Justin, we continue to be enthusiastic about the players we received in the two trades. We acknowledged from the outset that not all eight players would live up to expectations, but we need to caution against jumping to quick judgments (positive or negative). We did not make the trades looking for immediate returns; rather we made the trades to positively impact the quality and depth of our system currently and in the future, and we believe we have accomplished that goal. Our challenge going forward is to find ways to help these players achieve their potential.
Neal, are you doing anything in the offseason to shore up the bullpen?
-- Mike B., Colliers, W.Va.
As we discussed last offseason, the bullpen is the most difficult area of a team to solidify. The volatility of performance from year to year among all but the best relievers makes building a bullpen challenging. We will continue to build a 'pen with a variety of stuff and looks from different pitchers, and hopefully providing ourselves with different options while doing so.
Have we expanded our scouting into other areas of the world besides the Dominican?
-- Dave Y., Pittsburgh
Thanks for your question, Dave. As evidenced by our recent signings of a player from South Africa and two players from India, we are expanding our worldwide scouting operations. We have recently hired or are in conversations to hire scouts to help us cover Europe, Asia, Australia, Taiwan, Korea and several other countries. Additionally, Rene Gayo, our director of Latin American scouting, continues to make inroads in the lower-profile Latin American countries to help us acquire talent across the world.
Besides maybe Paul Maholm, are there any "locks" for the '09 starting rotation?
-- Ryne F., Philadelphia
Given Paul Maholm's performance and growth as a person, Ryne, we fully expect he will have another terrific offseason and position himself to be in our rotation. Outside of Paul, we have some guys who have better chances than others, but they need to take care of business this offseason and compete from Pitch 1 of Spring Training next year to earn spots in the 2009 rotation. We are looking forward to our pitchers working with Joe Kerrigan and the positive impact he will have on them.
We certainly expect Ian Snell to continue to progress as he did in the second half of 2008 and return to his 2007 and 2006 form. We also believe Zach Duke will work hard and position himself to pitch as well as he did in every month in 2008 with the exception of July.
We also have a solid group of pitchers competing to make our rotation and/or providing depth and options for us in Triple-A.
Neal, are you seeking long- or short-term upgrades to the offense/pitching through the use of trades and/or free agency?
-- Fritz H., York, Pa.
Fritz, we are looking to improve the depth of the organization through all means of talent acquisition. We are currently exploring the free-agent market to see if there are quality fits short and long term. We are also exploring the trade markets to see if there are good value trades that make us a stronger organization. We are in a solid spot financially in that we can make baseball decisions -- not decisions driven by finances. That will allow us to pick our spots on both the free-agent and trade markets and work to make us better.
Does Neil Walker have a future with the Pirates?
-- Tobias R., Coraopolis, Pa.
Neil Walker absolutely has a future with the Pirates. Our recent acquisitions of Andy LaRoche and Pedro Alvarez had everything to do with acquiring talent and nothing to do with Neil Walker. Neil has shown flashes of Major League ability and as seen with most young players, Tobias, he has shown there are areas where he needs to continue to develop. As an organization, we will be closer to our goals when we have multiple players at various positions throughout our farm system that we believe will become Major League players.