Bucs ready to get fresh start in 2011
Hurdle inherits club that has promising young talent
PITTSBURGH -- It's a fresh year, a new start for the Pirates, who are more than ready to put 2010 behind them.
General manager Neal Huntington isn't done with his offseason work, though the club has added a number of new faces already. Those additions, coupled with a young core and a new manager, have the organization cautiously optimistic about what is to come in Pittsburgh's 125th National League season.
The Pirates are still seeking their first winning season since 1992, and they are coming off a year in which the team lost a Major League-worst 105 games. The Pirates' approach this offseason hasn't focused on making drastic changes. Instead, the club appears content on complementing the young talent already in place by signing some veterans to fill the primary areas of need.
The roster will be tweaked even more before the Bucs open the year at Wrigley Field on April 1, but it's never too early to start projecting what this new year may bring in Pittsburgh. So as you decide whether or not you're really going to stick with your own New Year's resolutions, here are 10 questions to consider as the Bucs head into 2011:
10. How much impact will the Pirates' offseason acquisitions make?
There's still time for the Pirates to make another impact addition or two, but the club has been somewhat active already. The team has a new first baseman after signing Lyle Overbay, and the addition of Matt Diaz means that the club will go with a Diaz/Garrett Jones platoon in right field. The Pirates are hopeful that Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen can improve the rotation, and Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez might answer the Pirates' needs for a backup middle infielder. Given where the Bucs finished in 2010, they need these acquisitions to make a meaningful difference.
9. Who will the club take with its No. 1 selection in the First-Year Player Draft?
For the first time since 2002, the Pirates will make the first pick in the Draft. That year, the club selected college pitcher Bryan Bullington, who never won a game with the team. Pittsburgh needs to do much better this time around in order to keep moving the organization in the right direction. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is right now widely considered to be the Draft's top talent, though obviously much can change between now and June. What shouldn't change is the organization's dedication to being one of the Draft's biggest spenders, which has paid off in recent years.
8. Who will be the closer?
The Bucs have not yet named a closer, though Huntington has said he wants one picked before the start of Spring Training. Unless the Pirates make an addition, the job will go to Hanrahan or Meek. Both got a handful of save opportunities after Octavio Dotel was traded, and Hanrahan has been a closer before with the Nationals. The Pirates have not tipped their hand as to which way they are leaning, and there is always a chance that both Hanrahan and Meek could be used in the ninth inning.
7. What will happen with Ryan Doumit?
In the span of a year, Ryan Doumit has gone from being the team's starting catcher, to a right fielder, to a platoon player, to a piece on the bench. The Pirates' acquisitions of Chris Snyder, Overbay and Diaz have left Doumit without a spot in the starting lineup. There is a good chance Doumit, who is set to earn $5.1 million in 2011, will still be traded before the start of the season. If not, he'll have to adapt to a role as a backup catcher and fill-in outfielder. It's not known how Doumit will react to the reduced playing time.
6. Can Neil Walker and Jose Tabata repeat their rookie success?
The Pirates couldn't have asked for much more from Walker and Tabata in 2010. But if this offense is going to be respectable next season, those two must continue to step up. Along with Andrew McCutchen, the pair will be counted upon to set the tone at the top of the lineup. Their ability to get on base will be key to setting up run-scoring opportunities for the heart of the lineup. Walker should also make significant strides defensively now that he has had his crash-course experience at second base.
5. Will Ronny Cedeno be the Opening Day shortstop?
It's looking more and more like Cedeno will indeed be the team's starting shortstop again in 2011. Pittsburgh continues to evaluate external options to see if there is a better fit, but the shortstop market has dried up in recent weeks. The Pirates continue talking about Cedeno's potential, but the club is at the point where it needs to see Cedeno tap into that talent. His inconsistencies on offense and defense are an issue, but the Pirates might not have a choice but to rely on Cedeno again.
4. Can Pedro Alvarez take steps forward to becoming a star?
If Alvarez's stellar month of September is any indication of what's to come, Pittsburgh should be bracing for something special. Alvarez has the ability to change the game with one swing, and the Pirates envision him fitting nicely into that cleanup hole for years to come. Alvarez is going to have to cut down on his strikeout total and adjust to pitchers as they begin adjusting to him. While many doubt that Alvarez will be able to stick at third base long-term, there is no doubting the intriguing upside that he has with the bat.
3. Who will step forward to solidify the rotation?
Of all the things that went wrong in 2010, the woes of the starting rotation were near the top. Five different starters lost at least 10 games before the end of August, and as a whole, the rotation went 34-84 with a 5.28 ERA. Pittsburgh is hopeful that Correia can be a stabilizing presence and that James McDonald can repeat the success he had during the final two months of the '10 season. Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf need to pitch to their potential, while Brad Lincoln, Charlie Morton and Olson must move beyond disappointing '10 seasons.
2. How much of a difference will Clint Hurdle make?
None of the Pirates' previous five managers led the club to a winning season, but Hurdle announced that he is ready for the challenge. Hurdle takes over after Russell's clubs lost 299 games over a three-year period. While Russell was often criticized for being too passive and even-keel, Hurdle's booming introduction at his November press conference has already won him over plenty of fans. It took some time, but Hurdle turned around the Rockies with a young core that he sees as similar to the one he is inheriting in Pittsburgh.
1. Can the Bucs break the streak?
This was question No. 1 going into 2010 and it will continue to define the organization until the Pirates finish a season with a record at or above .500. Pittsburgh has endured 18 straight losing seasons, including that 105-loss campaign last year. It seems a stretch to expect the Pirates to increase their win total by 24 games in a year's time, but the organization would at least like to see steps forward in that direction. A good start would be to reach the 70-win plateau, something Pittsburgh hasn't done since 2004.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.