Mar 18, 2013, 10:47 PM EST
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Big Question: Can the Buccos break .500 for the first time since the 1992 season?
It is absolutely possible. The Pirates finished only four games under the .500 mark (79-83) in 2012 and seem capable of significant improvement in 2013. Andrew McCutchen has been a star for years but truly had a breakout 2012 campaign, posting career highs in batting average (.327), homers (31), RBI (96) and runs scored (107). His .953 OPS was higher than his previous best by a whole 112 points. Maybe some regression is coming, but then again maybe it’s not.
McCutchen isn’t the only difference-maker in the Pirates’ lineup. Starling Marte hit .286/.347/.500 with 12 homers, 13 triples and 21 stolen bases in 100 games last season at Triple-A Indianapolis before getting called up to Pittsburgh and giving the National League a taste of his potential down the stretch. He’ll bat leadoff this year in front of Neil Walker, who proved his legitimacy in 2012 by producing a career-high 14 home runs in 129 games while lifting his average, OBP and slugging percentage all from where they were in 2011.
Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones also produced a career-best home run total last season, slugging 27 in 145 games. He had 16 homers in 148 games in 2011. And then there’s third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who is entering his physical prime at age 26 and tallied 30 big flies last year at age 25. The Bucs have a handful of legitimate power bats, and free agent acquisition Russell Martin should only help the run-production. He was handed a two-year, $17 million contract this winter to provide needed stability behind the plate.
This is not a bad National League offense, and the rotation looks better than it has in over a decade.
Wandy Rodriguez registered a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings with the Pirates last season after arriving in a July 25 trade with Houston. The veteran left-hander owns a 3.48 ERA in 934 2/3 innings since 2008. A.J. Burnett has found new life in the Steel City and was almost ace-like in 2012, spreading a 3.51 ERA over 200-plus frames. James McDonald has flashed potential, and Gerrit Cole — the No. 1 overall pick from 2011 — is expected to reach the major leagues in June. Jameson Taillon — the No. 2 overall pick in 2010 — is also getting close.
These aren’t your older cousin’s Pirates. Las Vegas gives them an over/under of 77.5 wins. I like the over, and I think they can approach something like 85 victories if their most important players stay healthy all year.
What Else Is Going On?
- Left-hander Francisco Liriano could also be of help to the Pittsburgh rotation at some point in 2013. He originally agreed to a two-year, $14 million free agent contract with the Bucs in December, but he injured his right (non-throwing) arm before making that deal official and had to settle for an adjusted two-year, $12.75 million pact. Liriano has posted an ugly 5.23 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over his last 291 innings, but he was a force for the Twins in 2010 and he’s only 29 years old. Liriano will be recovered by May.
- The Pirates held a share of first place in the National League Central on July 25, 2011, only to go 19-43 over their final 62 games. They had a share of first place on July 18, 2012, and then came another late-season fade. Fair or not, much of the blame for this inability to finish strong has fallen on the broad shoulders of manager Clint Hurdle. He is currently under contract through 2014, but failing to meet expectations this year could irk the club’s higher-ups to the point where they want to make a change.
- The Pittsburgh bullpen isn’t great. Last year’s closer, Joel Hanrahan, was traded to Boston this winter in a six-player swap. Jason Grilli was very good last season and should do fine as the new ninth-inning man, but getting leads to him may be an issue. Mark Melancon, who came to Pittsburgh in that Hanrahan deal, posted a 6.20 ERA across 45 innings with the Red Sox in 2012. Tony Watson is solid but not dominant, and Jared Hughes fits that same profile. It’s not an especially exciting group.
- Those back-to-back late-season tumbles have only been made possible by back-to-back early-season success, which has helped pumped life into one of the most well-designed sports stadiums in the world. PNC Park hosted 2,091,918 fans in 2012, up from 1,940,429 fans in 2011 and 1,613,399 million in 2010. Pittsburgh is among the best pro sports towns in the country, and Major League Baseball is always going to better off when its team there is worth watching. “Raise the Jolly Roger” and all that.
Prediction: Third place in the National League Central, behind the Reds and Cardinals.
