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Running down the rosters: Pittsburgh Pirates

Feb 29, 2012, 6:17 PM EDT

Andrew McCutchen Getty Images

While it was a 19th straight sub-.500 season, the Pirates did finish with their best record since 2004 by going 72-90 last year. They’ve since added two starters to an already much-improved pitching staff. As for the offense, well, they’re just going to have to hope that the incumbents get better.

Rotation
A.J. Burnett – R
Jeff Karstens – R
Erik Bedard – L
James McDonald – R
Kevin Correia – R

Bullpen
Joel Hanrahan – R
Evan Meek – R
Jason Grilli – R
Chris Resop – R
Daniel McCutchen – R
Daniel Moskos – L
Chris Leroux – R

Disabled list: Charlie Morton (R)
SP next in line: Brad Lincoln (R), Jo-Jo Reyes (L), Jeff Locke (L)
RP next in line: Juan Cruz (R), Doug Slaten (L), Tony Watson (L), Reyes (L), Ryota Igarashi (R), Tim Wood (R)

I’m far from a big believer in Karstens, but that’s a pretty legitimate rotation, particularly if Morton can return from hip surgery in April and push Correia to the pen. I have Burnett, McDonald and Morton all projected with ERAs in the low-4.00s, and Bedard should be able to beat that for however long that he’s healthy.

The bullpen lacks an obvious setup guy for Hanrahan, but Meek could be the answer if he bounces back from last year’s arm woes. There’s also plenty of depth. Grilli, Resop, Leroux and Watson all had really nice strikeout rates in their time with the Pirates last season.

Lineup
RF Jose Tabata – R
LF Alex Presley – L
CF Andrew McCutchen – R
2B Neil Walker – S
1B Garrett Jones – L
3B Casey McGehee – R
SS Clint Barmes – R
C Rod Barajas – R

Bench
C Michael McKenry – R
1B-OF Nick Evans – R
INF Josh Harrison – R
INF Yamaico Navarro – R
OF Nate McLouth – L

Next in line: C Jose Morales (S), C Tony Sanchez (R), C-1B Jake Fox (R), 1B Matt Hague (R), 1B Jeff Clement (L), 3B Pedro Alvarez (L), SS Chase d’Arnaud (R), INF Jordy Mercer (R), OF Gorkys Hernandez (R), OF Starling Marte (R), OF Brandon Boggs (S)

The plan is still for Alvarez to play third base, with McGehee serving at a backup at both corner infield spots. They need to make Alvarez earn it, though, and I’m far from convinced he will. The former No. 2 overall pick hit .191/.272/.289 in 235 at-bats last season, and it’s not like he makes up for it with his glove.

If Alvarez does solidify his job, then the offense would be pretty much set, with only the two utility infield jobs up for grabs.

It was surprising the Pirates limited their outfield additions to McLouth given the injury histories of Tabata and Presley. Of course, they do have the option of moving Jones back to the outfield and going with McGehee at first base.

The offense hinges on the outfield, not only on the health of Tabata and Presley, but in McCutchen playing like he did in the first half of last season, not in the second half. An Alvarez rebound would surely be nice, too, but it’s hard to imagine him being a difference maker this year.

The defense will be improved, but then, that’s what the Pirates were paying for in bringing in likely offensively sinkholes Barmes and Barajas. The outfield should be great. The infield aside from Barmes will remain a problem regardless of whether Alvarez or McGehee starts at third.

This is a Pirates team that could finally crack .500 if some things break right. 160 innings from Bedard and 420 starts from the three primary outfielders would be a good place to start. There isn’t a whole lot of upside beyond that, but the team should be decent for now and there’s a lot of pitching in the pipeline for 2013-14.

  1. redguy12588 - Feb 29, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    This is way more optimistic than I would have thought, and I’m a Pirates fan, I’m predicting 74 wins.

    • florida76 - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:18 PM

      I would say 74 wins is realistic if the Bucs have the same number of injuries as last year, the hitting doesn’t improve, and the pitching declines. Since the club won 70 last year, 74 would be a disappointment. A good, middle ground figure is 77-78 wins, and 81 isn’t out of the question in the weakened NL Central.

      Milwaukee won’t be as good, even with the huge break they caught on a technicality. St. Louis will falter minus Pujols and a newbie manager. Reds are my pick to win the division. Cubs are still stuck in 1908, and Houston will be a non-factor.

  2. ridgeavenuehr - Feb 29, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    After comparing this roster with the rosters of the other teams in the NL, I predict the Bucs will have a winning record against Houston.

  3. hushbrother - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:20 PM

    James McDonald could break out. I saw him pitch a few games last year when his stuff was really electric.

    Why the Pirates haven’t tried to lock up Andrew McCutchen is a mystery. I think he’s a future MVP.

    • sfbookreviews - Mar 1, 2012 at 2:37 AM

      There was a report this week that have indeed made an attempt. While the number of years is unknown, a Pittsburgh paper reported this:

      McCutchen’s camp likes the $51 million deals given to Arizona’s Justin Upton and Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce, two other standout outfielders from the 2005 draft class. The Pirates prefer a package closer to $40 million

  4. rhmurphy - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    Barmes and Barajas aren’t complete offensive sinkholes given the standards of their positions. Fringe-average offense (conditional on position) + above average defense = solid secondary players.

    I also think Navarro provides a good option at second or third just in case the regulars tank and the Pirates don’t have to climb don’t the depths of awfulness at certain positions as happened last year.

  5. jmc31292 - Mar 1, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    If the Pirates make it out of April alive then they could seriously break the .500 mark. The April schedule is absolutely brutal for them. The major key is the rotation, if Morton pitches like he did early last season, and Burnett and Bedard give them 6-7 innings per start at about 3-4 runs, they will be in most games. The one key no one is talking about though is Tabata. He is pretty streaky, and if stays hot then the offense will go.

  6. tommikula - Mar 1, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Number of wins, 5….. MAYBE!

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