Tuesday, November 30, 2010

FA Market Report

-- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that "The Cardinals, Giants, Padres, Orioles and Pirates all have expressed recent interest in (SS Jason) Bartlett...The Rays are believed to be seeking bullpen help in any deal for Bartlett."

The 31 year old's 2010 numbers were .254/4/47, just about the same as Ronny Cedeno (.256/8/38), although in 2009 he did put up a .320/14/66 line and is a lifetime .281 hitter. Bartlett's UZR/150 last year was -13.8 and was -6.9 in 2009, so he's most certainly not a defensive upgrade over Cedeno.

Bartlett made $4M last season and is in his third arbitration year, so he'd be in the $5M+ range for 2011 and would become a free agent at the end of the year. We don't see the fit, and certainly don't think he's worth Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan...or for that matter, Chris Resop.

The guy we like is James Jerry (JJ) Hardy of the Twins and formerly the Brew Crew. He's also in his last arb year and hasn't been tendered yet, though the Twin Cities have until Thursday night to offer to deal. Minnesota recently signed Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, so Hardy could be on the market even if he is tendered.

He's 28, and while his bat isn't much better than Cedeno's or Bartlett's (his 2010 line was .268/6/44), he has hit double-digit homers every year that he's gotten 400+ AB.

JJ's glove is what sets him apart. His UZR/150 lifetime is 11.0; in the past two seasons, it's been 9.2 and 12.8, so he's a fielder that's improving. He makes $5.1M, so he won't be cheap, but he's young enough that Pittsburgh could offer him a multi-year deal to offset free agency if he's willing.

And he may not be, after Troy Tulowitzki's deal. TT reportedly got $157.75M over ten years. The deal is thought to be $23.75M for the final three guaranteed years remaining on his current contract, a $15M option for 2014 and $119M for six new years. It will carry him until he 36 years old; holy A-Rod!

Ryan Theriot, 31, is another possibility. He's in his second year of arb, knocking down $2.1M in 2010, and is easily the most affordable. He should also be available after the Dodgers recently signed Juan Uribe.

RT's a decent glove guy, although his UZR/150 was terrible last year at -18.5. But he only got into 29 games behind Starlin Castro and Rafael Furcal; in the three prior seasons, with 100+ games at SS, he's had UZR/150's of 4.4, 2.3, and 4.1, all pretty solid.

He's a .281 lifetime hitter, no pop but a lot of speed. Theriot's a good guy to have at either end of the order, just not the middle. (EDIT - u snooze, u lose: the Cardinals just traded with the Dodgers for Theriot, sending RHP Blake Hawksworth to LA)

There are also a few oldies looking for work, like Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Miguel Tejada if the Bucs want a short-term bat at SS, plus the usual good glove suspects: Adam Everett, Craig Counsell, Cesar Izturis, and Nick Punta.

-- Scratch Jorge de la Rosa off the wish list; he's reportedly finalizing a contract with Colorado. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweets that it's for 3 years/$32-33M; Troy Renck of the Denver Post says that they've agreed in principle for 2 years/$21.5M with two option years.

Pretty affordable deal either way; it's Ted Lilly money. De La Rosa opted to stay home, although it was rumored that there were guaranteed four-year deals being offered. We're not sure if the Pirates were serious players in JDLR's mind or just guys to help sweeten the pot.

De La Rosa, Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland and Jake Westbrook have all left the market; the Pirates are sifting through a lot of "comeback kids" now. Scott Olsen, Jeff Francis, Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Webb and maybe even Chris Young and Kevin Correia are looking better and better.

-- Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweets that Octavio Dotel will decline arbitration and become a free agent.

-- Jordan Bastien of MLB.com reports that the Indians signed former Indy C Luke Carlin to a minor league contract with an invitation to camp. Carlin provides the Indians with added depth in case catcher Carlos Santana faces any setbacks in his recovery from left knee surgery.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bucco Bits

-- 2B Neil Walker was named to the 2010 Topps Rookie team today. It's the second consecutive season a Pirate prospect has gotten that recognition; Andrew McCutchen was on last year's squad.

Walker said today in his fan chat that "The personal accolades are great, but I would definitely trade all of them in for a World Series and...I'm really looking forward to getting going this spring and into the 2011 season."

And hey, who woulda thought in the spring that the Pittsburgh Kid would be on that team and Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata wouldn't be?

-- The Pirates went to the Down Under well again, signing LHP Jackson Lodge, 17, of the Adelaide Bite. He joins bro Aussies Mitchell Fienemann, Jarryd Sullivan, Dylan Child, and Wilson Lee as Bucco prospects. He just turned 17, so he may spend another year at the Australia Baseball Academy before coming stateside to the GCL.

-- Lance Berkman told Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle that the Pirates were one of a "bunch" of teams "tire-kicking" his availability.

-- Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young opted for free agency today after clearing waivers. We wish them both well and hope a change of scenery perks up their careers.

-- LHP Dana Eveland signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last week. The Bucs sent RHP Ron Uviedo to the Blue Jays for him during the season. Eveland made three appearances with the Pirates, including a start, and he posted an 0-1 record with an 8.38 ERA. He finished the year at Indy, where he was 0-2 with a 7.96 ERA.

-- Dave "The Cobra" Parker, Bert Blyleven and Raul Mondesi are on this year's Hall of Fame ballots.

Mondesi, you may remember, signed in 2004 as a free agent with Pittsburgh only to take a powder back to the Dominican Republic for "personal issues" - he wanted out of his deal - in late May, getting his contract voided by MLB. He would end up being released by the Angels and Braves within a year.

This should be the year the Dutchman gets his bust in Cooperstown, but it's the last hurrah for the Cobra, who is on the ballot for the final time and not looking very HoF-ish.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Bay Deal In Retrospect

David Golebiewski of Fangraphs wrote a piece earlier in the week on Andy LaRoche's release and the Jason Bay deal as seen in hindsight. The gist of the story is:

"In retrospect, it looks like the Pirates have little chance of breaking even on the Bay deal, due mostly to LaRoche’s non-development. I have to admit, I liked the trade at the time. Getting 5-6 years of team control over a top position prospect like LaRoche had the potential to give the Bucs a lot of surplus value. It certainly didn’t work out that way, however."

Pirate Middle Infield

Ah, if there was one spot the Littlefield gang left stocked for the new FO, it was the middle of the diamond. Jack Wilson was manning shortstop while Freddy Sanchez took over second in 2007 at the big league level; both had been All-Stars.

The upper minors were solid, too, even when shortstop Brent Lillibridge (4th round 2005 draft) was sent to the Braves in 2007 for Adam LaRoche. SS Brian Bixler (2nd round 2004 draft) and 2B Shelby Ford (3rd round 2006 draft) were just a short step away from the show.

Funny thing about projections, hey? Wilson and Sanchez were injury prone and didn't fit into the new bosses' makeover. They were dealt away in 2009. Bixler turned out to be a AAAA guy now with the Nats, and Ford is a utility man at the mid-level of the farm system, both having long lost the patina of a prospect. Aye carumba!

But the baseball gods did smile a bit on the Buccos this season. After the 2009 Delwyn Young project fizzled, the Pirates went out and got overpaid and overfed Aki Iwamura to play second base. He was demoted after 40 games and replaced by Bobby Crosby, who in turn was spelled by 25 year old jack-of-all-trades Neal Walker.

The Pittsburgh Kid grabbed the bull by the horns and made several All-Rookie teams at the position, even though he was considered nothing more than a utility player when he was called up; so much for the FO's player evaluation skills, hey? Walker put together a line of .296/12/66, quite solid for a middle infielder who didn't get the call until late May.

He did as well as could be expected in the field, acrobatic on balls in the air, klutzy on balls on the ground and still working on his footwork and pivot techniques. His UZR/150 of -17.1 quantifies how much work is ahead of him.

