Pittsburgh Pirates fans continue to scratch their heads wondering exactly who the heck these guys are coaching and running the show for the new Pittsburgh Pirates.
Day-after-day I receive emails asking the same question:
"Do you honestly think this group will make a difference Jake?"
Let’s be serious, if Ryan Doumit doesn’t feel like running hard to first, will any of these guys make him change his mind? If twenty of the players decide to head to Ybor City and club at Prana’s during spring break mid-March, will they not go knowing they aren’t supposed to? Will we start seeing bed checks at 11 PM, 2 AM, and 5 AM during away games?
The entire supporting cast is brand new with only Varsho having ever performed his role at the major league level. So not only are coaches having to learn, but their management team has never been in their roles either so there’s not much help there.
Basically, the entire Pittsburgh Pirates organization is being held together by a man who could have qualified as a Geritol spokesperson twenty years ago – the great Chuck Tanner, who is nearing 80 years young.
I suppose when you look at it like that, if Tanner walked up to Doumit and said "son, if you don’t hustle down that line every at bat for the rest of the year, I’ll make sure you’ll never play another game of professional baseball" could be quite intimidating.
But it won’t come down to that. It won’t have to. Russell and his staff are going to work on team-building within their own ranks first. They have to. The roster as we know it today will eventually be blown up with few survivors and that’s when they will need to start making a difference.
Perhaps as early as 2010.
In the meantime, get to know them. Write them letters in support:
Name of coach
115 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
talk to them in spring training, and go to the games and watch them in action. More importantly, don’t expect them to be perfect because they won’t be. They will need time to gel as a group too.
Bay to the White Sox? Indians? Twins? Mariners? Giants? Heck, now it’s the Yankees. By the time Bay is dealt, if he’s dealt this winter, he’ll probably have been linked to 15 or more teams in baseball.
That type of deal probably isn’t going to be leaked. So the club you haven’t heard Bay linked to is probably where he will end up.
The funniest print story on Bay so far? This one from the Chicago Tribune:
"The Sox have plenty of relievers who could help rebuild the Pirates’ bullpen."
Now reporters are turning to slapstick humor. Hit this Pirate fan with another, Mr. Gonzales. Geezz.. just what we need, a reliever or two for Bay.
Yes, Nate McLouth and Chris Duffy were both mentioned as available in Jerry Cransick’s ESPN article today. But to be quite blunt, Cransick is becoming more of a tabloid rumor mill guy who occasionally gets one right based on the sheer numbers of junk he prints.
Who knows if Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington has offered them up. And more importantly, who would even want Duffy coming off surgery and not having played a solid year of pro ball since 2003? He’s a great cover guy, but come on. And McLouth in centerfield is a disaster and the only corner he could play is left but he doesn’t have the bat for it.
Yes, John Grabow was mentioned as available by the SportingNews today, who also mentioned Wilson and Marte.
Jonathan Mayo released Minor League Baseball’s top 50 prospect list and Andrew McCutchen was ranked 8th. Mayo did it right this year – he polled 20 amateur scouts and compiled their top 30 list into his top 50 list. Good work Jonathan.
Cutch – what’s with the dregs, man? Is that chicken wire for your dancin’?
Poor guy.. can’t get anyone to take a good picture of him.
It’s sickening to see where Rick Porcello is at 14th – three behind David Price and seven higher than Matt Weiters that the fans complained so much about. You may recall, Porcello was one of our choices last year. We missed a quality arm.
You have to wonder, if the Pittsburgh Pirates had raised their ticket prices this year, could they have possibly lost another 7,000 season ticket holders like in 2002? Maybe I should wonder instead if the Pirates even have 7,000 season ticket holders anymore?
Jeety’s Joint actually ponders why the Pirates didn’t raise their prices:
"But as a fan, I’m left a little puzzled. We have new front office leadership, and I’m struggling to see what is being done to improve the team. Aren’t we poor? It feels like they’re avoiding price increases to delay our disgust with them until AFTER the first season. Admirable, I guess."
Nice guy, kewl delivery, wonderful org PR.. no stuff.
Poor Cardinals fans. Last year it was Kip Wells, this year it’s Caesar Izturis. We know how you feel, believe me.
I haven’t praised this new front office team much since they took over but today I’m going to.
Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly deserve a lot of credit for something that’s been going on behind the scenes the last couple of weeks most fans would have never heard about, but I think it’s an important story to tell for a couple of reasons.
One, the person involved needs to know, not only do clubs want him, but the fans do too. And two, the extreme measures the Pirates took attempting to hire one of the best in the game.
Let me explain.
After Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly decided to part ways with Jim Tracy and his staff, Huntington put together his short-list of replacements and presented it to Coonelly. One of the men on that list was a man by the name of Perry Hill.
There are few coaches and managers in the game who are known in the industry as "difference makers" – guys who can single-handedly turn around one aspect of a club through their work. Hill is such a man working with infielders.
Hill had retired with the Marlins in March 2007 because he needed to be with his wife and family. At that point he was in the second year of a four-year contract that extended through 2009.
Since he had retired under contract, the Pirates had to negotiate with the Marlins not only to be able to interview him, but if Hill accepted the position, the Pirates would have had to compensate the Marlins for Hill’s loss.
That’s where this story begins.
Huntington and Coonelly reached an agreement with the Marlins to be able to interview Hill and Hill had tentatively accepted the Pirates offer last week. After Hill agreed, the Pirates then worked out a compensation package to the Marlins thought to be one player.. the name is unknown at this time.
At this point Coonelly and Huntington were jumping up and down in the offices at PNC thinking they had secured one of the best instructors in the game. However, as the week went by, and before signing a contract, Hill called back and told the Pirates he had changed his mind – he still needed to be with his family and he had to put them first in his life.
But Huntington and Coonelly didn’t give up. They methodically worked with Hill to see if there wasn’t some way possible to satisfy his family’s needs so he could return to the game and Hill and his family thought about it. After the Thanksgiving weekend, Hill had made his final decision.. he wouldn’t return in 2008, but 2009 might be an option.
