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 18, 2014, 11:39 AM EST
Let’s pump the brakes a bit on the imminent MLB takeover of Cuba.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
Quotes from manager Buck Showalter.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
The city council will vote on the deal allowing the team to look for a new stadium site.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Okajima, who pitched six years in the majors for the Red Sox and briefly the A’s, has signed with the Yokohama Bay Stars.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:58 AM EST
He profiled as a back-of-the-rotation starter in the United States.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:41 AM EST
It won’t be a free agent free-for-all and it likely won’t be a draft. So how will the Cuban baseball players come to the United States?
Dec 18, 2014, 8:55 AM EST
Sadly, it is not Rudy Law. Though it is one of his teammates.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
The Orioles’ slugger got a 25 suspension for taking the drug without an exemption in 2014. He’ll be back on it in 2015.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:35 PM EST
According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Orioles, Reds, and Mariners are among the possible landing spots for the 32-year-old free agent corner outfielder.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:18 PM EST
Jeff Samardzija, former Cubs starter and recent White Sox trade acquisition, was welcomed back to the Windy City prior to Tuesday night’s NHL game between the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting Minnesota Wild …
Dec 17, 2014, 9:24 PM EST
David Hernandez looked like a non-tender candidate after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in April, but the Diamondbacks decided to keep him around …
Dec 17, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Marlins, Braves, and Giants have all expressed interest in free agent starter Jake Peavy …
Dec 17, 2014, 7:02 PM EST
From CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman comes word that the Royals have agreed to terms on a two-year, $20 million free agent contract with Edinson Volquez.
Dec 17, 2014, 6:16 PM EST
A three-team, 11-player trade has been agreed upon between the Rays, Padres, and Nationals. It centers around outfielder Wil Myers.
Dec 17, 2014, 5:08 PM EST
He is expected to be able to resume baseball activities before Spring Training begins.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:16 PM EST
One-time Red Sox prospect trying to snag a bench gig.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:05 PM EST
If you don’t love Pedro Martinez there is no helping you.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:51 PM EST
Sticking together after seven seasons.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:31 PM EST
The pitcher denies there were issues. But now he’s off to Boston, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:01 PM EST
Wil Myers’ replacement in Tampa Bay?
- What will the future of Cuban players in MLB look like? 13
- Royals sign Edinson Volquez for two years, $20 million 27
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade 91
- Sergio Romo re-signs with the Giants for $15 million 15
- So, apparently we’re sweating the Matt Kemp physical now 46
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba 144
- Marlins complete Michael Morse deal: two years, $16 million 19
- Padres, Rays, Mariners discussing trade involving Wil Myers 36
- Baseball’s highest-ranking Hispanic woman employee sues for discrimination (163)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Astros interested in Phillies’ Cole Hamels (110)
- Done Deal: Yoenis Cespedes and two players traded to Detroit for Rick Porcello and a minor leaguer (105)
- Chase Headley signs a four-year deal with the Yankees worth at least $52 million. (95)