The trading of Q+As with a Mets blogger proved a success, so I reached out to our Pirates sibling Bucs Dugout, and did the same thing with Charlie. Pirates fans are a long-suffering breed compared to D-backs ones: we have half a losing season and mobs with torches form in the Phoenix streets, but Pittsburgh haven't had a winning year since 1992. The team has undergone radical change in the past couple of years, so among the question, I asked Charlie what the prospects were for the future, how the fans are reacting and about hot rookie Andrew McCutchen. You can also find my answers to his questions here.
1) It now looks like a seventeenth consecutive losing season for the Pirates. Looking forward, when can you realistically see that streak being broken?
Realistically, 2012 if a fair number of things go right, or perhaps 2011 if a ridiculous number do. That may sound pathetic, but any number I can honestly point to is an improvement. There were points in the Dave Littlefield administration when I thought it might be 20 more years before the Pirates had another winning season.
2) There was a fascinating piece on ESPN, detailing the almost complete makeover which the team has undergone - only one of your 2008 Opening Day lineup is still in Pittsburgh. What do fans think of this rapid turnover, and the loss of favorites like McLouth and Wilson?
They hate it, but they need to suck it up. It isn't like the Bay/Wilson/McLouth Pirates were any good, or even like the fans were coming out in droves to see those guys. The Pirates traded the aging core of a perennial 67-game winner just before most of its main players either went downhill or left via free agency, and they got a ton of depth for a farm system that sorely lacked it. It's certainly fair game to criticize some of new GM Neal Huntington's exact choices, and I'm somewhat skeptical of some of the prospects he's acquired. But at the very least, the outline of what he's done is exactly what the Pirates needed. The Bucs had no business hanging onto a bunch of 30-year-olds.
3) Tell us a bit about Andrew McCutchen, who is being mentioned as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate, especially after his three-HR game last week.
He's track-star fast, he's a fantastic defensive center fielder, and he has decent on-base skills. He's only 22 and he's a small guy who already hits the ball very hard, so I think he's going to hit a bunch of homers eventually. And, without wanting to sound too effusive, I don't think failure is in his genes. He seems to have a plan at the plate, and nothing seems to faze him. I obviously knew he was a good prospect when he was in the minors, but getting to see him play every day has raised my opinion of him several notches. I think he's going to be a star--think Torii Hunter with more batting average and walks, or Jim Edmonds with lots of steals and a bit less power. Reading over what I've just written makes me think I'm sounding like a homer, but I don't care. I've spent five years writing withering opinions of mediocre players. Andrew McCutchen is not a mediocre player.
4) The Pirates have one of the youngest teams in the league, only the Marlins coming in below them. Is this just a money-saving ploy by ownership, or do you have confidence in them, and believe there is a plan for the future?
I suppose we won't know for sure< that the ownership is doing the right thing until they open up their pocketbooks to help make the Pirates a contender, but that doesn't mean that now is the right time to go blowing a bunch of money on free agents. They need to invest in their future by drafting and developing top talent right now, and by sorting through players who might be part of the next contending Pirates team. Since that date is a couple years in the future, most of those players are young, and since they are young, they are also cheap.
The last thing I'd want the Pirates to do is to mess with that plan by throwing a bunch of money around to send a message. Besides, they recently invested millions in a new Latin American facility and spent a boatload of money on the 2008 draft. (They may end up spending a boatload on the 2009 draft, too, depending on who they end up signing; they went cheap in the first round but splurged in the middle rounds.) Those aren't things the fans see on a day to day basis, but they're much better indications that the franchise is finally taking itself seriously than signing the next Pat Meares to a $15 million contract would be.
5) PNC Park is now in its ninth season. How do you rate it as a stadium, and what tips would you have for any first-time visitor to the park?
It's easily the best new-ish stadium I've been to, and a lot of other new parks--Philadelphia's, San Diego's--are pale imitations, mostly because they don't have PNC's breathtaking view. A first-time visitor should grab a Primanti Brothers sandwich at the game. They're a Pittsburgh institution.