Winter in this city can be pretty bleak, depressing and dreary. Likewise, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offseason moves have left me with those same feelings.
While other teams have added good, productive players to their rosters, the Bucs mainly subtracted them. While I try to be as optimistic about our team as possible, this offseason is tough to spin into a positive.
First, let’s talk starting pitching. The Bat Signal has faded as A.J. Burnett decided to hang up his cape as the spiritual leader of the team. His 9-7 record has been replaced by Jon Niese (a result of the Neil Walker trade with the Mets) and his 9-10 record. The Defiance, Ohio, native lost his rotation spot with the National League champion Mets last season and now jumps into the role of the Pirates’ third starter.
J.A. Happ pitched just well enough last year to price himself out of returning to the Buccos. One or two more bad outings and he would’ve been back this year. Instead, he’s off to the land of poutine and politeness, signing a contract with Toronto. His 11-8 record will be replaced by Ryan Vogelsong and his 9-11 record. You might remember Vogelsong from his first tour of duty with the Pirates, coincidentally posting a record of 9-11. He came to the Pirates in July 2001 as part of a deal that sent Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal off to greener pastures. Since then, Vogelsong has had two stints in Japan and collected two World Series rings with the Giants. Then you have Charlie Morton, who left for Philadelphia. And even though Pirates fans hated the ground-ball pitcher the whole time he was here, they still complained that we let him go. So, in case you’re keeping score at home, the starters who left combined for 29 wins last season while the new guys posted 18.
The Pirates’ method of subtraction by subtraction continues in the bullpen. We say goodbye to Joe Blanton, Antonio Bastardo and Vance Worley, and hello to Juan Nicasio, Neftali Feliz and Yoervis Medina. Antonio “Ol Dirty” Bastardo leaves but Yoervis “Funky Cold” Medina arrives. At least I will still have an outdated musical reference to use all season. The departing trio won 15 games for the Pirates while the new guys combined for just five victories last year.
Moving on to the offense, no longer can we cheer for Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez or Aramis Ramirez, and their combined 60 home runs — that’s a lot of long balls to try to replace. So what big-name free-agent prize did the Pirates attract? Not one, but two players —John Jaso and Jason Rogers. The problem, however, is that last year these two guys hit nine home runs combined. That’s the musical equivalent of having Black Keys and Pearl Jam tickets only to find out they’ve been replaced with Nickleback and Rick Astley. So what if the Cubs added Jason Heyward and John Lackey? Who cares that the Giants nabbed Jeff Samardzjiia and Johnny Cueto? The Pirates managed to grab one guy who was a part-time starter for the Rays and another who couldn’t crack the Milwaukee Brewer lineup.
But enough of the negativity, I guess; we had plenty of that between 1993 and 2012. That losing streak was almost old enough to drink. Neal Huntington apparently knows what he’s doing. The team won 98 games last year and he’s taken the team to three straight playoff appearances. I suspect he has a plan; these moves are just a weird way of showing it.
On the bright side, the outfield is still intact. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco all return, and I predict a breakout year from Polanco. Jung Ho Kang should be healed by early 2016 and Josh Harrison looks for a rebound year. The catching is solid if unspectacular, with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Mark Melancon, the Pirates’ new all-time single-season saves leader, heads a decent, but not great, bullpen as well. The farm system is vastly improved and I think that Clint Hurdle guy will stick around for a couple of more years. The opener against the hated St. Louis Cardinals is just over two months away. That alone makes this winter a little bit brighter.