PITTSBURGH (AP) — This might be the toughest current trivia question in baseball: Quickly, without looking at a box score, name one Pittsburgh Pirates everyday player.

Nate McLouth? Long gone to the Braves. Jack Wilson, the most-tenured Pirates player? Off to Seattle. Freddy Sanchez, the three-time NL All-Star? Now a Giant. Jason Bay? Prospering in Boston. Adam LaRoche, Ian Snell, Xavier Nady, Ronny Paulino, Njyer Morgan, John Grabow, Tom Gorzelanny, Jose Bautista? All gone from a team that has only one of its nine opening day starters from 2008 remaining.

After breaking up their last remaining area of strength by dealing the double-play combination of Wilson and Sanchez, the Pirates have become baseball’s version of Extreme Makeover. What’s left might be the majors’ weakest 25-man roster, one of its lowest payrolls and a glimmer of hope for the future.

Whenever that future may be.

In less than two months, the Pirates have dealt their left fielder, center fielder, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, top left-handed reliever and their No. 1 & 2 starters going into last season.

“We don’t feel like we’ve broken up the ’27 Yankees,” general manager Neal Huntington said after dealing Wilson and Sanchez in a six-hour span Wednesday that left the Pirates without a single accomplished position player.

One day after gutting their infield, the Pirates depleted their left-handed pitching depth by trading Grabow, one of the NL’s top situational relievers, and former 14-game winner Gorzelanny to the Cubs on Thursday for three players.

Since being hired nearly two years ago, Huntington has cast off virtually every experienced Pirates player with a substantial salary, in a determined attempt to rebuild a farm system that was arguably the majors’ worst. That farm system has since grown deeper at every level but, as Pirates fans long ago came to realize, prospects are exactly that until they become credible major leaguers.

That’s one reason why the Pirates are only 24 losses away from becoming the first major league team to endure 17 consecutive losing seasons. They’ve been living off prospects, hope and faith almost since the day Willie Stargell retired in 1982, breaking up the We Are Family team that won the Pirates’ last world championship 30 years ago in 1979.

Over the last quarter century, the Pirates have had an astoundingly low four winning seasons and have made only three postseason appearances, the last in 1992. Their latest overhaul rivals that made after GM Syd Thrift and manager Jim Leyland took over in 1986 following a 104-loss season, and that one required four years for the Pirates to contend again.

Now, an entire generation of fans have grown up watching the Steelers and Penguins consistently win — each won a championship earlier this year — but has yet to see the Pirates field even a .500 team.

Pirates faithful must wonder if tomorrow will ever come.

So might the players in a fast-changing clubhouse where Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Charlie Morton, Ronny Cedeno, Steve Pearce, Delwyn Young and, soon, Lastings Milledge — none of whom were with Pittsburgh when the season started — suddenly are key players.

Remarkably, McCutchen, who was recalled to play center field after McLouth was traded to Atlanta on June 3, might be their best everyday player.

“People might wonder what we’re doing, but if you keep looking at all the names we’re getting and all the premier talent we’re getting, it’s going to equate to a very solid, very good ballclub in Pittsburgh,” manager John Russell said. “We have big names all over the diamond. That’s where we’re headed.”

Right now, it’s mostly no names.

The Pirates may have more recognizable prospects than before — third baseman Pedro Alvarez and outfielders Jose Tabata and Gorkys Hernandez among them — but even the six-player haul obtained for Wilson and Sanchez is questionable. Four are pitchers, but only one is considered to be a potential future star.

Double-A pitcher Tim Alderson, acquired for 2006 NL batting champion Sanchez, immediately becomes the Pirates’ top pitching hopeful. However, first baseman-catcher Jeff Clement, the top player of the five dealt by Seattle for Wilson and right-hander Ian Snell, may be a man without a position because of his limited defensive skills. He also has been a disappointment since being the No. 3 pick in the 2005 draft.

The best player in the Cubs deal is right-hander Kevin Hart, who is 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA after beating Houston 12-3 on Thursday.

The Pirates also may be questioning if they gave up too quickly on former 14-game winner Snell after his frustration with a 2-8 record caused him to lobby for a demotion to the minors. As Huntington said, “This is one of those where you feel uneasy … this one has a chance to come back and haunt us.”

As usual, the Pirates — who have the majors’ third-lowest attendance — are denying that money forced the trades, yet their every move seems to save them dollars. Their 2010 payroll figures to be one of the majors’ two or three lowest unless they sign a notable free agent or two, something they’ve haven’t done in years.

With McLouth, Wilson and Sanchez gone since opening day, the Pirates’ highest-paid player is left-hander Paul Maholm at $3.5 million. Despite needing another starting pitcher, they declined recently to recall Gorzelanny, possibly because it might advance his arbitration eligibility by a year.

The Pirates are putting more money than ever into their farm system, and have begun paying above slot for drafted high school players that other teams may have passed on for money reasons. They also opened one of the top academies in the Dominican Republic, but that won’t produce players for years and years.

Their fans’ patience appears all but exhausted — wasn’t PNC Park, which opened in 2001, supposed to allow them to compete financially with the big boys? — yet the Pirates keep asking for it.

“We know these moves are going to be incredibly unpopular,” Huntington said. “But this is how we’re going to rebuild this franchise. We’re trying to create a winner. We have no interest in getting to .500 once and then losing for five years.”

So far, they haven’t gotten to .500 even once for years, a streak about to hit 17 seasons.


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