Two dog days' collapses have kept the Pirates from dumping that 20-year old losing streak monkey off their backs. Enough good things happened to realize a few pieces are in place; enough bad things happened to highlight the tatters in the Jolly Roger.
The Bucs showed their hand in September, when 36 players on the forty man roster were in the dugout. So we have a small sampling of the internal options, and we'll take an early peek at potential outside fixes.
It all begins with starting pitching. AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are both under contract and look to be the anchors of the 2013 rotation. AJ will be 36 next season and Wandy 34, so both are short-term fixtures in the scheme of things. And after that, the Pirates are the textbook riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
James McDonald will again be in the rotation, although his second half melt-down was absolutely Blassarian. Jeff Karstens has performed well as a four pitcher, but he's up for another round of arbitration. While logic dictates that the Pirates would be foolhardy to not tender him, his long list of injuries do allow for a possibility of being non-tendered, with a better chance of being tendered and traded, assuming that the FO's memory reaches back to the messy Matt Capps affair.
Charlie Morton is recovering from TJ surgery and won't be ready to go until late in the season. With the flashes he's shown, our guess is the Pirates will try to sign him to a friendly contract after tendering him; he's also in his arb years. Kevin Correia won't be back. That's not a surprise; but the fact he wasn't traded is. The Bucs claimed there were no takers on the market, but we'd wager he has his fair share lined up in the off season.
That leaves them with Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson as the minor league cavalry, and both showed flashes but without any consistency in September. Gerrit Cole is a possibility to get the call sometime in 2013, but will start at Indy. With all the question marks, the Pirates should look to add another veteran arm to the staff, either in the FA market or maybe through trade - it worked well enough with AJ and Wandy, and maybe lightning can strike twice; Aaron Harang/Chris Capuano of the Dodgers, James Shields/Jeremy Hellickson at Tampa, RA Dickey of the Mets, Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens and Ubaldo Jimenez/Justin Masterson at Cleveland are all reported to be on the block.
FA's this season are Joe Blanton, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Jeff Francis, Zack Greinke, Jeremy Guthrie, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Kyle Lohse, Francisco Loriano, Shaun Marcum, Brian McCarthy, Kevin Millwood, Roy Oswalt, Anibal Sanchez, Joe Saunders, Tim Stauffer, Carlos Villanueva and Chris Young.
We can scratch Greinke, Jackson (he turned down the Bucs last year), Lohse, Kuroda, and Sanchez from that list. But the good news for the Bucs is that they are the cream of a not very lush crop; there are a lot of mid-rotation guys who are available. Some will generate some heat, but others will be looking for affordable deals.
The Bucs are usually mum about who they target, and with their FA rejection rate, no wonder. But don't be surprised if they don't at least test the market for an upper second tier guy like Marcum, Haren or Saunders, or take an upside flyer on McCarthy if the market doesn't overheat. If a catcher busts the Bucco budget, though, the Bucs will search for a back-ender ala KC; Guthrie has already been bantered about as a possible target.
And the Bucs like to have a left-handed presence on the mound, and now Wandy and maybe Jeff Locke are it going into 2013. So they'll look at Francis, Saunders and Loriano (bad peripherals, good K rate) along with guys like Dallas Braden.
It'll be a big-time hot stove sidebar to see how they build next year's staff. They may have enough money to bring in a second-level arm, assuming Hanny is traded and the only major piece they pick up among position players is a catcher to split time with Mike McKenry. But the FO may be comfortable with the top of the order, especially with Gerrit Cole on a fast track, and may just fill in the back-end.