Friday, July 31, 2009

Your 2009 Pirates...Finally

The new I-gotta-get-a-scorecard Buccos and the Nats put together an interesting little game tonight, with the Pirates holding on for a 5-4 victory in front of 23,363 curious fans at PNC.

Hey, sometimes games between cellar-dwellers have as many story lines as a battle of the titans. Three of the four players swapped by the clubs played, with some mixed results.

Nyjer Morgan got a hit and single for Washington, though he did manage to get picked off of first base and popped up for the last out of the game. Lastings Milledge got his first Pittsburgh start, and went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI. Joel Hanrahan, well, he got in, going 2/3 of an inning and giving up a pair on a hit and walk.

But after the grudge matches were played out, the Pirates new crew did all right. Besides Milledge's night, Steve Pearce had a double, homer, 2 runs scored and a RBI. Ronny Cedeno played a solid short and chipped in a knock, ending a long hitless streak.

Delwyn Young looked a lot like an outfielder playing second base; he'll make Perry Hill earn his money this year. At least the snow-topped Hill can't get any grayer.

Ross Ohlendorf pitched pretty well, going 6-1/3 frames and giving up a pair of runs on six hits with four strikeouts and two walks, earning his ninth win. The Big O hasn't been spectacular, but he keeps the team in games and seems to have settled nicely into the number four spot of the rotation.

Finding that late-inning bridge that John Grabow provided may be a bit more challenging. It looks like JR is going to throw Jesse Chavez, Evan Meek, and Hanrahan into the breech.

They all worked tonight, and only Chavez escaped cleanly. The lefty-righty thing shouldn't be a problem. The Pirates haven't used a specialist since the early Damaso Marte era, and he quickly evolved past the LOOGY stage. But one of them is going to have to take the bull by the horns; there's a golden opportunity for them right now.

Fortunately, it doesn't look like there's gonna be a mental meltdown after the gutting of the team, as some feared. A shortage of talent maybe, but not a shortage of effort (Doumit did dog a DP grounder, but we're not too concerned about his hustle over the course of the season). And that's all you can ask for right now.

-- The next action on the player front will come in the next two weeks. That's all the time the Pirates have left to sign their draft picks; they have 18 in the barn now. And we'll see how the Miguel Sano drama unfolds at the end.

Play Ball

OK, the deadline is past. Neal Huntington apparently had some withdrawal pangs; he shipped Altoona RHP Sean Smith, 25, to Toronto for future considerations. He was 3-3-6 for the Curve with a 2.95 ERA, working mostly out of the pen and getting three starts. Smith was signed as a minor league free agent from the Rockies last year.

Now it's time to see how the Bucs react to all the changes; only Ryan Doumit is left standing from 2008's starters. And even he's gotta be looking over his shoulder, with all the catchers the Pirates have been amassing in the past year.

The major moves are in the middle infield, which will now feature 2B Delwyn Young and SS Ronny Cedeno, and one outfield switch. Lastings Milledge will take over in left, with Garrett Jones moving to right. It looks like the loser in this round of musical chairs is Brandon Moss, at least until Steve Pearce surrenders first base to Jones.

Jose Tabata got the call to Indy from AA; Pedro Alvarez and Gorkys Hernandez didn't. That squares away the current pecking order a bit. Also, the Pirates are going to try out fireballer Jose Ascanio as a starter at Indy. He began in the rotation, but since a serious back injury suffered in 2005, he's been coming out of the pen.

We'd guess Kevin Hart will get plugged into Virgil Vasquez's rotation spot, though that will take a few days to shake out, since he pitched yesterday. Dub V could go tomorrow or get skipped because of Thurday's open date; the suits haven't decided yet.

And if you think Huntington enjoys the game, consider Theo Epstein. Adam LaRoche, who was acquired by the BoSox for minor league players SS Argenis Diaz and RHP Hunter Strickland on July 22, was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for 1B Casey Kotchman today. Now there's a cold-blooded card shark for ya.

But one that LaRoche has to love. He goes from a bench guy to a likely every-day player in Atlanta, a plus when you're in your walk year, and he still has a lot of friends and connections with the Braves and the city.

So it's time to sit back, grab a beer, and see what the future holds for the stripped down 2009 Pirates as they embark on the road to...?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

G-Force Off To The Windy City

Hey, no rest for the beat writers and bloggers. John Grabow, who was for a day or so the longest-tenured Bucco on the roster, and Tom Gorzelanny are now Cubbies. And Donnie Veal becomes the new Pirate LOOGY by default.

It seems the deal came together after the Colorado Rockies nixed a Grabow for Eric Young Jr. trade, and the Bucs shopped him elsewhere.

Dave Littlefield, the Pittsburgh GM when Gorzelanny won 14 games in 2007, is scouting for the Cubs and watched one of his recent starts. Another Littlefield deal!

The Cubs sent RHPs Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio to Pittsburgh, along with minor league burner and utility guy Josh Harrison.

Kevin Hart, 26, can spot start or work from the pen. He was sent to AAA Iowa in early July to make room for A-Ram, and just returned to the roster on the 19th.

Hart was traded minutes after pitching Chicago to a 12-3 victory over Houston. He is 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA in eight games, including four starts. Control is his main issue; he's walked 16 in 21-1/3 innings of work, with nine Ks.

Hart doesn't have overpowering stuff, with a low 90's heater, curve, slider, and change. But he's done good work in his trips to the Windy City; Hart could join the rotation or become a Jeff Karstens type from the pen.

Ascanio, 24, started in the Braves organization, and is considered a back-end bullpen arm. He was 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA for the Cubs this year, with 18 Ks and 9 BBs in 15 innings of work, losing his spot to Jeff Samardzija.

He pitches at 95 MPH and touches 97. His 84-88 mph slider is a plus pitch. Ascanio has been around the MLB for parts of the last three seasons, mostly as a set-up man. He's been assigned to Indy. Ascanio will start there. The Cubs used him in the rotation at AAA Iowa and from the pen with the big team.

Josh Harrison, 22, is in High A ball. He can rake, with a .319/7/71 line in his second year, and 44 stolen bases in 62 attempts (71%). Harrison can play corner OF and second or third base; the Bucs plan to try him at second.

He was a sixth round pick in the 2008 draft from Cincinnati, and will report to Lynchburg. Harrison is ex-Bucco coach T-Bone Shelby's nephew.

With Gorzo joining Ian Snell in the bye-bye list, the Bucs are awfully thin in upper level starters; Dan McCutchen, Brad Lincoln, and the rehabbing Phil Dumatrait are it. We're assuming Hart will get a shot at starting for Pittsburgh.

The mad scientist continues to try to catch lightning in a bottle.

The Morning After

OK, the best DP combo the Bucs have had since Maz and Dick Groat have moved on after a couple of weeks of drama. How does that situate the Pirates in both the short and long term?

In the immediate future, GW doesn't see a huge dropoff. Delwyn Young will hit as well as Freddy, and Ronny Cedeno will field almost as well as Jack Splat.

But there's no doubt the team will be a little weaker; Young may or may not become competent at a position he hasn't played regularly since 2005, and Cedeno is in an 0-for-26 funk coming to Pittsburgh. So both the offense and defense both take a hit.

But it shouldn't send the team into a death spiral. People bemoan the loss of leadership; we say it's time the diaper dandies take control of their destinies; if there was any question that it's their team now, yesterday dispelled that notion.

What there is little doubt of is that the team won't be feeling its oats until 2012, when the puppies that Neal Huntington has in the minor league kennel start to show their fangs.

The team is still thin in starting pitching, and he addressed that by picking up Tim Alderson. He's highly thought of, but he's young and has a barely discernible K-rate. But he's projected to be a middle-of-the-pack starter, and the Pirates needed an arm like that in the upper levels of the organization badly.

He also added three guys at the A level, and that's an infusion that was way overdue. Maybe one will make it to PNC, maybe not, but at least he did something to add some hope to the mix. Rudy Owens is overachieving; Bryan Morris, Jeffrey Locke, Justin Wilson, and Quinton Miller aren't.

It does look as if they've gotten a couple of kids with a shot to rise to the top in this year's draft, but they're years away.

Jeff Clements may or may not become the next Ryan Doumit. His college power hasn't translated into pro ball, but he's still capable of 15-20 MLB homers, and being a lefty at PNC doesn't hurt.

But the catcher has a bad case of the dropsies in the field, and his surgically repaired knees don't seem to indicate a long shelf life behind the dish. The Bucs will try him there and at first. Otherwise, they'll just bundle him up and ship him to the junior circuit as a DH.

All in all, nothing to get excited about, at least for a couple of seasons. The dynamic duo brought back a couple of prospects, and only time will provide the answer to their potential.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Freddy Stays At The Bay

It's sort of fitting that bosom buds and infield mates Freddy Sanchez and Jack Splat were cut loose from the mothership within hours of one another this afternoon.

As expected, Sanchez went to the punchless Giants after today's game for Top-50 pitching prospect Tim Alderson, a 20 year-old righty. He was the Giants' 2007 first-round pick (22nd overall).

The Giants are loaded with young arms; besides Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, they have Madison Bumgarner on the fast track to join them in the minors. Alderson is touted to be the real deal; he and Charlie Morton will be counted on as integral parts of the Pirate's future rotation. Here's the scoop on Alderson:

Real GM gives this report:
"Alderson's fastball is in the low 90's and he has an excellent curve, which will probably be his best pitch. He clearly won't be a dominant strikeout pitcher on any level, but his command and ability to keep the ball down will allow him to be very consistently effective."
Scouting Book gives this synopsis:
"The title of best Giants pitching prospect falls to (Tim) Alderson, the 6-7 righthander from Phoenix.

'Big Tim' has a plus-plus curveball and terrific control for such a young player. In his junior and senior high school year combined, he struck out 173 batters while walking only nine. His fastball is in the 89-92 range, though he has been clocked as high as 94, which is remarkable for a pitcher who does not have a windup: Alderson pitches exclusively from the stretch, and if he can really get close to 95 that way, it's hard to imagine the Giants will bother 'teaching' him anything new.

