Last year, the city of Pittsburgh got a glimpse of what meaningful baseball feels like in the second half of the season, for the first time in nearly two decades. The Pirates finished the first half of the season, with their eyes set on the NL Central title. All the players were never in this position before, and the youth was a main contributor to the downfall. With the 2012 season less than two weeks away, I expect the Pirates to return to relevance, and maintain it throughout the season.
General Manager Neal Huntington was not shy when it came down to improving his team during the offseason. For an organization that was shy on spending their money just a short time ago, it seems like that is the least of their worries today.
Last year the pitching staff put up a more than stellar performance in the first half, but then fizzled out as the year went along. The likes of Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton and James McDonald were not use to the workload of being a starter for an entire season. The Pirates made sure they would fix that problem by delivering free agent lefty Erik Bedard and successful trading for A.J Burnett, formerly of the New York Yankees. Burnett and Bedard are two veteran pitchers who have had their fair share of experience in the league, and will look to better the youngsters in Karstens, Morton and McDonald. Burnett was scheduled to be the clear-cut Opening Day starter until a bunting incident delayed those plans. During batting practice at spring training, Burnett took a bunt attempt to the eye, forcing him to undergo surgery. Burnett is on the path of recovering from the incident and should be back in shape a few weeks into the season. As for Bedard, he was recently named the Opening Day starter by second year manager Clint Hurdle. Bedard has had a history of being injury prone, so they key for him is as simple as staying health. Bedard is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA thus far in three starts this spring. He will be replacing former Pirate Paul Maholm as the lone southpaw in the rotation.
The Pirates have made drastic improvements on the offensive side of the ball. Last year the most
unstable position on the field for Pittsburgh was catcher. They went through a total of 8 catchers at the major league level, before settling on Michael McKenry for most of the latter part of the year. The plan was to have a platoon of Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit, but both were sidelined for the majority of the season due to injury. Neither has resigned with the team. To fill the whole in the backstop, the Pirates signed veteran catcher Rod Barajas. Barajas will bring them a solid defensive player behind the plate, as well as a consistent hitter. McKenry will look to be the backup to start the year.
So far during the spring, the two most talked about position have been the corner infield positions. The Pirates have been very patient with slumping third basemen Pedro Alvarez, who just recently tweaked his knee in a spring training game. If healthy, the organization has said they will put Alvarez at third for Opening Day. For reassurance, the Pirates went out and traded for in division rival Casey McGehee of the Milwaukee Brewers. McGehee will more than likely back up Alvarez to start the season at third, and can also be utilized at first base. Moving across the diamond, there is a fight for first base between Garrett Jones and rookie Matt Hague. The veteran Jones will more than likely start the season as the starting first basemen, but Hague isn’t making it easy on him. Hague leads the Pirates this spring with four home runs. With the ability of McGehee to be utilized at both corner positions, it would be best to have Hague begin the season in Indianapolis for more grooming.
The Pirates also made an upgrade at shortstop, letting go Ronny Cedeno for Clint Barmes. It was known that Cedeno was not the best individual in the clubhouse, and that is something Hurdle will not deal with. Barmes brings a slight upgrade in the field but a tremendous upgrade at the plate. Who could forget Barmes’ rookie season when he took over Sportscenter single-handedly? The final addition made was to bring back fan favorite Nate McLouth. McLouth first came onto the scene in 2005 with the Pirates, serving as their centerfield. McLouth will now serve as the backup outfielder. Since his departure, the Pirates received a gifted in Andrew McCutcheon. If you haven’t heard already, McCutcheon signed the second richest contract in Pirates history this offseason. The six-year $51.5 million should allow him to relax more at the plate and allow the Pirates to reap the benefits.
With the NL Central looking more down than usual, the Pirates have a legitimate shot to not only end their drought of 19 straight seasons with a losing record, but also put them in position to contend for the division title. With the loss of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder of the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers respectively, those teams will be less effective.
With the key additions and new attitude presented by Hurdle, we will see if Pittsburgh catches on to Bucco Fever come this September.
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About the Author
Written by Drew Karpen
I am a graduate from Clarion University. I am currently the beat reporter for WVU football at ovathletics.com. I work part time as a stringer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and as a producer at WJPA radio station. I also have my weekly column on ovathletics.com. I am from Pittsburgh and my favorite team is the Pirates.