Can Andrew McCutchen lead the Pirates to a winning record in 2013?
After a hot start in which it looked as though the Pittsburgh Pirates would finally end their historic losing streak, the Pirates collapsed once again and finished at 79-83, just four games under .500.
Despite the slow finish, the young Pirates—led by star center fielder and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen—have a bright future, and with the right front office decisions can be a contender in the not-too-distant future.
In a relatively weak free agent class, Pittsburgh will need to be creative with any moves they make this offseason in order to improve their team. Here is a list of three ways Pittsburgh can set itself up for success in the coming seasons.
Hanrahan is an asset that could be very valuable to other teams
Contending teams are always looking for late-inning bullpen help. Hanrahan is a proven closer who can go out and get the job done and has been an All-Star for two consecutive seasons.
Hanrahan will be a free agent in 2014 and the market value for closers is becoming more and more expensive. For a team like the Pirates, who run on a tight budget, there is no reason to spend potentially $10 million or more per year over three seasons for Hanrahan.
Instead, they could use his value (which is at its peak) and net themselves some young valuable pitching prospects. With the right team and players, Neil Huntington can flip Hanrahan for even more high-ceiling pieces that will complement the ones already in place.
Cole has the pure stuff to be the next Justin Verlander
Cole was a late first-round selection out of high school by the New York Yankees, but the righty chose to take his power arm to UCLA and pitch with Arizona Diamondbacks stud prospect Trevor Bauer. Just a few years later, the Pittsburgh Pirates made him the No. 1 overall selection in the draft.
Cole throws a fastball that reaches the upper-90s and sometimes triple digits with a devastating circle-change and two breaking pitches, a slider and a curveball, that both grade out as average or above average.
Sound familiar? To me, this sounds like a younger version of Justin Verlander or Stephen Strasburg with a less effective curveball. Cole is a can't-miss prospect who is just about ready for the majors.
The Pirates can use help in the back of their rotation and Cole right now would be better than a large majority of options at the four and five slots in the starting rotation. Also, Cole would benefit from the experience of pitching against big league competition while the Pirates are still building their team, as opposed to throwing him into the fire during a pennant race.
The sooner they call up Cole, the sooner they will reap the rewards of their prized right arm every fifth day.
Drew is one of the most coveted shortstops on the market
One gaping hole in the Pirates' depth chart is at shortstop, where Clint Barmes has not produced enough to keep the starting spot he currently holds. In Barmes's six seasons in which he has played in 107 or more games, he has hit over .245 only once.
For the past four seasons, his average has hovered in that range while his power has disappeared since leaving the Colorado Rockies. The Pirates need to move in another direction from the 33-year-old Barmes.
Enter free agent Stephen Drew, who is probably the best shortstop currently on the market. Drew is coming off of a down season in which he hit over 40 points lower than his career average and hit the second-lowest amount of home runs in his career.
Much of this can be attributed to playing half of his games in Oakland, where the deep fences and vast outfield can frustrate hitters. However, in the right situation and right ballpark, Drew can still be a very good hitter and plays a solid shortstop.
Drew would come at a steep price, but as long as it is within reason, Pittsburgh would be wise to bring in this potential impact bat and fill their void at shortstop.