Just-turned 20, Alderson is unlikely to see significant action in San Francisco before 2011 at the soonest."
His prospect rankings going into 2009:

ScoutingBook: #51
Baseball America 2009: #45
Baseball Prospectus: #60
ESPN: #26

The only concerns GW has picked up concerning him is the low K-rate and his funky delivery, which is supposed to stress his arm. Some in the Giant organization thought he'd be better suited for the bullpen to save wear and tear on the wing.

But it was a hefty price to pay. The popular Sanchez was a batting champion and three-time All Star, and an active member of the community. We remember him finally getting the shot to bump Joe Renda off of third base in 2005 and then knocking Jose Castillo out of the organization when he moved to second in 2007.

And in between, who can forget the roar the Pittsburgh fans gave him when the 2006 All-Star game was at PNC? But that was yesterday, and yesterday's gone.

The Pirates continue on their march towards the brave new world.

The Hammer Drops...

OK, Jack Splat is gonzo; no surprise there. Ian Snell joins him. They went to Seattle for a bench shortstop, a AAA power hitter without a position, and three young upside pitchers that are toiling in Class A and don't figure to reach Pittsburgh until 2012, if at all.

Wilson sealed his fate when he turned down the two-year, $8M deal the Pirates offered a few days ago. Snell talked his way out of town.

Wilson has been a Bucco since 2001, and played 1,159 games, batting .269, with 60 HR, 389 RBI, and 508 runs scored and an OBP of .311. His line this year was at about at his career average, .267/4/31, with a .304 OBP.

His replacement is Ronny Cedeno, with a career average of .238, with 18 home runs, 105 RBI, and a .276 OBP in 388 games during parts of five MLB seasons. Cedeno has fewer at-bats (1,090) than Wilson had games played.

He was given Seattle's SS job when Yuniesky Betancourt was dumped, and responded by hitting .167. Cedeno could field like Ozzie Smith - and he doesn't, although he's good - and will be a downgrade. He'll join the roster.

They added a potential bat with 25-year-old Jeff Clement. He was Seattle's first-round pick (third overall) in the 2005 draft, and was rated by Baseball America as the organization's number one prospect for both 2006 and 2008.

The lefty hit .288 with 33 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs, 68 RBI and 65 runs scored with a .505 slugging percentage in 92 games this year with AAA Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League, known as a notorious hitter's paradise.

A catcher for most of his career, the Pirates list him as a first baseman, though he was often the DH for Tacoma. He's been assigned to Indy, and has a shot at joining the team this year if he finds a glove that fits him.

The pitchers all have pedigrees and are young enough to be more than organizational guys.

Nathan Adcock, 21, was 5-7 with a 5.29 ERA in 21 games (19 starts) with Single-A High Desert of the California League. The RHP went 5-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 14 starts prior to the All-Star Game before hitting the proverbial wall in July.

He has a highly touted curve, but his problem is control; in his career, he's walked 159 batters in 320-2/3 innings. Adcock was selected by Seattle in the fifth round of the 2006 draft from North Hardin (KY) High School, and is off to Lynchburg.

RHP Aaron Pribanic, 22, was 7-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 17 starts for Single-A Clinton of the Midwest League. He was was Seattle's third-round selection (98th overall) in the 2008 draft from the University of Nebraska, Joba Chamberlain's alma mater.

Neal Huntington said of his repertoire: "He has a heavy four-seam fastball that reaches up to 93 miles per hour and a two-seam fastball with significant sinking and tailing life low in the zone that has allowed him to get ground balls."

His rotation mate, Brett Lorin, 22, is a Bucco now, too. He went 5-4 with a 2.44 ERA, 87 strikeouts and 25 walks in 16 starts at Clinton. The 6-foot-7 RHP was named to the Midwest League All-Star team.

Lorin has a mid-90s heater, but is still working on his off-speed stuff; the curve is coming along, but he's looking for a third pitch. He was selected by Seattle in the fifth round of the 2008 draft from Cal State University-Long Beach.

They'll stay together a while longer; both have been assigned to the West Virginia Power.

And what can you say about Ian Snell? He's been a Bucco since 2004, and in 2007 looked like the real deal, going 9-12 but with a solid 3.76 ERA. Alas, it was never to be, at least here. His career Pirate line was 33-46/4.75.

After his last dust-up with the suits, both sides torched their bridges. We suspect the management wanted him as far away as possible; heck, they probably tried to trade him to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters before settling on Seattle.

The Pirates will pick up the 2009 salaries of Wilson and Snell, minus the minor-league minimum that the Mariners will kick in, valued at $3.3M.

The beat goes on - and two days left before shopping season comes to an end. The MLB Bucs are a little weaker; the organization is a little deeper. And that's how it looks to go for the near future.

Now the two longest-tenured Pirates are John Grabow, who started in 2003, and Freddy Sanchez, who pulled on a Bucco jersey in 2004 - and there's no guarantee that they make it past Friday.

Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing

Oh, those Pirate bats. Maybe they should petition MLB to let them try aluminum sticks; sure as heck the ones made out of maple and ash aren't doing them any good.

They lost 1-0 in ten innings today. The immediate cause was Matt Capps coming up short in the tenth. But the real reason is that Pirate hitters are putting too much pressure on their pitchers to be perfect.

Capps come on in the tenth, and had a runner on second via a single and sac bunt with two away. He walked Andres Torres, who was 0-for-4 and batting .240, and Randy Winn bounced the next pitch, a hanging slider, up the line into right to score new Pirate nemesis Eugenio Velez.

But the truth is that if you go ten innings and muster three hits and two walks and get a pair of runners to second - none made it as far as third - you're gonna lose, even if Zach Duke gives you seven innings of six-hit, shut-out ball.

Such is the current state of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Pitching Is Willing, But The Bats Are Weak...

Three innings. Six hits. One walk. One run. Five left on base. That's how the Pirates started the game, and it didn't get much better. Barry Zito's line when he left after 100 pitches and 5-1/3 innings was nine hits, two walks - and one run. He stranded nine Buccos.

Charlie Morton had his usual great movement and questionable command. He gave up a pair in six innings, surrendering six hits and three walks while collecting five strikeouts. Still, he could have blanked the G-men if he had an answer for Eugenio Velez.

Velez hit his first homer of the season, and second of his career, for the first tally - the thirteenth straight run scored by Pirate opponents after two outs - and then doubled in a run (with one out). Both pitches were low heaters that ran back over the plate.

Jesse Chavez gave up a run in the seventh; the Bucs plated one when Luis Cruz's sac fly brought home Andy LaRoche. and that was it; the Giants took the 3-2 win.

The Pirates had runners on every inning and the lead-off batter reached five times. The Bucs ended up stranding eleven and struck out ten times; that's 25 K's in two games.

Pittsburgh has played 23 games in July; they've scored 3 runs or less in 16 of them, and been shut out five times.

And you can't pitch well enough to overcome that kind of support.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette reports that Altoona prospect Jim Negrych is done for the season. He had surgery for a hematoma, a ruptured blood vessel, that was the result of a collision involving his abdomen last night with shortstop Brian Friday. It's not thought to be career-threatening.

-- The recent Giant pick-up from the Indians, first baseman Ryan Garko, was born in Pittsburgh. His family moved to the West Coast, where he attended high school, and he lives in California now. So his first game as a Giant tonight is kinda a double homecoming.

Tuesday Countdown

-- Hmmmm, Freddy Sanchez and Jack Splat are both out of the lineup. An omen of things to come?

-- John Perrotto of Pirates Report has the rumor mill grinding away at full speed today.

-- Man, has anyone fallen further off the face of the earth than Jason Jaramillo? He hasn't played since July 7th, when Ryan Doumit returned. You'd think JR could sneak an at-bat or three in for JJ somewhere, if only as a ninth-inning pinch hitter.

-- The Pirates signed LHP Nathan Baker, 21, the club's fifth-round selection in the 2009 draft. Baker went 4-3 with one save and a 3.63 ERA in 20 appearances (seven starts) for the University of Mississippi this past year as a junior. That's number 18 so far, if you're counting.

No price tag was given as to his bonus; slot for the fifth round is in the $200K range.

-- Matt Payne was released today by the Pirates organization after hitting .129 in 10 games for the State College Spikes. The third baseman was a 34th round draft pick from NC State last year.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Can We Get A Mulligan On The Second Inning?...

Hey, the way the Pirates played the field in the second inning tonight brought to mind GW's coaching days at Bud Hammer Field with the 9 year-old Bucs. Unfortunately, it was a MLB team botching the plays, not a pack of third grade kids.

After a single, Jack Splat backed up on a hopper up the middle and had it tick of his glove into center. The runner at first kept going, and an off line throw from Andrew McCutchen let him get to third safely.

The next batter hit one to Andy LaRoche, and the runner at third broke home. LaRoche fired a bullet to the plate. Too bad the G-man hit the brakes and trotted back to the hot corner. Bases loaded.

Then a brief burst of professionalism: they tried LaRoche again, and this time he stepped on the bag and threw home, getting the force out, tag out DP. The next batter hit a hanging liner to right; Garrett Jones just stopped a couple of steps short of the ball, maybe losing it in the lights, maybe anticipating McCutchen grabbing it. Either way, he watched it bound behind him for a triple, plating a pair.

No dummies, these Giants. The next batter zeroed in on Jones and hit a sinking liner to right. He had it clank off his wrist, gave it a boot, and the ball popped into the air. Delwyn Jones made a great diving catch, but the ump missed the play and said it hit the ground. Another run scored, although the Pirates did pick off the batter rounding first. He was apparently as confused as everyone else.

Not that it made a difference. Tim Lincecum was filling up the plate with strikes, taking advantage of a generous zone given both ways by plate ump Mike DiMuro. The Pirates watched two strikes, then swung under the heater or over the curve for strike three. Why be aggressive when you can build up that pitch count?

In the fifth, Lincecum started to lose his command a bit, walking a pair. And in the sixth, the Pirates went into attack mode at the plate, hacking their way into a couple of runs.

