I'm really looking forward to this season for the Pirates, but for a totally different reason than usual. Nobody is saying "this is the year." Nor should they. This is not the year. Have people wised up? Do they realize that rebuilding a baseball organization takes time, and that the 15-game improvement between 2010 and 2011 was something of an aberration? Do they realize that the team is steadily improving, but that they're not ready to contend? Do they understand the way the Pirates are evaluating talent or allocating their resources? Does the fanbase finally have a nuanced grasp of baseball?
No. There's no way that's the case. People still seem excited for baseball, though. Let's take a look at your 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.
This is Erik Bedard. He's basically Paul Maholm, except he throws harder, costs less and is Canadian. He was really awesome in 2007, and has about one-and-a-half seasons' worth of work since, so he's a good bet to land on the DL at some point. Today, Bedard became the Pirates' best opening day starting pitcher in the PNC Park era. The best part about Erik Bedard is that he tweets everything he thinks, totally uncensored.
Here's the inexplicably adequate Jeff Karstens. Despite a top speed of about 34 miles per hour on his fastball, Karstens was the Bucs' best pitcher last year. You might know him as better as Geoffrey Philip Mountbatten Cadbury-Foxbatten, 5th Earle of Glouscestershire-upon-Squishney. The issue of Prince Philip and his sister Ethel, Karstens is currently seventh in the line of succession to the British crown. He is afraid of bridges.
James McDonald came over from the Los Angeles Doddgers in 2010 when the Pirates unloaded Octavio Dotel. McDonald's control issues made him expendable in Los Angeles. It wasn't until a game against the Reds last year, during which McDonald attempted 94 straight pickoffs to second base without throwing a single pitch, that the Pirates realized he was legally blind and literally had no sense of direction. The uninventively nicknamed "J-Mac" sports a good fastball-curveball combination which the Pirates hope he's able to harness with the help of his new bionic eyes.
Kevin Correia is entering his second -- and hopefully last -- year with the Pirates. The winner of MLB's Luckiest Son of a Bitch Alive Award for the first half of 2011, Correia made the National League All-Star team, but failed to see action due to his +4.0 FIP. Once the Pirates' other starters are healthy, Correia is an excellent candidate to be bumped from the rotation.
This is A.J. Burnett. The Pirates acquired him from the Yankees in the off-season. Burnett was so popular in New York that the Yankees actually agreed to pay nearly two-thirds of his remaining salary for the Pirates to take him. At 35, he immediately became the Pirates' best pitcher in 15 years, and made headlines by showing up for spring training on time and running laps early in the morning, presumably because he fancies himself some kind of professional athlete or something. Once a highly-touted young talent with the Florida Marlins, Burnett's career milestones include:
- Putting a warm-up toss through the window of a car driven behind home plate by the Marlins' mascot
- Walking nine Padres en route to throwing the league's shittiest-ever no-hitter
- Signing a five-year, $55 million contract with the Blue Jays
- Signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Yankees
- Coining the phrase, "70 percent of the world is covered by water; the rest is covered by A.J. Burnett's tattoos."
You all remember Charlie Morton, right? Plays the guitar? Has a dog? Presumably loves Joshua Radin? Came over in the Nate McLouth trade? Forever struggling to live up to the promise of "his stuff?" Well, Charlie's back, and he's 33 percent more pensive! He's on the DL right now, so he's got WAY too much time on his hands. Until he comes back, look for him to hang out in independent coffee shops, read a lot of Heidegger and attend small-venue concerts featuring singer-songwriters with Steelers running back Baron Batch.
This is Jared Hughes. Don't think about him too much; he's just here to take up space.
Since arriving from Tampa Bay as a zaftig Rule 5 Draft pick, Meek has been one of the Pirates' most reliably injured pitchers. After a stellar 2010 campaign, 18 of Meek's 24 appearances in 2011 came in either April or September. The Pirates would love to see Meek bounce back this year so they can spin him off to the Yankees in mid-to-late July. To make it appear as though he's perpetually getting into better shape, Meek wears his cap and uniform three sizes too big to start each season, then moves them one size up each month.
