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Pittsburgh's pitching staff will suffer if A.J. Burnett retires, thus making lineup improvements a high priority.
2013 NL Ranks: ninth in runs scored, eighth in on-base percentage, tied for fourth in home runs
Andrew McCutchen had an outstanding individual campaign that was wholly deserving of National League MVP recognition, but there was also a perception that he carried the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup.
Right field was a revolving door until the team's August trade for Marlon Byrd, and he's now off the market. Shortstop Clint Barmes once again contributed virtually nothing with his bat, while Pedro Alvarez was McCutchen's only teammate to top 20 home runs.
Replicating last summer's offensive effort won't be enough to lift Pittsburgh back to October, and even slight roster upgrades might not suffice.
That's because the pitching staff is inevitably going to take a step back.
General manager Neal Huntington suggested to David Todd of 970 ESPN that the Pirates cannot afford to pay A.J. Burnett what it would take to deter him from retiring. He led the staff in strikeouts and innings pitched by wide margins during each of his two seasons in the Steel City.
Francisco Liriano is under contract for 2014, but the inconsistencies of his major-league career point toward regression following an impressive campaign.
Tom Loxas of Chicago Now hears that this team is targeting Jeff Samardzija to bolster the top of its rotation. Although there appear to be high-ceiling prospects that the Chicago Cubs would accept in return, Samardzija reportedly has a handful of determined suitors.
Then there's the bullpen. Many fans probably took for granted how downright dependable those relievers were in 2013. Five different guys who pitched 50-plus innings as relievers posted sub-3.00 earned run averages. Even if the personnel remains the same, it would be thoroughly shocking to witness that again.
Pittsburgh will need another legitimate power bat to offset these issues.