2012 National League Central Title – Up For Grabs?

First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Jon Anderson and I am RumBunter’s newest staff writer. You may (or may not) know me from mceffect.com or from my heinous tweets from @mceffect. I’m very excited to joining the Fansided team and I hope I can contribute to RumBunter’s badness. Anyways, let’s get this going.

The National League Central has been one of the worst divisions in baseball in the last few years, and it is has only gotten worse in the last few days. Albert Pujols’ flight to the American League along with the impending departure of Prince Fielder (although the Brewers aren’t completely out of it yet, chances are that he will not return to Milwaukee) leaves the 2012 NL Central crown in the air for now. The Cardinals and Brewers are still going to be very solid baseball teams even with their huge losses, and the Reds haven’t lost anything at all and they have one of the better offenses in the league. However, it would seem that 2012 is a great year for a dark horse team like the Pirates to make a run at the division crown.

But do the Pirates have the players to do it? For right now, my answer to that question is no. They took a pretty good step forward this week with the addition of Erik Bedard, but they still have some serious holes. To me, Clint Barmes was a marginal upgrade from Ronny Cedeno, but the Pirates definitely lost out by replacing Ryan Doumit with Rod Barajas. Right now I’d take all these offseason moves as one giant push. I think the team on paper looks basically the same as it did last year.

All that said, you can’t overlook the fact that the Pirates have a lot of players with big potential that they haven’t reached yet. Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez are three names that I think could improve from last year (and improve a lot in the cases of Tabata and Alvarez). That gives the Pirates some hope for competing in 2012.

As of right now, the Pirates would need basically everything to go right to have a prayer of coming anywhere close to the playoffs next season (although the possible additional wild card spot could help their cause). And if you have been a Pirate fan at all in the last 19 years, you would know that nothing ever seems to go very right for this organization.

As a realistic fan of this team, I won’t say that the Pirates have a chance of contending until they sign a big time power bat. If you have read any of my stuff in the past, you would know that I am a big advocator of Carlos Pena. I was crying for the Pirates to trade for him at the deadline, and I am crying for them to sign him as a free agent this offseason. The recent rumors about Ike Davis have me on my knees praying every night. He would be even better than Pena because of his age and the fact that they would have control of him for at least five years. There are also lesser options out there like Josh Willingham that could improve this offense. If the Pirates neglect to acquire a first baseman and Garrett Jones, Nick Evans, or Jake Fox is starting on Opening Day, I’m going to betting against the Pirates chances of winning half their games every opportunity I get.

Charlie Morton and James McDonald have big potential, and along with Bedard they could form a pretty solid starting rotation next season, but they will be held down by their offense unless Neil Huntington and company goes out and gets them an impact bat. I’m not saying that the Pirates are favorites for the division title if they sign Pena or trade for Davis, but I think such a move would help them monumentally. It may only take 90 wins to take the NL Central next year, so the Pirates should go for it.

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