Chris Resop has a huge power arm and was awesome for the Pirates in late-inning relief last year. He strikes out six batters an inning, lulling them to sleep by taking 19 minutes between pitches, then burning them with 96 mile-per-hour heat. It's thought that the Pirates contemplated making Resop a starter this off-season, but were bribed not to by the commissioner's office, which is still looking for ways to make people think baseball isn't the most boring of all major professional sports. We should see a fair amount of Chris this year, especially once Evan Meek is injured or traded.
Jason Grilli really has to take a shit.
Bonjour. Mon nom est Juan Cruz. Je joue pour cette équipe, les Pirates. Je viens d'emménager dans cette ville et je suis à la recherche d'une bonne boulangerie, ainsi que de nouveaux amis. J'aime l'art dadaïste et la musique de Serge Gainsbourg.
This is Tony Watson. He's a lefty setup guy. He was pretty good last year, and he plays in exchange for free room and board at the ballpark. The players' union hasn't technically approved his contract since he's really only operating on a month-to-month handshake agreement. Determined to make his way here in the big city, Tony vowed he'd never again set foot in his hometown of Grimes, Iowa (Pop. 59.72) until he's made enough money to afford the dowry for his marriage to his beloved childhood pig, Mr. Bacon (female).
You're not really gonna fuck with me, are you? C'mon, Gomez. Don't play. I'm tired. I'm tired from whoopin' your ass.
The Pirates started eight different catchers over the course of last year. Journeyman Rod Barajas was not one of them. This year, he will be. In his first year with the Pirates, Barajas has the completely arbitrary distinction of being 2012's, "The New Mexican."
2011: Luis Heredia
2010: Akinori Iwamura
2009: Virgil Vazquez
2008: Jesse Chavez
Okay, so here's the thing -- I think I'm coming around to pulp. You're the first person I've told. But here's my reasoning: the no pulp stuff is coming closer and closer to Sunny D in my approximation. And beyond that, pulp isn't as nasty as I long thought it might be. The pulp is closer to the oranges as Mother Gaia intended them.
Of all the players who quite obviously never wanted to be here, Derrek Lee was the most quietly polite about it. It is because of this that we include him here. FTC hopes that Derrek is enjoying his retirement, and that he isn't haunted nightly by the failed promise of the 30-30 season everyone thought for sure was coming back when he was 25.
Cheap, reliable, a known quantity. That's what Garrett Jones brings to the table. On any other team, he's a bat off the bench against a right-handed pitcher; a guy who gets 300 ABs a year and starts on Sundays. Here, he's your everyday first baseman, and he makes Pedro Alvarez look like Felix Fermin.
Now that the Pirates have signed Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata long-term, there's been clamoring for them to lock up Neil Walker. Neil Walker is a pretty average player who is vastly overrated because 1. he's a local boy, and 2. he's white. Don't get me wrong, I love Neil Walker -- I mean, he's from here. Would I unload him for Jemile Weeks or Dustin Ackley? Without a second thought. Blood is thicker than water, and a steadfast refusal to eat any ketchup but Heinz strictly out of regional pride is thicker than blood. But on-base percentage is way more important than all of those things.
I have to admit, I'm lukewarm on the Clint Barmes signing. Compared to Ronny Cedeno, he's a wash offensively -- they're practically the same hitter. While he's way better defensively, he always finds ways to miss giant chunks of season to injury. He'll help you forget Ronny Cedeno, but you won't be able to help yourself from longing for Jack Wilson. Oh, and if Hurdle ever hits him second in the order, I'm going to end a human life.
