Pittsburgh Pirates State Of The Union: 2014 Preview

The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates went from zeros to heroes, after 20 seasons of cellar dwelling.  Finally, the people of Pittsburgh PA, finally had something to cheer about besides the NHL's Penguins, and NFL's Steelers.   They were the last NL team to make the playoffs (Post 1994 Player Strike)

The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates went from zeros to heroes, after 20 seasons of cellar dwelling. Finally, the people of Pittsburgh PA, finally had something to cheer about besides the NHL’s Penguins, and NFL’s Steelers. They were the last NL team to make the playoffs (Post 1994 Player Strike).

Hunter Stokes (Chief Writer): 

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The Pirates not only kicked the playoff curse in 2013,  but they also embarked on a journey that saw them improve on their win total for a 4th consecutive season.

In a row, it went 59, 72, 79 and 94 wins respectively from 2010 – 2014.

Neil Huntington could finally show the fruits of his labor in assembling his team.

In the last few years particularly, stalwart Draft pick Andrew McCutchen has asserted himself as one of the premiere players to suit up in the MLB right now.

 

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In 2012, McCutchen hit for a 3 Slash Line of .327/.400/.953 – with a NL leading 194 Hits, 31 HRs and 96 RBI. He enjoyed his 1st 100 Runs Scored Season (107) and finished 3rd in NL MVP Voting, while snagging himself a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award. In 2013, Cutch topped that performance with an NL MVP Season, leaving his best production for the 2nd half of the year. Another Silver Slugger Award was won, and the 5 tool player established himself as a leader, leading the Bucs to their 1st playoff berth since 1992.

He won the NL MVP for his efforts, after being in 3rd place for the 2012 season.

The organization has also found some great bargains with their pitching staff.

Plucking A.J. Burnett away for two nice seasons and 400 IP worth of mid 3 ERA’s was well worth the fiscal commitment they only had to burden with the Yankees eating most of his salary.

A.J. Burnett authored a  26 - 21, with a 3.41 ERA  in the last 2 years for Pittsburgh - and gave the Bucs a veteran presence. His price point was simply too much for what the Pirates could spend.  The Phillies will pay the 37 Year Old RHP $15 MIL for 2014, with a $1 MIL Buyout for a 2015 Team Option of $15 MIL.  The Bucs will miss his 400 IP worth of work over the last 2 years.

A.J. Burnett authored a 26 – 21, with a 3.41 ERA in the last 2 years for Pittsburgh – and gave the Bucs a veteran presence. His price point was simply too much for what the Pirates could spend. The Phillies will pay the 37 Year Old RHP $15 MIL for 2014, with a $1 MIL Buyout for a 2015 Team Option of $15 MIL. The Bucs will miss his 400 IP worth of work over the last 2 years.  They simply couldn’t afford him, and better to let him go one year too early, than 1 year too late at that price.

Wandy Rodriguez was also acquired like that, with the Astros eating a lofty percentage of his salary the last few years.

You add in the value the team received with a $1 MIL salary doled out to Francisco Liriano, and you can see how this club cobbled together a nice 2014 campaign.

One of the strongest assets the club had in 2013 was dominant Bullpen efforts from Relievers Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, who both were able to don ALL – Star gear at Citi Field last year.

Mark Melancon had an ALL - Star campaign in 2013, putting forth 28 holds, and then registering 16 Saves when he took over for Jason Grili after injury.  Since Grili is a such a risk to be sidelined again, Melancon may be pressed into 9th inning action again.  The RHP was one of 4 closers with a great ERA (he was the leader at 1.39 - with 3 other guys from the relief core in the 2 ERA's, Watson, Mazzaro and Wilson.  These guys also all worked 70+ IP).

Mark Melancon had an ALL – Star campaign in 2013, putting forth 28 holds, and then registering 16 Saves when he took over for Jason l after injury. Since Grilli is a such a risk to be sidelined again, Melancon may be pressed into 9th inning action again. The RHP was one of 4 closers with a great ERA (he was the leader at 1.39 – with 3 other guys from the relief core in the 2 ERA’s, Watson, Mazzaro and Wilson. These guys also all worked 70+ IP).

Throw in Pedro Alvarez being tied for the NL lead in HRs.

The rotation was once made up with all foreign players to their organization, meaning they were not drafted by the Bucs.

Charlie Morton, James MacDonald and Jeff Karstens helped round out the Starting Staff for some of the 2012 year.

But with Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole both coming to the forefront in 2013, the teams new core has seen the future look of the Pirates.

