Another season, another poorly planned rebuilding phase for Pirates

You have to hand it to baseball fans in Pittsburgh. The Cubs and Red Sox fans get all of the ink for being a long-suffering lot. But at least their teams are fairly competitive year-in and year-out. The Pirates? The last time they contended for a division title, Bill Clinton had not yet been elected president, George W. Bush still owned the Texas Rangers and Britney Spears was a Mouskateer.

And this season should again be rife with suffering.
Last season you could look at the Pirates' lineup and see recognizable major-league talents such as Brian Giles, Aramis Ramirez, Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton. This season we're being asked to believe that a lineup that includes the likes of Tike Redman and Chris Stynes, and stars such as Jason Kendall and Raul Mondesi, might somehow be worth spending money on to watch.

Sorry, but I'm not buying it.

We've been hearing for several years now how this team has acquired a ton of young talent by finishing low in the standings year after year.

But what have we seen so far?

Nada, zip, nothing.

This is not a team that has proven to be able to develop its own major-league talent. And when the Pirates have, such as in the case of Ramirez, they have given up on it way too early.

The Pirates seem to be a team in a constant rebuilding plan without much of a clue as to how exactly they want to do it. It's a little like trying to build a home without a blueprint.
PNC Park was supposed to bring major league-quality baseball back to Pittsburgh.

But as we enter the park's fourth season, we're seeing a team trimming payroll, holding fire sales for its star players and readying itself for what looks to be a 100-loss season.
It wouldn't be so bad if there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But it's tough to say there is.

Certainly young players such as Ryan Vogelsong, John Van Benschoten and Sean Burnett played well enough during this exhibition season to show they will be solid contributors down the road, if not this season.

The question is, when?

The team already sent Van Benschoten to its minor league camp and Burnett is a virtual lock to start the season in Class AAA. As for Vogelsong, he's battling for a spot in the starting rotation with 39-year-old Rick Reed.

When it comes down to keeping a veteran or letting a prospect take the reins, there should be no question what happens: Get the youngster on the field. At least he has a shot to get better.

Maybe the Pirates are a little gun shy because during their last rebuilding effort they rushed position players Jose Guillen and Ramirez and put too much pressure on young starting pitchers Jason Schmidt, Jon Lieber and Esteban Loiaza.

But they also gave up on all of those players before they should have, mostly because they were starting to get to the point in their careers where they would become eligible to earn big contracts. Now, all have gone on to much bigger and better things with other teams.

At some point, the vicious cycle has to end. At some point, Pirates fans have to be given something other than the hope for .500 to look forward to.

If not, why even bother to field a team in Pittsburgh?


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