Now folks, clubs don’t go to this extent when they target a hire – they typically make an offer and then receive an answer and that’s it. But Huntington and Coonelly went overboard to try and assist Hill’s family to make them comfortable. They deserve a pat on the back for their work.
As for Hill, I think his family needs to know that "Bone" (Hill’s nickname) is not just a club desired commodity, not just a player desired commodity, but a hot commodity with the fans too. He’s as much a part of the game of baseball as Babe Ruth is, although in a different way. We miss him too and we hope he and his family can come together and find a way for him to come back to the game, and with the Pirates when he does.
That being said, word on the street is the Pirates have settled on Red Sox minor league outfield and baserunning rover Lou Frazier as their first base coach.
Frazier played pro ball for 12 years and has coached since starting with the Indians in 2000 until joining the Red Sox as a rover in 2004. John Russell and Frazier coached the Phoenix AFL team in 2002 together.
Frazier might best be remembered by Pirates fans as the Expos player who said "Pedro doesn’t throw at batters" after Jimmy Leyland’s 1994 team, which included Gary Varsho, brawled with the Expos in Montreal on June 14th and six players were ejected. Many years later, of course, Pedro knocked Don Zimmer to the ground.
That June 14th was one day after the Pirates were no-hit for 8.2 innings by the Expos until Carlos Garcia singled and Jay Bell homered. BTW, June 14th was historical in another way.. the player’s union rejected a salary cap proposal which would have allowed the players to split revenues with the clubs 50/50. Ouch.
Anyway, look for Frazier to work with the outfielders and coach, and look for Tony Beasley work with the infielders and coach third.
Since I built Perry Hill up so much I don’t want to take away anything from Frazier – he’s a quality instructor who will immediately have an effect on Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Andrew McCutchen some in the spring, Steve Pearce, Xavier Nady and even Jason Bay.
And no disrespect to Frazier, but this fan hopes Frazier is hired with the understanding that if Hill is obtained for 2009, he moves to another role with the organization and Hill is told Frazier knows that. But I’d bet even Frazier would be tickled to do that.
Again, kudos to Coonelly and Huntington for a job well done.
How about Jack Bowen being demoted from special assistant to national crosschecker? Word on the street is that Huntington has been discussing this with Bowen for some time and, while it’s a demotion on paper, Bowen is very happy about the move to get back in the field looking at young talent which he is very good at.
I suppose the better question might be, was Bowen even considered to be the Pirates scouting director? Hmm..
Everyone heads to Nashville Sunday for the start of the winter meetings Monday. About the only player I expect to see Huntington step up and deal is Jason Bay, although I’m sure he’ll listen to anything.
Bucco Blog will have a few ears tuned in at the hotel too so keep the dial here.
What an outstanding trade the Rays and Twins put together – Garza for Young. I mentioned here that the Twins and Bucs had talked some (turned out it was a three-team deal) but evidently that was axed somewhere along the line and the Twins moved in another direction.
The Twins are dealing two good arms in order to improve their offense and it’s the type of dealing the Pirates need to consider with Gorzelanny and Snell.
Fabulous stuff.. what success cycles are all about. Oh, and new ballparks for their respective communities too. hehe
After giving kudos to Huntington, I read this tidbit in an article at Pirateball.com:
"As a result, rather than find a temporary veteran fix for 2008, Huntington is more interested in evaluating the players who are already in the system and seeing how they may fit into the equation for next season and beyond.
"For example, we want to know if Jose Bautista is just starting to get going and can establish himself at third," Huntington said, explaining this mentality. "We want to see if Ronny Paulino can become the hitter that he was in 2006. We have some exciting guys in [Nyjer] Morgan and [Steve] Pearce that we want to get playing time. We have players that we want to see."
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Pirates hire a president September 13th who represented Major League Baseball in evaluating player values? Didn’t Bautista play the last six games at home at third? And, didn’t we just hire a GM said to be an outstanding evaluator of talent? And didn’t that same GM just keep on all of Dave Littlefield’s special assistants?
Perhaps they don’t mean the Jose Bautista who can’t even reach a batting average of .300 on balls he puts in play, or was -16 runs FRAA last year (fielding runs above average for the position), or had a .270 EqA? Geezz.. Bautista needs more playing time at third about as much as he needs more innings in center.
But more worrisome about the article’s tone was that it suggests the Pirates want to evaluate talent again in 2008.
That’s sad, if true. Really sad.
Neal Huntington had his online video chat today and he offered up a few tidbits for us:
– it appears he sees Chris Duffy, Steven Pearce, Romulo Sanchez, and Neil Walker starting in AAA next year;
– for ’08 the club is looking to add a backup receiver, middle and corner utility players, and looking for bullpen help;
– he seems to have a 12-man pen in mind;
– he’s still looking to add scouts and scouting supervisors, and he will be adding a 1B coach possibly Thursday;
– Sean Burnett will challenge for a rotation spot in the spring;
– he said Zach Duke feels his mechanics are already "right";
– look for Brad Lincoln to be back in form in 2009;
– the Pirates will take "best available" in the draft, all things considered.
The starting lineup card seems to be the same as last year other than Morgan in CF, barring trades of course. The bench (I have to guess based on his comments) will have Thompson, McLouth, two FA utility players, and Doumit.
A few of his comments caught me off-guard:
– he said Jason Kendall’s throwing problems "improved dramatically" after Russell became a coach. You can decide:
INN SB CS SBA CS % # INN 1 CS No Russell ’99 – ’02 4215 277 135 412 32.8% 31.2 Russell ’03 – ’04 2537 128 60 188 31.9% 42.3 diff -35%
– he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to come in for the GM interview to begin with as if he was reaching out to someone trying to kiss and make up;
– he seemed to indicate Neil Walker’s offensive fades might be health related. That could be why all of a sudden we are hearing Headley rumors – just a guess;
– he stated a scouting 101 answer to the question if the Pirates will take best available in the draft or fill for need by saying "overall upside, probability of obtaining upside, makeup, and signability." Unfortunately, I didn’t hear the word "tools" which I would have expected to be the first thing he said. Scary.
