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We’re just over three months into the Neal Huntington/Frank Coonelly administration in Pittsburgh, and they’re taking a pretty gutsy approach to this offseason: they’re doing nothing. Barely a peep.

And it’s hard to say that they’re not on the right track.

Huntington has been quoted as saying that the situation is even worse than he had thought coming in, which shouldn’t be terribly surprising. This was the worst team in the inferior league by both winning percentage and run differential, and their minor league system is slim, at best.

Complicating matters is the fact that that the Pirates are now staring down the barrel at a sixteenth straight losing season, which would tie a Major League record. Their fan base is justifiably turned off, and will only have so much interest in more Ryan Doumit bobbleheads.

But instead of making a splash for appearances’ sake, or doing anything under the sun to try to win 81 games next year, the Pirates seem to be going about this the right way. The best strategy for the long term is to hold tight, and not rush into bad contracts or pointless trades. Winning 81 games has some value when your team is on the way up; doing so with expensive retreads has none.

So what should they be doing? Here’s a general outline of what my plan would be, in chronological order:

  1. Shop Freddy Sanchez. I’ve written this several times before. It would be extremely unpopular in Pittsburgh, few would understand it, and the Pirates would have to reschedule a couple of those bobblehead days. But it’s undoubtedly the right move. Sanchez is a decent enough player, but he’s got more on his resume (batting champion, two time All-Star) than someone with his ability should. Trading him now is a sell-high move, especially since he is still cheap for the foreseeable future. The Pirates need too many pieces to be clinging to this single, moderately valuable one.
  2. Spend Money in the Draft. Spend money in the draft. Spend money in the draft. New CEO Frank Coonelly spent the last few years as MLB’s watchdog for draft slot bonuses, which could spell trouble. But I can’t imagine this administration not realizing that this was perhaps the key area in which Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield failed. Yes, there were some terrible trades and free agent signings along the way. But the Pirates simply haven’t developed quality players over the last fifteen years, despite having high draft choices year in and year out. The best way to do so is to go above slot, and the old administration consistently refused. With all the fuss about Daniel Moskos this past June, I can’t imagine that Coonelly and Huntington would fall into this same trap.
  3. Wait/hope for other players to peak. Here’s looking at you, Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, Matt Capps, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, et al. Some of these players have value; none will be around when the Pirates are competitive. Nobody on this roster should be untouchable, including Ian Snell. But the key is to trade each at their peak value. At this second, none are.

With all that said, the Pirates’ plan of action this offseason should be to find a market for Freddy Sanchez, and keep their ears open for any other offers that come their way. If they can find a way to convince somebody else to pay part of Matt Morris’s contract, all the better.

In reality, they probably won’t consider trading Sanchez. But the Pirates still seem to be taking the right approach. They’ve brought in some scrapheap talent (Chris Gomez, Ty Taubenheim, Josh Wilson) and cleaned house a bit (Shawn Chacon, Jose Castillo, Brad Eldred). But they’ve stayed away from the Jose Guillen-types, and resisted trading Bay for anything but his top potential value.

We’ll have to wait until the first major move (or June’s draft) until we can really start evaluating Huntington and the new staff. But so far, so good.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

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  1. on January 1st at 06:38 am
    Brandon Heikoop said:

    I think the Pirates probably received as much as they will for Bay unless he bounces back big time. If he continues to slip, no way another team offers a Cliff Lee, Frankin Gutierrez and some for him. However, if he bounces back, maybe they can make another Brian Giles type trade, hoping the new regime can see beyond 3 years.

    I would also think getting whatever they can for Jack Wilson would be a good idea. Get his contract off the books and stop allowing fans to fall in love with him.

    Another idea, and this is one not enough managers utilize, would be signing a couple rehab-ish contracts. One year deals with lots of incentives to players who are looking to make come backs. A Matt Clement comes to mind. Or a Kris Benson, Bartolo Colon? Really, anyone who can be had for a one year deal would be a great idea for this team. Not so much to win, but, first to ‘pretend’ to show fans that they are trying and second, to flip these players at the deadline for minor league talent. If those players don’t pan out, you dropped $10M on a few players who were playing for their own contracts anyways - see Kevin Millwood (2005).