The 2012 Pirates are not unlike the 2008 Brewers, trying to end a long drought, trying to win over a skeptical city.
What did those Brewers do? They traded for left-hander CC Sabathia and reached the postseason for the first time since 1982.
What should these Pirates do? Make like the Brew Crew, pull off a franchise-altering move and trade for either Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke or Phillies lefty Cole Hamels.
The Pirates are the National League version of the Royals, a low-revenue team that always seems to play for next year.
Enough already. The Brewers’ aggressiveness the past several years transformed them into a mid-market monster, drawing 3 million fans at Miller Park.
There is no guarantee that a similar effort by the Pirates would produce similar results. The low-revenue Cleveland Indians, who made a bold play for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez last July, rank last in the majors in the attendance this season.
Still, as the Pirates and Royals improve, they no longer will select at the top of the draft. The new restrictions on amateur spending, both domestically and internationally, will further limit such clubs, preventing them from overpaying for amateur talent.
The Pirates are sitting on the 11th-ranked farm system in the majors, according to Baseball America. They have enough young talent to pull off a major trade without including either of their top pitching prospects, Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole. And heaven knows they’ve saved enough money over the years.
Go for it. Go for it already.
Oh, we know the Pirates are trying, trying to add a hitter at a corner position, knowing they can play Garrett Jones in either right field or at first base.
Well, few hitters are available. Free agent Derrek Lee won’t return to Pittsburgh. The Astros’ Carlos Lee balked at a trade to the Dodgers.
The Padres’ Carlos Quentin? Twins’ Josh Willingham? Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion?
Even if one or more of those sluggers could be had, none would make as big an impact as Greinke and Hamels, both on the field and at the box office.
Yes, the Pirates’ starting pitching already is decent: The team ranks seventh in the NL with a 3.90 rotation ERA.
Yes, the Pirates remain worried about their offense, even though they averaged an NL-best 5.4 runs per game in June.
Well, the idea is to outscore the opponent, right?
If the Pirates stacked Greinke or Hamels on top of a rotation that already includes righties James McDonald and A.J. Burnett and lefty Erik Bedard, they would reduce the pressure on their offense, become the favorite in the NL Central and loom as a potentially fearsome outfit in October.
The idea is not at all preposterous.
The Pirates are just one game back in the Central. The first-place Reds are worried about their rotation. The defending champion Cardinals are creaky and inconsistent, something of a mess.
Imagine Greinke or Hamels in a Pirates uniform. Imagine fans flocking to PNC Park like never before. Imagine the Pirates ending their streak of 19 straight losing seasons in the best way possible: by winning a division title.
Time to think big.
ADVICE TO SELLERS: TARGET STRESS
It’s already a seller’s market, thanks in part to the addition of a wild card in each league. And sellers, in the view of one executive, will be in an even more advantageous position if they can market their players to “high-stress” clubs — clubs facing the greatest urgency to win.
Those teams would include the Braves and Red Sox, both of which collapsed at the end of last season, and the Marlins, Tigers and Angels, all of whom spent heavily during the winter.
Of course, even the once-impulsive Yankees now go to great lengths to remove emotion from their decision-making. But under the new postseason format, the emphasis on winning the division — and avoiding a one-game wild-card knockout — is greater than before.
Thus, it will be interesting to see how the Yankees react if they start to perceive the Red Sox or another AL East club as a threat. The same dynamic might compel the Rangers and Angels to turn aggressive in the AL West.
Nothing like stress to make things interesting.
THE GM CAROUSEL: HOW FAST WILL IT SPIN?
Speaking of stress, some in the industry already are speculating about which general managers might be in trouble.
Seven teams changed GMs after last season: the Orioles, Red Sox, Twins and Angels in the AL; the Astros, Cubs and Padres in the NL.
The number does not figure to be as high this offseason, but the Dodgers are under new ownership, the Padres soon will be sold, and several other situations could turn volatile:
The Rockies take pride in their stability, but their switch to a four-man rotation and 75-pitch limit for their starters only has increased the scrutiny on GM Dan O’Dowd.
The Mariners, another historically inert team, are on pace for their second 100-loss season in three years under GM Jack Zduriencik — and in the other year they lost 95.