– he seemed to indicate the club will continue to draft with a preference for college players over high school which I mentioned was a concern in my mind with new scouting director Greg Smith’s high regard for picking high school players. We’re just too far away from being able to add years on to development to think high school right now, imo.
– he said Doumit’s injuries have been "strange injuries" which suggested to me a makeup issue in Huntington’s mind;
– he held the Q&A at the same exact time John Perrotto was doing his Q&A at BA on the Pirates prospects. Low blow.
Honestly, it was a very dry, very boring, thirty minute Q&A. If he had any message to get out it seemed directed at the players in that he expects them ready to show up to play, and possibly an "I’m sorry message" he was projecting out to others.
Speaking of Perrotto’s chat on the Pirates prospects, here were a couple of interesting exchanges:
Q: Wilbur Miller from Silver Spring, MD asks:
Is Yoslan Herrera a real prospect, or was this more of a PR stunt? His stuff looked pretty pedestrian to me.
John Perrotto: More like a PR stunt at this point, though the guy hadn’t pitch competitively for nearly three years until last year. I’ll give him a mulligan in 2007 but he has to perform well in 2008 to really be considered a prospect.
Q: Mike from Toronto ON asks:
Sure McCutcheon looks good as a Pirate, but how does he compare to top outfield prospects from last year’s BA top 100? Can you rank McCutcheon, Chris Young (ARI), Jay Bruce, Carlos Gonzales, J Upton, C Maybin?
John Perrotto: Frankly, I’d have to put McCutchen behind all of them at this stage.
Hilarious stuff, but not for the obvious reasons. Anyway, I agree with him on Herrera and McCutchen.
BA’s official Pirates Top Ten prospects are:
1. Andrew McCutchen, of
2. Neil Walker, 3b
3. Steve Pearce, 1b/of
4. Brad Lincoln, rhp
5. Daniel Moskos, lhp
6. Shelby Ford, 2b
7. Jamie Romak, of
8. Brian Bixler, ss/2b
9. Duke Welker, lhp
10. Brad Corley, of
What about the report out of St. Louis which suggests the Cardinals may target Jack Wilson? When a club’s rebuilding and knows it’s going to take more than three years to complete the process, dealing a player like Wilson in the division really isn’t so worrisome. Especially when they will eat his entire salary (although I think he’s underpaid myself and therefore has value to the Cards).
Jerry Cransick at ESPN also reports the Pirates are "actively shopping" Matt Morris. Right, well, there might be someone willing to take on a workhorse. But just how much would we have to sent with him, or does it even matter?
Combine that with the Nady to Padres rumor from yesterday and Jeff Passan’s announcement that Torres and Marte are likely chips to be dealt, and that will officially put broad smiles on Bob Nutting and the rest of the shareholders faces going into 2008.
Seriously, I think the Cards article is a PR move and unlikely to happen, I’m still not convinced losing Nady and McLouth for Headley is a good idea unless Walker’s health is indeed a question mark, and it’s just a matter of time before Marte and Torres are sent packing.
Shane Youman, who was DFA’d when the roster was set, was picked off the wire today by the Phillies. What a shame to lose Youman over Eldred or Barthmaier. Perhaps the 40 pitch type innings Jeff Andrews forced him through at Indy last year fried his arm and we don’t know it yet? Two thumbs down losing a servicable back of the order guy.
But hey – there is good news. Josh Sharpless, Bucco Blog’s 2006 Most Balls Award Winner, sailed through the wire and will again be put into the Pirates system.
Rumors — to be quite honest, there really isn’t much to talk about that I’m hearing yet. The newspapers are drumming up some, and like they say where there is smoke there is probably a fire, but there just isn’t a lot making it to my email box like last year. I tend to believe Huntington’s phone is a lot quieter than he wants it to be right now.
I’ve received quite a few fan essays on how the Pirates should rebuild and I posted Joseph’s below because his was so unique. Some of the essays are way out there, some are mainstream, and some are visionary.
What counts is that they are your thoughts.
So I’ve decided to create an Ebook containing all of the fan essays I’ve received by the end of December and present it to the Pirates.
So fire up your word processor and jot down your visions for the club before the end of the year and email them to me using the contact link on the right sidebar. The folks who submit an essay I use will receive a copy of the Ebook.
Good job everyone.
Trade Andrew McCutchen for Johan Santana if he’ll agree to a 7/168 deal? That’s one person’s vision, although Bob Nutting would have a coronary just thinking about the money.
Just think.. Santana, Gorzelanny, Snell, Perez .. oh wait, he’s gone. Geezz..
Word in the industry today is that the Pirates remain focused on signing Perry Hill as 1B coach but it’s going to take time, if they can make it happen at all.
The Pirates unveiled a tentative spring training schedule today which includes (drumroll from Bradenton please) night games with mosquitoes as big as a fly. Be sure to pack some Raid because they eat Off for breakfast.
Any dibs on who has to make the bus trip to Lakeland?
The City of Salinas, California, is holding their annual Parade of Lights parade Thursday and "Xavier Nandy, a Salinas High School graduate.. and a right fieldman for the Pittsburgh Pirates" is scheduled to be the honorary Grand Marshal.
Poor X. Now I wonder, will he be wearing the beige dress with flip-flops and white socks this year?
The parade’s theme? "One City, Many Cultures." How ironic.
I’m getting bombed with email from Dejan’s Q&A November 27th. I want to respond to one of his comments.
"Look, it has been exhaustively documented that Jim Colborn altered his mechanics in the spring of 2006 and the statistics we have seen since then do not lie. Whatever was done clearly did not work."
Duke pitched well his first full season in 2006 despite having his delivery softened (what Dejan seemingly is calling mechanical changes, but it technically isn’t. Duke had a 4.78 xERA, .7 HR/9, and 71% strand rate). As of June 13th, he still had a Defense Independent Pitching Statistic (DIPS) just 0.31 off Snell and was below the MLB league average of 200 starters despite his ridiculous ERA.