But as the Pirate batters adjusted, so did Lincecum. He switched from from the heater as his primary weapon to the off-speed stuff, and the mix got him through the final three frames. The Giants took the win, 4-2, as Lincecum gave up four hits and struck out a career high 15 batters while notching a complete game victory, his eleventh.

Paul Maholm pitched one of his better games of late. Some home-cooking scoring made the four runs earned, but if not for that Keystone Kop second inning, they still might be playing.

-- Our sympathy and prayers for Tony Beasley, whose father passed away today. Beasley took a week off to be with him, and his dad appeared to be on the mend. Tony grabbed a plane from Virginia to San Fran, only to be met at the airport by JR, who passed on the bad news that his father had died from a heart attack.

-- Delwyn Young made a couple of nice plays tonight at second. He looked lost there earlier in the season; maybe that Perry Hill magic is working on him as well as it did with Andy LaRoche.

Steve Pearce made a handful of stretching saves at first tonight, but they were catches that the taller Adam LaRoche would have snagged with ease. The Pirate infielders are going to have get accustomed to a smaller target at first. But Pearce does cover a lot more of the field than the steady but plodding LaRoche did.

Ryan Doumit has done a great job of blocking pitches since his return, but he has quite a way to go on receiving the ball. He still carries breaking stuff out of the zone too often; Doumit has to learn to freeze the glove better.

-- One streak ended and another continued tonight. The Pirates broke their 24 inning scoreless skein, and the opponents have scored their last twelve runs with two outs.

-- RHP Hunter Strickland (6-4, 3.12), recently acquired from Boston for Adam LaRoche, had an auspicious start for West Virginia. He and Diego Moreno combined for a no-hitter, marred only by a third inning error. Strickland went six innings and struck out five; Moreno pitched the final three frames and K'ed three.

West Coast Waiting Room

-- Garrett Jones could be around for awhile if he keeps raking, even though he's 28. It's his second season in the bigs, but his service time will be less than a year since both gigs were mid-season call-ups.

The Pirates will have him under team control through 2014; Jones isn't arbitration-eligible until 2012. That makes him a very affordable piece of the puzzle the suits are fitting together as either a regular player or another shiny bauble to dangle as trade bait down the road.

-- Freddy Sanchez is in a deep, dark funk. He went 0-for-20 last week, dropping his average from .311 to .296, and struck out nine times in the past five games. In late May, he suffered through a 6-for-40 stretch, breaking out with a six hit game against the Cubs.

-- Ian Snell lasted five innings in his start with AAAA Indianapolis on Sunday. Snell allowed two earned runs on nine hits. He walked one and struck out four. He now has a 0.96 ERA in six starts with the Indians. Several teams are supposed to be looking at him, notably the Yankees, but the offers have all been low-balled for his services.

-- His brother demotee, Tom Gorzelanny (4-3, 2.46), has been on fire over his last eight starts as he has posted a 3-2 record, 1.00 ERA (5 ER in 45-1/3 innings), and 47 strikeouts. He hasn't allowed more than a single earned run in any of those eight outings.

He's probably a September call-up because of service time issues unless he gets dealt, and even that's iffy. The suits could risk him becoming a "Super Two" player, eligible for four years of arbitration instead of three if they time it wrong. You qualify by finishing in the top 17% of guys with 2-3 years of service time.

-- The beat writers mention some interest in Robby Diaz, too, particularly Detroit, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette, who has the rumors wrapped up in one article.

GW is actually surprised his name hasn't come up more often. Catchers with a stick are worth something, even in this market.

The Tiger bird dogs have been watching Pittsburgh closely, and they need a laundry list of players. Just wonderin' if a multi-player deal could be in the works?

-- Pitching for short-season State College, Phil Dumatrait allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits while striking out four and walking none in his second rehab start (the first was with the GCL Bradenton Pirates). Dumatrait is set to now join AA Altoona.

-- Twins starter Kevin Slowey of Upper St. Clair will have surgery on his injured right wrist and will likely miss the remainder of the season. He was 10-3.

-- Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports that Pete Rose may get back in the good graces of baseball. Bud Selig's conditions for any reinstatement would include another public apology and a prohibition from managing.

If Selig does reinstate him, Rose would become eligible for the Hall of Fame, but on the Veterans Committee ballot, as his 15 years on the Baseball Writers ballot expired. He would have to be elected by the 65 living members of the Hall of Fame.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Doctor, Doctor, Find Me A Cure...

Well, it's officially a funk. Sometimes the Bucs hit and don't pitch; sometimes they pitch and don't hit. When they can't do either, against the last place team in the West, well, it's time to worry.

And when you're shut out in back to back games 16-0 and have Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Matt Cain on deck, look out, Loretta.

First, Bucco hurlers have to buckle down with two away. It was a 9-0 shellacking; eight of the nine runs came in with two out, and a half-dozen of those scored with two away and nobody on base. Two of those innings were started with walks.

Next, they have to square away the Freddy Sanchez situation. He's in an 0-for-20 streak, and you have to wonder if the contract and deadline are weighing on his mind. He had a spell like this a few weeks back, but ink the guy or move him, and let's get on with life.

Finally, it's becoming obvious that Virgil Vasquez isn't the answer. He's too cute on the mound and won't attack hitters, falls behind in the count, and gets whacked. We understand the options at Indy. Too soon to bring back Tom Gorzelanny and start his arbitration clock, and too much bad blood with Ian Snell.

But if Pittsburgh can't move Snell by the deadline, the suits have to get over their snit and plug him back into the rotation. He probably won't clear waivers for an August deal, but he could rebuild some value for the offseason.

--Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated writes that: "The Red Sox appear to be checking out shortstops, including Jack Wilson..."

-- Bruce Levine of ESPN-Chicago posted that: "The Cubs have had conversations with the Pirates about left-hander John Grabow, one of the best left-handed set-up men in the league. A bigger trade with Pittsburgh, for a starter like Zach Duke or Tom Gorzelanny, may be the right avenue to follow..."

So the Pirate suits apparently have no compunctions about dealing within the division.

-- Peter Gammons of ESPN reports that: "Whether it's...the gaggle of prospects the Pirates have indicated they need to move Zach Duke, the songs remain the same. The small-market teams say they think the big-market teams overvalue prospects."

Well, at least we know now that the Zachster's asking price is a "gaggle of prospects," whatever that means.

From Blair Ball Park to PNC Park...

Hey, the AA Altoona Curve are having a tough season, sunk at the bottom of the Easten league standings.

Of course, no one but the local fans care where they finish; it's the player development that the PNC suits are focused on. And the Curve may well be nursing the core of the 2011 Pirates.

Pedro Alvarez
, 22, the future linchpin of Pittsburgh's middle of the order, is living up to his billing after an Abbott and Costello introduction to the Pirate Nation in 2008. He's hitting .298 with 6 long balls and 17 RBI in 94 at-bats.

Alvarez needs to develop some consistency and a better eye - he's drawn just 7 walks and struck out 30 times - and is still gloving his way to first base, with five errors in 26 games. But his bat is speaking just fine, and that's what everyone is listening to. Alvarez is also said to be a clubhouse leader, and that's a good thing for your franchise player to bring to the table.

Jose Tabata, 21, who had every excuse to tank after his wife's springtime felony, instead has put together a very nice year, batting .306 with 2 homers and 24 RBI. Because of his size - he's 5-11, 160 pounds - he projects as a top of the order hitter instead of the three hole guy, unless he packs on a few pounds.

His eye is good enough; he's only struck out 23 times in 209 at-bats, but has to do better than 19 walks.

Gorkys Hernandez
, 21, has picked it up after a miserable start. He's now stroking it at a .264 clip, with two dingers and twelve RBI. Another top-of-the-order hitter, he needs to work on his plate discipline, with 33 strikeouts and just ten walks in 174 visits to the plate.

Brian Friday, 23, is considered to be Jack Wilson's most likely replacement in the system; Argenis Diaz is just a stop-gap. He's the reigning "defensive player of the year" in the Pittsburgh organization, but needs to get through a season unscathed and hit the ball where they ain't more often.

Friday is hitting .253, with 7 HR and 30 RBI in 269 at-bats. He's disciplined at the plate, drawing 33 walks to go along with 40 whiffs.

Jim Negrych, the 24 year-old Pitt grad, is the home-grown version of Delwyn Young, though not as athletic. He's a second basemen that struggles in the field (he has 16 errors and has improved this season), but definitely not at the dish.

He's hitting .273 after a horrible start, and has 3 homers, 30 RBI, 50 runs scored, and is 8-of-9 in stolen bases. His eye is his calling card; he's walked 44 times and struck out just 37 times in 319 at-bats.

You're looking at five guys who should be at Indy by next year and PNC in 2011. There are two caveats. Except for Alvarez, none has shown the ability to hit in the middle of the lineup.

And for gap hitters that project to hit at the top of the order, they need a lot of work on stealing bases, particularly Tabata, who is 6-of-12, and Hernandez, who is 3-of-7 as base thieves. Both are burners that need to learn how to read pitchers.

As far as the fielding goes, it's feast or famine. Friday, Hernandez and Tabata are all plus defenders; Negrych and Alvarez put the steel in Steel City.

Like the rest of the Pittsburgh organization, the pitching is very much a question mark. Daniel Moskos has become a starter, and is 7-8 with a 3.90 ERA, but his peripherals are questionable - he has only 45 Ks in 108-1/3 innings, and a 1.50 WHIP.

Jeff Sues is the opposite; his record of 2-6 with a 5.10 ERA is bad, but his K rate of 63 in 65-1/3 innings is fine, and his WHIP is a little high at 1.33, but not as bad as his record would indicate. They've been stretching out Sues, who averages a couple of innings per outing, so their future plans for him as a closer may be out the window.

So if you're wondering about the direction of the new Pirates, point the gas guzzler east on Route 22 and take a trip to Altoona. You'll see the future of the Bucs in front of your eyes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Spent Three Hours Watching This?

Hey, you could tell there were two last place teams playing tonight. The D-backs won running away, 7-0, but it was an ugly nine innings. Greenfield-Penn Hills Colt games at Magee Field are better played (and considerably cheaper to attend).

