Saying that his club is now “beyond the talent-acquisition phase,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington brought a multitude of free agents on board to guide the Pirate ship to its next port of call: respectability.
The Action: The biggest deal Huntington made in the off-season was to lock up All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen to six more years for $51.5 million. Huntington also welcomed back Nate McLouth, who saw his best days at PNC Park before his career took a nosedive in Atlanta, and signed pitcher Eric Bedard and super-sub Clint Barmes.
Huntington pulled off two notable trades, sending a couple of minor-leaguers to the Yankees for pitcher A.J. Burnett and getting Casey McGehee from the Brewers for reliever Jose Veras.
It’s A Lock: Now that McCutchen is safely in the fold, 2B Neil Walker will likely be next in line for a long-term deal. Manager Clint Hurdle should be pleased that he has both of those talents to write into the club’s everyday lineup.
Barmes played for Hurdle in Colorado, and the multi-position player should find a good fit somewhere. McLouth saw his best days at PNC Park before his career took a nosedive in Atlanta. He’s looking to recapture that magic in his second stint with the Bucs. Joel Hanrahan will be counted on to handle the majority of the Pirates’ save oppotunities.
Hedge Your Bets: With Ryan Doumit taking his glove and bat to Minnesota, it will be a platoon of Michael McKenry and Rod Barajas who control the action from behind the plate. It’s debatable, however, how much the 36-year-old Barajas has left in the tank. Likewise, it remains to be seen if McKenry can handle the job full-time.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez and right fielder Jose Tabata both have much to prove as well. If one of them continues to underperform, McGehee should prove useful either at the hot corner, in the outfield (if either Tabata or left-field prospect Alex Presley can’t cut it) or as part of a platoon at first base with the inconsistent Garrett Jones.
Starter Charlie Morton, who underwent hip surgery in the off-season, was hanmmered in his last spring start and remains doubtful to be with the big club on Opening Day. This might also be lefty Bedard’s last chance to stick in the majors. Meanwhile, Burnett continues to be on track in his recovery after cracking an orbital bone around his eye while attempting to bunt in a spring practice.
The Payoff: Pittsburgh is in the lower echelon of the MLB futures betting, and they don’t have to look outside their own division to find stiff competition.