The Pittsburgh Pirates were on their way to a magical season as late as July last year. However, things quickly unraveled and they plummeted in the standings from 1st place down to 4th, finishing a lackluster 72-90 (their 19th straight losing season). The Buccos bats are what failed them the most, but the health of their starting rotation deteriorated as the season went on. What have they done to improve this offseason, and can the finally break above sea level (.500) in 2012?
Erik Bedard/LHP- this man is a top of the rotation pitcher when healthy, but he's often not that. Bedard replaces Maholm, and could be a major upgrade. A strikeout pitcher (926 K in 951.1 IP) with a good ERA/WHIP combo (3.70/1.32). Transfer to the National League could really boost his numbers.
Nate McLouth/OF- good as a Pirate, bad as a Brave. Now back in Pittsburgh as a 4th outfielder, McLouth hopes to revive his career. Like Bedard, health is a big part of the equation with him, but he has a nice power/speed combo that could make him valuable trade bait come the end of July should he be playing well.
Clint Barmes/SS- many people didn't like the terms of his contract (2 yr/$10.5M), but he's a solid defender and has a decent bat. This is an upgrade over Ronny Cedeno, and the Pirates need more offense, so I don't understand what's not to like.
Rod Barajas/C- doesn't get on base worth a lick (.284 career OBP), but does have some power (63 HR in last 4 seasons). He was brought in to provide leadership with the pitching staff and play adequate defense. Despite his lone season in Philly, I can foresee this being a good fit.
Casey McGehee/3B/1B- love this trade! McGehee had a down year in 2011, but prior to that he hit .285/.801 with 23 HR, and 104 RBI with the Brewers in 2010. If he rebounds, this is a major coup for the Buccos.
Nick Evans/1B/3B/OF- this guy is a steal on a minor league contract. He'll only be 26 years old next season, can play corner infield and outfield, and has done nothing but hit at every level he's played (.278/.822 in minors, .256/.712 in majors). Not sure why the Mets let him go.
Yamaico Navarro/UTL- the 24 year old hasn't done squat at the plate in 42 MLB games with the Red Sox and Royals (.206/.515), but given his minor league success (.279/.778) and the fact that he plays all over the diamond, he could very likely become a useful utility player for the Buccos.
Jose Morales/C- .289/.709 in 4 seasons with the Twins and Rockies over 96 games. Perfect for organizational depth at catcher (.286/.724 batter in the minors).
Jake Fox/C/1B/3B/OF- possesses big time power, but does not make enough contact to play regularly. In 4 seasons with the Cubs, Athletics, and Orioles he's hit .237/.714, but that's nothing compared to his minor league numbers (.292/.882).
Brandon Boggs/OF- the outfielder is set to turn 29 years old and has suffered through failures when given a chance in the majors with the Rangers and Brewers. However, he owns a .376 on base % in the minors and that is encouraging.
Ryota Igarashi/RHP- in 2 seasons with the Mets he was largely deemed a failure, however he showed improvement during his sophomore campaign last season. If he learned to control his pitches a bit more, he could be a passable middle innings reliever.
Shairon Martis/RHP- nice addition as 7th/8th starter that's inevitably needed during the course of a 162 season. 48-40, 3.84 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in minors, and has some experience in 2 seasons with the Nationals too.
Anderson Hernandez/UTL- nothing special with the bat, but is versatile and has plenty of MLB experience (6 seasons, .241/.614).
1. Jose Tabata/RF
2. Neil Walker/2B
3. Andrew McCutchen/CF
4. Casey McGehee/1B
5. Pedro Alvarez/3B
6. Alex Presley/RF
7. Clint Barmes/SS
8. Rod Barajas/C
Tabata, Presley, and Alvarez should improve due to age/maturity/experience. Walker and McCutchen are already established players and are entering their primes. McGehee could bounce back, Barmes is a nice fit at the bottom of the order, and then there is some thump with Barajas in the 8-hole.
Bench: Garrett Jones/LF/1B, Nate McLouth/OF, and some combination of- Josh Harrison/UTL, Chase d'Arnaud/UTL, Jake Fox, Yamaico Navarro, Nick Evans, Anderson Hernandez, and Jose Morales.
1. Erik Bedard
2. Jeff Karstens
3. James McDonald
4. Kevin Correia
5. Charlie Morton
Backups: Shairon Martis, Brad Lincoln, and Jeff Locke.
Morton's ability to comeback from hip surgery determines if this rotation is a strength or question mark. Morton reinvented himself last year and became a solid option every 5th day. If not ready to go though, he leaves a gaping hole that will not be filled by a capable alternative.
Closer- Joel Hanrahan, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Resop, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, Evan Meek, and Daniel Moskos.
Overall a decent relief corps. Chris Leroux, Jared Hughes, Garrett Olson, Ryota Igarashi, and Mike Crotta will be at the ready should any of the above falter or need a DL stint.