The Braves, working with diminishing payrolls, reacted with restraint to last September’s collapse, but some in the industry believe that a second straight failure to reach the postseason could jeopardize GM Frank Wren.
Meanwhile, the two GMs in the middle of ownership changes are in quite different positions. The Dodgers’ Ned Colletti reportedly is in the final year of his contract. The Padres’ Josh Byrnes has four years remaining on his deal.
WHICH WAY PADRES?
The Padres are drawing significant interest in third baseman Chase Headley, but one rival executive asks: How could the team trade Headley without knowing the future of left fielder Carlos Quentin?
It’s conceivable the Padres could move both, replacing Headley with their top infield prospect, Jedd Gyorko. But their 2013 club would be even more challenged offensively than this one is — and that is not the way the new owners want to start.
One option would be to sign Quentin and trade Headley, who would bring the greatest return of any Padre. Then again, there is no rush for the team to do anything. Headley is under club control through ’14, and might get an even bigger return in the offseason.
EXPLAINING GARZA’S VALUE
Cubs right-hander Matt Garza isn’t in the class of Greinke or Hamels as a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he might be a more valuable trade asset.
Which raises the question: Will the Cubs get the value they want for Garza? If not, they simply could wait until the off-season to trade him.
Here’s the difference: Greinke and Hamels are potential free agents. Under the new labor agreement, a club that acquires such a player in the middle of a season no longer will receive draft picks if he departs at the end.
Garza, on the other hand, is under club control through 2013. He would qualify for draft-pick compensation as long as he was not traded in the middle of next season, when he would be in the same position that Greinke and Hamels are in now.
Some executives believe the entire draft-pick question is overstated. The Giants traded prized right-hander Zach Wheeler to the Mets for outfielder Carlos Beltran last season knowing that they could not offer Beltran arbitration and get draft picks on the back end.
CATCHING DICKEY: GOOD LUCK!
National League manager Tony La Russa says he is confident that Buster Posey or Yadier Molina could catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball in the All-Star Game.
Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello isn’t so sure.
Racaniello says he took a ball off the side of his head catching Dickey in a recent bullpen session. He was wearing a cap and a mask, no helmet, and lost sight of a high pitch. The pitch dazed him for a second, but Racaniello completed the job.
The incident, Racaniello says, was not all that unusual. Racaniello says that in a typical bullpen session, he misses nearly half the pitches when Dickey has his good knuckler.
HEY NATS: SKIP STRAS!
If the Nationals indeed intend to limit right-hander Stephen Strasburg to 160 to 165 innings, why are they not giving him time off with the All-Star break approaching?
The Nats wouldn’t need to get too fancy — they could skip Strasburg’s next scheduled start against the Rockies on Friday, then bring him back for the fifth game after the break on July 17.
Such a plan would give Strasburg nearly three weeks off. He still would be available for about 15 more starts, and at his current average of fewer than six innings per start, would be on pace for about 180 innings — not far above his supposed limit.
BLOWING IT WITH ACKLEY
You have to wonder about the Mariners’ handling (mishandling?) of second baseman Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft behind Strasburg.
Ackley led off for most of May, and for the season has batted .279 with a .792 OPS in the leadoff spot. But on June 1, the M’s re-installed Ichiro as their leadoff man. Since then, Ackley has hit .213 with a .457 OPS.
In other words, the Mariners helped trigger the regression of one of their top young players to accommodate a fading 38-year-old star whose future in Seattle is uncertain.
The issue is not that simple. Ichiro, a future Hall of Famer and favorite of the team’s Japanese owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi, was a flop hitting third.
Still, while only one pick separated Strasburg and Ackley in 2010, the gulf between their accomplishments is only growing.
Strasburg was named to his first All-Star team Sunday.
AS THE RED SOX EVOLVE . . .
Few in the game will be surprised if the Red Sox trade veteran Kelly Shoppach to clear a spot for Ryan Lavarnway, their catcher at Triple A.
The Sox wouldn’t need to ask too much of Lavarnway, who is ready to hit in the majors. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a near All-Star, would remain the starter.
