I'm still abroad in India and will be for the remainder of the week. But I left behind another Inbox to keep you thinking about the Pirates and the upcoming 2011 season.
I'll be back in the States next week, so keep submitting your questions so my e-mail inbox is full when I return home. Well, maybe that wasn't the wisest request to make ...
I'm a fan of Ronny Cedeno. I like his hustle. But what about Pedro Ciriaco? He has Andrew McCutchen-like speed, is very good defensively and could bunt or single his way on. I'd certainly give him a chance to start at short. I think manager Clint Hurdle will treat Ciriaco differently than John Russell did. -- Donn F., Washington, Ill.
When the Pirates acquired Ciriaco last July, general manager Neal Huntington said that the organization was going to give him the time to see if he could develop into an everyday shortstop. To think that Ciriaco is ready to be a starter in the Majors this year, though, seems a bit premature.
The scouting report when Ciriaco arrived was that he had above-average range, speed and arm. It was his ability with the bat that seemed most at question. What Ciriaco did at the plate in Triple-A last year should be somewhat encouraging, as he certainly showed more offensive potential than did Argenis Diaz -- who was also once thought to be a potential Major League middle infielder. But Ciriaco hasn't shown better overall tools than Cedeno to this point.
Ciriaco will come into camp a candidate to be a backup middle infielder. His defensive ability and speed would make him an asset off the bench.
Hopefully, the Pirates do reach that 70-win plateau, which would be a 13-win improvement. However, if they don't show decent improvement with Huntington's contract being up at the end of next year, will he return? I really hope he returns to finish what he is doing. I know all the trades he made seem risky, but I think this is going be a World Series contender in a few years. -- Derek S., Bradford, Pa.
Ultimately, the job security of a GM is determined more by the on-field results of the Major League club than anything else. There is a certain grace period allotted to any person who steps into the GM role, as he needs to be able to put his stamp on an organization before his decisions can be fairly evaluated.
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Without question, Huntington came into a situation in Pittsburgh where wholesale changes were needed at both the Major League and Minor League levels. He made some unpopular trades that he felt were necessary, and he put a heavy focus on drafting and developing. But the transition is mostly done, and this looks to be the year where Huntington truly can start to be evaluated.
If the Pirates do not show improvement in the won-loss column, yes, Huntington's job will be in jeopardy. He has now hired his second manager/coaching staff, and nearly all of the players on the club's 40-man roster were brought in by him. The fact that Huntington's contract has not been extended already suggests that his future will be partially tied to the team's 2011 showing.
Do you see a chance that Garrett Jones could be traded in the near future? I hope not. He has put up good numbers in his few years in the Majors. -- Rich K., Ladson, S.C.
I've been surprised before, but in this case, I don't see Jones going anywhere right now. The biggest concern with Jones was his ability to hit left-handers, and the Pirates solved that by signing Matt Diaz to complement Jones in right field. As a platoon player, Jones has the potential to be a key in Pittsburgh's lineup. Getting him out of the cleanup spot -- which the Pirates should have the flexibility to do this year -- will help, too, in my opinion.
Also, keep in mind that Jones still has less than two years of service time and is extremely affordable. He made $425,000 last season and won't see too big of a jump in that salary this year. That's a bargain if Jones can continue his success against right-handed pitchers.
I think the Pirates are going to be much better off with Hurdle as the skipper. However, his psyche is not going to sit well with some players. Therefore, do you believe there are going to be some "must trades" before the season starts? -- Larry D., Hampton, Va.
I'm not sure I'm following where you are going with this question, but no, there are no players on the roster that the Pirates feel have to be traded before April 1. In fact, from the conversations I have had with players since Hurdle was hired, enthusiasm is high. Sure, there may be a point where certain players don't buy into what Hurdle is preaching, but that's not the case right now.
Without question, Hurdle will make a mark on the club in a different way than Russell did. Whether or not players respond to that will be determined many, many months from now.
Where do you think Tony Sanchez will start next year? Do you think he has a chance to begin in Indianapolis? -- Lee H., Salem, W. Va.
I'd anticipate Sanchez starting the year with Double-A Altoona. Had Sanchez not missed significant time with a jaw injury last year, he could have been in position to begin the year in Triple-A. But as it was, Sanchez never got to Altoona last year as anticipated.
Though Sanchez won't begin the year in Indianapolis, don't rule out the former first-round pick being promoted there midseason. The Pirates saw Sanchez as a candidate to move through the Minor League system fairly quickly, and that could still be the case.
That said, Sanchez has some areas needing improvement before we begin talking about him being close to Pittsburgh. He must continue to improve on his game calling, and he can get better with his catch-and-throw and receiving ability.