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Kovacevic: Time for front-office offensive

| Sunday, June 19, 2011

CLEVELAND — The Pirates' offense continued to flat-line with the 5-1 loss to Cleveland on Saturday at Progressive Field, one in which the Indians' Carlos Carrasco carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning. By evening's end, the visitors mustered all of four hits, with half of them actually escaping the infield.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...

So, what now?

Five weeks before Major League Baseball's July 31 trading deadline, the Pirates are back to .500 at 35-35, back to four games off the Central Division lead, and their immediate future is murky.

Is it really worth it to make a short-term addition or two?

My advice is this: Go for it, but proceed with caution.

I can't wrap my head around contending with an offense that ranks in the National League's bottom five for batting average (.239), runs (260) and home runs (48), not to mention a current lineup in which the catcher, third baseman, first baseman, left fielder and right fielder have combined for eight home runs.

But I still can come up with five reasons why general manager Neal Huntington should add offense, even if it's just for this summer:

1. Keep the clubhouse

On the field, these Pirates have done their part to bring about a dramatic improvement from the 105 losses of 2010, breaking down just about every barrier, from pitching better to winning on the road. (Still waiting on beating the Brewers, of course.) The front office has rightly praised manager Clint Hurdle, his staff and his players for their determination.

Well, this is the time for the front office to show the same.

Remember when the Penguins made two trades before the NHL deadline in February, even though Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would miss the playoffs?

That front office, seeing that the remaining roster had battled fiercely, had the players' backs.

The Pirates should follow suit. But, like the Penguins, they shouldn't mortgage the future by trading elite prospects. All that's needed is a bat or two to stay competitive, and that can come by taking on salary in a trade, which the front office has maintained for years it could do but never has done.

2. Boost internal pride

If all that emerges is a .500-or-better finish, so be it.

The 18-year losing streak is this franchise's albatross, and it affects everyone from instructors to evaluators to major leaguers to prospects to the newest of draft picks, who immediately field questions about being selected by the laughingstock of baseball.

Let these people be proud of the uniform for something that happened in the past two decades.

3. Make the fans happy

I cringe at typing that because any sports team that makes moves for P.R. purposes is a loser. But, again, the Pirates are no ordinary case.

If the front office steps up, it would mark the team's first ringer-type acquisition since Shawon Dunston way back in 1997. (Sorry, can't bring myself to count Matt Morris because that would apply logic where no logic belongs.) It would give fans hope, it would sell tickets and that would allow for the raising of payroll and keeping the team's core young talent.

4. The manager wants it

I know because I asked Hurdle again Saturday if he'd like to add offense, and he replied: "Absolutely. There aren't many days that Neal and I don't have a conversation about what we can do to make our club better. We just had one today."

I reminded Hurdle that a midseason acquisition would be rare ground for this team.

"Well, that's maybe another thing on our to-do list," he said. "I'll say this: Everything I've talked about with the front office, it's all been very positive. Nobody's throwing up roadblocks."

5. First base is open

Lyle Overbay is looking like a bust for his one-year, $5 million contract, batting .228 with a current 2-for-22 slump and a team-high 50th strikeout for the final out Saturday. Before the game, Hurdle had Overbay in his office for a half-hour, and word in the clubhouse was that pressure is mounting on Overbay to perform.

If he doesn't, that's a good opening to have because first basemen are among the easiest commodities in baseball to acquire.

It's up to Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly and Huntington to get something done. A lot of good pitching, including Paul Maholm's better-than-his-line work Saturday, is going to waste.

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