At this time next week, the book on the 2007 season will be closed. It's been a year of growing pains for a young team, but don't underestimate how much a strong homestand this week could help heading into the offseason.
Don't forget to keep your Bucs questions coming throughout the offseason. After a one-week hiatus next week, the mailbag will be a weekly installment, carrying you up to -- drum roll please -- Spring Training 2008. It's your job to keep me busy all winter.
Well, I recently turned another year older, which they say makes you wiser. You can be the judge as I take a stab at your questions in this season-ending edition...
With a new team president and, eventually, a new GM, there will be expectations to win. Will these guys have to do it with a $40-$45 million payroll, or is it expected that the Pirates will increase payroll?
-- Tim R., Chicago
While owner Bob Nutting hasn't announced a specific number, the club's payroll will fall within the $40-50 million range next season. The good news is that the organization feels that it already has many of the pieces in place for a winning team. The bad news (if you want to look at it that way) is that even with the slight increase in payroll, there's not going to be a huge surplus of money to take to the free agent market. That's because the Pirates have to set aside millions for a number of players (among them, Xavier Nady, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche) who are arbitration-eligible and will therefore see an increase in salary.
The Pirates are eyeing a GM whose strength is evaluating young talent so that those expectations to win will be built up from through the Minor League rungs up. Both Nutting and new team president Frank Coonelly are going to devote resources to building talent from within, which is more cost effective and also proven to be effective (see: Brewers, 2007) if done right.
Will the Pirates trade Adam LaRoche or Zach Duke? Or maybe Damaso Marte? What about Jason Bay? Where will Jack Wilson go?
-- Adam C., Sioux City, Iowa
Whoa, slow down there, Adam. There's no need to panic that all your favorite players are going to be wearing new uniforms next year. Before I do answer your question, though, I'm going to preface this by saying that until the club hires a new GM, it's unfair -- and really, somewhat unproductive -- to project who the club may shop around and who it will view as a cornerstone for the future.
I wouldn't expect LaRoche or Duke to be going anywhere. LaRoche wasn't brought in as a one year replacement, and many in the Pirates' current upper management believe the real Duke is the prodigy that posed a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts in 2005, not the one who struggled through the 2007 season injured.
Marte is signed through next season, set to make $2 million -- a bargain for one of the game's best left-handed specialists this year. Though, that's not to say that the Pirates won't field -- and listen to -- offers for him. Because Bay's season was not as strong as his previous two, his value is likely not as high as the Pirates would like it to be if they were interested in entertaining offers.
Wilson proves to be the true wild card. It's very unlikely the Pirates would both exercise the option on Cesar Izturis' contract and keep Wilson. That would account for just under $12 million. That said, Wilson is set to make $6.5 million next year and with the way he has produced since Aug. 1, it would be hard to find a better option at short, even for the money Wilson will be making. Determining who the team's shortstop will be next year will be one of the first moves the new GM will make.
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Now that Terry Ryan has stepped down as Twins general manager, is it possible that the Pirates could hire him? He has built the Twins the same way the Pirates need to be built.
-- Phil S., Pittsburgh
There's no doubt that Ryan fits the GM mold that the Pirates are trying to fill. Ryan was a fantastic talent evaluator during his 13 years as the Twins' GM and built a perennial contender with a payroll not significantly higher than that of the Pirates. However, Ryan may fit the mold, but he won't fill it.
Ryan's decision to step down was singularly on his own accord. Citing a growing disenchantment with the position, Ryan rescinded his position as GM, though he will stay on as a senior advisor in the Twins' front office staff. If Ryan desired to still be a GM, he'd be doing it in Minnesota. He didn't step down in Minnesota to catch on as another team's GM, and therefore, wouldn't have interest in relocating to Pittsburgh.
Will Steve Pearce and Nyjer Morgan be a part of the big league club next season, or will they stay in Triple-A for a few more seasons?
-- Seth B., Lisbon, Ohio
Pearce and Morgan have both performed like they belong in the Majors during their three-week stint with the club. As a result, there definitely shouldn't be a few more seasons in Triple-A for either one. Looking forward to next spring, I would expect Morgan to make the Opening Day roster, considering the fact that he would have been with the team earlier this year if it hadn't been for his injured hand and that he has left a great impression in the big leagues this month.
Pearce has a good chance of making the team out of Spring Training as well, though I wouldn't be surprised to see him start out at Indianapolis only to be recalled by the Pirates mid-season. Either way, he's proven that he is ready.
Any word on who the Bucs are sending to the Hawaii Winter Baseball league? We were lucky to see Morgan last year. After seeing him last winter, I wasn't at all surprised to see him in make it to the Majors.
-- Evan P., Honolulu
The Pirates are going to send two position players and two pitchers to Hawaii this fall. Outfielders Jamie Romak and Brad Corley, both of whom spent the majority of the season at Class A Lynchburg, will be playing for North Shore Honu. They will be joined by Hickory left-hander Charles Benoit and righty Blair Johnson. Hickory coach Ryan Newman will also be headed to Hawaii to serve on the coaching staff.
I am from Cleveland and there's a lot of talk about the Indians trading Andy Marte and Josh Barfield. What would you think about a Marte and Barfield for Bay trade?
-- Clay, Cleveland
So, Clay, I have to start off by asking if you are among the Tribe faithful? We don't discriminate among loyalty lines here in the Bucs mailbag; however, this trade proposal seems to address an area needing an upgrade in Cleveland but not so much for the club here in Pittsburgh.
With second base locked up by Freddy Sanchez, where would Barfield fit in the mix? And when it comes to Marte's third base position, the Pirates have a present (Jose Bautista), future (Neil Walker) and even wild card (a position change for Xavier Nady?) option.
If -- and that should be more appropriately written as a capital "IF" -- the Pirates looked to move Bay in the offseason, which I don't expect to be the case, they would really have to be enticed by an offer that would, in turn, address areas of need. I wouldn't classify second and third base under those categories, and I wouldn't tag Marte and Barfield as being an extremely enticing exchange.
Is there any chance that Chris Duffy returns to the Pirates organization next year? If not, then do you think he can catch on with another team?
-- Bob Z., Oakmont, Pa.
The chances aren't good. The Pirates are inundated with outfielders -- Bay, Nady, Pearce, Morgan, Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth, to name a few -- and Duffy doesn't offer the team anything that one of the other outfielders doesn't. When Duffy was healthy, his speed was as threatening as anyone's, and he manned center field much like Morgan does now. Assuming that Duffy's recovery from shoulder surgery goes as planned, he should at the least get a Spring Training invite from another club.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.