Pirates 2014 Outlook: Keep On Winning

Published On October 15, 2013 » 149 Views» By steelerguy26 » Other Sports, Pittsburgh Pirates
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The Pirates built a winner in 2013. Maintaining that success is now the biggest challenge.

A handful of players who helped the Pirates end a 20-year streak of losing seasons will likely play elsewhere in 2014 as the front office shifts from on-field strategy to off-field decisions.

Before the end of the season, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said that sustaining the team’s success could prove just as challenging — if not more challenging — than building the winning team. The Pirates’ payroll is at a record high for the club and figures to grow as young players are due raises either by arbitration or contractual salary increases.

Garrit ColeAt the same time, the front office has prioritized re-signing pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Marlon Byrd. Both were vital to the 2013 team but could prove costly as they enter free agency.

The 2014 Pirates will look awfully similar to the 2013 edition. But a few potential departures could severely hurt this team’s chances of repeating their success.

Pitchers

A.J. Burnett, RHP, 37: Burnett was 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA, his lowest since 2005. He struck out 209 batters, something he did better only once before in his career, when he struck out 231 in 2008 with Toronto. Burnett, though, gave up seven earned runs in two innings to St. Louis to open Game 1 of the National League Division Series. The Pirates have expressed interest in retaining Burnett, but his cost could prove prohibitive. It is possible he will retire.

2014 status: Free Agent

Francisco Liriano, LHP, 30: One of baseball’s most impressive redemption stories, Liriano was 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and was masterful at home, with an 8-1 record and 1.47 ERA. Using his slider as his primary pitch, left-handers hit just .131 against him and right-handers just .249. Liriano will rejoin the rotation next year and could become a free agent in 2015.

2014 status: Signed

Gerrit Cole, RHP, 23: Was 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA in his rookie season, then hit his stride down the stretch in September working an effective curveball with his fastball that topped 100 mph. Was handed the ball in two key starts of the NLDS, Game 2 and Game 5. Cole was 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA and figures to be a major piece of the club’s future.

2014 status: Signed

Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, 35: Was 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA through early June but spent much of the season on the disabled list with a forearm injury. Ultimately shut down. Rodriguez is expected to exercise his 2014 option and rejoin the starting rotation.

2014 status: $ 13 million player option to return

Charlie Morton, RHP, 30: Entering last offseason, while rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, Morton and the Pirates avoided arbitration and agreed on a $ 2 million contract, a pay cut, but one that kept him in the system. After returning in June, Morton compiled a 3.26 ERA in 116 innings. Morton will be back in the rotation in 2014.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Jeff Locke, LHP, 25: Was 8-2 in the first half of the season, was named an all-star, then struggled in the second half, going just 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA before being shut down and cut from the postseason rotation. The major question concerning Locke is if rest will help him regain his form heading into spring training.

2014 status: Signed

Jason Grilli, RHP, 37: Grilli emerged as a top closer in 2013 with the Pirates, earning 33 saves in 41 games finished. He struck out 74, walked 13, and slowly regained his velocity after missing more than a month with forearm tightness. Will return as the closer.

2014 status: Signed

Mark Melancon, RHP, 29: Entering his first season of arbitration, Melancon had a tremendous season as a setup man and closer until he struggled in late September. He allowed one regular-season home run and struck out 70 batters in 71 innings while issuing only eight walks. He will reprise his setup role next year.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Justin Wilson, LHP, 26: Wilson had a promising first full season in the majors with a 2.08 ERA in 73.2 innings. He struck out 59, but walked 28. Had 42-21 strikeout-to-walk figures against right-handed batters. Not eligible for arbitration until 2016, and figures to be another key to the bullpen.

2014 status: Signed

Tony Watson, LHP, 28: Watson had a career year for the Pirates, with a 2.39 ERA in 71.2 innings of work. His 54 strikeouts were a career high and 12 walks were a career low. Watson made a case for his future in the set-up role and figures to be a key piece of the bullpen next year. He is not arbitration-eligible until 2015.

2014 status: Signed

Bryan Morris, RHP, 27: Morris had a 3.46 ERA in 65 innings. He struck out 39 and walked 28 and is not arbitration-eligible until 2016.

2014 status: Signed

Vin Mazzaro, 27, RHP: Mazzaro enters his first season of arbitration eligibility. He stranded 78.6 percent of runners on base this season, many of them inherited from the previous pitcher. He will be back in a 2014 bullpen that will look similar to the 2013 version.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Jared Hughes, RHP, 28: Hughes pitched just 32 innings with a 4.78 ERA this year, with much better splits against right-handed batters — .224 — as compared to lefties at .392.

2014 status: Signed

Jeanmar Gomez, RHP, 26: Gomez was 3-0 in 80.2 innings. He pitched primarily as a middle reliever with a career-best 3.35 ERA. He finished the season with a 1.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Gomez is arbitration-eligible in 2016.

