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Mehno: Bucs facing big decisions

October 13, 2013
By John Mehno - For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH - The Pirates had a dream season, crashing through a lot of long-standing barriers en route to winning 94 games and playing in the postseason for the first time in 21 years.

Now all they have to do is improve.

Once they lost in St. Louis the other night, the focus for the front office shifted to 2014. It will be a different team, and GM Neal Huntington has to figure out how to make it better.

The Pirates still have to fill first base, right field and shortstop, and the starting rotation is always an issue.

Huntington is facing some interesting decisions with several players over 30.

Late-season acquisition Justin Morneau disappointed. The Pirates sunk $2.3 million into his salary hoping he'd provide some power and give the team its first legitimate cleanup hitter. Morneau was on a home run tear in his last month with the Twins, but didn't hit one in 92 at bats with the Pirates. His power output was three doubles.

Morneau turns 33 in May. Given his age and concussion history, the Pirates should pass on him and keep looking.

On the other hand, Marlon Byrd delivered in his month with the Pirates. But he's 36 and would probably want a two-year contract. That makes no sense with prospect Gregory Polanco on the way. Let Byrd fly.

Clint Barmes is at the end of his contract. Since there are serious doubts about Jordy Mercer's ability to handle shortstop on an everyday basis, Barmes might fit as a backup infielder at a substantially reduced salary.

Garrett Jones is 32 and had his worst season. The Pirates squeezed decent production out of this minor league signing for several years, but his salary has climbed to $4.5 million. It's time to let him go and see if Andrew Lambo can fill that role.

The most interesting case is A.J. Burnett, who said he was 50-50 on playing next season.

Have his plans been influenced by Clint Hurdle's decision to start Gerrit Cole in the deciding game at St. Louis? Was Burnett's reaction sufficiently insubordinate to make the Pirates lose interest in him?

Burnett can be a handful. Hurdle's carefully-crafted John Wayne swagger seems to diminish when Burnett is involved. Burnett turns 37 on Jan. 3.

But he can still pitch. He led the staff with 191 innings. His only health issue was an ankle injury sustained when he stepped in a hole while running. He struck out 209 batters. His ERA was his best since 2005, his WHIP was his best since 2007.

If Burnett hasn't burned his bridges, and if he's willing to take a one-year deal, he's worth bringing back.

Calling audibles

The Steelers have signed another player (Stevenson Sylvester) they cut in training camp.

Maybe even more disturbing than the 0-4 record is the feeling they're just making it up as they go along.

Oct. 13

It was on this date in 1960 that Bill Mazeroski hit the most famous home run in World Series history.

No matter how many times you see the clip, nobody ever hits him with a shaving cream pie.

The most amazing stat from that day? A 10-9 game that included four mid-inning pitching changes and a delay for Tony Kubek's injury was played in 2:36.

Mehno can be reached atjohnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

 
 

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