The Pirates have a plan. Based on their player-personnel moves, I have no idea what that plan is, but they must have a plan, right? They have a staff ace and stud outfielder in place, but most of the other spots need an upgrade before Pittsburgh regains respectability. The Pirates' braintrust must be setting the team up for a big splash two or three years down the line. Yeah, that must be it.
Worth Every Penny
Not that many people think of Oliver Perez when they talk about the better pitchers in the NL, but this season the lefty from Mexico will finally get some recognition. He won only 12 games last season (in 30 starts), but was sixth in the majors with a 2.98 ERA and fifth in strikeouts (239). He won't turn 24 until August, so he's still improving. It's conceivable that Perez is this year's Johan Santana.
About To Blossom
Jason Bay was the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year and even as such, he wasn't entirely healthy all season. Now the five-tool outfielder is 100 percent, and will be an even better player this year. His versatility and speed enables him to play center field, which is bad news for Tike Redman, who is no longer a lock to be in the Pirates future. Don't be surprised if Bay puts up numbers similar to those of the mad he was traded for -- Brian Giles.
Redman had all of the promise in the world at the start of last season and although his numbers were fine, he didn't perform up to team expectations. Now he's in serious danger of losing his spot in the lineup because Lloyd McClendon likes Bay in center. Redman started strong in spring training, but in no way is he a lock for a regular job.
Do You Feel Lucky?
It's hard to fathom that Craig Wilson, a career bench player before 2004, can ever match the numbers he put up last year, but stranger things have happened. Even though he'll likely be flip-flopping as a starter in left field and first base, Wilson's numbers should come back down to Earth a little bit, so he'll probably be overvalued in your league. His likely platoon mate in left, Ben Grieve, is also a huge risk, something that you didn't need me to tell you if you live in the Milwaukee or Tampa Bay areas.
Matt Lawton stole 23 bases as an Indian last year in a fine comeback season. He'll bat leadoff for Pittsburgh and will have the green light. Keep an eye on outfielders Chris Duffy, a fine defensive center fielder, and Rajai Davis, a pure burner who stole 57 bases in Class A last season. Duffy is a likely midseason call up, while you'll see Davis in September.
If Something Should Happen To Jose Mesa
Left-hander Mike Gonzalez was highly sought after during the offseason, but remained with the Pirates, and is clearly the closer of the future. He struck out 55 in 43 1/3 innings last season thanks to a high-90s fastball. Mesa is a prime candidate for a collapse, so it's possible that the future for Gonzalez is coming faster than you think.
Don't Forget About
Salomon Torres, Ty Wigginton, Mark Redman, Kip Wells
Don't Bother With
Bobby Hill, Grieve, Humberto Cota, Ryan Vogelsong
David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).