Being the GM of a small market team of any sport can be a tricky situation — having that position in a sport that has no salary cap is a whole different animal.
For teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, trying to stay competitive in a money driven sport, where salary’s are reaching $30 million a year, is a near impossible task. Some teams have laid a blueprint for how to achieve this (i.e. Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays) but even the Twins, with a new ballpark to help, have started to pony up the dough for high-end stars such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
The Pirates are taking a different approach. Trying to build on a farm system that has major league talent, the Pirates have started fishing in the shallow end of the free agent pond.
Their goal is simple: Sign a name that has experience and that nobody else wants, and then pray for them to prove the other 29 MLB teams wrong.
This has become apparent by their recent wave of free agent signings: Brandon Inge was a fixture for the Detroit Tigers, and then with the Oakland Athletics, but always found himself bouncing between positions. Jose Contreras has bounced between the majors and minors, sporting a career record slightly above .500 and a career ERA of 4.55. Francisco Liriano is coming of an arm injury and a record of 6-12.
The best signee of the group is easily Russell Martin, who is a highly dependable defensive catcher and also brings some power to the plate.
Martin will be the catalyst to this pitching staff. Having a veteran presence as himself behind the plate could help Liriano — and possibly Contreras — stay out of jams by managing the game. Inge could be the utility player that the Pirates have been searching for for some time now, and could be an interesting fit into a lineup that already has Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez.
While their histories may not stir up many emotions, getting quality production from these players could be just what this team needs.