Pittsburgh Pirates Roster in 2013: State Of The Union
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013
By Brad Cuprik (Pirates Correspondent) Follow @bradcuprik
Although the Pirates made significant strides in 2012, they still finished in fourth place in the National League Central – with a 79-83 mark – extending their professional sports record for consecutive losing seasons to 20. After being active at last season’s trading deadline, the Bucs added two key Free Agents in the offseason. One of those signings, LHP Francisco Liriano, agreed to 2 YR Deall for just under $13 Million – but broke his arm from an undisclosed injury in late December. The two sides agreed to a deal that lowers the first-season payout if Liriano misses any time due to the injury.
That has not dimmed the enthusiasm swelling around Pittsburgh and very few roster spots are up for grabs as the 2013 season nears. With the Houston Astros moving to the American League West, the division is down to five teams, but the Pirates still have numerous questions surrounding their ability to compete for a Post Season Berth.
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Catcher – The Pirates invested $17 Million over two years – to sign Free Agent Russell Martin to be their backstop. Martin, a three-time All-Star selection, is a small upgrade defensively after the Bucs ranked last in catching opposing base runners in 2012. Offensively, Martin’s batting average has dipped each year since a career-high .293 mark in 2007 with the Dodgers – and managed to hit just .211 last year. Martin’s power is intriguing, hitting 39 Home Runs with the Yankees in his two seasons there, but the same could have been said for the Pirates’ last two acquisitions behind the plate – Rod Barajas and Chris Snyder. Backing up Martin will be fan favorite Michael McKenry, who hit 12 Home Runs last year in just 240 AB, but threw out only 18 percent of base stealers.
First Base – With a few options at first base, the Pirates’ regular at the position will depend on who plays in right field as well as the Major League readiness of Jerry Sands. Sands was acquired from the Red Sox in the Joel Hanrahan deal and had limited big-league action with the Dodgers in 2011 and 2012. At 25, there might not be a reason to wait any longer to see if Sands can play consistently in the majors, but Pittsburgh does have Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez on the roster.
Jones had a career year in 2012, hitting .274 with 27 Home Runs and 86 RBI, while Sanchez is intriguing because of his back-to-back 19 HR campaigns with the Marlins in 2010-11. The Pirates will likely split time between Jones and Sanchez at First Base, while Jones and Travis Snider will likely have a platoon situation in Right Field. If Sands can do enough in Spring Training to justify trading one of the top closers in the game this past winter, playing time could diminish for Snider and Sanchez. Another option that has been explored by the Pirates’ front office is trading Jones for a Starting Pitcher or a Shortstop.
Second Base – A year after playing in all but three games and landing amongst the National League leaders in RBI by a Second Baseman, Neil Walker was limited to 129 games in 2012. Walker was again amongst the offensive leaders at his position – with a .280 average, 14 Home Runs and 69 RBI. If he is fully healthy, he gives the Bucs a solid bat in the top third of the lineup – and a proven run producer. Josh Harrison has spelled Walker in the past and remains a serviceable Utility Infielder, but has struggled when given the opportunity to be a consistent starter.
Shortstop – Until the Pirates can land a player from another organization or find an everyday Shortstop in the Minor Leagues, Clint Barmes will man the position while batting near the bottom of the order. For much of the first half of the season, Barmes struggled to break the Mendoza Line but a late-season surge helped him finish the season with a .229 Batting Average – and only 34 Runs Scored. His days as a power-hitting Shortstop (23 Home Runs in 2009 as a Rockies player that had Coors Field to aid him) are long gone, but the Pirates like his steady defense and feel he can rebound to give them a decent run producer from the eight spot. If Pittsburgh feels Harrison cannot back up at all three infield positions, Jordy Mercer and Chase d’Arnaud have both spent time in the big leagues in 2011-12.
Third Base – When the Pirates selected Pedro Alvarez with the second overall pick of the 2008 Amatuer Draft, they felt they had a mainstay at Third Base – and another player that the franchise could build around. After a horrid 2011 season, Alvarez showed solid power for the Bucs in 2012 – with 30 Home Runs and 25 2B. If he can continue to develop patience at the plate, Alvarez could cut down on his 180 Strikeouts from a year ago and raised his Batting Average from .191 in 2011 to .244 clip in 2012. There was also minor improvements in fielding for Alvarez during his first full season as a starter, despite leading the National League with 27 Errors.
Center Field – There is no doubt that Andrew McCutchen is the face of the Pirates. Now he could be considered one of the faces of Major League Baseball after McCutchen was voted to grace the cover of the MLB 13: The Show video game. McCutchen was third in the NL MVP voting, earned his first Gold Glove and his second All-Star appearance. He led the senior circuit with 194 hits and was amongstthe leaders in Runs Scored (107), Home Runs (31) and finished second in Batting Average with a .327 mark. If he continues to get better protection behind him in the lineup, McCutchen could become just the seventh Pirate – and first since Barry Bonds in 1992 to win the National League MVP Award.
Left Field – Adding to the possibility of a first winning season since 1992 – is the emergence of Starling Marte. In 47 games, Marte had 6 Triples, 5 HRs, drove in 17 RBI – while he stole 12 bases. If he can work on his plate discipline and improve his average, Marte could join McCutchen in future MVP discussions. It is Marte’s job in his first full season to lose, but waiting on the bench will be Alex Presley and Jose Tabata. Presley has two years of experience in the Majors, while Tabata remains an enigma. After a solid rookie campaign in 2010, his average has dipped from .299 to .243 – and the Pirates are deep enough in this outfield that Tabata will have to hit for a better average if he wants playing time.
