The Pirates failed to upgrade a lineup that scored a mere 3.9 runs per game last year or a rotation that will have to compensate for the loss of A.J. Burnett and is awash in question marks. Francisco Liriano is a good candidate for regression, 23-year-old sophomore Gerrit Cole is expected to be an ace coming off a 53-inning increase, Wandy Rodriguez is coming back from injury, Charlie Morton is expected to have his first 30-start season at the age of 30, and Edinson Volquez is coming off a season in which he had the worst ERA+ of any qualified pitcher in baseball. Beyond that, the Pirates' success last year had a lot to do with an exceptional bullpen performance, the likes of which is ripe for regression."
-- Cliff Corcoran,
"So, what now? If the Pirates are going to improve upon a storybook 2013, they must rely on their farm system after a relatively quiet offseason. [Gerrit] Cole may need to become this year's [A.J.] Burnett, after the veteran signed with Philadelphia, while Jameson Taillon assumes Cole's role as the star midseason call-up. Keep an eye on Gregory Polanco; the stud right fielder could be in the everyday lineup by June."
-- Jon Morosi,
While not having realized the Sisyphean task of winning a World Series, GM Neal Huntington, et al, have constructed a Pirates club that both (a) qualified for the playoffs in 2013 and also (b) would appear to have a reasonable chance of repeating that outcome in 2014. If the Pirates don't make their way to the postseason this year, it likely won't be the fault of their field players."
-- Dan Zymborski,
Gerrit Cole might not qualify as a true "sleeper" anymore but he's still one of the top breakout candidates in all of baseball. The big right-hander picked up 10 wins and posted a 3.22/1.17 line in 19 starts as a rookie last year, giving us a glimpse of his tremendous upside."
-- Brad Pinkerton,
The Sporting News
I get a very 2012-13 Orioles vibe from the Pirates. They exceeded expectations and came out of nowhere to win 90-plus games, but they rested on their laurels over the winter and now may slide back to an 85-ish win team. ... The Reds are a weaker team now than they were a year ago, but the Cardinals are probably a bit stronger. I have a real hard time seeing the Pirates knocking St. Louis from the NL Central perch this summer, but I do think Pittsburgh will seriously contend for a wild-card spot again. I think they're no worse than the sixth best team in the NL right now, which puts them right in the postseason mix.
-- Mike Axisa