Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors


Quick Hits: Red Sox, A-Rod, Cardenas, D'Backs

The Boston Red Sox are the 2013 World Series champions, just a season removed from a last-place finish in the AL East.  CBS Sports' Jon Heyman details how the Sox focused on acquiring less-heralded free agents who could handle the pressure of playing in Boston, and almost all of those free agents delivered big contributions throughout the season and through the playoffs.  While the return to good health and good form by several holdover Red Sox stars also played a huge role, several teams will be looking to replicate Boston's free agent strategy in the coming offseason.

Here are some notes from around baseball as the Hot Stove League has officially begun...

  • The Red Sox were immeasurably helped by the "payroll miracle" of their August 2012 blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes.  The Yankees could get a similar "financial reset" if all or most of Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary is removed from the books via suspension, allowing the Yankees to re-sign Robinson Cano, sign other free agents and also avoid the $189MM luxury tax limit.
  • Rodriguez's appeal hearing may not be decided until late December, Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger reports, which could impact the Yankees' offseason spending plans.
  • Adrian Cardenas, drafted 37th overall by the Phillies in 2006, walked away from a promising career at age 25 and with just 67 Major League PA to his name.  In a fascinating piece for the New Yorker, Cardenas details the thought process that went into his decision and his gradual disillusionment with the professional side of the game.
  • The Diamondbacks don't have much payroll flexibility for 2014, as The Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro notes in his breakdown of the Snakes' salary obligations.  Piecoro suggests that the D'Backs could sign free agents by backloading their contracts for 2015 and beyond, when the club has more money coming off the books.
  • The Dominican Republic recently passed a law stating that children of undocumented Haitian immigrants would no longer be considered Dominican citizens, even if they were born in the country.  Jorge Arangure of Sports On Earth investigates how this ruling could make it harder for amateur ballplayers of Haitian descent to obtain the proper visa or citizenship information to play in Major League Baseball.
  • The Pirates can afford to be more patient this offseason, GM Neal Huntington tells Jenn Menendez and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteA.J. Burnett's future needs to be decided first, however, since his status will determine the rest of the Buccos' moves.  "If we retain A.J, that will be a significant positive, but also it's going to cost us a good chunk of the available money, and we'll have to react accordingly," Huntington said.
  • The Marlins could fill a few needs by targeting the Angels' Mark Trumbo and Chris Iannetta in trades, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro opines as part of a reader mailbag.
  • The Blue Jays have hired Kevin Seitzer as their new hitting coach, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reports.  Seitzer previously worked as the hitting coach for the Diamondbacks and Royals, and he and Jays manager John Gibbons worked together on the K.C. staff from 2009-11.



Offseason Outlook: Pittsburgh Pirates

After their first winning season and playoff berth in 21 years, the Pirates find themselves in an enviable position, with a fairly sturdy roster and a strong farm system. It remains to be seen whether they will play it safe this offseason, heading into camp next year with a roster similar to last year's, or whether they'll make headlines with a splashy move or two.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

  • Wandy Rodriguez, SP: $13MM player option (Astros will pay $5.5MM if Rodriguez accepts)

Free Agents

Whenever a small-market team follows 20 straight losing seasons with an unexpected 94-win campaign, you know what the narrative will be: They're the young, scrappy Davids who somehow managed to compete with Goliath. When it comes to the Pirates, that's true, to an extent -- their top player, Andrew McCutchen, didn't turn 27 until October, and they also got plenty of mileage from homegrown talents Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson.

For an upstart team, though, the 2013 Pirates also got a ton of help from veterans, including several who had very high profiles earlier in their careers. A.J. Burnett quietly was one of the best pitchers in the National League, leading the NL in K/9 and ground ball percentage. Russell Martin anchored the Pirates' pitching staff and was fantastic behind the plate, rating 23 runs above average on defense, according to FanGraphs. Francisco Liriano was one of the best bargain-basement signings of the 2012-13 offseason. And the top two relievers in the Pirates' bullpen, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, were dominant.

