Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 5 Offseason Needs
The 5 Biggest Needs for the Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off of their first winning season, a playoff appearance and first playoff series victory since 1992. Andrew McCutchen won the NL MVP after he posted 21 home runs, 84 RBIs and an 8.2 WAR in center field. Skipper Clint Hurdle won Manager of the Year and left-handed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano was the National League Comeback Player of the Year after posting a team-high 16 victories with a 3.02 ERA.
These awards were nice, but after falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games during the National League Division series, the Pirates are looking for even more success in the 2014 season. The Pirates set a payroll record last season of $79.5 million, and the management's moves of acquiring Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd during the season definitely made the team feel more like a franchise looking to improve. Starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez picked up his 2014 option and will be paid $13 million for the season. He sat out much of last season with a forearm injury, but could help strengthen an already stellar staff. The bullpen was fantastic last season and recorded a league-high 55 saves. Overall, the pitching staff combined for a 3.26 ERA.
It will take more than what the Pirates had last season if they are going to be World Series contenders next season. There are several holes that the Pirates need to fill next season and if they find the players that can do that, PNC Park could be rocking far into October.
5. First Baseman
The Pirates are likely to pursue a number of candidates for the first base spot, and James Loney (.299 BA, 13 home runs) is a cheap, solid option who is coming off a fine year with Tampa Bay.
4. Corner Outfield
The Pirates have an MVP center fielder with Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata will get another chance to succeed because of his salary. However, the Pirates could still use someone else in the outfield. With the Pirates' excellent farm system, a trade for a slugger like Giancarlo Stanton is possible, but it may not be probable. Prospect Gregory Polanco is a highly-regarded OF in the Bucs' farm system. He could be the long-term solution.
The Pirates have had problems with needing a consistent shortstop for years. Clint Barmes was a solid defender, but did not offer anything with his bat. Jordy Mercer (eight homers) was a better hitter, but his defense is average. The Pirates should go after Stephen Drew. Drew is coming off a World Series championship with the Red Sox. He is a great defender and should not cost the Pirates a big hit in the payroll.
2. Starting Pitching
Whether or not A.J. Burnett comes back, the Pirates are like every other MLB team and cannot have enough starting pitching. The Pirates have Jameson Taillon in the minors and he will likely be called up to fill a slot on the rotation this season. There are not a lot of viable options in free agency and the Pirates really benefit with their farm system here. If Burnett chooses to stay, he will probably come at a lower rate. The Pirates could have the best staff in the NL Central with Gerrit Cole, Taillon, Burnett, Wandy Rodriquez and Jeff Locke.
Athletes constantly remark that it is much harder to stay at the top than it was climbing to it. The Pirates have this challenge in 2014 to overcome. The Cardinals will not be getting any worse and will likely make improvements of their own. The Cincinnati Reds let go of manager Dusty Baker, and are definitely of the thinking that the time is now to win with Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. The Pirates better start hot so they do not fall back early in 2014. If the bullpen can throw up the kind of numbers it did last season and the starting pitching continues to impress, the Bucs could go from a nice story to serious World Series contenders.