This is the bleakest, most depressing winter in recent memory, if not ever (and not just because of the Steelers). Dave Littlefield has apparently told the Marlins he won't give up Chris Duffy to get Mike Jacobs. Mike Jacobs was barely league average at first base, but he's left handed and he hits the ball out of the ballpark, a combination of abilities that can be found absolutely nowhere in the Pirates organization. Smart people deal from positions of strength to acquire positions of weakness, and speedy, slap-hitting center fielders are in overabundance in the system.
Supposedly, the Pirates have in the neighborhood of $12 million to spend this offseason, but where that money could possibly go given the "funny water" spending tendencies of this offseason is anyone's guess. Frank Catalanotto, who some saw as a good fit as a utility player, especially if Jose Castillo were dealt, just signed a 3-year, $13 million contract with the Rangers. The Cubs just gave their backup catcher $5 million. Justin Speier, a poor man's Sal Torres, just became a rich man, signing a ridiculous 4-year, $18 million contract with the Angels.
Based on this offseason's market trends, Littlefield has several very tradable commodities, but I have no faith whatsoever that he'll be able to put any kind of helpful trade together, given his performance in the past and what he's already said this offseason regarding a reluctance to trade Chris Duffy. Evidently, he's only willing to trade players the Pirates have absolutely no need for, like John Grabow. Dave, I have news for you. If a player isn't useful to the Pirates, he probably isn't going to be very useful to any of the other 29 Major League franchises that have bucketloads more talent than the Pirates.
I do firmly believe that the Pirates are just a year of marked improvement from their stable of young starters and the addition of perhaps two legitimate Major League bats away from at the very least, being competitive. The former is something that will happen intrinsically, which is extremely fortunate because it means Littlefield can't screw it up somehow (no, that'll be on Jim Tracy and his coaching staff). The latter, however, is what this offseason needs to be about. There is no way Littlefield can even remotely consider it a success unless he does everything in his power to get these two bats in Pittsburgh.
The way I see it, he has a few options in that regard. With $12, it's unlikely any sort of impact bat could be brought in via the free agent market, which isn't really Littlefield's fault. But he has several possible avenues if he wants to go the trade route:
- Package three or four guys who are/could be moderately productive, but still relatively cheap and mostly replaceable for one bat. This would be guys like John Grabow, Paul Maholm, and Jose Castillo.
- Trade your really good players. The last (and only) time Littlefield tried this, he ended up with Jason Bay and Ollie Perez. There's no argument against that trade being a huge success, even despite the latter's flameout.
- Have the balls to take on salary in a deal. Go out and get a proven hitter that another team doesn't want anymore, even if he makes a ton of money. There's nowhere else to put your budget this offseason.
If I had to be honest, I really am not a big fan of option #2. The only individual players the Pirates have that could single-handedly bring in anything of value are Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Zach Duke, and maybe Mike Gonzalez. There has been a debate in the Pirates community about whether to deal Sanchez in a "sell high" move because he's probably not going to win the batting title again, but the Pirates aren't exactly crawling with infielders who are even decent at hitting. The dropoff from Freddy to whoever takes his place would still probably be enough to at least mostly negate whatever upgrade is received at another position.
Trading Bay at this juncture would also be unwise given his well-below-market value contract, unless the return is so obscenely good that there's no way you can say no. I would also hold off on trading Duke, if only because his value isn't as high as it could be after a medicore 2006. Gonzalez I would definitely deal if the price were right. He's lights out most of the time, but relievers are the last thing the Pirates need to be worrying about.
Thus, either options #1 or #3 should be what Littlefield is looking at. As far as taking on salary, I don't know who's available, but if, say, the Reds were looking to deal Ken Griffey, Jr. and Junior was the best bat Littlefield could reasonably acquire, then there's no reason not to at least open up talks with Wayne Krivsky. It's not like that $12 million is going to be put to use anywhere else. There have also been rumblings of a Brad Hawpe deal, but the Rockies might want Mike Gonzalez and Littlefield is probably reluctant to trade his closer.
With what's available, I am absolutely stunned that Littlefield refused to pull the trigger on a Chris Duffy-for-Mike Jacobs deal, especially since it seems it would have just been a straight-up swap, still leaving the Pirates with what's expected to be their main bargaining chips this offseason while adding a hitter who has put up an OPS of .849 in his first 569 Major League at-bats. That would have been third on the Pirates last year, behind only Bay and two points behind Sanchez. Not to mention the Pirates already have a tailor-made platoon partner for Jacobs in Xavier Nady.
Unless Littlefield really surprises a whole lot of people, we're in for another long, dark winter and a fifteenth consecutive season of the status quo. I hate baseball.