Pirates minicamp: Huntington says roster mostly set
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates' roster, despite precious few changes this offseason, is pretty much set for 2008.
"From a substantial additions standpoint, yeah, I think we are," general manager Neal Huntington said during a break at the team's minicamp. "There are still a lot of free agents out there, guys who need jobs who might add depth, so we're not done looking. At the same time, we're still willing to listen if somebody has a deal to make this organization better."
If nothing more happens, that will mean the Pirates are keeping together essentially the same group that went 68-94 last season, made no notable acquisitions beyond the signing of utility infielder Chris Gomez and five waiver claims, lost relievers Shawn Chacon and Salomon Torres without finding comparable replacements and added no significant talent to the minor-league system.
Not much cause for excitement, to be sure, and not much indication the team is attempting to improve in 2008 or focus on the future.
Huntington is aware of both counts, and he addressed that and more in a wide-ranging interview at Pirate City.
His top priority, as he stressed repeatedly, is the future.
"I would say there is a pretty good nucleus in place with the major-league roster, particularly the rotation. I would argue, too, that, if you go around the diamond with our everyday players, there are as many as five who underachieved last year. If just three of those five meet or exceed expectations, those 68 wins become greater."
Those five likely included Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, Ronny Paulino and Xavier Nady.
"At the same time, we're realistic," Huntington continued. "We know this team lost 94 games last year, and we don't want to bury our heads in the sand and say, well, things are just going to get better. We have to think not just about the 2008 club but also the 2009 club, the 2010 club. That's what we need to be talking about here, the whole organization getting better, not just the major-league club. We want to be a championship-caliber organization."
Then, why have the Pirates not committed to a total rebuilding, similar to that the Oakland Athletics now are employing with the recent trades of pitcher Dan Haren and outfielder Nick Swisher for a bounty of prospects?
"It's a great question," Huntington replied. "Quite frankly, you can't really rebuild and compete at the same time. But I also don't think we're really in the position to just blow it up, and that's probably the fine line we're walking right now. We can't pull the plug just because this team lost 94 games. The fact is, we haven't been presented with an organizational-changing trade."
Huntington has made no secret of his wish to make a trade in the Haren-Swisher mold for legitimate prospects to replenish a barren system, and he was known to have had many discussions regarding Bay and Nady. But other teams were wary of Bay's subpar 2007, in which he batted .247 with more knee trouble, and of Nady again failing to establish himself as everyday material because of various injuries.
On the Dec. 4 night the Pirates and Cleveland discussed a five-player trade involving Bay, it was the Pirates who backed off because the Indians refused to include a top prospect in the package. A similar scenario happened with the Chicago White Sox.
That prompted something of a retrenchment, as management decided last month that the players for whom they were entertaining trades could be more valuable once other teams see them perform at their peak in 2008.
Or, if the right phone call comes, a trade could happen sooner.
"As we've said before, there is going to come a time when we make some difficult decisions, maybe some unpopular decisions," Huntington said. "But, if the right deal is there for these major-league players that helps us build the 2009, 2010, 2011 club, we have to contemplate it."
For the moment, the team is not known to be involved in any significant trade talks. That includes, Huntington added, anything involving his young starters, all of whom he sees as part of the long-term core.
"We feel good about where we're headed, in large part because of our starters. And we feel good about a lot of other things, too. There has been a lot of activity behind the scenes, a lot that's gone into making this organization better. I can tell you that we're not looking at measuring ourselves by how we do over days or weeks or months. We want to be successful for years to come."
NOTES -- Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Olivo Astacio and Yoslan Herrera each had a seamless bullpen session yesterday. Each threw about 20 pitches. Ian Snell is expected to pitch today. ... No other pitchers will be arriving: John Grabow is recovering from bronchitis and was told to stay home in Arizona, and three others having visa delays -- Luis Munoz, Romulo Sanchez and Ronald Belisario -- will not make it. ... The Pirates have sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Chicago Cubs to complete the teams' July 19 trade that brought infielder Cesar Izturis to Pittsburgh.
First Published January 10, 2008 12:00 am