The Pirates hung in there for a good portion of the 2011 season before fading in the final two months to finish 72-90 under first year manager Clint Hurdle. They added veteran 3B Casey McGehee, SS Clint Barmes, C Rod Barajas, RHP AJ Burnett LHP Erik Bedard and OF Nate McLouth. I can see all these signings helping this team, if for no other reason, to provide depth on their bench and in their rotation.
Offensively, they are led by star CF Andrew McCutchen, who just signed a long term extension to remain with the Pirates. 2B Neil Walker (.273, 12, 83)and OF Garrett Jones (.243, 16, 58) will provide the most offense among those who factored in the lineup last season. 3B Pedro Alvarez (.191, 4, 19) was held to 74 games last season. Jose Tabata (.266, 4, 21 in 91 games is expected to be better over the course of a full season. I'd bat McLouth (.228, 4, 16 with Atlanta) leadoff and give him another chance. Walker bats 2nd, followed by McCutchen and Jones. Alvarez bats fifth, with McGehee (.223, 13, 67 after .285, 23, 104 in 2010), Barajas (.230, 16, 47 with LA) and Barmes (.244, 12, 39) filling out the order. Alex Presley (.298, 4, 20 and Tabata are expected to see some playing time.
The injury to AJ Burnett is going to hurt. I could have seen him rebound from his dismal 2011 (11-11, 5.15) with the Yankees and do very well in the NL. I like the Bedard signing and I think they have four decent starters in Charlie Morton (10-10, 3.83), James McDonald (9-9, 4.21), Kevin Correia (12-11, 4.79) and Jeff Karstens (9-9, 3.38). Joel Hanrahan (1-4, 40 saves, 1.83 ERA) is as good as it gets at the end of the game. Evan Meek will be a factor after pitching in just 24 games last season. Daniel McCutchen, Jose Veras and Chris Resop all pitched in over 70 games for the Pirates in 2011.
I see a lot jelling with the Pirates this season. They are not making the postseason, but this will be a year to remember. Vegas has their O/U at 73, and I take the over at 81-81. This will be the team's first .500 season since 1992, the last time they made the playoffs. They will finish forth place in the NL Central. I think Alvarez and Presley will have big years and the Pirates are finally ready to compete after years of terrible times.