Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's official: Derrek Lee is coming to Pittsburgh

In the tradition of former Pirates like Sean Casey, Derek Bell and Jeromy Burnitz, the Pirates acquired Derrek Lee, a player well-past his prime, from the Baltimore Orioles in-exchange for a minor league prospect.

However, unlike those previous players, the acquisition of Derrek Lee actually makes sense for the Pirates this time around. He's not coming here to play for a team that has no chance of winning.

In years gone by, players like Casey and Bell came to Pittsburgh in the off-season and were expected to be major contributors to last place teams with no real plan for winning in place. Lee, on the other hand, is coming here to add some offensive punch to a team that's contending.

On his blog last night, Bob Smizik discussed the trade and said that Lee isn't enough, and the Pirates owe it to their fans and players to go after more talent before the trade-deadline at 4pm today.

When I texted my brother and told him about the trade, he texted back: "Why only Lee? Cheap-ass management."

Well, it was "only Lee" because the Giants acquired Carlos Beltran last week, the Phillies traded for Hunter Pence just the other night, and the Chicago Cubs were evidently unwilling to move Carlos Pena.

I like the fact that Pittsburgh acquired Lee for only class A prospect Aaron Baker. It's the kind of low-risk deal the Pirates should be going for this season.

The Giants had to give up the 33rd ranked prospect in baseball for Beltran, a player who is a free-agent after this season and may not even sign with the Giants next year.

For Pence, the Phillies had to part with two of their prospects that just so happen to be ranked 37th and 38th. That's fine for those teams if they want to do that. The Giants are defending World Series Champions, and the Phillies have been World Series contenders for years and are arguably the best team in baseball. Established teams can mortgage the future and get away with it.

The Pirates 2010 first round selection, pitcher Jameson Taillon, is the team's top prospect and is ranked in the top 12 in all of baseball. Would you have wanted the Pirates to trade him for Beltran or Pence? Please tell me you wouldn't. Not yet, anyway.

It's taken gm Neal Huntington three-plus years to stock the Pirates' minor league system with even modest talent, and he still has a ton of work to do.

He can't go parting with his top prospects right now. Yes, I know the Pirates are in contention. Yes, this opportunity may not come along again, but then again, it may come along time-and-time again in the next five or six seasons.

Let's be honest, the NL Central isn't exactly the AL or even NL East. And as someone pointed out last night on Smizik's blog, the Cardinals may lose Pujols after this season, and the Brewers will almost surely lose Prince Fielder to free agency. The Pirates might have a great opportunity to compete and contend in the division for years to come. 2011 isn't necessarily a "now or never" campaign.

It's true that the team has looked a bit shaky lately, and Derrek Lee may not be enough to turn the tide in Pittsburgh's favor. I know they've fallen 3 1/2 games back in the division, but the Pirates are at the tail-end of a very tough thirteen-game stretch that has seen them play the Reds, Cardinals, Braves and Phillies. All contenders, all trying to win just like the young Pirates. Going into today's game with the Phillies, the Pirates are 5-7 in this stretch. Not exactly great, but an inexperienced team like the Pirates could have very easily fallen apart, but Pittsburgh has gotten big wins whenever they've needed them, like the other night in Atlanta when they beat the Braves to earn a four-game split after suffering two-straight heart-breaking losses in extra innings. Last Sunday, on the verge of being swept right out of PNC Park, Pittsburgh found a way to defeat St. Louis in extra innings and salvage the final game of the series.

This team has taken a few big body-blows the past couple of weeks, but they're still standing. At worst, the Pirates will be 4 1/2 games out heading into a seven-game homestand against the Cubs and Padres. They certainly have plenty of time to make up ground. And let's not forget, the Pirates still have numerous games remaining against the Brewers and Cardinals.

This team has shown great resiliency this season. I wouldn't count them out just yet.

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