Ross Ohlendorf labored again, giving up three runs - one highly unearned, thanks to a Steve Pearce throw that missed home plate by fifteen feet - in six innings. That was due more to D-back ineptitude on the basepaths than anything the Big O did.

They hit into a first inning DP on a 3-0 pitch. A runner was picked off second base the following frame. They caught a guy trying to stretch a double into a triple in the third. In the fourth, another runner was cut down at home.

The Bucs helped make up for it, though, with Pearce's wayward toss and a couple of misplays in left by Brandon Moss, a a ricochet off the fence that Jack Wilson ran down and the other a single that went through him, allowing a pair to touch home.

Doug Davis threw like a Pony League pitcher, and the Bucs responding by hitting like Little League batters. He threw a curve in the high sixties, and a low 80s heater that topped out at 85. The result? Eight strikeouts in six innings.

The much-maligned D-Back pen shut out the Bucs over the last three innings, while Evan Meek gave up four runs in the eighth to ice it for Arizona. The Pirates stranded ten, and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. And that hit was an Ohlendorf single; Moss was thrown out trying to score.

Ah well, maybe a major league game will break out tomorrow afternoon.

-- John Perrotto of Pirates Report speculates that there may be one survivor in the Bucco housecleaning.

"John Grabow, the Pirates’ top left-handed reliever, has been linked to nearly every team in the major leagues in various trade rumors over the last two seasons. Yet, he still wearing a Pirates’ uniform and, despite being eligible for free agency at the end of the season, there are indications that neither Huntington nor manager John Russell want to part with him.

Grabow is again having another quietly productive season, going 3-0 with a 3.65 ERA in 43 games. There are signs the Pirates might at least consider offering him a contract extension to provide a veteran anchor to a very young bullpen that is improving by the day.

Despite being in the organization since he was the third-round draft pick in 1997 as a high school senior in southern California, Grabow is still just 30 and his salary demands wouldn’t figure to exorbitant."
Maybe they'll even get around to cleaning out those bone chips in his elbow.

D-backs Defanged

Hey, maybe life after Jack Splat and Freddy Sanchez won't be all that bad. With the dynamic duo on the bench nursing various aches and pains, the Pirates still pounded out a 10-3 victory over Arizona tonight.

Yusmeiro Petit, as befitting a pitcher with an 0-4 record and 7.15 ERA, was tossing watermelons. The Pirates failed to take advantage early, falling behind 2-0 after three innings, but finally caught up to the soft-tossing righty.

They rang up six runs in the fourth and fifth frames and never looked back. The middle infield pair of Ramon Vazquez and Delwyn Young combined for five hits, three runs scored, and three RBI.

Garrett Jones ran a couple of awkward routes in right field, but had no awkward moments at the dish. He banged out his tenth dinger, becoming the first Buc since the late Donn Clendenon in 1966 to hit 10 home runs in July.

The Pirates collected 16 hits; every position player, including pinch hitter Jeff Salazar, had a knock (it was his first of the season). Young led the parade with three hits; five other Buccos had a pair. Eight Pirates scored; seven drove in runs, and they went 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Zach Duke wasn't particularly sharp, but lasted 6-1/3 innings, giving up three runs and squaring his record at 9-9. The D-Back baserunners helped him immeasurably.

Stephen Drew was thrown out at third trying to stretch a leadoff double in the third. On the next pitch, teammate Ryan Roberts homered. In the fifth, the D-backs left a runner stranded at third when Justin Upton was caught in an inning-ending rundown between first and second trying to advance on a throw home.

It continued the feast-or-famine pattern for the Zachster. In his nine wins, the Pirates have scored 74 runs; in his nine losses, just 13.

Friday, July 24, 2009

News & Rumors Du Jour

-- There's nothing to report on the Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez negotiations because, according to the beat writers, there haven't been any negotiations to report on, apparently from either side. Que sera, sera...

-- In an article written by La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Freddy Sanchez is the Twins Plan B if they can't land Oakland shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
"If the Twins don't deal for Cabrera, there are indications that the Twins haven't ruled out another push for Pittsburgh second baseman Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez is making $6.25 million this year and is on pace to have enough plate appearances to trigger an $8 million option for 2010. Although the Twins are willing to add some salary, they might be debating whether to take on that much."
-- According to John Perrotto of Pirates Report, the Pirate pitcher drawing the most interest is *tada*...Ian Snell. Teams that have asked about him in recent days are the Yankees, Mets, Angels, Dodgers, and Tigers. Of course, none have offered diddly squat, so the suits have no reason to move him quite yet.

-- The Sporting News has selected good ol' PNC as the number #2 ballpark in all the realm. Top reason? The ghost of Roberto Clemente.

-- Trent Stevenson, the high school draft pick the Bucs signed yesterday, has the honor of getting the contract most over-slot so far, according to Baseball America.

-- Keith Law of ESPN reports that "The (Pirates) are close to a deal with their eighth-round pick, Colton Cain, for a high six-figure bonus, and are still negotiating with sixth-rounder Zach von Rosenberg."

Both are highly-regarded high school players. Cain is a LH first baseman with a scholarship to Texas, and von Rosenberg is a RHP with a free ride to LSU.

-- And you thought the negotiations for Pedro Alvarez were nuts? Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette broke the latest on Miguel Sano's now completed MLB investigation:

He is who he says he is, he might be 16 or he might be 17; he needs to pass the US Visa test for age to leave the Dominican Republic; he's a month or two away from getting said visa; and his agent apparently doesn't share his love for the Pirates. Stay tuned.

-- Some things never change, according to Jeff Wilson of the Dallas Morning News:
"The agent for Tanner Scheppers, who was selected by the Rangers with the No. 44 overall pick, said the right-hander wants to sign as quickly as possible. But there has been little progress in negotiations. He is seeking a signing bonus above his draft slot, which is under $1 million. The Rangers hold his rights until next year's draft, after which he can enter the draft next season for a third time, or he could consider playing in a foreign market."
As you may recall, the Bucs drafted him last year and let him go because they couldn't agree on contract terms.

Buc Bullpen Rolls Snake Eyes Against D-Backs

Dan Haren and Charlie Morton mixing it up in the Arizona heat. Sounds like the makings of a tight, well-pitched ballgame, right? Wrong. The Bucs lost 11-4.

Neither guy had command of their stuff, both falling behind constantly on hitters. After the fifth, it was 4-4, and both hurlers were in the shower, Morton after 4-2/3 innings and 102 pitches, and Haren after five frames and 98 tosses.

With both gone, the game became a battle of the bullpens, and the D-Backs have one of MLB's worse while the Pirate pen is in the top five. Good for the Bucs, right? Wrong again.

Jeff Karstens struggled to get four outs, but he did without any further damage. The same can't be said of Evan Meek and John Grabow. Meek gave up a run and had a runner on second with two away, and JR called for Grabow.

He took the hill and promptly poured gas over the fire, giving up a single for a run, a walk, and a three run homer. Donnie Veal came in to get whacked around a little in the eighth, giving up two runs on a homer and a couple of walks.

In fact, the Pirates walked eight last night, and even added a passed ball - on a pitchout! Morton threw Ryan Doumit a breaking ball, and it ticked off his mitt. The staff also gave up three long balls. They've surrendered 18 runs in the past two games, just as the Pirate attack looked like it was putting it together.

It would be hard to convince Pittsburgh hitters that the D-Back pen doesn't have it; they retired all twelve batters they faced after Haren made his early exit.

Hey, at least the AC was on last night. It was over 100 outside, but a cool 82 with the Chase Field roof shut. Let's hope AC blasting or not that the Pirates can put a little heat on Arizona. These are the kind of series they have to learn to win.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pre-Game Notes

-- Steve Pearce is back up and, according to GM Neal Huntington's chats with the beat reporters, has earned the opportunity to step in as the Pirates' everyday first baseman immediately. In fact, he's starting tonight and hitting fifth against All-Star Dan Haren, who's been red-hot from the hill of late.

We thought he might start out platooning with Garrett Jones at first, but apparently the Bucs are willing to give him a two-month audition to see if he can provide an internal replacement for Adam LaRoche.

They probably feel that they can evaluate Jones from the OF; Pearce is more of an X factor. It won't cost Jones any at-bats, but keeps the platoon status quo of Brandon Moss and Delwyn Young intact, with moves and opportunities to come, depending on the trade winds.

-- Jack Splat will sit out tonight with a tweaked hammy for the third straight game. He can pinch-hit, but hasn't been cleared to field yet.

-- Maybe the logjam is breaking up. The Pirates signed 6-6 RHP Trent Stevenson, the seventh-round selection from Phoenix's Brophy Jesuit Prep. He was a 7-2 with a 3.91 ERA, striking out 59 in 48-1/3 innings, and passed up a scholarship to the University of Arizona. Stevenson's bonus is reported to be $350,000.

They also signed 34th-round pick Zac Fuesser, a 6-2 LHP from Walters State C.C. in Morristown, Tenn. He was 5-2 with 4 saves, a 4.35 ERA, and 60 Ks in 49-2/3 innings, and gave up a free ride to the U of Tennessee. His bonus was reported to be $125,000.

Both signed at above-slot for their draft rounds.

The Bucs now have 17 picks safely signed; they hope to end up with a half dozen more. Some contracts are thought to be stuck in the Commissioner's Office because of over-slot bonus issues.

-- Mark Buehrle hurled a perfect game for the White Sox in their 5-0 win over Tampa Bay at U.S. Cellular Field this afternoon. It was the first perfect game since the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, did it on May 18, 2004 against the Atlanta Braves, and the 18th in MLB history.

The Only Constant Is Change

Hey, if there's one thing the current management is good at, its the art of the deal. After all, practice should make perfect, right? Here's the MLB moves they've triggered in the past twelve months:

Jose Bautista, Jason Bay, Sean Burnett, Eric Hinske, Adam LaRoche, Damaso Marte, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Xavier Nady, and Ronnie Paulino have been traded.