But the Pirates have resisted several calls to move him to third, where he was a minor league All-Defensive pick, and Pedro Alvarez to first. If they're going to take Anthony Rendon in the draft this year, it does make a certain amount of long-term sense and tells us that they see Walker as a full-time fit at second.

Ronny Cedeno's footing at short isn't nearly as solid as Walker's is at second. A pet project of JR, Cedeno, 27, played throughout September while Argenis Diaz, 23, and Pedro Ciriaco, 25, collected splinters, all the while booting balls at frightening pace. His UZR/150 was -4.1. He did show an occasional burst with the bat, but his 2010 line was .256/8/42, not especially stellar.

Why JR didn't get Diaz or Ciriaco any innings is a mystery. Neither profiles as an everyday player, but Diaz from the Red Sox system draws raves with his glove and former D-back farmhand Ciriaco has some tools in his kit, too. Both are on the 40-man roster and protected from the Rule 5 draft. Diaz, though, is out of options while Ciriaco has one remaining.

Brian Friday, 24, stepped into the breach at Indy, but the oft-injured infielder was left off of the 40 man roster and is available for Rule 5. He also projects as a utility guy, not as toolsy as Diaz or Ciriaco but a hard-nosed overachiever type of player. Jim Negrych, 25, keeps on hitting and may earn a bench spot someday; they play him at 2B, 3B, and even left - can first be far behind?

So at the top level, it looks like Cedeno-Walker will man the middle for the big club, with Diaz on the bench, the difference between he and Ciriaco being the option year. If Friday gets through Rule 5, he and Ciriaco should form the middle of Indy's lineup, Negrych the backup. Simple, no? Well...no.

Jordy Mercer, 24, and Chase d'Arnaud, 23, have been joined at the hip since they were selected 3-4 in the 2008 draft. They've advanced through the ranks, and have a pair of minor league championships under their belts. And this year, they should be starting at Indy.

d'Arnaud, despite a bad year with the bat at Altoona (.246/6/48), is still the numero uno internally to replace Cedeno long-term. Mercer played every infield position for the Curve, primarily at second and third, with a line of.282/3/65. It appears they're grooming him for a utility role. Last season was far and away his best with the stick; his OBP in the minors is just .317.

Josh Harrison, 23, acquired from the Cubs, hit .300 for the Curve. His problem is that he plays primarily third, and his bat just doesn't cut it there power-wise. But he's also seen considerable time at second, which was quite the juggling act for manager Matt Walbeck, considering d'Arnaud and Mercer needed innings too. He also projects as a utility-type player unless he can improve his work at second base.

At High Class A Bradenton, SS Brock Holt, 22, a ninth round draft pick from Rice in 2009, was slapping the cover off the ball (.351 BA) until a knee injury in late June cost him the season.

Class A West Virginia have a pair of up-and-coming guys in the middle, Jarek Cunningham and Benji Gonzalez, both 20. Cunningham is a high school overdraft coming off knee surgery; he has some pop but still strikes out too much. Gonzalez is a solid glove man who needs to improve his hitting.

At short-season State College, SS Drew Maggi, 21, a fifteenth round draft pick out of Arizona State, had a rude introduction to pro ball, hitting just .156 and committing eight errors, but how he adapts next season will be a better indicator of his potential. He profiles as a good glove, high energy speed guy.

Kelson Brown, 23, a late draft pick from Linfield State, played third and middle infield. He's got a good arm, good range, and a decent bat, and projects, like many Bucco system infielders, as a utility guy.

So the Bucs are OK at middle infield at the farm level, even if a season or more away from any organizational players making an impact. The guys at the show? Well, Walker and Cedeno are not a very steady pair with the glove, but both have the potential to take it up a step. Cedeno has great upside if he can focus, and Walker could become at least another Sanchez in the field given time.

Walker will get some time to show if he can adjust to second; we think a new coaching staff will look hard at the talented but inconsistent Cedeno. The free agent market is thin and old. If the FO is looking to deal, the top two chips out there are Jason Bartlett and JJ Hardy; both will be looking at $5-6M this year, but would be an upgrade.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dave Giusti

Today is Dave Giusti's birthday; he's 71 years young. Sometimes people forget what an effective closer he was for the Pirates in the early seventies, but he ranks fourth on the all-time Pirate list for games saved. Here's his story:

David John Giusti, Jr., was born in Seneca Falls, New York. When he was fifteen years old, his team lost in the New York State Babe Ruth Championship by a score of 1-0. The opposing pitcher was Carl Yastrzemski, the Red Sox future Hall of Famer and 1967 Triple Crown winner. Giusti to this day gripes that a ball he hit off Yaz that day was a home run although it was ruled a ground rule double.

Giusti attended Syracuse University, where he was part of the rotation that led the Orange to a spot in the 1961 College World Series (he also played hoops for the Orangemen).

A degree wasn’t all Dave acquired at Syracuse; he also learned how to throw the palm ball, which he picked up from Syracuse pitching coach Ted Kleinhaus. And, btw, he did get his sheepskin; he taught high school science during the off seasons early in his career.

The righty was signed as a free agent by the expansion Houston Colt .45s in 1961, and received $35,000, becoming Houston’s first bonus baby. The Cards also were after him, but he thought he'd have a better chance of cracking the roster more quickly as part of a new squad. Giusti was right.

He was 22 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 13, 1962, with the Colt .45s (they became the Houston Astros in 1965). From 1965-68, he was a workhorse, starting 100 games and working 682-2/3 innings during that span.

Before the 1969 season, Giusti was part of a flurry of transactions. He was part of a four man trade with the Cards, one of his original suitors, in what basically was a Giusti for catcher Johnny Edwards swap.

But St. Louis didn't protect him in the expansion draft three days later, and he was taken by by the San Diego Padres. They got him back in early December, but it cost the Redbirds Ed Spiezio, Danny Breeden, Ron Davis and minor leaguer Phil Knuckles. After all that, he pitched one year for them before he got handed a plane ticket again.

During the off season, Giusti was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates (partly because of a recommendation to GM Joe Brown from Roberto Clemente, who had a tough time hitting him) with Dave Ricketts for jack-of-all-trades Carl Taylor and farmhand Frank Vanzin. Manager Danny Murtaugh considered him a swing man (especially when he got beat up as a starter in spring training), and had him slated to start and relieve ala Jeff Karstens.

But the Whistling Irishman quickly converted him into a reliever after incumbent Chuck Hartenstein had problems getting outs, and Giusti became one of the top closers in the NL. Giusti threw a low nineties heater, but his killer pitch was his palmball, akin to a forkball or split-finger fastball.

His first season as a back end guy from the bullpen was an unqualified success; he had a 3.08 ERA and 26 saves for the division winners (they lost to the Reds in the playoffs). Giusti finished fourth in the Cy Young voting and sixth in the MVP tally, but wasn't picked for the All-Star game; Gil Hodges by-passed him.

He led the NL with 30 saves in 1971 as the Bucs won the NL playoff series and the World Series. Giusti became the first pitcher to pitcher to pitch in every game of the National League Championship Series. He appeared in four games for 5-1/3 innings, giving up no runs on one hit, two walks, and three strikeouts.

Giusti appeared in three games of the World Series, and he was credited with a save in Game Four. Giusti was awarded The Sporting News Fireman of the Year Award in 1971 and got a smattering of MVP votes. Again he missed All-Star honors; manager Sparky Anderson chose Clay Carroll, his team’s closer, over him.

