Barnes: Pirates’ revitalizing season commences promising future


By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

A World Series title is obviously, and justifiably, the desired end-result for every Major League Baseball team when spring training rolls around each February. The Pittsburgh Pirates won’t hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy in these 2013 playoffs, thanks to their 3-2 series loss to St. Louis in the National League Division Series. 

But the Pirates’ 2013 season was an absolute success. 

The Pirates won 97 total games, took the first wild card spot, played a playoff series and posted a winning regular season for the first time since 1992. Additionally, they led the Cardinals — who have now been to three straight National League Championship Series — 2-1 in the NLDS.

Most importantly, the 2013 Pirates completed the process that Clint Hurdle envisioned when he was hired as the franchise’s 39th manager on Nov. 14, 2010. The city of Pittsburgh has officially reconnected with its baseball team.

This connection was on full display throughout the three playoff games played at PNC Park (the first three ever played at PNC Park) when more than 120,000 fans turned the stiles clad all in black for the PNC Park blackout spurred on by Michael McKenry and other players via social media. 

Remember those 40,000-plus chanting, “Cue-to, Cue-to,” in the Wild Card Game against Cincinnati, right before Russell Martin hit the first of his two home runs in that game? And remember how the building shook when the crowd erupted following Martin’s bomb?

Baseball is back in Pittsburgh. The best part? It’s here to stay. 

Think back to 1992, following the Pirates’ loss to Atlanta in the NLCS. Those Pirates were struggling to stay together, based largely on the fact that the team did not have the resources to keep players like Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla in a Pirates uniform. 

This 2013 team? Just about all of it will return not only for next year, but for the foreseeable future. 

Gerrit Cole, who developed into an ace before the city’s very eyes from June 1, is under team control through 2019.

Andrew McCutchen’s contract extension will keep him in a Pirates uniform through 2018, when the franchise will likely pick up the option it has on the final year of his six-year deal.

His outfield-mate Starling Marte posted a 4.6 wins above replacement in his first full season as a major-leaguer, compared to McCutchen’s 3.5 WAR in the MVP candidate’s first year. Marte is under franchise control through 2018.

In order to keep that core together, the front office must make a push to re-sign Pedro Alvarez this season. His average is poor and is a non-factor against left-handed pitchers, but the infielder led the National League with 36 home runs and hit another two in the playoffs while driving in a run in each game — he’s worth it. 

The team’s current talent reaches even outside this solid core.

2014 may see the debuts of Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon, who made their way to Triple-A Indianapolis this season. At the end of the season,’s Prospect Watch lists Taillon as the No. 10 prospect in baseball, with Polanco at No. 13.

Polanco slots into right field automatically when he arrives, likely in the summer of 2014, and is a permanent solution to the issues that plagued the Pirates enough in 2013 to make a move for Marlon Byrd. For a reference point on Polanco, think Starling Marte but with more power and less strikeouts. He’s going to be good. 

The same goes for Taillon, the No. 2 overall draft pick from 2010. With his arrival, and development hopefully along the same lines as Cole’s, the Pirates own a pair of aces that should negate any time the team needs to face a tandem of Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright or Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos.

Additionally, Pittsburgh will have Clint Hurdle on the bench and Neal Huntington in the executive’s suite once again. These men deserve as much credit for this success as any player who took the field. 

If the end of this season brought anyone tears, I hope they were of joy. I don’t have anything ‘inspiring’ to say to any fans, except to just know it’s going to get better.

Please, don’t remember this season by Pedro Alvarez’s three-pitch strikeout to end the Pirates’ 6-1 loss Wednesday.

Remember it by the introductions prior to the Wild Card, when Clint Hurdle saluted the fans in the stands and Andrew McCutchen held his hand over his heart and next to the “P” on the Pirates’ alternate black jersey as he spun slowly for all to see.

Remember it by Jason Grilli’s save celebration, double fist-pumps and punching Russell Martin three times in the chest pad. 

Remember it by Alvarez’s towering home runs.

Remember it by the Pirate Parrot, standing alone on the mound after each win, raising the Jolly Roger with gusto.

Remember it for those who didn’t get a chance to see the worst losing streak in sports end, and for those who got their first chance to see what it’s like for Pittsburgh to love its baseball team again.

Baseball is back in Pittsburgh.