First Pitch: 2013 is Just the Beginning for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates will get Gerrit Cole for a full season next year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Tonight Gerrit Cole pitched Game 5 of the NLDS. He wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. He joined the team mid-season. He didn’t look like an ace until the final month of the year.

Next year the Pirates have Gerrit Cole for a full season, and hopefully at the level he’s been pitching over the last season.

Starling Marte had a 4.6 WAR in his first full season in the majors. Andrew McCutchen had a 3.5 WAR in his first full season in the majors. Marte might not see the same improvements to MVP levels that McCutchen saw, but even if he stays at the current levels, he’s fine.

Marte will be back next year for his age 25 season. Oh yeah, McCutchen will also be back, at the age of 27.

The Pirates used 12 starting pitchers this year, and eight of them had a 3.59 ERA or better. Out of that group, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez, Brandon Cumpton, Kris Johnson, and Phil Irwin are under team control. Wandy Rodriguez will most likely be back, and A.J. Burnett could return.

Also, the Pirates could add Jameson Taillon at mid-season 2014, just like they added Gerrit Cole this year. Nick Kingham is a dark horse candidate to join the rotation. And Kyle McPherson, Stolmy Pimentel, and Justin Wilson could be darkhorse candidates for the rotation, or used as depth. In short, the rotation should be good once again, and very deep.

The 2013 team was built on defense. Russell Martin was a key behind the plate. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte provided a great combo in the outfield. And then there were the defensive shifts.

None of that is going away in 2014.

The biggest complaint about the 2013 season was that the offense was weak, and streaky at times. The Pirates had pitching and defense, but the hitting was lagging behind.

The 2014 season could see Gregory Polanco join the outfield by late July, upgrading the offense and the defense. For more immediate help, the Pirates will have a lot of money to spend due to National TV revenues, an increase in attendance, and playoff revenues. Even if they bring back A.J. Burnett, they could afford a hitter or two.

The 2013 season was just the beginning for the Pirates. Most of what led to the success in 2013 will return in 2014. The 2014 team will get a mid-season boost from Jameson Taillon, and possibly Gregory Polanco and Nick Kingham. The team has money to spend, and could boost the offense over the off-season. And in the long-run, they’ve got a great farm system that could lead to waves of potential impact players beyond 2014, such as Tyler Glasnow, Alen Hanson, Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, and plenty of others who will keep this team loaded with talent.

The 2013 season was great, but the best is yet to come. The Pirates might not make the playoffs next year, as that’s never a guarantee for any team. But they will be in position to contend for the playoffs for the foreseeable future, and that’s all you need from a team.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates — A Success Story

**AFL Recap: Dickerson Reaches Base Three Times in Loss

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • blackmax

    I’m thinking along the same lines, although I don’t see as much depth as you generally do in the starting staff. But I am confident that the front office will continue to recognize, sign, and develop struggling players who can turn things around with the Pirates. Along with the young, veteran position players and the promising farm system, the front office has a terrific ability to scout and develop professional talent. So let’s hope for more Burnetts, Lirianos, Melancons, and numerous others.

  • jaygray007

    I was sad last night for like 5 minutes… them my brain went into OMG 2014 ROSTER CONSTRUCTION Mode.

    I think Jordy has to be a utility guy. he’d be the perfect platoon partner for Neil and to even spell Alvarez. This means that they have to get a better guy to start at SS. Stephen Drew would be a fun target. I’m even fine with Barmes again.

    Assuming Jones goes bye bye. Kendrys Morales, Jose Abreu, Morneau, etc.

    If AJ Burnett retires, I could see them going after Josh Johnson hard, if healthy. he fits the recent “buy low on the guy who sucked in the AL and believe in FIP” model.

    The best part is that these signings are all replacing guys that made pretty decent salaries anyway, so their contracts wouldnt seem so bad. Barmes, Jones, and Burnett were paid… too lazy to look up exactly… probably on the order of about 20 mil between them? a SS, SP, and 1b might cost 30 million and be a lot better than the guys theyre replacing.

    • jaygray007

      another thing to consider: theyre one of the few teams with the $, prospects, and situation to go after David Price. Just sayin.

      A “what would the rays do?” model obviously wouldnt include making a trade with the Rays. But the Market could end up playing the bucs’ way.

