Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pirates 2012 Season Preview

This article was part of a Baseball Bloggers Alliance series coordinated four months ago by Mr. Bill Ivie. I volunteered to grade the Bucco's 2011 season as well as discuss the outlook on their offseason. The previous articles were originally published on Baseball Digest, however the website closed and this new article was supposed to be posted on his new blog, Full Spectrum Baseball.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ivie informed me today this will not occur:
"With the closing of Baseball Digest, many writers elected not to carry on with this project. Due to this fact, I am left with a fraction of the submissions we need and no prospects of writers for some of the remaining teams.

"While I appreciate your work on these pieces, I will not be able to publish them this season.

"Feel free to run these on your own sites or whatever you see fit. I may be in touch with a few of you to see if we can use your pieces in another capacity. For the most part, however, I will not have a home for these.

"Thank you for understanding..."
Sadder still, this also means my previous two articles vanished from the internet.I'm disappointed, but I can pick myself up, figure this out, and make the best of the situation. After all, I'm a Pirates fan!

Last Season
The Pittsburgh Pirates saw a glimmer of hope in 2011, but injuries and fatigue after the All Star break ensured their downfall to finish fourth in the standings ahead of the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros with a 72-90 record. It was an improvement over 2010 where they finished 57-105, but it still clinched their 19th consecutive losing season.

The team lost quite a few recognizable names from their roster during the offseason including Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Ronny Cedeno, Ross Ohlendorf, and Chris Snyder as well as their mid-season acquisitions, Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. That is a long list to recover, but I believe they managed their resources to the best of their ability, although they may still have the lowest payroll in the MLB thanks in part to Miami’s spending splurge.

The Rotation
Young pitching is what carried the team along last season until their arms tired out. They have quite a few candidates to start this season. Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia are all returning; Erik Bedard signed via free agency for $4.5M, which is a potential steal; and A.J. Burnett was acquired via trade from the New York Yankees and is only responsible for $13M of his $33M salary through 2013.

The Bedard and Burnett acquisitions were the most exciting among our offseason. Bedard has been injury prone and Burnett allows a lot of homers, but I am happy to have some strikeout potential in this rotation beyond McDonald. Both average almost one strikeout per inning pitched and will play pivotal roles.

Morton and Burnett are recovering from surgery and may begin the season on the disabled list, which means their rotation currently consists of Bedard, McDonald, Karstens, Correia, and Lincoln. Once everyone is healthy, I expect Correia and Lincoln will be demoted to the bullpen and/or minors to yield this rotation: Burnett, Bedard, Morton, McDonald, Karstens.

Starting Pitching in the Organization
Brad Lincoln, Kyle McPherson, Jeff Locke, and Rudy Owens are ready to go in the minors. Expect to see Lincoln and McPherson as soon as April due to injuries, while Locke and Owens are both lefties who can provide diversity in a right-handed heavy pitching system. Their prized arms, however, are first round picks Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon who may be ready as early as late 2013.

The Bullpen
Joel Hanrahan was elected the closer last season and did not make them regret their decision. Jose Veras, Chris Resop, and Jason Grilli dazzled, while Evan Meek spent most of the season struggling and on the disabled list. I would expect a bounce back season from Meek, although he may not get the opportunity after a rough spring.

Veras was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers over the offseason, but you should recognize many of the other names in the bullpen this season. Hanrahan will stick around to close with Meek, Grilli, and Resop setting him up. Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson will probably stick around as the only viable lefty specialists unless they struggle. Daniel McCutchen rounds out the back of the bullpen, but Jared Hughes, Chris Leroux, Duke Welker, Bryan Morris, and Justin Wilson are ready to move in.

The Backstop
Our front office sent Doumit and Snyder packing after the season ended and hope to replace him with the acquisition of Rod Barajas. He offers excellent defense behind the plate with some home run power, but his health may be of concern as he has only exceeded 100 games in a season four times in his 13 year career. Michael McKenry is currently the most likely candidate to back him up.

The Corners
The Pirates front office wanted to find someone to play first base, but they didn’t sign anyone we expected. Garrett Jones will platoon with Casey McGehee. McGehee can play either first or third, which makes him even more valuable if Pedro Alvarez performs dismally again this season. All three players have the potential to hit 20 home runs or more.

Up the Middle
Neil Walker will start at second base and is a contract extension candidate. His new double play partner at shortstop will be Clint Barmes who is a defensive upgrade over Cedeno. We should not expect much more than 20 homers between the two of them. Walker will hit for average, while Barmes will probably bat on the bottom of the lineup.

The Outfield
Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata will cover the outfield for next season barring any injuries. Presley was impressive while appearing in short service this past season, while Tabata spent most of the season dealing with injuries. McCutchen continued to deliver as the face of the franchise with impressive speed and an increase of power. All three players have the potential to steal 20 bases or more.

Tabata signed a contract late last season to secure him through 2019, while McCutchen just signed a $51.5M contract extension on Sunday, March 4th. The extension secures him potentially through 2018.

The Bench
There is not much to write home about regarding the Pirates bench. McKenry will back up Barajas, McGehee will back up the corner infield, Josh Harrison can play second or third base, Yamaico Navarro can back up the middle infield or outfield, and Nate McLouth is back in black and gold to provide more depth in the outfield.

The Minors
I predicted Matt Hague would make his debut in my last article I wrote in December. I stick by that prediction considering our first base situation. Starling Marte has the most recognizable talent and would help an ailing Pirates offense, but there is a logjam in the outfield. Both have been excellent in spring training this year. McPherson, Locke, and Owens could make their debuts as well if injuries plague the rotation again this season.

Created using Tagxedo
Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen
Team Ace: Erik Bedard
Team's 2012 record: 76 - 86
Team's 2012 finish in division: 4th in NL Central

McCutchen should outperform the rest of the team once again and could continue to improve to provide his best season. He is already a 20/20 hitter, but could he do better? Bedard has not completed a full season without injury since 2007, but he is healthy now and has the potential to be a staff ace.

Pittsburgh made some promising moves during this offseason and reportedly pursued several other big name players. This is definitely a step in the right direction and we should see some improvement over our 2011 season, especially if everyone stays healthy. I would love for the Buccos end the curse of Barry Bonds. It is possible we could earn a few more wins with the exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from the division, but I do not believe enough progress was made to the roster to crack the .500 threshold this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Report Card
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Offseason Outlook
Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Preview

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