He had 22 saves and a 1.93 ERA in 1972 as the Pirates won another division title only to lose to the Big Red Machine again, largely because of Giusti's one dark moment as a Buc. He failed to hold onto a one run lead in the ninth of the final playoff game that eventually was lost on Bob Moose's wild pitch. Moose took the abuse, but Giusti, who gave up three straight hits, took the loss.

The only year that Giusti was selected for the NL All-Star Team was in 1973 when he had 20 saves and a 2.37 ERA, a season that the Bucs finished 2-1/2 games behind the Mets.

In 1974, he became the first relief pitcher in MLB to earn a $100,000 a year. But his season was nothing to write home about - he had just 12 saves and a 3.32 ERA, though he worked over 105 innings, his Pirate high. The Pirates won the division again, but lost the championship series to the Dodgers.

Giusti had elbow surgery after the year. 1975 was his last season as the Bucs' undisputed closer, as he put up 17 saves with a 2.95 ERA. It was disappointing to the Pirates, too - they won another division crown, but were swept by their nemesis, the Cincy Reds.

Giusti's last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates was 1976. Bob Moose had become the closer, and Teke was lurking in the bullpen, a couple of seasons from claiming the job for himself. He finished with just six saves, third on the team, and a 4.35 ERA. Pittsburgh finished second with 92 wins, but nine games shy of the Phillies.

That year, an Esquire magazine article by sportswriter Harry Stein named Giusti as the relief pitcher on his all-Italian team. Nothing like being recognized as the bullpen capo di tutti capi of Lo Stivale, hey?

Giusti was dealt to the Oakland A’s with Doc Medich, Doug Bair, Dave Langford, Tony Armas and Mitchell Page for Phil Garner, Tommy Helms and Chris Batton on March 15, 1977.

He was 47-28 with a 2.94 ERA and 133 saves in his seven years as a Pirate. ElRoy Face (188), Kent Tekulve (158), and Mike Williams (140) are the only Bucs with more career saves than Giusti.

Giusti put together a slate of 3-3 with 2.98 ERA and six saves in 40 games for the A’s, but they sold him to the Chicago Cubs in August. He appeared in 20 games for Chi-town, with an 0-2 record, 6.04 ERA and one save - the 145th of his career. At the end of the season, the Cubs gave Giusti his unconditional release, and he retired.

He left the show with 15 big league seasons under his belt and a record of 100-93 and an ERA of 3.60 to go along with his 145 saves.

After his baseball career, Giusti went to work as a salesman for Jack Piatt at Millcraft Industries, steel fabricators who are now rebuilding downtown. He made sales calls around the area from 1978 to 1981. He moved on to American Express as a corporate sales manager before retiring in 1994.

Giusti and his college sweetheart wife Ginny live in Upper St. Clair, near his bud and former Pirate roommate Steve Blass. The couple have two daughters, Laura and Cynthia, along with four granddaughters. He also serves as the vice president of the Pirates Alumni Association. Giusti's hobbies are cooking, golf, traveling, and the grandpap gig.

The Pirate world champs in GW's lifetime all had great closers - ElRoy Face, Dave Giusti, and Kent Tekulve. So when the discussion of all time closers pops up, don't forget Giusti. He was as good as they came in his era.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Today In The News

OK, GW is back from his jog around Schenley Park, and now flipping channels for Pitt and the Penguins (whoever invented the clicker is my hero), and still has to get a post out to his hard core holiday readers.

So, my turkey-stuffed buds, this piece will a quick romp through Pirate history that happened today:

-- On November 26th, 1986, the Yankees traded Doug Drabek, along with Logan Easley and Brian Fisher, to the Pirates for vets Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante and Pat Clements. Drabek will go on to win the Cy Young Award after posting a 22-6 record for the Bucs in 1990. In six seasons in Pittsburgh, Drabek logged 1362-2/3 innings of 3.02 ERA ball and won 92 games.

His son Kyle is a highly-touted pitching prospect of the Blue Jays, and was born a year after the Yankees-Pirates trade.

-- Bob Walk was born on Monday, November 26, 1956, in Van Nuys, California. He was 23 years old when he broke into the big leagues on May 26, 1980, with the Philadelphia Phillies. Walk spent three years with the Braves, and then pitched for the Pirates from 1984-93, finishing with a 105-81 slate and 4.03 ERA in his 14 year career. Now he's a Bucco talking head on Fox-Pittsburgh.

-- The Gravedigger, Richie Hebner, was born on November 26, 1947, in Boston, Massachusetts. He debuted for the Pirates in 1968, and played for ten seasons in a Bucco uniform during his eighteen year career. Hebner ended with an overall line of .276/203/890.

Hey, that's today's baseball fix. More tonight or tomorrow, and have a happy Black Friday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Little More On The Duke Deal

Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic gives us the finishing touches on the Zach Duke deal:

-- If the Diamondbacks can’t get Duke to sign for less than what he made this year ($4.3M), they’ll likely non-tender him, thus making him a free agent.

-- The Diamondbacks are said to have agreed to give up a mid-level prospect whose name can’t be announced until after rosters become unfrozen following next month’s Rule 5 draft. The sides have agreed to other players in the event the original player is selected in the Rule 5 draft.

The more prominent players left unprotected by the D-backs and so presumably on the Bucco shopping list are critiqued here by The Musician blogging for the AZ Snakepit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Talkin' Turkey

Geez, no rest even on a holiday.

-- The Bucs found a taker for Zach Duke; the D-Backs took him for a PTBNL. Funny how the Pirates couldn't trade him for the past season and a half; we suspect his price tag must have dropped considerably after he was DFA'ed. The Zachster should eat some back-end innings for Arizona.

Duke had a 5.72 ERA working in PNC Park, a neutral field as far as hitting is concerned, and Chase Field is considered a launching pad. Not only that, but its infield is one of the faster ones, and Duke is a career 49% groundball guy.

Of course, that should be offset by the fact that Arizona had the best UZR (a stat that puts a number on how many runs the defense saved or gave up) in baseball at +58.3 and the Bucs had the worst at -66.2.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has another name to add to list of pitchers the Bucs are bird-dogging. The newest addition is LHP Scott Olsen who posted a 4-8 record and 5.56 ERA for Washington last season.

He spent some time on the DL because of soreness in his throwing shoulder last year. Olsen had labrum surgery on that shoulder in 2009. He did have a couple of strong seasons with Florida before the injury, but only worked 81 innings in 2010.

Olsen also had a bad boy reputation with the Fish, but has cleaned up his act in the past couple of years with the Nationals.

-- The Pirates, according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America, just released minor-leaguers RHP Sheng-Cin Hong, RHP Melkin Laureano, RHP Yomar Pacheco, RHP Dinesh Patel, 1B Chih-Wei Hsu, 1B Kyle Morgan, 3B Andury Acevedo, OF Erik Huber and OF Kyle Saukko

Patel is the most notable name; he was one of the "Million Dollar Arms" the Bucs signed from India. Hong and Hsu were Taiwanese players the Bucs just signed in July; guess they flunked their audition.


-- Ben Nicholson-Smith of Major League Trade Rumors posted "The Royals announced that they have released Bryan Bullington so he can sign with the Hiroshima Carp."

The first overall selection of the 2002 draft, Bullington has a 1-9 record and 5.62 ERA in 81-2/3 innings of work for the Pirates, Royals, Indians and Blue Jays.

-- The Dodgers offered Octavio Dotel arbitration. He's a Class B free agent, which means LA gets a supplementary (sandwich) round pick in the next year’s draft if he declines the proposal. He has until November 30th to decide whether to accept or not.

-- A promo: The 1971 season will be featured on Monday, November 29 at 9:00 p.m. ET on MLB Network. The episode will highlight the Baltimore Orioles' historic pitching rotation, Vida Blue, and focus on Roberto Clemente leaping onto the national scene and Pittsburgh's powerful offensive machine.

