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By Chad Carlson
Photo Credit: http://www.pineapplegrove.com
Well Bucco fans, it’s finally here.  Today was the first official day of Spring Training in Bradenton for the Pirates, and, as always, this time of year brings a fresh sense of hope and optimism for every team in Major League Baseball.  The Pirates, in the final days leading up to arriving in Bradenton, have found themselves in unfamiliar territory…the national media.  With the AJ Burnett deal between the Bucs and the New York Yankees finally getting done, Clint Hurdle and Co. can finally get down to business, preparing the team for the regular season in April.
As Spring Training opens in Bradenton, there are, as always, a ton of questions surrounding the Pirates.  After all, this is a much different-looking team than we saw a year ago.  A number of offseason signings, some met with fan approval and some not so much, have altered the Bucs’ everyday lineups as well as their projected starting pitching rotations, all in the hope of continuing what they started in the first four months of the 2011 season. 
At the top of the news reel this year has been the additions to the starting pitching…first with the signing of Erik Bedard during the MLB Winter Meetings and only days ago, a confirmed trade with the Yankees for AJ Burnett.  So, according to our calculations here at FFTS, that means the Bucs have six pitchers, and only five spots available in the starting rotation.  Clearly, Bedard and Burnett will be in the rotation to begin 2012, barring injuries.  James McDonald seems as a lock as well, leaving Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia to fill the final two spots. 
Rumors have circled in the days following the Burnett deal that Correia would be the odd-man out here.  Karstens, Morton, and Correia all had terrific 1st halfs last season, and, as predicted by many, they trailed off significantly in the final couple months.  I have never been impressed with Correia, even during his All-Star caliber first half in 2011.  He was a fly-ball pitcher all season, and it caught up to him as the season went along.  Karstens was by far the biggest surprise of the pitching rotation last year, filling in for the then-injured Ross Ohlendorf and posting the team’s best ERA.  In previous seasons, he performed well out of the bullpen as a long-reliever, so it’s certainly a spot he could return to this year.  And Morton, of course, it’s impossible to tell how he’ll respond to his hip surgery in October.  In fact, this may not even be up for debate if Morton isn’t ready for Opening Day, but all indications are he looks solid as Spring Training has opened. 
As we all know from previous seasons, though, one of the most frustrating aspects of watching Pirates’ baseball in the past has been their inability to score runs.  How many games have we seen the Bucs lose 2-1, or 4-2?  These are games when the starting pitching (and the bullpen) have held up their end of the bargain, but they just can’t get the run support they need to win the game. 
The offense has a few new faces as they open camp this weekend.  Clint Barmes replaced Ronny Cedeno, Rod Barajas replaced the Chris Snyder/Ryan Doumit debacle, while Nate McLouth and Casey McGehee were also acquired for more run-power and platoon work.  Unfortunately, the Bucs didn’t improve their offense nearly as much as they needed to in the offseason.  McGehee and Garrett Jones will battle it out for the starting first baseman job, while McLouth will more than likely be the fourth or fifth outfielder behind the projected starting trio of Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley. 
There are so many questions to be answered over the next several weeks leading up to Opening Day, but with pitchers and catchers reporting to Pirate City, with many other players following suit in the coming days, we at FFTS are ecstatic to finally say that Pirates’ baseball is right around the corner.
And…
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!