There has been a lot of speculation about what to expect from the 2012 Pirates. I'm guessing that the consensus would be that Pirate fans expect some improvement in the offense, based upon a hoped-for resurgence by Pedro Alvarez and continuing development of our young players.
However, the primary factor which will determine how well the Pirates perform in 2012 will be the pitching..... especially the starting rotation. The good news is that there seem to be a lot of possibilities:
Kevin Correia: Perhaps Huntington's most successful FA acquisition from the previous off-season, Correia pitched well at first (and had some good luck), but came back to earth, got hurt, and finished with a career norm ERA of 4.79. Since he's under contract for 2012, he seems likely to be in the rotation (if not traded).
Paul Maholm: The Pirates' longest tenured starter had a pretty good season in 2012, well above his career norms. However, with his late-season shoulder injury working against him, it seems unlikely that the Pirates will pick up his option for 2012. I'd expect him to regress to his career norms, if he stays.
Charlie Morton: While he remains inconsistent and continues to have problems getting lefty hitters out, Morton has shown enough positive development to be a lock for the 2012 rotation. However, it's hard to predict what to expect from him in 2012. Both a breakout and a fallback seem possible.
James McDonald: Like Morton, McDonald shows similar promise and similar inconsistency. His stuff can be dominating but he has frequent problems with throwing strikes. I'm hoping that McDonald continues to develop and becomes a reliable and consistent starter in 2012. But he could go either way.
Jeff Karstens: Karstens was the most surprising story in the Pirates' rotation this year. Has he shown enough to be a lock for next year's rotation? Some say yes (based on 2011 performance), some say no (based on lack of stuff). Is his late season fatigue significant?. My guess is that he starts 2012 in the rotation.
Brad Lincoln: Lincoln is probably running out of time and chances, at least in Pittsburgh. He has shown some improvement in his trial this year over 2010, but he still lacks a consistent changeup. He could wind up in the rotation by default, if both Maholm and Correia are gone, but he doesn't inspire high confidence.
Ross Ohlendorf: It seems to me that Ohlendorf is the biggest question mark when looking ahead to 2012. When healthy, he seems to have the stuff, command, and smarts to be a solid starter. But there have been strong signals coming out of the front office that they may not offer him arbitration.
Jeff Locke: He's probably not a serious candidate YET. HIs ability to throw strikes (a strength in the minors) just hasn't been there in his 2 major league starts. Locke probably will start the 2012 season at Indy, but he would be a big plus for the 2012 rotation if he can pitch to his promise.
Free Agent?: Will NH try to land a starter in the FA market? It seems likely that he will try again, after pursuing several during the previous offseason.
Trade Acquisition?: Since the team has a significant need to improve the starting rotation, it seems likely that NH will try this route as well.
Internal Long Shots: Given what Karstens did this year, we should probably not arbitrarily rule guys out, but rather recognize that they are LONG shots (some are VERY LONG shots): Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, Brian Burres, Kyle McPherson, Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, Aaron Thompson, Jose Ascanio, Garrett Olson, Kevin Hart, Donnie Veal
Who would I realistically like to see in the 2012 rotation? FA or trade acquisition, Morton, McDonald, Karstens, Ohlendorf.
Who are we likely to see? Correia, Morton, McDonald, Karstens, Lincoln.
Bottom line: It's all about the pitching. The Pirates' 2012 performance will hinge upon who is in the starting rotation and how they perform. I'm hoping for the best, but fearing what reality will be.