The situation is different at shortstop, where the Sox cannot yet to commit to Jose Iglesias, who is batting only .253 with a .593 OPS at Triple A.
Mike Aviles isn’t hitting nearly as well as he did at the start of the season, but asking Iglesias to become the full-time shortstop for a contender would be too much.
THE DIFFERENCE IN JURRJENS
Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens had a 5.18 ERA in 10 starts at Triple A, so how is it that he looked so good in his first two starts after returning to the majors?
Well, Jurrjens’ stuff continues to get crisper, and some Braves people believe he pitched better at Triple A than his numbers indicated.
Another thing to keep in mind: Veteran pitchers sometimes struggle against minor-league competition because they cannot set up hitters the way they do in the majors; the hitters take a see-it, hit-it approach.
The issue isn’t as pronounced for power pitchers, who can simply overwhelm opponents. But Jurrjens, who is more of a finesse pitcher, is the type who can run into problems.
AROUND THE HORN
• Some executives wonder if the Angels might react to the recent struggles of right-handers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana and try to add one of the elite starters.
The chances appear remote. The Angels’ farm system isn’t terribly deep, and sources say GM Jerry Dipoto is adamant about keeping right-hander Garrett Richards as a future low-cost option.
• Attention, deadline shoppers: Brewers right-hander Francisco Rodriguez is averaging 91.6 mph with his fastball, his highest velocity since 2009.
Rodiriguez, who can set up or close, would make particular sense for the Cardinals, Phillies and Marlins, all of whom are struggling with their setup relief.
The Marlins expect right-hander Juan Oviedo, the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez, to return after the break.
• Speaking of relievers who are likely to be traded, let’s not forget Padres All-Star right-hander Huston Street, who is compiling some impressive numbers.
Street, who was out from May 5 to June 5 with a lat strain, is 12 for 12 in save opportunities with a 1.29 ERA. His line includes 28 strikeouts in 21 innings and only eight hits and six walks.
To answer your next question, Street’s numbers away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park are good, too (0.82 home ERA, 1.80 away).
• Even before the Phillies called teams to inform them of the availability of left-hander Cole Hamels, it was clear that the Phils, at the very least, would not be an aggressive buyer.
“Their scouts are not out there banging,” one rival executive said. “They’re usually out there banging by this time. They’re playing it more conservative.”
• If Brewers right-hander Shaun Marcum gets healthy — a big “if” given his history of elbow trouble — he could be a nice fit for the Tigers, who have liked him in the past.
As my colleague Jon Paul Morosi pointed out on Twitter, the Tigers pursued Marcum before the Blue Jays traded him to the Brewers for third baseman Brett Lawrie.
• The last thing the pathetic Rockies deserve is two All-Stars, but right-hander Matt Belisle merits special mention.
Belisle, unlike most of the other Rockies pitchers, isn’t experiencing a nervous breakdown at Coors Field. In 43 innings, the third highest total among major-league relievers, he has issued only eight walks (three intentional) and produced a 1.88 ERA.
• One rival executive is skeptical that Diamondbacks righty Trevor Bauer will continue to follow his exhaustive pregame regimen now that he is in the majors.
The exec says that over the grind of 162 games, Bauer will need to devote the bulk of his energy to retiring major-league hitters.
• Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy on shortstop Ruben Tejada, who shows unusual maturity for a player who is just 22:
“Calm is an understatement; he’s stoic out there,” Murphy says. “He keeps me calm. I play this game pretty well wired-up.”
• I love this quote from a scout on Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, who has pitched 24-1/3 scoreless innings despite issuing 15 walks since his trade from the Padres:
“He will become Ernie Frieri again. I promise you.”
• Remember Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz? He’s the kind of player who figures to draw interest at the deadline.
Schierholtz (.248, 3 HR, 12 RBI) has lost playing time, he is out of options and other teams still view him as a valuable asset.
• And finally, Mets lefty Johan Santana says that after his no-hitter, his favorite text message came from his Venezuelan countryman, Carlos Zambrano.
“On behalf of myself, Mark Buehrle and Anibal Sanchez, welcome to the club,” Zambrano wrote.
Of course! All three Marlins pitchers have thrown no-hitters.