In anticipation of the 2014 baseball season, we have reached out to local editor in the Fansided local editors to give you a preview of the teams in the NL central. Today we preview the Pittsburgh Pirates with City of Champions’s editor Matt Gajtka
1. What Grade would you give the Pittsburgh Pirates offseason?
I’d give the Pirates’ offseason a C-minus. They could’ve afforded to snag a free-agent first baseman, or acquire one via trade, but it looks like they’re going to wait and see how a combo of Gaby Sanchez and (probably) Andrew Lambo fare for a couple months. The Bucs were reportedly in on James Loney and starting pitcher Josh Johnson, but they were outbid in both cases. The only reason I don’t give them a D or F is that they didn’t blow cash on lesser lights when they couldn’t come through on their higher-profile targets. Because of that frugality, they have flexibility to add payroll during the season.
2. What was the biggest loss and biggest acquisition for the Pittsburgh Pirates?
The biggest loss was certainly right-hander A.J. Burnett. It was unfortunate the way it turned out, but apparently the $14 million qualifying offer was too rich for the Pirates’ taste, especially for a man of Burnett’s advanced age. Still, Burnett figured to be worth at least a couple of wins above replacement this year, if not three or four. Not only was he one of the NL’s top strikeout pitchers, he also induced a huge percentage of grounders, which plays into the Pirates’ aggressive defensive shifting. I guess Edinson Volquez is their biggest addition, because there’s really no one else. The Bucs have done tremendous work in rehabilitating pitchers with their current coaching staff, with Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton being good examples. Volquez hasn’t looked good this spring, but he’ll come north with a rotation spot, barring injury.
3. Why do you think baseball writers are pessimistic on the Pittsburgh Pirates’s season outlook?
I don’t know, because I see the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds engaging in one heck of an NL Central race this year. Sure, the Bucs didn’t add much at all this winter, but most of their key players are entering or in some stage of their primes. The pitching might take a small step back this year, especially the bullpen, given how incredible it was last season, but the offense projects to be much better. The Pirates’ bats were subpar in 2013, and I anticipate a bounce-back this summer. I also think that the Bucs need to put together another winning year before outsiders really start to believe in the organization. I can’t blame them for skepticism.
4. Do you think the fan support for the Pittsburgh Pirates is sustainable or is it just bandwagon support?
Sure, the support is sustainable as long as there’s a competitive team on the field. No offense to Cardinals fans, but I think most of them would’ve turned away if their favorite team didn’t even sniff .500 for the better part of two decades. The enthusiasm the Pirates generated in the Tri-State Area last year was refreshing and somewhat astonishing, considering what this fan base has been through since 1992. There’s a certain sense of pride among those of us who kept showing up, but it’s tough to criticize the bandwagon jumpers because there was so damn little to cheer for at PNC Park until the past couple years.