Pirates happy but not done with offseason moves
Neil Walker is hardly bothered the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t
been exactly been lighting up the rumor mill over the last few
months. If anything, the second baseman sees it as a sign of just
how far the club has come.
”The good thing about this offseason is that we weren’t looking
to upgrade at six, seven different spots as we have,” Walker said
Friday. ”We knew we were going to get a couple arms from a starter
standpoint, knew we were looking for a catcher to go with (Mike
McKenry). I think we upgraded very well. You’ve got to like what
you’re looking at on paper.”
The Pirates landed three-time All-Star catcher Russell Martin
and re-signed veteran setup man Jason Grilli. Other than that, the
moves have been minor. Walker doesn’t view that as an issue.
”We’re going to roll with what we’ve got and we’re excited
about the additions we’ve made,” Walker said.
Besides, it’s unlikely Pittsburgh is done. Though general
manager Neal Huntington is happy with the moves the team has made
he’s expects to stay busy before the first full squad workout in
Bradenton, Fla., on Feb. 15.
”We still have some irons in the fire, and at the same time we
feel good about what we are,” Huntington said.
The biggest item at the top of Huntington’s offseason list was
finding a catcher. Veteran Rod Barajas did wonders with the
pitching staff but struggled at the plate and behind it, throwing
out just 6 percent (6 of 101) base runners attempting to steal and
hitting just .206 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 106 games.
The 29-year-old Martin is still in his prime, though his batting
average dipped to a career-low .211 last season with the New York
Yankees. The two-year deal also gives Martin a little time to
settle in and Huntington is confident the hitting woes that plagued
Martin are a thing of the past.
”He’s a better hitter than that,” Huntington said. ”He’s
going to grind out at bats, which is going to help us get into
opponent’s bullpens. He’s an athlete on the bases. We feel like
he’s a significant upgrade offensively and defensively.”
Grilli’s return also gives the back end of the bullpen some
stability and flexibility. The 36-year-old has been one of the
better late-inning relievers in the league since signing with
Pittsburgh in July, 2011. While he’s never been a closer, Grilli
could find himself thrust into the role if Pittsburgh move two-time
All-Star Joel Hanrahan, who is likely due a hefty raise in
Hanrahan is also the team’s most valuable – and tradable –
asset, perhaps the biggest chip they have in trying to find some
help in the starting rotation. Pittsburgh is set on a top three of
A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald but at the moment
has youngsters Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson penciled in for the
fourth and fifth spots. The Pirates would like to throw an
established starter in the mix and hope Charlie Morton recovers
from elbow ligament-replacement surgery. Morton is expected to be
out until at least June.
The plans, at the moment, do not include rushing 2011 No. 1
draft pick Gerrit Cole to the majors. The right-hander was
spectacular at times last season and will get a chance to impress
in spring training, but Huntington refuses to put any sort of
timetable on when Cole will make it to Pittsburgh.
While finding a new home for Hanrahan could help the Pirates in
the long-term, it could also affect clubhouse chemistry. The burly
Hanrahan is popular with his teammates, and Pittsburgh’s swoons in
2011 and 2012 came after the team made a handful of moves to try to
stay in playoff contention. The moves, however, didn’t pan out and
Huntington allows it may disrupted the positive vibes.
”Did we disrupt chemistry?” Huntington said. ”Any time you
make a move, that’s certainly something you take into
The Pirates went 79-83 in 2012, tied for the club’s best record
in 20 years. The season, however, wasn’t a steady assault on .500
but a roller coaster ride. Pittsburgh was 16 games over .500 in
August before going into freefall. Take the long view and the
Pirates were 22 games better in 2012 than they were in 2010, when
they had the worst record in baseball.
The short view, however, requires acknowledgment the Pirates
stumbled badly when things got tight. Walker – who missed large
portions of the final two months with back problems – takes
responsibility for the collapse but also insists it is part of the
”We all need to be better, we all need to be more prepared but
experience is such a huge factor in that,” Walker said. ”You have
to go through these growing pains. You have to.”
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP