By John Perrotto
Photo: David Hague – Inside Pittsburgh Sports
The Pirates aren’t on pace to having the worst record in their history. It only seems that way.
At the traditional midpoint of the season, the Pirates are 30-58. That is the worst record in the National League and just one game behind the Baltimore Orioles, who are 29-59, for the worst record in the major leagues.
That would put the Pirates on pace to finish 55-107, which would be their worst record since the 1952 club of Ralph Kiner, Joe Garagiola and Tony Bartirome went 42-112.
The Pirates start the second half Friday night when they host the Houston Astros at PNC Park following a four-day break for the All-Star Game. Considering the Pirates would need a miraculous 51-23 finish to avoid an 18th consecutive losing season, let’s take a look at five things they should do between now and the end of the season.
*1. Make any trades that will bring back prospects with high-end talent in exchange for players who have no chance of being around if the Pirates ever actually do get good.
The three most logical players to trade are left-hander starters Zach Duke and Paul Maholm and switch-hitting catcher Ryan Doumit. All three are under club control through the end of next season, which would seemingly make them attractive trade pieces and net something in return.
Closer Octavio Dotel could help a contending team in a set-up role but it’s doubtful the Pirates would get a high-level prospect for him. Right-handed reliever D.J. Carrasco also has his uses but the Pirates couldn’t expect more than a grade C prospect for him.
*2. Ride it out with the rookies.
The Pirates have three rookies in their lineup with Neil Walker at second base, Pedro Alvarez playing third base and Jose Tabata in left field. Right-handed rotation mates Brad Lincoln and Daniel McCutchen are also rookies.
The Pirates need to find out if any or all five of these players can be part of their future and not give in to the temptation of playing veterans just to add a few more wins. With the Pirates on a 107-loss pace, they have nothing to lose by giving the rookies plenty of playing time.
*3. Give some more youngsters a look.
While the Pirates have raided Class AAA Indianapolis of most of its good players, there are still a few guys at their top farm club who are intriguing, notably left-handed reliever Danny Moskos (8G – 7.1IP – 2.45 ERA), second baseman Jim Negrych (.302 – 3HR – 9RBI), shortstop Argenis Diaz (.254 – 0HR – 22RBI) and center fielder Alex Presley (.288 – 3HR – 5RBI).
Moskos has made a phoenix-like return to prominence this season with a switch to the bullpen and it would be interesting to see if he, Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan could give the Pirates a young and imposing short relief corps.
Negrych can hit and could develop into an intriguing left-handed bench bat. Diaz can field and heaven knows the Pirates could use some defense at shortstop. Presley has never been considered a top prospect but has hit for the cycle twice this season, once with Class AA Altoona and then with Indianapolis, which has to be worth something.
*4. Play Lastings Milledge.
Manager John Russell is absolutely in love with veteran outfielder Ryan Church but for no apparent reason. Milledge is the future and Church should be the past.
Milledge’s name should be in the lineup every day between now and the end of the season to find out if he can live up to his pedigree of being a first-round draft choice of the New York Mets.
*5. Evaluate club president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and Russell.
The management triumvirate has been together for 2 ½ seasons and the Pirates’ record just keeps getting worse. The talent level in the minor leagues is better than it was when Coonelly and Huntington took over, for sure, but the success of a franchise is ultimately determined by victories at the major-league level. If the Pirates don’t soon start showing some progress in that department then changes are going to be necessary.
John Perrotto is the editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist at the Beaver County Times