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Everything must go

Pirates wondering who's next to go in roster shakeup

Posted: Tuesday July 22, 2003 11:17 PM
Updated: Tuesday July 22, 2003 11:19 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- As the Pittsburgh Pirates report to their clubhouse these days, they don't ask who is pitching or who is batting fourth. They wonder who has been traded.

With regulars Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton and relievers Mike Williams and Scott Sauerbeck dealt since Sunday and more players certain to go by the July 31 deadline for trades without waivers, general manager Dave Littlefield is getting a jump-start on a 2004 roster overhaul.

The Pirates tried doing it a different way this season, adding veterans such as Reggie Sanders, Lofton and Matt Stairs to a relatively young team that has never quite turned the corner.

That didn't work so, with the Pirates headed for an 11th consecutive losing season, Littlefield has decided to go in a different direction, with younger players arriving from their farm system and via trades.

"At some point, we've got to do it the right way," manager Lloyd McClendon said Tuesday.

On Monday, Stairs said the Pirates believed they could get back to .500 and ease into the NL Central race. On Tuesday, Littlefield said that's not good enough.

"We're not trying to get to .500," Littlefield said. "We're trying to win a championship."

That's why even the Pirates' best-known players -- Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, Kris Benson -- may not be exempt from a rebuilding project that undoubtedly will leave the franchise with a much younger and lower-paid team.

Owner Kevin McClatchy estimates the Pirates will lose as much as $30 million, including interest payments, during their first three seasons in PNC Park.

With the Pirates not very competitive on the field, their attendance has fallen much more quickly than they imagined when they moved into the new park, from 2.4 million in 2001 to 1.8 million last year to a projected 1.6 million this season.

"We knew this was going to happen if we couldn't stay in the race. It was conceded a couple of weeks ago, so you have to live with it and finish strong," Giles said. "We showed no signs of really turning the corner. Our general manager felt it was time to try to get guys in here who were younger. It looks like that's what we're doing."

Littlefield also realizes there is division in the clubhouse and a lack of respect by some players for others. That's one reason why even a player as talented as Giles, who has regularly produced 35-homer and 110-RBI seasons, hasn't made a difference. Neither has Kendall, an old-school type player who has enjoyed a comeback season after two injury-filled years.

Giles will be much sought after if Littlefield agrees to trade him -- he produces and is relatively affordable, with $17 million left on his contract after this season. But dealing Kendall, who lacks power and has about $40 million left on his budget-busting contract, will be much harder.

Despite the growing losses, McClatchy said it's not necessary to cut payroll to the bare minimum, as the Pirates did in 1997. Then, despite a $10 payroll that was less than Albert Belle made by himself on the Chicago White Sox, they fielded their most competitive team since last winning a division title in 1992.

Still, the current $57 million payroll likely will shrink considerably as prospects such as pitchers Sean Burnett, John VanBenschoten, Bryan Bullington and infielder Jose Castillo begin to arrive next season.

"They can't trade everybody, so some of us are going to be here," Giles said. "It's frustrating. We're going to try to turn the corner but, right now, it's going to be another year or two or maybe three."

 
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