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Bucs counting on offensive improvements

If team moves Cutch or Harrison, Bell becomes key piece
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- There has been a lot of talk but little action this offseason. So if the regular season began today instead of March 29, the Pirates' lineup would look awfully familiar.

It's entirely possible the Bucs could dramatically change the look of this group by the time they take the field in Detroit on Opening Day. Yet the Pirates have insisted that any improvement this season must come primarily from within, from better health and a higher level of performance from their core players.

PITTSBURGH -- There has been a lot of talk but little action this offseason. So if the regular season began today instead of March 29, the Pirates' lineup would look awfully familiar.

It's entirely possible the Bucs could dramatically change the look of this group by the time they take the field in Detroit on Opening Day. Yet the Pirates have insisted that any improvement this season must come primarily from within, from better health and a higher level of performance from their core players.

The Bucs didn't lose any starting position players to free agency, and they haven't traded anyone -- yet, at least. Nor have they done anything to add to a lineup that ranked 28th in OPS, 28th in runs scored and 29th in home runs last season.

LINEUP IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Josh Harrison, 2B
Starling Marte, LF
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Josh Bell, 1B
David Freese, 3B
Gregory Polanco, RF
Francisco Cervelli, C
Jordy Mercer, SS

STRENGTH
If everybody stays healthy and plays up to their potential, it's a deep lineup without many holes. It may not be a powerful lineup, though there is power potential, but it could still be that high-OBP, keep-the-line-moving group that grinds down starting pitchers early.

There would be speed up top from Harrison and Marte. There would be power in the middle from McCutchen, Bell and, ideally, Polanco. Freese and Cervelli, when they're right, work tough at-bats and get on base at a high clip. Mercer, batting eighth, slugged a career-high 14 homers and tied a career high with 51 walks last season.

QUESTION MARK
Oh, there are a few.

Will Harrison get on base like he did in the first half of 2017? Was last season just an aberration for Marte, or should there be concerns about his post-PED-suspension performance? Can McCutchen avoid another brutal early-season slump? Will Bell take a step forward and hit for a higher average?

Will Freese's work to add more lift to his swing this offseason pay off with more power? (And who else will see time at third?) Can Polanco stay healthy and put it all together for an extended stretch? Will Cervelli stay healthy? Can Mercer get back to mashing lefties like he had his entire career?

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Well, their leadoff man and No. 3 hitter could be playing elsewhere by Opening Day, as trade rumors have surrounded Harrison and McCutchen all winter. Obviously, such moves would significantly impact the look of the lineup and their chances of contending this year.

A McCutchen deal might thrust Bell or Marte into the No. 3 spot while moving Marte to center and opening a hole in left field. Trading Harrison could create more playing time for Adam Frazier, who looked like their best leadoff hitter at times last season, as well as Sean Rodriguez and Max Moroff.

It's possible the Pirates could acquire another infielder this offseason, someone to share time with Freese at third base, but it seems as if most of their moves will be dictated by what they do with McCutchen, Harrison and Gerrit Cole. If they swing a few deals, they could wind up with an MLB-ready prospect capable of filling one of their spots.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen