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Ask Bucs Dugout: Alvarez's future, McCutchen's position, qualifying offers

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Thanks for your questions, and keep them coming. Here's the first round of answers.

Peach Tree Snapple: What team would you like the Pirates to face in the Wild Card game?

The Rockies! Are the Rockies a choice? In all seriousness, it's looking increasingly likely that if they make the playoffs at all, the Pirates will have to face the Giants in San Francisco, meaning that they'll probably have to face Madison Bumgarner or Tim Hudson. I'm tempted to say facing the Brewers would be better, given how completely they've fallen apart and given their lack of obvious front-line starting pitching, but I hate to see the Pirates head to Miller Park for a one-game series.

Skyvolcanoes: What are the odds of Alvarez starting next year as the Pirates' first baseman?

Awfully high, at least as half of a platoon. I think the Pirates may trade or non-tender Ike Davis. It's hard to see them heading into next season with two expensive-ish left-handed first basemen, and I'm not sure there's much reason to move Alvarez back to third unless they trade someone to clear a spot for Josh Harrison elsewhere. Davis might be a better player than Alvarez, but my guess is that the Pirates will take one more shot at harnessing Alvarez's upside. It's hard to see them giving up on him completely just yet.

RDV Across The Sea: Do you watch sports during the baseball offseason? If so, which ones, and what other teams do you pay close attention to?

Not much. I'm mostly just a baseball fan. I'll watch basketball or hockey if they're on, but I don't like football. I like the slow pace of baseball. I watched a fair amount of the World Cup this summer and I keep meaning to get into the Columbus Crew (they wear black and gold and play about two miles from me -- it's like they were meant for me), but somehow I never do.

BurgherKing: Looking back on the 2014 season What do you think of the NL Central, and how things have broken? From my perspective, I feel like this was a great year to have run away with the division, and the Pirates couldn’t get out of their own way, possibly due to inexperience playing a big part.

If I'd made specific predictions about the NL Central in general and the Pirates in particular, a lot of them would have been at least slightly wrong. I thought the Cardinals would be terrific, and they haven't been. And with regard to the Pirates, no one saw Harrison coming, and I thought the Pirates would get more out of Alvarez, Gerrit Cole and Davis. And like a lot of people, I pushed pretty hard for the Pirates to re-sign A.J. Burnett, who didn't have a great season in Philadelphia (although he didn't get the advantages of Russell Martin and PNC Park; he might well have done significantly better in Pittsburgh).

In general, though, I think a lot of the screaming I was doing last offseason made sense. The Pirates entered the season looking something like an 84-win team, and that's about where they figure to wind up now. It will take fewer wins to get into the playoffs this year than it did last year, and the Pirates might make it even though they didn't make any big offseason additions. But you're right -- this would have been a great year for them to have spent some money, banked those few extra wins and won not just a playoff berth, but the entire division. It's a disappointment that they didn't. I'm not sure it was a lack of experience that was the issue so much as it was a lack of talent.

Yellowseats: Do you think there is any chance, before Andrew McCutchen leaves as a free agent, that he will move to another outfield spot other than center field?

It's quite likely. Four years is a long time -- just a year ago, Pedro Alvarez was having his best defensive season at third base. And it's not as if the Pirates lack good defensive center fielders.

Guapo: Right now Cutch is severely underpaid for the next four years. Would you use this leverage to extend him another three years past his current contract?

That would be great, but I'm not sure how much leverage the Pirates have in that regard. McCutchen is underpaid, but I doubt he's up nights wondering how he's going to put food on the table with the mere $51 million his contract guarantees him.

God Loves: How long do you think it takes for the average commenter to get used common everyday moves that a manager has to make without going ballistic over every decision?

A couple years, maybe? We've all done it, and not just with minor managerial moves. I remember getting anxious because the Pirates let Ruben Mateo go, for example. It takes a long time to learn how easy it is to overreact, and even then it's hard to stop doing it, especially when it's something you care about.

Bucket of Jim Bibby Sweat: If the Bucs fail to make the playoffs, please assign the appropriate level of responsibility in the form of percentages (%):

Bob Nutting’s wallet 25%
The Morel- Martinez Conundrum (feel free to include all unqualified 25th men: Nix, Anna, etc…) 10%
Clint Hurdle’s managerial tactics 1%
Pedro Alvarez’ multiple issues 15%
The lack of a trade deadline acquisition 9%
The rapid demise of Wandy 8%
Lack of AJ Burnett’s clubhouse presence 0%
Super 2 rule 0%
Taillon injury 2%
Other (lack of a reliable bullpen, Gerrit Cole not taking a step forward, Cole's health, Liriano's struggles in the first half) 30%

This was a fun exercise, although, obviously, the Pirates haven't missed the playoffs yet. If they make the playoffs, you could do a similar pie chart about the reasons they did. About half of that chart would be Josh Harrison, though.

Iowasteel: Would you make qualifying offers to Liriano and Martin? Do you think NH will agree with your assessment? Seems like a no-brainer on each to me, but I was a little surprised with the Burnett decision last year.

I agree that they should be easy decisions, especially the Martin one, but I have no idea whether the Pirates will extend them. I could see them extending one to Martin but not to Liriano. Liriano has had a good but not great season, so his market could be severely affected by a qualifying offer, just as the markets for Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana were last year. So it wouldn't be ridiculous for him to accept the qualifying offer if the Pirates extended it. Martin is a different story -- he's such an important player that the value of the lost draft pick shouldn't have a disproportionate effect on his market.