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4 Pittsburgh Pirates The owner has expressed high hopes for his young, improving club. Too high

It's been four years since Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy and
general manager Cam Bonifay implemented their Five Year Plan,
the blueprint that would morph Pittsburgh into a contender by
the time new 38,000-seat PNC Park throws open its doors in 2001.
"Screw the Five Year Plan," says All-Star catcher Jason Kendall.
"I don't care what anybody says, we have to win this year. When
the new stadium comes we'll worry about it then. I'm so sick of
hearing about the new stadium."

McClatchy apparently shares Kendall's impatience; over the
winter the owner declared that the Pirates should win 90 games
in 2000. Such a proclamation is kind of like the kid with the
local lemonade stand announcing that he's buying out Minute
Maid. Ninety wins? Pittsburgh hasn't broken the 80-win barrier
since 1992. Furthermore, the Pirates enter the season with a
payroll around $30 million; only two of the 12 teams that spent
less than $40 million last year (the Reds and the Athletics)
even had winning records. "I think [McClatchy's statement] got
distorted a little bit," Bonifay says. "He was saying we would
improve, and that if we pitched real well and avoided injuries,
that would be an attainable goal for us."

"Who knows?" says shortstop Pat Meares about the possibility of
90 wins. "We thought we had a pretty good club last year, and it
fell apart on us."

That it did. Meares's sprained wrist in spring training was the
first in a season-long injury parade that claimed, among others,
Kendall, centerfielder Brian Giles and two closers, Rich
Loiselle and Jose Silva, for extended periods of time. "It was
almost comical by the end," says Meares, who tried to play for
two weeks in April, had surgery in May and did not return to the
field until 10 days were left in the season.

There were, however, some encouraging developments in '99, most
notably the emergence of a young and talented rotation. Starters
Jason Schmidt, Todd Ritchie and Kris Benson (average age: 26)
were a combined 39-34 and led the staff to the National League's
sixth-best ERA (4.33). Benson, the first overall pick in the '96
draft, led NL rookies in ERA (4.07), innings (196 2/3) and
strikeouts (139). Released by the Twins after the '98 season,
Ritchie had never made a big league start before his call-up by
Pittsburgh in late April. Despite missing two weeks in August
with shoulder tendinitis, he went 15-9 (the most victories by a
Pirate since Doug Drabek won 15 in '92) and was sixth in the
league with a 3.49 ERA. "I've always said the Pirates are no fun
to play," says Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "Their rotation
stacks up against anybody."

They're also no fun to watch when they're in the field. The
pitching staff got little help last year, when the Pirates made
147 errors and gave up 93 unearned runs, more than any team in
the league except the stone-handed Expos. The return of Meares
will shore up the defense a bit, but there are still plenty of
holes. New leftfielder Wil Cordero was given the largest
free-agent deal in club history (three years, $9 million), but
it's safe to say it wasn't for his defensive prowess. Kevin
Young led NL first basemen with 23 errors. There's potential for
more disaster afield as 21-year-old Aramis Ramirez has been
handed the third base job and 22-year-old Chad Hermansen--a
former infielder who committed 39 errors in the minors in
'97--the centerfield position.

Ramirez and Hermansen are also being asked to carry a heavy
offensive load for a lineup that is short on power. The two
youngsters have good offensive resumes: Ramirez had a .328
average and 21 homers at Triple A Nashville last year, and
Hermansen bashed 60 homers in his two seasons in Nashville, in
1998 and '99. "We also have Bruce Aven and John Vander Wal and
Adrian Brown in the outfield," says Bonifay, who traded the
productive Al Martin to the Padres in the off-season to make
room for Hermansen. "So [the burden's] not all on Chad."

The righthanded-hitting Cordero and the return of leadoff hitter
Kendall (who was hitting .332 with 22 stolen bases when he
suffered a season-ending broken ankle last July) will make the
lineup more imposing against lefthanded pitching--the Pirates
were a sorry 17-30 against southpaw starters last year. But
keeping up with the other offensive powerhouses in the division
is out of the question. So too is 90 wins, which one AL scout
calls "ludicrous."

