Christina Kahrl: What's your second act after ending a multi-decade losing streak and going to the playoffs? A full season from Gerrit Cole and health among the vets might cover for A.J. Burnett's departure, but the failure to add a big bat at first base or right field places the burden of repeating on their lineup regulars.
Dan Szymborski: It's very tempting to call the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates a fluke. You could do so, but you'd be wrong. The Pirates' front office, headed by Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington, have taken the long view, incrementally improving the team after 15 years of chronic mismanagement. The Pirates have an excellent minor league system, and the amazing thing in last year's performance is that they did so well without many of their top prospects, names such as Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson, being ready for the majors. The 2013 season was built on patience and low-risk, high-upside signings, and the best is still yet to come for the Pirates as the best of their prospects push their way into starting gigs. The Pirates did mismanage the A.J. Burnett situation, by not offering their veteran innings-eater a qualifying offer and by then guaranteeing Edinson Volquez, a pitcher who hasn't been a significant contributor since 2008, $5 million for this season. It won't keep the Pirates from grabbing a wild-card spot and making the Cardinals sweat at least a little in 2014.