This article was orignally posted by Mr. Bill Ivie on Baseball Digest until the website closed.
If you reference my 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates report card, then you should know they have plenty of room for improvement as they prepare for 2012. Their offense was among the worst in the major leagues with a serious lack of power, while their pitching was only marginally better in comparison. They actually have some money to spend this offseason after a big pick up in attendance this past season and since several players fell off their pay books.
The exact amount they have to spend on free agent signings this offseason will be dependent upon who the Pirates decide to tender in arbitration and how much. If they increase their payroll to $50M, which they previously reported, then they should have approximately $20M of flexibility. Pirates’ general manager, Neil Huntington, reported, "We’re going to non-tender some players that people don’t want us to non-tender. We’re going to tender some players that probably surprise some people." This worries me as this potentially means the team could bring back Ross Ohlendorf for another season who has been adequate at best, and we may lose Garrett Jones who had a fairly productive season while platooning at both first base and right field.
Team options were declined for Paul Maholm ($9.75M), Ryan Doumit ($7.25M), Chris Snyder ($6.75M), and Ronny Cedeno ($3M). The Pirates absorbed $2.2 million to allow them to walk along with their mid-season acquisitions, Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. The loss of these key players caused the apparent necessity for a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, and at least one starting pitcher. The Pirates are lucky to have Neil Walker locked in at second base; Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, et al covering the bullpen; and Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and company protecting the outfield.
There is no chance of Doumit returning as he recently signed with the Minnesota Twins for one year at $3M. The Buccos are not terribly concerned as they locked in Rod Barajas, former catcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a one year contract to the tune of $4M with a $3.5M team option for 2013. Veteran shortstop, Clint Barmes, is the most recent free agent signing and is now reportedly under contract for two years at the cost of $10.5M. If these reports are accurate, then they filled their gaps at catcher and shortstop with about $10M to spare for other acquisitions.
The team still desires at least one starting pitcher with Charlie Morton probably beginning the season on the disabled list, Maholm gone, and Ohlendorf hopefully in Pittsburgh’s past. Otherwise they will be relying upon an even younger starting rotation than they used in 2011, which ended poorly as they ran out of steam going into August.
Management acquired Lee and Ludwick before the 2011 trade deadline with the hope to add a much needed power threat in their lineup, but they were riddled by injuries like the rest of the roster. Ludwick should not be pursued this offseason as there is already a major logjam in the outfield, but I bet everyone would love to have Lee back next season. He performed poorly while playing in Baltimore, but played with MVP-like caliber during his brief stint with the Pirates.
The outfield is chock-full of young talent with Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, and Andrew McCutchen as their trophy centerpiece. But it doesn't stop there. Starling Marte was protected from the Rule 5 draft and will be their regular center fielder for their Indianapolis AAA team to start 2012, but there are also younger options still developing like Robbie Grossman and Josh Bell who are not quite ready for the Big Show. It is almost mind boggling to realize the Pirates actually have depth at a position, so how do you make them all fit?
It is possible they will ask McCutchen or Marte to shift from center field, but it is equally feasible for them to trade Marte or Presley in an attempt to alleviate this traffic jam and try to strengthen a weaker position. If they somehow manage to retain all of them, then Joel Hanrahan is another possibility as a buy low and sell high trade candidate.
The only position not aforementioned is third base which should have been covered by Pedro Alvarez; however, he had a terrifyingly dismal season and spent nearly two months in the minor league. We can only hope it was his "sophomore slump" and the performance picks up again next season.
There is plenty of talent developing down on the farm, as usually is the case in the Pirates organization, but the question of who we may see make their major league debut in 2012 is a little difficult to distinguish. Marte may make an appearance if a positional opening is made for him, Rudy Owens could fight for a spot in the rotation but it may be difficult if they take his down year in AAA into account, and Matt Hague who was also recently protected from the Rule 5 draft.
I sincerely expect Hague to make his appearance in 2012. He has experience to play first and third base, which may be quite helpful if anyone gets hurt or fails to produce. Hague hits for average with modest power and has incredible patience at the plate. If I had a comparison in mind, I would hope he turns out to become a player similar to Kansas City Royals’ Billy Butler.
The Buccos were a playoff threat and divisional leader this past July, which caused a few fans to regain hope and hop back on the bandwagon. Here’s hoping that 2012 is the year the Pirates once again become an above average team. Perhaps they can reclaim their dominance last seen by fans in 1992.
Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Report Card
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Offseason Outlook
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Preview