While the Pirates may not have been that young, though, they're well-positioned to compete in the near future, even if it will be tough to repeat their 94-win 2013 performance. There's no reason to think McCutchen won't continue to be one of the best position players in baseball, and Marte should continue to post star-caliber seasons alongside him, mostly thanks to his defense. Cole looked more and more like an ace as his debut season went on, and fellow top pick Jameson Taillon will likely soon join him in the Pirates' rotation. The 2013 Pirates had a solid, ground-ball-heavy pitching staff that was aided by terrific fielding (thanks in part to very frequent defensive shifts) and an underrated offense. That probably won't change much in 2014.

The short-term problem for the Pirates, though, will be how to replicate or replace the performances they got from veterans in 2013. Martin and Liriano will be back, but they're unlikely to combine for 7.2 WAR again. Likewise, Grilli and Melancon will have a tough time again combining for 4.0 WAR. And Burnett might not be a Pirate at all -- he's still deciding whether to return for another season or to retire. The Pirates also stand to lose Marlon Byrd, who provided a boost to the their offense after an August trade with the Mets.

Offensively, the Pirates are set for 2014 at catcher (Martin), second base (Walker), third base (Alvarez) and two of the outfield positions (McCutchen and Marte). At shortstop, Clint Barmes is a free agent, but newcomer Jordy Mercer easily outhit him in 2013, while also providing credible defense. It will be tough for the Pirates to do better than Mercer this offseason, so their best bet might be to simply re-sign Barmes or acquire another defensive-minded player to serve as Mercer's backup and occasionally give Walker days off against lefties.

That leaves right field and first base. At right field, there is, again, a reasonable case for standing pat -- Jose Tabata came on strong at the end of the 2013 season, quietly producing 1.1 WAR in a part-time role. Tabata is defensively limited and offensively erratic, but given his relative youth and the possibility that top prospect Gregory Polanco will occupy the position beginning in late 2014 or early 2015, it might not make sense for the Bucs to make a multiyear commitment to a free agent outfielder, unless he's a superstar. And if Tabata flops, the Pirates could also turn to Andrew Lambo, who hit 33 home runs across three levels in 2013.

First base is where a splashy offseason acquisition would make the most sense -- Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau weren't particularly inspiring in 2013, and Gaby Sanchez is most useful as a lefty-killer. Unfortunately, there are few big names to pursue, at least on the free agent market. The Pirates apparently were never serious players for Jose Dariel Abreu, meaning Mike Napoli is the only player on the market who would clearly be a large upgrade. Players like Corey Hart and James Loney (in free agency) and Ike Davis (on the trade market) might also be possibilities, but they aren't great ones.

Any changes to the Pirates' 2014 rotation will likely hinge on whether A.J. Burnett returns. Burnett has said that, if he continues playing, he wants to stay in Pittsburgh, but he's also mulling retirement. If he does stay, it might be for a one-year deal right around the qualifying offer value of $14.1MM, whether or not the Pirates actually extend a qualifying offer. If he returns, he'll join Cole and Liriano atop the Pirates' rotation. Charlie Morton should slot into one of the back two spots, and Wandy Rodriguez, who finished the 2013 season on the disabled list, will likely pick up his player option. That leaves Jeff Locke, who faded badly down the stretch last year, as an insurance policy.

The Pirates also control most of their bullpen. Grilli and Melancon are set to return, along with top lefties Watson and Wilson and, assuming the Pirates tender him, righty Vin Mazzaro. Righty Stolmy Pimentel, who arrived along with Melancon last offseason's Joel Hanrahan trade with the Red Sox, will be out of options, and he pitched well in both the minors and the big leagues last year, so he could occupy another bullpen spot, perhaps along with fellow righty Bryan Morris.

The Pirates' farm system is also well-stocked, with Taillon and Polanco leading the way. The Bucs also have a well-regarded infielder in Alen Hanson, a tall righty who posted 13.3 K/9 in Tyler Glasnow, and two 2013 first-round picks who had good debuts in Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire.