RHPs Casey Erickson, Craig Hansen, Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Dan McCutchen, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf and Hunter Strickland; LHP Jeff Locke; third baseman Andy LaRoche; shortstop Argenis Diaz; outfielders Eric Fryer, Gorkys Hernandez, Lastings Milledge, Brandon Moss and Jose Tabata; and catchers Robinzon Diaz and Jason Jaramillo are who the suits got in return.

Demoted or waived from the 25-man roster during that span: Jimmy Barthmaier, Denny Bautista, TJ Beam, John Van Benschoten, Brian Bixler, Raul Chavez, Jason Davis, Tom Gorzelanny, Yoslan Herrera, Jason Michaels, Doug Mientkiewicz, Craig Monroe, Frankie Osoria, Luis Rivas, Marino Salas, Romulo Sanchez, Ian Snell, and Ty Taubenheim.

More additions: Free agent signing: Ramon Vazquez. Rule 5 draft: Donnie Veal. Picked up on waivers, as minor-league free agents, and in minor-league trades: Steve Jackson, Garrett Jones, Jeff Salazar, Virgil Vasquez, and Delwyn Young. Called up from Indy: Luis Cruz, Steve Pearce, and Andrew McCutchen.

No wonder scorecard sales are at an all-time high!

Even GW is impressed. Inheriting a farm system that only a mother could love, with Andrew McCutchen and Brad Lincoln as the only guys with star-power, there's now a smattering of potential difference makers sprinkled around, thanks to the draft and a couple of deals that netted some players with baggage but upside.

They gave away their better chips, guys with some power, and bet on the future value of Moss, LaRoche, Tabata, Milledge, Alvarez, and company. It's a process that accountants and Billy Beane love.

The transformation in the pitching has been night and day from last year, with a more consistent starting five and a vastly improved collection of bridge pitchers coming out of the pen.

It's still thin overall, but getting there. They're noticeably shy in the front-end of the rotation, and without a true stopper, those bumps in the road turn into free-falls in a hurry.

GW hopes they keep it up - and that the suits stay the course, with the goal to reel in some talent, not dump some salary. So far, so good.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LaRoche Joins the Goodbye Gang

Well, we all knew someone else was due to get a plane ticket out of town. Today's winner was first baseman Adam LaRoche, sent to the Boston Red Sox for a pair of lower-tier prospects.

LaRoche joins Nate McLouth, Eric Hinske, Nyjer Morgan, and Sean Burnett as ex-Buccos, with more to come. Brought here in a 2007 from Atlanta with Jamie Romak for Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge, he put together a line of .265/58/213 in 2-1/2 seasons as a Pirate, never becoming the every day clean-up presence the suits had hoped for.

He'll be remembered in Pittsburgh for his streak hitting, tearing it up in the second half of the season after being seemingly incapable of hitting a beach ball until sometime late in June.

LaRoche will be an insurance policy for the BoSox, allowing them to give Mike Lowell a blow or becoming an everyday option if his hip doesn't hold up.

The Bucs got back a pair of middle-of-the-pack youngsters.

The more highly touted is SS Argenis Diaz, 22. He bats right-handed and is hitting .253 for Class AA Portland. Diaz is purely a Punch-and-Judy stick, but he's supposed to have a plus mitt and arm. The Venezuelan was rated the #29 prospect in the Boston system by Sox

He became yesterday's news behind 21 year-old up-and-comer Yamaico Navarro as Boston's shortstop of the future, and 19 year-old Oscar Tejeda was gaining ground.

The Pirates plan to send Diaz to Indy, no doubt to fast-track him if Jack Splat doesn't sign and finds a taker before September. He's on the 40-man roster of Boston and we assume he'll take LaRoche's spot there for Pittsburgh; he signed young and has been Rule 5 eligible since 2008.

The other player coming to Pittsburgh is RHP Hunter Strickland, 20. He's a 6' 5" starter drafted out of high school, with an average heater in the 90 MPH range, and has a slow curve and an in-progress change with good control and a low K rate. His line this year is 5-4/3.35 ERA at Class A Greenville of the Sally League.

Sox had him rated as the #38 prospect in the organization. Strickland will start out as a member of the Class A West Virginia Power rotation.

The Lastings Milledge watch will have to continue a while longer. The Bucs said they'll call up Steve Pearce. Hopefully, he'll get some at-bats this time around.

But JR could easily go with Garrett Jones at first and an outfield of Brandon Moss, Andrew McCutchen, and Delwyn Young for the time being and not get an argument from anyone. We'll see how it plays out for Pearce this time around.

We're not sure when it's safe to bring Milledge up as far as service time is concerned; he's pretty close to being arbitration-eligible, and the Bucs will avoid starting that clock this year.

All in all, no complaints about the deal from GW.

A two-month rent-a-player doesn't bring much back in return, and apparently the Red Sox outbid the Giants for his services. It fills a couple of organizational holes, and gives the Pirates at least a glove at short when and if Jack Wilson gets his walking papers.

Pirates Walk Off With Win

Jeff Suppan and Paul Maholm got together, and we hope none of the children were watching. By the end of the fifth, it was 7-7, and the starters, with an ineffective Seth McClung thrown in briefly, gave up fourteen earned runs on sixteen hits, with six going yard, and a half-dozen walks. Yikes!

The Pirates showed some long-missing muscle, launching four long balls off of Suppan and racing out to a quick 5-2 lead, only to see Maholm yield a pair of dingers with a couple of doubles thrown in for good measure. He hit the shower early, after 4-2/3 frames of work.

For the Bucs, Ryan Doumit banged out a pair that left the park, joined by Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen, with one more Brandon Moss bomb yet to come. Ryan Braun and Casey McGehee answered the call for Milwaukee.

But the bullpens settled the game down. Even Joel Hanrahan chipped in with 2-1/3 scoreless innings, much needed with Jeff Karstens still banged up from the latest beanball war between the clubs.

Moss led off the ninth with a walk-off shot into the bullpen, and the Bucs took what was no doubt a sweet win, 8-7, from their latest nemesis, the Brew Crew. It was nice to see them leave the field with both their shirts and tails tucked in.

Adam LaRoche, dealt to the Red Sox for a pair of middlin' prospects, stuck around for the whole game, and even joined in the victory celebration on the field. It was a classy exit for the quiet man.

We won't miss his streakiness at the dish, but LaRoche was a good guy with a great glove, and never had a bad word to say about his team, the management, the fans, or the City, as Dejan Kovacevic noted in his PBC blog for the Post Gazette.

Now off to Arizona and San Fran. The starters and their breakdowns for the D-Back series are from

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

They're Baaaack...

Ah, the old Buccos we've come to know and expect were back tonight. They were held to four hits by Braden Looper and company and shut out for the ninth time this season, 2-0, by the Brewers.

Actually, the game may have turned on a pair of catches by CF Mike Cameron and a pair of plays not made by RF Delwyn Young. The Bucs opened the seventh with an Andy LaRoche single, and Ramon Vasquez roped one the opposite way into left center.

Cameron covered a lot of ground and left his feet to take away a sure double and kill a potential big inning. Brandon Moss drove one to the wall during the next at-bat; Cameron ran it down, too. That was the last shot at Looper; the Brew Crew bullpen iced it away after that.

Young turned the wrong way on a catchable Craig Counsell double in the fifth, and he scored on a two-out Prince Fielder single. Counsell scored again in the seventh, again with two outs, and again on a Fielder single.

Young had a great chance to throw him out at home, but ran halfway to the dish before uncorking his throw, missing the out by a step. If he let the ball fly after a couple of steps instead of four or five, Counsell was DOA.

But Young is as advertised, a good stick without a position to call his own. And the truth is that if you hold the Brewers to a pair of runs, you should win. The Pirates have been wasting a lot of decent pitching lately.

Virgil Vasquez took a tough loss, but likely earned a chance to pitch another day. Like Ross Ohlendorf last night, he was in hot water for most of the 6-2/3 innings he threw, giving up nine hits, but held the Brew Crew pretty much at bay in the run column.

But the way they're hitting now, a zero guarantees you nothing more than a no-decision; don't even hope for a W if you give up a couple of runs.

-- Jack Splat sat tonight, and probably will get another day off for tomorrow's get-away game. He tweaked his hammy while making a falling-backwards play last night, and is listed as day-to-day.

-- Freddy and Jack aren't the only guys on the block. The Dodgers have sent scouts to check out John Grabow and Matt Capps, according to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times.

-- Hey, Phil Dumatrait made a four-inning start for the GCL Pirates today. He threw 56 painfree pitches. Dumatrait started the clock on the 30-day window during which he can be on rehab assignment. Once that 30 days is up, he will have to be removed from the DL and put back on the 25-man roster.

We're surprised the Buc suits didn't delay his rehab by ten days; a September call-up would have made the paperwork much easier.

-- Lastings Milledge was named the International League's hitter-of-the-week after going 9-for-17 with five RBIs last week.

Rhythm of the Falling Rain...

Ding dong, the witch is dead...for a night, anyway. The Bucs broke a 17 game losing streak to the Brew Crew tonight in a game that featured lots of thunder and lightning. And it wasn't all of Mother Nature's making, either.

Pittsburgh escaped an early threat when three straight Brewer knocks to start off the game, delayed over two hours by the rain, only netted one run. The Pirates put up a four spot in their half, all with two outs and capped by Delwyn Young's three-run bomb.

The Buccos had a chance to really ice it the next frame, when they had the bases juiced with no outs and a run in, but Adam LaRoche rolled into a DP, one of three Pittsburgh would hit into during the match, all with at least two runners aboard.

The Big O ran through the raindrops all night, both literally and figuratively, but lasted five innings and gave up two runs on seven hits, one being gift wrapped by a pair of Pirate misplays in the fifth.

Jack Splat slipped going for ball on a slick infield and Freddy Sanchez double-clutched a DP turn, costing him the out at first and ending the inning. They may say that the contract brouhaha hasn't affected them, but their play in the field says otherwise. Best to get it done with, one way or another.