-- We assume you've heard, but just in case: Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton were named MVPs.

Hurdle's Staff Complete

Clint Hurdle finished his staff appointments by hiring first base coach Luis Silverio, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, catcher's coach Mark Strittmatter and bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade.

Silverio, 54, spent the past 35 years in the Kansas City organization. Since 2003, he's been a member of the Royals coaching staff. He was the first base coach in 2003, 2004, & 2007, and the third base coach in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Silverio became the Royals' Special Assistant to Player Development in 2009, mainly working with young Latin American players, and last season was the KC minor league outfield coordinator. He'll become the Pirates' outfield/baserunning coach.

Rojas, 43, has been the Pirates' Latin American field coordinator since 2005. Prior to that, he spent 2003-04 as the Boston Red Sox bullpen coach. Rojas also worked for the Bucs in 2002 as a roving minor league instructor.

Strittmatter, 41, was the Colorado Rockies' bullpen catcher the past eight years. He'll working with the catchers, serve as the pitchers' hitting coach, and be the jack-of-all-trades on the staff.

Andrade, 44, will return for his eighth season in the pen with the Pirates.

They'll join the earlier named staffers, bench coach Jeff Banister, pitching coach Ray Searage, hitting coach Gregg Ritchie and third base/infield coach Nick Leyva.

The Pirates are sure going heavy on the organizational men; Banister, Searage, Ritchie, Rojas and Andrade are long-time Pirate staffers. So at least the FO is staying true to its word that it wants to establish a "Pirate Way" of doing things, and built up a staff to reinforce their bottom-up teaching.

2010 coaches Tony Beasley, Luis Dorante, Carlos Garcia and Don Long were the losers in the transition; all are now looking for work. Beasley has a year left on his contract and is a highly regarded baseball man, so he'll land on his feet.

As for the others, well, it's awfully late in the year to latch onto a MLB staff, so they're all in scuffle mode.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And The Envelope For Rule 5...

The Rule 5 draft is a crapshoot; mainly you have kids that are just awfully hard to hide for a year or one dimensional players. Yah, yah, we know the odd Johan Santana and Jose Bautista are offered up sometimes, but hey - neither one ended up with the team that drafted them in the first place, so caveat emptor.

But the woefully short-on-warm-bodies Buccos have been to the well every year of the Coonnely/Huntington era. Done OK at it, too. Evan Meek ended up a keeper after a brutal beginning. Donnie Veal got through the hard part of hangin' out for a season with some judicious use of DL time, and just when things were looking up, he went and tore up his arm. John Raynor...well, everyone deserves a mulligan, right?

You can pretty much bet the Pirates will take another shot at the Rule 5 brass ring; the current talent base almost demands it. And there are a couple of interesting AA pitchers available with live arms and position players who profile as fourth outfielders or Delwyn Young, neither of which Pittsburgh needs right now.

But there is one player out there who has the pedigree to help the Pirates - Adam Miller. The righty was one of the top prospects in the game before he had four, yep, four gruesome surgeries on his finger in 2009. He missed all of last season because of it, and could possibly start this year on the DL, too.

But from 2005-2008, he was a Top 50 Prospect in Baseball America's eyes. When healthy, Miller throws a mid-90s four-seamer, an upper-80s mph slider, and an average sinker and a changeup. He's been throwing some in the Indian Instructional League, slowly rehabbing over the summer, and hit 93-94 MPH on the radar gun last month.

He's a 6'4" power pitcher, a first round draft pick with two out pitches, just 26 years old, and with top-to-middle rotation potential. And to boot, he's from the Cleveland Indian organization; Huntington knows all about him.

Of course, that's just the upside; the down side is that besides the funky finger, he had elbow problems in 2005 and 2007. He hasn't pitched a game in anger since 2008 and never worked a major league inning. More ominously, the Tribe has given up on him.

But here's what we say: go for the upside. All it costs is $50K and a spot on the 25-man roster. The bullpen now looks like Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Chris Resop, Wil Ledezma and Jose Ascanio, maybe Jeff Karstens and Kevin Hart, too. Miller should be able to squeeze in.

If it works, Pittsburgh steals a starting pitcher. If it doesn't, simply send him back to Lake Erie, collect $25K from the Indians, and call up Rudy Owens.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Andy LaRoche

Fairly or not, Neal Huntington will be remembered for his first blockbuster trade, moving Jay Bay for 3B Andy LaRoche, OF Brandon Moss, RHP Bryan Morris and RHP Craig Hansen.

Well, Morris is moving along after a rough start in the organization, and Hansen is recovering from a nerve problem that may short circuit his big league career. Moss and LaRoche? Both were deep-sixed by the FO this month. And for LaRoche, it had to be a bitter parting; he was the key piece of the deal.

Andrew Christian LaRoche was born September 13, 1983 in Fort Scott, Kansas, the son of former pitcher Dave and brother of first basemen Adam. Like his big bro, he was a star at Fort Scott High - as a catcher.

LaRoche played for Grayson County College where his dad coached and became the top prospect in the wooden-bat Cape Cod League (.326/6/18 in 92 ABs). He gave up the tools of ignorance to play shortstop after being banged up behind the dish.

First drafted in the 21st round by the San Diego Padres in 2002, he turned down their $200K offer and re-entered the draft the following year. Despite breaking a bone in his left leg in a collision, his stock soared and scouts projected him as a first rounder.

But teams were worried about his "signability" since he had turned down the Padres and had a scholarship in his pocket to play for Rice University. He lasted until the 39th round of the 2003 draft when he was taken by the LA Dodgers.

But hey, no problems. He was inked for first round cash, a cool mil.

Questions about his range bumped him from from shortstop to third base, and that's where he played his half-dozen games with the Dodgers' Ogden rookie league team in 2003.

He started the 2004 season with the Class A team in Columbus, hitting .283 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI before being promoted to Vero Beach, where he struggled average-wise, hitting only .237, but still smacked 10 HRs and drove home 34 RBI.

LaRoche acclimated in a hurry. Repeating at Vero Beach in 2005, he hit .333 with 21 HRs and 51 RBI and moved up to the AA Jacksonville Suns, where he batted .273 with 9 HRs and 43 RBI. He was named the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year.

The 2006 season saw him still at Jacksonville after attending his first Dodger camp. LaRoche hit .309 with 9 HRs and 46 RBI there and was promoted to AAA Las Vegas, where he batted .322 with 10 HRs and 35 RBI.

He broke camp with the big team in 2007. LaRoche made his major league debut on May 6, 2007, against the Atlanta Braves and notched his first hit. But he was sent down to AAA, and a .309/18/48 line in Vegas got him called back up in September.

LaRoche saw some playing time replacing the oft-injured Nomar Garciaparra, and finished his first season with a .226/1/10 line in 115 at-bats. He then played for Team USA during the off-season in the Olympic trials.

In 2008, during a spring training game, LaRoche tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his right thumb during a freak accident; a pickoff toss to third bounced off the runner and the deflection caught him on his throwing hand. LaRoche needed surgery to repair the ligament, which was tore completely off of his thumb.

LaRoche and Garciaparra began the spring fighting for the starting third base job. Both players ended up hurt, and rookie Blake DeWitt won the job through default.

After his rehab was done in early May, LaRoche was optioned to Las Vegas, a vote of confidence for DeWitt. He was recalled in June, but in 27 games hit just .203 with 2 HR. Out of the starting picture, Andy LaRoche was now expendible.

A career .295/.382/.517 minor league hitter who ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects from 2005 to 2008, LaRoche was a popular trade item, and became a key piece of the deal to land Manny Ramirez.

On July 31, 2008, LaRoche was traded to the Pirates as part of a three team deal that sent Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jason Bay to the Boston Red Sox.

