By Brett Connolly – 3/14/2010
Hope is an important word for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Change is another one.
They have had 17 consecutive losing seasons but are determined to have this one be different.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly believes his rebuilding will work. “We’ve gone through a difficult transitional period over the last two years as we’ve had to work extremely hard to rebuild a system that was ranked by most sources, including Baseball America in the bottom quartile of all systems.”
In recent years the Pirates have slashed payroll, dumping many of their star players. Last year first baseman Adam LaRoche, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and left fielder Nyjer Morgan were traded away in exchange for younger prospects. But Coonelly has faith for a successful year, “The real progression is maturing young players and that’s what Tampa did two years ago.”
Tampa provided the real life example Coonelly needs to convince his team and fans that winning is tangible. In 2008 the Rays generated one of the biggest turnarounds in baseball history going from last to first. In addition, that year the Rays had the second lowest payroll in the league. This year the Pirates are projected to have one of the lowest payrolls on opening day. Similar to the Rays, the Pirates are rebuilding through the draft, signing international players, and trading players reaching free agency for younger prospects.
Coonelly is the former chief counsel for Major League Baseball and starts his third full season with the Pirates. The lawyer does not want to make predictions about the Pirates season. “I’m not ready to predict that we’re going to be playing in the World Series this year although I’m not ready to say that we’re not either. We’re looking for a season that’s marked improvement and is the beginning of the next great era in Pirate baseball.”
The Pirates will rely on a young outfield for offensive production from Garrett Jones, Andrew McClutchen, and Lastings Milledge. Also, look for the Pirates to give an opportunity to 2008 first round draft pick Pedro Alvarez. The second year player from Vanderbilt is expected to be a cornerstone for the the new era in Pittsburgh.