2012 Record: 79-83 (fourth in NL Central, missed postseason)


Key Additions

C Russell Martin (FA), SP Francisco Liriano (FA), RP Mark Melancon (BOS), IF/OF Jerry Sands (BOS), IF Brandon Inge (FA), 1B/OF Brad Hawpe (FA), IF Ivan DeJesus (BOS), SP Jeanmar Gomez (CLE), SP Jonathan Sanchez (FA), SP Vin Mazzaro (KC), SP Stolmy Pimentel (BOS), SP Andrew Oliver (DET), 1B Clint Robinson (KC)


Key Losses

RP Joel Hanrahan (BOS), SP Kevin Correia (FA), RP Chris Resop (OAK), RP Chad Qualls (FA), RP Hisanori Takahashi (Released), C Rod Barajas (FA), IF Brock Holt (BOS)


Projected Starting Lineup

1. LF Starling Marte (.257/.300/.437, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 18 R)

2. 2B Neil Walker (.280/.342/.426, 14 HR, 69 RBI, 62 R)

3. CF Andrew McCutchen (.327/.400/.553, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 107 R)

4. 1B Garrett Jones (.274/.317/.516, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 68 R)

5. 3B Pedro Alvarez (.244/.317/.467, 30 HR, 85 RBI, 64 R)

6. C Russell Martin (.211/.311/.403, 21 HR, 53 RBI, 50 R)

7. RF Travis Snider (.250/.319/.378, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 23 R)

8. SS Clint Barmes (.229/.272/.321, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 34 R)


Lineup Overview

The Pirates‘ lineup will once again be driven by the performance of center fielder McCutchen, as the 26-year-old emerged as a bona fide superstar last season.

Hitting .362/.414/.625 at the break, McCutchen fell off a bit in the second half but still ended with terrific numbers for a third place finish in NL MVP voting.

Getting some support from secondary guys like Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones would go a long way towards taking some pressure off of McCutchen and making the Pirates offense more dangerous.

All three have solid power but battled inconsistency and injury the past few seasons, and if they can all put it together in the same year the Pirates could have a real chance.

Russell Martin was signed away from the Yankees on a two-year, $17 million deal, and he’ll do a nice job handling the pitching staff while providing an upgrade over Rod Barajas offensively.

The leadoff spot will go to prospect Starling Marte, who put up solid numbers over 167 at-bats and has the inside track to win the left field job over Jose Tabata.

Rounding out the lineup are former top prospect Travis Snider, who was acquired from the Blue Jays at the deadline last year and could be in line for his first full season of at-bats, and glove-first shortstop Clint Barmes, who is vastly overpaid at $5.5 million this coming season.


Projected Bench

C Michael McKenry (.233/.320/.442, 12 HR, 39 RBI, 25 R)

1B Gaby Sanchez (.217/.279/.341, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 30 R)

IF Brandon Inge (.218/.275/.383, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 33 R)

IF/OF Josh Harrison (.233/.279/.345, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 34 R)

OF Jose Tabata (.243/.315/.348, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 43 R)


Bench Overview

The Pirates have a solid bat off the bench in backup catcher McKenry, and they were wise not to thrust him into the starting role and instead keep him where he thrived in over 240 at-bats last season.

Sanchez, an All-Star as recently as 2011 when he was with the Marlins, was acquired at the deadline last year and could be used in a platoon role with Snider, playing first base and shifting Garrett Jones to the outfield.

The veteran Inge was signed to a minor league deal, and he showed he still had something left in the tank last year after being released by the Tigers. He had 11 home runs and 52 RBI in 283 at-bats after signing with the A’s.

Harrison provides terrific versatility, playing six positions last season, while Tabata will look to regain his everyday job in the outfield after falling off last year.


