The Jolly Roger was raised much more in 2013.
WE ARE FAMILY!
If you watched the wild card playoff game between the Pirates and Reds, you saw just how great of a baseball city Pittsburgh can be. The fans were loud, they were proud, and they even made a pitcher drop the ball on the mound. With an MVP and a roster mixed with promising veterans and prospects, the Pirates look poised to make even more noise next year.
What Went Right
Andrew McCutchen was the MVP of the National League. That in itself is a both a personal achievement and a team achievement to be proud of. For a position player to be named MVP, he has to obviously perform at the plate, which Cutch did. He hit .318 with 84 RBIs and 21 home runs. He had an OBP of .404 and played some of the best defense in center field from any outfielder. He may not have set the home run record or any record for that matter, but the Pirates would not have been where they were without McCutchen.
Gerrit Cole’s coming out party included him going 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 100 strikeouts. He got the ball rolling early in Spring Training and carried it forward all the way through the post season. He was among the team leaders in innings pitched and gives the Pirates a top notch prospect for years to come to bolster a staff that includes AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano. With a veteran catcher in Russell Martin to help him along the way, Cole could very well be a Cy Young candidate in the coming years.
The playoff draught for baseball in Pittsburgh was ended this year with the Pirates clinching the second wild card spot. They were in position to possibly win the division, but the Cardinals played exceptionally well down the stretch of the regular season as the Bucs were designated to fight with the Reds and Nationals for a wild card berth. After having one of the best games of the season against Cincinnati in the wild card play-in game, Pittsburgh eventually lost to St. Louis in the divisional round. Their momentum should carry forward into 2014 and give the team some hope that has not been felt for quite some time.
What Went Wrong
The inability of the Pirates to win the division could ultimately come back to haunt them if they continue to falter at the end of the season. The Cardinals always find a way to compete and place quality teams on the field, and their experience is key year in and year out in getting them to the NLDS. Experience is something that Pittsburgh lacks and needs to develop in order to compete with the nucleus that they have built over the last few years.
While the 2013 Pirates competed into the post season, the 2014 team needs to keep some of their starters in order to maintain their competitiveness. Justin Morneau, who Pittsburgh acquired in a trade late in the season, is a free agent. Garrett Jones was designated for assignment, and may not be on the big league ball club. Gaby Sanchez is arbitration eligible and is not a lock to be a Pirate in 2014 either. This leaves a hole at first base that needs to be addressed. Pedro Alvarez is also eligible for arbitration, and the team will need to give him a pay raise in order to keep his home runs in Pittsburgh. AJ Burnett, Marlon Byrd, and Clint Barmes are among the other players who are free agents and need to be resigned. The Pirates have star players in McCutchen and Cole, but need to be willing to pay to resign some players. They cannot rely on another wave of young players to replenish the talent they might lose in the off season.
Pittsburgh will try to not be a one-year wonder with their follow-up campaign in 2014. This means that in addition to trying to retain their own free agents, the Pirates have put pressure on themselves to sign top quality players. They have been a team that signs mediocre players for below average contracts, and they lucked out this past season with players like Martin. He was thought to have been past his prime and Pittsburgh was an easy out to keep playing. This will not satisfy players and fans in the next few years. The Pirates aren’t in the same payroll category as teams looking to sign Robinson Cano or other top dollar big names, but they will need to take a chance on someone who had a great contract year eventually. As long as they can sign a key player or two and avoid plagues like Josh Hamilton and BJ Upton have been in Los Angeles and Atlanta respectively, they can hope to find some pieces to add to their championship puzzle to add to their young bolstering pitching staff.
Outlook for 2014
The Pittsburgh Pirates have raised the bar and no longer are content with the label of being in a rebuilding mode. They have rebuilt and are ready to compete right now. A playoff berth in 2013 was hopefully only the beginning, and 2014 looks to bring higher expectations and greater results. A division title would be a start, but dethroning the Cardinals will take some work. The NL Central is highly competitive with St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, but Chicago is always a big spender and could come through at any time with Theo Epstein at the helm of the team.
Fans will come to the park to see a winner, and Pittsburgh will come through, granted they re-sign some of their free agents and find a player or two in free agency to contribute right away. Clint Hurdle has done a great job fielding a winning ball club and the Pirates are poised to see success they have not seen since the days of Willie Stargel.