P3: Your 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

It's been 16 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a winning season and 2009 doesn't figure to be the year to reverse the uh... curse?

Really, there's no curse or hex on the Pirates baseball club. Instead, the reason for the futility is the fact that the Bucs don't understand what it means to assemble a front office filled with people who understand baseball.

The haven't drafted particularly well, they haven't spent money (48 million dollar payroll) and they don't seem to have any building blocks either.

Frankly, I never understood why they've been this bad for so long. Sure you can blame the payroll but after watching what the Tampa Bay Rays did in 2008, there's no excuses at the end of the day. On top of that, PNC Park looks like a beautiful place to take in a ball game and the city supported the team strongly up until the mid-90s.

But last season's trades didn't make any sense. Jason Bay, an all-star outfielder, was shipped as part of the three-way trade to the Boston Red Sox and all he pulled in was third baseman Andy LaRoche, who hit a sparkling .166, and Red Sox pitching prospect Craig Hansen. Hansen was a debacle after the trade, posting an ERA of 6.22 and he doesn't even factor into the Pirates miserable rotation this season.

Pittsburgh also shipped out breakout star Xavier Nady along with reliable bullpen arm Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees for a package structured around pitcher Jeff Karstens. In limited time, Karstens posted a 2-9 record with a 4.03 ERA and figures to be a factor at the back end of the rotation.

The problem with all these trades is that neither Bay nor Nady were due for free agency and both made under $9 million. Why abandon ship so early? If the prospects were better, it would have made more sense.

The good news, and perhaps only news, is that all star outfielder Nate McLouth returns for the 2009 season at the ripe age of 27 and is prime for a career year in the neighborhood of 30 home runs and 100 plus RBIs.

Fellow outfielder Andrew McCutchen isn't far off from joining the major league club after spending the past few years as the gem of the Pirates system.

Sadly for the fans in Pittsburgh things aren't going to get better soon. In time, if the team continues to draft well (see McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez) and adds some starting pitching, they could see a winning record within the next two-to-three years.

But if not, at least they have that lovable parrot.