Neal Huntington used his first couple of years with the Pirates to replace Dave Littlefield’s aging core with a younger version of his own. With that process nearly complete, it is time for him to begin piecing together a major league team that can compete with the rest of the league. Here are the expected 2010 starting position players, along with an approximate expected WAR value (rounded to the nearest 0.5 win). To determine expected WAR, I combined CHONE’s offensive projections with each player’s UZR/150 at his expected position. Ryan Doumit and Jeff Clement lacked UZR data, so I assigned each -5 defensive runs.
Going through the list, there are five players that we can expect to be average to slightly above average. The three major holes are first base, shortstop and right field. Two of those holes could easily be filled within the next year by Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez. By 2011, they should replace Clement and one of Iwamura, LaRoche or Jones. Assuming Alvarez and Tabata live up to expectations, the Pirates could be looking at a lineup with seven above average players by the end of 2010. Of those seven players, McCutchen, Alvarez and Tabata have star potential, and Milledge and LaRoche could potentially turn out a couple of All-Star level seasons during their prime years.
I have previously discussed the fact that Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, Kevin Hart and Brad Lincoln could combine to create a pretty solid starting rotation. The bullpen is the last portion of a team to build, as it can be done quickly and inexpensively.
For the first time in years, it is becoming easy to envision a winning Pirates team in the near future.