This year may also mark the breakouts of prospects Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon.  If the 2014 squad competes in the NL Central, or repeats a playoff slot this year. they will need youngsters to step up.

Jones had his best year for HRs and RBI in 2012, hitting 27 Big Fly's and Adding 86 RBI in just 495 AB.  He finished 9th in the NL for SLG % that year with a .516 clip.  But he was non-tendered a salary. despite maybe only making about $5 MIL In Arbitration.  The Pirates have several Options for 1B and the OF, but this may be a move they regret.

Jones had his best year for HRs and RBI in 2012, hitting 27 Big Fly’s and Adding 86 RBI in just 495 AB. He finished 9th in the NL for SLG % that year with a .516 clip. But he was non-tendered a salary. despite maybe only making about $5 MIL In Arbitration. The Pirates have several Options for 1B and the OF, but this may be a move they regret.

Gone are A.J. Burnett and his 200 IP, longtime 1B Garrett Jones, plus late season additions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau.

Furthermore, the club hasn’t addressed any real needs in the winter, with a 1B position one of the weakest in the NL right now, and maybe room for another SP or SS.

Huntington went the route of reclamation project, in signing Edinson Volquez.  This is the new year’s version of Liriano.

Speaking of the LHP, the 29 Year Old will be hard pressed to finish in the top 10 for NL Cy Young Voting for a 2nd consecutive year.

Liriano went 16 – 8, with a 3.02 ERA in 29 Game Starts, and brought in a 9th place finish for the category.

Liriano is afflicted with the “Bret Saberhagen Syndrome”.  What is that exactly?

It means he has a tough time duplicating his success 2 years in a row.

Liriano was a dominant ace in 2013, putting forth a top 10 NL Cy Young Finish (9th), while winning a career high 16 games, only losing 8 and having a 3.02 ERA.  He kicked in his 2014 salary for $7 MIL after making a a valued $1 MIL in 2013.  The problem is that the LHP doesn't ever back up a good year with another.  AKA "The Bret Saberhagen Syndrome."

Liriano was a dominant ace in 2013, putting forth a top 10 NL Cy Young Finish (9th), while winning a career high 16 games, only losing 8 and having a 3.02 ERA. He kicked in his 2014 salary for $7 MIL after making a a valued $1 MIL in 2013. The problem is that the LHP doesn’t ever back up a good year with another. AKA “The Bret Saberhagen Syndrome.”

After his awesome debut with the Twins in 2006, where he was an ALL – Star and finished 3rd in Rookie Of The Year Voting, with a 12 – 3 record and 2.16 ERA, he was hurt for all of 2007.

After an 11th place finish in AL Cy Young Voting in 2010, featuring a 14 – 10 record with a 3.62 ERA in 31 Game Starts for Minnesota, he cream puffed the 2011 campaign, with a 5.09 ERA in 26 Games.

For the 2012 – it was just as bad as 2011, before having a nice 2013 year.  It is tough to believe this guy is not even 30.

I think he goes 12 – 11, with a 4.50 ERA

Gerrit Cole put up a nice rookie season. with a 10 – 7 record and a 3.22 ERA in 2013, and was in the 5th game of the NLCS.

2014 forecast of 14 – 10, with a 3.45 ERA.

Charlie Morton is listed as the #3 Starter, but he still holds a lifetime ERA of 4.70.  He is better than that, but I project 12 – 12, with a 4.55 this year.

Jeff Locke led the NL in walks for 2013, despite having a 10 – 7 record with a 3.52 ERA.  I think he can contribute a 12 – 9 year, with a 4.00 ERA.

A bit of regression, as a WHIP of near 1.40 may suggest.

Wandy Rodriguez is now 34 years old, and in the last year of his contract.  I expect a decent campaign for the man.

Look for him to have a 11 – 9 year, with a 3.50 ERA.  As such, he may be traded near the Deadline if the Pirates are not in contention.

This would pave the way for Jameson Taillon for the last portion of the year.  I won’t even put anything up for Edinson Volquez, because I think he is a bust this year no matter what.

The Relief core will also have a tough time putting up back to back great seasons.  Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon had fantastic 2013 years.

Tony Watson, Vin Mazzaro and Justin Wilson also established themselves as workhorses – with each of them raking in 70+ IP of the pen (like Melancon) – and all having ERA’s in the 2’s like Grilli.

Jeanmar Gomez will be an addition to the pen in 2014, and could also see some spot starting.

At Catcher, Russell Martin solidified the Pitching Staff in 2013, and he is also clubbed 15 HRs and a .703 OPS.