He joined his brother Adam in Pittsburgh, but didn't have the same luck with the stick. After hitting .152/3/12 in August and September, LaRoche was already looking like he was overmatched at the dish, although the Pirate FO defended him staunchly and handed him the starting hot corner job in 2009.

LaRoche batted .258 with 12 home runs, five triples, 29 doubles and 64 RBI in 2009. It was a nice, workmanlike season, and his glovework shone under the tutelage of Perry Hill. But a very large shadow was being cast over LaRoche's stay in Pittsburgh, the shadow of Pedro Alvarez.

Not only was Alvarez's time fast approaching, but the brass seemed either clueless or indifferent to LaRoche's future with the team. During the offseason and from 2010 spring training on, the Pirates made no effort to work him anywhere but at the hot corner, even though LaRoche had publicly stated a willingness to return to a middle infield position where his bat would play better.

The Pirates and LaRoche got off to dismal starts in 2010. Pedro got the call to the show on June 16th, and became a fixture at third base. LaRoche started taking balls at second. He ended up playing first, third, and second, but had a disastrous season at the plate, hitting just .206/4/16.

LaRoche went to Venezuela to show he could regain his eye. Instead, he hit .186. Faced with keeping him on the 40-man roster and working out an arbitration deal, Pittsburgh DFA'ed LaRoche, in effect making him a free agent. So what happened?

Maybe the Dodgers saw in 2007-08 that LaRoche had a AAAA bat. Maybe the thumb injury never quite healed 100% and sapped him of his strength as a hitter. Maybe he was just another guy whose power numbers were inflated in the Pacific Coast League.

At any rate, as a MLB player, LaRoche has a line of .224/.304/.338 with 22 HR and 108 RBI in 1228 AB. Now he's hoping to resurrect his career as a utility infielder; St. Louis had some interest in him for that spot back in August. We'll see if they still have an eye on him.

This chapter in Andy LaRoche's career was one that neither he nor Neal Huntington saw coming, and a lesson on why GM's prefer to trade for guys with a track record rather than for prospects.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pirates Start Building A Staff

Dejan Kovacevic wrote today that the Pirates will soon announce the hiring of four coaches for Clint Hurdle's staff: Ray Searage, 55, as pitching coach, Gregg Ritchie, 46, as hitting coach, Jeff Banister, 45, as third base coach and Nick Leyva, 57, as bench coach.

Searage and Banister are holdovers, and Ritchie was the Pirate minor-league hitting coordinator for the past three seasons. Leyva was the Blue Jay's bench coach under Cito Gaston and became available when John Farrell took over the coaching reins.

Hurdle is still looking for a first base and bullpen coach; Kovacevic believes they'll come from outside the organization. If so, that means the end of the PNC road for Don Long (batting coach), Carlos Garcia (first base coach), Tony Beasley (third base coach) and Luis Dorante (bullpen coach).

And Then There Were Two...

Well, the house cleaning is almost complete. With Zach Duke DFA'ed, there are only two pre-Coonnely Buccos left, Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm. The Littlefield era is approaching its end, and the Zachster was one of its linchpins not so long ago.

Zach Duke was drafted as an 18 year old senior from Midway High School in Waco, Texas, in the 20th round of the 2001 draft. After singing late and missing 2001, he started his pro career in 2002 pitching in the GCL. He was 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA.

Skipping short season ball, Duke spent 2003 with the low-A Hickory Crawdads. He was 8-7 with a 3.11 ERA, and for the second year had a K/9 average of 7.2; all his peripheral stuff was well in line.

In 2004, the lefty broke out. Duke led all minor league pitchers with a combined 1.46 earned run average and was third in overall wins with 15. The Texan struck out 142 hitters and walked just 30 in 148+ innings of work that season.

He went 10-5 with a 1.39 ERA and was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Year at Lynchburg. Duke continued his brilliance by putting together a 5-1 mark with a 1.58 ERA in nine starts with Altoona.

Duke was named Pittsburgh's Minor League Pitcher-of-the-Year and Baseball America called him the sixth-best prospect in the Eastern League and the top pitching prospect in the Carolina League. He was also recognized by BA as having the best breaking pitch in the league.

Going into 2005, Duke was BA's #34 ranked prospect in all of baseball. The Zachster kept on keeping on at Indy, going 12-3 with a 2.92 ERA, and got his call to the show.

Duke made his debut on July 2nd against the Milwaukee Brewers, striking out nine in a Pirates 5-3 loss. His nine strikeouts were the most by a Pirate making their MLB debut since Tim Wakefield did it on July 31st, 1992.

He threw twenty-two consecutive scoreless innings from July 2nd to July 21st, and was named the NL Rookie of the Month for July while compiling a 0.87 ERA, the best among all starting pitchers in the MLB during that span. The southpaw ended his first trip around the block with an 8-2 record and 1.82 ERA.

Duke became only the second Pittsburgh rookie to win his first five decisions, the other being Whitey Glazner in 1921. He also became one of only four pitchers during the live-ball era to record an ERA below 1.00 in their first six starts, joining Fernando Valenzuela, Boo Ferriss and Steve Rogers. Duke ended up fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Pirate fans were bubbling with anticipation in 2006 for the young and promising rotation of Duke, Ian Snell, Ollie Perez and Paul Maholm. The feeling dissipated quickly.

Duke was so-so in the first half of the season, but rallied during the dog days and was easily the team ace. His final line for the 2006 season was 10-15 with a 4.47 ERA and 117 strikeouts against 68 walks. Duke also became the first Pirate starter since Kris Benson in 2000 to throw more than 200 innings, with 215-1/3 innings worked.

2007 was a disaster as Duke went 3-8 with a 5.53 ERA in 107 innings, missing 66 games to elbow tendinitis. 2008 wasn't much of an improvement. He gave up more doubles than any other pitcher in the majors with 58, and finished 5-14 with a 4.82 ERA.

The Zachster looked like he had turned the corner in 2009. He had an 11-16 record, 4.06 ERA, 3 complete games, a shutout and .285 OBA in 213 frames, and was named to the All-Star Game, replacing the injured Matt Cain. He faded down the stretch, but the entire team did after the Jack Wilson/Freddy Sanchez deals, which were especially brutal defensively for an extreme ground ball pitcher like Duke.

Strong middle defense or not, Duke was a BP pitcher in 2010. He went 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA and opponents carved him up to a .321 tune. Defense did hurt him; his ball in play percentage was .347, and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which adjusts ERA to league average fielding) was 4.95, which is still bad but .77 runs better than his normal ERA.

But he also had his highest career walk and homer ratios, and his velocity, never much to start with, was at an all-time low. He had another bout of elbow woes, too. Duke was also in his final arbitration year; he made $2.2M in 2009, $4.3M in 2010, and stood to make somewhere between $5-6M in the coming season.

According to reports, the Pirates tried to reach a deal with Duke for 2011 and before that had offered him around the league ever since the 2009 trade deadline, with minimal interest. Duke can now test his value on the free agent market.

Hey, the guy's young enough (27), left handed, and eats enough innings to earn a few shekels. His career stat line over a full season would be 10-15 with a 4.54 ERA (4.33 FIP) and 206 innings, certainly strong numbers for a back-end rotation guy. And he and his wife Kristin have proven that they are able and willing to contribute to a community.

We think that he has a come-back year or three left in him if he hooks up with the right squad, a good glove team that looks at Duke as 4-5 pitcher and not a top of the rotation arm; he doesn't have the stuff to lead a staff. It'll be interesting to see how he fares down the road and find out if he is an underachiever or a fair pitcher who was just a poor fit for Pittsburgh.

