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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 5 Off-Season Needs

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Five Off-Season Needs for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Charles LeClaire - USPRESSWIRE

There’s not a team in the league that doesn’t have a shopping list this off-season. For some, it’s a laundry list of wishes, of which the heading should really be “get as much talent as possible.” For other teams, there are very specific needs, a piece here and a piece there, to complete the puzzle.

For many years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have fallen into the first category, generally needing any talent they can get to help get the team over .500 for the first time in decades. They are no longer in that situation. The Pirates have talent on their roster, but they are missing a few pieces that have kept them from righting what is wrong.

The issue with the Pirates is that the pieces they need are the ones every body needs. The biggest pieces they need are among the most rare in baseball. The problem for the Pirates is that, in order to find these pieces, they are going to have to do some things they haven’t done in a long time.

The pieces they need may be available, but it’s going to take either dollars or prospects. The Pirates have gotten more active in the off-season in past years as they creep back towards respectability, but they still have yet to make the splash needed to get over the hump.

If they want to break through the .500 ceiling that has held them back the past 20 years, it will take diving into their bank account or into their wealth of organizational depth.

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Starling Marte Must Continue to Develop

Charles LeClaire - USPRESSWIRE

The Pirates farm system currently offers as much depth as it has in years, and the first of these highly touted prospects to reach the majors was Starling Marte. Joining the Pirates on July 26th, and was a regular in left field for the remainder of the season, minus a DL stint. He showed flashes of brilliance and potential surrounded by moments where he looked overmatched.

Marte was miscast as the Priates leadoff hitter this past season, due to his game-changing speed and the team’s lack of a better option. Always an aggressive hitter, Marte will never be a top-of-the-lineup hitter who works counts and sets the table, but if he continues to progress, he could be a dynamic right-handed bat to put in the middle of the Pirates lineup.

Which brings us to our next need…

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Another Right-Handed Bat

Charles LeClaire - USPRESSWIRE

Andrew McCutchen has developed into one of the best hitters in the National League, but after him, the Pirates lineup is very left-handed. Not only that, but lefties Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez have significant platoon splits, rendering them largely ineffective against southpaws. The likes of Jose Tabata and Gaby Sanchez, aren’t getting the job done against left-handed pitching, leaving McCutchen as the only player in the lineup that strikes any fear into opposing lefties.

The lack of an additional right-handed bat forced manager Clint Hurdle to use switching-hitting second baseman Neil Walker in the five-spot in the lineup this past season in order to break up Jones and Alvarez in the lineup, despite Walker being one of the few decent on-base options to put ahead of McCutchen. A middle-of-the-order right-handed bat would allow Walker to slide up to the second spot in the lineup where he belongs.

Starling Marte could be that hitter, but it may not be as soon as next season. If the Pirates want to ensure they fill this need, they may have to look outside the organization.

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A True Ace

Charles LeClaire - US PRESSWIRE

During the first half of the season, A.J. Burnett looked like the ace everyone always predicted he would become, but at 35-years-old, it seemed unsustainable that he was going to continue to pitch better than he ever had. At the same time, James McDonald appeared to be developing into a young in his own right, posting a 2.37 ERA in the first half of the season.

The second-half was a different story, as Burnett came back down to Earth and McDonald imploded, posting a 7.52 ERA in the second-half and leaving questions about his ability to even win a rotation spot next spring.

Neither is a true ace who can put the pitching staff on their back when the struggles inevitably hit town. True aces are hard to find, as there are less in baseball than there are teams, but it’s a requirement for virtually any team with postseason dreams.

The answer to their need may come internally in the form of prospect Gerrit Cole, but if he becomes an ace, it won’t be as soon as 2013, so the Pirates will have to make a move from the outside if they want to avoid playing the waiting game.

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Clint Barmes Must Play Like Clint Barmes

Frank Victores - US PRESSWIRE

Most Pirates fans may not realize this but Clint Barmes isn’t a terrible baseball player. He was, however, in 2012, his first year in Pittsburgh and the worst season of his 10-year career.

Barmes is not an all-star, but he has been a 2-3 win player before in his career. He’s not a plus-offensive player, largely due to his lack of plate discipline, but he doesn’t have to be the automatic out he was at the plate in 2012. In fact, due to his plus defense, if Barmes can be even league-average for shortstops at the plate, he can be a three-win player for the Pirates.

Most importantly, Barmes must play better because he is their only option. The Pirates have few internal options, and the ones they have offer little more in offense than does Barmes. The 2010 version of Barmes the Pirates thought they were getting when they signed him last off-season was worth almost twice as many wins as the version they got, and that realistic improvement would go a long way towards solidifying their lineup.

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A True Leadoff Hitter

Charles LeClaire - US PRESSWIRE

Many teams have had post-season success without a true leadoff hitter, but those teams have typically had much more offensive firepower than do the Pirates. If they plan to use a lineup that has Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones playing full-time, the Pirates will have to have a more traditional leadoff hitter at the top setting things up.

Pirates leadoff hitters this season hit just .246 with a .291 on-base percentage, using the likes of Jose Tabata and Alex Presley the majority of the time before the arrival of Starling Marte.

Marte is likely not the answer, at least not in 2012, as his aggressive approach at the plate means he would have to hit well into the .300’s in order to get on-base enough to lead off. The Pirates don’t have a lot of spots left in their lineup to fit another hitter who can leadoff, but they do have one outfield spot that is up for grabs, making it possible to find a decent fit on the trade market this winter.