      Maybe i’m just dreaming because i read that the cards could go after Tulowitzki, and my heart died, and i just wanted to imagine the pirates doing something similar.

      • stickyweb

        Not only is trading FOR David Price not what the Rays would do, it’s almost the definition of what the Brewers would do. He’s about to start making $15 million a year, all of which the Pirates would pay (unlike Wandy and AJ), and would cost a ton in prospects.

        I love Tulo, but with that contract ($130 million next 7 years), the best case scenario is that he almost lives up to it. It’s much more likely that with age, injury and a move to a real ballpark (if traded) he’s not gonna come close. I’d love to see the Cards trade Shelby or Wacha plus more for that roll of the dice.

        It’s great to dream, but the reality is that the Bucs aren’t going to turn into the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers overnight because the had some success this year. And they can’t afford to. They just have to keep grinding away the non-sexy way that got them here.

        • jaygray007

          I don’t think the brewers are a good comparison for this. but yeah i obviously see the downside in trading for him. my postseason imagination is just getting the best of me.

          Price would be fun, and you can’t deny that haha.

          • stickyweb

            Oh yeah, I’d love to have Price. It’s just feasible unless the Bucs blow up most of what they built the last 5 years.

            • stickyweb

              s/b “not feasible”

    • stickyweb

      Stephen Drew has averaged playing just 96 games the last 3 seasons. He’ll be 31 next year, is coming off a career offensive season in a very hitter friendly park, made $9.5 million this season and doesn’t add a lot defensively (0.3 DWAR per year last 3 years vs. Mercer’s 0.2 this year). I’d let somebody else make that $12 million mistake and take Jordy at league minimum. Not much out there in free agent SSs per MLBTR.

      I agree Josh Johnson could be a good target, but think he’d be even better if he’s not fully healthy. Would keep the market way down on him, and make the risk/reward even better (which is all you’re looking for there…it’s not like they’d be counting on him being their #3 starter)

      I’m also fine with Barmes coming back at $2 million most. But he’s the utility guy and insurance if Jordy doesn’t pan out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Jaygray….a couple of days ago, Bucs Dugout had a good (SABR) argument for/against signing Drew. I sided with not signing him.

      I am perfectly fine with Mercer. I think he can be a JJ Hardy-like player.

      Foo

      • stickyweb

        Foo, do you have a link? I couldn’t find the article searching their site. Curious what they say. Thanks.

      • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.stull.98 Stephen Stull

        We don’t need Drew, Mercer is fine.

        • jaygray007

          My argument for signing drew isn’t as much about a doubt in mercer. it’s about a lack of depth of major league ready SS and about what i think is good roster construction. I feel a lot better being able to plug Mercer in late in games than i do plugging Josh Harrison late in games.

          Surely there will be a bidding war for drew since he is the best SS on the market, and it’ll get to stupid prices. my propositions are all assuming fair prices.

          • jaygray007

            and yeah, there’s nothing wrong with bringing Barmes back either at a cheaper price and going with this year’s system.

  • SteveW

    Yes, there is definitely a lot of starting pitcher depth. I don’t think Kyle McPherson can be included in that category however – at least for most of the year. His TJS was on July 10th, so it’s very unlikely he will be ready prior to the All Star break. And if he is like most pitchers, other than a few like Charlie Morton, he won’t be pitching at 100% until the end of the year or 2015.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.stull.98 Stephen Stull

    Looking at the existing 40 man roster it seems like over $40M in salary will be coming off the books between Morneau, Burnett and Rodriguez.

    -Jordy Mercer should be the starting SS in my opinion.
    -Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones need to go away
    -Re-sign Marlon Byrd to give Polanco more time in AAA?
    -I like the idea of targeting Kendry Morales

    Future is bright for this organization, can’t wait until next year

    • stickyweb

      Rodriguez won’t be coming off the books. His option became a player option when he was traded, so he’ll definitely exercise it and the Bucs will be on the hook for their portion. Burnett may come back and if so, the Bucs will owe his entire salary for a change. Will be interesting to watch that one.

    • Andrew

      1)I was going to comment on Rodrigeuez and Burnett, see above, I agree way good bye to Morneau and his -0.1 WAR with the Pirates. (Can we please remember this when a trade deadline deal is based on 2-3 weeks of production.)

