PHOENIX -- First off, I would be remiss not to thank you for sticking with me for the entirety of another season. If you're reading a Pirates Inbox now -- with only six games remaining -- you most certainly are not a bandwagon jumper. I hope that the content on pirates.com has kept you engaged even as the results have soured.
Before digging into your latest Inbox submissions, let me mention that I anticipate making this feature a weekly staple all offseason. Of course, being able to do so will depend on you continuing to send over questions. So don't be shy. Let me know what concerns and questions you may have as the Bucs head into another critical offseason.
Here are a few to get us started ...
After an impressive and surprising first two months of the season for Kevin Correia, possibly the only thing keeping his ERA from finishing above 5.00 for a second straight year was a trip to the disabled list. Could Correia be in for a battle for his starting spot next spring, or will those first two months -- combined with the All-Star appearance and a somewhat high-dollar contract -- guarantee him a starting role to begin 2012?
-- Jason D., Richmond, Va.
Good question. It's a fair one, too. Through the first two months of the season, Correia looked like he might end up being one of the offseason's best steals. But baseball is, of course, a six-month season, and results need to be evaluated by that measure. The numbers, as a whole, aren't overly impressive. Correia's lack of success at PNC Park is even more of a concern, given that about half of his starts will continue to come there.
Correia's numbers this year fall between his better 2009 season and less-than-stellar '10 campaign. What that probably signifies is that this mean is about what the Pirates can expect from Correia next season. While that may not scream top-of-the-rotation starter, it's not as if the Bucs have loads of other options.
James McDonald, Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens should make up three-fifths of the rotation. If Paul Maholm does not return, that leaves two spots available. Neither Ross Ohlendorf nor Brad Lincoln has been especially impressive this month. And it's debatable whether some of the organization's Triple-A pitchers -- Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke -- will be ready to make the jump out of Spring Training.
While the Pirates will certainly look to improve their rotation options this winter, I'd expect Correia to remain part of the starting mix. There are not obvious replacements, and Correia's experience and innings-eating ability are both assets to Pittsburgh. Also keep in mind that the free-agent market is going to be thin on quality starting pitching.
Do the Pirates have any options in the Minors at first base? They keep talking about how they need a power-hitting first baseman. Why haven't they drafted one?
-- David P., Spring Lake, N.C.
The fact that the Pirates have not taken a first baseman in the first round of a recent Draft simply means that there were better players available to select at the time, regardless of position. The club never drafts based on need.
The Bucs don't seem to believe they are completely devoid of first-base talent in the Minors. Matt Hague, who hit .309 with 12 homers, 37 doubles and 75 RBIs at Triple-A this season, is one candidate to make an impact next year. Behind Hague in Double-A is Matt Curry. Scouts continue to debate his long-term potential, though most aren't convinced he'll be an everyday Major League first baseman. Alex Dickerson, who Pittsburgh drafted in the third round this past summer, is another guy worth watching over the next few years.
As you look at 2012, though, I think the Pirates have to look externally for an answer. If the club wants to stick with Jose Tabata and Alex Presley in the corner outfield spots, it is going to need to find some power elsewhere. No one knows what Pedro Alvarez will bring in 2012, but first base would be a natural spot to plug in a middle-of-the-lineup presence. Relying on Garrett Jones or Matt Hague to solidify the lineup seems like too big of a risk to take.
Since the Lyle Overbay signing was such a flop, doesn't Jones make sense for the next couple of years? Twenty homers per year when he was playing more often looks pretty good.
-- Roger L., Clintonville, Wis.
The concern about Jones, which I alluded to in the above answer, is whether his production is enough for a Pirates team desperately in need of improving its offense. For all the encouraging signs Jones showed in August, his overall season production really isn't all that impressive. Sure, he has hit 15 home runs. But he has also hit just .243 with an on-base percentage of .317.
Jones was placed in a platoon role this year because of his troubles against left-handed pitching, and he's done nothing this year to make the Bucs more confident in his abilities to hit lefties. That's an issue if you're considering him for a regular role.
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Jones seems to have a place as at least a part-time player in Pittsburgh. He just doesn't seem to be capable of giving the Pirates the offensive boost as an everyday starter the club must have to improve.
How do you see the shortstop situation playing out next year? Ronny Cedeno just doesn't seem to be the kind of player that fits manager Clint Hurdle's way of playing.
-- Jim S., Las Vegas
There have been instances this year in which Cedeno's lack of focus has been maddening. Those, though, haven't been as numerous as in past years. I think what we have seen from Cedeno this year -- on both the offensive and defensive sides -- is what you can expect from him moving forward. His bat is just OK, yet he has the tools to be above average defensively when the focus is there.
If you know about what you're going to get from Cedeno, the question becomes whether or not the Pirates have a better option. Many assumed Chase d'Arnaud would be the team's next starting shortstop, but d'Arnaud's time in the big leagues has highlighted a number of deficiencies he still has in his game. For the most part, he has not looked like a player ready to make the jump into a starting role.
With no solid internal replacement ready, Pittsburgh would seem wise to take the reasonable $3 million option on Cedeno unless it can find another answer externally.
When the Pirates were unable to sign 2008 Draft pick Tanner Scheppers, they would have been awarded another choice in '09. What player did they draft with that choice?
-- Bob M., Longboat Key, Fla.
The Bucs used that compensation pick to take right-hander Victor Black in 2009. This year, Black appeared in 22 games for low Class A West Virginia before finishing the season with five games pitched in advanced Class A. Combined, Black allowed 20 earned runs and 38 hits in 35 2/3 innings. He walked 20 and struck out 28.
What are the Pirates' plans for Robbie Grossman? He was an over-slot high school pick a few years ago who really matured at Bradenton this year. He looks like a legitimate leadoff hitter with good plate discipline, speed and improving power.
-- Jim B., Harrisburg, Pa.
Grossman is one of seven players Pittsburgh is sending to the Arizona Fall League, a place where he will be tested against better pitching than he saw at the advanced Class A level this year. Grossman took a big step forward this season after having a quiet couple years in the Minors. He became the first Minor League player since 2004 to walk 100 times and score 100 runs, finishing with 104 and 127, respectively. He is still striking out too much (111 times this year), but the improved plate discipline is a good sign.
Grossman is back on the prospect page and there is ample time left for him to mature in the Minors. He will be just 22 for all of next season, and I'd suspect he'll begin next year in Double-A.