Ohlendorf was pinch hit for in the bottom of the fifth, up 6-2, and it was a good move by JR. The Bucs had threatened but not added on, and he took a shot by sending up Jeff Salazar with two on and two out, in an effort at trying to put the game away. It didn't work - Salazar grounded out - but it was the right button to push.

Jeff Karstens pitched three innings of shutout relief, and was up 7-2 thanks to a Garrett Jones solo shot, when Milwaukee proved to have the memory of a mafia don.

Karstens led off in the bottom of the eighth and was drilled by the first pitch, a long-awaited payback for his plunking of Ryan Braun (he should have smacked him in the yapper instead of back) in late April.

That led to a bench-clearing shoving matched, ignited by Jason Kendall. He took umbrage at Karstens barking at Chris Smith, and everyone poured onto the field, even the bullpens.

The umps mopped it up with a minimum of drama, but Karstens, who had already bruised his glove-hand thumb on a soft liner through the box, had to leave when his arm swelled between innings, with purple stitch marks prominent on his left arm.

He did have the last laugh, though, scoring the Pirates final run on Ryan Doumit's single. Jesse Chavez was roughed up in the ninth (Matt Capps was actually loosening up) but struck out Prince Fielder to end the game, an 8-5 final.

The Buc batters took advantage of the fact that no one named Lincecum, Zito, or Cain was pitching, but they were still just 3-of-15 with runners in scoring position.

And let's hope Karsten's battered wing is OK. He's become a versatile linchpin of the bullpen, filling the bill in virtually every situation but closing. Virgil Vasquez pitches tomorrow, and if he has another rough outing, the suits will be in a pickle.

Moving Karstens back to the rotation will weaken the pen; they would probably replace him with vet Steve Jackson or long-shot Chris Bootcheck, and they're not long men.

Gorzo won't get the call because he's within six weeks of service time from becoming arbitration eligible, so we won't see him 'til September. That leaves red-haired stepchild Ian Snell and inconsistent Dan McCutchen as their choices from Indy. Decisions, decisions.

Monday, July 20, 2009


-- The Brewers' 17-game winning streak over the Pirates is the longest in the majors since the Orioles beat on the Royals 23 straight times from May 1969 to June 1970.

The last time the Pirates defeated Milwaukee was on May 22, 2008, and only two players in that lineup, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche, are still with the club. The Bucs won 8-4, as Tom Gorzelanny defeated Dave Bush.

-- Now the beat writers are saying there may be some contractual wiggle room with Sanchez and Jack Wilson; apparently the management gave them the impression it was a take it or leave it offer. Saving face or a communication breakdown?

-- Meanwhile, Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reports rumors that the Twins could get Sanchez for 25 year-old LHP Francisco Liriano (4-9, 5.33 ERA), who has been having a rough time this year.

But the Twins aren't likely to give up Liriano, and take on Sanchez's salary. Liriano will be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2010; Sanchez will make $8.1M.

-- Jeff Wilson of the Dallas Morning News has a laundry list of pitchers the Rangers could be zeroing in on. He has these Buccos as blips on the Texas radar:
LHP Zach Duke would be coming close to home if acquired by the Rangers. The Waco Midway grad is enjoying a breakthrough season and was a first-time All-Star. Pittsburgh, for sure a seller, is paying Duke $2.2 million. He can't be a free agent until 2012.

His general manager called signing RHP Ian Snell a mistake, and he is pitching in Triple A. He is enjoying success in the minors and might just need a change of scenery. He would cost $1.5 million the rest of the way and $4.2 million in 2010.

Another potential Pittsburgh bargaining chip, RHP Matt Capps isn't having a great year as the Pirates' closer. But he was better the previous two seasons, although injured some in 2008.
-- Jen Langosch of and Neal Huntington claim that Ian Snell said he wants to stay in Indy; Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette says that ain't the way it is. Very odd situation...Snell's big yap and the suits' thin skin make for quite a dynamic.

-- Speaking of big yaps, maybe Neal Huntingdon can zip his. His comments lately have done more to devalue Snell and Wilson than their play ever could. We know he and Frank Coonelly don't exactly qualify as diplomats, but geez...don't take everything so personally.

Players aren't the only ones that can burn bridges.

-- The Bucs don't have one guy on this week's Baseball America Not-So-Hot Prospect Sheet, but two!
Gorkys Hernandez, of, Pirates: Since being traded from Atlanta to Pittsburgh in the Nate McLouth deal, the 21-year-old Hernandez has struggled for Double-A Altoona. A key piece in the exchange, Hernandez batted .316/.361/.387 for Mississippi prior to the deal. But after going 1-for-25 last week, his averages dropped to .250/.292/340 in the Eastern League. Despite plus speed, Hernandez has been caught stealing four times in six tries. His value rests in his ability to get on base, steal bases and play solid defense, but thus far he hasn't done those things for Altoona.

Bryan Morris
, rhp, Pirates: Morris, the Dodgers' first-round pick in 2006, was one of the key chips the Pirates received in the three-team deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles last year. Morris missed all of 2007 after going Tommy John surgery and then missed the first two months this year with shoulder inflammation. In seven starts for high Class A Lynchburg this year, Morris has failed to pitch in to the sixth inning. Last week, he made one start and allowed four runs on six hits in four innings. Morris, 2-4, 6.00, has walked more batters (16) than he's struck out (15) in 30 innings this year.
-- Last year, the Bucs drafted some high school kids in higher rounds than their talent would indicate, and overpaid for them as far as the slot went. The team scribes say that MLB commish Bud Selig is playing a little more hardball with them this time around. Hey, Bud - if Nutting wants to throw some money around, don't give him any reason to pull his hand out of his pocket, OK?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

One Bad Inning...

For awhile there, it looked like the Bucs and Giants were ready for another pitching duel between two teams that throw better than they hit. Going into the sixth, it was 1-0 Pirates, thanks to a second inning Brandon Moss long ball.

But the wheels came off for Zach Duke in the sixth. The first four batters doubled off him, the first pair on well-placed rather than well struck balls and the next two the tradition way, one high off the Clemente wall and the other drilled up the right field line. The first trio of two-baggers were hit on three consecutive pitches.

Two sac flies later, it was 4-1 G-Men. In 32 innings against Pittsburgh pitching this series, today's sixth was the only frame the Giants mustered any earned runs.

It would be be plenty for Matt Cain, who finished his day after seven innings, giving up a run on five hits with eight Ks and a walk while winning his eleventh game of the season. But his bullpen made it exciting after his exit.

Sergio Romo let the first two runners aboard in the eighth, and Jeremy Affeldt came on. After a bounce-out advanced them, Ryan Doumit rolled a two-run single up the middle. But Adam LaRoche, with a green light on a 3-0 pitch, bounced into an inning-ending 4-6-3 DP.

That was the last hurrah, as Brian Williams came on in the ninth to close out the 4-3 San Francisco win. Now the Brew Crew comes to town. The matchups are provided here, from

Buc Bucks

-- The dope on the dynamic duo: Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette and John Perrotto of the Pirates Report both say that they rejected the Bucs' offers.

Wilson's was for two years at $4M per, with an option instead of picking up his current $8.4M 2010 option; Sanchez's was the same length, at $5M per year and voiding the 2010 option of $8.1M.

Neither writer believes the Pirates will come back with substantially reworked deals, so unless there's some unexpected movement, it's adios amigos. (EDIT - DK says the Pirates have pulled the offers, pending some sort of counter-proposal from the infielders.)

There appears to be plenty of payroll room if the Bucs blink. Assuming that Adam LaRoche ($7.05M) isn't signed and Tyler Yates isn't offered arbitration and signed to a friendlier deal (he makes $1.3M this season), here are the Bucs making over the minimum in 2010 (figures from Cot's Baseball Contracts):

Guys with guarantees are Paul Maholm ($4.5M), Ian Snell ($4.25M, but he may be gone, too), Ryan Doumit ($3.55M), and Ramon Vazquez ($2M).

Others are Matt Capps, who makes $2.3M this season and Zach Duke $2.2M; both are up for arbitration if they don't work out a deal (Duke in particular should get a sweet payday, but Capps' save numbers should net him a nice bump, too), John Grabow, who's earning $2.3M, but is in his walk year, and Craig Hansen, earning $825K but not in his arb years yet.

If they hold off on bringing Tom Gorzelanny and Lastings Milledge up for a while, neither of them will become arbitration-eligible until 2011. They'll be joined by Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young, Jeff Karstens and Phil Dumatrait as first-year arbitration players then, and that's when the purse strings will have to tighten.

The rest of the club will pull down between $400-500K next season. If they sign Wilson and Sanchez at their figures, the payroll will be in the low-to-mid $40M range; if they sign one of the pair, $40M; and if they don't ink either, they'll be in the mid $30M ballpark. And who knows how low it goes if they lose Snell and Grabow, too.

But, in the Pirates' defense, if they pick up the options on Sanchez, Wilson, and the rest of the gang as currently written, the payroll shoots up into the low $50M range, not much by MLB standards but thought to be stratospheric by the Bucs.

According to Cot's, Pittsburgh hasn't hit that level of spending since 2003 and only reached it twice this decade. So payroll shouldn't be an issue in 2010. But rest assured, it will be.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Giant Arms, Pee Wee Bats

Barry Zito must have had flashbacks to his Cy Young days; at one point he retired 15 consecutive Bucco batters after giving up a run in the opening frame. Then again, the Pirates have made a lot of guys with ERAs north of four look like Cy Young winners.

But Charlie Morton overcame some early control woes, and looked a lot like a guy trying to become the top-of-the order pitcher in the Pittsburgh rotation. He went seven innings of three-hit, no-run ball, striking out six and walking a pair, none after the second inning. He only threw 90 pitches, but was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

John Grabow and Matt Capps were equal to the task, although Capps had to work out of a second-and-third, one-out jam to notch his 20th save in a 2-0 Buc win. Morton evened his record at 2-2 and saw his ERA drop to 3.12.

-- The most interested guy in the trading deadline for Pittsburgh has to be Lastings Milledge. He's killing the ball at Indy (Milledge is on a 15-for-21 tear), but like Andrew McCutchen, won't get the call to Pittsburgh unless a full-time spot opens up. His chance is if Adam LaRoche is moved and Garrett Jones takes over at first base, leaving left field for Milledge.