      2)Burnett will get a qualifying offer, the Pirates should attempt to resign him, it will be interesting.

      3)I like Sanchez if he is used as a platoon bat, the A’s platoon half of their lineup. He was worth 0.8 WAR this year with his 162 PAs against RHP driving that down, he is arbitration eligible, arbitrators are consider old school in their valuations, which means that Sanchez should not be valued highly. There is a lot of conditional statements here but I think Sanchez is the type of undervalued player the Pirated should attempt to keep.

      4) Morales would be a debacle at first, and he would be a better fit with AL teams, the production from DH’s this year was historically awful. The Mariners did extend a qualify offer, which he rejected, meaning he is looking for a fool of a Front Office.

      • stickyweb

        Agree on Gaby. Keep him around for a platoon, pinch hitting and get him some reps at 3B to spell Pedro against LHP too.

  • leadoff

    I keep hearing they can’t sign Byrd, why can’t they sign Byrd?
    As far as the SS is concerned, Mercer only has a half year in the majors and it is highly unlikely there is a better SS on the free agent market, what they need is to find another Mercer, I don’t know if D’Arnaud is ready or not. Regardless, I do believe they have to address the SS issue, but I do not believe it has to be with lots of $$$.
    It would be great if Byrd can play 1st base, I believe they have a better chance of getting a right fielder than they do of getting power at 1st base. Don’t forget they have Lambo and maybe he can play 1st base, just because Hurdle forgot about him when Morneau arrived does not mean Huntington forgot about him.

    • stickyweb

      Signing Byrd is certainly a possibilty, but after the season he had and at his age, he’ll be looking for a 2 or 3 year deal over $10 million. If nobody’s willing to give him that, I’d take him back for 1 year at $4 million or so. But no use tying up multi year when Polanco will be arriving.

      I know Huntington hasn’t forgotten about Lambo. He dreams about players that can contibute, possibly excel, at the league minimum. Lambo will be in the plans for either 1B or RF, at least as a platoon option.

      You’re absolutely right about there not being a free agent SS much better than Jordy, and since you’d be paying the free agent some multiple, probably a large mutliple, of Jordy’s salary, just stick with what you got.

  • CalipariFan506

    Morales is getting a qualifying offer so he’s not worth a draft pick IMO.

    Mercer should be the SS.

    I want Roberto Hernandez as a pitching project.

    1B is the big need. And I hope that is one spot that we look to fix externally.

    • SteveW

      1. If Morales gets a qualifying offer, then there is no way the Bucs of any other team should go near him. He’s a very poor fielder at 1B and his bat wouldn’t compensate for losing a first round pick and giving up a huge amount of money to an overpaid player.

      2. Agree Mercer should be the SS, although his defense is not nearly as good as Barmes. I would be OK with Barmes returning as a backup if he would sign for low money.

      3. Why would you want Roberto Hernandez?? He is 33 years old and his last decent year was in 2010. For the Rays this year, he was 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA and a poor WHIP before losing his starting job in late August. He also had a control meltdown while working out of the pen in September – walking 10 batters in his last 7 1/3 innings. The Bucs have at least 15 pitchers already signed for next year who are better than Hernandez.

  • reddfoxx39

    Housekeeping items

    1. Lock up Pedro. He is a star. His defense is fine. He will hit 40 HR a year for the next 5 years.
    2. Find a LH bat utility guy that can play SS, 2B You would hope this person is in the system
    3. Realize that Mercer is our SS. Guy is rock solid. Can do everything above average.
    4. Extend Russell Martin 2 years (if possible)….. his presence was bigger than most fans realize. Reese McGuire is 3 years away…..
    5. Find a 1B. Jose Abreu is a long shot, but Garrett Jones can’t come back.
    6. Enjoy it. Great season. Love this team

  • leadoff

    I think what is interesting about this off season is what to do with players like Snider, Jones, Pia, McHenry, Sanchez (Not Tony). I do not think they have any pitchers that they want to move, but these guys are not the depth they need.
    McHenry is not going to beat T.Sanchez out next year. They will probably try to find an everyday 1st basemen. Snider is too far down the depth chart and would have to beat Lambo out, Jones is going to be a non tender, he will make too much money in Arb. Pia can’t hit major league pitching.

