Recent

0

Climbing Out Of The Canyon – Part 1

Pat from Where have you gone, Andy Van Slyke prominently displays this quote from the legendary center fielder on his blog:

“Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.”

Pat’s banner reminds the casual Pirate fan that we haven’t finished with a winning record since 1992. Essentially we’re “in the canyon: 14 years and counting.” But, for the first time in a long while, there seems to be hope. Fans of the black and gold point to the likes of Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche and a bevy of talented young pitchers. They say that Castillo, Bautista, Nady, Wilson and Paulino could all play to potential. And Kevin McClatchy said this on Friday at Piratefest:

“Some of the [free agent] contracts, I’m glad we didn’t sign some of them. It’s a question of how you spend the money, not the amount you spend. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but we’ve got just about every position locked up with young players. These guys [Littlefield and Tracy] think we can win with what we have.”

So, I suppose it’s time to examine the opposition. Can the Pirates put an end to a miserable losing streak? The other five squads in the NL Central will have a tremendous impact on our performance: If this is to be the year we break .500, we’ll have to beat the teams in our division. In Part 1 of “Climbing Out of the Canyon,” I’m taking a look at the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals to see if that’s possible.
Tony La Russa managed the Cards to an 83-78 record in 2006, making them the most thoroughly mediocre team to ever win the World Series. Their core was solid, though, and they’ve made the following additions and subtractions this offseason (according to the ESPN Hot Stove Index) with less than a month to go before Spring Training:
ADD: Ryan Franklin, SP/RP; Adam Kennedy, 2B; Russ Springer, RP; Kip Wells, SP
DROP: Jason Marquis, SP; Jorge Sosa, RP; Jeff Suppan, SP
Ron Belliard, Jose Vizcaino, Jeff Weaver and Preston Wilson are still free agents, but none figure to be re-signed. Lump them in with the rest of the drops.
The Cardinals’ lineup runs directly through the ferocious bat of Albert Pujols. He’s complemented by aging veterans, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Chris Duncan and Juan Encarnacion should fight for playing time in the outfield with John Rodriguez and So Taguchi. A guess at the starting nine heading into ’07:

  1. Eckstein, SS
  2. Kennedy, 2B
  3. Pujols, 1B
  4. Rolen, 3B
  5. Edmonds, CF
  6. Encarnacion, RF
  7. Rodriguez, LF
  8. Molina, C
  9. Carpenter, P

Not an awful lineup, but question marks do exist. Rolen and Edmonds need to stay healthy to provide protection for Pujols. The middle of the diamond is strong defensively, but Molina, Eckstein and Kennedy are light hitters.
Free agency obliterated St. Louis’ pitching staff. Gone are Weaver and Suppan, crucial contributors to the playoff push, and Jason Marquis, who managed to win 14 games despite a 6.02 ERA. The enigmatic Kip Wells will battle Anthony Reyes for the spot behind ace Chris Carpenter. Some mix of Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper and Brad Thompson will fill out the back end of the rotation until Mark Mulder is healthy. Springer was a nice pickup for the bullpen, but his presence won’t mean much if the oft-injured Jason Isringhausen isn’t available to close games.
If the Cards flop in 2007, the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of General Manager Walt Jocketty. The Cards enter the season with Carpenter and Wain’ and pray for rain. I can’t remember the last time a team counted on so many relief pitchers to contribute as starters. It’s gone the other way–Dustin Hermanson, John Smoltz, Jon Papelbon, etc.–but rarely can a staff full of long relievers contribute division-winning appearances. Jocketty knew his rotation was in shambles and passed on all of the significant starters on the market; perhaps he knows something we don’t.
This version of the Cardinals doesn’t seem to be as strong as the one from 2006 which limped its way to an average record. If Jocketty acquires a starter–maybe Steve Trachsel, or a journeyman via a trade–then St. Louis might be able to make a push. So far, it seems as if the Pirates have a chance. We’ll see if that trend continues as I examine the Houston Astros in “Climbing Out of the Canyon – Part 2.”

