30 Clubs in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Pirates

Posted: March 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImageIn 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates continued to inch closer to their first winning season since 1992. 20 years of futility, perpetrated by poor drafting (example: Bryan Bullington was their #1 overall pick in 2002), roster mismanagement, and a lack of quality ownership,  have finally subsided. Now led by a host of young, bright stars like Andrew McCutchen (.327-31-96), Pedro Alvarez (.244-30-85), and James McDonald (12-8, 4.21), the Pirates finally have their city believing that 2013 could be the year they “hurdle” the jump. Manager Clint Hurdle, who led the Colorado Rockies to the 2007 World Series, has surely but steadily helped build a franchise from the ground up. Will the Pirates finally usurp 81 victories and earn their first winning season since the first Bush administration?

The Pirates’ farm system is incredibly strong, especially with regards to starting pitching. Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia all project to be top of the line starters in the future. Meanwhile, their current rotation consists of a solid corps of veterans, A.J. Burnett (16-10, 3.51), Wandy Rodriguez (5-4, 3.72), McDonald, Jeff Karstens (5-4, 3.97), and Francisco Liriano (6-12, 5.34) give Hurdle plenty to work with at the start of games. The aforementioned prospects, who could be ready as early as this summer, will be prepared to step in should one of these vets falter.

Former Lehigh Valley IronPig RHP Jason Grilli (1-6, 2.91, 2 SV), who starred for team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, was resigned this offseason and will prepare for his first opportunity to close after the franchise dealt Joel Hanrahan to Boston in December. After Grilli, the ‘pen is vastly inexperienced, relying on Mark Melancon (0-2, 6.20), acquired from Boston in the Hanrahan deal, to provide set-up duties.

The true strength of this Pirates club will undoubtedly be their lineup, which has finally come together after two decades of top-10 selections. McCutchen and Alvarez are the key run producers in the middle of the order. But, the Pirates will be increasingly reliant upon role players like Neil Walker (.280-14-69), Garrett Jones (.274-27-86), and the relatively newly acquired duo of Russell Martin (.211-21-53) and Travis Snider (.250-1-9). The former leaves the Yankees to come to Pittsburgh, where he will bring much needed playoff experience and veteran poise. The latter is a former Blue Jays top prospect who fizzled out north of the border. Both are starters for Pittsburgh, and should be improvements over what was in their positions last year. Meanwhile, the Pirates welcome prospect Starling Marte into the lineup. The speedy 24-year old hit 5 HR and stole 17 bases in just 43 games last year.

Five Year Review:
2012:  79-83
2011: 72-90
2010: 57-105
2009: 62-99
2008: 67-95

2012 Team MVP: CF Andrew McCutchen: The 26-year old two-time All Star is suddenly one of the finest players in the game. His emergence, from a promising prospect on the horizon of greatness, to a superstar and face of the sport, has been swift and glorious for Pittsburgh fans. ‘Cutch broke out in 2012, following up a stellar 2011 campaign (.259-23-89, 23 SB) with an MVP quality season, hitting .327-31-96 with 20 SB. The first round pick in 2005 has played in 154+ games each of the past three years, and finally got some much deserved hardware last fall. Despite finishing third in NL MVP voting, McCutchen won his first Gold Glove award and also his inaugural Silver Slugger trophy. This veteran is young and still has room to improve. Watch out when he does.

2012 Team LVP: C Rod Barajas: Phillies fans remember this veteran backstop well, as he provided equally disparaging production with the team from eastern-Pennsylvania back in 2007. Somehow, Barajas has managed to keep finding jobs. This is mostly because the 37-year old will mix in one good season with every four poor ones. From 2009-11, Barajas averaged .231-27-83 per 162 games played. Those are above-average power numbers for a catcher, a position where offense is scarce in today’s MLB climate. Then, he signed with Pittsburgh. The veteran promptly reverted back to his pre-2009 numbers, slumping to .206-11-31 in 104 games, his most since 2009. The Pirates were wise to cut and run from Barajas. His replacement, Martin, should provide much more stable production. Barajas, meanwhile, signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in February.

Key Acquisitions:

C Russell Martin (New York Yankees)
INF Ivan De Jesus (Boston Red Sox)
3B Brandon Inge (Oakland Athletics)
OF Jerry Sands (Boston Red Sox)
RHP Jeanmar Gomez (Clevealnd Indians)
RHP Mark Melancon (Boston Red Sox)
RHP Stolmy Pimentel (Boston Red Sox)
RHP Jose Contreras (Philadelphia Phillies)
RHP Kyle Waldrop (Minnesota Twins)
RHP Vin Mazzaro (Kansas City Royals)
LHP Andy Oliver (Detroit Tigers)
LHP Jonathan Sanchez (Colorado Rockies)
LHP Francisco Liriano (Chicago White Sox)

Key Departures

C Rod Barajas (Arizona Diamondbacks)
1B Jeff Clement (Minnesota Twins)
2B Brock Holt (Boston Red Sox)
RHP Joel Hanrahan (Boston Red Sox)
RHP Kevin Correia (Minnesota Twins)
RHP Chad Qualls (Miami Marlins)
RHP Daniel McCutchen (Baltimore Orioles)
RHP Evan Meek (Texas Rangers)
LHP Hisanori Takahashi (Chicago Cubs)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

LF Starling Marte – .265-13-56, 27 SB
2B Neil Walker – .272-15-70
CF Andrew McCutchen – .287-24-87, 21 SB
1B Garrett Jones – .262-20-71
3B Pedro Alvarez – .238-24-77
C Russell Martin – .242-12-48
RF Travis Snider – .254-12-49
SS Clint Barmes – .234-9-44

RHP AJ Burnett – 11-11, 3.96
LHP Wandy Rodriguez – 10-11, 3.82
RHP James McDonald – 9-10, 4.15
RHP Jeff Karstens – 8-8, 4.05
LHP Francisco Liriano – 7-8, 3.97

RHP Jason Grilli – 3-3, 3.00, 24 SV
LHP Tony Watson – 3-2, 3.76

2013 Outlook

The first thing that jumps out at you when analyzing the Pirates is their sudden rotation depth. When coupled with the nearly MLB ready prospects in the high-minors, the Pittsburgh rotation appears to rival most in the league with regards to depth, although not necessarily top-end talent. The bullpen is a bit scary, and I think that Clint Hurdle would love to see some of his veterans like Jose Contreras show that they still have what it takes to pitch high-intensity innings at the major league level. Unless something spectacular happens, the Pittsburgh bullpen could resemble Philadelphia’s last year and cost them a chance at the division.

On offense, I fully expect another spectacular season from McCutchen as well as continued improvement from the likes of Alvarez and Marte. Assuming he’s healthy, Martin is a dramatic improvement behind the dish and they still have Michael McKenry (.233-12-39) as their backup after a strong 2012 campaign for the veteran.

If the Pirates can add a couple of bullpen pieces at the trade deadline, they should finish above .500 for the first time since I was in preschool. I foresee the Bucs winning between 80-86 games, competing for one of the Wild Cards until the end of the season.

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