2014 status: Signed

Jameson Taillon, RHP, 22: The second overall draft pick in the 2010 draft was promoted to Class AAA Indianapolis in August and put up strong numbers in one month at the highest level of the minor leagues. But, like Cole, Taillon will be sent to the minor leagues to start the 2014 season as the front office hopes to develop him further. He could join the club late next season.

2014 status: Signed, but will start the season in Class AAA

Brandon Cumpton, RHP, 25: He started the season low on the Pirates’ depth chart but made a handful of starts, including his major league debut, because of a rash of injuries. It is unlikely he will be considered a candidate for the starting rotation, but the Pirates are confident in him to perform in a spot start, if needed. He was 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA in six appearances, five of them starts.

2014 status: Signed

Kyle McPherson, RHP, 26: A favorite to make the 2013 roster on opening day, McPherson was erratic and unpredictable in spring training and was sent to the minor leagues. There, he made just two starts before going on the disabled list. Eventually, he underwent Tommy John surgery. He could add starting pitching depth once he recovers and could be ready to pitch in July.

2014 status: Signed, but will miss first half of the season

Kris Johnson, LHP, 29: The Pirates signed Johnson to a minor league deal before the season and gave him his major league debut. He pitched well in relief but scuffled in his lone start.

2014 status: Signed

Phil Irwin, RHP, 27: Irwin made one start with the Pirates in 2013 — a spot start in place of injured lefty Wandy Rodriguez — and was never the same when he returned to the minor leagues. He underwent surgery on his ulnar nerve in his right elbow in July and did not pitch again for the remainder of the season.

2014 status: Signed

Infielders

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, 27: Alvarez may be the most interesting case facing the Pirates this offseason. He has a $ 700,000 club option for 2014, but he can void it because he has enough service time to be eligible for arbitration. He and his agent, Scott Boras, likely will take the process through the hearing, especially because Alvarez tied for the National League lead with 36 home runs and hit another three in the NLDS. He will only get more expensive, forcing the Pirates to consider their options with him in a few years as he approaches free agency.

2014 status: Signed, but could opt for arbitration

Justin Morneau, 1B, 32: The Pirates sent outfielder Alex Presley and pitcher Duke Welker to the Minnesota Twins to nab Morneau ahead of the August waiver trade deadline. Morneau hit .260 in 25 games for the Pirates, but he did not homer in the regular season or the playoffs. The Pirates will pursue Morneau in free agency, as they desire a left-handed hitter at first base. But it is likely Morneau signs elsewhere for more money.

2014 status: Free agent

Neil Walker, 2B, 28: Despite setting a career high with 16 home runs, Walker’s production dipped this season. He twice spent time on the disabled list and played 133 games. While he is a better left-handed batter, Walker’s numbers from the right side dropped even from last year, and he has not hit a home run right-handed since 2011. The Pirates will surely tender him a contract.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Clint Barmes, SS, 35: Barmes was a reliable defender at shortstop, but his offense never came around. He signed a two-year, $ 10.5 million deal before the 2012 season and largely underplayed his contract, hitting a combined .221 in two years with the Pirates. He was replaced by Jordy Mercer as the team’s starting shortstop for most of 2012 though he returned late in the season because of his defensive prowess. He said he is open to return, but it would be for a lot less money and significantly less playing time.

2014 status: Free agent

Jordy Mercer, SS, 27: He hit .285 in 103 games, wrestling the starting shortstop job away from Clint Barmes. But Mercer’s biggest liability is his defense, and the Pirates’ front office values reliable defense out of their starting shortstop. He will enter spring training as the favorite to start at short next season, but the Pirates are expected to sign another shortstop who is a better defensive option. Mercer will be arbitration-eligible after the 2015 season.

2014 status: Signed

Garrett Jones, 1B/RF, 32: After a 2012 season including 27 home runs helped Jones earn a $ 4.5 million salary in his second year of arbitration, Jones’ production dipped this year. He hit .233 with a .289 on-base percentage and 15 home runs and started only seven games in September after the acquisition of Justin Morneau. The Pirates are still looking for help at first base and right field, but what Jones will make in arbitration and his weakness against left-handed pitching may mean he won’t be back.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Gaby Sanchez, 1B, 30: Sanchez represents one option to fill the Pirates’ first-base hole next year. He played in 136 games this season, but had only 320 plate appearances. Sanchez’s .333/.448/.539 line against left-handed pitchers this season displayed his value, but his play against righties means he may be a better platoon option. Entering his second season of arbitration after making $ 1.75 million last season, Sanchez will be back.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Josh Harrison, 2B/3B/RF: Harrison bounced between the majors and minors for most of the season but was a mainstay with the Pirates in the second half of the year. His speed and his ability to hit left-handed pitching made him a go-to guy on the Pirates’ bench. He will return next season, his last year before arbitration eligibility, and compete for one of the Pirates’ bench spots.

