Pittsburgh Pirates: It can get worse

Time goes by like pouring rain: Steven Pearce is well on his way to a classic AAAA hitter’s career, having proved he can hit in AAA and unable to do so in the majors. Pearce will be 28 in April and has done little in 371 at-bats — a .240 average, eight home runs, a .313 on-base percentage. These being the Pirates, there’s always one more chance, and Pearce has tried to better his by working out at third base. Silly, of course, in all but appearance. Either Pearce hits his way on to the team and stays there, or he hits in AAA.

I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door: It may seem like Tony Sanchez is a long way away from the majors — he hasn’t yet had an at-bat above Class A — but with the Pirates, no prospect is. Sanchez is a No. 1 pick who has played like it for two straight years –batting .309 in an abbreviated 2009 and .314 in the tough Florida State League in 2010. His home run power has been minimal thus far, but he has a good eye and has doubled once every 11 at-bats. This is one pick the Pirates didn’t mess up.

What is this man doing here? Admit it: Charlie Morton and the Pirates are a bad relationship. Put a losing pitcher with a losing franchise and here’s what you get: two years of 7 wins, 21 losses, a 5.90 ERA, a home run every eight innings, disgruntled fans and low self-esteem. The Pirates touted Morton as major-league ready when they acquired him for outfielder Nate McLouth. He was, in a Pirates sort of way, but they don’t need to keep him any more to explain away the McLouth trade. McLouth hasn’t been much better.

Outlook: The Pirates have had 18 straight losing seasons, and 2010’s 105 losses was the worst of them all. 2011 will make 19 in a row, but the Pirates won’t lose 105 and will be much better than the 1952 team which lost 112.

Yes, the Pirates operate under the disadvantage of a small payroll, but they also have had a bigger disadvantage for most of the last two decades: bad management. Neal Huntington took over in 2007, and the Pirates have won fewer games in each of the seasons that followed.

That may not bode well, but they did draft and sign Pedro Alvarez (in the majors), Tony Sanchez (on the way) and Jameson Tallion (Strasburg lite). The Pirates have the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, and hopefully they can do better than Kris Benson (1996) and Bryan Bulington (2002), their last two first picks of the draft.

On the field, the Pirates should win more than 2010, but not much. There’s some young talent in outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata, Alvarez and second baseman Neal Walker, but the starting pitching is bad and the bullpen worse. Or vice versa.

There will be two highlights to the Pirates season: draft day, and the day the Steelers report to camp.

Remember when: Steve Blass’ name may be a part of baseball history, but not as it should. Because he was far more than a talented pitcher overtaken by wildness — he was an ace who pitched the Pirates to the world championship 40 years ago. Roberto Clemente was great in the 1971 Series, but so was Blass. He won Game 3 with a three-hitter and a taut Game 7 with a four-hitter, 2-1. In a Series where the other side had four 20-game winners, Blass was the best pitcher of all.

Next: Minnesota

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