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

The Ugliest Alternate Jersey I've Ever Seen

Next Story »

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 1

  • http://nationalsportsreview.blogspot.com nicolas

    you’re mostly right, cory. just a couple notes:
    there probably won’t be a battle. reyes and wells will likely be in the rotation until they pitch themselves out of it. (so my guess…carp, reyes, wells, wain, ?)
    they aren’t filling the rotation with relievers, wainwright and thompson were just like jon papelbon in boston, aka they were going to be starters all along, they were just brought up as relievers to gradually work themselves in, and they’ll join the rotation now that there is room.
    if you believe what the scouts and fans would tell you, that first four has the *cough* potential to be reasonably impressive.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Time to nitpick the nitpicker, Nicolas.
    I said Carpenter will certainly be #1. That’s easy.
    Then, the battle is for #2–either Wells or Reyes.
    The other is at #3, without a doubt–at least until Mulder is healthy.
    Then comes the mix of Wainwright (who, you’re right, was a starter in AAA) and the relievers. Thompson hasn’t been a regular starter since 2004–and went an entire season without a start before getting some AAA work in ’06. Think of him as a Marty McLeary type. Looper hasn’t started since Single A ball–a decade. If Wainwright is needed as a closer again (should Isringhausen not recover well from injury), then the #4-5 starters will be career relievers.
    That is not impressive. The overwhelming majority of what I’ve read has guessed Reyes will struggle and Wells will be his typical average self. On the Pirates, both would be a fifth starter.
    In short: This is not Carpenter, Suppan, Weaver, Marquis, Mulder, Reyes. The Cards’ staff is, at best, mediocre. I can’t believe that Jocketty didn’t do more to improve his rotation this off-season.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates/2007/01/29/climbing-out-of-the-canyon-part-2/ Pittsburgh Lumber Co. | MVN – Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Climbing Out of the

    […] On Saturday, I started the Climbing Out of the Canyon series with Part 1, which previewed the 2007 Cardinals.  Continuing on down the ‘06 final standings, I’m ready for Part 2 and the Houston Astros. […]

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates/2007/01/30/climbing-out-of-the-canyon-part-3/ Pittsburgh Lumber Co. | MVN – Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Climbing Out of the

    […] Onward we go in the series of season previews of the NL Central’s teams.  Part 1 covered the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and Part 2 went over the Astros.  Journeying down the 2006 standings, we next come to the Cincinnati Reds as I attempt to find out if 2007 will be the year that the Pirates’ 14-year-long losing streak is snapped. […]

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates/2007/02/04/climbing-out-of-the-canyon-part-4/ Pittsburgh Lumber Co. | MVN – Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Climbing Out of the

    […] Finally we come to the first improved team in the NL Central as I continue to preview the 2007 division. St. Louis (Part 1), Houston (Part 2) and Cincinnati (Part 3) failed to impress me–it seems as if an overachieving Pirates squad could hang with those teams. Milwaukee, however, is a different story. […]

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates/2007/02/10/climbing-out-of-the-canyon-part-5/ Pittsburgh Lumber Co. | MVN – Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Climbing Out of the

    […] The Cubs are the last team left in my 2007 preview of the NL Central. St. Louis (Part 1), Houston (Part 2) and Cincinnati (Part 3) failed to impress me–it seems as if an overachieving Pirates squad could hang with those teams. Milwaukee (Part 4) was a different story; they got better in the off-season. And Chicago? […]

Latest Analysis

  • Keller Supak Hinsz

    Even With the New Draft Rules, the Pirates Are Still Loading Up on Projectable Pitchers

    14 mins ago

    From 2008-2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent a lot of resources on projectable pitchers out of high school. So far, this approach has led to breakout performances from ...

    Read More
  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    1 day ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    2 days ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    3 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    5 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    6 days ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    1 week ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    1 week ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    2 weeks ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    2 weeks ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles

    More