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Where’s the offense?

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DALLAS — The Pirates ranked 14th in the NL last season with 3.77 runs scored per game. They ranked 14th in hits, home runs and slugging percentage. They were 12th on on-base percentage and 15th in total bases. So far, they’ve added Rod Barajas (who has a .698 OPS and 125 homers over 13 seasons) and Clint Barmes (.703 OPS and 73 homers in nine seasons) — neither of whom will do much to spark the offense. “We feel like we’ve upgraded the club with Barajas and Barmes, probably more defensively than offensively,” GM Neal Huntington admitted. “Both guys have more power than the guys we had in those positions (last season).”

And yet, Huntington is optimistic that the Pirates’ offense will be better in 2012 because … well, just because it can’t be any worse. “There are realistic expectations we’re going to improve offensively at almost every spot on the diamond,” Huntington said. “We feel like we’ve got a chance to upgrade our offensive internally before we do anything externally. We need some things to go right. We need some guys to mature and develop. And if there’s a fit externally that upgrades us, we’ll certainly take a look at it.”

It’s reasonable to figure that Pedro Alvarez can’t be as awful again as he was all of last year, so there’ll be more pop from third base. Huntington is banking on significant, measurable improvements from Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Alex Presley. The GM also seems willing to gamble that the first base platoon of Garrett Jones and Jake Fox/Nick Evans will produce.

Will all that happen? I’m not buying it. I tend to think that what we’ve seen from Walker, Tabata and Presley is what we’ll get — that’s not a bad thing, but it’s tough to foresee off-the-charts improvement. And I can’t believe any team could charge major league ticket prices for that kind of first base platoon. There remains plenty of room for improvement offensively.

»»» The Baseball Writers Association of America and MLB Network reached an agreement to televise the announcement of the rookie of the year, Cy Young, manager of the year and MVP awards, starting for the 2012 season. For the first time, the finalists (top five for MVP and top three for the other categories) will be announced in advance.

»»» Congrats to Pirates PR guy Jim Trdinich, who won the Robert O. Fishel Award, given to the top team public relations person in MLB. Trdinich has worked 27 years in baseball, including the past 23 years as a full-time member of the Pirates’ front office. The Fishel Award was created in 1981. Trdinich is the first winner from the Pirates.

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