Early prediction: Pirates to fall back

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The first prediction on the 2014 Pirates is in and it's not good. What's more, it comes from one of the sharpest baseball journalists out there, Joe Sheehan. You see his stuff frequently in Sports Illustrated and SI.com, but he works as a freelancer. His newsletter, which he publishes several times a week, is a must-read for me.

Here's what he wrote in one of his latest:

"The Pirates are going to be a postseason team again -- they have a lot of talent coming through their system -- but it would not surprise me to see them regress next year.

"So much of the 2013 success stemmed from getting 90th percentile work from pitchers like [Mark] Melancon, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli and above-expectations work from A.J. Burnett and the lefty relievers. Like the Royals in the AL, you have to project a lot of additional runs allowed by the Pirates in 2014 just because the pitchers were so good in 2013."

He could have added the first-half performance of Jeff Locke (8-2, 2.15 ERA).

You could argue with his assessment of those particular players, but not, in my estimation, with a lot of factual evidence. Liriano pitched light years better than he had in the recent past. It's hard not to imagine a regression, although that doesn't mean he won't be a valuable starter in 2014.

The same for Grilli and Melancon. Both entered the season as question marks -- Grilli never having closed before and Melancon coming off a poor season with Boston. Both pitched well beyond expectations for the first four months. Both regressed late in the season.

It is, of course, way too early to be making any kind of overall prediction on how well the Pirates will perform in 2014. Yes, some players will regress. But others will improve. Others, like Gerrit Cole, will be around for the entire season.

It promises to be the most enthralling offseason in a long, long time.

Among the topics that are on-going and will be written about and discussed here:

* Free agency: A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Clint Barmes and Justin Morneau will be free agents. It is unlikely the Pirates will sign any of them.

Burnett has talked of retirement. If he decides to play, he might be out of the Pirates price range since pitching is not one of their highest priorities. If the price is right, of course, he should be brought back. Other teams likely will offer Byrd more than the Pirates are willing to pay. But the Pirates figure to make a strong effort to keep him. Morneau won't be brought back and the only way Barmes will return is if he accept utilityman pay.

The Pirates will be in the market for a power bat to play first base or right field. They are not likely to attempt to fill both, although that's not out of the question.

* Arbitration: Among those eligible are Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, Charlie Morton, Gaby Sanchez, Vin Mazzaro and Travis Snider.

From that group, Jones and Snider are likely to be non-tendered. Sanchez also is a possibility, depending on how the Pirates proceed at first base. If they can acquire a full-time first baseman, not likely, Sanchez will be expendable. If they don't, he remains a valuable starter against left-handed pitching. Based on their history with relievers -- replaceable parts -- Mazzaro also could be non-tendered.

* Wandy Rodriguez: The determination of his health is important to next season. If he is a member of a rotation that also includes Liriano, Cole and Morton, that's an extremely strong starting point.

There won't be daily commentaries or more on the Pirates as there have been, but coverage of the team in the offseason will continue.

pirates - bobsmiziksports

First Published October 10, 2013 8:23 PM


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