Russell Martin is a great game caller - and has been on teams making the playoffs in 5 of the last 6 years between LAD/NYY and Pit.  He is in the last year of his contract, and he can still bomb some HRs despite poor BA and OPS numbers.

Russell Martin is a great game caller – and has been on teams making the playoffs in 5 of the last 6 years between LAD/NYY and Pit. He is in the last year of his contract, and he can still bomb some HRs despite poor BA and OPS numbers.

I think the Canadian will play well in a contract year.  Forget about the Batting Average, look for 15 – 18 HRs and solid game calling.

His backup is former Yankees teammate Chris Stewart.

At 1B right now is slated for a platoon between Gaby Sanchez – and either Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness.

Sanchez still has a .895 OPS in his career versus LHP, while he carries a mark of .700 vs RHP.

Lambo has 32 HRs, 99 RBI – and a combined .922 OBP in Altoona and Indianapolis last year.

McGuiness walks a little more than Lambo. but possesses less power, with a Career Minor League OPS of .809.

The Mariners made Morales a Qualifying Offer of 1 YR/$14.1 MIL in Nov.2013.  If he signs elsewhere, the club will receive a compensatory pick.   Perhaps if the compensation is removed after the 2014 MLB Amatuer Draft, Morales would be able to receive a bigger deal.  The Pirates pride themselves on not giving away picks, but this would change the landscape of the deal, and Morales' 2014 deal would be pro-rated for the last half of the campaign.

The Mariners made Morales a Qualifying Offer of 1 YR/$14.1 MIL in Nov.2013. If he signs elsewhere, the club will receive a compensatory pick. Perhaps if the compensation is removed after the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft.  The Pirates pride themselves on not giving away picks, but this would change the landscape of the deal, and Morales’ 2014 deal would be pro-rated for the last half of the campaign.  Pittsburgh may be a player on him for sure.

I still think Pittsburgh would be involved with a player like Kendrys Morales, but only if he can get to the June timeframe – when he is no longer attached with compensation.

The team could also try trading for Mitch Moreland from Texas, or Adam Dunn from the White Sox.  I guess Ike Davis might also fit the bill.

At 2B will be Neil Walker.  He has not been able to replicate his 2010 rookie year for offense, but he is still good for a .750 OPS with about 75 RBI.  Not bad.

At SS, look for Jordy Mercer to usurp Clint Barmes for the position once and for all.  Mercer is much better offensively, and while the team may sacrifice some defense, it is the right move.

Mercer carried a .772 OPS in 333 AB for the 2013 Bucs, and was playing most of the big games down the stretch.

The former 3rd RD Draft pick in 2008 has a bit of pop, as his 32 XBH indicated in about a half a season worth of work.

Provided he can hit, the only way he is not the Starting Shortstop is if Neil Walker is injured, and he has to move to 2nd for awhile.

Mercer might hit in the teen for HRs, add 30 Doubles, and hit about .270 this year.

Barmes had a .579 OPS in 2 seasons with the Bucs, but guaranteed he will make some starts at SS if Mercer struggles, and he is still good defensively.

Pedro Alvarez has back to back 30 HR campaigns under his belt, and look for a 3rd one in 2014.

Neil Walker has hit for a Career 3 Slash Line of - .273/.339/.423 in 5 years, with an average of 16 HRs. 80 RBI and 35 - 2B's  per 162 Games.  This is above average for a Second Baseman.

Neil Walker has hit for a Career 3 Slash Line of – .273/.339/.423 in 5 years, with an average of 16 HRs. 80 RBI and 35 – 2B’s per 162 Games. This is above average for a Second Baseman.

I am sure the 3B would like to have an OBP of over .300 too,  but if he can continue to mash with guys on base like Marte, Walker and Cutch, all will be well.

2014 Projection .240/.300/.500 – 35 HRs and 100 RBI.

This is the year I think McCutchen turns loose more power.  The reigning NL MVP will be the next member of the 30/30 club.

I project .330/.415/.550 – with 30 HRs, 95 RBI and 31 SB.  He may challenge for a Batting Title,  and will score 100

Runs.  I think teams will start pitching around him more though.

Starling Marte thieved 45 bases last year, and played exceptional defense.  If he can take it to the next level, he may cross the plate 100 times in 2014.

Starling Marte thieved 45 bases last year, and played exceptional defense. If he can take it to the next level, he may cross the plate 100 times in 2014.

