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Kovacevic: Jolt needed to propel Pirates

| Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's the question of the day in and around these precocious Pirates: Should they trade for a prime-time player or two?

An answer is hard to find in the players' clubhouse.

Stick a camera or microphone in a player's face, and he'll predictably respond that the current 25 guys are plenty and that any addition or subtraction could affect team chemistry. That's commendable, actually. Nothing hurts chemistry like suggesting your teammates aren't good enough.

So I turned Tuesday to Andrew McCutchen, who always shows the right touch of honesty and class.

"We like what's in here, and I wouldn't say we need anything," the center fielder said. "But if the front office feels we have a need and they want to fill it, hey, heap it on, man. We'll take it."


Heap it on, indeed.

General manager Neal Huntington deserves as much credit as anyone for the Pirates' amazing revival, their 51-44 reversal from losing 105 games, the remarkable atmosphere they've created for their 1-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night . But only 11 days remain until Major League Baseball's trading deadline, and his next significant move this summer will be his first. There still is no power bat, whether for first base, third base or the outfield. Still no pitching help, either.

I'll say it yet again: The players have done their part. Clint Hurdle and his staff have done their part. The city is doing its part, judging by the size and enthusiasm of these crowds. Those 26,058 last night were more into baseball than any gathering I've witnessed at PNC Park.

Where's the front office?

Hoping that Pedro Alvarez's encouraging week with Triple-A Indianapolis is more than a mirage?

Crossing their fingers that Lyle Overbay will go from bust to boom?

Whipping up healing potion for Ryan Doumit, Steve Pearce, Evan Meek, Ronny Cedeno, Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Snyder and ... am I forgetting someone?

Hope won't cut it.

I understand there is value in waiting until closer to 3 p.m. July 31, when collars get a little tighter and demands tend to recede.

But understand this, too: This is no ordinary situation. Baseball's more advanced metrics, the kind to which the Pirates subscribe, all point to this team being due for a letdown. Some starters will approach career highs for innings. Closer Joel Hanrahan is looking increasingly isolated late in games. The defense has been far better than expected, but it remains to be seen how much of that has been built on at-'em balls. And the offense really hasn't been there all year.

A jolt is needed, and it's Huntington's job to provide it.

Step up aggressively on a young, dynamic All-Star like Houston's Hunter Pence. The Astros sound eager to rebuild, and they need front-line pitching prospects. It would be a bold move by the Pirates, sure, but no bolder than what Hurdle and his players have done.

Or come up with the cash to take on New York's Carlos Beltran, the available bat the Pirates like best. The Mets would send him to Bernie Madoff right now if it meant moving his remaining $6 million. Pirates owner Bob Nutting said he'd prefer to pay cash over giving out prospects. Sounds like a potential fit.

Or do the same with the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Pena, even if it means platooning him and Pearce at first base to make up for Pena's shortcomings against lefties.

Or Huntington can go off the beaten path and uncover a power-hitter who might be blocked in another system. It could be Chris Davis, a 6-foot-3, 25-year-old, left-handed first baseman/outfielder in the Texas system. He's batting .352 with 21 home runs in Triple-A.

This is all a hot topic behind closed doors in the Pirates' clubhouse. Players are discussing which additions they would prefer, whether management will come through and pretty much anything else related to trades. There is no unanimity, but the general consensus is threefold:

1. Someone like Pence would be great, though there are reservations about disrupting the current outfield.

2. Help for Hanrahan would be huge. For some, a top priority.

3. Better do something . Some players are skeptical that anything more than minor moves will be made.

So far, what we've mostly heard from the front office is concerns about the future implications of any trade, complaints about the nature of the trade market, how hard it is to get this or that, how much it would cost — all apparently aimed at managing the public's expectations.

Too late for that. All expectations now are based on looking at the Central Division standings.

Heap it on, man.

Photo Galleries

Pirates vs. Reds July 19, 2011

Pirates vs. Reds  July 19, 2011

The Pirates defeat Cincinnati, 1-0, Tuesday July 19, 2011 at PNC Park.

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