The Pirates' strong system may turn out to be important this winter. The Bucs' attendance has taken a huge leap forward in the past few years, from 1.6MM in 2010 to almost 2.3MM in 2013, and owner Bob Nutting recently spoke about significantly increasing the team's payroll next season. There are, however, few good free agent options at the Pirates' clearest positions of need, particularly first base. So it wouldn't be a huge shock if the Pirates were involved in some sort of blockbuster trade this offseason, trading away prospects in return for a star who can play one of the corner spots. Giancarlo Stanton or Chase Headley might make sense.

There ultimately isn't much point in trying to predict specifics. But it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Pirates do something dramatic this offseason. Their first winning campaign since 1992 is now in the books. The atmosphere at PNC Park during the Pirates' 6-2 win over the Reds in their one-game playoff was unlike anything the Pirates (or, frankly, lots of baseball teams) have seen in decades. It's an important time for baseball in Pittsburgh, and the team has money to spend. GM Neal Huntington isn't the type to make a huge move just because he's expected to, but if the right one presents itself, well, now is the time.



Cafardo On Tigers, Sandoval, La Russa, Blue Jays

After the Tigers were knocked out of the playoffs, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe looks at some of the club's flaws.  He starts at the top of the lineup, where Austin Jackson's .337 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases were not good enough of a contrast to the slow, power-hitting lineup that produced the best offense in baseball.  Possible solutions this winter include Scott Boras clients Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury.  “That’s the one team we haven’t heard Ellsbury’s name mentioned with,” said one American League GM. “We’ve heard a lot about the Mets, Mariners, Rangers, but the Tigers make perfect sense. They are a big-market team with big resources. There’s a relationship with Scott and Mr. Ilitch. They’ve done business before and there’s no reason they can’t do business again.”  Here's more from today's column..

  • The Giants would probably listen to anyone who had interest in Pablo Sandoval, but his weight will be an issue for clubs. However, his conditioning might not totally dissuade teams given the lack of third base options available. 
  • Tony La Russa is out there, but according to a Cubs source there’s been no contact with him.  For his part, La Russa has told friends he’d rather be considered for a front office job than manage again. 
  • Two people in baseball operations with the Blue Jays indicated to Cafardo that they need two quality starting pitchers to go with Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey.  They could take care of one of those spots by extending a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson.
  • It doesn't appear that Justin Morneau will return to the Pirates but the Orioles could make a play for him this winter as they go for another bat.  If Carlos Beltran is too pricey, Morneau could be an alternative even though the O's may prefer a right-handed bat like Mike Morse.
  • The Red Sox went pretty far in their pursuit of Jose Dariel Abreu, but ultimately they lost out to the White Sox.  It was a sensitive negotiation for Boston out of respect for pending free agent Mike Napoli, who would have been affected by an Abreu signing.
  • There’s some real talk about the possibility that the Rays could see Montreal as a real alternative if plans for a new stadium don’t work out in the Tampa area.
  • One of the reasons why Nolan Ryan parted ways with the Rangers was because of the club's decision to let bench coach Jackie Moore go.
  • The Yankees appear to be on the verge of shaking up their scouting and player development departments.



Central Notes: Indians, Reds, Cards, Cubs, Bucs, Tigers

Baseball's general managers are expected to address the topic of home plate collisions at their meetings in November, Buster Olney of ESPN reports, and some sources believe a rule change could come quickly. "At this point, I don't know who would argue to keep it, or what their argument would be," a team official speaking with Olney said. Team sources said they expect baseball to adopt a rule that would guarantee the baserunner an avenue to the plate, but disallow him from targeting the catcher -- the same regulation that's in place at all levels of the game below the majors. Here's the latest from the AL and NL central divisions as Detroit and Boston battle for the AL pennant:

  • Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer ran through queries from Indians fans in a new column, ruling out Bartolo Colon as an option for the Tribe's rotation.
  • Longtime Reds writer Hal McCoy, who continues to keep a blog for the Dayton Daily News, examined where things went wrong between the Reds and Brandon Phillips. The team is reportedly shopping the second baseman, and the Braves may be interested.
  • Tyler Kepner of The New York Times attempted to pin down the reasons behind the Cardinals' sustained run of success, noting the front office's knack for player development.
  • Rick Renteria has become "the clear-cut favorite" among candidates for the Cubs' manager job, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets, reporting that support for the Padres bench coach is "staggering."
  • Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review assessed the Pirates' chances of carrying their 2013 success into next season. While the club's young core and farm system are reasons for optimism, several of 2013's key contributors may be lost to free agency in the coming years, and the team could be hampered by its middling revenue streams, Sawchik writes.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski may look to inject some speed into his club's lineup this offseason, Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press reports. 



