Saturday, March 9, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Pirates

2012 Record: 79-83

Key Acquisitions
RP Jose Contreras (MILB deal)
SP Jeanmar Gomez (Trade with CLE)
3B Brandon Inge (MILB deal)
SP Francisco Liriano (1 year $1M MLB deal with club option for $8M in 2014)
SS Russell Martin (I'm hilarious, I know. Thank you)(2/$15M)
RP Mark Melancon (Trade with Farrell's empire)
SP Jonathan Sanchez (MILB Deal)

Key Departures
C Rod Barajas (MILB Deal w/ Arizona)
SP Erik Bedard (MILB Deal w/ Houston)
SP Kevin Correia (2/$10 w/ Twins)
CL Joel Hanrahan (Trade w/ Farrell's empire)
2B Brock Holt (Trade w/ Farrell's empire)
RP Chad Qualls( MILB Deal with Blue Jays South)

Impact Acquisition
The self centred unpatriotic shortstop wanna be named Russell Martin sadly wins this award. Although all 30 million or so Canadians hate him right now (although I'd be shocked if even 1/30 knew who he was), there is no denying his talent (or lack there of technically). Martin is a better version of J.P Arencibia (looks aside of course, please), as he is does possess the home run swing that JP has, but he can also take a walk, something JP obviously cannot do. Now I'm going to stop talking about JPA, because I don't want this part to be so long. Martin is going to hit 20 homers, hit for a low average, and be worth somewhere between 1.5-2.5 rWAR. You can do much worse than him at catcher (look no further than the Jays), and for $7.5M a year, that's a pretty good get of 2 WAR these days. His defense is nothing special either, in case you were wondering. He'll fit nicely into the 6 spot in the Pirates lineup, behind the powerful Pedro Alvarez and in front of Travis Snider (sigh). Because of Liriano's injury that might not let him be ready for the season, this goes to Martin, but if Liriano is healthy, I like his signing a lot more than the Martin one.

Spring Training Battles
Who'll be the 4th and 5th starters?
With the injury to Liriano, this isn't as clear cut as it should be, meaning there might be a little competition for two spots, instead of just one. He is projected to start the season on the DL, so we'll look at the pitchers competing for the final two spots, even if one of them is only for a couple of weeks. The pitchers who will be eyeing these last two spots are Jonathan Sanchez, Kyle McPherson, Jeff Karstens and Jeff Locke.

Sanchez- Sanchez in my mind the weakest candidate for this job, and you really don't have to look past his control to see why. He has a career BB/9 rate of 5.0, and last year, in 15 starts, he was walking players at a rate of 7.4/9...Thats a whole 2.2 BB worse than Ricky Romero's 2012 to put it into perspective for you guys. He really has nothing going for him right now, and the only way he makes this rotation is if he suddenly has a crazy good spring for the next 3 weeks. Right now he has a 18.9 BB/9, so the odds are stacked against him for sure.

McPherson- After pitching in AA and AAA last year, McPherson got the call to the majors at the end of August, and pitched pretty well in a small sample if 26.1 IP pitching to 4.01 FIP to finish of the year. From what I've read on various Pirates sites, he seems to have the inside track to lock up the #5 spot if Liriano can't start the year, but I'd expect him to get more seasoning in AAA once his services in the rotation are no longer needed.

Locke- Locke has nothing left to prove in AAA given his fantastic stats there over the past 2 seasons, but in his small cup's of coffee in the majors over that same period, he has not impressed, pitching to a 5.19 FIP. Most projection systems have him around a 4 ERA in the majors in 2013, so it should come as no surprise that some people think he will get the 4 spot.

Karstens- In just 90 IP last year in the Majors due to a lot of injuries, Karstens was pretty good posting a 3.32 FIP, one that would obviously rise in a bigger sample. He has suffered another injury during camp, and if he can't start the season with the big club, that'd be pretty bad for him, given that he is expected to be he #4 starter. The soft tossing righty can provide some decent innings when he is healthy, but health is always the key for him.

You can make a case that there is a battle going on for right field, but it will be won(and isn't much of a competition even) by a platoon of Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez, so there is really no point talking about it.

Questions heading into the season?
As always, can they break the streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons?
The past two summers looked liked the years it will finally end, but the Pirates have faded both seasons, ending with losing records in both. Full productive seasons from the top half of their lineup including the likes of Andrew McCutchen,Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and more should get them to .500 at least, and if the rotation which is made up of a bunch of 3's-5's can salvage a decent season, maybe they'll be able to stop the losing. The bullpen is of little concern because it has some nice power arms that should be able to close games out, and with the expected arrival of uber prospects Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole mid-season into the rotation, whoever occupies that back end of the staff miht be able to go into the bullpen and help them out if needed.
Will Travis Snider fulfill his potential?

Prospect that will make a contribution in 2013?
I'd talk about Taillon the Canadian, but Ewan already did so in his sort of Team Canada preview, so instead I'll talk about the other can't miss pitching prospect the Bucs have in Gerrit Cole, who, is actually ranked higher than Taillon in every reliable prospect list( I think). Cole is the type of pitching prospect every team dreams they can have. A big power arm with Ace potential and 3 pitches that are a 70 on the 20-80 scale. He has proved everything he can in just 1 year in the minors, so after he destroys AAA in the next couple of months, expect to see him in Pittsburgh black and gold in the summer. His slider and change work beautifully alongside his wicked fastball, and if he can refine his delivery and put the finishing touches on his pitches, he should be part of the exclusive "ACE" club soon enough, joining the likes of Strasburg, Kershaw, and Verlander.

(*indicates left-handed batter **indicates switch-hitter) 
Projected 'Go-To' Starting Lineup 
1 LF Starling Marte  
2 2B Neil Walker**
CF Andrew McCutchen 
4 1B Garrett Jones*
5 3B Pedro Alvarez*
C Russell Martin
RF Travis Snider* vs RHP
SS Clint Barmes 

Projected Bench 
C Michael McKenry
1B Gaby Sanchez vs LHP 
IF Brandon Inge
IF/OF Josh Harrison
OF Jose Tabata

Projected Starting Rotation 
1 RHP A.J. Burnett
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP James McDonald 
4 RHP Jeff Karstens  
5 RHP Kyle McPherson BA#7

Projected Bullpen 
CL RHP Jason Grilli
SU RHP Mark Melancon 
SU LHP Tony Watson
MID RHP Jared Hughes
MID LHP Justin Wilson BA#8
MID RHP Bryan Morris  
LR RHP Chris Leroux 

Projected 2013 record: 78-84 (4th in NL Central)
Honestly, this projection seems like it should be pretty accurate, but if the team can play near .500 ball until Cole and Taillon come up, and they hit the ground running, a winning record is definitely possible. Things are looking up in Pittsburgh. This year won't be the year, but starting in 2014, this is is going to be a fun team to watch.

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