To be blunt, Duke got killed from an inept defense. See this, and this and especially this report. A rookie receiver in Paulino, Wilson failing to glove a ton of balls in play in his zone, of all people Bautista and McLouth playing center, Sanchez trying to handle the hot corner with a limited arm, even Nady and Craig Wilson playing first base. It was a disaster in the making for a pitch-to-contact pitcher.
Now couple that with Duke using a brand new cutter trying to reduce his line drive rate to right hand batters, meaning a lot more ground balls that shot through the infield, and, well, you have a mess. When Duke tossed out the early cutter in favor of his two-seamer starting in June, and the Pirates finally settled on a defensive scheme, he became the boss again (3.65 ERA over 98 innings in the second half).
In 2007, Duke’s arm finally gave out from the new cutter he threw in 2006 and the +54 innings of organizational abuse he was forced to throw in 2006 (192 IP) from 2005 (138 IP) between Jeff Andrews in AAA and Spin Williams in Pittsburgh.
It was just too much.
Now comes along Andrews who says he’s going to resurrect Duke. What will change Duke is getting his heater back up to the 92 – 93 mph range he was at in 2005 and 2006 and that will probably come in 2008 from the rest he had on his elbow and shoulder last year. Not Andrews, and certainly not from any "reincarnated delivery" hocus-pocus. His confidence will come simply by having his body being healthy again.
If it is.
"The Pirates, with new GM Neal Huntington directing yet another rebuilding process, are discussing sending corner outfielder Xavier Nady (.278 batting average, 20 homers, 72 RBI in ’07) and center fielder Nate McLouth (.258, 13, 38, 22 steals) to San Diego for third base prospect Chase Headley (.330, 20, 78 for Double-A San Antonio)." – CBS Sportsline
The Padres need both a left and center fielder, but center more than anything. McLouth in center at Petco wouldn’t be too bad considering he would be running down fly balls all the time which he covers fairly well. It’s the gappers he’s cursed running routes on. And Nady gives them a corner OF they need and sends him home to the Pads, which I’m sure he’d enjoy.
Headley provides the Pirates with a potential league average defender at 3B down the road with an average, but accurate, arm, average range with slower feet, and average glove with soft hands who profiles to rake in the gaps with excellent plate discipline. For Huntington, he’s a culture change individual (educated and plus makeup guy).
The only problem is, Headley doesn’t project out too well as a third baseman, and it’s way too early to tell if that will change. Yes, I know he raked at San Antonio but that’s just it, it was San Antonio. Essentially, he’s a great contact hitter who will man third fine but lacks the projected power a club wants from a corner infielder. The Padres brought him up to showcase him last year which a club doesn’t do if they have long-term plans for a guy.
I’m not so sure this deal should get done. It sounds more like a salary dump than a chance to improve the club with Walker ready to come up as a near equal, if not better.
Why not go after Will Inman instead if he’s healthy?
I would be remiss in not mentioning Baseball America releases the Pirates top 10 prospect list online Wednesday.
John Perrotto wrote the list again this year and there are a few surprises, at least in my opinion. More on this when we unveil our prospect list next week.
Last week, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service launched a free audio podcast to accompany Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente, a traveling and virtual exhibition honoring the life of baseball legend and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. The podcast, available in English and Spanish, features interviews with wife Vera Clemente, son Luis Clemente, biographer David Maraniss, and friend and teammate Manny Sanguillen. The podcast is available for download here.
There’s a live video chat with Pirates GM Neal Huntington today at 1:30.
How to add $12 million to current payroll and build a contender
To build a winning small market team, one needs big winning maneuvers. Simply nibbling at the team chemistry and makeup will not build a contender. Instead, it will modestly improve a loser. Instead, significant change should be pursued, but rather than gut the team, here is how I propose Pittsburgh accomplishes it with realistic financial constraints.
Step One: Address a weakness boldy.
This should be done through a free-agent signing that will 100% solidify a position while giving us an influx of players at the position to deal over the winter. I will concede Pittsburgh may have to pay more than market value for the signing, but it will be worth it. I propose Aaron Rowand. Who wouldn’t want a gold glove centerfielder who hit above .300 with close to 30 home runs? Pittsburgh would have to act serious to get him, it would be difficult, but now would be the time to strike. Get him for $12 million, and let the remaining steps fall into place.
Step Two: Deal the influx.
After signing Rowand, the Pirates would clearly have a more than enough capable outfielders with other team weaknesses. This is where Xavier Nady comes into play. I would package Jason Bay with Ian Snell and go after a third basemen. There are plenty of teams who would take Snell and Bay for a third baseman. The one that comes to mind for me…the Colorado Rockies and Garret Atkins. Sure he had a slow start, so his value is slightly down, but a torrid second half maintained decent value for the young, cheap third-basemen.
Step Three: Trade the deadweight and fill the holes.
This includes trades for anything from low-level prospects to proven, veteran, utility men for the likes of Chris Duffy, Jose Bautista and Ryan Doumit or failed pitchers…we all know who can go. Beyond that, the pitching staff needs finalized. Go for Kyle Lohse, Carlos Silva, Jason Jennings and Matt Clement. Use the savings from Bay’s salary to pay for a combination of these pitchers. Finally, get a few relievers to fill out the pen. Now look at the team:
C – Ronny Paulino (gotten count on Russell)
1B – Adam LaRoche
2B – Freddy Sanchez
3B – Garrett Atkins
SS – Jack Wilson
LF – Nyjer Morgan
CF – Aaron Rowand
RF – Xavier Nady
Steven Pearce – can get plenty of time at First and in Right
Andrew McCutchen – unless he wins the LF job in ST
Jose Castillo – good for IF backup
Nate McLouth – will help smooth the learning curve for M&M – could also earn the job in LF
Utility IF of your choosing
Carlos Silva/Matt Morris
Kyle Lohse/Matt Morris
Bullington/Burnett/whoever else wins a job in the pen
Is this team young? Yes. Is there risk? Yes – any small market team must assume that every year. We as fans must understand some years will be a hit, some a miss. But you can’t continue to attempt the same thing over and over again to no avail. Does this team lack the one big bat we may need? Maybe, but I see four guys in that lineup who would easily project for 30 HRs each.