Quick Hits: Rangers, Price, Rodon, Cubs

Nolan Ryan might be missing out on a really fun offseason.  Rival talent evaluators believe that the Rangers are going to be very aggressive this winter and pursue the likes of David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, and Brian McCann, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com (via Twitter).  Texas is eager to right the ship after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009.  Here's more from around baseball..

  • The 2014 draft class has potential to be the best class since 2011, write John Manuel and Clint Longenecker of Baseball America.  Left-hander Carlos Rodon stands out as the top talent in the group while power pitcher Jeff Hoffman would be the No. 2 pick if the draft was today.
  • Top international prospects Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres are pretty far along in their development considering that they're just 16, but they'll be working to adjust to the U.S. culturally, writes MLB.com's Carrie Muskat.  "They're not raw in their physical abilities, it's just being raw to the United States, how things are run," said Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce. "As far as the way they play the game, they're pretty advanced for 16 years old. They're not raw as far as their tools. Their tools are in place."
  • Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau will look to sign with a winner this offseason, writes Sid Hartman of the Star-Tribune.  Because of that, a return to the Twins seems highly unlikely, unless he finds an extremely weak market for his services.



Free Agent Profile: A.J. Burnett

When the Yankees were able to obtain some salary relief and a pair of warm bodies (Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones) for the final two years of A.J. Burnett's contract, many in New York celebrated the move. Burnett had struggled in his second and third years with the Bombers, but the Pirates were optimistic. As GM Neal Huntington recently explained to me, Pittsburgh scouts saw a "plus pitch package" in Burnett, and he checked out favorably in several metrics on which they place an emphasis. Burnett has resurfaced as a top-of-the-rotation arm with the Bucs and is now set to hit free agency entering his age-37 season. He's still not sure whether he'll retire or continue his career, but let's examine his free agency under the assumption that he chooses to play... 

Strengths/Pros

There's perhaps no better trio of skills for a starting pitcher to possess than the ability to miss bats, the ability to induce ground-balls and the ability to limit walks. Burnett-AJBurnett has all three of those. His 9.8 K/9 rate led the Senior Circuit, and his 10.6 percent swinging-strike rate tied him with Stephen Strasburg for ninth in the NL. Burnett's 56.5 percent ground-ball rate was tops among qualified NL starters as well, and his 3.2 BB/9 mark, while a bit behind the MLB average of 2.8 for starters, is plenty respectable.

The more sabermetrically inclined crowd will appreciate the fact that Burnett's 2.80 FIP, 2.92 xFIP and 3.10 SIERA all lead this year's crop of free agent starting pitchers. His 4.0 fWAR trail only James Shields and Jon Lester among possible free agents, and each of those hurlers is a lock to have his club option exercised, preventing them from hitting the open market. Simply put, advanced metrics are in love with Burnett.

However, the more traditional set of stats will tell us that Burnett was quite good in 2013 as well. He totaled a 3.30 ERA in 191 innings of work and held opponents to a paltry .231/.304/.335, essentially reducing every hitter he faced to the equivalent of Kevin Frandsen (.234/.296/.341) or Eric Young (.249/.310/.336).

The Pirates love Burnett, but a $14.1MM salary might be steep for their modest payroll, especially with big arbitration raises in store for Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Melancon and Charlie Morton. That group figures to earn a collective $9.2MM more than in 2013, and with built-in raises for Andrew McCutchen, Jason Grilli, Russell Martin and Franciso Liriano in store, a qualifying offer seems unlikely for Burnett. As such, he shouldn't require a draft pick to sign.