Dec 11, 2013, 6:52 PM EST
We heard earlier today that free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was looking for a seven-year, $140 million contract, but he’s actually aiming a bit higher. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the “general sense among teams involved” is that Choo will sign with whoever offers him an eight-year deal. The belief is that he…
Dec 11, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
After pulling off a three-way trade yesterday to land slugger Mark Trumbo, the Diamondbacks are currently looking for an impact starting pitcher via free agency and trade. And FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that they have one name at the top of their list. Sources: #DBacks' No. 1 target is Tanaka. Continue to explore trades,…
Dec 11, 2013, 6:16 PM EST
Yesterday I ranked major league managers by handsomeness. Ron Gardenhire came in at number 28, unfortunately. Couldn’t be helped. It’s just science. Well, his inner beauty is off-the-charts, because here he is, quite pleased, about his ranking: I do not know if Clint Hurdle (30) and Ron Washington (29) feel the same way and, frankly,…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:47 PM EST
You may have heard … it looks like the New York Yankees will retire Joe Torre’s number. That is absolutely the right thing to do — heck Billy Martin’s number is retired — and it brings us just a little big closer to one of the cooler number things in sports: Very soon the first…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:37 PM EST
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Joe Torre just addressed the media at the Winter Meetings to announce the latest developments on instant replay. The latest: not many developments. Torre said that the matter was discussed at length with managers and general managers here this morning and that, while the league has given general approval of…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:27 PM EST
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Mets have agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with Bartolo Colon. Colon going from out of baseball in 2010 to throwing 507 innings with a 3.32 ERA over the past three seasons is a remarkable story, especially considering he was 38 years old when the comeback began.…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:17 PM EST
No doubt feeling pretty bullet proof after fixing Francisco Liriano the Pirates and pitching coach Ray Searage have taken on any even bigger reclamation projection in Edinson Volquez. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that Volquez has agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal, which is pretty nice money for someone coming off a 5.71 ERA.…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:10 PM EST
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Joe Torre and Sandy Alderson just announced that the MLB Rules Committee has voted to outlaw collisions at home plate. The decision is now subject to approval by the players. If the players do not approve the rule change it will not go into effect in 2014, but MLB would…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
That’s all I can assume he’s doing here anyway, when he was presumably asked if the Phillies might pursue Matt Garza and Ruben Amaro talked up his incumbent pitcher Kyle Kendrick: Amaro: “Kendrick has 64 wins. You know how many wins Garza has? 67.” — Matt Gelb (@magelb) December 11, 2013 A second possibility:…
Dec 11, 2013, 4:51 PM EST
Houston picked up some pitching help, getting right-hander Anthony Bass from San Diego for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Bass had a 4.08 ERA in 187 innings for the Padres, making 18 starts and 57 relief appearances, but he’s gotten progressively worse following a very strong 2011 debut with shoulder problems…
Dec 11, 2013, 4:38 PM EST
And no, this is not a continued riff on my managerial handsomeness rankings. I mean, yes, the guy is an absolute dreamboat, but I actually sat through his press availability here at the Winter Meetings a few minutes ago and I cam away impressed for baseball reasons as well. It’s hard to put a finger…
Dec 11, 2013, 4:00 PM EST
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports on a big, big sales job: The club also continues to look to move closer Jonathan Papelbon. “They’re selling the [crap] out of him,” a representative from one club said. He’s owed $26 million over the next two seasons and, though the Phillies are reportedly willing to eat salary, no one…
Dec 11, 2013, 3:47 PM EST
Adam Kennedy is going to attempt a comeback at age 38, according to Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors. Kennedy sat out this year despite hitting .262 with a decent .702 OPS in 86 games for the Dodgers in 2012. Adams reports that he’ll work out for teams next month in the hopes of landing…
Dec 11, 2013, 3:29 PM EST
The Brewers used to have Corey Hart at first base and tried to bring him back. Then they were rumored to be into Logan Morrison. The Mariners jumped in front of them on both counts because, apparently, they want all of the first baseman. Heck, they now have both of those guys and Justin Smoak.…
Dec 11, 2013, 3:05 PM EST
Not satisfied with adding Corey Hart to the lineup today the Mariners have also acquired Logan Morrison from the Marlins for right-hander Carter Capps, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Morrison has been mostly injured and ineffective for the past two seasons, hitting just .236 with a .708 OPS in 178 total games,…
Dec 11, 2013, 2:45 PM EST
Corey Hart had an offer on the table to return to the Brewers following an injury wrecked season, but Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that he’s headed to the Mariners on a one-year deal. Hart missed all of this year, so it’s hard to guess where he’s at physically, but during the previous three seasons…
Dec 11, 2013, 2:35 PM EST
I was on SportsDash right before Francona today. So that means NBC Sports Network is THE network for bald dudes who live in Ohio:
Dec 11, 2013, 2:14 PM EST
Washington has been linked to basically every possible left-handed reliever all offseason and the Nationals finally snagged one, acquiring Jerry Blevins from the A’s for minor-league outfielder Billy Burns. Blevins was expendable because of Oakland’s impressive bullpen depth, but he’s been much more than a strict southpaw specialist with a 2.81 ERA and 132 strikeouts…
Dec 11, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
WSB News in Atlanta has learned that a group called the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots are going to sue the Cobb County Commission within ten days in an effort to block the expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the Braves new ballpark. The idea, the Tea Party Patriots, say, is that it’s illegal for public money to…
Dec 11, 2013, 1:50 PM EST
18.6 million people just watched “The Sound Of Music Live” on NBC–including one blogger who did so under heavy duress–so musicals are hot right now! And what better story for musical adaptation than “Bull Durham.” I mean, I guess: Producers of a new musical version plan to stage their show at the Alliance Theatre in…
- Mets sign 40-year-old Bartolo Colon for two years, $20 million 16
- MLB rules committee decides to eliminate collisions at home plate 20
- Mariners sign Corey Hart to incentive-laden deal 27
- David Price would not consider an extension with the Mariners if he’s traded there 33
- Media paying for athlete interviews? Not likely. But watch this stuff closely anyway. 20
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (113)
- Managers, GMs to meet today to discuss the abolition of home plate collisions (113)