In a National League that has proven that anyone can compete at anytime, the Pittsburgh Pirates hope to be that “anyone.” With a good young set of pitchers that they hope will continue to make strides this season (or use as trade bait) and a lineup lead by slugger Jason Bay and break out star and NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez, the Pirates think they are very close to contending. So what’s missing from their team? According to the Pirates and GM Dave Littlefield, they still are in need of a left handed hitting power threat for the middle of their lineup.
This off season the Pirates tried to kill two birds with one stone as they publicly pursued powerful lefty Adam LaRoche from the Atlanta Braves. This would have fulfilled their need for the lefty as well as filled their hole at first base. The deal fell through when the Braves decided they did not want closer Mike Gonzalez and were more interested in one of the Pirates young starters. Littlefield was hesitant to part ways with a member of his rotation so the deal crumbled. Now with no lefty and no first baseman the Bucs have to try to find a way to bring someone in. This is growing more and more difficult as the free agent market has dried up. While the Pirates do have a few potential candidates for first base (Xavier Nady who they want in right field and slugger Brad Eldred who is coming off an injury plagued 2006), they would have like to bring someone new in.
The newest rumor that has been making its way around is that the Pirates are trying to close a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks that would send left-handed hitting third baseman Chad Tracy to Pittsburgh and closer Mike Gonzalez to Arizona. However just like with Atlanta, the Diamondbacks want more.
The Pirates need to try to make this deal happen. Not only would this give them the power hitting lefty for their lineup (Tracy hit 27 homers in 2005 and 20 in 2006) but they could potentially move Tracy to first base. If nothing else they could just put Tracy at third and move Sanchez back over to second base which would take Jose Castillo out of the lineup (who had a horrible last month of the season in 2006) and then just put either Eldred or Nady at first. Tracy (who I would guess would bat fifth behind Bay) would help solidify a lineup that desperately needs another solid bat in the middle of their lineup to help protect Sanchez and Bay.
I don’t think the Pirates are that far away from being a solid contender in the NL Central. Last season the Central was there for the taking for much of the season with the injuries of the Chicago Cubs early and often, the mediocrity of the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals for much of the season, the inconsistencies of the Houston Astros, the inexperience of the Milwaukee Brewers, and the sudden collapse of the Cincinnati Reds late in the season. If the Pirates where in the American League, things would be different, but in the often vanilla National League, anything is possible.