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The Zak Zone

July 27, 2011

As a Pirates fan, there is a day approaching on the Major League Baseball calendar that has long been one I have dreaded: The July 31 trade-deadline.

Typically, the trade deadline has meant I needed to constantly check all of the trade-rumor Web pages to make sure my favorite players had not been dealt away to the Yankees or the Red Sox in a last-minute trade "for prospects."

Trades for prospects ended up being the worst news I could hear, or so I thought at the time.

Just the other day, I read an article in ESPN: The Magazine about what teams have made deals with other teams most frequently in all of Major League Baseball.

Since 2006, the Pirates have made more deals with other teams than any other, including six trades with the Cleveland Indians, five with the Boston Red Sox and four with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.

For so many years, my, and many other fans', frustrations came from picking up these prospects, considered top ones in their respective teams' farm system, only to watch them develop into busts.

So, when the trade deadline came along, I always felt like I had good reason to be upset when my favorite players were sent packing.

This year, the trade deadline brings a new mentality, though.

It turns out, several of those trades over the past five years, especially the ones with teams who have deep farm systems filled with talent, like Boston and Tampa Bay, have yielded prospects who are already seeing time, and succeeding, at the Major League level.

The panning out of the prospects has led to excitement in western Pennsylvania over a baseball team that hasn't been exciting since 1992.

The Pirates have set a record for the number of consecutive losing seasons in any major sport.

But this year, they aren't just flirting with .500, they're competing for their division and just two months from the end of the season, find themselves in first place.

Knowing that the Pirates are buyers in this year's trade market is exciting, but I still find myself hesitant to jump at the thought of the Pirates ridding themselves of some of the prospects their fans have suffered so many losing seasons to bring into the system.

Last week, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the Pirates were one of many teams interested in Carlos Beltran. Beltran, who would fit the Pirates' struggling offense quite well, is a player who will certainly be leaving at the end of the year to free-agency and big money, and it just doesn't seem worth it to dump the prospects that the Mets will be asking for him on a rent-a-player.

Teams like the Mets may be looking to take advantage of a front office in Pittsburgh which feels the pressure of a big move to prove it is interested in winning, which is an issue because it has been accused of thinking with its pocketbooks more often than not.

But making a move that rids the farm system of prospects now may move the Pirates further back on the food chain than it is worth.

I have been to Altoona Curve games over the past year, the Pirates AA affiliate, and have followed the AAA-affiliate Indianapolis Indians online, and there are some players worth watching on both clubs. There are players that are Major League-ready, or close to it, and players who may just keep Pirates baseball exciting for years to come.

Sending even a few of those minor-leaguers packing may be a detriment to what Pirates fans have been wanting for so long — not just a winning season, but a winning baseball team.

My advice to the big-wigs in the Pirates front office: Wait until your injured players are back, continue to ride the wave that comes from five starting pitchers who are taking you deep into ball games (and another who is about to return from the disabled list) and hold on to those prospects so the fans who are already packing PNC Park this summer will have something to cheer for years into the future.

This year's team is no Bonds-Van Slyke-Bonilla style team, but it is winning games and turning heads. Why not give these guys a shot to write their own piece of history?

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