Pirates dream staff may be a reality

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What a sweet ring there is to the names ...

Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee. Roy Oswalt. Cole Hamels.

Is it so wrong to dream?

Charlie Morton. Jameson Taillon. Stetson Allie. Luis Heredia. Gerrit Cole.

I'm here this morning to tell you I'm dreaming.

I have absolutely no problem with the Pirates taking Cole No. 1 in the Major League Baseball draft Monday night.

The Philadelphia Phillies bought their dream rotation of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels. Halladay came in a trade from the Toronto Blue Jays and was given a three-year, $60 million contract extension through 2013. Lee signed as a free agent in the winter for five years, $120 million. Oswalt came in a trade from the Houston Astros and is making $16 million this season. Hamels is the only core starter to come through the Phillies' minor league system.

Nice if you can do it that way.

The Pirates can't.

They have to develop a dream rotation. They traded with the Atlanta Braves for the young, raw and inexpensive Morton and have helped him become, at least so far this season, one of the best pitchers in the National League. They drafted Taillon and Allie one-two out of high school last June. They signed Heredia as a prized 16-year-old free agent out of Mexico in August. They added Cole, a right-hander with a power arm out of UCLA.

If two of the five pitchers stay healthy and become stars, the Pirates should put together a string of winning seasons for as long as they are able to keep them.

If three become stars, they should compete for division championships.

If four become stars ...

I think I mentioned it's OK to dream.

The experts say Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who dropped to the No. 6 pick because of ankle and shoulder injuries and was taken by the Washington Nationals, is a safer pick than Cole because hitters flame out less often than pitchers. Those same people also say the Pirates blew it last year by taking Taillon instead of Miami high school shortstop Manny Machado, who was hitting .320 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 94 at-bats through Sunday in Class A ball. Maybe they'll be proven right. Maybe Machado will grow up to be the next Alex Rodriguez. Maybe Rendon will turn into another Evan Longoria.

Maybe.

You might have heard there are no guarantees, even for position players.

The Pirates picked Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez No. 2 overall in 2008. It's great that he made it to the big leagues last season. But are you prepared to say he's a lock to become a great player?

No, I'm right there with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington on this Cole pick.

"Pitching is a game of attrition. You never have too much," he said. "It's the most precious commodity in our game."

Rough translation: If you are the Pirates, and you have enough good pitchers, you can trade a couple one day to get the power hitter or the shortstop that you haven't been able to develop in your system.

It's always easier to trade for hitters than pitchers.

That's why it would have been OK if the Pirates had selected Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, who went to the Seattle Mariners with the No. 2 pick. A lot of baseball people will tell you he's a safer choice than Cole because he's more major league-ready. But if you're the Pirates, and you have lost for 18-going-on-19 seasons in a row, and you have a low payroll, and your owner has limited resources, do you really want to play it safe? Don't you want to try to hit the proverbial home run instead of settling for a double? If the Pirates had been really bold, they would have taken Kansas high school center fielder Bubba Starling, considered by many to be the best athlete in the draft. He went No. 5 to the Kansas City Royals, who could have a tough time signing him because he has accepted a football scholarship to play at Nebraska.

But Cole will do. He throws it 100 mph at times, which makes him more intriguing than anyone on the draft board. Hultzen might beat him to the big leagues, but Cole could have a better, longer career. That's the way Huntington and his scouting staff are looking at it, anyway.

Who knows?

Maybe Cole will be among those two or three or four core starters for the Pirates for a long time.

And if he's not?

If none of the other three kids make it big, and if Morton, somehow, slips back?

Forget that dream.

We're talking about a nightmare.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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