The Pirates are in full-sale rebuilding mode, and it’s a bit painful to watch. As division rivals go, the Pirates have been so bad for so long that it’s hard to hate them. It’s hard to watch them dismantle like this, and not feel kind of bad for their long-suffering fans.
Even up in Milwaukee, where the briefest amount of success seems to have gone to their heads, the lessons being taught in Pittsburgh are important ones for the NL Central. A lot of fuss is made about the Cubs’ World Series drought. The truth is, that with the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals, who won it all in 2006, no current NL Central team has won the World Series since the Cincinnati Reds in 1990.
And all across the division, in varying degrees, are teams that can learn a lesson from the Pirates, who in the last month have traded away Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Adam LaRoche, Nyjer Morgan, Eric Hinske, and Nate McLouth. It seems that virtually any recognizable player from the organization is gone.
It’s not hard to see why. Pittsburgh is a small-market team, playing by small-market rules. They don’t have the money to attract top free agents, or to sign the best prospects in the Rule 4 draft. They have to make up for their lack of revenue with a lot of guile – and guile has been missing in Pittsburgh for quite some time.
The Reds and Brewers have found success in recent years by re-tooling their farm system. The Cubs and Astros have been able to add key free agents. The Cardinals have been able to add a mix of both – a good farm system and a reasonable amount of free agents – along with a healthy dose of luck and Dave Duncan. The Pirates, in addition to a weak revenue stream, don’t have a very good farm system, either. And they certainly don’t have much luck.
There but for the grace of the baseball gods go the NL Central.
In a way, I admire their commitment to re-building. Though I’d think McLouth would be exactly the sort of player you could rebuild around, they seem to want to start fresh.
In today’s 12-0 disaster of a game with the Cubs, it was not hard to view the Astros as the old, tired men that they are. Mike Hampton certainly showed his age. So did Doug Brocail. But for a small handful of players – Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Wesley Wright, and now Bud Norris – the Astros look to be reaching the end of their rope. Maybe when Lance Berkman returns from the DL, he will breathe new life into the Chris Costes and Geoff Blums of the world, but it seems unlikely.
And as someone asked me today, rather poignantly, “When will Miguel Tejada‘s trade value ever be higher?”
When indeed? One wonders if a back end rotation of Norris, Yorman Bazardo, and Jeff Fulchino could do much worse than one of Hampton, Brian Moehler, and Russ Ortiz.
The Bud Norris Era has officially begun.
In what quickly became a laugher, the one thing that held Astros fans’ interest was Norris’s much-anticipated debut. And it was a good one. He came out of the gate throwing with good velocity and nice placement. Perhaps a bit tentative coming inside, but overall a very strong outing for Norris, who threw three innings of relief ball, with 4 strikeouts, a four-pitch walk to the opposing pitcher, 3 hits, and a single run allowed.
Someone recently suggested to me that it would be wonderful if the Astros could carry two General Managers: Ed Wade to revitalize the farm system, and someone else to handle the big league stuff. It doesn’t seem like a terrible idea, as Wade has done wonders already with the Astros minor leagues.
One move in particular came this offseason, when he paid $12,000 in the Rule 5 Draft to acquire outfielder Drew Locke, now with the Corpus Christi Hooks. Locke is having the season of his life in the Texas League: A pair of home runs in tonight’s game put him at 15 – tying a career high. He also surpassed his previous-best RBI total, with 92.
Hunter Pence currently holds the franchise record with 95 RBI in a single minor league season. Locke is on pace to shatter that number.
Notes From The Farm
A few notes: RP Erick Abreu was called up to Round Rock to replace the roster spot left by Norris’ departure. Abreu has now served time on three teams: Lancaster, Corpus Christi, and Round Rock. In 39.0 innings at Corpus Christi, he was 3-0 with a 2.54 ERA and a 1.128 WHIP. He struck out one batter per inning. In his last three outings, he has thrown 10 shutout innings with just 2 hits.
Former Astros top prospect Jason Hirsh, who was dealt along with Willy Taveras to the Rockies for Jason Jennings in one of the most painful trades in Houston’s history, was traded by Colorado to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later.
Corpus Christi 2B Drew Meyer reached base safely today, extending his hitting streak to twelve games. This ties C Jason Castro for the longest such streaks in Corpus Christi this season.
What Happened Was…
Round Rock Express (AAA) – Memphis Redbirds’ (STL) SS Tyler Greene went deep in the first inning, and it looked like the Express might be in for another dogfight, but the Express pitching somehow managed to hold Memphis for the rest of the game, en route to a 3-1 victory. In an odd managerial twist, Greene was at shortstop with Khalil Greene filling in at third for the Redbirds. Jose Capellan won just his second decision of the year, striking out 5 in 6 innings, walking just one, and giving up just 3 hits, including the home run, to “lower” his ERA to 7.94. Geoff Geary, Samuel Gervacio, and Casey Daigle each struck out one, and each pitched one perfect inning in relief. 1B Mark Saccomanno continued his hot streak, going 3-for-4 with a 2-run home run.
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Behind Locke’s two home runs and the continuation of Meyer and 1B Mark Ori‘s hitting streaks, the Hooks cruised to an 8-1 win over the San Antonio Missions (SDP). Jason Castro was 3-for-4, as was Ori, who had a double. But the story may have been 30-year-old Kenny Baugh, who struck out 5 kids half his age in six innings. He allowed just 3 hits, one walk, and an unearned run. Daniel Meszaros threw three perfect relief innings, striking out two to earn his first Texas League save.
Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – The Jethawks overcame some very shaky pitching from Casey Hudspeth and Ashton Mowdy to derail the High Desert Mavericks (SEA) 10-7, and guess who got a home run. If you said OF Jonathan Gaston, you’d be correct. C/OF Koby Clemens chimed in with his twelfth tater of the year, as well, in a 4-for-5 night that also saw him hit a double. Fernando Abad struck out 3 of the 5 batters he faced to earn the save.
Lexington Legends (A) – 1B Brian Pellegrini hit a 3-run home run in the bottom of the fifth to put the Le
gends up 3-1, but they couldn’t hold on, as they lost a 5-3 decision to the Hagerstown Suns (WSN), thanks in large part to three critical fielding errors – 2 of them by 3B Eric Simunic. Simunic was 0-for-3 at the plate, but did manage to draw a walk, at which point he was caught stealing. It was not a banner night for him.
Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – There goes the sweep. Tri-City lost to the Lowell Spinners (BOS) 8-2. Which is fairly tame, really, when you consider that ValleyCats starter Brandt Walker lived up to his name – walking six Spinners in just 4.1 innings, and tossing in a pair of wild pitches for extra measure. At less of a disadvantage was Spinners starter Ryan Pressly, who struck out 7 in 4.2 innings. Lowell’s catcher, Daniel Butler, was beaned twice, by two different relief pitchers. No word on whether or not that’s a record. He reached base three times without the benefit of a hit, also, which is impressive. DH/OF J.D. Martinez once again led the Tri-City offense, going 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Greeneville Astros (R) – The Astros’ game against the Bristol Sox (CWS) was postponed due to rain. Whatever that is.
GCL Astros (R) – The GCL Astros had the night off. You’re welcome.
DSL Astros (R) – The DSL Astros also had the night off. No rookie league games today at all. What a bummer.