Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle saw the needs of the team after his first season in 2011.
This off-season he and ownership are addressing them.
Hurdle spoke about the Pirates off-season as he and starting pitcher James McDonald, relief pitcher Daniel McCutchen and broadcaster John Wehner stopped at WDDH 97.5 The Hound with Dennis D. Heindl and Rose Heindl as a part of the Pirates Caravan on Wednesday.
Hurdle will enter his second season as manager of the Pirates in 2012 after finishing 2011 with a 70-92 record. The Pirates have been preparing for the new season with a number of off-season acquisitions. With the team in contention until the latter portions of the season, Hurdle said getting players to join the Pirates has been easier.
“A lot of fans say, 'You need to get this guy, you need to get that guy,'” Hurdle said. “We’re much more attractive this year than we were last year and maybe a more attractive place in the future.”
Catcher Rod Barajas, who played the 2011 campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was signed during the off-season and Hurdle said that was the No. 1 need for the Pirates to fill.
“We wanted to stabilize the position behind the plate and add some offense,” Hurdle said.
Clint Barmes played last season with the Houston Astros and played under Hurdle when they were both with the Colorado Rockies.
“(He’s) Very dependable, he’s an offensive upgrade,” Hurdle said. “A very solid defender, a blue-collar kid. Pittsburgh’s going to love how this kid plays baseball.”
Nate McLouth returns to the Pirates after he was traded to the Atlanta Braves during the 2009 season.
“I think that's a win-win for everybody,” Hurdle said. "He can be a fourth outfielder, he plays all three positions. It will give me an opportunity to get everybody involved. Hopefully we can get (Andrew) McCutchen a few more days off in center field, he did tire as the season went on. And if there's any instability with Alex Presley or with Tabata. We had trouble keeping Jose on the field last year. He gives us veteran leadership, experience and an offensive boost.”
The starting rotation adds Erik Bedard who played last year with the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox. Hurdle was impressed with his skill set.
“He has been healthy lately,” Hurdle said. “That’s what we’re building on. This guy’s tough to hit. He's got a skill set with swing and miss stuff which not many of our starters have. He’s pitched in some tough venues. He’s looking to rekindle and reignite his career and be a stabilizer in our rotation. He’s excited to get the opportunity in Pittsburgh. He's one of these guys that's wanted to come to Pittsburgh and turn this thing around and win the championship.”
Bedard has had a history of injury problems. He had an elbow ligament injury which forced him to spend most of 2003 in rehab. With the Seattle Mariners in 2009, Bedard suffered a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder and missed the second half of 2009 and all of the 2010 season.
“The one thing you never want to do is go out and invest in a free agent and they’re not able to perform,” Hurdle said. “We had thorough medical workups done on the guy. We feel confident that Erik has done everything he can to become healthy, to stay healthy and give us the number of starts that we're counting on. We had five guys make 25 starts last year, only the sixth time in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates that we had five starters make 25 starts. Only six teams in the industry did that last year. Erik is also at a very pivotal point in his career. Health, it’s important but success, it’s important too. We keep him healthy, we believe he’ll be successful and we'll have a whole different discussion about him next winter than we did this winter.”
The most recent acquisition came when Pittsburgh traded reliever Jose Veras for Milwaukee Brewers infielder Casey McGehee.
“Two years ago, he was the MVP of the Brewers ballclub,” Hurdle said. “This gives us a contingency plan at third base if Pedro (Alvarez) doesn’t perform like we think he can. It will give us an option with a right-handed bat at third. We can get help at first too. If Garrett (Jones) or Pedro doesn’t come out clean and doesn’t produce the way they need to produce, Casey could fill one of those holes full-time. He’s played full-time with the Brewers over the last two years.”
Alvarez saw his stats slip in 2011 and had a couple stints in the minor leagues during the season. In 74 games with the Pirates, he had a .191 average with four homers and 19 RBI.
“Pedro’s got to take ownership of the situation,” Hurdle said. “He had some success in 2010. The (2011) season just got away from him. He started going harder, quicker, faster and got more and more lost. He wants to play third base, he wants to be a run producer in this lineup. He wants to help this team be the best team it can be. I’m very optimistic about his opportunity to bounce back.”
The Pirates have been active in spending with the amateur draft over the past few seasons but the recently approved MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement will curtail those efforts for big draft spenders such as the Pirates.
“We have obviously spent more money than anyone else in baseball the last three seasons in the amateur draft,” Hurdle said. “It has been our chip to play rather than the free agent market in the winter. It will provide more challenges for a smaller-market club. It's no secret that this game is trending back toward developing your own personnel, having players that you contractually have control of for a long period of time. We’re trying to grow up our own pitching. We have guys down there that can be very dominating front-end starters in the not too distant future. We've gone over slot many times. We won’t be able to do that as much in the future without some repercussions.”
Hurdle said the team understood the depth and breadth of the season after it was over.
“Every individual’s got to get better for 162 games,” Hurdle said. “They probably understand the depth and the challenges that come with a 162-game schedule. For three and a half months, we had game after game of challenge, commitment, and trying to be one run better than the other team, I think it took their toll a little bit physically and mentally. We understand better the importance of depth in the organization. Injuries happen. I don't know how you plan for 53 players to go through your major league roster, but we did it. We had players get valuable experience last season. We can play with anybody out there, we just have to score one more run that night to beat them.”
The summer of excitement brought back to Pirates baseball was palpable from all aspects.
“The guys had not experienced the synergy of the downtown area, the enthusiasm and passion of the fans, nor the sellouts,” Hurdle said. “We were playing good ball, we were playing against good teams. It put goosebumps on the players’ arms, it got my attention. I’ve been in three World Series, one as a player (1980 Royals), one as a coach (2010 Rangers), one as a manager (2007 Rockies). Those venues are incredible. But that summer venue that we got, the intimate ballpark we got with that passionate fan base, it’s special. We really need to nail that thing down and make that a full-season event.”