By John Perrotto
Photo: David Hague – Inside Pittsburgh Sports
The Pirates’ 2009 season was in its final ugly days when manager John Russell began looking forward to 2010.
“This was sort of a unique season in that it was almost like we had two different teams, one before the trades and one after,” the manager. “It was tough for the fact you were bringing a lot of players from a lot of different organizations and putting together in the middle of the season.
“Things will be different next year. We’ll go through a full spring training together. Everyone will know everyone else better. Everyone will have a better understanding of the Pirates’ way of doing everything. I’m excited about it.”
It is understandable why Russell and the rest of the Pirates want to put 2009 in the rearview mirror as they went 62-99 and finished with the second-worst record in the major leagues behind Washington (58-104).
It marked the Pirates’ fifth straight season with at least 94 losses and their 17th in a row under .500, the longest streak in major North American professional sports history. They also finished last in the six-team National League Central for a third consecutive year.
“Nobody is happy with how this season turned out,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “A 99-loss season is unacceptable on any level.”
It was a most unique season, though, as Huntington made seven trades from June 3-July 30, purging the roster of most of the veterans and replacing them with young major-leaguers and prospects. By the time the season was over, just 12 players remained from the opening-day roster.
The Pirates finished the season with the second-youngest roster in the major leagues behind Cleveland. The Pirates were so young that none of their players are eligible to become free agents this upcoming offseason.
On the other hand, the Pirates have some money to spend in free agency after stripping their payroll down to the $25-million range with the trades. While the Pirates won’t be in the hunt for any stars, they feel they can plug some holes with some younger veterans who might also help stabilize a clubhouse full of inexperienced players.
Russell would like to see the Pirates add a power hitter as they were 15th in the NL with an average of 3.96 runs scored a game.
“I think it’s fairly obvious we’re short a bat with power,” Russell said. “I’m a big believer that you win with pitching and defense. Still, you’ve got to score some runs for your pitchers, too. We have trouble consistently putting runs on the board.”
To that end, there are a number of players who the Pirates are at least considering making offers to when free agency begins 15 days after the last game of the World Series.
Among the names said to be being bandied about by the Pirates’ decision makers are: corner infielders Hank Blalock and Andy Tracy, infielders Bobby Crosby, Khalil Greene and
Felipe Lopez and outfielders Rick Ankiel and Rocco Baldelli.
The Pirates would also like to add a reliable left-handed reliever but Russell realizes that task might be difficult.
“Us and 29 other clubs are looking for left-handers,” he said.
The Pirates have been burned many times in the past on the free-agent market by signing players whose attitudes turned sour once the losses began mounting, including utility man Eric Hinske this year. However, Huntington insists character will count in addition to playing ability as he looks to improve the Pirates.
“We’re not going to go crazy in free agency but we do feel there are some players who can help us,” Huntington said. “We want to make sure they are the right fit, both on the field and in the clubhouse. With a young team like ours, you want to bring in players who want to be here and be a positive influence.”