Projected Rotation

1. RHP A.J. Burnett (31 GS, 16-10, 3.51 ERA, 180 Ks, 202.1 IP)

2. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (33 GS, 12-13, 3.76 ERA, 139 Ks, 205.2 IP)

3. RHP James McDonald (29 GS, 12-8, 4.21 ERA, 151 Ks, 171 IP)

4. RHP Jeff Karstens (15 GS, 5-4, 3.97 ERA, 66 Ks, 90.2 IP)

5. RHP Kyle McPherson (10 G, 3 GS, 0-2, 2.73 ERA, 21 Ks, 26.1 IP)

DL. LHP Francisco Liriano (34 G, 28 GS, 6-12, 5.34 ERA, 167 Ks, 156.2 IP)


Rotation Overview

The Pirates took a chance on acquiring Burnett from the Yankees last offseason, with New York paying $20 million of the $33 million he was still due, and he turned in a terrific season emerging as a true staff ace.

Rodriguez was acquired from the Astros at the deadline, and he’ll give the Pirates a solid second veteran starter behind Burnett in his first full season with the team.

McDonald was the best pitcher on the team during the first half of the season, going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in his first 17 starts of the season. However, he fell off badly after that with a 7.52 ERA the rest of the way.

Though he was non-tendered to kick off the offseason, Karstens was re-signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal and he’ll fill out the back of the rotation once again.

The fifth starter spot is up for grabs, and 25-year-old McPherson will get the first crack at the job after posting a 3.22 ERA over 12 minor league starts last season before pitching well in Pittsburgh.

After lengthy negotiations, the team finally agreed to terms with Liriano on a one-year, $1 million deal, and though he’ll likely open the season on the disabled list with a fractured right arm, he could wind up being a steal in his first National League action.


Projected Bullpen

CL Jason Grilli (64 G, 1-6, 2 SV, 2.91 ERA, 13.8 K/9)

SU Mark Melancon (41 G, 0-2, 1 SV, 6.20 ERA, 8.2 K/9)

SU Tony Watson (68 G, 5-2, 3.38 ERA, 8.9 K/9)

MR Jared Hughes (66 G, 2-2, 2 SV, 2.85 ERA, 5.9 K/9)

MR Justin Wilson (8 G, 0-0, 1.93 ERA, 13.5 K/9)

MR Bryan Morris (5 G, 0-0, 1.80 ERA, 10.8 K/9)

LR Chris Leroux (10 G, 0-0, 5.56 ERA, 9.5 K/9)


Bullpen Overview

One of the Pirates’ biggest offseason moves was trading closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox, and the ninth inning role will now fall to Grilli.

The 36-year-old turned in the best season of his career last season, and earned himself a two-year, $6.75 million contract on the free-agent market.

Melancon was acquired from the Red Sox in the Hanrahan deal, while Watson and Hughes will once again return to key roles in the bullpen after solid seasons last year.

A starter during his four minor league seasons, Wilson will likely join Watson as the team’s second left-handed option out of the bullpen. 

Morris, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the Manny Ramirez-Jason Bay deal back in 2008, had a 2.67 ERA in 46 minor league appearances before making a solid debut last year.


Prospect to Watch

SP Gerrit Cole

The first overall pick in the 2011 draft out of UCLA, Cole was terrific in his pro debut last season as he opened the year in High Single-A and ended it in Triple-A.

In 26 combined starts, he went 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 132 innings of work at the age of 21.

With a fastball that sits in the high-90s and a plus slider, he already has two big league ready pitches. He also throws a curveball and changeup that both have a chance to be above-average pitches.

He’ll open the season in the minors, alongside fellow top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon, but he should be up by midseason and could be the ace of the staff by the end of the year.


Final Thoughts/Predictions

The Pirates have one of the better minor league systems in baseball and they have built a solid core of position players through the draft and trades.

Looking to post their first winning season since 1992, the Pirates will need some consistency from their offense outside of superstar Andrew McCutchen and their rotation to hold up over a full season if they want to avoid another losing record. 

The pieces are there for the Pirates to once again make some noise in the NL Central, but with the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers seemingly a notch above them, they have their work cut out for them.

By next season, behind a rotation led by Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon and an offense capable of making some noise, the Pirates could push for a winning season. That said, 2013 will likely be more of the same with them finishing just below the .500 mark.


Record Projection

77-85 (fourth in NL Central, miss playoffs)

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