Add to that some other pop and speed on the field and on the bench. Is the rotation unproven, yet again? Yes, but the likes of Silva, the potential of Lohse or any of our other young starters to hit their stride are there. We know we have enough young arms that at least one will work.
Is this team deep? No, but a small market teams should not be. A small market team must be very willing to hold commodities and move goods, and be fearless of being a constant participant in that cycle. If Atkins goes down, plug in Walker. If Rowand goes down, plug in McCutcheon. If Nady goes down, plug in Pearce. If Morgan goes down, plug in McLouth. If a pitcher goes down, reach down into the farm until the cream rises to the top.
Yes, this is a bold plan. Yes, it would push the financial constraints of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it would certainly be fresh faces with the potential to compete. If this plan doesn’t work, rewrite a new one next offseason.
However, my number one concern is the new management does not have a plan, bold or not. I would prefer a bold plan, but I am hoping management sat down, figured out what they needed to legitimately compete, and mapped a way to get there. Any team can do it, but they have to focus on building a team within financial constraints, not being financially constrained while building a team.
I encourage the new management to think bold. But more importantly, I encourage them to have a plan. Something that appears to be desperate lacking at this point.
"Deal Snell? You must be out of your mind!" — JT, Verona, PA
I’ve received more email the last few days on the Snell subject than any I can recall. Clearly, the fans don’t want to see Ian Snell dealt (5-1 margin). But they also didn’t want to see Giles dealt either and are now thrilled with Bay.
"Are we retooling, rebuilding, or recharging our batteries?" — "Helplessly confused" HY, Freeport, PA
The Pirates haven’t made their intentions known yet so your guess is as good as the next person HY. Those around the industry believe the Pirates are going to somewhat reload, the fans are split on what they should do it seems, and sabermetric types see only one prayer – gutting it.
There was a great post on the Bucco Blog forum which sheds some insight on this subject I think is worth repeating here:
"But I also believe that a bit of the delay is caused by the uncertainties of the F.A. market on other teams. Teams that believed they were in the hunt on Hunter had little desire to take a chance on Bay. Once Rowand, Fukodome and Jones are settled the trade market should pick up.
"The Pirates have three choices: (1) stand pat and look at 95-100 losses, (2) wheel and deal, (3) make one "impact" type trade and hope for improvement. There is also some hope from the F.O. on adding some better players through the non tenders. If there’s not some movement by the 10th or so, I think choice (1) will happen.
"As far as the org. not knowing what direction it’s going in, no less of an astute GM than Beane is in the same boat. So, IMO, all is not lost." — salempirate
There seems to be some hesitation around the ownership group (namely Robert Nutting I would assume) that Neal Huntington might need to get his feet wet for a period of time before turning him loose on gutting whatever part of the franchise he’ll be allowed to remodel. There also seems to be confusion in the front office, but I suppose that’s justified considering it’s a whole new team feeling each other out.
salempirate’s comment about the non-tenders merits consideration because there’s no question teams like the Pirates could pick up a few worthy pieces. But at best they will be marginal role players who aren’t going to dent the improvement of the club. We need impact players.
Lastly, I think the ownership group honestly believes this roster can compete in the central division. Not challenge – just compete. A tweak to the batting order here, starting pitcher rotation schedules there, timely hitting and wham.. 80 wins.
So salempirates #3 choice of the Pirates dealing for one impact player and beefing up the pen would allow Huntington to get his feet wet, stretch out the fire sale so pieces could be dealt incrementally saving the fans from running like PNC has the plague, and ownership allowing Russell and his group one last shot at trying to improve the team in the win column just because they think it’s possible.
That’s probably why we heard all the "we can compete now" rhetoric.
"Buzz on the ‘Burg is reporting the Dodgers and Reds are interested in Snell. Fact or fiction?" — JW, Uniontown, PA
And they also reported the Pirates responded saying they wanted back an MLB ready 3B and prospects.
Puh-lease. Here’s a better set of predictions for you to read.
"So what happened to the Perry Hill signing?" — KN, Houston, TX
I don’t know. One day my source said he was locked, the next day the source said he wasn’t going to return this year. I do know his wife had been ill and he wanted to be by her side and perhaps he still does. I don’t know.
From the tidbits I got back on the rumor, I gathered he was still under contract with the Marlins and it would require the Pirates satisfying the Marlins first to be able to bring him into the fold. Now it could be negotiations are still ongoing and that’s why we don’t see a 1B coach yet. Personally, I’d be tickled pink to see Hill in Pittsburgh.
Hopefully the Pirates can satisfy Hill’s needs as well as the Marlins to get him employed since he was targeted. But the last I heard he was no longer a candidate this year. We’ll see when the Pirates announce the position.
"For the love of God, please tell me that the Pirates won’t be forced to take a LHP with the #2 overall pick. If it happens, I am almost sure I will hang up my black and gold jersey for good. Don’t the Rays have a ton of hitting prospects but are paper thin at pitching?" — JS, New York City
It’s going to be hard for the Pirates to pass up on Matusz unless the Rays skip on Alvarez. Matusz throws mid-90′s comfortably with great late break (think Mike Gonzalez without the maximum effort delivery) and already has a highly rated change and curve.
There is some speculation that he may slide in the draft next year because his innings worked in 2007 was fairly hefty over 2006 which may cause some dead arm periods in 2008. We’ll have to watch how he does next year.
Here’s a little bit on Don Long who is said to be the Pirates next hitting instructor.
Years ago, Branch Rickey devised a formula he used in his attempt to put the Pirates back on the map. Unfortunately for Rickey, the Pirates lost 100 or more games the last three years he was with the club but his work was forever entrenched. Just three years after leaving, the team went past the .500 mark and two years later, won the 1960 World Series.
Rickey’s formula essentially showed him that the Pirates were putting men on base at a better than league average rate but they were being stranded well below league average rate. In other words, his team lacked clutch hitting.
One interesting part to Rickey’s thoughts to me for that time period was that he admitted the game had changed so much and that he had failed to recognize it over the years. Offense, he said, had become king of the game.. not pitching and defense.
