Outfielder Jason Bay, one of the Pirates' best players, stopped short of criticizing the team for its lack of roster moves this offseason. But he did express clear disappointment about it today.
"I kind of painted myself into a corner when I said last year that there needed to be some moves made, whether I was part of that or not," Bay said at the team's annual media luncheon at PNC Park. "And there were some moves, but probably not the type I was referring to. There was a lot of management and coaching moves. I still think there need to be player moves."
He stressed that settling for achieving a winning season, even after going 68-94 last season, even after 15 consecutive losing seasons, was not enough.
"I think that, for a championship-quality team, you need to make more moves. And I'm not talking about the .500 team we can be. I don't think anyone in this room is going to tell you we're a championship-quality team. There still needs to be more moves. And you know what? I'm not trying to tell people anything they don't already know."
The Pirates have made only one major-league free-agent signing this offseason, that for utility infielder Chris Gomez. There also have been five waiver claims, a Rule 5 draft pick and several minor-league contracts.
By every measure, the bullpen and bench have weakened, too, through the departures of Salomon Torres, Shawn Chacon, Josh Phelps and Cesar Izturis.
General manager Neal Huntington has shopped some his more prominent veterans for trades, including Bay, outfielder Xavier Nady, shortstop Jack Wilson and starter Matt Morris, but did not like any of the returns. He also negotiated with several free agents, particularly relievers, but did not like the value that any offered.
Bay is plenty aware that the Pirates tried to move him, just as he is aware that his backward-step 2007 lowered his value and that, if he performs to his abilities again, it likely is a matter of time before he is playing elsewhere.
He was asked if he might be distracted by trade speculation into the season.
"I read what you write," Bay told a reporter. "I understand that's part of the game. You go out and help your team win. You start worrying about stuff like that, it becomes a distraction. Right now, I'm a Pittsburgh Pirate."
Asked if he would prefer to be traded, he quickly replied, "No, not at all. I've always wanted to be a Pittsburgh Pirate. But I've wanted to play for a winning group of Pittsburgh Pirates. Hopefully, we can turn this team into a winner."
Told of Bay's comments about the Pirates' offseason, Huntington did not sound at all displeased.
"We aggressively pursued many pieces for the 2008 team," Huntington said. "We can't sign free agents just to appease the public. We can't make trades when players are at their lowest value just to make ourselves feel better."
He pointed, specifically, to the bullpen, which will enter spring training with four openings.
"That's the most difficult position to factor. You can throw money at it and be unsuccessful. You can try all power and be unsuccessful. What we're trying to do is create options. You see teams all around baseball, Cleveland, Kansas City, Anaheim and others who do it all different ways."
Huntington also did not hesitate when asked how he expected a 94-loss team to improve.
"It comes back to most of our guys are younger and, statistically, it is rational to expect them to be better. They should be getting better. We have a number of players -- and they'd be the first to admit this -- who underperformed. Look, we're not preaching that this team is going to contend. We can't do that. But we can say it will be better. How much better? It's going to be very, very interesting to see."
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.