Heading into next season AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez appear to be locks for the rotation but outside of those two the only one who looks to be a safe bet is James McDonald. The internal candidates to fill out the rest of the rotation are Jeff Karstens, Chris Leroux, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Charlie Morton, Rick van den Hurk, Justin Wilson, Phillip Irwin and Gerrit Cole. Out of that bunch the ones who seem like the best candidates to begin the season are Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson. Due to the uncertainty of McDonald, the durability of Karstens and the fact that Locke and McPherson are unknowns it seems very likely that the Pirates will pursue an additional starter this offseason.
Right now the only two locks for the bullpen appear to be Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. Outside of those two it looks like Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux will probably take two spots because of their potential and the fact that they are out of options. Outside of those 4 the other options under Pirates control are Joel Hanrahan, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Resop, Rick van den Hurk, Duke Welker, Justin Wilson, Victor Black, Phillip Irwin and maybe Jeff Karstens. Out of that group Hanrahan will be part of the bullpen if not traded and Chris Resop, Rick van den Hurk and Justin Wilson seem like the best bets of the internal options to break spring training with the team. Based on past history and the current uncertainty surrounding the bullpen expect at least a reliever or probably two to be added this offseason.
The only catcher who looks like he will definitely be part of the major league catcher situation next season is Michael McKenry and even there it is not certain if he will be the starter or the backup. Outside of him the Pirates hold an option on Rod Barajas which will likely be declined but the possibility of him signing for less and assuming the backup job is still there. Ideally of course the Pirates would not pursue that route. Eric Fryer is the other catcher on the 40 man roster but he looks to be a likely release candidate to free up a spot on the 40 man roster. The other two catchers who could factor in are Tony Sanchez who will be added to the 40 man roster and Ramon Cabrera who will be added. However neither player is likely to be ready for the major leagues this season, due to this and the lack of other options I expect the Pirates will pursue outside help.
The Pirates figure to start the season with Neil Walker starting at 2B, Clint Barmes starting at SS and Pedro Alvarez starting at 3B. Walker and Alvarez are key pieces to this club so any moves at 2B or 3B seem highly unlikely. On the other hand Barmes isn’t a key piece and is definitely a weak spot for the Pirates but the weak shortstop free agent market and the dearth of quality shortstops usually available through trade make it seem likely that Barmes will be back for a second season. Now the question becomes who will backup these players? The Pirates seem to like carrying two backup infielders on their bench. The internal candidates the Pirates have are Chase d’Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Brock Holt, Jordy Mercer, Yamaico Navarro and Gustavo Nunez. The way things currently stand one would assume Josh Harrison would have one spot and the other spot would be an open competition. However none of these options including Harrison really look like strong options so I would hope the Pirates would begin paring down this list and also look at possible outside acquisitions to help bolster the bench.
The most interesting part of this offseason figures to be how the Pirates handle the outfield situation. I lump 1st base in here because of the uncertainty of where Jones will play. So to handle 1B we will point out that Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Matt Hague and Jeff Clement look like the internal options. Hague and Clement look like strong possibilities to be released from the roster. In the outfield McCutchen is a look in center field and Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and Alex Presley are candidates to fill the corner outfield spots. Garrett Jones is a trade candidate headed into this offseason but I expect he’ll be back and will either man 1B or RF. So that leaves LF and either 1B or RF to be filled by Sanchez, Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley. There are quite a few options there but none of them are proven so it would not be out of reason for the Pirates to pursue a possible solution to one of these positions.
So what positions do the Pirates appear to have set headed into 2013?
IF: Sanchez, Walker, Barmes, Alvarez
SP: Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald
RP: Hughes, Watson, Leroux, Morris
That leaves 11 spots to be filled and the most likely internal candidates are:
IF: Harrison, Navarro, Holt, Mercer, d’Arnaud, Nunez
OF: Marte, Snider, Tabata, Presley
SP: Karstens, Locke, McPherson
RP: Hanrahan, Resop, Van den Hurk, Wilson
Taking an estimate we can assume 4-7 of the 11 open spots will be filled by the above players. That leaves 4-7 spots to be addressed externally. It seems almost certain that 1 SP, 2 RP and 1 C will be filled externally but there are questions about rather 1 IF, 1 1B/OF and 1 RP spot will be filled externally or with internal options. What the Pirates do with those final three positions may look minor right now but they could completely reshape the team.