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Giger: Pirates’ run of success could last many years

Commentary

July 16, 2013
Cory Giger (cgiger@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

What a glorious time to be a Pirates fan. Not just this year, either.

The past 20 years have been a Great Depression for Bucco fans. For perspective on how bad the franchise has been, about 80 million people - or 25 percent of the nation's population - weren't even alive the last time the Pirates had a winning record in 1992.

That dubious distinction will end this year.

There's no way the Pirates will endure epic collapse No. 3 and finish below .500. No way, not with this pitching, that the club can blow all of a 56-37 record at the All-Star break.

Don't go buying World Series tickets just yet. But with a 9-game lead for the final wild-card berth, the Pirates are in fantastic shape to make the playoffs, even if they don't beat out the Cardinals for the NL Central title, which I don't believe they will.

One thing a lot of fans keep saying is that the Pirates have to make the playoffs to justify this as a successful season. It's understandable that people feel that way after 20 years of misery, but it's really just not true.

If they go 90-72 - or 34-35 the rest of the way - and lose out to somebody that catches fire in the second half, yes it will be disappointing, but every single Pirates fan on the planet would have taken 90-72 in March and you know it.

The best part about the success this season is what it could be foreshadowing.

This has the potential to be a golden era of Pirates baseball, with a window of opportunity of a good five more years to be a major factor in the National League.

Why?

Andrew McCutchen is locked up through 2018. So is Starling Marte, Jeff Locke, Jordy Mercer and Bryan Morris. Gerrit Cole is locked up through 2019. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker through 2016. That's not to mention standout prospects Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco, who haven't reached the majors yet, or Tony Sanchez, who's had only a cup of coffee.

"We have the young nucleus to win for a long time," said Pirates reliever Jared Hughes, who's in Altoona this week rehabbing a shoulder injury.

Obviously, nothing can be taken for granted in baseball - the hardest game in the world - and the Washington Nationals this season are proof that a team with great potential doesn't always produce great results. So no matter how good the Pirates are this year, there's no guarantee they'll be this good or better in the future.

But as that young nucleus of players continues to develop and grow together, Pirates fans have every reason to hope that 2013 is merely the start of a great run like the franchise had with three straight playoff appearances from 1990-92.

"There's definitely a sense of that [in the clubhouse]," Hughes, who will pitch for the Curve on Wednesday, said of the potential for long-term success. "There's a sense of we're really good, and we have what it takes to win and to keep winning."

One of the most ridiculous things I've read concerning the Pirates was written a few weeks ago by ESPN baseball blogger David Schoenfield. He suggested that, because the Pirates are so desperate to win now, they should make a trade with the Marlins to get outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.

Going after a young slugger like Stanton would be smart, but the writer suggested the Pirates essentially sell the farm to get him. He said to trade stud pitching prospect Jameson Taillon and stud outfield prospect Gregory Polanco, both currently with the Curve, along with Sanchez and another pitcher for Stanton.

Four players for one guy. From an organization whose single biggest problem the past 20 years has been depth. No, not payroll. Depth. Sure, they go hand in hand, but the main reason the Bucs have been so bad for so long is they've been unable to produce enough quality players in their minor league system to field and sustain a good major league product.

I'm not against trading Taillon as part of a deal for an established, young right fielder. Polanco, either. No minor league player is untouchable. Not even a potential No. 1 starter or star outfielder.

But it would be absurd for the Pirates to trade both outstanding young prospects and even more guys just to get one player. If those are the kind of calls Neal Huntington is taking from other general managers, he'd be better off not answering his phone and sticking with the team he already has rather than making a trade just for the sake of trading.

Or he could give Andrew Lambo a shot in right field. Seriously, what does this guy have to do to get called up? Brandon Inge has no business being on the roster, so designate him for assignment and bring up Lambo, who has 23 homers and 73 RBIs between the Curve and Triple-A.

If Huntington can make the right deal at the trade deadline and add a big bat the Bucs so desperately need, then yeah, maybe this team can make a push for the World Series. Admit it: Your head would have been spinning had you thought about that possibility in March.

But the one thing Huntington cannot and will not due is mortgage the future to go all in trying to win the World Series this year. If McCutchen, Alvarez, Marte and others were close to the end of their contracts, then sure, give it a shot.

But with all of those cornerstone guys locked up for so long and more help on the way with Taillon and Polanco, the Pirates just need to stay the course, protect their young assets and realize the plan is working.

Finally.

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger

 
 

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