For Pittsburgh, it frees up some cash to drop on a free agent, and the media buzz is that they are at least playing the game hard this year, although the results are yet to be seen. It also makes Charlie Morton's spot look a little more secure for 2011 if he continues the baby steps he took in September.

And it does start the process of reshaping the staff; it seems just like yesterday that the Zachster, Snell, Gorzo and Maholm were going to pitch into the foreseeable future. Now J-Mac, Ohlie and company are waiting on the arrival of the next wave of arms, due in 2012-13. With this FO, the only constant is change.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Early News

-- The Mesa Solar Sox finished their Arizona Fall League play yesterday, finishing 13-17. The Pirate prospects performances:

* Josh Harrison, 3B - .330, 19 RS, 6 SB
* Andrew Lambo, OF - .274/4/23
* Jordy Mercer, SS - .267/1/13
* Tony Sanchez, C - .206, 21 K/68 AB

Good outings for the position players except for Sanchez; let's hope his fall performance was due to rust.

* Brian Leach - 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.8 WHIP, 7 K/7 BB: 10 IP
* Aaron Pribanic - 0-1, 2.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9 K/6 BB: 18 IP
* Justin Wilson - 0-1, 4.41 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 16 K/8 BB: 16-1/3 IP

Not enough innings to figure out anything for these guys, except that Leach and Wilson could stand throwing more strikes.

-- C Hector Gimenez, the 2010 Altoona MVP, signed with the Dodgers and was added to their 40-man roster.

-- The Kansas City Royals DFA'ed RHP Bryan Bullington.

-- The Oakland Athletics traded RF Rajai Davis to Toronto Blue Jays for RHP Danny Farquhar and RHP Trystan Magnuson. Davis, you may recall, was the straw that broke Dave Littlefield's back when he was traded to the Giants in 2007 for Matt Morris.

40-Man Roster Set; Duke, Young, LaRoche DFA'ed

Well, the Bucs ended both the Rule 5 and arbitration questions in one fell swoop yesterday when they DFA'ed Zach Duke, Delwyn Young and Andy LaRoche.

None of the players let go came as a shock to the system, and they did try to come to terms with Duke, but the Zachster decided to test the FA market. The Pirates did have a couple of more weeks, until December 2nd, before they had to officially non-tender them. Apparently they had no luck in trying to move the threesome, so they decided to part ways sooner rather than later.

As for the savings, both LaRoche and Young would likely have earned under $1M dollars in 2011; Duke would have topped $5M in arbitration. It's enough to provide for a down payment on a free agent pitcher.

If they make it through waivers, the Bucs have 10 days to trade, release, or send the trio to the minors. They were replaced on the 40-man by LHP Jeff Locke, LHP Danny Moskos, LHP Tony Watson - none real surprises - along with RHP Kyle McPherson and RHP Mike Crotta.

McPherson and Crotta were both unexpected additions. McPherson, 23, had success at West Virginia, going 9-9 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.079 WHIP and 124 K in 117-2/3 innings. He throws a 93 MPH heater and has a good change. His biggest hurdle is that he's a fly ball pitcher, and gave up 14 HR in Class A. Crotta, 26, was lights out at a brief Altoona stop, but at Indy was 5-10 with a 4.93 ERA, 1.500 WHIP and just 89 K in 131-1/3 IP; he's a sinkerball and groundball pitcher.

The only mildly surprising omission from the 40-man was RHP Nathan Adcock, 22, who was 11-7 at Bradenton with a 3.38 ERA, 1.196 WHIP and 113 K in 141-1/3 frames of work. He's considered more a command pitcher than a guy with overpowering stuff, though, and that probably was the key factor in the Bucco decision.

None of the position players considered - IF Jim Nygrich, C Eric Fryer or IF Brian Friday - were protected, a combination of their limited upside and the theory that it's easier to carry a Rule 5 pitcher through a season than a bench player.

Tim Williams at Pirate Prospects has the list of Pirate prospects that are eligible for this year's Rule 5 draft.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Daily News

-- With Justin Upton being shopped around, Fangraph's Joe Pawlikowski wonders if the Bucs shouldn't be putting some feelers out for Andrew McCutchen.

We're hoping not, but Pawlikowski's argument is that the time gap between the pitching coming up and the young core of position players is such that the hitters may not be around for the hurlers arrival. Anyway, nice to see someone compare McCutch with Upton; Andrew deserves the props.

-- The 40-man roster needs set by the end of the day. There are two open spots; so unless the FO drops another body or two, it looks like Jeff Locke and probably Danny Moskos will earn a spot on the list; they'll likely clear a spot for the Rule 5 draft, too.

-- Brandon Moss has landed an invite to the Phil's spring camp; guess he's looking for a shot at Werth's job.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Throw Another Log In the Stove...

-- Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports writes "The Pirates are comfortable with their internal options at closer, Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan. But one source suggested that Pittsburgh could deal one of the two and sign a replacement."

Hanrahan is up for arbitration this year and Meek after next season. We'd expect for their age, performance, and years of remaining team control that their value is about as high as it's going to get.

Neal Huntington already has said that the pair are being evaluated; he doesn't want a "spring competition" for the closer's job. So the team will go into 2011 with one or the other as the anointed ninth inning man.

We'd prefer to see Meek and Hanrahan battle it out until there was a clear-cut winner to finish games, but the brass think a bullpen is easy to pull together and trading players when their perceived value is high, so if someone would like to overpay...

-- Clint Hurdle will be the fifth skipper for the Pirates in seven (2005-11) seasons. The others were Lloyd McClendon (2005), Pete Mackanin (2005), Jim Tracy (2006-07) and JR (2008-10).

Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, if they make it to Opening Day, will have played for all five. None of the players on the Pirates' 40-man roster has been coached at any level by Hurdle.

-- Former prospect news: The Twins signed LHP Phil Dumatrait to a minor-league deal and the Royals resigned OF Jamie Romak, 25, once the Pirates' top farm slugger, to a minor league contract.

-- Roy Halladay won the NL Cy Young after going 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and 219 strikeouts, and "King" Felix Hernandez earned the AL Cy Young Award by putting up a modest 13-12 record, but with a 2.27 ERA and 232 K's.

-- Baseball officials will meet during the December 6-9th winter meetings to consider expanding the playoffs. A move from eight playoff teams to 10 could happen next year but is more likely to occur in 2012. The biggest issue seems to be whether to have the wild cards play a single game or best-of-three series to advance.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rule 5 and Rumors

A date to keep in mind: Friday, November 19, the deadline for MLB teams to finalize their 40-man rosters before the Baseball Winter Meetings and the Rule 5 Draft. The Pirate FO has already done some preliminary shuffling to get it down to the current 38 names, the most notable omission belonging to Jeff Clement.

But two spaces don't leave much wiggle room in the off season. First, the brass have to protect the Rule 5 eligible players.

It seems that OF Starling Marte, LHP Rudy Owens and RHP Diego Moreno are in the clear this year because of when their birthdays fall and so won't need protected until the following season. LHP Jeff Locke, true to his name, is a lock to make the 40-man. After that, a lot of fringy players enter into the picture.

LHP Danny Moskos was lights out at Altoona but a disaster at Indy. RHP Nathan Adcock has shown promise, but hasn't worked at the AA level yet. LHP Anthony Watson could be an effective LOOGY. IF Jimmy Negrych, who was Rule 5 eligible last year and unprotected, could become another Delwyn Young-type bench piece.

And remember, the Bucs are in, according to reports, on everyone that can throw a baseball 60'. So space has to be made for the expected flood of free agents, too.

-- The Pirates are now supposed to sniffing around Brandon Webb, tweets ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

-- Pittsburgh is trying to get Chan Ho Park to sign a minor-league deal for 2011, per MLB.com's Jen Langosch.

-- Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun reports that "John Russell is a done deal and he'll be joining manager Buck Showalter's staff. The Orioles still have to work out some 'offsetting provisions' with the Pittsburgh Pirates because they have Russell under contract after firing him as manager last month. But everything else has been settled. What hasn't been decided is whether Russell will be Showalter's bench coach or he'll coach third base."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wheels Are Moving

-- Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes "Gotta believe with Hurdle in Pittsburgh that the Pirates will make a play for Jorge De La Rosa and Jeff Francis."

The Bucs have already been associated with de la Rosa; in fact, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review said that he's the #1 target on the FO's wish list.

He adds that Jeremy Bonderman is also on their radar.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted that "Some teams that have expressed early interest in P Jeff Francis: Pittsburgh, Seattle, Colorado, Milwaukee & Houston," so Francis is officially part of the parade.

-- Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports noted "New Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wanted Jerry Narron to be his bench coach, according to a major-league source, but Narron went to the Brewers instead. Two of Hurdle's former colleagues from the Rockies — roving minor-league instructor Scott Fletcher and Triple A manager Stu Cole – could end up on the Pirates' staff."

Fletcher is the Colorado infield coordinator and Cole serves as a hitting instructor. Both are former middle infielders.

-- Biertempfel tweets that the Bucs are looking look to add Nick Leyva, the former Blue Jay bench coach, to Hurdle's staff.

-- Jen Langosch of MLB.com wrote that "Andy Hawkins, who coached with Hurdle in Texas, could be a name that pops up. Hawkins and Hurdle have the background of working together, and Hawkins spent numerous seasons as a Minor League pitching coach before joining the Rangers' big league club in 2009."

She added that "(Neal) Huntington suggested that a position will be available for (Jeff) Banister to return to the organization next season in some capacity. That position could be back on the Minor League side."

-- A couple of media sources have said that Hurdle is looking at an "internal option" for pitching coach; sounds like Ray Searage may get another go-around.

-- Tony Beasley has a year left on his contract; we'll see how that plays out.

-- Woody Huyke, 73, a Gulf Coast League Pirates coach, won the Coolbaugh Award as an outstanding coach in the minor leagues. Huyke, who's worked 42 years as a manager and coach in the Pirates' farm system, will get the award next month during the Winter Meetings in Orlando.

Between 1974 and 2004, Huyke was the manager of the GCL Pirates for 29 of the 31 seasons, compiling a 718-983 record in Bradenton. He got his start skippering the 1973 Niagara Falls Pirates. He also managed the Augusta Pirates for part of 1988, replacing Jeff Cox.

Huyke has helped as a coach for the GCL Pirates from 2006-2010.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hurdle Chat & the Daily News

-- Clint Hurdle had his first chat with the fans this afternoon. A few notable quotes:

* "Bunting when appropriate will be an option, the hit and run will be a play that we'll depend upon and we're going to encourage a more aggressive running style of play as we enter the 2011 season."

* "It takes courage to have patience, and I believe this leadership team in place over the last three seasons has shown courage. Young players have played, and young players have gained experience. It is time for many of these young players to take that next step. This will always be a market where young players have an opportunity."

* "Pitching deeper into games for our starters is a must. The pitch count will not be an ejector button. As long as the pitcher remains effective, they will pitch on deeper in games."

* "One of the things we will ensure is the fact that most of the pieces we have in the bullpen can pitch multiple innings. No one will pitch more than three days in a row."

* "One thing the manager has control of is the lineup, and it is usually a task-efficient way to get a player's attention."

-- John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus tweets that Aki Iwamura headed back to Japan and signed with the Rakuten Eagles.

-- Giants catcher Buster Posey beat out Atlanta's Jason Heyward for NL Rookie of the Year, while his World Series foe, Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, topped Motown's Austin Jackson in the AL.

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette caused a tempest in a teapot by voting for Posey, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, bypassing Heyward. His vote is discussed by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs in his article "Bias or Insight?"

Hurdle Hired

OK, it's official: Clint Hurdle, 53, has the Herculean task of trying to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates back to the Promised Land. Hurdle agreed to a three-year deal (no financial terms disclosed) after telling the Mets that he wasn't interested in a second interview.

Kinda odd that he accepted the first Met face-to-face if he wasn't planning to follow through; it seems that he was after the Pirates position from the git-go, and for some reason - and there could be several - dragged out the process. Anyway...

The KC Royals took Merritt Island (Fla.) HS hero Clint Hurdle as the ninth overall selection in the 1975 draft after he batted over .550+ in the prep ranks. Hurdle was a great athlete and a pretty good book guy; he passed up a football scholarship to play quarterback at Miami and an academic scholarship to attend Harvard.

By September 1977 he reached the bigs as a 20-year old. Hurdle homered in his first game, and the following season Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on him, labeling him a can't-miss phenom. Never believe cover stories.

Hurdle did well with the Royals and batted .329 in the strike-shortened 1981 season, but he hurt his back and never regained the touch. He did last ten seasons in the show with the Royals (1977-81), Reds (1982), Mets (1983-85, '87) and Cardinals (1986).

He played outfield, first base, third base, catcher and DH, finishing with 32 career home runs, 193 RBI and a career average of .259 in 515 big league games.

In 1988, a year after retiring as a player, Hurdle was named manager of Class A St. Lucie by the Mets, advancing to AA and then AAA. After six seasons and three post-season appearances as a manager in the New York farm system, he became the Rockies' hitting coach in 1997 and replaced Buddy Bell as manager in 2002.

Hurdle managed the Colorado Rockies for parts of eight seasons between 2002-09. He took them to the World Series in 2007 after the Rox memorable "Rocktober" run, and so earned the managing reins for the NL in the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

That 2007 season, however, was his only one in Colorado with a winning record, and he was fired in early 2009 after an 18-28 start. Hurdle went 534-625, and he became the longest-tenured and winningest manager in Rox history.

Hurdle went to work as an analyst for the MLB Network in 2009 and then took the job as the Rangers' hitting coach for the 2010 season.

Hurdle and his wife Karla have two children, Madison and Christian, and an older daughter, Ashley. Madison has Prader-Willi syndrome, an incurable genetic disorder. Hurdle is a national spokesperson for the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association and holds a fundraiser in Cocoa Beach, Florida for the cause every year.

While the Pirates took a serpentine path to land Hurdle - do you think Eric Wedge would have waited a month like twisting-in-the-wind Jeff Banister did? - he does have the bona fides for the job.

He's experienced and has worked with young teams. He's been in the playoffs and the World Series. He just put in time with the AL champs, the Texas Rangers, a team that led the league with a .276 BA under his tutelage as a hitting coach. Players consider him an excellent motivator and extremely approachable. He speaks Spanish, so he and his his Latino charges don't need a third party. He's also a well prepared guy, never caught without a notebook.

There are two things that could swing either way. One is that he runs a highly structured show; you know how he wants the game played and what he expects. For a young team, that's usually a good thing, although it chafed somewhat on his squad. But as his team matured, he loosened the reins, maybe swinging too much the other way. Hopefully the Rox experience taught him when to push and when to step back.

Secondly, the man has a jones for bunting; the Rox led the league in sac bunts three times and finished in the top three five times during his reign. After watching JR bunt lead-off doubles over, we're still a little leery of the concept. But overall, he's pretty much considered an NL, by-the-book strategist, a welcome change from the off-the-wall moves made by Russell.

Now he's going through his staff wish-list. It's thought that a couple of the old JR guys could be in his mix, but we'll see. A new manager should get to bring in his own hires, although an argument for continuity and familiarity can be made, too. And he's working with the FO to provide input on personnel available through free agency or the trade market.

