Pirates offseason: Proving it all over again

Justin K. Aller

The Pirates have arguably the best farm system in baseball, and they might use it -- one way or another -- in an attempt to return to the playoffs.

Pittsburgh was one of the best stories in baseball this season, earning their first trip to the postseason in 21 years. They rode strong pitching and the seemingly infinite superhumanity of Andrew McCutchen to a 94-68 regular season record and an NLDS appearance. They were able to take the Cardinals to a Game 5 in that series, but came up just short.

In order to keep themselves in a position to return to the postseason, the Pirates will need to plan for some regression from some of their younger players. That regression might not happen, but it would be wise for GM Neal Huntington to make adjustments that would lessen the blow if it does. The Pirates payroll is estimated to be somewhere around $55M after arbitration and new contracts for they remaining players. They brushed up against $80M in 2013, so they might have some room to add impact players as well as retaining their contributors from last season.

More Pirates stuff from Bucs Dugout: Pittsburgh will be more attractive to FAs

Free agents

A.J. Burnett, Justin Morneau, John Buck, Clint Barmes, Jeff Karstens, Kyle Farnsworth, Marlon Byrd, and Felix Pie

Burnett is mulling retirement, but if he does come back for 2014, it'll be in Pittsburgh. Morneau is unlikely to return due to his probable price tag. The Pirates will likely choose to invest more long-term solution if they end up spending a substantial amount of money at first base. Marlon Byrd was a welcome addition for Pittsburgh during their postseason run, but they might decide he isn't their best option to considerably improve their outfield.

Needs

RF, 1B, SS

Jordy Mercer filled in nicely for the Pirates this season at short, but his minor league stats suggest he could regress significantly. The Pirates could continue to use Gaby Sanchez and/or Garrett Jones at first, though Jones is a contender candidate and Sanchez' .361 OBP last season was well above anything he's done in the past. Right field is a spot the Pirates will likely target for improved offensive production, although Jose Tabata isn't a terrible back up plan.

Trade Pieces

Prospects, OF

The Pirates have the best minor league talent in baseball, according to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. The Pirates might decide to simply use that talent to help their big league club directly, specifically Jameson Taillon, who might contend for a spot in their rotation. Of course, it's a little more exciting to think about the established stars they could bring in with a combination of prospects and perhaps one of Jose Tabata, Andrew Lambo, or Travis Snider. For a significant target any potential deal would probably have to be headlined by Taillon, and the Pirates wouldn't likely balk at moving him for the right MLB player. They've been linked to Giancarlo Stanton in the past, but he is currently unavailable. They have the ammunition to target anyone they choose, up to and including David Price.

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