By John Perrotto
Another losing season is in the books for the Pirates, their 20th in a row, yet the Pirates figure to make few major moves this offseason.
General manager Neal Huntington feels he already has enough pieces on the roster to field a competitive team in 2013 after finishing 79-83. He also believes he did most of his heavy lifting in late July before the non-waiver trading deadline when he acquired left-handed starting Wandy Rodriguez from Houston, first baseman Gaby Sanchez from Miami and outfielder Travis Snider from Toronto.
The biggest change to the lineup next year figures to be the elevation of catcher Michael McKenry from backup to starter. This year’s No. 1 catcher, Rod Barajas, won’t have the $3.5-million club option for 2013 exercised by the Pirates but is expected to re-sign at a lower salary.
The Pirates’ primary offseason objective will be to acquire a pitcher capable of working 180-200 innings who could slot in behind right-hander A.J. Burnett and Rodriguez in the starting rotation. After that, Huntington will look primarily to add overall depth in an event to prevent the late-season collapses that have marred the Pirates’ past two seasons.
So with the core of the roster unlikely to change, we asked a scout who covers the Pirates on a regular basis for a major-league club to give his takes on their players:
Catcher Rod Barajas: “He’s at the point of his career where he should be a backup. He still has some pop in his bat and he calls a good game but he can’t throw anybody out and his overall game gets exposed with too much playing time.”
Catcher Michael McKenry: “I think he’s ready to be the No. 1 and catch 100-110 games a year. He’s turned him into a tough out at the plate and he’s a pretty decent defensive catcher. You can tell the pitchers like throwing to him. Very rarely do they shake him off.”
First baseman Garrett Jones: “He had a heckuva year but I wouldn’t bank on him repeating it. For me, he’s more a complementary player than a guy you count on to put up big numbers.”
First baseman Gaby Sanchez: “For me, he doesn’t have enough pop to be a difference maker at first base. He’s the type of guy you plug in at that position if you don’t have anyone better.”
Second baseman Neil Walker: “Whenever a player starts having back problems you worry. He’s turned himself into a solid player both offensively and defensively. I just hope he doesn’t go into decline at a young age because of his back.”
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez: “Everyone harps on the low batting average but that’s the type of hitter he is. He’ll always run hot and cold but at the end of the year he’ll pop you 30-35 home runs and strike out 150-175 times.”
Shortstop Clint Barmes: “He’s not nearly as bad as everyone makes him out to be. He’s a good defensive shortstop and he hit better in the second half. There aren’t a lot of quality shortstops out there. You can do worse.”
Infielder Josh Harrison: “He’s an energy guy who can provide an occasional spark off the bench but he needs to develop some plate discipline if he’s ever going to be anything more than a fringe major-leaguer.”
Left fielder Starling Marte: “He’s got all the tools you want — a real tool shed — but I’m not convinced he is going to be a star. He really developed an attitude for a guy who barely has two months of major-league service time. He gives away at-bats and he dogs it in the field at times. He needs a crash course in professionalism.”
Left fielder Alex Presley: “I like him, but more as a fourth outfielder than an everyday player. He can do some things. He’ll hit some home runs and steal some bases. He could be a real sparkplug as a bench player.”
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen: “He’s one of the best players in the game and he does a lot of it on sheer athletic ability. He still needs to refine some things, especially getting better jumps both in the outfield and on the bases. We haven’t seen the best of him yet and that’s saying something because he’s pretty darn good now.”
Right fielder Travis Snider: “He didn’t show me anything after he came over from Toronto. He’s got some work to do. He needs to revamp his swing and he needs to lose weight.”
Outfielder Jose Tabata: “As soon as he got his long-term contract, he tanked it. I wouldn’t want a guy like that in my organization. It’s pretty obvious the Pirates misjudged his character.”
Right-hander A.J. Burnett: “Everyone acted like he was some revelation but he should win a lot of games in the National League with his kind of stuff. He had a good year but he also didn’t step up and win games when they really needed him to stop the bleeding down the stretch.”
Right-hander Kevin Correia: “The Pirates could use him because he’s a decent guy for the backend of the rotation but everything I’m hearing is he’s unhappy with (manager Clint) Hurdle and wants to leave as a free agent.”
Right-hander Jeff Karstens: “He pitches on blood and guts instead of stuff and he usually gets the job done but I don’t see the Pirates bringing him back as arbitration-eligible player who will make $4 million-$5 million next season.”
Left-hander Jeff Locke: “If you watched him pitch at Class AAA, you wouldn’t believe he’s the same guy he’s been in the major leagues. He’s been very timid and afraid to attack the strike zone in the major leagues. He doesn’t trust his stuff but it’s good enough.”
Right-hander James McDonald: “Who knows which way he’ll go. I thought he was headed toward being a No. 1 starter in the first half and now I’m not so sure he can even be a No. 3. The stuff is there but let’s just say he’s not the most cerebral pitcher in the league.”
Right-hander Kyle McPherson: “He kind of grows on you. He has a good mound presence and he’s a rare young pitcher who isn’t afraid to throw his changeup when he’s behind in the count. He’s got some moxie.”
Right-hander Charlie Morton: “I’m curious how he will come back mentally from his Tommy John surgery, considering he was so fragile mentally when he was healthy.”
Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez: “He got into a nice groove at the end of the season and he’s a guy they can count on next year. He doesn’t knock your socks off but he finds ways to get guys out and limit the damage.”
Closer Joel Hanrahan: “I just love this guy. Nothing scares him. He’ll put himself in jams but he has total confidence he will get out of them. When he blows a save — and it isn’t often — I am genuinely stunned.”
Left-handed reliever Tony Watson: “What I like about him is he isn’t strictly a left-on-left guy. If he can cut down on the walks, he’ll be one of the better lefty relievers in the league.”
Right-handed reliever Jason Grilli: “He was downright dominant most of the year with blow-away stuff. He’s a free agent and I think he probably priced himself out of the Pirates’ plans.”
Right-handed reliever Jared Hughes: “He’s so tall and comes over the top in his delivery and its looks he’s dropping the ball right out of the sky. That’s got to be tough on the hitters. The one thing I’d like to see him do, though, is calm down. He gets too amped up.”
Right-handed reliever Chris Resop: “I think he might have been hurt this year. His stuff wasn’t as good as it’s been the past couple of years. It seemed like was trying to trick hitters a lot.”