Last year, the Pirates got off to a hot start. They hung around 1st place for the first half, but eventually faded. Is it possible they built on 2011?
Getting Erik Bedard to anchor the rotation is a gamble, but it's a low risk/high reward gamble. He's only being paid 4.5 mil and is just on a 1 year deal. If he's pitching well and the Pirates are out of it, he might be the most sought after target at the trade deadline. He's got every incentive to pitch well, and frankly when healthy, he's very, very good.
Now it looks like they are about the acquire AJ Burnett. Burnett can still get an out with a K, 173 last year in 190 IP. His ERA will likely drop by a full run going to the NL Central (Might have dropped more had he gone to a bit better team in the NL Central) He could get 200K's this season and give the Pirates a pretty decent 1-2 punch. Once an injury problem, he's been durable since 2008 averaging 33 starts a season.
Maholm is gone but replaced with two better pitchers.
I like a lot of the position players for Pittsburgh, but none more than Andrew McCutchen. He can flat out play. The Pirates are short on power, long on speed. They will play a lot of smallball and try to get teams to beat themselves.
A weakness without a doubt was the bullpen. I liked Veras... gone. Grilli was babied a bit last year, but it was a good year. Meek is awful, Resop... a very up and down career, but he threw a lot of pitches last year. Maybe that isn't a problem for relievers. Hanrahan was outstanding.
But the biggest problem is the offense. Some potential at 3B and CF is rock solid. Everywhere else is kinda meh, but there is enough if the pitching is strong to make some noise again in 2012. I don't think they can contend, but I do think they can make life miserable for the teams that can contend.