The Pirates have made the postseason three years in a row, but that streak could be in danger in 2016. It's not a guarantee or anything, but they decided to play it a little safe and inexpensive at the same time the Cubs were spending all the money and the Cardinals are still, well, the Cardinals. Luckily for the Pirates, they are still the Pirates, and that means they are still capable of restoring the careers of pitchers, and are also the only team with Andrew McCutchen.
David Freese was the last free agent of note the Pirates signed, but he could end up being a significant piece for them just the same. He was locked out of a job because there are third basemen everywhere, not because he's ineffective, and the Pirates managed to get him on a steal of a contract at a time when they had an opening at third.
All additions: David Freese, Jon Niese, John Jaso, Ryan Vogelsong, Juan Nicasio, Neftali Feliz, Cory Luebke
Losing Neil Walker hurts, but having to watch J.A. Happ sign for real money elsewhere after fixing him is the kind of thing that could haunt the Pirates late into 2016. Assuming, of course, they don't just fix the next wave of broken arms they've uncovered.
All departures: J.A. Happ, Neil Walker, Aramis Ramirez, Pedro Alvarez, A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo
The Pirates are stretching those project muscles in 2016, but it could pay off. They still have Francisco Liriano and their ace, Gerrit Cole, and they're attempting to add a revamped Jon Niese and Juan Nicasio to that pair to help round out the rotation. At this point, you just have to assume their plan will work until it doesn't, because they're partially responsible for Edinson Volquez winning a World Series game. With John Jaso and David Freese joining a lineup with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, and Jung Ho Kang due back eventually, the Pirates have the well-rounded team to make it to the playoffs four years in a row.
The Pirates can be a good team in 2016, and still miss the playoffs in a top-heavy National League. If their reclamation projects don't work out this time around, they have less wiggle room given the potential dominance of the Cubs mixed with a potentially strong NL West scene and the ever-looming presence of the Cardinals.
Lineup: John Jaso, Andrew McCutchen, David Freese, Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer
Rotation: Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio, Jeff Locke