations have the money the Dodgers have. Los Angeles was realistically the only team who could pull the trigger on a deal for Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez. No other team could afford that. That is a major reason the Dodgers were able to make the waiver claim on Gonzalez.
Huntington can do some deals on a lower lever that can help this Pirates team down the stretch and give them a chance to at least win a wild-card berth. Two examples of under-the-radar deals that other teams made to help them come September: the Orioles acquiring Joe Saunders from Arizona and the A's swinging a deal for Stephen Drew.
Since the Diamondbacks are still essentially in the wild-card race, I'm not sure whether Huntington had discussions regarding Drew and/or Saunders. Either way, those are the type of players and deals that would help the Pirates.
I would absolutely put Saunders as a No. 5 starter. Watching Erik Bedard have one good start every five weeks, I think we have seen enough.
Kevin Correia had a six-game winning streak, but during that time he was helped by a lot of run support. We all know what Correia is. He would be more helpful on a team where he will be penciled in as an everyday starter.
His past comments have showed that he is not happy being a spot starter and coming out of the bullpen. I think Saunders would have been an upgrade in the clubhouse and on the mound as well.
Stephen Drew is coming back off a very serious injury, but is showing signs of his 2010 form. With the play of Clint Barmes offensively and considering Josh Harrison is more of a utility player, Drew would have been a perfect fit. He has a much bigger upside and he couldn't do any worse at the plate than Barmes.
Better yet, the Pirates could have acquired him for low-level prospects. Drew's contract is also up at the end of the year. It was possible Huntington could have struck lightning in a bottle while also letting Drew impress the brass over the month and possibly pick up the option on him for 2013. It was a can't-lose situation.
Once again, this is just conjecture at this point. We don't even know if Arizona would have dealt with Pittsburgh. The real point is, Huntington could have and still can acquire the same type players before Friday.
I think everybody would agree the Pirates have some needs to help them during the final month of the season. A catcher, shortstop, No. 5 starter and maybe another arm in the pen.
Michael McKenry is a very good No. 2 catcher. I know a lot of fans would love to move him up to the No. 1 spot. If my only option is McKenry over Rod Barajas, then do it.
I am concerned about McKenry becoming the main catcher though. He has never been a No. 1 in his career, and taking on that role may take away the positives the Pirates have with him as a No. 1-A type option. You never know if his numbers will go down when he gets the majority of starts.
While he was a fan favorite last year, he never came close to putting up the numbers he had this year when getting the bulk of playing time after being acquired due to Chris Snyder's injury. A veteran backstop could be a big addition for the Pirates.
The offensive numbers that Barajas puts up is almost comical. Does he call a good game? Yes. Do the starters like him behind the plate? Yes. I think a lot of that is overrated.
When a pitcher is on the mound, if he's good, he's good. He can adjust to most any catcher. The .200 batting average for a starting catcher is almost an embarrassment. He is hurting the club offensively. That has to change.
While Barmes plays a very good shortstop, his hitting is a big problem as well. He does have a few streaks where he looks like he may actually hit over .220 for a long period of time, but he goes right back to big-time strikeouts in important spots.
When I heard he was signed in the offseason, I immediately thought of his connection to manager Clint Hurdle and the hitter friendly ballparks he played in. Coors Field and Minute Maid Park will absolutely improve the hitting stats. Couple that with the fact Hurdle seems to be too loyal to his former players, and it's a bad combo.
Barajas and Barmes (the shortstop spot in general) are killing the Pirates in the bottom of the order. I think Jordy Mercer will be a possibility in the very near future, but not now. A shortstop who can handle the bat better than Barmes would be a very welcomed upgrade.
My comments regarding the Saunders example pretty much sums up my thoughts regarding a need for a No. 5 starter. I will add this, though. If Huntington is unable to find a starter on the market, why not Gerrit Cole?
I know that the Pirates brass were initially against that idea, but if they can't find anybody who's a good fit via trade or within the organization, why not give Cole a shot? He seems to have the right attitude. I think the positives outweigh the negatives, if not in the rotation, then in the bullpen. It may be time to at least take a gamble.
The bullpen has been getting hit a lot more since the prior trade deadline. Whether it's the team chemistry or some players who were pitching over their heads, the bullpen needs some reinforcements.
Jared Hughes has tailed off, Juan Cruz is no longer with the team, Chad Qualls is on the DL (which most fans are happy about), and while Chris Resop has been respectable, he is not lights out.
Justin Wilson and Kyle McPherson could very well be added to the roster after the September call-ups. Huntington may feel he doesn't have to go outside the organization for relief help.
The Pirates are coming off a three-game sweep in San Diego and losing two out of three at home to the Brewers. They are currently 4.5 games behind the Braves for the first wild-card spot and two games behind the Cardinals for the second wild-card position, with the newly stocked Dodgers a half game ahead of the Pirates.
With a series against the Braves to end the season and another meeting with the Cardinals beginning tonight, there is still time. The Bucs still have series against the Astros and Cubs as well. Who knows? If all goes right, the six games against the division-leading Reds might still be meaningful.
The organization is still right in the thick of the playoff race. The team must start to turn things around and it has to start at home against the Cardinals tonight.
The naysayers are already starting to come out of the woodwork. Former Cardinal Joe Magrane sent the first dagger last night.
Commenting on the MLB Network, Magrane stated, "I know the Pirates fans and Clint Hurdle don't want to hear this, but they should now concentrate on having a winning season. They are starting to fall out of it and it shows they are not yet at the same level as other teams. When McCutchen falls off, they don't have the players to help him out."
Whether that's his true feelings or unconscious Cardinals bias, I'll let you decide.
One thing that isn't up for debate, though, is the need for Huntington to help his team out somehow before Friday. Maybe Magrane's comments will be bulletin-board material. He is just going to be one of many so-called "experts" who will start to get beer muscles and state the Pirates are all but done.
It's up to the players and Huntington to prove them wrong. That needs to start right now.
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