The N.L. Central Farewell Tour: Pittsburgh Pirates Edition


The next stop on our tour is the Steel City, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I’ll have a Primanti Brothers sandwich and a couple of pierogies, please. Pittsburghers have always loved their local cuisine and their Steelers, but have had a hard time getting behind the Pirates for almost an entire generation. The Buccos have failed to record a winning record for nineteen consecutive seasons. Last year looked like it could be the year, but a late season collapse postponed the celebration.

Manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage had a positive affect on a young Buccos team in 2011. Pittsburgh was tied for first place on July 25th when their inexperience began to show and things started to go south. Can the Pirates right the ship this season and put an end to the losing streak? Tom Smith, editor at, has agreed to climb the hill with us and try to answer that question. Well, actually he has agreed to answer a few questions that Brian and Alex have posed about the 2012 Pirates. Let’s get started with Brian.

Tom, the Pirates have had a slew of top five picks over the past decade. Do you see a possible nucleus being formed similar to what the Rays have done with their recent top picks?

"The 2012 season will be the biggest season for the Pirates farm system.  The Bucs certainly trust that a nucleus can be formed similar to what the Rays have accomplished.  It simply hasn’t happened yet, but 2012 is a crucial year for the development of the millions of dollars of talent the Pirates have invested in the past several drafts."

Houston native Jameson Taillon was drafted 1st overall by the Pirates in 2010. Where do you see him starting this year and is there a chance we will see him in Pittsburgh by years end?

"Jameson Taillon will be in Bradenton this season. The Bradenton Marauders are the high-A team for the Pirates. I don’t see him having a shot in hell at making it to the majors by the end of the season. Taillon has a number of important benchmarks to hit before moving up the ladder."

Pedro Alvarez was once considered a top prospect in all of baseball but hasn’t found his niche at the major league level. Where do you see him fitting into Pittsburgh’s long term plans and do you see him as more of a first or third baseman?

"Pedro Alvarez has the year of his life ahead of him. We see him as a third baseman. He chose not to play winter ball this off season or as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said on our podcast last week, “sometimes when your carrying two bags of crap around all season, sometimes you just want to put ’em down.”We saw Alvarez and he looks in tremendous shape. He spent the offseason working out with some of Scott Boras’ best talent. We are interested in seeing how well Alvarez’s new conditioning plays on the field."

Thanks, Tom. Now here’s Alex.
From what I’ve heard a Garrett Jones/Casey McGehee platoon is the plan at 1st base, what are your thoughts on that potential arrangement?

"A Jones/McGehee platoon is just one option for the Bucs. Nick Evans, Matt Hague, and Jeff Clement are also in the first base mix this spring training."

The Pirates’ rotation was a bit of a punching bag last year for the national media. They pitched well for a big chunk of the season but everyone assumed they would eventually struggle. How does the rotation stack up this season and do you see someone becoming the clear ace of the staff?

"The rotation is a weakness. The team seems to understand and as most everyone is aware is working on a deal for a certain pitcher from New York to help eat some of those innings."

This will be a big season for Andrew McCutchen with free agency looming. Any word if the Pirates are going to start to consider locking him up or are we in for another round of trades on the horizon?

"Andrew McCutchen is under Pirates control for several more years. Stop drooling."

Alright Tom, that’s some interesting stuff. Now here’s my take on the 2012 Pirates. McCutchen is a budding superstar in centerfield. But the rest of the offense looks to be below average at almost every position. Catcher Rod Barajas could be one exception. Barajas has reached double-digits in homeruns for four straight seasons and is one of several veteran position players the Pirates acquired during the offseason. If he can stay healthy the Pirates will have addressed one of their problem areas from last season. Pirates catchers were unable to stay off the disabled list in 2011 and the team used eight different players behind the dish. Michael McKenry is the only one of those catchers left in the organization and will be the backup for Barajas. Chris Snyder, who missed most of the season with a back injury, is now with the Astros.
Former Astro Clint Barmes signed a two-year deal to play shortstop for Pittsburgh. Barmes should be an upgrade over Ronny Cedeno, who recently signed with the Mets.

A trio of young position players had productive rookie campaigns in 2010 but regressed last season. Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata struggled with injuries. Second-baseman Neil Walker stayed healthy, hitting 36 doubles and driving in 83 runs in 159 games. Walker is another player who produced numbers that were above average at his position. But his .273 average and .742 OPS were down from his 2010 totals of .296 & .811.

First-baseman Derek Lee is a Free Agent and the Pirates are prepared to go with the aforementioned platoon of Garret Jones and Casey McGehee at first. McGehee could wind up at 3B if Alvarez fails to bounce back from a dismal 2011.

Second year player Alex Presley is the favorite to win the leftfield job. Nate McLouth has been brought back for a second stint with the Pirates to serve as a backup outfielder and Chase d’Arnaud provides infield depth. Ryan Doumit, Ryan Ludwick, and Xavier Paul are no longer with the team.

Lefty Paul Maholm signed with the Cubs and will be replaced in the rotation by Erik Bedard. A veteran of eight seasons in the American League, Bedard could be the power pitcher the Pirates have been looking for. Jeff Karstens had a nice 2011 and joins Bedard at the top of the rotation. Kevin Correia and John McDonald will follow and Charlie Morton will start the season on the D.L. with a hip injury. Candidates to replace Morton include Brad Lincoln, Jo Jo Reyes, and Chris Leroux.

Joel Hanrahan saved 40 games last year and returns to anchor a decent looking bullpen. Evan Meek was an All-Star in 2010 but pitched only 20 & 2/3 innings last season due to a plethora of nagging injuries. Meek will try to work his way back into the setup role that was held down last season by the since departed Jose Veras. Chris Resop and Juan Cruz are also late inning right-handed options for Clint Hurdle. Daniel McCutchen can pitch multiple innings out of the pen and left-handers Daniel Moskos, Doug Slaten, and Tony Watson will also be looking to secure a roster spot.

The Pirates ranked near the bottom of the National League in several important categories last season- 14th in homers, slugging, & OPS on the offensive side, last in strikeout-to-walk ratio and 15th in WHIP on the pitching side. Neal Huntington has brought in some new faces to try and add to last year’s  progress. I just don’t see it happening. Prediction: Pirates extend their streak of losing seasons to twenty en route to a fourth place finish.