The only set piece in the Bucco outfield is Cutch, who had a breakout season and is collecting trophies like he's back in high school. He's tied up for awhile after inking a deal last season, and will earn $4.5M in 2013. The All-Star is just 26, and his $51.5M deal runs through 2017, with a $14.75M club option for 2018.
The Pirates have Starling Marte, 24, Travis Snider, 24, Jose
Tabata, 24, and Alex Presley, 27, all vying to flank Cutch. 2013's question will be if any of the four can step up and claim the positions. JT has a contract that runs through 2016 with three option years, and the others are all under team control for at least four more seasons.
They're all young, but at least a couple of them will have to grow up soon. The Bucs are hoping that Marte and Snider especially mature in a hurry.
Marte hit .257 in 182 PA, and showed some power and speed. He also had some scary splits, mauling lefties but hitting just .238 with 34 K in 132 PA against righties. The Pirates need him to develop into an everyday player, so he's going to have to learn some patience against same-siders. Hopefully, the Pirates will show some patience, too, and let him get his cuts this season as a starter.
Snider is the other upside guy that the Pirates swapped from Toronto in exchange for Brad Lincoln. But he's been in a two-year slump, with just 7 HR in 385 PA and a .236 BA. His career splits aren't all that wide, and in fact he had a reverse split last season in a barely measurable sample size against lefties. The Pirates hope that he can become an everyday guy, too, but would be satisfied in 2013 if he can rediscover his eye against righties and free up Garrett Jones to play first as a platoon team against RHP.
That leaves JT and Presley as the options for the fourth outfielder. Both have pretty even splits, with Tabata better with OBP and Presley with slugging. That gives JT an edge, as the Pirates are looking for top of the order hitters. Tabata's .315 OBP isn't ideal, but it sure beats The King's .279. Still, it should make for an interesting sidebar in the spring and may come down to JT being out of options while Presley still has one to burn.
And there are no reinforcements within hailing distance from the farm. Greg Polanco, Josh Bell and Barrett Barnes are the future in the outfield. Last year, Polanco was at Low A West Virginia, Barnes at short season State College, and Bell was hurt all season and has yet to play but a handful of pro games. The first pair will probably start 2013 in High A; it's not certain if Bell will be ready by the spring. If so, he'll start in Low A. All three should be fast-tracked if they perform, but still are looking like 2015 arrivals.
Pittsburgh is looking at a limited, as always, budget during the off season, and there are more glaring holes than the outfield to plug. So Justin Upton and Shin-Soo Choo rumors to the contrary, they'll stick with last year's dance partners in 2013 unless they package a couple of them as part of a hot stove deal. And that's unlikely, as three are minimum wage earners while JT will take home $1M.
The Pirates shopping list for the pasture will be to reach into the cupboard and cook up an outfield from existing ingredients. Three of the five are just 24, with Marte and Snider both having some potential upside as regular players. Management is going to have to decide how to break those eggs this season, unlike 2012.
The Bucs took an odd approach to the corner outfielders last year, sharing time rather than determining a pecking order during the last two months of the season. Some of it had to do with performance and some with nagging injuries. We look for Clint Hurdle to establish a routine for the guys by the time camp breaks.
The plan for 2013 doesn't include new blood, but establishing an everyday rotation for the young and controllable OF crew in black and gold, one that can carry them through the next couple of seasons or longer.