The 2011 Pirates played winning baseball for the first few months of the season. They even added veteran bats in Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee down the stretch to try and help them get to the playoffs. Their run fell short, however, there are finally signs of life for a franchise that hasn’t finished above .500 since before Bill Clinton was president. Let’s take a look at the bats that look to lead the Pirates past 81 wins. Who’s ready to walk the plank? (last bad pirate joke … maybe).
C: Rod Barajas
2013: club option $3.5MM
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Gone are Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder and in comes the veteran Rod Barajas. The Pirates had to go five catchers deep due to so many injuries, and, now, they look to Barajas to grab a hold of the position and catch 120 or so games. They’ve also added Jake Fox to help take the load of Barajas this year.
First Base: TBD
Derrek Lee was a force before he got injured. He hit .337 in 28 games with the Pirates and was exactly what the squad needed when they got him. However, he is now a free agent. The only internal option the Pirates could go with is Garrett Jones. He also could be a corner option if Lee or another bat to play first is brought in.
Second Base: Neil Walker
2013: first year of arbitration
Walker has been one of the best second baseman in the National League since he came up. Last year, he set a career high in RBI with 83 in his second full season. The local kid and the Pirates are working on a contact extension. He’s just 26 years old and can be a cornerstone the Pirates can really build around.
SS: Clint Barmes
As ESPN’s Jayson Stark said on Twitter, Barmes was the first free agent to sign with the Pirates for over $10 million since Steve Buechele. (Anytime you can drop Buechele in a baseball column, it needs to be done). Barmes should stabilize shortstop for the Pirates and provide good defense and much better offense than Ronny Cedeno did for them last year. He might not hit 23 homers like he did in 2009, but he should do fine.
3B: Pedro Alvarez
2013: club option
The Pirates are hoping for a version of 2010 Pedro Alvarez and not the oft-injured 2011 version. Alvarez has a ton of potential and is one of their former high first-round picks. If Alvarez falters, Josh Harrison will take his spot like he did for most of last year.
LF: Jose Tabata
Tabata signed a big extension with the Pirates during last season and had to deal with many injuries just like Alvarez. Tabata should be able to improve on his 2010 rookie form. He is just 23 years old and needs time to develop
CF: Andrew McCutchen
What do McCutchen and Matt Forte have in common? They need to get paid. McCutchen is the best center fielder in the NL not named Matt Kemp. His average was a little bit lower than his usual career numbers, however, he set career highs in homers and RBI. Brian Cashman tried to acquire him when they got Xavier Nady. He’s just gonna get better and better and hasn’t even entered his prime.
Ryan Ludwick probably won’t be filling this spot. Garrett Jones may if he’s not playing first base. The Pirates will need to go outside the organization to get a bat, probably right-handed at that. Nick Evans (no relation) just signed a minor-league deal. He probably won’t be enough to help fill this so they will keep searching.
The Pirates may not be too far away from contention. They will have help coming from their system and their offense again should improve with health and more at bats in the big leagues.