    • jaygray007

      the funny thing is that I know that if Jones is back with the bucs next year, he’ll be bad again. if they DFA him, he’ll sign with the Rays and will hit 30 dingers, start taking walks, and magically start to hit lefties.

      • stickyweb

        Too funny Jgray, it always seems to work out that way, doesn’t it. Although Jones had some success with us and just seems to be on the downside or pitchers have figured him out. The other shining examples, Bautista, Moss, etc never did anything with the chance they were given until after they left.

  • CalipariFan506

    Moss was never given a chance here IMO. Just like Snider hasn’t either.

    • stickyweb

      Maybe you’re right, but didn’t Moss also have some injuries that kept him out of the lineup for a while? It’s tough to keep a roster spot open for a player like that. So if Snyder hasn’t been given a chance, are you comfortable with him starting in RF next year? It seems to me that his upright stance leaves him very vulnerable to pitches on the outside corner and he can’t do anything with them (except weak grounders)

    • Andrew

      Snider has been a very similar hitter in six, some very little stints, in the major league, they only thing that has varied has been his ISO, if he does hit for power he provides little to no value. He is another arbitration eligible player, should not cost much but if it is between him and Lambo, I think Lambo stays.

      I do have much hope for Byrd, rentals usually do not resign, he is 35, had a 50 game suspension, and this was a career year. Someone will pay, I do not think it will be the Pirates.

      I think Snider is a more likely candidate to become a Brandon Moss somewhere else, not Jones. I would love to see a comparison of Snider 2010 Blue Jays stance/swing and his stance/swing now. He was a top prospect for a reason.

      • CalipariFan506

        In Toronto he just was pull happy. Like Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are now. That is what Cito Gaston taught.

  • rsborelli

    I am so proud to be a Pirate fan today! Loss was disappointing and won’t lie, it was hard for me to watch the Cards celebrate. But, I am not at all disappointed in this team. Future is very bright. I especially love what we saw out of Cole. He pitches like he did once the calendar turned to September, that is an extremely valuable chip for the Pirates to have. He was not just an ace for the Pirates, but looked like one of the top starters in the game – as a guy who came up mid season.
    First base is definitely a need. There is nothing suitable on the current major league roster.
    I may be in the minority here, but I still want to see more out of Marte before he is a forget-about-it, pencil-him-in-and-don’t-worry kind of guy. I know there is still quite a bit of inexperience there (not just with age, but he lost some development time in minors due to injury), but his lack of plate discipline and inability to hit a curve ball is alarming to me. Hopefully it is just a matter of maturity and plate appearances improving that. From a skills/tools standpoint, his ceiling is immense.

    • rsborelli

      And don’t mean Marte is not my starting left fielder right now next season. He is penciled there now. Just thinking long term, I have some concerns. That are hopefully unwarranted!

  • Kozy21

    Sign Shin Soo-Choo to a 5yr deal and put his insane OBP in the leadoff spot and bat Marte second where he belongs. Build a package around Polanco for David Price. That’s my dream offseason for the Bucs. With the Pirates outfield depth and the fact that they have arrived, I’d gladly trade Polanco’s future potential for Choo’s current leadoff ability. With Choo batting leadoff and Marte batting in front Cutch, Cutch gets 120 RBI’s next year.

    • CalipariFan506

      No offense here but that is what Milwaukee would do. And that is why they stink now.

      • Kozy21

        That may be something Milwaukee would do but the Pirates have way more depth to their farm system than Milwaukee ever had and NH wouldn’t trade for a guy like David Price unless he knew he could sign him. I guess I should preface my dream scenario by saying that signing Price to an extension is included in that. Not to mention, I think Austin Meadows is gonna pass right by Josh Bell and others and be ready very early on. He just has that look about him. I think he’ll finish next season possibly in AA and be one of the 10 best prospects in baseball. If the Pirates had a true leadoff man in this series and Marte and Walker were batting in more natural spots, the Bucs would’ve won the series.

        • CalipariFan506

          Meadows will play the entire 2014 season in West Virginia. NH has never promoted a high school kid or an under 20 latin american player during his first full season at A ball.

  • CalipariFan506

    IMO the big question this winter is Abreu the Cuban. I won’t say if we should get him or not because I’ve never seen the guy play. But, if the scouts think he can be a producer every day at 1B I’d be up for a gamble financially to bring him in. That is a need that I don’t see us fillingby any conventional means.