The Pittsburgh Pirates are experiencing a renaissance of sorts: 20-year losing streak? Demolished. Advancing past the Wild Card round of the playoffs? Check. Silver Sluggers for Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez? Accomplished. NL Comeback Player of the Year award for Francisco Liriano? Completed. Clint Hurdle the NL Manager of the Year? Goal achieved. McCutchen named the first Pirates player since Barry Bonds in 1992 to win the NL MVP? Finally.
There has been a lot to celebrate for the Pirates and their fan base this season, but that is all history now. Now, it is time for the team to look forward to next season, and there is still a lot of improvement needed throughout this lineup.
The most glaring need for this team is not re-signing pitcher, A.J. Burnett but bringing a power hitter to the lineup. Justin Morneau remains a possibility and someone that could provide some offense for the lineup behind McCutchen and/or Alvarez. First base is a place of need for the Buccos, and so is right field. Jose Tabata had a solid second half of the season, but there is no guarantee that will continue into next season.
The organization could go several different ways in terms of right field for next season. Tabata is certainly an option, but Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington might also see Andrew Lambo as the answer in right field. Pirate fans are clamoring for top prospect Gregory Polanco, to get his chance at the major league level, but he is still at least one season away from breaking the lineup at the major league level in the grand scheme of things. Travis Snider will also be an option, but it is doubtful that Garrett Jones will return to the team after going through the arbitration process.
The answer to adding a power bat to the lineup is one of necessity, but not a absolute mandate for this team to compete. After all, the Pirates nearly won the NL Central last year without that solid clean-up hitter on the roster. What the front office needs to realize is that the answer to the power-hitting question isn’t always in the free agent market. Sometimes you take what you have and make it work. It worked this past year, why couldn’t it work again?
Outside of the first base/right field power bat, the Pirates need to solve the issue they currently have at shortstop. Clint Barmes is an above-average fielder, but a below-average bat in the lineup. The next option, if Barmes is not re-signed, is Jordy Mercer. Mercer has a lot of upside at the plate, but has shown that he has several kinks in his armor defensively.
Rumors have swirled about the Pirates flirting with other clubs’ starting shortstops, but the days of the “stud” shortstop are long gone. Derek Jeter is the last of a dying breed of superstar shortstops. Mercer could be an everyday short stop with utility infielder Josh Harrison coming off the bench of necessary. Minor leaguer Chase d’Arnaud looks to also be an option at shortstop as well.
Looking at the roster, there might be other “wants” for the front office. They would want to add a veteran starter, some depth in the infield and even a reliever to add to the “Shark Tank”. However, the “needs” on this team are decisions that have to be made for this team to move forward and improve to the status of contender, and not just major league baseball’s Cinderella Story.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz