Pirates set lofty goals for 2017

Team eager to leave tough 2016 behind and return to playoffs

Pirates set lofty goals for 2017

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Pirates squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates are coming off an imperfect season, a 78-win campaign that occasionally felt as if it was governed by Murphy's Law. Most everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong.

Pittsburgh's rotation faltered from the top down, starting with Gerrit Cole's injuries. Andrew McCutchen was not himself. The bullpen struggled early and late in the season. Their catchers, key to their run prevention plan, were injured. Plenty of bright spots shined through, to be sure, but they were ultimately obscured by more prominent flaws.

Across the Majors, goals set for 2017

On Tuesday, the Pirates were projected by two outlets -- USA Today and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA -- to finish 81-81 this year. But for a moment, forget the prognostications and think of the possibilities. What does their perfect season look like?

"The easy answer is winning a World Series," general manager Neal Huntington said, "and we'll figure out every day how to get there."

Spring Training: Information | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

How might that happen? In a perfect season, the Pirates get back to the playoffs because everything goes right after a year in which most everything went wrong.

McCutchen is "Cutch" again, the Pirates' best hitter and a capable defender in right field -- and he stays in Pittsburgh. Cole bounces back with a healthy season, throwing 200 quality innings and giving the Pirates a good chance to win every fifth day. Ivan Nova's resurgence is real.

Meanwhile, Starling Marte hits over .300, steals 50 bases and wins his third straight Gold Glove Award (his first in center field). After a great first half in 2016, Gregory Polanco puts it all together for a full season. Jung Ho Kang stays on the field and swings a 30-homer bat behind McCutchen.

Outlook: Marte, OF, PIT

Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Chad Kuhl and Adam Frazier step forward, with Bell a finalist for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Tyler Glasnow cracks the rotation and flashes his potential. Francisco Cervelli stays healthy, puts up another .370 OBP and steals strikes behind the plate.

Set up by a deep bullpen, Tony Watson shows he's closer material. Rather than trading players like McCutchen and Watson at the deadline, the Bucs are in position -- and get the green light from ownership -- to add to their roster.

Watson ends game with a K

In a perfect season, even things the Pirates can't control break their way. The Cubs finally deal with injuries in their rotation and at least hang back near the rest of the NL Central pack. The Cardinals' offseason additions aren't enough and they miss the postseason again.

Is all of that going to happen? Probably not, almost certainly not all at once. But it's within the realm of possibility. And what better time than Spring Training, the start of a new year, to dream about a perfect season?

"A perfect season is staying healthy, our young players growing and developing, our young veterans growing and developing," Huntington said. "Doing what we need to do. Having young players in our system come up and help us win. Our fans falling in love with this team again.

"There's a ton of different ways that can go, but the most simplistic answer is we win the World Series."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.