The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't sat motionless at the bargaining table this offseason, pinpointing several key needs and addressing most, if not all, of them.
Among the Pirates' biggest gaps were at catcher, shortstop, and in the pitching rotation, and the club has been proactive in making acquisitions. General manager Neal Huntington has been productively busy.
"We've filled some serious needs in the free-agent market,'' Pirates president Frank Coonelly said during a recent visit to Altoona with the Pirates 2011 Winter Caravan. "Neal has done a nice job this offseason.''
With both catchers Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder leaving the team via free agency, the Pirates picked up Rod Barajas, who started 85 games last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Barajas - who hit 16 homers in 2011 - provides some offensive pop, and he's a solid defensive upgrade to the defensively inconsistent Doumit. Barajas will be complemented by Michael McKenry, who had a solid first season with the Pirates last year but is presently unsuited to shoulder a 100-plus game workload behind the plate.
Clint Barmes, another free-agent pick-up at shortstop, should provide a steady and consistent alternative to Ronny Cedeno, whose physical and mental lapses overshadowed his occasional defensive gems.
The Pirates learned in 2011 that it's not only important to have a solid five-man starting pitching rotation. It's even more important to go seven or eight deep if one or two starters gets injured or proves ineffective.
The Bucs addressed a pitching need with the free-agent acquisition of veteran lefty Erik Bedard, who won five games and posted a 3.62 earned run average for the Seattle Mariners last year. Bedard had 15- and 13-win seasons earlier in his career with the Baltimore Orioles.
Nate McLouth's return will bolster an already strong outfield that includes All-Star Andrew McCutchen and promising youngsters Alex Presley and Jose Tabata. The acquisition of third baseman Casey McGehee from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for veteran reliever Jose Veras also seems to be a coup for the Pirates. McGehee hit 23 homers and drove in 104 runs for Milwaukee just two seasons ago.
Bucs open with Phillies
The Pirates have a challenging April schedule that may go a long way in determining just how far they go in 2012.
The Pirates open the 2012 season with a 1:35 p.m. home game against the cross-state rival Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, April 5 at PNC Park. The defending National League East Division champion Phillies play a three-game series in Pittsburgh, with an off day Friday, April 6, followed by a 7:05 p.m. game Saturday, April 7 and a 1:35 p.m. start on Easter Sunday, April 8.
After the series with the Phillies, the Pirates head out on a nine-game western road trip that includes three games each against the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks.
After a six-game homestand with the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies, a four-game series in Atlanta ends the month. The Phillies, Diamondbacks and Cardinals were all playoff teams in 2011, and the Giants and Braves narrowly missed the playoffs.
The Pirates are home on all three major summer holidays - Memorial Day (Monday, May 28, Cincinnati Reds), Independence Day (Wednesday, July 4, Houston Astros), and Labor Day (Monday, September 3, also with the Astros). Each of those games is a 1:35 p.m. start.
Interleague play brings the American League Central Division Kansas City Royals (June 8-10), the Minnesota Twins (June 19-21), and the Detroit Tigers (June 22-24) to PNC Park. The Saturday, June 23 game with the Tigers is a 4:05 p.m. start. The Pirates also visit Detroit for a three-game series May 18-20, and visit the Baltimore Orioles (June 12-14) and Cleveland Indians (June 15-17) for three-game series to round out the interleague schedule.
The Bucs wrap up the 2012 regular season on Wednesday, Oct. 3, hosting the Atlanta Braves in a 12:35 p.m. start.
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org