Being a Pirates fan in the past seventeen long years means to constantly be looking toward the future…1997, 2001, 2003, 2006 and on and on. This year is no different. Despite the front office’s promotional outpouring of “The future is now,” it is really not. They are closer to some resemblance of a competitive team than they were when Dave Littlefield was signing over the age players to horrible deals six years ago, but there’s still work to be done.

I believe the current front office is doing the right thing in trading away Nady, Bay, Freddy, Jack Flash, Adam LaRoche, Nyjer Morgan, etc while acquiring a plethora of prospects because that is how the franchise has to go about putting together a winning team some day. Let’s be honest, the Pirates will not be a franchise that spends $100 million a year on a team. With baseball’s current structure and playing in a “small market,” they just will not spend anywhere near that figure anytime soon. Therefore, when you’re only spending about $40 million on the payroll, the room for an error is slim. The Bucs can not compete with the big boys in free agency, so they have to build their team through the draft and trades by acquiring players early in their careers when they have the rights to them for multiple years. See former GM already mentioned in Littlefield—he made some terrible deals for broken down free agents that continued to put the team in a massive hole. Fans want to lash out at the current management for the deals they made the over the last couple of years, but keep in mind Neal Huntington and company took over a system that was decimated from rookie ball to the Majors. There were decent Major League players in Pittsburgh, but not good enough to even sniff .500, there were hardly any sterling prospects to speak of and the lack of reach into Latin America and other international markets was embarrassing.

So away went the players that fans here in Pittsburgh only knew and while guys like Freddy Sanchez is just an average second baseman on any other team, guys like him and Jack Wilson became stars in the ‘Burgh because that’s all we had. But it doesn’t mean they were going to turn this franchise around and win. The trades had to be made and in return it brought in prospects like Jose Tabata, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Tim Alderson, Jeff Clement, Gorkys Hernandez, Lastings Milledge along with the second overall pick in 2008—Pedro Alvarez. Easily the number one prospect in the organization, the projected middle-of-the-order power hitter is expected to arrive in Pittsburgh sometime this summer. Many see Alvarez as the savior upon his arrival, but while he could be something special along with Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates need more.

While it appears the Pirates are finally moving in the right direction, at times it still feels like they are miles and miles away. No more evidence is needed than the spring the team just finished as one of the worst in years. Not just with the record, but the struggles of the pitching staff as a whole. Such is the life of a Pirates fan. So when I think about my expectations for the 2010 season, it’s not how many wins will they reach or is .500 a possibility? I used to buy into the “Opening Day, everyone’s in first place and has a chance!” theory, but I’ve learned my lesson too many times thanks to the Pirates. Instead, I’ll be looking at other aspects of the game. Will McCutchen build on his stellar rookie season? When will Alvarez arrive and will he immediately produce showing signs of his unlimited potential? Can the young guys in the rotation, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm continue to improve? Will we see breakout seasons from either Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge or possibly both? The answers to these questions will be indicative of the Pirates future. The pitching rotation is a major key because besides Brad Lincoln, who will start the season in Triple-A, there’s not much pitching talent in the minors that is close to the big leagues. These are some of the pitchers the front office wants to go with when they hope to curb the consecutive losing streak. I pray to live to see that day.

Let me be clear on this—the losing streak won’t end this year. The Pirates just do not have enough ready talent to compete with the majority of the rosters in the National League. I think this team is still a couple of years away from completing a winning season and legitimately competing. Hell, they already have the infamous record in all of sports for consecutive losing seasons, so what’s another couple of years at this point?

Of course, reaching the magical 82 win total is not the ultimate goal, at least that’s what the front office repeatedly states. Their goal is to compete and bring a championship home to PNC Park. I know, it’s just as funny to write it as it is to read and imagine it. There lies the franchise’s problem right there. Baseball in Pittsburgh has become such a joke in the past decade plus that anything they do is not taken seriously by the media and general fans until they actually start to win. It’s incredibly disappointing, but the Pirates have managed to lose an entire generation of fans and are working on a second.

They need to change the entire culture of thinking and losing to get this franchise back to its once proud history. I see and understand both sides of it, and I curse and vent my anger all season at the team along with most fans, but in the grand scheme of things you have to see the big picture as a Pirates fan. The only reasonable plan of attack for a franchise that can’t spend much is to bring the young guys via the draft and trades and develop them quickly and maintain it. So while I watch the Buccos in 2010, I will once again watch for improvement from the young prospects and look to the future hoping that the time to prove themselves and produce starts this year and catapults into something special in the next couple of seasons.

UPDATE: It’s official according to the Post-Gazette—the Pirates will begin the season with the lowest payroll in the Majors at $35.3 million. This isn’t really a surprise, but it is remarkably less than last year’s payroll ($48.7). Management continues to publicly state they will increase the payroll once this core of players develops and produces at a level where they can add veteran pieces to the puzzle to compete. Time will tell if that is true.