Still sifting through the many Qs that arrived early in the week ...
Q: With Neal Huntington stating that no major free agents will be sought this offseason, coupled with John Russell saying "we have the pieces to win now," do they really believe this team will collectively have career years in 2008, or is this a PR move to placate the fans while maneuvering to rebuild?
It seems that, so far, the new front office is acting like the old in that they won't fully commit to rebuilding by cleaning house, due to the public backlash to such a plan. Yet, they don't have the budget to immediately improve the team.
Brian Winkler of Mesa, Ariz.
KOVACEVIC: Just before the end of the season, I described new management's approach as being one of have-their-cake-and-eat-it-too, and I have not seen anything since then to dissuade me.
Very clearly, the priority is on the future.
Just as clearly, anytime the subject of the importance of 2008 is raised, the Pirates are adamant that they will do all they can -within budget - to win.
We will see. This is a classic case where actions will speak infinitely louder than words. If a key piece is traded away for a minor-league return that cannot pay dividends for years, you will have a firm answer. If Josh Phelps is not replaced with a comparable bat for the bench, that will be telling, too. If nothing significant is done to address the starting pitching, or if Matt Morris is simply given away, that will be in the mix, too.
It should be clear here that there is no crime in the Pirates taking a future-minded approach. There certainly are enough people who feel that is the right path.
It is just that any masquerade about doing otherwise will be easily transparent without real action toward making the 2008 team better.
Q: Dejan, welcome back. You mentioned in your first update on your return that Neal Huntington had retained all of Dave Littlefield's personal brain trust. Yet Huntington has been quoted in the context of taking so long to hire replacements for Jim Tracy, Brian Graham and Ed Creech that the organization was in worse shape than he imagined, so the renovation process was taking even longer than he thought.
So my question is: What has actually changed so far and what will change, beyond nebulous things like more accountability and more pride?
Joel Charny of Washington, D.C.
KOVACEVIC: So far, Joel, many chiefs have changed but few Indians. (So to speak, given the Cleveland connections.) That could be because Huntington felt more comfortable in hiring people he already had seen face to face, because he does not yet have enough connections around the game to find new people or because he genuinely felt they were the best choices.
As for the rest, way too early to tell. Seeing accountability, pride and other "nebulous" variables in action will require actual baseball.
Q: Dejan, with Freddy Sanchez, Ronny Paulino, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady seemingly coming back to starting roles, how are we going to address the No. 1 offensive need ... speed?
Ralph Powell of North Versailles
KOVACEVIC: By giving Nate McLouth a legitimate shot at a starting job, whether that is in center field or even a corner outfield spot. If he and Nyjer Morgan both are starting, the speed disadvantage is ... well, not gone, but certainly addressed.
The other way the Pirates can address this issue, obviously, is through being healthier. Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady and Jose Bautista all were troubled most of the summer by injuries that - greatly, in some cases - made them well below average on the basepaths.
Until we pack up for Music City tomorrow ...