Even though he’s a Pirate, Andy McCutchen is a well above league average player.

Newbies such as Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker were all more or less league average in 2010, their rookie year (above average on offense, below average on defense).

Garrett Jones was moderately below average in 2010 after an above average half-year in 2009; a time-weighted performance suggests that he could be average.

Ronny Cedeno wasn’t quite an average shortstop early in the year, but second half strides may put him in this category next year (with a classic shortstop profile of strong defense, weak offense, the opposite of his teammates).

Ryan Doumit is above average on offense, and Chris Snyder on defense, relative to other catchers, so there is some hope of getting a reasonably good player behind the plate between the two.

The one question mark is right field, where Lastings Milledge and John Bowker, both of whom have shown flashes of goodness at times, are struggling to shake off the “replacement player” label (which dogged Neil Walker in 2009).

Despite its trials and tribulations, the pitching staff is decidedly better than it was two years ago, and that’s not counting Zach Duke. Following the fortuitous trade for James McDonald and the signing of Brian Burres, the Pirates have a halfway decent rotation.

McDonald is a second starter-caliber hurler, Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf reasonable facsimiles of third-starter types, and Jeff Karstens and Burres do an adequate job of filling the back end. What’s missing is a genuine first starter, which is why the rotation is still modestly below average.

But the team has an above average relief corps, which may make the pitching as a whole just average. If people like Charlie Morton and/or Brad Lincoln can find their way to the back of the rotation, it means that Burres and or Karstens can join Dan McCutchen in middle relief, the bane of most baseball teams.

There’s one more requirement for the Pirates to be average. Basically, they have to keep replacement players off the field. That won’t be easy to do, because their bench isn’t the greatest, meaning that starters will have to stay healthy.

But they can also cut out the failed experiments from recent years: a white elephant named Matt Morris, a replacement fielder like Brandon Moss playing almost every day (in 2008-2009) and perennially injured players like Jeff Clement and Akinori Iwamura.

While the Pirates assembled their current roster largely through trades, they needed to do a better job of retaining key players. Oh, for a right fielder (and former third baseman) named Jose Bautista, who used to be a Pirate but set the season home run record in the American League (fortunately).

Or if you prefer, a second baseman named Freddy Sanchez, who won the 2006 batting trophy, and could become the MVP of the 2010 World Series.

(Defensively, this would allow the team to move Neil Walker to third base, Pedro Alvarez to first and Garrett Jones, still the best bet, to right field.)

Still, the Pirates have (probably) done well enough since 2007 (under new management) to look forward to better days.

“League average” isn’t great. But it’s a decidedly better place than the one the Pirates are coming from.


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