-- Sometimes all it takes is a little change of scenery. RHP Jeff Karstens pitched two perfect relief innings last night and is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 13 games since being sent to the bullpen. He was 2-3 with a 5.30 ERA in 10 starts to begin the season. Karstens' line now is 3-4, with a 4.50 ERA.

If Virgil Vasquez doesn't shape up, Karstens could be back in the rotation shortly.

-- Speaking of pitching... Bucco starters are 27-35 with a 4.47 ERA, a .275 opponent batting average, and 5.1 K's and 3.1 walks per 9 innings. Most encouraging is the innings worked; the staff goes 5.9 innings per outing, just a tick better than the NL average of 5.85 innings. And it shows in the bullpen stats.

The bullpen is 12-15-20 with a 3.79 ERA, .239 opponent batting average, 6.4 strikeouts and 4.9 walks per nine innings. If only the relievers could cut their walks...the average pen gives up 4.1 passes per nine.

Overall, they're pretty close to NL average, quite an accomplishment for Joe Kerrigan and his charges. The only glaring lack is the ability to miss bats - the Pirates are last in the NL in strikeouts, even behind the sad sack Nats in that category. The league benchmark is 620; the Pirates have rung up 482.

The NL batting average for balls in play is .295, and that represents 41 hits more the Pirates have allowed just because they can't put hitters away.

-- Four is the magic number for the Pirates. When they score four runs or less, they're 10-33; when the pitching allows 4 runs or less, they're 32-26. When they score five runs or more, they're 29-16; when they give up five or more, they're 7-24.

The Bucs' record is 39-50. The Pythagorean record, or what the runs scored/runs allowed predict it should be, is 43-46. That's a huge difference. Pittsburgh is 10-20 when they give up 4 or 5 runs, and that's where the feast or famine offense is killing their record.

It puts too much pressure on the pitchers. They've given up five runs or under 61 times, or 72% of the games. The arms have kept them in games, but inconsistent run production has been the season-long bug-a-boo.

-- DK reports that
"Chase D'Arnaud, a shortstop prospect with Class A Lynchburg, will miss several weeks to a sprained thumb ligament, director of player development Kyle Stark said this afternoon.

D'Arnaud, 22, was the Pirates' fourth-round draft pick last summer. He batted .291 through 62 games for low Class A West Virginia, then .279 through 19 games after being promoted to Lynchburg."
-- The prized prospect of this year's July 2nd international free agent class, SS Miguel Angel Sano, passed his Major League Baseball age and identity investigation, a source in the Dominican Republic told So that saga should come to an end shortly, one way or another. (EDIT - other reports say SI is premature, and we'll have to wait until next week for the decision. Sheesh!)

Pellas on the Pirates: The Good, the Bad, and the...Bizarre

The second half of the season just got underway. The good: the Pirates beat one of the National League's best teams, the Giants, by a 2-1 margin. The Giants, by the way, started the NL's reigning Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum.

The bad: the Pirates wasted yet ANOTHER stellar outing by Paul Maholm, who logged yet another no decision and who must be counting them in his sleep by this point.

The bizarre: both of the Bucco tallies scored on solo home runs, both home runs came from the same guy---Garrett Jones---and they came 14 innings apart. The real kicker: Jones is 28 and had barely sniffed the big leagues prior to this season, having been buried in the Twins' organization until the Pirates got him as a minor league free agent this past winter.

It's been that kind of a year for the Pirates in 2009, especially since the front office decided this was going to be Rebuilding Year Part 17. Which would be bad, though not bizarre, like Leonard Part 6. Leonard Part 6 was "bizarre", which is to say, definitely not good.

But I digress.

The good: both Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez have played very well all year, which has definitely been a factor in the improved performance of the pitching staff. Freddy made the All Star team again.

The bad: Jack continues to miss games here and there even when he manages to stay off the disabled list, which he didn't do over an extended stretch earlier in 2009. Freddy, too, continues to have issues with his body, the latest being a twinge in his back that caused him to sit out for nearly a week, though the team decided not to put him on the retroactive 15 day DL. So, how long before either or both breaks down for an extended period if not for good?

The bizarre: after being shopped more aggressively than a K Mart Blue Light Special, Jack and Freddy were approached by the front office this week about signing an extension. Huh?!? Unfortunately, things with this team's fan base being what they are, the Mulder and Scully wannabes are already out in force with their conspiracy theories. That is, Joe Lunchbucket strongly suspects that this is a cynical PR ploy by the suits. See? We did the right thing, we tried and tried and tried to re-sign Jack and Freddy to extensions, and they refused our lowball, ERRRR, we mean, our oh-so-reasonable offers. That's why we're trading them now in exchange for still more "hot prospects"!!! Or was that a bag of baseballs?

The good: the pitching staff is without a doubt much better than it was in 2008---though of course it could hardly have been worse. Then we would have been the Washington Nationals!

The bad: the offense has been terrible throughout most of the season, especially since its top hitter, Nate McLouth, was sent packing to Atlanta. McLouth was probably also the single best player produced by the Pirates' system during the Dave Littlefield years.

The bizarre: speaking of the aforementioned Nationals, their one-time, uh, "closer" Joel Hanrahan was brought to Pittsburgh when the Pirates dealt two MORE Littlefield holdovers (Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan) to Washington. Hanrahan continues to stink, which is not bizarre, it's just bad. It also makes one wonder if Neil Huntington is determined to rid himself of every last shred of the Littlefield organization, even---especially?---where those shreds are actually useful players. Or even, perhaps, better than useful. Which would be REALLY bizarre. Almost as bizarre as the notion that Neil Huntington might spend his off hours throwing darts at a dartboard festooned with Littlefield's doomed and dour visage. It couldn't be that....could it?

The good: two rookies, Robinzon Diaz and Jason Jaramillo, did a stellar job filling in as the starting catcher while Ryan Doumit worked his way back from a severe wrist injury and subsequent surgery.

The bad: Doumit just can't stay on the field for any length of time to save his life. Oh, and he also looks totally unfit for duty, if his early returns are any indication. And if he isn't hitting like Doumit has shown that he can hit---on those rare occasions when he's able to play more than a week at a time---well, let's just say that the cavalry isn't coming over the hill to save our offense anytime soon.

And if his wrist is anywhere close to 100%, well, then: I'm Mickey Mouse. Which would be bizarre.

The good: the Pirates still have half a season to play, and they play more home games than any other team in baseball. There's also a lot of talent in the system, particularly at high Class A and below.

The bad: they may be talented, but these kids aren't arriving in Pittsburgh before 2011, if then. And expecting them to immediately lead the way to a winning record or two or three is expecting a whole lot.

The bizarre: all indications are that the Pirates streak of losing seasons might well hit 20 before it ends. Which would not only be bizarre, but seriously---incredibly---bad. One wonders what might have happened had the front office just kept the team it had coming out of spring training, then added Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew McCutchen to the mix. Of course, then we might not have gotten an extended look at Garrett Jones, unless we traded Adam LaRoche so that Jones could play every day at first base, his best position.

Then, too, if the lowball offers the Pirates are getting for LaRoche continue, it just might be that Adam will not be dealt, in which case the team might offer him arbitration after the season. Which in turn might mean that he would take it. Which might mean the LaRoche Era would continue past 2009, meaning that poor Jones would find himself blocked again, just like he was on the Twins. Which would be bizarre.

All of which reminds me of a line from World War II that seems apropos for anyone still watching this team: "'THE WORLD WONDERS".

(Contributor Will Pellas takes a look at the wackiness that is the Pirates' 2009 season)

Up the Middle...

-- The opening volley of the Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez talks was fired: the Pirates opening offer appears to be converting the 2010 contracts from one year into two year deals, spreading the $8M due each over 2010-11.

That might be an OK deal for Wilson; Sanchez should be able to do considerably better in the marketplace as a free agent. And it sounds as if they're being offered two-year deals, good for the Pirates but not so hot for the 31 year-old players.

The suits want to buy time; the infielders are looking for some security in a Pittsburgh environment that doesn't offer much of it.

We'll see if there's any middle ground to the deals, probably by next week end. The local media consensus is that the odds of Wilson returning are better than Sanchez's; the three-time All-Star has more value as trade bait and then on the open market, and has Delwyn Young waiting in the wings if push comes to shove.

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has the story and some possible scenarios in today's piece. In his blog, he makes the case that the Pirates are after Jack Splat more so than Steady Freddy.

John Paul Morosi of Fox Sports has his take on the sudden about-face in this article. He's looking for the best, but suspects the worst.

Craig Calcoterra of NBC's Circling the Bases has a somewhat more upbeat view of the Pirate offer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Along Came Jones

Tim Lincecum and Paul Maholm showed how it's done in front of 26,709 fans at PNC. Lincecum went seven innings, giving up a run on five hits and a walk with ten Ks; Maholm answered by going eight frames, yielding an unearned run on four hits while whiffing seven.

Neither was around for the decision. The bullpens carried on, and picked up right where the starters left off. Eleven relievers combined to throw six scoreless innings before Bob Howry finally cracked in the fourteenth frame.

The Bucs drew first blood on a Garrett Jones dinger with two away in the opening inning.

The Giant run that tied it in the seventh was enough to make a grown fan cry. After the first two runners reached, Maholm worked it to a first-and-third, two out situation. A ball ricocheted off Ryan Doumit, and Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda, broke for second.

Doumit fired a low strike to second, easily beating him, but Freddy Sanchez had it clank off his mitt, allowing Sandoval to get in safely and the run to score. It cost Maholm the win, but fortunately, not the Pirates.

The Bucs tried to respond in their half of the frame, but Brandon Moss was gunned down easily at home on Jack Splat's two-out single to right as Tony Beasley waved his arms and rolled the dice on an off-line throw. It was a one-hop strike.

Adam LaRoche, in a batting slump of Cecil B. DeMille epic proportions, had the game saving play in the thirteenth, when he made a diving stop of a Sanchez relay that was headed into right field with a runner at second.

