The Times West Virginian

February 2, 2013

COLUMN: Pirates looking beyond .500 in 2013

By Jarrod Harris
Times West Virginian

— Making moves in the right direction.

During the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are making moves in hopes to repair the disappointing end of the 2012 season.

Yes, I say disappointing, even though the Pirates finished with a 79-83 record. They had the biggest slide in the history of Major League Baseball history.

Following a 16-36 finish, the Pirates fell four games below .500, while capping their 20th consecutive losing streak.

“It was a tough finish to the season,” Pittsburgh Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington said during a press conference last week. “We did some very good things for a four-month period of time — then we struggled a little bit in August and everything started unraveling on us.”

Huntington continued, “During this offseason, we evaluated why it happened and how it happened and most importantly, how we can prevent it from happening again.”

One major signee for the Pirates is Russell Martin — a 6-year veteran and gun-slinger from the catcher’s position.

Last year, the combination of Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry frustrated Pirates’ fans — especially when Barajas couldn’t even hit his own weight (.206) and he only threw out 6 of 93 runners who attempted to swap a bag.

As for the “Fort,” he threw 13 out of 63 runners who attempted to steal.

With the signing of Wilson and the release of Barajas, the Pirates hope to have a stronger catching tandem.

“We felt that Russell Martin gave us a big impact for the dollars in our organization,” Huntington said. “I think he gives us a chance to improve. We’ve talked a long time with having a guy split time with Michael McKenry, while using co-catchers. I’m happy with having one guy catch 100 games and the other catching 60 games. Or, we may split it at 81 apiece.”

Adding to the Wilson free agent pick up, they also signed left-handed pitcher, Francisco Liriano.

The 29-year-old was at times really bad for the Chicago White Sox last season, while accumulating a 5.31 ERA; however, Huntington feels that Liriano could potentially be another A.J. Burnett.

“The growth that we had a year ago and to add to the growth of the players internally allows us to work on our younger players’ time frames,” Huntington said. “It allows us to not rush them, and rushing a player to the big leagues is one of the worst things you can do for a player.”

Just three days ago, Neil Walker and pitcher James McDonald both agreed to one-year contract extensions — Walker gets $3.3 million and McDonald $3,025,000.

Not only do the the Pirates have a full-stacked veteran team with experience, they also have a top-five farm league system.

“We take pride in the development our organization as a whole,” Huntington said. “To have four of the top 45 prospects in baseball, and six of the top 100, it allows us to be noticed as one of the top five farm systems in baseball. We have a lot of impact guys — we’ve gone from a team who has had the worst record in baseball in September of 2010, to a team who had won a few more games, would have been in the playoffs in September of 2012.”

Those players whom Huntington is referring to are right-handed pitchers Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia; shortstop, Alen Hanson; and outfielder, Gregory Polanco.

The 2013 regular season projected lineup consist of:

1 Starling Marte, LF    

2 Neil Walker, 2B

3 Andrew McCutchen, CF

4 Garrett Jones, 1B

5 Pedro Alvarez, 3B    

6 Russell Martin, Catcher    

7 Travis Snider, RF    

8 Clint Barmes, SS

As for their pitching staff:

1 A.J. Burnett

2 Wandy Rodriguez

3 James McDonald

4 Francisco Liriano

5 Jeff Karstens

“Stay with us — We’re closer than we’ve ever been and we were tied for one of the highest win totals in 20 years,” Huntington said. “We have a group of young players who are hungry, and we have veteran players who are hungry to lead.”

Huntington continued, “The 81-win marker is something that we aren’t pursuing. We’re pursuing playing in the playoffs in October and being the last team to win a baseball game in October. That’s why we’re here.”

Pitchers and catchers report to camp in Bradenton, Fla., on Feb. 11. The first pitch of the 2013 season is set for April 1, at home against the Cubs beginning at 1:35 p.m.

Email Jarrod Harris at jhar­ris@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @JarrodHarrisTWV.