At this point, there's about a 60-65 percent chance that Pedro Alvarez is just garbage. I hope that's not the case. I hope he figures out whatever he needs to in order to be a productive hitter for the Pirates. But man, does this guy ever look lost. This is a make-or-break year for Pedro. He's got one minor league option left, meaning that if the Pirates demote him at any point this year, he has to stick on the roster next year or he's gone. When the Pirates took him No. 2 overall in 2008, this guy looked like the most Major League-ready hitter available. Now, he's 25 and he hasn't made any real progress in a year-and-a-half. Eric Hosmer, a high school first baseman who the Royals selected third overall, already has equal or better numbers in 40 fewer Major League games, and Hosmer is just 22. Statistically, hitters peak between the ages of 26 and 27. In what should have been the beginning of his prime, Pedro hit under .200 last season. This isn't to say a .280, 30-homer season is out of the question, but it would be straight up shocking given how swing-and-miss awful this guy has looked the last 18 months. IF HE FAILS, it's probably not as catastrophic as we've made it out to be. After all, this is one pick, one player, and about $5 million. The Pirates have done a slew of great drafting, and they've put a ton of money into signing high-end amateur talent. It'd be a tough pill to swallow, but it's not as though the entire future of the franchise depends on this one player succeeding. Thank god for that, right? At this point, Alvarez turning into Matt Stairs would at least be a Pyrrhic victory.
This is Casey McGehee. He's the fat utility scrub management signed to cover third when Pedro fails. Think of him as Rob Mackowiak without the hot wife. I mean, his wife might be hot. I don't know. I haven't seen his wife. He might not even have a wife. He probably doesn't. I mean, look at this shlub. He looks like someone who'd drunkenly try to fight you outside of Fenway Park. Here's a guy who's definitely fallen asleep in more than his share of bathroom stalls.
Matt Hague is a middling minor-league first baseman who had a good spring and made the club because fifteen other people got hurt. Nils thinks it's going to be good for him to get a shot so the Pirates can see what they have in him. I agree with Nils, I just don't think there's much going on here. Look at those eyes. How vacant a stare is that? This guy looks like he grew out of the ooze puddles in the industrial lot next to the 57th Street Playground in Lawrenceville.
You like Josh Harrison. You like that he's a scrappy little dude who plays fourteen positions and works his ass off. He doesn't have any power at all, but you're cool with that. He'll slap singles all over the field, then go into the clubhouse after the game and talk to you on Twitter. You want this guy to do well; he's just so goddamn likable. Josh Harrison is black Freddy Sanchez.
I'm mildly intrigued by Yamaico Navarro. He's only 24, he's been serving as minor-league filler in the Red Sox organization since 2007, and his numbers are all over the goddamn place. We could be looking at the next Abraham Nunez! Also, he has the best stoned-looking head shot since Craig Hansen. The Red Sox are great at producing players who look stoned in their head shots.
Call me cynical, but I'm just not wild about Alex Presley. He doesn't walk too much, he doesn't get on base enough for a guy with no power, and for as fast as he is, he isn't particularly adept at running the bases. The line drive percentage is decent, but it's a pretty small sample size. I see this guy as a fourth outfielder, and I won't be shocked if he loses the left field job at some point this summer -- especially if Robbie Grossman plays well enough to keep advancing through the system.
When the Pirates drafted Andrew McCutchen in 2005, I remember a few scouts saying that he projected as a Mike Cameron-type. That's actually proved to be pretty dead on. The power and speed are about the same, but McCutchen strikes out significantly less than Cameron did, and he gets on base more. It should be noted that Mike Cameron was a much better player than a lot of people realize. McCutchen has a smaller, more compact frame than Cameron. He's more athletic than Cameron, and more durable than him, too. I only mention all this because it's simply astonishing to me that a player the Pirates drafted in 2005 could possibly be as good as advertised, if not better.
I've given up trying to figure out how old Jose Tabata actually is. How old do you think he is? If you were working the door at a Carson Street bar and this guy came in, would you card him?
This is actually the same head shot Nate McLouth had in 2009. We just photoshopped some wrinkles into his face to add the notion of hard-earned wisdom. We weren't sad to see Nate go when they traded him to the Braves. We had a much better center fielder waiting to take his job, and we loved the notion of selling high. Also, it was good for Nate to learn that living in Pittsburgh is way, way better compared to living other places, like Atlanta.
Good seasons: McCutchen, Tabata, Bedard, Watson, Burnett
Bad seasons: Meek, McLouth, Jones, McDonald
Called up: Tony Sanchez
Sent down: Alvarez
Sweet, merciful end: Moskos
In conclusion, it's thanks to the women of the 1940's as much as it is the men that our great country...
In conclusion: The 2012 Pirates will win 77 games, two more than their Pythagorean W/L