Rickey’s type of revelation led to events over the years like analysis of the Moneyball Effect, to teams hiring sabermetric notables (Red Sox, Bill James; A’s, Gary Huckabay; Indians, Keith Woolner) or even a NASA biomathematician/scientist (Cards, Sig Mejdal). Lately, the new craze is younger GM’s.
Everybody wants an edge.
But no matter how many different twists have been put into the pot over the years, Rickey’s simple thoughts remain today.. offense minus defense = net placement. Simple yet logical, huh?
Let’s see how the NL did last using Rickey’s basic formula including the weighting of 54% offense and 46% pitching without plugging in defense. Instead, I’ll add Mitchel Lichtman’s (better known as MGL) UZR total runs as of July 2007 which is far from perfect but will give you an idea how the team’s defense was doing. Remember the formula now, offense – defense = net placement:
(reference note: XB power is extra base power; off (offense) *1.08 and P (pitching) *.92 adjusts for Rickey’s 54%/46% values; the higher the offensive and UZR numbers, the better; the lower the pitching numbers, the better. For those curious, the correlation between Rickey’s total and win % is .813.)
It’s pretty easy to see why the Rockies ended up in the World Series this way – OBP and defense carried them. It’s also easy to see why the Brewers are such an increasing threat in the division with their league leading clutch hitting and overall offense.
Now look at the Pirates.. the combined offensive and pitching production was more than 25% off the NL median, no thanks to the worst pitching in the league. That ‘ain’t gonna work, Rickey might suggest. Notice too they had near league average defense which obviously didn’t mean much, just as Rickey suggested.
True, the Pirates have some decent core pitching. True, they are a young group who we expect to see get better. But with only two quality pieces in Snell and Gorzelanny, it’s improbable the Pirates will ever gain any significant ground in the league waiting around for betterment. And toss all the OBP you want into the lineup, with the staff the Pirates have they will never outscore their opponents unless we spend $100M a few years in a row.
Let’s get serious.
It’s time to trade young arms for young bats. Keep Gorzelanny and build around him with the expectation of signing him to a long-term deal in a year or two, and deal the rest.
As for holding onto Bay, Nady, LaRoche, Wilson, Sanchez, et al? Why hold them? Deal them for the best prospect packages we can get to build around toolsy McCutchen for 2010 and on.
In other words, we have one impact starter and one toolsy center fielder.. now Huntington, deal our system/roster to fill in the pieces of the puzzle.
What are we waiting for? What can there possibly be to think about?
For those asking, my opinion is..
no.. Bay won’t get us Lincecum. The Giants would be nuts to take on two years of Bay for him.
no.. we have zero interest in Clement.
no.. Duffy won’t be starting in Indy. Why in the world would Huntington punish Duffy, who happens to be the 8th best CF defender in the game right now, for health problems? Unless, of course, he needs rehab. Nobody ever said if he had a torn rotator cuff or just some clean up.
I don’t know what is sorrier.. waiting for news about the Pirates, getting it, then realizing it’s either org PR or just way out in left field, or not having any news at all.
"Watch Morgan run! Watch Morgan slide! Oh.. ughhh.. he over ran the bag again.."
"Watch Morgan run! Watch Morgan dive! Oh.. ughhh.. he landed 10 feet short from the ball and Dunn is going for an inside the park home run!"
"I live for this?"
It’s time to take a look around the Pirates farm system as we work towards announcing Bucco Blog’s 2008 top ten prospects.
A few pitching performances that stand out in the system last year:
Dewon Brazelton and Shane Youman dominated the starters in the Pirates farm system last year but unfortunately, Neil Huntington DFA’d Youman and Brazelton was immediately signed by the Cardinals after the season. John Van Benschoten, Byran Bullington, and then Luis Munoz rounded out the top five.
As for relievers, the Pirates have quite a few. Krebs work in Hickory is no surprise if you follow the ‘Dads. He pitched very well when he found the zone.
I think the shocker of the year has to be Charles Benoit, the 10th rounder in 2006. Not only did he dominate the Sally League, he carried it forward out to Hawaii and dominated there as well. Perhaps he should be given a shot at starting? I don’t know enough about him to say.
I think I expected too much of Arizona State product Pat Bresnahan last year. He was drafted in the 5th round in 2006 and then came into the system that year and tossed another 68 innings. I think he took a step backwards in 2007 because of the extra workload that year despite his wonderful numbers and 2008 could be an exciting year for him, probably in Altoona. That is, if the Pirates find a rover who can keep him in the zone.
And now a few hitting performances that stand out:
Yep – three catchers. Look at Sanchez’s walk rate.. the equivalent of one every 4.3 at bats. Wow. He was very old for the league but he raked none the less. Pacheco was old for Hickory too but he finally figured low-A ball out and had a very good year.
Now compare Ford and Walker. Despite the fact Walker had more power, Ford was only 1/2 a run per nine innings off the 1st rounder’s production. That’s pretty impressive for a middle infielder even though Walker was probably still a bit under the gun from his wrist injury the year before. Ford ended up missing the last part of the season from back problems related to his newly implemented weight lifting regime so he should be back in the saddle in 2008. I can’t wait to see where his power numbers go.
Jared Keel, 31st rounder in 2006, has to be the surprise of the year – he mashed at Hickory in up and down streaks until he finally gave out from fatigue the last month. But what makes Keel’s performance all that more interesting is that he played numerous positions all year while raking. I’m guessing Kyle Stark will settle him into a corner outfield role at Lynchburg and watch and see what he’ll do instead of continuing to push the super utility button Graham had imposed on him.
While there are a few quality pieces around, they are few and far between. Stark has inherited a totally marginal system with holes everywhere, so he has his work cut out for him, especially if Huntington, Coonelly, and Nutting refuse to gut the big league team for prospects.
A friend of mine close to the Rays say they have been talking internally about Jack Wilson. Now, I laid this rumor to rest earlier in the month saying it would never happen but there might be renewed interest. I’m hearing the Pirates made it known Wilson wasn’t available to a different club at winter meeting and that circulated around the hotel. Now some are hearing that rumor might have been planted.
I would be shocked if the Rays take on Wilson’s contract and give up a prospect knowing what I do about the Rays. Plus, I can’t see Huntington playing Castillo 155 games at short, although if he’s serious about rebuilding then it’s a no-brainer. We’ll have to see where this goes.
My Ian Snell piece yesterday spurred one NL person to email me today and say Huntington "doesn’t seem to have an idea where he’s going yet." Evidently Huntington has a couple of folks pe’od because he may have indicated more product would be available earlier than he’s offering up and those teams were counting on it. So they have asked him to get off the pot and deal before the GM meetings in December.
One scout thinks the Pirates are playing this "We dunno what we’re goin’ to do…" game all along hoping to get better values late. A lot of teams have baited the market hoping to steal value but those teams won’t be able to continue that posture anywhere near as long as the Pirates can. The longer the Pirates hold out guys like Marte and Snell, the more they are going to get for them by desperate teams who are in need.
Interesting concept.. if it works.
The market for Jason Bay is diminishing by the hour but there are several teams interested if Huntington will deal him with the assumption they are taking on risk. That’s not the way Huntington wants to deal Bay I’m guessing so don’t be too surprised if the Pirates keep him hoping he mashes early and someone hits the DL on a team going somewhere. If a club offers the 2 – 3 prospect package of players Huntington wants, Bay will be gone.
An email from a Pirate fan today speculated that teams could be playing Huntington early because he doesn’t have a trade record and he’s a newbie GM wanting to look good. That’s reasonable, but I think every GM plays every GM for all they can get so that’s nothing new.
But it is important to watch what Huntington does. So far he’s added some minor league depth like any GM would do and DFA’d a back of the rotation southpaw he’s all but certain to lose. In minimal at bats, Huntington is batting .205.
Readers have been asking me if the Pirates gut the roster, should they be gutting Gorzelanny, Capps, and Sanchez too. My thought is this – if Huntington can improve the club dealing any player in the system, he should do the deal. Nobody should be untouchable.
That being said, Gorzelanny is about as close to ace material as the Pirates have had in years so a 4+ prospect package of players who can step in and play today isn’t outrageous by any means with his service time and our lack of desire to deal him.
Sanchez? His defensive game was off in 2007, he’s a league average defender at third, a singles hitter who hits better than league average in a big park.. I’m not so sure Huntington can get better than he has with Sanchez keeping him at second.
Capps? I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, his numbers don’t suggest he’s going to continue to dominate. He had a nice 2007 ERA.. the question is, was that the best we’ll ever see out of him? If so, does that warrant a thought about dealing the power arm? Or should Huntington keep him no matter what knowing he’d at least become a premiere setup man if he falls out of grace closing?
I expect Capps, Gorzy, and Sanchez will all be around for 2008 unless Huntington gets blown off the map with an offer, and that’s not likely unless it’s late July and a team is in the hunt.
Forget my thought about Kenny Lofton manning centerfield I had the other day. After finally taking the time to compute play-by-play defensive stats, Lofton is a disaster anymore. Now paying for Mike Cameron..
Some have asked me about Coco Crisp and I’ve been telling them we have a Crisp defender in Duffy. I’d rather go get a BJ Upton or even Josh Hamilton (is he even healthy?) for the extra bat on top of near equivalent defense. We can stand to sign someone on a three year deal with McCutchen taking a corner (left?) in 2009 and 2010.
Spurring the Brewers, the Reds signed Cordello to a 4/46 deal and everyone immediately called it a ridiculous signing. That’s $11.5M per year which is about the same as a +2.5 win player would get playing 162 games.
The money is high but it typically is when a team targets. Cordello will probably put 10 wins in the Reds pocket next year from 2007 and that makes them a .500 team (in theory, of course). Now if they can only get rid of Griffey and his $16.5M contract, they might have something over there.
"Pittsburgh’s Ian Snell. Teams that have talked to the Pirates say they’re in the midst of a monstrous internal debate about whether they’d be willing to at least dangle Snell, a major 26-year-old talent who had more quality starts this year (22) than Santana or Roy Oswalt and a better strikeout rate (7.66 per 9 innings) than Carlos Zambrano or Ben Sheets." — Jason Stark, ESPN, Nov 21
When I first read Stark’s comment earlier this week I wasn’t surprised to see the Pirates front office was without a cohesive rebuilding plan or, if they did have one and dealing Snell wasn’t a part of the rebuilding process, then they were obviously lacking leadership.
Over the last six days I’ve received a few anonymous emails on Snell and one of them was stuffed with pitch and statistical data that would blow the average fan out of the water. For instance..
Between 2005 and 2007, there were 170 MLB pitching performances where at least 15 starts were made in one year and the pitcher was between the ages of 23-27. Snell had two of those performances.. one in 2006 and one in 2007.
The median xERA (expected ERA – a forward looking stat – based Dwight Gill’s version he used with the Indians) of all 170 performances was 4.23 over 28,731 innings. Snell averaged 4.43, or was 5% below average. However in 2007, Snell’s 3.93 xERA was 7% better than the median and 21% better than his 4.97 xERA in 2006.
Now, because the starting pitching free agent market is so thin this year there is quite a seller’s market for quality pitchers. To give you an idea of what I mean, nearly 25% of the best 34 performances (top 20% of the 170 overall) were performed by five names you’ve heard as being potentially available in the media: Scott Kazmir, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, Erik Bedard, and Dontrelle Willis. That’s amazing considering there were only 25 unique names in those top 34.
But what’s more interesting is that every one of those teams offering up the young talent are young rebuilding clubs, wanting to get younger, or wanting to get better – the Rays, Orioles, Giants, Twins, and Marlins.
That brings us back to Ian Snell. I mentioned above he had a 21% xERA improvement from 2006 to 2007. Only six pitchers in the 170 performance group had improvements higher than Snell in the period:
|yr from||yr to||% improv||yr to xERA|
Is Snell really a Francis or Perez?