Weaknesses/Cons

Burnett has been more healthy in recent years, but there's no overlooking the fact that he'll be 37 on Opening Day next year and has 11 different stints on the big league DL under his belt. The only recent DL stint that wasn't due to a fluke injury was the calf strain that cost him four weeks of his 2013 season, but Burnett's body has a lot of wear and tear on it.

Excellent as he's been lately, Burnett's detractors will point to his time in New York and much of his time in Toronto and say that he simply isn't the same pitcher in the American League when he doesn't have the benefit of facing opposing pitchers. Burnett has a career 3.63 ERA in the NL (3.41 in his most recent 393 innings with Pittsburgh) but a 4.39 ERA In the AL. The 5.20 ERA he posted in his final two seasons with the Yankees, in particular, could give AL clubs pause.

There's also the fact that, right or wrong, Burnett's free agency may be tarnished by his most recent results. Burnett made just one postseason appearance with the Pirates -- a two-inning, seven-run shellacking at Busch Stadium. That performance and his historic struggles at Busch Stadium led manager Clint Hurdle to start rookie Gerrit Cole over Burnett in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS. Burnett would have liked to prove that he could defeat the Cardinals on the road and send his team to the NLCS, but he's instead left with a simple "what if" as he and agent Darek Braunecker of Frontline Sports Management talk with interested clubs in the offseason.

Personal

Burnett has two children, Ashton and Allan Jr., with his wife Karen.  The pitcher helped to endorse the Adam Walsh Children’s Fund and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children while playing in Miami in 2001 and 2002 and also served as the national spokesman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Market

Burnett has gone on record recently as saying he's 50-50 on retiring, and he wants to end his Major League career as a Pirate. Those comments were made before the team's disappointing departure from the postseason, so perhaps Burnett will return for another year, fueled by a desire to lead the Bucs to a World Series and redeem himself for his postseason miscue. It's hard to imagine him signing anywhere else, but contending teams looking at one-year rotation pieces like the Nationals and Dodgers may still call in the offseason to gauge their chances. The Pirates have said they will do everything in their power to retain Burnett, and they're clearly the runaway favorites to land him -- if he pitches.

Expected Contract

Burnett has earned more than $120MM in his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com, so he may not seek to maximize his salary, especially not with the Pirates' tight payroll. I have no doubt that if he wanted to hit the open market in search of a two-year deal, Burnett could surpass Ryan Dempster's $26.5MM guarantee over that same term. However, given his uncertainty toward pitching in 2014, it seems unlikely that he'd want to lock himself into a contract for 2015 as well. As such, I expect that Burnett will sign a one-year, $12MM contract with the Pirates or simply call it a career this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



NL Central Notes: Choate, Wainwright, Guerrero, Taillon

As the Cardinals battle to represent the National League Central in the World Series, let's have a look at St. Louis and the two other post-season qualifying members of the division.

  • Left-handed reliever Randy Choate had his pick of the Cardinals and the Dodgers over this past off-season, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His manager, Mike Matheny, credits him not only for his performance on the hill but for mentoring the many excellent young arms that have cycled through the team's bullpen this year.
  • Starting for the Cards this evening was Adam Wainwright, who has been as important as any player to the team's recent successes. As MLB.com's Steve Gilbert writes, the deal that brought him to St. Louis about a decade ago could not have turned out any better for team or player.
  • Walt Jocketty, the GM who pulled the trigger on that trade, is currently at the helm of the rival Reds. Jocketty tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he is unlikely to bring aboard Cuban middle infielder Alexander Guerrero, who the club was rumored to be in on. "We scouted him extensively and had a lot of discussions," said Jocketty. "But I don't believe anything will happen."
  • Top Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon has been shut down after suffering a groin injury in his first outing in the Arizona Fall League, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The injury itself doesn't seem to be significant, however, and it seems unlikely to have a significant impact on the club's plans for 2014. With Taillon now unable to add additional innings to his arm, he will have a base of less than 150 to work from next season. Of course, that is about the level that Gerrit Cole had to build off of this year. Taillon also will miss the chance to develop against AFL talent, but he has already advanced to the upper minors and should get more time there to start the season.



