Midseason it appeared the Pirates were going to escape their 18 season losing streak, despite subpar performances from many of their young position prospects. They even felt confident enough in their playoff possibilities that they traded prospects to acquire Derrek Lee. Reality finally set in, the dream snapped shut and the losing began until now they are at 19 straight seasons without a winning record, the longest losing streak of any major professional sport franchise.
General Overview: The Pirates are doing a better job of drafting quality players. They have not shied away from paying big bonuses to the best player in the draft. In past years, because of their small market mentality and frugalness of the owners they would draft players based on their ability to sign, not on the talent they could bring to the organization. They will never be at that point where they will be the destination point for big time free agents. They have to model their franchise after the Tampa Bay Rays and draft quality players, keep them for six years and hope that when they are ready to leave for free agency they have another player ready to fill in behind him.
Why They Will Win: They hope to get better production from their youthful crop of Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen. All of them took at least one step backward, some of them went back to struggle in the minors. If they show proper committment they should be better in 2012. Clint Barmes is a solid underrated shortstop that played in the shadow of Troy Tulowitski early in his career. Casey McGehee is another player that had a down year. He can play first, or move over to third if Pedro continues to show motivational problems.
Why They Won’t Win: The rotation lacks anything close to an ace. It is a rotation filled with number three/four starters. They do have some studs coming up, but they are at least a couple years away. In the meantime they will have to rely on the surly and injury prone Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, Brad Lincoln, Kevin Correia, James McDonald and Charlie Morton. Three of those pitchers will not finish the season in the starting rotation because of injury or ineffectiveness. They lack a big homerun hitter. That could be Pedro Alvarez, but he has to learn to get better barrell of the bat on ball. That didn’t happen a lot in 2011. Myworld doesn’t see Joel Hanrahan repeating his 40 plus save season next year. They need Nate McLouth to find the fountain of youth and remember how it was to be a feared hitter.
Prospects to Make Roster: Most of their top prospects are still a couple years away. Good springs could find any of Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris or Rudy Owen to fill a back end of the rotation. This could happen with an injury or ineffectiveness to one of their current starters. If not by opening day, all three pitchers should see some time in 2012 if they pitch well in the minors. Yamaico Navarro is a solid middle infielder who could fill a utility role with a good spring. He will be 25 going into 2012 so he is past that need further development in the minor leagues stage. There is some question about him having enough bat to start on a consistent basis, but there is no question about his glove. Gustavo Nunez is a rule V pick that has to stick on the roster if the Pirates want to keep him. He has similar tools of Navarro, good field but no stick.
Long Range Prospects: Jody Mercer may be considered the shortstop of the future. He hits better than Chase D’Arnaud and Navarro, but comes with a similar glove. Tony Sanchez could see a September callup behind the plate. Daniel Moskos, the Pirates number one pick just prior to the Orioles selection of Matt Wieters, will finally get his opportunity to see some significant major league time in the bullpen. Matt Hague is a first baseman who makes consistent contact with a little bit of power. The Pirates lack a slam dunk option at first base, wavering between McGehee and Garrett Jones.
Significant Transactions: The Pirates went bargain basement hunting for free agents, first signing Rod Barajas to a free agent contract to be their catcher. Tony Sanchez still needs a bit more grooming in the minor leagues before he is ready. They also signed free agent middle infielder Clint Barmes to fill the shortstop position. Eric Bedard was signed to add some depth to the starting rotation. He hasn’t pitched an injury free season since 2006 when he started 33 games for the Orioles. The Pirates have to hope that Nate McLouth can regain his five tool attributes to regain one of the starting outfield jobs not manned by Andrew McCutcheon or Jose Tabata. Other minor free agent signings that could make an impact eventually on the major league roster include Shairon Martis and Nick Evans. They gave up a couple insignificant minor league players to the royals for Yamaico Navarro. That shows you how much the Dominicans stock has fallen. They also traded a back of the rotation bullpen pitcher Jose Veras to the Brewers for corner infielder Casey McGehee.
Predicted Finish: - They haven’t been making a lot of big moves, but they have been making some of the smaller moves to improve their ball club. Since this is not a rebuilding club anymore they will rise up in the standings and finish ahead of the Cubs and Astros, who are both in a tear down mode. It won’t be enough of an improvement to finish over .500, unless Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker step it up. Third place in the NL central.a10