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Ask BD: Who might be the Pirates' next closer?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks, everyone, for your questions. Here's my second round of answers.

Maguro: Will Francisco Liriano score a run this year?

He'll have a two-homer game against Clayton Kershaw in August. Pretty proud of myself for this prediction. You'll assume it's a joke and won't call me out if it doesn't happen, but if it does, you'll all give me your life savings to invest in the stock market.

NJ Steel: Which pitching prospects in AAA do you feel will be either starters or relievers later in the season when they can be called up? I’m referring to Glasnow, Kingham, and Taillon in particular. I know it’s early, but how long does each have to wait to avoid Super Two?

The Super Two threshold is typically in early June, but I don't see that as an issue for any of those guys this season. Kingham is a decent prospect, but he isn't so valuable that Super Two is a concern. And neither Glasnow (who's inexperienced) nor Taillon (who's coming back from a major injury and hasn't pitched in a game yet) will be ready to get to the majors and stay there by June.

Hernleyt: I know that ninth inning against Detroit wasn't entirely Mark Melancon's fault, but he did get hit hard. If this continues, what are the chances that Tony Watson becomes the closer and John Holdzkom comes up to replace Mark?

The chances are fairly good that Watson will become the closer at some point, if not this season, then perhaps in 2016. Watson isn't an archetypal closer since he's left-handed, but he would be a natural choice to step into the role, not only because of his ability, but because he only has two more years before he becomes a free agent. If you make someone like Holdzkom or Arquimedes Caminero the closer (which might seem premature right now, but might not in a month or so), you might cause his arbitration salaries to rise so much that it becomes difficult to keep him. There's little risk of that with Watson. It makes sense for the Pirates to think that way, too, if you buy that closers don't always pitch the highest leverage innings anyway.

Ajl022: Can you comment on the trade talk in this article? I don’t remember much of any specific team being mentioned/confirmed in Pedro Alvarez rumors the past year, much less the White Sox who were in, like, last place in the middle of last summer.

The idea that the White Sox pursued Alvarez last summer does sort of make sense, though. The White Sox weren't contending, but the idea last season with Alvarez would have been that you try to fix him and maybe he can help in 2015. The White Sox ended up getting a lefty first baseman/DH (Adam LaRoche) this past offseason, and if they had acquired Alvarez, they probably would have used him in that role. Perhaps the Red Sox (who are also mentioned) would have played him at third. In either case, if those teams pursued Alvarez, they were probably trying to get him for next to nothing.

JSteelers86: If Tony Sanchez continues to show that he can hit big-league pitching do you keep him with the major league team, send him back to Indianapolis when Chris Stewart comes back, or use him as a trade piece at the deadline?

You send him back to Indianapolis. Sanchez isn't such an upgrade that it's worth losing a credible backup catcher in Stewart in order to keep Sanchez on the roster. And especially if Corey Hart continues to hit well (SSS alert!), Sanchez doesn't have much utility as a third catcher / first baseman on the Pirates' current bench.

Mr. Moops: Do you think the Pirates' 3-4-5 starters can be upgraded by the trade deadline or before, and should it be inside or outside the organization? Not all of them, just one or maybe two.

Maybe. Charlie Morton will return eventually. Beyond that, I don't see a lot of obvious internal upgrades.

Now seems like a good time to note that the Pirates' starting pitching, which was perceived to be the team's weakness heading into the season, has actually been its strength so far. In 53 innings, Pirates starters have a 3.38 ERA and a 2.83 xFIP, with a 9.11 K/9 and a GB% of 51.4. "Dominant" is too strong a word, but they've been terrific. Obviously, it's early, and colder weather favors starting pitchers, so I'm not sure what my point is, except that it feels a little odd right now to worry about how the Pirates can best upgrade on, say, A.J. Burnett.

Long4Willie: With the Pirates' continued success, how long until Clint Hurdle or front office personnel begin to be cherry-picked by other clubs?

The Rangers already hired Jeff Banister, and it might not have been an accident that they claimed Stolmy Pimentel. The Rangers have little to lose right now, and it will be interesting to see if they start becoming a sort of Pirates West, like the Arizona Cardinals did with the Steelers. In any case, the Pirates have both Hurdle and Neal Huntington under control through 2018, so I don't think there's any immediate worry about them getting cherry-picked. People like Jim Benedict and Ray Searage might be a different story. I'm not sure.

ImpliedI: Percent chance you give for Starling Marte to break Mark Reynolds' single-season strikeout record of 223? Marte is currently on pace for 324.

Zero, or close to it. Marte has a career strikeout rate of 25.1 percent. Assuming he gets 650 plate appearances (and that's not a safe assumption if he continues to strike out at an historic rate), he would have to strike out 34 percent of the time the rest of the season to hit 224. That's very unlikely. Embedded in the question is, of course, a reasonable worry about how badly Marte has hit so far, but he's played eight games -- I'd give it a bit more time before getting too concerned.

Marco Rincones: Do you think Pedro is already thinking, "Gee, I should have moved over and played first base years ago -- this is quite comfortable already"?

He might think that about last season, at least. Before that, no, he was a third baseman. Most of us thought he would eventually have to shift to first, but the Pirates did get a fair amount of mileage out of him at third base. In the meantime, his transition to first has gone smoothly -- he's mostly looked very natural at defensive plays that are idiomatic to first base, like stretching to receive a throw, or flipping to a pitcher running to cover the bag. Maybe the Pirates will end up with a plus defensive first baseman for the next couple of seasons before Alvarez becomes a free agent. He was an average-ish defensive third baseman in 2013, so that wouldn't be too surprising.