That brings us to the Pirates and Stark’s column. If the Pirates offer up Snell, what could they realistically expect to get back for him if his two-year performance median is a tick below the MLB young gun average, but his improvement rate suggests a breakout season in 2007?
Perhaps two or three 0-3 year players that could start everyday right now? Would that be enough considering Snell is going to provide the Pirates five more years of service at below market cost? Remember now, the Pirates don’t have a replacement anywhere in the system for Snell, and they are not likely to get back another young power arm unless that pitcher is a lower level prospect.
At the same point, the Pirates are headed down the road to lose another 90 in 2008 with or without Snell, so gutting the team certainly makes some sense. The old saying is, you have to build a success cycle to consistently win and even if Bay, Nady, LaRoche, and Sanchez were all dealt and prospects obtained over the winter, the team is still going nowhere with Snell on the mound.
My thought has always been Snell is an 80-pitch, two-pitch pitcher and he’s been very, very lucky. I would take the position he’s at his high value point right now and deal him expecting a package of two to three solid young core players, at least one being a lower level young gun power arm.
The Pirates? They will probably hold on to Snell knowing Robert Nutting’s penchant of avoiding controversy with the fans ultimately hoping he sells more tickets in 2008 and giving a dam about the future of this club.
No-brainer.. deal Snell. Not for a king’s ransom, but a reasonable ransom, if it can be had.
Since Jeff Andrews was anointed the Pirates pitching coach Wednesday, I’ve asked Vegas to consider running a book on how long it will be before the first Pirate arm breaks.
The early odds? 9-2 before the AS break. Now who will it be?
Andrews mentions in a Post-Gazette article he wants to begin his own tinkering parade with Zach Duke.. to be his savior, if you will.
Right.. when Duke can start finding a 94 mph heater to throw under batters chins to go along with his soft stuff away, maybe he’ll turn around his 13.5 H/9, 1.2 HR/9, 3.4 K/9 game.
Last year Duke would pitch from the middle of the rubber one game, the next time out he’d be over to the right side (looking from home plate).
Then he’ll speed up his arm motion one game while mixing in more 4-seamers upstairs, the next game it will be all 2-seamers low and in while slowing down his arm motion.
He’s a classic example of a pitcher who tips nearly every pitch he throws and Andrews can’t do a thing about that except watch him rack up another 5.25+ ERA in 2008, we’re guessing.
Pirate fans are livid Josh Phelps was designated for assignment. Coming over from the AL, Phelps felt pretty comfortable in the box and strung together some positive at bats, especially at PNC where he raked. On the road, well, it was a different story.
Phelps is a utility outfielder which the Pirates currently have McLouth, Morgan, and Pearce to fill the role. Some have argued that Phelps would have been a better keep than McLouth since speedy Duffy and Morgan are both on the roster, but I’m not so sure.
If there is playing time, the younger Pearce should get it until he proves he either can’t hit the ball anymore or he can’t cover the ball playing right field. And if Bay is dealt down the line, McLouth has to step up in left (I shutter as I say that) unless Huntington gets a veteran corner in return or simply gives up worrying about defense.
There just isn’t any at bats for Phelps so he was a logical drop it seems.
The Pirates picked up 34 year old Raul Chavez to fill a catching spot. The question is, where.
The Pirates signed free agent receiver Michel Hernandez last week who is sure to be assigned to Indy so I have to assume Chavez will be the starter there if Cota isn’t returning.
But wait a minute.. did the Pirates sign Brian Peterson again for Altoona or is Steven Lerud or Denny Nino going to be sent there? Neither are ready and Kristopher Watts is right on their tail. And what about Maldanado? Are the Pirates going to resign him? I assume not, unless he’s going back to Altoona.
Now Chavez will run circles around Paulino or Maldando in receiving, game management, and probably even throwing out baserunners with the staff we have in Pittsburgh, so there’s a teeny chance he could break the 25-man as the backup receiver despite no bat. Anybody but Doumit behind the plate would be an upgrade, IMO.
We’ll have to see where this goes. Perhaps Doumit is/will be shopped.. or dropped? Probably not, but..
Torii Hunter signed at 5/90 with the Angels. For a +3.2 win player, that’s a ton of money. Perhaps the value is on getting Gary Matthews Jr now? Ok.. I’ll stop dreaming like a GM from a club wanting to go somewhere.
Scott Linebrink, age 31, signed a 4/19 with the White Sox. Didn’t he have a 1.8 HR/9 at pitching safe haven Petco last year notching a 5.40 xERA over 45 innings? He then had a 4.31 xERA with the Brewers in limited innings. He’s two years removed from reasonable numbers and now headed to pitch at home run city U.S. Cellular Field. He’s going to get mauled for four years. Horrible signing.
Kendall 1/4 by the Brewers? For a -.5 win MLB backup receiver, that’s about right.
Charles Benoit, Blair Johnson, Jamie Romak, Brad Corley and Alexander Presley didn’t impress Baseball America one bit in Hawaii, as none of them broke BA’s top 20 Hawaii prospect list (subscription required).
I’m sorry, but I respectfully disagree that Brad Corley didn’t do better with the bat than singles hitter Jonathan Lucroy, although I understand Lucroy has a better upside as a young receiver. Corley deserved to be on the list.
Bucco Blog was a top ten finalist in the 2007 Blogger’s Choice Awards we found out yesterday. Hundreds of sports blogs were submitted by the fans and we were the highest ranked Pirates and MLB.com sports blog. Thanks to everyone who voted for us!
Speaking of awards, the fine folks at the Bloggy Award are in the process of reviewing our site to see how rank, er, um.. how we rank. We’re pretty limited in design capability with MLBlogs outdated Typepad software platform but we’re hoping they see through all that.
All the rumors not fit to print will start showing up in Bucco Blog’s new discussion forum.
I’m off to camp out at Penny’s with a friend since they have the only complete Webkinz collection AND Bumblebee Transformer’s in town. Ah Christmas.. the things we do for our kids. Oh, for those of you who thought by the title of the post Webkinz might be a new player the Pirates signed, sorry. Instead, it’s one of the hottest new toys for kids.