Trietley: Pirates need box-office draw

By Greg Trietley

The Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, have a player named Valentino… The Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, have a player named Valentino Pascucci. On chilly summer nights in downtown Buffalo, the 33-year-old Californian — at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds — lumbers to the plate to bat for a minor league franchise that hasn’t made the postseason in six years.

Pascucci spent 32 games with the Montreal Expos in 2004. He hit so poorly (.177) he didn’t sniff the majors again until last September, when the lowly Mets gave him 11 at-bats as a September call-up.

But for the perennial also-rans of the International League North, Pascucci is a star in the follow-through of his career. Fans witnessed him dominate the team’s home run derby against a wiry, 5-foot-10 second baseman. They also saw him strike out 149 times last year, most of the time with spectacular, air-splitting cuts. When he connects, it lands on the entrance ramp to Interstate 190.

Three hours south, the Pittsburgh Pirates entered February with Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata as their starting outfielders. The franchise also brought back former Pirate outfielder Nate McLouth, who hit .229 in three overpaid seasons with Atlanta, as a reclamation project.

Presley, at 26, is the oldest of the starting trio. McCutchen is 25, and Tabata is just 23. Jenifer Langosch of wrote that they have “tremendous upside,” which means they are too young and too unproven to be labeled as anything substantive. Presley and Tabata are both coming off injury-plagued years to boot.

The Pirates, whose highest-paid player is new shortstop Clint Barmes, won’t sign a big-ticket free agent bat. To do so would undermine the frugality the franchise rests on. Pittsburgh could use a discounted A.J. Burnett on the mound, sure, but it really needs an outfielder to add some pop to the lineup.

The Pirates need their own version of Valentino Pascucci: a marginally productive box-office draw on the cheap, a name and personality just slightly bigger than the market he plays in. Somebody who can’t do better.

Aging outfielders litter the free agent market. J.D. Drew, Kosuke Fukudome, Raul Ibanez, Magglio Ordonez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero and Xavier Nady all remain unsigned and are past their prime — Nady is the youngest at 33.

Guerrero, 37, is a big-league version of Pascucci. He doesn’t bother to wear batting gloves. At 6-foot-3, he trots around the bases with a minor limp because one of his legs is longer than the other.

Guerrero hit .300 with 115 RBIs two seasons ago with Texas, but he functioned solely as a designated hitter with Baltimore last year en route to respectable, yet un-Guerrero-like, numbers. He’s undoubtedly on the decline.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Guerrero let the Yankees know that he wants to play for them. Unfortunately for him, though, the Yankees want Ibanez instead.

Nobody will bite at his $5 million asking price. But Pittsburgh fans would love to see Guerrero swing at — and sometimes make contact with — pitches in the dirt and to watch him use what’s left of his cannon arm in right field. His style of play would be a curiosity worth admission.

Drew, 36, might retire. His injuries, bloated paycheck and perceived laziness overshadowed his productivity — he still averaged 20 homers and 73 RBIs between 2006 and 2010. If Pittsburgh signed him, fans might show up just to heckle.

Once upon a time, Ordonez, 38, routinely totaled more than 30 homers and 110 RBIs per season with the White Sox. The Tigers opted not to resign the Venezuelan veteran this winter, and the Athletics turned him away after some consideration, according to the Detroit Free Press. He has no contract offers.

But the Pirates have two young Venezuelan outfielders in Tabata and Gorkys Hernandez. Ordonez could go 0-for-4 nightly and still have value to Pittsburgh if Tabata improves under his guidance.

Nady paid off once for the Pirates when they traded him to the Yankees in a deal that sent Tabata and Jeff Karstens to Pittsburgh. Signing Nady three months after luring McLouth back would be the baseball equivalent of “The Blues Brothers.”

Signing free agent Milton Bradley, last seen in the majors in May, would be the equivalent of “Slap Shot.”

Matsui, one final possible Pascucci, brings with him the nickname “Godzilla.” He won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award in 2009, and then he posted a strong season with the Angels and another with the Athletics — so he might actually still have one or two useful years in him before he becomes Pirates fodder.