Rossi: Pirates must land Lester
Get him. That's really all this is about. It's what could change everything.
The Pirates' pursuit of Boston pitcher Jon Lester is more than just an attempt to acquire an ace. It is the opportunity to show baseball the only darkness associated with the Pirates going forward would be postseason “blackout” crowds at PNC Park.
It's a swing that can't miss.
The Pirates are no worse now than before Tuesday afternoon, when their interest in Lester became public knowledge. They still have a seemingly revitalized Francisco Liriano to head their pitching rotation. They still have Andrew McCutchen, who is doing things on a baseball diamond not seen in these parts since Barry Bonds was twiggy. They still have Josh Harrison and his career year, Mark Melancon and his closing cutter and who knows what from Pedro Alvarez.
These Pirates might prove to be the class of the National League Central. Their offense — despite a platoon in the leadoff spot and less than ideal fits in the middle of the order — might just prove capable of carrying the team into the NL Championship Series.
All of that absolutely must happen for this season to register as anything other than a whiff.
Another wild-card game, even one at home, won't feel so special this year. That's as it should be, too. That's a sign of progress.
Last summer was fun. The agonizing streak of losing seasons had to end eventually. That it did with a playoff berth was all the better.
This summer has shaped up as something more serious. It especially felt that way when the Pirates became linked to Lester, the top prize available to contending clubs in advance of the nonwaiver trade deadline.
During the past couple of days, there has developed a sense that something was out there for the Pirates, something significant, something not seen in these parts since 1979. People were actually thinking about a World Series.
That is because of Lester.
He might become to these Pirates what Marian Hossa was to the Penguins in 2008. Back then, a year after the Penguins' long-awaited playoff return, Hossa joined the team at the NHL trade deadline. The cost was two roster players, a top prospect and a first-round pick.
Three months later, the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, and nobody cared about what once was considered a hefty price to pay for a rental player.
Those Penguins were led by a young, reigning MVP in Sidney Crosby, who was surrounded by a skilled supporting cast that matched up favorably in an Eastern Conference without a clear-cut favorite.
Until the minute the Penguins acquired him — the deal was struck in the final 15 minutes before the trade deadline — nobody within the organization, let alone their fans, thought Hossa was headed to Pittsburgh.
Lester joining the Pirates feels the same.
McCutchen is the Pirates' Crosby, the National League their Eastern Conference and Lester their Hossa, right down to being a rental player. Also, like the Penguins with Hossa, the Pirates are blessed with organizational depth needed to make a tough-to-beat offer for Lester.
It's easy to understand why the thought of Lester coming to Pittsburgh has created a buzz. It has been since the early 1990s, their last run of success, that the Pirates sought and secured significant pieces at the trade deadline.
More than significant, Lester has bona fide credentials with 11 playoff starts to his credit, including seven combined in the American League Championship Series and World Series.
Think back to last October and how badly everybody — with the notable exception of A.J. Burnett — wanted to see Gerrit Cole get the ball in a deciding Game 5 of the Divisional Series. That was the magic of postseason baseball on display, and even the Pirates fans who never had experienced it knew what they wanted that night at St. Louis.
They wanted their No. 1 guy on the mound with a chance for their favorite team to advance.
Management has it right in going after Lester. He will become that No. 1 guy.
The Pirates are taking a big swing.
They have to get Lester. That's really all this is about.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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