Another year is down, and though I’m only 24, I feel like time is moving entirely too fast for comfort. Now, 2012 is upon us, and if the Mayan doomsday prophecy holds true, it’ll be the last year we’ll ever see. All things considered, I don’t want to face my doomsday knowing that my favorite baseball team hasn’t had a winning season in 20 years. I can’t think of anything worse happening! Here’s a list of New Year’s resolutions the Pirates can make to ensure that a tortured fan base doesn’t go down as the worst losers in baseball history.
- Continue pursuing starting pitching. The single biggest thing the team can do if it wants to put a winner on the field is sign another experienced, durable starter. Replacing Paul Maholm with Erik Bedard could go one of two ways — either Bedard finds what he used to have and tears up NL Central opponents, or Bedard continues to be plagued by injuries and inconsistency and ends up being a lost rebuilding project. Which way he goes will play a major role in the Pirates season. But why risk something like that when there’s still plenty of quality arms on the free-agent market? I detailed a couple weeks ago who the team could pursue, and I continue to stand by what I wrote. Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote this week that the team has the money to spend on a starter. Time to ante up and go for the wins.
- Get Pedro Alvarez back on track. Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette wrote back in July that Alvarez is the most important part of the Pirates future. He has All-Star potential in his bat and the ability to hit 30 home runs a year. He can be the power bat that the Pirates lacked in their playoff push last year. He looked to be in great shape at Piratefest a few weeks ago, which is one less thing to worry about; getting his head right after two demotions to triple-A last year is one of the most important in-house items the team has to accomplish. Without him, the organization will continue to flounder in losing, but with him in the lineup producing runs, the opportunities can be limitless.
- Keep Andrew McCutchen where he belongs — at the top of the lineup. McCutchen is a spectacular athlete and the face of the franchise. He’s one of the most dynamic young players in the majors and is already in the upper echelon of center fielders. His blazing speed is stunning to watch and he can get on base. But he needs to be batting at the top of the order, not in the three of four spot as he often did last year. The team doesn’t need him to be a power hitter producing runs; McCutchen is not that type of player. Rather, the team needs him to be the one stealing bases and getting into position to score runs. This goes hand in hand Alvarez — or someone else — coming forward and being a solid power hitter, but it’s a must for the teams offense to function effectively.
- Get McCutchen locked up to a long term deal. I said that getting Alvarez right was one of the most important things the team needs to get done in-house to succeed, but didn’t say it was the most important. That’s because getting a deal done for McCutchen is undoubtedly the most important thing the team can do. He’s the most talented baseball player Pittsburgh has seen since Barry Bonds, and we all know how that ended up — the team hasn’t won since he left 20 years ago because they wouldn’t pay him. Don’t let that happen again with McCutchen, a much more likable, fan-friendly player. Losing him might be the dagger that finally deflates the Pirates bubble fully and for good. Get him signed long-term now before his cost really does jet out of the organization’s price range.
While there’s plenty more I’d like to see happen, these items are the biggest issues the team needs to address in 2012 if it hopes to compete not just this year, but for years down the road. Signing a pitcher is something I’d like to see, but signing McCutchen long-term is something that has to get done. I’d sacrifice the pitcher if it meant giving him that big deal. No matter what happens, though, I’ll just hold my breath and hope for a season’s worth of success for the Pirates in 2012.