Thursday, March 28, 2013

Predictions for Your 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates

A busy schedule of Church-related activities this Holy Thursday-Good Friday-Easter Sunday Weekend made me realize that if I want to get my Pirates Prediction for 2013 out there before Opening Day, I better do it now, so here goes.  I also thought that I would lead with the Pirates' current Jolly Roger logo, which is scheduled to be out into mothballs at the close of this season.

This is also being written in the shadow of the big news in Pittsburgh sports today:  the Penguins blockbuster deadline deal for Jerome Iginla.  As one contributor on Facebook put it....."The Bucs give you a future that never comes.  The Penguins give you NOW."


Oh, well, many of my thoughts, feelings, and questions concerning the Bucs going into Spring Training still stand.  I won't retype them here, but if interested, please go here:

I am optimistic about the everyday line-up.  I feel good about McCutchen, Alvarez, Walker, and the Jones/Sanchez platoon at first.  I am hopeful that Marte will blossom and be a good to very good player.  I am reasonably hopeful that Russell Martin will be enough of an improvement over last year to be considered a Plus for the team.  Barmes at short rates nothing more than a "Meh" from me.  He won't kill you in the field, but, man he needs to be more than the automatic out he was for much of last year.  Right field remains a question mark.  I hope that Travis Snider and/or Jose Tabata can emerge to be more than the mediocrity that manned that position last year.  I hope that their play will not force the Pirates to play Garrett Jones in RF.  That would upset the balance of the platoon situation at 1B, which I feel could be a strong point for the team.

OK, that brings us to the pitching staff.  For five and one-half seasons, Neal Huntington has been telling us about how pitching will be the Moses that will lead the Pirates out of the World Record Losing Streak (hereafter referred to as the WRLS, and thank you for that, Dan Bonk) Desert.  He will draft young stud pitchers that will be the backbone of championship Pirate teams.  In 2013, the Pirates pitching staff will include Jonathan Sanchez (1-9, 8.07 ERA in 2012) and Jeanmar Gomez (5-8, 5.96).  While Gomez may be nothing more than a long relief mop-up, garbage time last-guy-in-the-bullpen type, Sanchez is going to be one of the STARTING PITCHERS.  Does that tell you all you need to know about where the Pirates are headed this season?

Let's look at the starting rotation as of Opening Day:

A.J. Burnett - I feel good about him as the lead starter.  On the other hand, he is 36 years old.

Wandy Rodriguez - Another guy I feel good about.  I think that he and Burnett could provide a solid 1-2 punch in the rotation.

James McDonald - Need I say more about his Jekyll-and-Hyde 2012?  How much faith does that give you?  A question mark, at best.

Jonathan Sanchez - At the outset of Spring Training I said, "Sure, it doesn't hurt bringing warm bodies like Sanchez into camp.  It's if they end up making the team is when you might have a problem."  I may be proven wrong, but for now I'll stand by that statement.

Jeff Locke - Well, critics have been saying for years let's give the young guys a shot, so let's be open minded on young Mr. Locke, but in the Post-Gazette story this morning, Michael Sanserino wrote : "In a four-man battle for what eventually turned into two open spots in the rotation, Locke was never the most impressive player on the mound in terms of the quality of his pitches."  Talk about damning with faint praise.

Of course, the NHR tells you that waiting in the wings come late May or early June are Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton.  All have shown signs at one point or another of being good pitchers, but they ain't Maddox, Glavine, and Smoltz either.

And of course, the biggest pitching elephant in the room is Gerrit Cole.  If we were looking at baseball matters only, Cole would be on the team right now. I will grant that a baseball case could be made that he does need more time to face Triple-A competition, but of course, it is about more than that.  It is about money, it is about years of control, it is about delaying free agent eligibility, and, probably more important to the Pirates, arbitration eligibility.  Yes, we all know that all other MLB teams do the same thing with their big time prospects, but not all other MLB teams have been on a twenty year losing streak.  The NH Kool-Aid drinkers standard line is, "Do you want Cole for a couple of starts in April and May of 2013, or do you want him for a full season in 2019?"   Well, if games in April and May count the same as games in August and September, then, yes, I want him here now if he is in fact one of the Pirates best pitchers.  Simple as that.

As for 2019, well, as the was said above, "The Bucs give you a future that never comes."

And by the way, the argument of having Cole for a full season in 2019 really ticks me off because it automatically assumes that the Pirates will lose Cole once he does become eligible for free agency.  What kind of message is that sending?

I haven't even mentioned the bench.  When you swing a deal in the last week of Spring Training for a 38 year old good-field-no-hit utility infielder, that kind of tells you all you need to know, doesn't it?  The team is in big trouble if someone like Walker, Alvarez, or, God forbid, McCutchen goes down for any significant length of time.

So what's the bottom line?  Given the competition in the Central Division (Reds, Cardinals, Brewers), I don't see a post season berth for the Bucs, so that begs the question, can 82 wins be achieved to end the WRLS?  When I look at the eight man line-up, I think, yes, it will end this year.  Then I look at all the question marks on the pitching staff, and I say, it's not gonna happen.  Beyond Burnett, Rodriguez, and MacDonald (and even he is a huge question mark), I don't see the guys beyond them - Sanchez, Locke, Liriano, Karstens, and Morton - getting it done.  Maybe Cole will be the savior, but will he arrive soon enough?  

(And consider this possibility, the Pirates are floundering at 12 games under .500 in mid-June, and Cole has a bad start in Indy.  GM Neal announces that since the Pirates do not seem like they will contend, and since Cole had a rough outing, the Pirate swill keep him in Indy for a full year for more seasoning and experience at the Triple-A level.  That way, they can now have control over him through 2020.  Does anyone think that that COULDN'T happen?)

So, my call for 2013? Seventy-nine (79) wins, same as last year and the WRLS goes to 21.  I really, REALLY hope I'm wrong, but I'm just not feeling it.  I will be more than happy to celebrate the 82nd victory, and I'll even have a glass of Neal Kool-Aid should the team contend for the post-season deep into September, but, as I say, I'm just not feeling it.

In the meantime, I can't wait for the 2019 season.  That is going to be one helluva a great Pirates team.

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