We’ll start with the good news – I think Andrew McCutchen is one of the best young players in the game, and a legitimate starting spot to build an organization around. He’s Carl Crawford 2.0, a fantastic five tool player who can do everything well. The Pirates have a budding superstar in center field, and they own his rights through 2015. Just having a guy like this in the organization is enough to give you some optimism.
Unfortunately, it goes south pretty quickly after that. The second most talented guy in the organization is probably Pedro Alvarez, and while I think he’s going to hit, there are enough questions about his defense, his conditioning, and his contact rates to have concerns. And, really, it’s hardly ever a good thing when your second franchise building block is ticketed for the minors. But that’s the state of the Pirates roster; it’s McCutchen and a bunch of role players.
There just aren’t that many good everyday players on this team. Maybe Jeff Clement figures out how to play first base and hits well enough to be a platoon first baseman, but he doesn’t have much star potential there. Maybe Andy LaRoche adds a bit more power and becomes more than just a solid third baseman, but he’s 26 and is running out of time for growth. Maybe Lastings Milledge or Jose Tabata translate their tools into production, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The Pirates decision to go for quantity over quality in most of their trades has left them with a lot of options, but few clear good ones. They’re going to need several of these guys to develop beyond expectations, or they’re going to have to keep making moves and hope to hit a home run on a couple of them. McCutchen and friends aren’t going to win in 2010, and unfortunately, there’s not enough quality around him to expect them to become contenders in the near future either.
That said, the Pirates are doing some things well. Neal Huntington is pushing the organization forward into thinking about things in new ways, they’re honest about their chances, and they aren’t wasting cash on superfluous veterans anymore. They’ve acquired enough useful pieces to avoid being terrible, and they’ve got some young talent in the farm system.
But, the common theme here at the bottom of this list is a small payroll team, a lack of a championship core, and not young talent to expect development into contenders in the next few years. McCutchen is great, but he’s not enough – Pittsburgh needs a few more guys like him before they can be taken too seriously.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.