Saturday, March 10, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Pirates

2011 Record: 72-90

Key Additions: AJ Burnett (P), Casey McGehee (3B/1B), Nate McLouth (OF), Erik Bedard (P), Clint Barmes (2B/SS), Rod Barajas (C), Jo-Jo Reyes (P)

Subtractions: Jose Veras (P), Ronny Cedeno (SS), Paul Maholm (P), Ryan Doumit (C), Chris Synder (C), Brian Burres (P), Derrick Lee (1B), Ryan Ludwick (OF)

2012 Outlook: After spending 2010 in the basement of the MLB finishing a major league worst 57-105, the Pirates had arguably their best season in 19 years, going in to the All-Star break with a record above .500 for the first time since 1992, and were in first place in the NL Central as late as July 25. Unfortunately, the Pirates could not maintain that momentum and plummeted through the rest of the summer finishing with a 72-90 record and their 19th consecutive season with a record under .500. However, many Pirates fans and people around baseball are buzzing about the Pirates as the first half of 2011 showed the world that the Pirates have the talent to succeed in the first half, now they just need to finish stronger and 2012 is looking like a good years for fans of the Bucs.

The Pirates definitely benefit from playing in what is one of baseball’s weakest divisions, and the playing field opened up this year as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both left for the American League and the Cardinals and Brewers obviously won’t be able to fill those voids quickly. However, the Pirates also made what could likely be one of the biggest offseason moves in all of the National League when they traded for the Yankees black sheep and former Blue Jay, AJ Burnett. They have him for the next two years and only have to pay him a total of $13 million, while the Yankees will pay the other remaining $20 million. It was a shrewd deal that couldn’t have benefited any other team as much as it benefits the Pirates. They desperately needed the frontline starter that a player like AJ Burnett provides. He’s durable, logs a lot of innings, and I believe that being back in the NL, he will again be the efficient and successful starting pitcher the Pirates so desperately need.

While the Pirates weren’t behind any other earth-shaking deals in the offseason, they did make some very smart upgrades, and filled some of the holes created by offseason departures. Erik Bedard and Jo-Jo Reyes both represent low-risk high reward signings that could really benefit the Pirates, and the addition of Rod Barajas as backstop to fill in for the departing Ryan Doumit and Chris Synder is key as he can contribute both offensively and defensively. Clint Barmes represents an upgrade over Ronny Cedeno, who had his 2012 option declined by the Pirates, and Casey McGehee represents some much needed infield depth and a possible stop gap at first. However, if the playoffs are going to be in the Pirates future anytime soon, they will need big contributions from their young upcoming talents and they will need their veterans to really produce, and they just aren’t their yet.

The Final Count: 76 – 86, Fourth in NL Central

However, success in Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily mean making the postseason. A strong season from the Pirates resulting in their first winning season in 20 years would be something to celebrate in Pittsburgh, and would definitely be a step in the right direction. It’s very difficult for Pittsburgh to recruit the talent they need to make that final step into the postseason, and winning seasons over the next few years will do a great deal in turning them back into a team that wasn’t a perennial basement dweller, but a team that could be post-season threat in the NL Central. Granted, we at Blue Jays Plus have the Bucs finishing the season with their 20th consecutive losing season with 76-86 record, that was before the AJ Burnett signing, and if he can have the season I expect he can (once he recovers from his most recent injury), the Pirates could very well be on the way to their first winning season in 20 years.

You can follow Brandon on Twitter @Bam_86

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