"We're obviously in a rebuilding stage here," says Giles, who
moves from center to right after a breakout '99 season in which
he hit .315, knocked in 115 runs and played stellar defense. "I
don't know if you can put a number on how many wins we should
have. We're just hoping everybody is healthy come Opening Day."

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON BRILLIANT STROKE Last year Kendall rewarded the Bucs with a .428 on-base percentage after their bold decision to put a catcher in the leadoff spot.


Around The Horn

[2 1/2 stars]
[2 stars]
starting pitching
[3 1/2 stars]
[2 1/2 stars]
[3 stars]

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .259 (14)
Runs scored 775 (12)
Home runs 171 (10)

1999 record: 78-83 (third in NL Central)

Opponents' batting average .263 (6)
ERA 4.33 (6)
Fielding percentage .976 (15)

next up...

Just 21, Aramis Ramirez was given the third base job this spring
when the Pirates let Ed Sprague walk as a free agent.
Offensively, the Pirates know Ramirez is ready--he had 21 homers
at Triple A Nashville last year. But he also made a ghastly 42
errors in the minors and three more after his September call-up.
"He has fine hands and a good arm," says general manager Cam
Bonifay. "Mental lapses led to those errors." Manager Gene
Lamont sat down with Ramirez during a winter trip to the
Dominican Republic to stress the importance of off-season work
and to make sure Ramirez had his head screwed on right. The
message appears to have found its mark. "He's here working out
every day at 7 a.m.," first baseman Kevin Young says. "We expect
him to be a productive third baseman and a good defensive
player," says Bonifay. "If we didn't think so, we wouldn't send
him out there."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Gene Lamont (fourth season with Pittsburgh)


C Jason Kendall R 139 .332 8 41 22
SS Pat Meares R 236 .308 0 7 0
RF Brian Giles L 18 .315 39 115 6
1B Kevin Young R 33 .298 26 106 22
LF Wil Cordero[1] R 174 .299 8 32 2
2B Warren Morris L-R 202 .288 15 73 3
CF Chad Hermansen*(R) R 161 .270 32 97 19
3B Aramis Ramirez* R 218 .328 21 74 5


OF Bruce Aven[1] R 228 .289 12 70 3
OF John Vander Wal[1] L 361 .272 6 41 2
OF Adrian Brown S-R 371 .270 4 17 5
IF Mike Benjamin R 376 .247 1 37 10
C Keith Osik R 403 .186 2 13 0


RH Jason Schmidt 54 13 11 6.4 1.43 4.19
RH Todd Ritchie 34 15 9 6.6 1.29 3.49
RH Kris Benson 125 11 14 6.3 1.36 4.07
RH Francisco Cordova 153 8 10 6.0 1.40 4.43
LH Pete Schourek 209 4 7 4.9 1.57 5.34


RH Mike Williams 46 3 4 23 1.71 5.09
LH Scott Sauerbeck 165 4 1 2 1.34 2.00
LH Jason Christiansen 180 2 3 3 1.27 4.06
RH Marc Wilkins 296 2 3 0 1.47 4.24
RH Jason Boyd* (R) 300 6 5 5 1.39 4.26
RH Jimmy Anderson 303 2 1 0 1.40 3.99

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Pirates

The Pirates have been a year away for a couple of years, but now
it's time. They must produce more than they have.... Getting
Jason Kendall back is huge. He's a fine player and cut out of
the Darren Daulton mold in terms of leadership.... Is Chad
Hermansen ready? He has good foot speed, but that and being a
good centerfielder are two different things.... Aramis Ramirez
has great potential at the plate, but he's like Manny Ramirez in
terms of consistency, especially on defense. He goes through
spells of brain cramps.... Moving Brian Giles from center to
right will really free him up to concentrate on his offense. I
expect a big year out of him.... Kris Benson has electric stuff:
95 to 96 mph, a power slider, four above-average pitches. He's a
potential ace.... The bullpen is solid from the left side with
Jason Christiansen, a power guy, and Scott Sauerbeck, a
curveball specialist who painted all last year and got away with
it.... A lot of teams need lefties, so the Pirates might offer
up-one to make a deal for the righthanded relief help they
desperately need.