By Joe Giardina
Painting The Black
Erik Bedard #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the Opening Day game on April 5, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
For the first four months of the 2011 season, the Pirates were relevant again. They entered the All-Star break above .500 for the first time since 1992. They had three All-Stars for the first time since 1990.
On July 18 they were in first place in the NL Central – the latest in the season they were atop the division since 1997. But the final two months weren’t as kind. They lost 47 of their final 72 games and finished the season in fourth place, 24 games back of the division-winning Brewers.
So what is to be expected in 2012? Here are some bold – and some not so bold – predictions…
DO EXPECT to see left fielder Jose Tabata take a step forward in his development as a legit major leaguer. Despite the hype that has surrounded him – be it due to the fact he came from the Yankees, or that he was a victim of that awkward false identity scheme last season – Tabata really hasn’t shown much at the major league level, besides being an injury-prone singles hitter. But general manager Neal Huntington doesn’t generally throw money around easily, and the fact that Tabata was given nearly $15 million guaranteed shows they believe in the type of player he can be, and that the double-digit homerun power will eventually come – just as long as he can stay on the field.
DON’T EXPECT to see Pedro Alvarez develop into the middle-of-the-order bat the Pirates so desperately need. Spring numbers mean little – when they are good. But this spring Alvarez struggled with exactly what he has failed to do throughout his young career, and what he was expected to work on this offseason – hit the outside pitch, recognize off speed pitches, hit the ball consistently with authority. Maybe playing winter ball would have been a good idea? Regardless of the fact he struck out in nearly half of his March at-bats, Alvarez will start the season in Pittsburgh. There is a good chance the results won’t be pretty.
DO EXPECT to see Andrew McCutchen bounce back from a forgettable second half of 2011 in which he hit .216 with a .330 OBP. It’s no secret that McCutchen is the team’s most gifted player, which was obvious even before the ink dried on his new six-year, $51.5-million contract. He is the rare talent that can work the count (.390 OBP in the first half of 2011), hit for power (.505 SLG in the first half of 2011) and run (78 career stolen bases in two and a half seasons). Oh, and he is only 25 years old, meaning he hasn’t even approached his prime. Developing into an eventual 30/30 player, perhaps as soon as this season, isn’t out of the question.
DON’T EXPECT to see Jeff Karstens repeat his amazing two-month run last season in which he went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA. It’s been written before, but Karstens repertoire doesn’t blow anyone away. His fastball isn’t fast, his breaking pitches aren’t unhittable, and even his usual control has at times escaped him this spring, with eight walks in 17 innings. Again, spring numbers obviously can be skewed, as perhaps he was working on specific pitches, or pitching to a certain location – but the fact is Karstens is a bottom of the rotation starter. On the Pirates, however, he is slated as the number two starter.
DO EXPECT to see Eric Bedard become the most significant and successful free agent signed under Huntington’s watch (not that he is dealing with exceptional company). Four years ago Bedard was making more than $7 million a year and coming off a season in which he struck out slightly more than 30 percent of the batters he faced, which at the time was the seventh best strikeout rate in the history of the American League. This off-season, due to obvious health concerns (he has started only 54 games and thrown 293 innings over the past four seasons, missing all of 2010), Huntington signed him for one year at $4.5 million. He might be one of the most fragile pitchers in baseball, but when he has toed the rubber he’s averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and hasn’t shown much regression. Is he a lock to start 30-plus games? Probably not. But against weaker offenses in the National League, the Pirates only need him to remain relatively healthy until the All-Star break, because…
DON’T EXPECT to see Bedard finish the season in a Pirates’ uniform. The benefit of a low-risk, high-reward signing like Bedard is that if he does stay healthy and perform to his ability, he will become valuable trade bait at the deadline. Contenders are always looking for starting pitching, especially when it’s available in a cheap, pro-rated one-year deal.
Read more: http://www.pittsburghsportsreport.com/PSR/node/4234