Spring training will give us plenty of time to delve into the minor issues facing the Pirates. Who’s the last man on the bench? Which outfielders don’t make the 25-man roster? Bullpen composition, lineup, all that stuff will come in time. Here are five big questions facing the Pirates in the 2013 season.
1. Will the decision makers retain their jobs?
A second consecutive fade in the second half prompted a review from Bob Nutting in the offseason. Eventually he concluded that the recent improvement of the team outweighed the second-half play. Will that hold if the team struggles?
2. Can they avoid a third consecutive collapse?
Last year’s spring training mantra was “finish.” They didn’t. What has to change? Maybe they increase the focus on fitness and conditioning during spring. Maybe they decrease it in an effort to keep players strong and healthy for a longer period of time. Can the players adapt and adjust to compete for 162 games? It goes beyond fitness, of course. Pitchers must remain healthy and position players must remain consistent.
3. Will this class of free agents perform better?
Can Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano perform better than Rod Barajas, Erik Bedard and Nate McLouth? Competing with only home-grown players and those acquired via trade is difficult.
4. Will they be more aggressive at the deadline?
If the Pirates are in contention come July 31, like they were last season, do they opt for years of control and acquiring players with upside or make a move for an established player capable of impacting a stretch run?
5. Can the offense avoid the dry spells?
Good pitching helped the Pirates escape two months of historically bad offense with a .500 record. That might not happen this season. The bottom of the lineup may help determine the Pirates' success in avoiding overall poor offensive performance.
Enjoy the Super Bowl, everyone (Ravens 27, Niners 23) and I'll catch up with you Monday.
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