The goal of a sixth World Series title, the one Controlling Owner Bob Nutting talked about at length during spring training, never materialized. The fact a world championship evolved from something preposterous to something very tangible will only fuel an offseason designed to prove the last six months were no fluke.
"I think it's one thing to be happy and one thing to realize how far along we come and how much we can improve," Alvarez said. "It's been a realization of all the hard work we've put in but at the end of the day we still have a lot of work to do."
Figuring out how to go about it, however, will be tricky. Though Pittsburgh's $73 million payroll was the highest in club history, it also ranked just 26th in baseball. And despite the windfall of two dozen sellouts and the second-largest attendance figure since the team was founded in 1887, general manager Neal Huntington knows the Pirates can't just start throwing money around. So does his boss.
"I think that the playing field is not level, never will be. But we as the Pittsburgh Pirates have committed ourselves to never using that as an excuse," Nutting said. "Is it easier to build a great club with $200 million than with $75-$80 million? Absolutely. But I believe -- have always believed and will continue to believe -- that we can be competitive at that level.
"We need to make smart decisions."
The decisions this winter will include whether to bring back A.J. Burnett, who put together a solid 10-11 season at age 36 and proved to be a capable mentor to youngsters like Cole and Jeff Locke. Burnett has hinted at retirement, but the truth is he may have pitched so well he priced himself out of the market.
The same goes for outfielder Marlon Byrd, part of a rare summer splurge. Byrd hit .318 in a month with Pittsburgh and was its most consistent hitter in six postseason games. While Byrd enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh, he also turned 36 in August and will likely look for a multi-year deal.
If Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez -- who has an option for 2014 but spent the last four months of the season dealing with arm problems -- don't return, the Pirates will have to fill at least one spot in the rotation. Right field and first base are also a question mark if Byrd and Garrett Jones move on.
The last time Pittsburgh made the playoffs, it took 21 years to get back. There are no plans to have the gap repeat itself.
"This franchise is a great franchise, a franchise that won," McCutchen said. "We're going to continue to keep that sail up on that boat and keep going."