Right Field – As mentioned earlier, what happens in Right fFeld for the Pirates will have a direct effect on who plays First Base. Travis Snider joined Pittsburgh near the trading deadline but has never been a full-time starter in his five years in the big leagues. The left-handed hitter remains a platoon starter at best with Garrett Jones, unless Tabata or Jerry Sands makes a case for more playing time. That would likely push Snider to the bench.
The starting rotation was a strength of the Pirates during the first half of the 2012 season, but injuries and reality hit the staff during the second half and more question marks surround the starting pitching than any other roster spot heading into 2013. Adding to the confusion was the strange situation involving the agreement with RHP Francisco Liriano. If Liriano’s broken arm mends, it makes the decisions a little easier for manager Clint Hurdle. If not, Hurdle will have only two sure things in the five-man rotation.
After being traded to the Pirates prior to the 2012 season, A.J. Burnett did everything he could to justify the Pirates’ belief that they were getting a top-notch hurler. Burnett won 16 games – with a 3.51 ERA in 31 starts for his best season since 2008 with the Blue Jays. Following Burnett will be Wandy Rodriguez, another 2012 trading deadline acquisition. Rodriguez spent seven and a half seasons with the Astros and still managed a near-.500 record, so the Pirates believe they have someone who can pair with Burnett to win 15 games apiece. Liriano had a streaky 2012 season with the Twins and White Sox, winning just six games and finishing with an ERA above 5.00 for the third time in four years. He is still a 9 SO/Per 9 IP thrower – and the Pirates are banking on those numbers improving in a switch over to the National League, similar to Burnett’s improvement.
At the 2012 All-Star Break, James McDonald was enjoying a breakthrough season with a 9-3 record, plus one of the best ERAs in the NL at 2.37. McDonald’s success turned into disaster in the second half, winning just three games the rest of the way and finishing the year with a 4.21 ERA. In four September appearances, he allowed 17 ER just 12 IP. If McDonald can bounce back, he gives the Pirates an adequate No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
Jeff Karstens was resigned in January after not being tendered a contract following the 2012 season. Karstens has not been able to stay healthy since coming over to the Pirates, but has posted good numbers in his limited action. His 1.15 WHIP in 2012 would have been among the National League leaders if he were healthy enough to qualify with enough innings pitched. Now, with the idea that Karstens can man a spot in the rotation until Liriano is healed, the pressure is off and anything approaching the 90 IP he gave the Pirates last year will be considered a bonus.
Contenders for the final rotation spot are LHP Jeff Locke and RHP Kyle McPherson. Locke has earned 10 starts over the past two seasons with the Bucs, but has not fared well – 1-6 with a 5.82 ERA in his career. He did, however, strike out 34 batters in 34.1 Innings Pitched in 2012 and appears to have the edge heading into Spring Training. McPherson started three games and made 10 total Appearances in a late-season call-up, posting a 2.73 ERA.
Despite trading away Joel Hanrahan, and losing two other regulars in Free Agency, the Bucs have reloaded and have a history of developing strong late-inning relief help. The closer job may go to journeyman Jason Grilli, who has resurrected his career with the Bucs. He has just 5 Career Saves, but struck out 90 batters in 58.2 Innings Pitched. The other option is flame-throwing Bryan Morris, who impressed during a 5 IP trial in September.
Other sure things in the bullpen are Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. Melancon has fared well in the National League, having pitched for the Astros in 2010-11, but contributed to a disastrous 2012 for the Red Sox. Hughes and Watson were both nice surprises for the Bucs last season and will be counted on to keep late-inning leads for Hurdle.
Two players that have struggled as starters in the American League, have become bullpen options for the Pirates – Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro. Both would need to impress in Spring Training to make the club as the bullpen should be completed with the loser of the Locke-McPherson starting rotation competition and possibly Karstens. Chris Leroux is a longshot to leave Bradenton, Florida, with a spot on the Major League club.
The Pirates turned some heads in 2012, but would need career years from several players and continued improvement from others to make the same type of impression in 2013.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com or their partners.***
Brad Cuprik is longing for a return to the postseason for his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, but enjoys watching any team and any level of baseball. He grew up idolizing Cal Ripken and played shortstop through the NCAA Division III level. While working on two different baseball book projects, he earned his MBA at Robert Morris University, but wishes he could have majored in baseball history. Brad’s dream is to cover the Pirates as a beat writer, but is making ends meet as a retail manager for now. If you want to talk about the greatest game, whether present or past, or e-mail him at email@example.com. You can also follow and Interact with Brad on Twitter Follow @bradcuprik
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Posted on January 23, 2013, in MLB Payroll and Contracts, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged 1992 NLCS, @bradcuprik on twitter, a.j. burnett, alex presley, ALL-Star Appearances Pirates, American league, Andrew McCutchen, athletics, Atlanta Braves, barry bonds, blue jays, brad cuprik, brad lincoln, bradenton florida, bryan Morris, chase d'arnaud, chris leroux, chris resop, chris snyder, clint barmes, clint hurdle, colorado rockies, dodgers, francisco liriano, gaby sanchez, garrett jones, Gold Glove Award, houston astros, James MacDonald, jared hughes, jason grilli, jeanmar gomez, jeff karstens, jeff locke, jerry sands, joel hanrahan, Jordy Mercer, Jose Tabata, josh harrison, kevin correia, kyle mcpherson, mark melancon, miami marlins, michael mckenry, MLB 13, national league, neil walker, NL Central, NL MVP Voting, pedro alvarez, pittsburgh pirates, Pittsburgh Pirates 25 Man Roster in 2013, Pittsburgh Pirates Payroll in 2013, red sox, Rod Barajas, Sid Bream, Silver Slugger Award, starling marte, tony watson, travis snider, twins, vin mazzaro, wandy rodriguez. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Pittsburgh Pirates Roster in 2013: State Of The Union.