PITTSBURGH -- In a moment of extreme candor on the final morning of the 2012 season, manager Clint Hurdle dropped the flag on competition for starting jobs with the 2013 Pirates.The view from here is that it won't be wide open. The corner outfield spots will be intensely contested, and Garrett Jones' strong comeback season throws him into a complicated situation at first base with Gaby Sanchez. Otherwise ... "[Andrew] McCutchen will play center, [Clint] Barmes will play short, [Pedro] Alvarez will play third, [Neil] Walker will play second, and [catcher Michael] McKenry is going to be back," Hurdle said in his final pregame media session of the season. "Jones, going in, has added value to find a spot for him. "Those are things you know going in, so you're talking about maybe two positions -- the two outfield corners that are going to be up for competition." Six months ago, Alex Presley opened this season in left field and Jose Tabata was the man in right. Both remain very much in the picture, but next spring they will have to fight off Starling Marte and Travis Snider, respectively. "Presley and Tabata were challenged this season, no secret about that," Hurdle said. "Marte, we have a better idea of his Major League skills and what he must still work on. So we have four guys in-house that we are going to look at [for the two outfield corner spots]. That's about as transparent as you can get."
Hurdle proud of progress, stung by finish
PITTSBURGH -- You can't sugarcoat it. Not that Clint Hurdle ever tried. But when you remove the gray of the Pirates' progress, leaving only the black-and-white of their finish, Hurdle admitted "Yes, yes," this is the toughest-to-take finish of his decade as a Major League manager."I'm not happy with the finish at all," said Hurdle, whose midseason contenders broke the tape with a sub-.500 record. "I don't think you can just walk away from all that we were able to accomplish, but we continue to demand a lot of ourselves. Winning something of value, some tangible evidence -- a championship, a division. A playoff opportunity." Hurdle alluded to the Pirates' image improving in Major League circles; "street cred," he called it. "We're striving for excellence, not looking for external acceptance," Hurdle said. "But the conversations I've had with opposing players and managers ... in their perception, we're gaining traction." The sum of the 2012 Pirates' positive parts definitely did not add up to a satisfactory whole. "The pitching, overall, continued to evolve in a much better fashion,"said Hurdle, running down his top takeaways. "The increased power. In the bullpen, we had our men go post to post. "Individually ... the emergence of [Andrew] McCutchen, [Neil] Walker was about to have his breakout season [until herniating a disc in late August], [Pedro] Alvarez became a factor. [Garrett] Jones had a strong bounce-back season."
The last word
"There is more to do. There is unfinished business in front of us."
-- Hurdle, signing off on a 2012 season in which the Pirates significantly improved their win total for the second straight campaign.
The trio of Andrew McCutchen (31), Pedro Alvarez (30) and Garrett Jones (27) entered the final game with the fifth-highest home run total (88) for three Pirates teammates in club history. They were one from tying the fourth-highest of 89 shared by the 1949, '73 and '99 editions. The Bucs also have a trio of pitchers with 12-or-more wins (A.J. Burnett, James McDonald and Kevin Correia) for the first time since 1991, when the names were John Smiley, Zane Smith and Doug Drabek. That does not include former Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez, who went 5-4 with the Pirates toward his overall record of 12-13. Pittsburgh's season-long nightmare with the running game had an odd turnaround in the last two weeks of the season. Prior to Wednesday's finale, the Bucs had been successful on 14 of 19 steal attempts -- while throwing out four of 11 opposing runners.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.