Four needed moves; Sickels slop; & vacation time

Four things the Pirates have to do in 2008 if they want to try and sneak one by the rest of the division:

1. First and foremost, get rid of Xavier Nady if Jason Bay isn’t dealt.

Every defensive metric known puts Nady’s defense in right at no less than -1 win.. some as far out as nearly -2 wins. That’s close to equalizing Nady’s offensive contribution from the corner. But more importantly, the Pirates can’t put pitchers on the mound who pitch to contact and then feature two marginal or below average cover guys on the corners hoping Morgan or Duffy runs down more than their share. That doesn’t work, as we’ve already seen.

Unfortunately, Nate McLouth is even worse than Nady in right and Steve Pearce projects about like McLouth, so we have a serious problem if Bay is in left. Nady’s bat plays middle of the lineup and that’s sexy to have, but not at the expense of blowing so many games.

The answer is someone like Adam Jones, albeit his bat isn’t ready for the middle of the lineup yet.

2. Bullpen.

Could Luis Munoz or Todd Redmond make a big jump to the pen and do a better job than some of the junk we’ve signed this winter? It’s a very strong possibility.

The Pirates sorely need middle relief help and someone to setup from the right side. Osoria, Sanchez, and Davidson are only going to go so far. We need a couple of guys to step up big or to acquire someone who can sock away some innings and miss a few bats in a trade (Morrow?).

3. Third base.

I understand the front office seems high on Jose Bautista, but they really aren’t. His glove plays nowhere on the diamond and his bat runs alongside his glove. I suspect when I heard him say he didn’t want to play second a year or two ago I lost interest in him – it was the only place he had a chance in my book, and that was stretching it some.

The Pirates need a power corner infielder bad and you have to wonder why there isn’t more talk about Walker breaking camp and heading North with the club. His glove will lose games for us, his bat isn’t ready – and may never be ready, but he needs innings under his belt on the corner for us to tell.

I say start his clock, send him back to Indy for 30 days to keep the extra year on him, and then give him the balance of at bats the rest of the year. Who knows, he just might put it all together and be the #2 hitter the Bucs need so bad.

4. Centerfield.

Outside of our right field problem, this is the biggest hole the Pirates have. We can get by with a slimmed down bullpen, we can get by with Bautista at third, but we can’t get by with a league average defender in center who bats .275/.330/.395 leading off.

If Morgan opens the game in center for defensive purposes, he needs to bat 8th and Bautista needs to leadoff. As soon as possible, a double-switch should bring McLouth in for the extra bat.

Andrew McCutchen is at least two years off from being able to contribute and even then, he’s probably going to come up in right. So why not deal for the one thing this club needs – an OBP machine to play center even if he isn’t a 0-3 guy? Say.. Mike Cameron and dang the ‘culture change’ theory?

John Sickels ran out his 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect list:

1. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Grade A-
2. Steven Pearce, OF-1B, Grade B+
3. Neil Walker, 3B, Grade B (not convinced he’ll hit quite as well as they expect)
4. Daniel Moskos, LHP, Grade B
5. Brad Lincoln, RHP, Grade C+ (pending recovery from TJ)
6. Brian Bixler, SS, Grade C+
7. Shelby Ford, 2B, Grade C+
8. Duke Welker, RHP, Grade C+
9. Brian Friday, SS, Grade C+
10. Andrew Walker, C, Grade C+
15. Matt Peterson, RHP, Grade C

I don’t know what’s worse.. Sickels listing Peterson as the 15th rated player (he’s long gone), or Romak not even being listed.

Sickels had Neil Walker at a B rating. I’ve been dropping him each year too, and I know the fans won’t want to hear that but I agree with him. Also like Sickels, I think he needs at bats to see where he really fits in.

I think Ford deserves to be a B- based on his conversion work to second and his bat until he hurt his back, Moskos is easily a B+/A- if he repeats consistently, and how Sickles rates Yoslan Herrera in the same category with Pat Bresnahan and Todd Redmond is beyond me. Herrera doesn’t deserve a C rating while the other two guys deserve better. But Herrera has one more year to prove he is what Littlefield’s scouts thought he was.

And somehow Sickles didn’t even mention Felix, Astacio, or Benoit’s name. Felix has been a disaster but has some health reasons for that, Asacio proved to me he has some upside, and Benoit was nothing short of spectacular last year.

I understand we may not totally agree, but Sickels obviously did some sloppy work on the Pirates. It shows.

I’ve received a few emails asking why the Pirates wouldn’t want to offer Freddy Sanchez a long-term deal and I think the answer to that is obvious – he’s on the downside of his career, albeit you wouldn’t know it by his batting average.

He’s a 30 year old singles hitter who just had shoulder surgery on top of his knee problems in 2006 and a medley of other health problems the rest of his career. The Pirates own him for two more years at below average cost so why spend more than you have to?

I certainly wouldn’t. In fact, I’m surprised he isn’t being dealt.

But the real puzzle to me is why the Pirates are thinking about locking up Capps long term unless they are thinking about dealing him over the next couple of years and want to pass on cost value.

I must be undervaluing Capps like I did so horribly with Ian Snell in 2005. But my instincts tell me Capps just isn’t what the fans think he is. He looks the part, he’s got the stats to back him up, but my gut says he’s been very, very lucky and the Pirates had better keep Marte around just in case.

How Snell and Capps get away throwing Josh Towers-like straight heaters is beyond me. At least Snell has gotten a bit of a bite the last couple of years, but Capps has none. Zilch. Straight as an arrow and he doesn’t even really bring it.

I wouldn’t give Capps a long-term deal.. I think we’ll end up seeing another Jack Wilson if we do (two years off, two years on) and a lot of blown saves. Well, I expect the blown saves either way.

Tonight is the last post from me until next Sunday as I start my week vacation. If anything breaks or I hear something juicy, I’ll try to get something posted here.