NL Notes: Rockies, Pirates, Mets, Managerial Searches

The NLCS is taking a day off as the scene shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 tomorrow night with the Cardinals leading the Dodgers 2-0. Here is the latest news and notes out of the National League today:

  • The Rockies need to improve their talent acquisition via the draft and Latin America in order to overcome the crushing injuries suffered in recent seasons, according to Troy E. Renck of the Denver PostTim Hudson, whose free agency was profiled this past week by MLBTR's Steve Adams, would make a perfect middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Rockies, Renck opines.
  • The Pirates' payroll will increase significantly in 2014 aiding their efforts to retain free agents Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett while also trying to sign Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez to long-term extensions, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel.  
  • The Mets will face a dilemma with their 40-man roster when it comes time to protect minor league players from the Rule 5 draft, reports ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin. The Mets' 40-man roster is currently full and will be so again once the eight players on the 60-day disabled list replace the eight pending free agents on the 40-man. Jordany Valdespin headlines Rubin's list of eight Mets who could lose their roster spot.
  • The Reds' managerial search is centered on pitching coach Bryan Price and Triple-A manager Jim Riggleman, writes John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Fay expects Price to get the job; but, if neither candidate impresses ownership in upcoming interviews, the search may be expanded.
  • Nationals third-base coach Trent Jewett has an excellent shot to become the team's next manager, reports ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required).



Central Links: Carpenter, Indians, Pirates

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak would welcome the opportunity to add Chris Carpenter to the team's front office after his pitching career, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Sulia). Mozeliak noted that Carpenter may be too competitive to settle into a front office role, however. Here's more from the AL and NL Central divisions...

  • The Indians plan to cast a wide net in free agency this offseason, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hoynes writes that GM Chris Antonetti talked with agents for at least nine free agent outfielders last winter before signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, and he'll be similarly open-minded this time around.
  • Within that piece, Hoynes reports that the Indians may have some interest in Matt Garza this winter, as they tried to acquire him from the Cubs at the trade deadline. The Indians didn't want to part with Lonnie Chisenhall, however, according to Hoynes.
  • Dave Cameron examined the 2014 Pirates' prospects for contention in a piece for Fangraphs. While the team's offense isn't expected to decline much, the bullpen is in line for significant regression and the starting rotation is a wild card, Cameron says.
  • A major decision looms for the Pirates' front office as A.J. Burnett, who was key to the team's 2013 success, prepares to hit free agency. That Burnett may opt to retire complicates matters. The team must also decide whether to attempt to retain Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, who were acquired at the trade deadline, Thomas Harding of MLB.com writes.
Aaron Steen contributed to this post.



Pirates Notes: Pitching, Cole, Free Agents

The Buccos emerged as a force in 2013, not altogether unlike the Nationals' rise the year before. Both teams met their fate at the hands of the Cardinals in NLDS Game 5 showdowns. Will Pittsburgh be able to avoid the Nats' failure to repeat a post-season berth in 2014? The coming off-season will no doubt go a long way to deciding that question. Here are a few notes on the club's path forward ...

  • An early statistical look at the club reveals that the offensive projects to be similarly valuable next year while the run prevention (pitching and defense) might need some help to repeat, explains Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. In particular, Cameron notes that the club's pen should not be counted on to shut down the opposition at quite so impressive a rate, and that the effectiveness of the rotation will depend on several variables. Chief among them: whether or not A.J. Burnett returns (and, if so, how he ages); whether Francisco Liriano can finally become a consistent presence; and whether Gerrit Cole can build upon his early success. 
  • Cole has answered every question thus far and should come back strong in 2013, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though he jumped about fifty innings between 2012-13, manager Clint Hurdle says that Cole has "gotten stronger, it seems to us, from the visual aspect as the season went on." The big righty increased his average fastball velocity over the course of the year, and the club is apparently not concerned with the wear on his 23-year-old arm.
  • The immediate talk has unsurprisingly turned to the team's current players who are not under contract for 2013, including Burnett, displaced starting shortstop Clint Barmes, and trade acquisitions Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. MLB.com's Thomas Harding rounds up the early reactions of some of these players to the possibility of returning to Pittsburgh from the free agent market.









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