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Kovacevic: Pirates front office, step to plate

| Monday, July 23, 2012, 12:09 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates fan Lucas Scheidemantel of Beaver raises the Jolly Roger, as the Bucs sweep the Miami Marlins on Sunday, July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

If there ever were a doubt, there can't be now.

Not with the Pirates fresh off another sweep, with the record at a season-high 14 games over .500, with PNC Park filled all weekend, with the fans waving brooms amid the first pennant race in a generation, with the flames of Pedro Alvarez's bat and Joel Hanrahan's fastball … the whole deal.

It's The Team That Saved Pittsburgh Baseball, and it's amazing to see. Really is.

Now, it's the front office's turn to see it through.

And like those Zs on the basepaths, participation isn't optional.

This isn't about sustaining a perennial “cycle of success,” to borrow a favorite term of upper management, and it's certainly not about building toward that great coming crop of pitching prospects. The pitching is here right now, as is the offense — stunningly enough — and the opportunity.

Don't overlook that last count. It's tough to imagine the Central Division being this down again for a long time, much less having the main competition come from a Cincinnati team with a similar revenue base. In the messed-up world of Major League Baseball's Yankee-nomics, that's a godsend.

Neal Huntington deserves immense credit for all that's happened, but the fact remains that his next significant in-season upgrade to this roster — externally or internally — will be the first.

And to hear him Sunday, you wouldn't get the idea any are on the way, either.

In discussing trades, Huntington cited depth in Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis and added, “What's nice is that we don't have to go get a starting pitcher. We don't have to go get a bat. We don't have to go get X or Y. We can pick what we want to get, if it's a player or two. Or if the acquisition cost is exorbitantly high, we can stay with what we have.”

No, they can't, actually.

Don't misunderstand Huntington's initial thought there: What he meant was that the Pirates no longer are bound to specific needs. Also, he wasn't suggesting he won't keep trying to make trades. He's been at that relentlessly since May, and he still has until July 31.

Regardless, I'll respectfully disagree with his entire premise.

The Pirates do need a bat, and their specific need is an outfielder.

That doesn't have to be Justin Upton, who would cost a mint and a half. But someone like Shane Victorino — he's 31, a pending free agent and a table-setting spark plug — would fill the need positionally and atop the order. Jose Tabata flopped at leadoff, and Alex Presley's .274 on-base percentage isn't getting it done, either. Victorino's career OBP is a healthy .342.

The Pirates need a starter, too.

Jeff Karstens was terrific again Sunday, and A.J. Burnett keeps rolling. That's great. But James McDonald is showing cracks of late, and Kevin Correia and Erik Bedard have looked iffy for a while.

Here, as with the bat, there's no cause to give up elite prospects Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon or Starling Marte. Playing for now doesn't mean being stupid, particularly when the pieces needed can be had this time of year as rentals.

But those U-Hauls had better be backing up soon.

And what about Marte?

He was in a 2-for-22 slide entering Sunday but broke out in a huge way by nightfall, going 3 for 5 with a two-run home run, two steals and a runner thrown out at home. Overall, he's batting .283 with 12 home runs, 60 RBI and 21 steals.

This is starting to get silly.

I asked Huntington if, as it pertains to Marte, he's weighing development vs. the pennant race.

“You don't want to sacrifice a young player's development because of a need at the major league level,” he said. “We won't do that. Ever. When we feel he's ready to contribute, we'll add him.”

I'll disagree with this stance, too.

Look, Marte will be here in September regardless. The worst that can happen in the interim is that he spends part of a month on the bench if he struggles. It won't hurt his development a bit — this is a tough kid — and the potential reward is far greater than the risk.

Clint Hurdle talks daily about being “all in,” his players echo and demonstrate it and now the city is filling up the stadium.

Everyone's all in.

That's got to apply to the front office as well. They've done well so far, but they can't be timid now.

I've heard Huntington express concern about disrupting team chemistry.

Reliever Chris Resop put it beautifully: “Chemistry is huge. But believe me, we're accepting of any help we can get. If moves can make this team better, then by all means do it.”

And what of negative influence?

“Won't happen. Our players in Indy are behind us, and they know how we play. Teams around the league, with the attention we're getting, they see how we play, how we're enjoying ourselves. I'm sure there are a lot of them who'd want to be part of this.”

It's time to go get them.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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