By Tony DeMarco …..Tony is a long time baseball writer and offers more 2016 MLB Baseball Predictions here at Vegas Pro Insiders Daily, where he will be one of our baseball experts.
2015 record/finish: 98-64, 2nd place in NL Central, wildcard
Recent history: After a 20-year absence, the Pirates have reached the post-season in three consecutive seasons, with win totals of 94, 88 and 98. But 90 wins could be a real challenge this time.
Front office/manager recap: The Neal Huntington-Clint Hurdle tandem has guaranteed deals through 2017, with an option for 2018. Nobody is going anywhere, even if a potential downturn materializes.
Payroll change: From $96 million in 2015 to $97 million in 2016.
Key departures: 1B Pedro Alvarez, 2B Neil Walker, SP AJ Burnett, SP Charlie Morton, SP JA Happ, RP Antonio Bastardo, RP Joakim Soria, 3B Aramis Ramirez
Rotation: RHP Gerrit Cole, LHP Francisco Liriano, LHP Jon Niese, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, LHP Jeff Locke, RHP Juan Nicasio
Relievers: Closer: RHP Mark Melancon; Setup men: LHP Tony Watson, RHP Jared Hughes; Middle relievers: RHP Arquimedes Caminero, RHP Neftali Feliz, LHP Kyle Lobstein, RHP Rob Scahill
Regulars: RF Gregory Polanco, 2B Josh Harrison, CF Andrew McCutchen, LF Starling Marte, 1B John Jaso, 3B David Freese, C Francisco Cervelli, SS Jordy Mercer
Role players: C Chris Stewart, 1B/OF Michael Morse, IF Sean Rodriguez, IF Pedro Florimon, IF Cole Figueroa, OF Matt Joyce // SS-3B Jung Ho Kang (DL)
Rookies of impact: RHP Tyler Glasnow, RHP Jameson Taillon, 2B Alen Henson, C Elias Diaz
2015 run differential: +101 (697 scored, 596 allowed)
Run production: Alvarez has his issues, but his 27 homers won’t be entirely replaced. Walker also is gone, and Kang will begin the season on the DL, so it’s hard to see where any upgrade is going to come from unless Polanco breaks out earlier than expected. They really need Jaso to make the transition to first base, and maybe something unexpected from Freese.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 5th AVG, 16th OPS, 16th Runs, 26th HR, 5th SB)
Run prevention: Ray Searage has his work cut out for him, as the rotation has lost 26 starts from Burnett, 23 from Morton and 11 from Happ. Put another way, the guy who would have been the Mets’ 7th-best starting pitcher (Niese) is penciled in as the Pirates’ No. 3. So hopefully, they’ll get contributions at some point from top prospect Glasnow, and possibly Taillon. In addition, Bastardo and Soria are missing from the stretch-run relief crew.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 4th W, 7th ERA, 17th QS, 22nd BB, 16th K)
Regressers: Can Cervelli follow up on his breakout 2015 in a contract year?
Contract years: Melancon, Cervelli, Morse, Feliz, S Rodriguez, Vogelsong, Niese (club option for 2017).
Vegas says: OU 87
Predicted record/finish: 85-77, 3rd place. Lean UNDER
2015 record/finish: 83-79, 2nd place
Recent history: The huge underachievement that was the Nats’ 2015 rightfully cost Matt Williams his job. The previous three seasons had included two playoff appearances and win totals of 98, 86 and 96 wins.
Front office/manager recap: GM Mike Rizzo is in his final guaranteed year, and another disappointment could spell trouble. Dusty Baker got a two-year, $4-million deal to leave the wine-making business and make a final comeback.
Payroll change: From $170 million in 2015 to $145 million in 2016
Key departures: RHP Jordan Zimmermann, SS Ian Desmond, OF Denard Span, RHP Doug Fister, IF Yunel Escobar
Rotation: RHP Max Scherzer, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Stephen Strasburg, RHP Joe Ross, RHP Tanner Roark
Relievers: Closer: Jonathan Papelbon; Setup men: RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Trevor Gott; Middle relievers: RHP Blake Treinen, LHP Oliver Perez, RHP Yusmiero Petit, LHP Felipe Rivero
Regulars: CF Ben Revere, 3B Anthony Rendon, RF Bryce Harper, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, 2B Daniel Murphy, LF Jayson Werth, C Wilson Ramos, SS Danny Espinosa
Role players: C Jose Lobaton, 1B/OF Tyler Moore, 1B/OF Clint Robinson, IF Stephen Drew, OF Michael Taylor
Rookies of impact: Lucas Giolito is an elite-level starting pitcher whose time should come later this season. SS Trea Turner just needs an opportunity, but Baker’s MO always has leaned to the veteran player. IF Wilmer Difo
2015 run differential: +68 (703 scored; 635 allowed)
Run production: The sky’s the limit for Harper, so hopefully Zimmerman stays healthy and offers quality protection. But that might me asking too much, as is depending on 37-year-old Werth. Rendon’s best years are ahead. Revere stopped running in Toronto due to that lineup’s firepower, but could boost his stolen-base total under Baker. Hopefully, you didn’t buy into Murphy’s crazy post-season. He’s not quite that guy. The bench could see significant playing time.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 13th BA, 19th OPS, 14th Runs, 18th HR, 15th SB)
Run prevention: This is a strong staff, although the projections below seem to be a tick optimistic. Strasburg is poised to take another step up to elite level in his contract year. Whoever plays shortstop will be an improvement over Desmond’s early-season defensive disaster. Revere’s arm is weak for a center fielder, so Taylor could see significant playing time there. Murphy’s second-base metrics aren’t good.
(Roster Resource.com projections: 4th Wins, 6th ERA, 13th QS, 4th BB, 6th K)
Risers: Rendon and Ross both have more upside. Expect batting average upticks from Ramos, Werth and Taylor.
Contract years: Strasburg, Papelbon, Ramos, Drew, Gonzalez (2017 club option)
Vegas says: OU 87 wins
Predicted record/finish: 88-74, 2nd place. If everything goes right, they could get back on top in the NL East. But there are too many question marks at this point to go there.