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Starkey: Time to trade Doumit

| Thursday, May 27, 2010

When the time is right, the Pirates insist, they will write bigger checks. They will pad the payroll. They will add real, live baseball players to their roster, during a real, live baseball season, in an attempt to win.

You're laughing. Go ahead. We can wait.

Now you're crying?

Now you appear to be very angry.

Is this the baseball version of the five stages of grief?

If so, then I must be in denial, because I'm still willing to give the club's latest plan a chance. It is only two years old, you know. And I don't yet believe the time is "right" to lock up players in their late 20's, add to the roster in midseason or sign an expensive free agent.

Rather, it is time to bring up the kids and see if they can play. Neil Walker's already here. Pedro Alvarez, Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata should be on the way from Triple-A Indianapolis. Other promising youngsters — such as catcher Tony Sanchez and pitchers Bryan Morris and Daniel "I am not Wieters" Moskos — are progressing.

Those kinds of players, plus fabulous center fielder Andrew McCutchen, represent the future. They will provide the true litmus test for owner Bob Nutting's willingness to fund a winner.

Will Nutting give general manager Neal Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly the go-ahead to secure McCutchen to a lucrative, long-term deal that buys out some years of free agency?

Will the Pirates take the right player with the second pick in this year's draft, no matter the cost?

Will they sign an expensive, international prospect anytime soon, the way the Cincinnati Reds did with Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman?

Will they add a pricey free-agent starter in, say, the summer of 2012?

Will they seek to supplement the roster in, say, July 2012, if the team is showing promise?

Those are the financial questions that most interest me, as opposed to whether the club will pay big money to keep Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm.

I know the Pirates have indicated they won't trade established big-leaguers for prospects anymore. But what is your definition of established?

I'm not sure Doumit, 29, has done enough to warrant the $5.1 million salary he is owed next season, let alone the club options of $7.25 million in 2012 and $8.25 million in 2013.

That leaves three scenarios:

1. Kill the club-option years with a $500,000 buyout.

2. Re-work the deal, get Doumit to tear up the options and pay him less.

3. Trade him.

Give me scenario No. 3, and let's not dally. The Pirates should trade Doumit as soon as possible, now that he is enjoying a rare window of good health and production.

Going into Wednesday's game in Cincinnati, Doumit's .828 OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentages) was second among major-league catchers, behind only Minnesota star Joe Mauer, he of the eight-year, $184 million contract.

Good-hitting catchers are rare. You have to believe a team (Boston?) would pay a decent price for the switch-hitting Doumit, even if he is average-to-below defensively. If the Pirates can find an adequate deal for, say, a live young arm (attached to a live, young pitcher), they should jump on it.

Doumit's history says he will not be worth big money to the Pirates. They must strike while the non-ironman is hot.

Look, with or without Doumit, the Pirates are going to lose this year and probably next. Same goes for Maholm and Duke, both in their late 20's with decent but hardly mind-blowing resumes. I'd overpay to keep one — hey, somebody has to pitch — but not both.

Maholm is due $5.75 million next season with a club option of $9.75 million in 2012. Duke, making $4.3 million, could be in line for a huge raise. If one of those players can be signed to a relatively sane, long-term deal, do it.

In the meantime, this team could become a lot more fun to watch as the prospects flow in. I'm highly skeptical as to whether the money will follow, but I'm still willing to give this plan a chance.

And, yes, I am aware that denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

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