First-year manager John Russell could not prevent the Pirates from compiling their 16th consecutive losing season, matching the Phillies of 1933 to 1948 for the longest losing-season streak in major league history. Washington was the only team in the majors with a worse run differential than Pittsburgh's minus-149, a stat which reflects Pittsburgh's problems scoring runs and, especially, preventing runs.
Tom Gorzelanny's slide from pseudo-No. 1 starter to a Triple-A project led to the pitching staff's unraveling. General manager Neal Huntington is taking more of a long-range approach than his predecessor, Dave Littlefield, and it showed with midseason deals that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees.
A few years back the Pirates felt starting pitching was their organizational strength, but they were last in the NL in ERA by both starters and relievers in 2008. Huntington is looking to add at least one veteran starter and a power hitter, but doesn't want to commit long-term dollars.
Mientkiewicz, who started 30 games at both first base and third base, is the type of veteran the Pirates shouldn't let get away. But you couldn't blame him if he wanted to go to a team with a better chance to win.
Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the former batting champ, interests some teams. Shortstop Jack Wilson expects to be traded but a 22-RBI season didn't help his value. Third baseman Andy LaRoche, acquired from Los Angeles in the three-team Manny Ramirez deal that sent Bay to Boston, failed to make a big impression and catcher Ronny Paulino might have played his way out of the organization's plans. The Pirates have center fielders to deal in Nate McLouth, who established himself with a Gold Glove performance, and the speedy Nyjer Morgan.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is the crown jewel of the system and could earn a big league spot out of spring training. Center fielder Jose Tabata played well after being acquired in the Nady deal and faces a key development year. Third baseman Neil Walker, a switch-hitter with power, is one promotion away from possibly becoming a cornerstone piece on the major league roster.
Huntington and Russell both must know that a 17th straight losing season is almost inevitable. They would like to get close to .500 and build for the future but won't make short-term moves to do it. The key to 2009 will be the continued development of 25-and-under players.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has its Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available in bookstores, through Amazon.com and by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).