The Pirates have been wrongly accused of running a fire sale after trading a 36-year-old centerfielder in decline ( Kenny Lofton), a 31-year-old arbitration-eligible situational lefty ( Scott Sauerbeck), a 35-year-old closer with a 6.27 ERA ( Mike Williams) and an inconsistent, poor-fielding third baseman ( Aramis Ramirez) whose $6 million salary in 2004 doesn't appear to be a good value, even if he is only 25. Those are not franchise-rebuilding blocks. "Playing .500 is not a goal," G.M. Dave Littlefield says. "What we need are more players and financial flexibility."
The Pirates would rather spend Ramirez's $6 million, for instance, on three players—the way Toronto added shortstop Mike Bordick, outfielder Frank Catalanotto and pitcher Cory Lidle in the off-season instead of paying Jose Cruz Jr. Littlefield isn't exactly breaking up the '97 Marlins, either. He's digging out from under terrible contracts and a barren farm system left by his predecessor, Cam Bonifay, and owner Kevin McClatchy.
Littlefield, however, should draw the line on outfielder Brian Giles, whom he has considered moving in a package deal if someone also takes catcher Jason Kendall's albatross of a contract ($42 million over the next four years). Giles is the kind of player a team can build around.
RUN FOR IT
If the underachieving Twins (6� games behind the Royals at week's end) are to make a move in the AL Central, the time is now. They are done playing the Yankees, Mariners, Red Sox and A's—the top four teams in the AL-and, starting last Friday, were to play 22 of 29 games against losing clubs ( Indians, Orioles and Tigers). The other seven games in that span are against K.C., whose young pitchers will be tested as they reach new thresholds of innings and appearances.
MISSING ON PITCHING
Now that the Yankees have added relievers Jesse Orosco, 46, and Armando Benitez, 30, their staff includes only one pitcher in his 20s: enigmatic starter Jeff Weaver. New York prefers veteran pitchers in part because it has to. Except for Ramiro Mendoza, who debuted in 1996, the club hasn't developed a good pitcher since it called up Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera in '95.
The Yankees did have success with one international free agent ( Orlando Hernandez) but missed badly on others (Adrian Hernandez, Mark Hutton, Hideki Irabu, Kats Maeda and, so far, Jose Contreras). Every young pitcher they traded for since '95 didn't stick ( Ted Lilly, Ed Yarnall and Jake Westbrook being the best of a sorry lot).
What's more, New York's record of drafting pitchers is abysmal. Since '96, after Pettitte and Rivera arrived, all other pitchers originally drafted by the team have combined for only 36 starts and 20 wins in the team's 1,233 games. Lefthander Brandon Claussen, who beat the Mets in a June 28 cameo, became only the 14th homegrown Yankees pitcher to appear in a game in that eight-year span.
THREE STRIKES FOR...