Then along came Jones in the fourteenth, launching his 7th homer in twelve games to give the Bucs the 2-1 victory. Start the game with a long ball, and finish it with the walk-off blast that bounds merrily into the Allegheny. Not a bad day at the shop.

Evan Meek was the recipient of Jones' splash-down, earning his first MLB victory. it'll be a night that both remember.

-- One thing to note about Jones; while he's extended his hitting streak to nine games with his sixth and seventh homers tonight, they've all been solo shots. In a small sample, he's not exactly money in the bank in clutch situations - he's 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. In fact, with a runner on anywhere, he's 1-for-16.

Too early to tell how he'll be as middle-of-the-order RBI guy, but that's not a great stat for someone swinging a hot bat. Not that there's anything wrong with a quick jolt...

-- Indy C Erik Kratz earned the International League Top Star Award for his 2-for-2 performance in Wednesday night's IL/PCL All-Star Game. Kratz had a double and a two-run homer, scored twice and walked once in the IL's 6-5 win. Andrew McCutchen won the honor in last summer's Triple-A All-Star Game.

Kratz entered the break ranked first among IL catchers in hits (54) and runs (29), second in home runs (5) and RBI (23) and third in average (.269).

The slugging backstop also ranks in the top five in the IL in caught stealing efficiency, having thrown out 33% percent of runners trying to steal against him, while his own six steals leads all IL catchers and all catchers in the Pirates' organization.

-- Other noteworthy AAA performances: Ian Snell (2-1) was lights out again for the Tribe as he allowed just one unearned run on two hits in 6-1/3 innings with 5 BBs and 7 Ks to lower his ERA to 0.34 Thursday night.

Gorzo (4-3, 2.66 ERA) went this evening and got the win. He pitched six innings, giving up a run on four hits with 6 Ks and 3 walks.

Steve Pearce is hitting .450 (9-for-20) with five runs, six doubles, a home run and nine RBI in his last six contests since being sent back down by the Bucs.

-- In the Double-A All-Star Game, Altoona's 1B/OF Jason Delaney went 1-for-3 with a walk at DH and drove in the go-ahead run in the South's 5-3 win over the North. SS Brian Friday went 1-for-4. LHP Daniel Moskos pitched one inning and allowed one earned run on one hit and three walks.

Then Again, Maybe Not...

Dejan Kovacevic reports in today’s Post-Gazette that the Bucs are negotiating contract extensions with Steady Freddy and Jack Splat. What this means is:

-- JR broke into tears when he considered a middle infield of Delwyn Young and Ramon Vasquez, as did the entire Pirate pitch-to-contact staff. The Pittsburgh organization has no prospects in place to replace either guy.

The closest are Indy’s 2B Shelby Ford (.167), who hasn’t overcome an early season wrist injury, and SS Brian Friday (.249) at Altoona, unless a DP combo of Brian Bixler/Luis Cruz lights your fire.

-- No one offered anything more than a doggie bag for either guy. Both were hampered by big contracts, and no one wants to deal with those in this economy. The Bucco wheeler-dealers had to finally accept marketplace reality.

We haven’t heard a concrete offer for Wilson since the 2008 season opened, and the best vibe we picked up through the media grapevine for Sanchez was a straight-up Jonathan Sanchez deal with the Giants. That’s not nearly enough return for a three-time All-Star.

The contracts aren’t a done deal, by any stretch of the imagination. Both players expressed interest in staying, particularly as a team. But there’s a deadline in place, probably a week or so before the trading cut-off off of July 31st.

The money will be one question. The length of the contracts will be another – DK says that the players are looking for three years guaranteed; the suits would prefer two years with an option.

And would they hold out for a no-trade clause to prevent the kind of drama they’re going through now from happening in the future - and more importantly, the Nate McLouth shuffle? (EDIT - DK reports that Wilson will be a 5 and 10 year player next season, so he has veto rights on a deal).

Stay tuned. And hey, everyone else is still in play, although the market is softening now that teams like the O’s, Royals, and Reds are now sellers. The closer the deadline gets, the shorter the odds of the team entirely blowing up - until the off-season.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Clear The Decks...

Don't get too use to this Pirate team; it's still in serious shake-down mode. If recent rumors are right, Freddy Sanchez is gonzo. So expect to see a heavy dose of Delwyn Young at second base.

The suits would also love to rid themselves of Jack Splat and Adam LaRoche. Wilson is iffy; his contract and the complete lack of internal replacement options could earn him a short-lived reprieve. Still, if they're looking to dump a big salary...

Adam LaRoche is in the same boat, except that he's imminently replaceable and in his walk season. Garrett Jones' name is written all over first base, at least until Pedro Alvarez develops a little plate discipline and claims it.

Which opens up left field for prodigal child Lastings Milledge, with Jose Tabata a not-too-far-in-the-future insurance policy; then it could be Brandon Moss' turn to walk the plank. So even though LaRoche won't net a sack of Super-Balls in return, he's effectively blocking two positions. Bye-bye Adam.

Ryan Doumit? We think his wrist injury probably removed him from the current market, but he'll be a commodity in the hot stove league.

Pitching? Take your pick. Ian Snell is being shopped; we suspect Tom Gorzelanny is in the same boat. John Grabow has been a hot item, and he's a free-agent at the end of the year. Even though he'll leave the Pirates without a lefty in the bullpen if he's dealt, Grabow should net a middling prospect.

Zach Duke is a sell-high candidate, and Paul Maholm is a decent mid-to-back-end arm. Matt Capps has been mentioned, too, but any more flame-outs and he'll be someone they'll hold on to until his value rebuilds.

Why all the movement? Well, they claim they want to be competitive now (without defining "competitive"), but it's apparent they're looking optimistically at a 2011 window, maybe 2012, before the system is in decent shape and they can play with the big boys.

The suits also want guys that they have under control for several years, both for budgetary and trade reasons.

And finally, it sure seems like they have no love for anyone Dave Littlefield ever put on the roster. Remember the XFL player that sported the "He Hate Me" jersey? GW thinks that everyone that was inherited by Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington was fitted for one just like it.

Win or lose, the new suits want to do it their way.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Report

-- Tyler Yates will miss the rest of the 2009 season after having successful Tommy John surgery yesterday to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow. Elbow inflammation, hey?

Yates also had Tommy John surgery in 2002 when he was with the Mets organization.

-- JR plans to keep his rotation intact after the All-Star break: Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Virgil Vasquez. Maholm (6-4, 4.60 ERA) will face the Giants' RHP Tim Lincecum (10-2, 2.33 ERA), the NL's All-Star starter, Friday at PNC.

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review has a piece on Pirate attendance and the possibility of ticket prices going up in the future. The highlight is that PNC attendance is up 2%, while it's down 4-5% in the majors overall so far this season.

But the Bucs have 42 home games left, the most in baseball, and fan support could be negatively affected by a dismantling of the team or poor performance after the break. Or both; they usually go hand-in-hand.

-- John Perrotto of Pirate Report says that MLB commish Bud Selig is a fan of the Pirates' shake-up:
"I have three people, whose opinions I trust very much, evaluate the farm system of every team on an annual basis," said Selig. "They rate the Pirates as having one of the best farm systems in the game. That leads me to believe they are on the right track in Pittsburgh.

"I understand that fans there don't want to hear about the future because they've been losing for so long. The organization is making good strides, though, and I believe it is only a matter of time before they win."
He also has all the latest trade rumors wrapped up in one article.

-- Here's one he missed: Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun reports that "They (the Yankees) need a starter and are looking at Ian Snell of the Pirates. Yanks could move Phil Hughes, plus prospects." GW thinks maybe Ian Kennedy; certainly not Hughes, would be dangled for Snell. But any competition is good. Previously, it was thought only the Phillies had any interest in Snell.

-- For stat fans, Matthew Pouliot of Circling the Bases looked at the rookies, and the Pirates had a pair that are highly ranked in this year's frosh class based on VORP (Value Over Replacement Player, or how many runs better or worse a player is compared to the average grunt).

The yearlings are CF Andrew McCutchen, ranked fifth among hitters with a +10.3 VORP, and RHP Evan Meek, eighth among pitchers with the same +10.3 VORP.

-- The Braves are shopping SS Yunel Escobar, but we haven't heard any Pirate noises involving bringing him to the 'Burgh. Ditto with Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta or any of the trio of Tiger prospects, Cale Iorg, Danny Worth, and Mike Hollimon.

-- Lastings Milledge was sent to high A Lynchburg Monday. No, we don't think he wore out his welcome already. Indy and Altoona are on All-Star break, and it looks like the Bucs are fast-tracking him, so they're just getting him a couple more at-bats during the lull. We expect him back at Indy for tomorrow's game.

-- Charles "Teenie" Harris, noted photographer of all things involving the Hill, was a great baseball fan, with many pictures of the Crawfords, which he helped establish, and Roberto Clemente included in his portfolio of celebrity snapshots.

His son, Charles "Little Teenie" Harris, told Mary Thomas of the Post Gazette this story about his dad: "He told me once that the Pirates were the strongest baseball team and I said 'But Dad, they're in last place.' And he said 'They're on the bottom holding the rest of them up.'" Some things never change.

AL Makes It Thirteen Straight

Hey, it was a pretty nice pitching match-up, and it should have been - eleven of the sixteen pitchers that got in the game were closers, and they strutted their stuff pretty well in the 4-3 AL All-Star win, the fourth consecutive one-run victory for the junior circuit.

The game hinged on two late-inning catches, one that was made and one that wasn't. In the seventh, Brad Hawpe launched one that Carl Crawford pulled in from just over the fence, saving a run. The grab earned him the MVP honors for the night.

And in the eighth, Justin Upton, who was making his first MLB appearance in LF, took a bad route, turned himself around, and ended up too close to the wall when the ball hopped off it, playing speedster Curtis Granderson's long fly into a triple that became the winning run.

Freddy Sanchez and Zach Duke never left the pine, as 26 of the 33 NL All-Stars made the scorecard.