Likes, dislikes: Martin, McCutchen positives for Pirates
What Danny Knobler likes and dislikes about the Pittsburgh Pirates in spring camp.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- What I like, and dislike, about the Pirates:
Things I like
• Andrew McCutchen is a star, and he's the Pirates' star. Not many years ago, it was easy to doubt that McCutchen would stay, but last spring the team made a $51.5 million, six-year commitment to make it happen. And if the Pirates hadn't had a second straight second-half collapse, McCutchen may have immediately rewarded the faith by winning a National League MVP award.
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• The Pirates rotation got a boost last year when A.J. Burnett revived his career after a trade from the Yankees. The rotation got another boost when Burnett helped James McDonald develop into a quality major-league starter. There's another boost needed, but it's getting close to the time that can come from Gerrit Cole and/or Jameson Taillon.
• Starting catchers weren't easy to find on last year's free-agent market. The Pirates weren't the only team that needed one. But the Pirates were the team that most aggressively pursued Russell Martin, and now the Pirates couldn't be happier to have him. You wonder if some of the bigger-money teams will regret getting outbid by the small-market Pirates.
• As bad as the second straight second-half collapse had to feel, the Pirates do seem to have retained some of the enthusiasm generated by their second straight strong first half. Reports are that ticket sales are up, and the confidence of the players in spring training seems to be high, as well.
Things I don't like
• Martin was a nice acquisition, but he hit .211 with 53 RBI last year. Is he really enough to help an offense that wasn't good enough a year ago, even with McCutchen's brilliance?
• The Pirates felt comfortable trading Joel Hanrahan, and they feel comfortable with Jason Grilli as the closer. Grilli did very well in the setup role last year and has embraced the job, but he is unproven in the role. In 10 big-league seasons, he has just five saves. Maybe he can handle the job, but what if he can't?
• Can this front office (and ownership) be aggressive enough when it matters? The Pirates didn't get the boost they needed last July, and according to sources they backed away from a real chance to trade for Chase Headley. Winning in Pittsburgh is going to require being bold, and it's fair to wonder if the Pirates can be bold enough.
• Pedro Alvarez made big progress last season, but can he take the next step and become the true middle of the order threat the Pirates need him to be? Alvarez batted cleanup 24 times, and had a shocking .449 OPS in those games (although he was much better than that in 25 games batting fifth).
• Losing is hard. Losing for 20 straight years is incredibly hard. It can infect a city and an organization, and it can become a tough pattern to break. One of these years, the Pirates need to find a way to break it.