Before getting to your questions, I must first play messenger. I was taking some personal vacation time last Tuesday when an e-mail showed up on my Blackberry from former Pirates reliever Salomon Torres.
It was certainly a surprise to hear from Torres, especially considering he had announced his retirement just hours before. But Torres had a specific reason for e-mailing me, and he asked me to pass along a message to Pirates fans. Here is that message:
"... I would like you to write a thank you note to the Pirates, as well as the Pirates fans, for all
the good memories and the support they showed me and my family during six years. Pittsburgh is a wonderful city, a city I continue to call home. And I hope that in the near future your Pirates will win a pennant or, perhaps, a World Series.
As for me, my playing days are over. It is time for me to dedicate my time and energy to serve God fully and take care of my family, as well.
Your friend: Salomon Torres"
I took the liberty of thanking Torres -- on behalf of all of you -- for his contributions to the club. And I'm sure you would join me in wishing him much success as he moves on from baseball.
And now ... onto your questions.
How can the Pirates expect to move forward without veteran players such as Doug Mientkiewicz? I'm not saying replace Adam LaRoche with him, but he doesn't seem to be a bad player to have on the roster and is good leader. So, to really get to my question: Does Doug have a future in Pittsburgh or not?
-- Chris H., Fairmont, Pa.
Pirates management is hopeful that Mientkiewicz has a future in Pittsburgh. The Bucs are ready to make an offer, but the question remains whether it will be enough to keep Mientkiewicz from signing with another team with which he could have the possibility of earning a starting spot. That's something that Mientkiewicz is looking into right now.
One thing is for certain: Whether Mientkiewicz does return to Pittsburgh (and I'd set those odds at less than 50 percent), the Pirates certainly took note of his leadership and will want someone who can bring that same intensity and veteran presence on the team.
Do you think the Pirates should take a chance on someone such as Brad Penny? He had a down year with some injuries, but he could end up as a bargain.
-- Randy H., Tuscola, Ill.
The Pirates are certainly going to make a run at landing a veteran starter and one that they can sign for a reasonable sum. That takes the Bucs out of the running for your top-tier free-agent types. But you look at a guy such as Penny, and you see a pitcher who will likely seek out a short-term deal and will not need to be offered a high-dollar figure because of a down year last season. It's definitely a risk to sign a pitcher coming off shoulder problems, but there surely could be a nice reward if the former Los Angeles starter regains his form.
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There are a number of players that could fit in this "Penny" category, so to speak: Mike Hampton, Curt Schilling, Mark Prior ... and the list goes on. In other words, if the Pirates want to take a gamble on a pitcher who has once been among the league's best but endured injuries in '08, the options will be there. And I would not be surprised if the Pirates do, in fact, go down that path.
If the Pirates want to go after more of a safe veteran pitcher, Paul Byrd has been rumored as a viable possibility. He'd be a fine fit in the back half of the rotation and would not demand a hefty salary.
With the Yankees not picking up the option on reliever Damaso Marte, what are the chances the Pirates could get him back, at a decent price?
-- Ed M., Four Oaks, N.C.
Marte ended up signing with the Yankees anyway, but since I kept getting this question after the signing took place, I figured I would still address it in this forum in case some of you missed that news. The Yankees did not pick up Marte's $6 million option, but soon after signed him to a three-year deal, reportedly worth $12 million.
Have the Pirates made any decisions on a replacement for Lanny Frattare? It sure is going to be weird not having Lanny anymore. I'm still trying to adjust to life without Myron Cope!
-- Kevin H., Pittsburgh
No, the Pirates have not yet hired a replacement for Lanny. However, 16-year Pirates play-by-play announcer Greg Brown will assume the role as the main play-by-play voice for the organization. The Pirates are currently going through numerous applications and tapes before narrowing down the group of candidates and conducting formal interviews for the second play-by-play spot.
With the level of interest for the position, I would expect the search process to drag on deep into the winter.
In your response to a question in last week's mailbag, you alluded to the Pirates' shortstop of the future being already in the organization. The only middle infielder I am aware of in the organization with Major League potential is Shelby Ford, but he is currently a second baseman. Could you fill us in as to whom management is referring?
-- Sean M., Volant, Pa.
To begin with, management is not yet ready to give up on Brian Bixler. Those of us who watched Bixler this season saw few signs that he would be ready to take over as the team's everyday shortstop in the near future. His defense was average, and, quite frankly, he looked overmatched on offense. Pirates management, however, still considers him a legitimate option for next season.
As for other options, long term I think you have to keep your eye on Brian Friday (third-round pick in 2007). He is, however, at least two years away from being Major League-ready, which means there certainly has to be a more immediate option. That's why management could consider Bixler -- or Jack Wilson, if he is not dealt away -- as a placeholder.
What is management doing to prevent the Pirates from finishing with a losing record for the 17th season in a row next season?
-- Jim K., Moon Township, Pa.
Ownership and management is certainly not proud of the fact that the organization has had 16 consecutive losing seasons, but they are not looking to take ownership of each of those 16 years. You look at the current management team, and it's more accurate to say it has endured one losing season. Same with ownership, which underwent a change prior to the '08 season. Attaching what happened in 1993 with a group of people who were not with the organization doesn't make sense.
That said, this new core is certainly keen on getting things turned around under their watch. They want to be competitive next year. But they aren't looking to allow a losing streak to dictate how they assemble a team for next season. If it takes one more subpar season for the Pirates to be built for long-term success, management is OK with that.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.