Despite the Pittsburgh Pirates' excellent start to the season, the team still has several holes that it needs to address.
At the trade deadline, the Bucs will likely seek to add a middle-of-the-order bat, a top-end starter, or both, which will go a long way towards completing their team ahead of the 2012 playoff push. Yet some holes will remain.
A lot of the Pirates' issues are more closely tied to depth than star power, so adding one or two main players will not fix all their woes. In some cases there are internal solutions, while in others the team will just need to weather the storm.
Regardless, the Pirates will need to navigate the following concerns if they want to play playoff baseball this season.
While Andrew McCutchen is the likely MVP through 60 percent of the season, the Pirates' outfield as a whole has underperformed.
The lack of production from the Pittsburgh outfield can be seen on a nightly basis, as the Pirates trot out two utility players alongside McCutchen with the hope of finding a hot bat. Jose Tabata and Alex Presley have both played well below expectations, leaving the Bucs with two holes in the outfield (keeping in mind that Garrett Jones should be the team's every day first baseman).
There is a good chance that the Pirates will add one outfielder at the trade deadline, but there will still be a third outfield position to field. Top hitting prospect Starling Marte could be one solution to the Bucs' woes.
While Clint Barmes has been strong defensively this season, he has been terrible offensively for the Pirates.
Barmes' 2012 OPS of .524 is beyond horrible for an everyday player, and it is unacceptable that he is still starting almost every game for the Bucs.
Yet trade deadline solutions at the shortstop position (Marco Scutaro and Jhonny Peralta come to mind) rarely come cheap. The Pirates don't seem willing to roll the dice with players like Jordy Mercer, so it seems Barmes will be the starting shortstop in Pittsburgh for the rest of 2012.
Pedro Alvarez has been the poster boy for the Pirates' offensive inconsistency, as he has experienced some of the hottest and coldest stretches of anyone in the majors.
Yet the Pittsburgh offense as whole has been extraordinarily inconsistent, with awful April and May months followed by an exceptional performance in June and a strong start to July. Alvarez is a main culprit, but players like Neil Walker and Casey McGehee have been similarly streaky.
Acquiring an established bat will help address this problem somewhat; McGehee will no longer be relied upon as an everyday player, for example. But Alvarez, Walker, and others will remain inconsistent even after the addition of one steady bat.
Even after taking the Bucs' recent surge into account, this team remains perilously thin on offense. Players like Drew Sutton and Josh Harrison should not be counted on in large roles, and someone like Casey McGehee should be an extra bat rather than a core piece.
The Pirates have four offensive players (maybe five if Mike McKenry's first half performance was close to real) who should truly be everyday starters: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Garrett Jones. Adding one big-name bat, as the Pirates expect to do, will still only increase that total to five.
Starling Marte can be part of the solution, and a sustained performance from McKenry will leave shortstop as the main whole on the roster once again. But the Pirates have also been lucky to avoid injuries to key offensive players this year; they are not well-positioned to cope with any lost manpower.
While James McDonald and A.J. Burnett have staked the Pittsburgh rotation to strong first-half pitching stats, the top-to-bottom performance of the unit hasn't been particularly impressive.
Jeff Karstens has emerged as a good candidate for the No. 3 starter role, showing his 2011 form since returning from injury. But Erik Bedard and Kevin Correia have both been inconsistent this season, with Bedard's performance a pretty big disappointment.
Even if the Pirates add a top-flight starter during the next two weeks, they will still have a hole at the back of the rotation. Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens are both candidates to fill that hole if Bedard and Correia continue to struggle.
While the Pirates' bullpen has been a first-half strength, the unit is at risk for a steep decline in the second half as several relievers are performing worse than their stats would indicate.
Joel Hanrahan, Juan Cruz, and Jared Hughes all currently sport FIPs that are much higher than their respective ERAs. In fact, Hanrahan's FIP is more than double his ERA. While there is room for the bullpen to slip while still remaining an above-average unit, once the Bucs' luck evens out it is possible that the bullpen will fall even further than this.
Given the strong numbers posted by the bullpen this year, it is unlikely that the Pirates will focus on this area at the trade deadline. Help is available, though, in the form of giving Brad Lincoln more high-leverage outings and promoting Bryan Morris from Indianapolis.
No matter what they accomplish at the trade deadline, this is a flaw that the Pittsburgh Pirates cannot hope to address.
Sure, adding two talented veterans to A.J. Burnett, the only Pirate with much playoff history, would greatly increase the clubhouse's collective experience. Yet the Bucs will remain a young team with knowledge of last year's collapse regardless.
Yet this may not be such a flaw after all. There is a risk that this team will see the ghosts of 2011 the first time they get swept, but right no the Bucs are an optimistic team of young players trying to make history in Pittsburgh. Maybe blissful ignorance and Zoltan are all they need.