Rooting for a team that hasn’t had a winning record since Barry Bonds played in Three Rivers Stadium in 1992 and has the reputation of trading away its best players can be difficult. But in recent years, the Pirates have been gradually improving their record while keeping their talented players.
With GM Neal Huntington at the controls, the team became buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline in 2012 and made significant moves this offseason to improve their chances in the NL Central.
Here are five reasons Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates will play in October.
General manager Neal Huntington understands what the organization needs to succeed as one of the smaller markets in baseball.
Since spending hundreds of millions on free agents isn’t an option, Huntington knows the best way for the Pirates to win is through drafting and developing talent. To fill in roster spots, signing free agents who can produce at a fraction of the price of a top free agent is another option.
"There needs to be a continual infusion of talent. How do we get that talent? We sign it, we develop it and we bring it through the model here in Pittsburgh,” he said, according to ESPN.
Recent acquisitions of Mark Melancon, Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Sanchez and Russell Martin will put the Pirates in a position to avoid the second-half collapse and enter the postseason for the first time in PNC Park.
Recent moves made by Huntington will improve the Pirates' playoff hopes.
The Bucs signed ex-Yankees catcher Russell Martin to a two-year, $17 million deal, an improvement at the position over last year’s starter Rod Barajas. Martin is a good defensive catcher who can help assist the development of young pitcher James McDonald, and his familiarity with A.J Burnett is a plus.
Offensively, Martin has some pop left in his bat and gets on base often.
During the 2012 season, the Pirates traded for first basemen Gaby Sanchez from the Miami Marlins. The 29-year-old has shown he can produce at the plate when healthy. In 2011, he batted .266 with 19 home runs, 78 RBI and a .352 OBP.
In their latest offseason move, the Pirates acquired Mark Melancon from the Boston Red Sox to bolster their bullpen. In 2012, Melancon spent time in Triple-A before pitching for the Red Sox, and in 45 innings, he struck out 42 batters and only walked 12.
The additions clearly show Huntington’s commitment to turning around the team’s losing culture.
Slowly but surely, the Pirates are getting better. This upcoming season may be the year they get over the hump.
Since the hiring of manager Clint Hurdle, the Pirates have finished the first half of the last two seasons with winning records and near the top of their division before collapsing in the second half.
Under Hurdle, the Pirates have won more games than the season before. In 2012, Bucs won 79 games, an increase from 72 wins in 2011. In 2010, the Pirates only won 57 games. If their roster moves help them win four more games in 2013, they’ll have their first winning season under Huntington.
Individually, players are performing better than previous years, too. Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen have both improved on their statistics from 2011. Alvarez hit 30 home runs and 85 RBI in his first full season while McCutchen won the Silver Slugger award after an MVP-type season.
Huntington’s investment in pitching continues to pay off as performance keeps improving.
The Pirates rotation has allowed less runs under Hurdle. In 2010, the pitching staff allowed 866 runs the entire season. In 2011, they allowed 712 and only allowed 674 in 2012.
James McDonald is going to be a star in this rotation if he continues to improve. The 28-year-old went 12-8 with 4.21 ERA after struggling for most of the second half of the season.
In the first half, McDonald was 9-3 with a 2.73 ERA. If he allows less runs per game, the Pirates have a good chance of winning more games.
If there were one move I’d make in the rotation, I would sent Jeff Karstens to the bullpen when Francisco Liriano returns from his injury to his non-pitching arm. Liriano has had more success as a starter compared to Karstens.
Andrew McCutchen just continues to improve from the previous season.
The MLB 13: The Show cover winner shows no sign of slowing down his production. In 2012, McCutchen led the Pirates in most offensive categories, including batting average (.327), home runs (31), RBI (96) and on-base percentage (.400).
Defensively, McCutchen is an outstanding center fielder, winning his first Gold Glove award in 2012.
As one of the leaders of the locker room, McCutchen must continue setting the tone for the team as a hustler.
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