the noggin," Sean Casey said, as he rubbed his sunburned brow. A day
earlier Casey, the Pirates' new first baseman after spending the last eight
seasons with the Reds, was batting in his first spring game against his former
ball club when Cincinnati leftthander Michael Gosling plunked him squarely in
the helmet with a fastball. Casey was unhurt and with his usual good graces
laughed it off the next day while chatting in the clubhouse. "Quite a
welcome back home," said the player who was so beloved in Cincy that he was
nicknamed the Mayor.
Pittsburgh--the Pirates obtained him in December for lefthander Dave Williams
and picked up $7.5 million of the $8.5 million he's due in this, the last year
of his contract--is another homecoming of sorts for Casey, who grew up in Upper
St. Clair, Pa., a 15-minute drive from Pittsburgh. His father, Jim, bought
season-ticket packages for Wednesday- and Sunday-afternoon games at Three
Rivers Stadium and took young Sean. At 23 Sean was in the National League.
"Every time I played there, I still felt like that 15-year-old kid sitting
in the stands with my dad," Casey says. "To come back and play for the
Pirates was one of those things I always wanted to do."
exemplifies Pittsburgh's off-season approach: supplement a youthful core with
dependable veterans on one-year contracts. Allowed to increase the payroll from
$35 million to $47 million, general manager Dave Littlefield also signed
rightfielder Jeromy Burnitz ($6.7 million), third baseman Joe Randa ($4
million) and righthanded setup man Roberto Hernandez ($2.75 million); that
outlay was the most spent on free agents in franchise history.
On the one hand
Casey, Burnitz and Randa are stopgaps at positions the Pirates soon expect to
fill with rising minor leaguers: first baseman Brad Eldred, who last season hit
40 home runs in 469 at bats split between the minors and Pittsburgh; outfielder
Nate McLouth, a .292 career minor league hitter who has averaged 29 stolen
bases a season; and third baseman Jose Bautista, who slugged 23 homers at
Double A Altoona and has a rifle arm. On the other hand the veterans are proven
commodities who'll immediately upgrade a lineup that was 14th in runs scored;
they'll also give leftfielder Jason Bay, at 27 a rising star in the game,
protection he has lacked.
Casey, the Pirates added an immensely popular ballplayer and community
ambassador who will hit for high average (his lifetime mark is .305) and get on
base (.371 OBP). He has always had too little pop for a corner infielder, but
he is unapologetic about it. "My whole career, my power numbers have been
analyzed, but I'm not a power hitter, never have been," he says. "I've
always hit for high average and driven in runs, gotten on base. That's my
grant as much. Says Littlefield, "I don't think our expectation is 30 home
runs. As we're trying to improve, we'd like guys who don't strike out, work the
count and get on base at a more regular rate."
not to make similar upgrades to its rotation--instead, the Pirates jettisoned
Williams and Mark Redman in trades, and didn't try to re-sign Josh
Fogg--because the club believes its young starters are the franchise's greatest
asset. But those three castoffs, plus righthander Kip Wells, who is lost until
at least the All-Star break after surgery to remove a blood clot under his
right armpit, accounted for 72% of the rotation's innings last year. That
places an immediate burden on phenoms Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, the
presumptive one-two starters, who excelled in brief bows last season but have
not yet logged heavy major league innings.
believes it has left behind its 13 consecutive losing seasons, the longest
active streak in professional sports, and likes the young, cost-controlled core
it's beginning to lock up. (Bay signed a four-year, $18.25 million extension,
and shortstop Jack Wilson took three at $20.2 million.) "We had to get the
financial house back in order," Littlefield says, "but we've got some
talent coming down the pipeline, and we're turning the corner as a
Last year Jason Bay joined Dave Parker (1978) and Barry Bonds ('90, '92) as the
only Pirates to hit .300 with 30 homers and 20 steals. Parker and Bonds won the
NL MVP in those years.
a modest proposal