2014 status: Signed

Outfielders

Andrew McCutchen, CF, 27: Had an MVP-caliber season hitting .317 with 21 home runs, 27 stolen bases and 84 RBIs including .384 in August. Had comparable splits against both left- and right-handed starters. The key to the franchise, signed through 2018.

2014 status: Signed

Marlon Byrd, RF, 36: Byrd hit .318 including nine doubles and three home runs for the Pirates with 17 RBIs, and was the most productive of Huntington’s late-season acquisitions. He hit .364 in the postseason with eight hits and five RBIs. Byrd is likely to draw interest from multiple clubs, including the Pirates.

2014 status: Free agent

Starling Marte, LF, 25: Marte had a breakout year until a hand injury in August. He hit .280 with 12 home runs, 35 RBIs and 41 stolen bases in the leadoff position, but was a dismal 1 for 19 in the postseason. He is arbitration-eligible in 2016 and a key piece of the future.

2014 status: Signed

Jose Tabata, RF/LF, 25: Tabata got hot in August and hit .310 from the leadoff position with a season-high 84 at-bats. Tabata has three years remaining on a six-year, $ 15 million contract. He is eligible for free agency in 2017.

2014 status: Signed

Travis Snider, RF, 26: Snider started well in April but tailed off as the season progressed. An injury to his left big toe hampered him throughout and eventually forced him to the disabled list. Snider’s production may not warrant a contract in his first year of arbitration, but the Pirates could still see potential in a healthy Snider during a full season and they need help in right field.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Felix Pie, LF/CF, 29: Pie, a non-roster invitee to start the season, joined the team in August due to Marte’s injury and had 31 plate appearances in 27 games. Despite not spending much time on the active roster, he is eligible for arbitration based on previous service time. It is unlikely the Pirates will want to give him the money or the roster spot required via arbitration by tendering him a contract.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Andrew Lambo, RF, 25: The slugging outfielder never got much of a look when the Pirates called him up to the major leagues in August. The left-handed hitter had just 33 plate appearances and was left off the postseason roster. But his 32 minor league homers between Class AAA Indianapolis and Class AA Altoona are not lost on the front office, and he will get a chance to compete for more major league playing time next year.

2014 status: Signed

Gregory Polanco, LF/RF, 22: The Pirates top hitting prospect was promoted to Class AAA Indianapolis late in the season, but is not ready for the major leagues. The front office would prefer he spend most, if not all, of next season in the minor leagues, but he might be ready to join the Pirates sometime in the second half of 2014.

2014 status: Signed, but will start the season in Class AAA

Catchers

Russell Martin, C, 31: Martin hit .226 in 2013, dragged down by a sluggish second half. But he was one of the best defensive catchers in the majors, throwing out 40 percent of all attempted base stealers and posting a .998 fielding percentage. He will earn $ 8.5 million in 2014, the second year of his two-year, $ 17 million contract.

2014 status: Signed

Tony Sanchez, C, 25: The team’s first-round draft pick in 2009 made his major league debut in 2013 and eventually became the backup catcher when Michael McKenry underwent season-ending knee surgery. He hit .233 with five RBIs in 66 plate appearances but was left off the NLDS roster in favor of John Buck. He will be the favorite to start the season as a backup to Russell Martin.

2014 status: Signed

John Buck, C, 33: The Pirates acquired the veteran catcher ahead of the August waiver trade deadline from the Mets, and he provided a veteran presence behind the plate. He hit .292 in nine games with the Pirates but played sparingly in the playoffs. He will likely leave via free agency.

2014 status: Free agent

Michael McKenry, C, 29: McKenry compiled a .610 on-base plus slugging percentage in 41 games this season before knee surgery. With Russell Martin under contract next year and Tony Sanchez likely to start the season on the roster, the Pirates will likely non-tender McKenry. He will probably be eligible for arbitration as a Super 2 player, those who rank in the top 22 percent of service time among players with less than the required three years of service.

2014 status: Arbitration-eligible

Post-Gazette — PIRATES

steelerguy26
The Editor & Chief, the brains so to say, behind Pittsburgh Blitz. Jim is a rabid sports fan who just loves his Stillers, Pens and Buccos. Feel free to contact us at info[@]pittsburgh-blitz.com if you have any questions or comments or would like to join our staff and write for Pittsburgh Blitz.
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About The Author

The Editor & Chief, the brains so to say, behind Pittsburgh Blitz. Jim is a rabid sports fan who just loves his Stillers, Pens and Buccos. Feel free to contact us at info[@]pittsburgh-blitz.com if you have any questions or comments or would like to join our staff and write for Pittsburgh Blitz.

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