Five questions for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012

Andrew McCutchen carries Pittsburgh's hopes for a good season on his shoulders. (Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review)

Every year, it seems like the Pittsburgh Pirates are counted out before the season even begins. Unlike the other teams in the Steel City, there is never much hope surrounding a team once considered one of the best in the National League. As an outsider, I find myself rooting for them to succeed (at least finish .500). I remember the early 1990s for my team, the Phillies, and I think back to how painful it was to go to a game knowing it was likely they were going to lose. I feel for you Pittsburgh.

Don’t worry, though! There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Pirates have the youth and talent to make some huge moves in the right direction over the next few years, and we could see a change in faith with regards to baseball in Pittsburgh. With that said, here are five key questions for the Pirates to answer this year:

Will they sign Andrew McCutchen to a long term deal? I know it’s not like the Pirates to commit to any player for the long term, but this is clearly what they have to do to be competitive for the rest of this decade. I am sure McCutchen is going to command money similar to that of Jay Bruce and Justin Upton (six-years, $51MM), but it has to be done. I don’t care if you have to trade away other talent. McCutchen is the real deal. Treat him as such.

Will Pedro Alvarez rebound from 2011? I had huge expectations for Pedro going into last year. He could be the power hitter Pittsburgh has lacked since Bonds and Bonilla left. The talent is definitely there, it’s just a matter of how committed he is to getting back to form and what type of patience the organization has. I am willing to believe he can improve, and if he does, things could get fun!

Will any of the young pitchers take the next step this year? Charlie Morton and James McDonald showed some promise last year, but they need to do more in 2012. The staff needs a consistent starter who can step on the mound every fifth day and carry the team on his back if needed. Somebody needs to step up.

Will Erik Bedard be the Erik Bedard of old? Many people in baseball were surprised when Bedard signed to play in Pittsburgh, but it might have been a genius move by him. As stated above, the team needs a clear number-one, and if he were to regain his old form, he could definitely be that guy. I don’t see this happening, but if he musters up some of the old magic, the division better watch out.

Will they trade All-Star Joel Hanrahan? He was the only other sign of hope besides McCutchen last year, and he came out of nowhere to become one of the best closers in the league. Unfortunately, that usually means one thing in Pittsburgh: a trade. Hopefully, management realizes they have something special and will hold on to him. But, you know if any top prospects are available in exchange for him, then all bets are off.

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