Pirates staying pat on 95-loss team



The Bucs have not signed any key free agents to try and jump-start the team.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- As everyone tries to play catch-up with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, the NL Central might be the most changed division in baseball.
The Chicago Cubs have spent nearly 300 million on players such as Alfonso Soriano and Ted Lilly.
The Cincinnati Reds added shortstop Alex Gonzalez and reliever Mike Stanton.
The Houston Astros lavished more than 100 million on Carlos Lee.
Even the Milwaukee Brewers signed right-hander Jeff Suppan away from St. Louis for 42 million.
Then there's the Pittsburgh Pirates, losers of 95 games last season during a 14th consecutive losing season. They've done next to nothing.
Their biggest offseason pickup: right-hander Yoslan Herrera, a Cuban defector who got nearly 2 million but has yet to play in organized baseball.
They also signed a 38-year-old Japanese pitcher, Masumi Kuwata, who has won nine games in four seasons.
Ski resort pickup
There was one big offseason pickup by the Pirates' owners. They spent 90 million on the Seven Springs ski resort near Pittsburgh that, because of the more-than-mild winter, is as desperate for snow as the Pirates are for a left-handed power hitter.
Still, the Pirates insist there's a method to the perceived madness of a franchise that has pocketed about 50 million in revenue sharing money since 2005 but seems to have put precious little of it into player salaries.
"When it's all said and done, and I remember Jim Leyland telling me this, the money doesn't play," manager Jim Tracy said Tuesday. "The players do."
Without making any moves of consequence since losing eight of their final 10 last season, the Pirates are convinced they can be a factor in the division race.
Better finish in '06
They're clinging to that notion, in part, because they went 37-35 after the All-Star break, a record better than that of the Cardinals (35-39). There are other reasons, too.
Reason No. 2: Each of their four young starting pitchers attracted trade talk this winter, even though Ian Snell (14-11) and Zach Duke (10-15) were the only double-digit winners last season.
Tom Gorzelanny (2-5) and Paul Maholm (8-10) also drew interest. And promising left-hander Sean Burnett may be ready to return after spending two-plus seasons recovering from elbow problems.
"They have a chance to be as formidable a group of four starting pitchers as any other team has," Tracy said. "When you have resources like that, it's very, very important to hold on to them. There was a lot overpaid to get starting pitchers."
Suppan and Lilly ( 40 million, four years) are highly paid examples of why the Pirates have not signed a right-handed starter despite going into the offseason seeking one.
"Trading for starting pitching is hard to do," general manager Dave Littlefield said. "There's not much excess."
Bullpen mostly intact
Reason No. 3: The Pirates' bullpen, one of the best in the majors last season despite their bad record, figures to return almost intact led by closer Mike Gonzalez (24 saves in 24 chances) and Salomon Torres (3.28 ERA in 94 games).
Reason No. 4: Tracy is confident young hitters such as catcher Ryan Doumit (.208 average while spending two extended stretches on the disabled list) and infielder Jose Castillo (.253, 14 homers, 65 RBIs despite a second-half slump) will be much better.
Reason No. 5: None of the Pirates' starting pitchers is older than 25 and none of their projected everyday players is older than 29.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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