The LF Starling Marte provided Pittsburgh with a dynamic leadoff man for last year.  He swiped 45 bags, and scored 83 Runs in just 510 AB.

You can probably expect a few slumps in 2014, but I think .275/.350/.448 – with double digits in 2B, 3B and HRs will help, and probably 50+ SB.

Marte might be close to scoring 100 runs if he can have these 1st set of numbers.

Travis Snider was acquired in a late in a 2012 season deal for Brad Lincoln.  He struggled for the Bucs - hitting .250 with 1 HR and 9 RBI in 128 AB that year - and 2013 wasn't any better, pasting a .614 OPS in 285 AB in 2013.  The Pirates hope he can be the 2010 version of himself where he hit 34 XBH in 82 Games.  Snider is battling Jose Tabata for RF playing time.

Travis Snider was acquired in a late in a 2012 season deal for Brad Lincoln. He struggled for the Bucs – hitting .250 with 1 HR and 9 RBI in 128 AB that year – and 2013 wasn’t any better, pasting a .614 OPS in 285 AB in 2013. The Pirates hope he can be the 2010 version of himself where he hit 34 XBH in 82 Games. Snider is battling Jose Tabata for RF playing time.  Gregory Polanco is also breathing down their neck.  Of course if the club acquires a 1B, Andrew Lambo is also listed as an OF on the depth chart.

In RF, it looks like a platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider will be in patrolling the grass.  Again, I think that the team upgrading at 1B, and moving Lambo to RF is a better move overall.

Tabata was better out of the 2, with a .771 OPS in 308 AB – compared to a .614 clip for Snider. 

If these guys can just hit a combined .250/.320/.400 – with maybe 15 HRs and 60 RBI, I am sure the club would take.

The loss of Garrett Jones by not tendering him a contract offer might bite the club in the butt. A career .778 OPS was worth an Arbitration hearing for the guy.

He was perfectly situated with your clubs weakness, being able to play 1B and RF.  He absolutely can crush Right Handed pitching too.

I would have understood the team not offering him this if there were better options, but for their sake, maybe Andrew Lambo will work out all the same, and at 1/10th of the price in 2014.

Gregory Polanco may also be your RF of the future, but he hasn’t exactly crushed it in the Minor Leagues yet, with a .770 OPS in nearly 1500 AB.

Polanco needs some more seasoning – and may be a better candidate to be  the 2015 starting RF.

Having said that, if the players currently with the club don’t produce, you may see him get some reps way earlier than that.

This team was said to have been sitting on some money to spend.  I just hope they don’t bury themselves in the standings before they act on that.

If they can somehow stay close by the end of June, the franchise could make some trades to improve the club like they did in 2014.

Jameson Taillon also might be able to provide a 2nd half presence in the Bucs Pitching Staff.

My prediction for how Pittsburgh will fare ranges from 81 – 87 wins.

Doesn’t this just smell of the 2011 – Dbacks heading into 2012, and the Orioles of 2012 – heading into 2013?

Teams that overachieved based on incredible Bullpen work in close games, matched with timely hitting, only to see it is impossible to duplicate it in consecutive years.

Don’t get mad at me Pittsburgh fans, your team is just coming about.  2015 – 2018 looks incredible. 

You have the the NL MVP McCutchen locked up until then, with several outstanding young core players.

The team will have Cole, Locke, Taillon, Alvarez and Marte still, and that is a great springboard for success. 

I will say the 2015 team will probably do a lot better with another year under everyone’s belt.

Hang in there PNC faithful. You won’t have to wait until 2033 for your next playoff appearance.

The view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge is worth the price of admission alone at PNC Park.  The 2013 fans saw the Bucs make the playoffs for the 1st time in 21 years.  There were almost 2.3 Million people that went through the turnstiles.  The club has taken the stance that they are still in this for the long run, and their success will be predicated by the young talent, and not overspending for Free Agents.  The Pirates payroll only sits around $85 MIL for 2014.  Although they may add pieces to the fold like in 2013.

The view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge is worth the price of admission alone at PNC Park. The 2013 fans saw the Bucs make the playoffs for the 1st time in 21 years. There were almost 2.3 Million people that went through the turnstiles. The club has taken the stance that they are still in this for the long run, and their success will be predicated by the young talent, and not overspending for Free Agents. The Pirates payroll only sits around $85 MIL for 2014. Although they may add pieces to the fold like 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 ***

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Posted on March 16, 2014, in MLB Teams State Of the Unions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Pittsburgh Pirates State Of The Union: 2014 Preview.

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