On paper, Clint Hurdle is a good hire. But the truth is the manager is judged by his team. Hurdle may instill a little more discipline and adherence to fundamentals, but it's up to Neal Huntington to provide the players...and that's what will determine Hurdle's success.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's All Over But the Shouting

OK, the media are saying that Clint Hurdle, 53, is in and will be announced as the Bucs new manager tomorrow.

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated says they'll have a press conference to usher Hurdle in at 11AM tomorrow. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweets that the contract is for three years.

From 2002-09, Hurdle went 534-625 as the Rox manager, and in 2007 took Colorado to second place in the NL West and eventually the World Series thanks to a dazzling September run.

He played OF for a decade in the majors, hitting .259 with 32 homers and 193 RBI.

The Pirates got their man (or at least Eric Wedge's Plan B), saving them from considerable egg in the face if Hurdle took another job. Now comes the interesting part; who does he bring in to help him right the Bucco ship? it's surely more than a one man job.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Little Movement?

Ken Rosenthal and Tracy Ringolsby of Fox Sports report that "The Pirates, sources said, have made a strong push within the past 48 hours to ensure that (Clint) Hurdle will be their next manager.

'It's moving forward at a rapid pace,' one source said."

They add that the Mets don't intend to change their timetable for selecting a manager, so Hurdle may take the sure thing in Pittsburgh rather than await the Mets' down-the-road decision.

It seems the major hang-up is the contract length; Neal Huntington has a year to go on his contract, and that may cause the Bucs second thoughts about extending Hurdle's deal longer than Huntington's, write Rosenthal and Ringolsby.

Saturday Stuff

-- Add the Pirates to the list of teams believed to be interested in Jorge de la Rosa, tweets Troy Renck of the Denver Post. That list, according to reports, already includes the Brewers, Rangers, Nationals, Rockies and Yankees.

de la Rosa, 30, is thought to be looking for a Ted Lilly-type deal; he signed for 3 years/$33M. The Pirates are probably just performing their due diligence on him.

-- But starting pitching is expensive. ESPN's Buster Olney reports that Hiroki Kuroda and the Dodgers are close to finalizing that one-year, $12M contract. The Bucs were thought to have interest in Kuroda.

-- According to Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun, JR interviewed with the Baltimore Orioles on Friday for a spot on new manager Buck Showalter’s staff. The O's are looking for a bench coach and a third base coach.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Night

-- Jen Langosch of MLB.com said that Rudy Owens and Diego Moreno, both considered locks to make the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, both get another year's free ride. She explains that the clock doesn't start on their actual birthday, but on June 5th, and that made all the difference for the young pitchers.

Yesterday, she tweeted that Starling Marte wasn't Rule 5 eligible this year either.

-- Erik Kratz signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies. Our guess is that the fast track that Tony Sanchez is on made Kratz's position with Pittsburgh a little iffy, especially if Ryan Doumit doesn't get moved this winter. Plus it's a move home for the Telford native; the Phillies' AAA team is Lehigh Valley.

-- Clint Hurdle, along with Terry Collins and Bob Melvin, are the leading candidates to become the Mets’ next manager, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. The three ol' skippers are all expected to get second interviews.

Friday Morning

-- Ben Glicksman of Sports Illustrated has a rah-rah piece on McCutch "Pirates' McCutchen Poised To Be 2011's Biggest Breakout Star." We hope he's right.

-- The Pirates released RHP Chris Jakubauskas, who made one ill-fated start for the Bucs last season.

-- Bill Brink of the Post Gazette has a piece on manager-if-he-wants-to-be Clint Hurdle. Hey, we didn't know he spoke Spanish!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pirates: Third Base

Third base was a problem area for the Pirates when Frank Coonelly and company took over after the 2007 season. Jose Bautista was highly touted, but had cobbled together years of .235, .254, and .242 in 2006-08 with marginal power for a corner infielder in Pittsburgh.

So when they swung their mega deal with Jay Bay before the 2008 trade deadline, they made sure to grab a third sacker; he was even more highly touted prospect Andy LaRoche. Off went Bautista to Toronto for a PTBNL, who would become Robinzon Diaz.

They also snagged a power-hitting corner player with the second pick of the 2008 draft from Vandy, Pedro Alvarez. The FO also had a left-over #1 draft pick from 2004, Pine-Richland's Neil Walker, riding an up-and-down career at Indy and in the second season of transition from catching to third base.

Well, it took a bit to sort out, but in 2011, they do have a guy on the corner whose bat plays the position with Pedro. And after a game of musical chairs that Mother Goose would be proud to call her own, they also got a guy whose bat plays at second with The Pittsburgh Kid.

As for the third wheel, LaRoche, well, he's trying to establish himself as a four-spot utility guy in Arizona after suffering through a season from hell, compiling a line of .206/4/16 and losing his position.

Alvarez looks like he'll hold the fort at third for the time being; it's easier to find a big bopper first baseman. But he'll move to first, probably sooner rather than later.

Heck, the rumor mill already named Adrian Beltre as the unlikeliest of FA candidates for Pittsburgh, but still it's an indicator that the suits will switch Pedro across the diamond without hesitation if and when the opportunity arises.

His arm is first rate, and Alvarez is beginning to show some range to his left. But too many balls up the line, bouncers off his mitt and his bulky body make his long-term employment at the position problematic. 17 errors, a .938 FA and -8.6 UZR/150 are not numbers that a ground-ball heavy staff can long survive behind them.

LaRoche is the only in-house candidate for the position, along with Walker. But AL is fighting for his pro life and is far from a lock to get arbitration tendered to him, or for that matter, to stay on Pittsburgh's 40-man roster.

And while a switch by the Kid to third would shore up the Pirates in the short run, the FO feels that Walker is better suited to play second in the longer view. Certainly his bat is solid middle infield material, and considering that 2010 was OJT for him at the position, it's possible that he'll show a jump in field performance in 2011.

Forget the minors. When Pedro and the Kid got their calls to the show, Indy had to scuffle to find players for third; Jimmy Negrych, Aki Iwamura and whoever raised their hand manned the position. Hitting machine Josh Harrison handled the spot at Altoona, but his bat profiles as a middle infielder, not a corner guy.

Right now, 20 year old Dominican Eric Avila, who hit 7 GCL homers in 2010, is the best prospect at the position. 21 year old Venezuelan Elevys Gonzalez showed some promise at West Virginia, but his bat profiles for the middle infield, which he has played quite often. Both he and Harrison have the look of MLB utility guys.

After the aforementioned Beltre, the third base class is fairly thin; first base is much stronger, so don't expect the cavalry to arrive from this season's marketplace.

Help may come from the upcoming draft. The Bucs have the numero uno pick, and it's thought that the alpha dog is 20 year old third baseman Anthony Rendon of Rice. There are a couple of tempting college pitchers floating near the top, too, but the Pirates seem well stocked in young arms; they need a couple of everyday players now.

So in 2010, the Pirates had third base covered in Pittsburgh and at rookie league Bradenton; there was nothing in between. And if Pedro plays fewer than 150 games in 2011, the Bucs are in trouble.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday Widgets

-- The New York Mets interviewed Clint Hurdle and Don Wakamatsu for their manager spot today. GW would have liked to seen Wakamatsu get some face time here.

It's not been a very inspiring search process. We wonder if losing Eric Wedge caught the FO completely off guard or if they just can't get people to commit to Pittsburgh. Either way, a lot of interesting names have been left in the dust, many much more qualified than the group that was interviewed.

-- Baseball America's Matt Eddy has listed all 551 minor league free agents today, a list the Bucs have trawled before and will trawl again.

Pirates on the list from Indy are: RHP Steven Jackson, RHP Jean Machi, RHP Jeremy Powell, RHP Tyler Yates, LHP Dana Eveland, LHP Corey Hamman, C Erik Kratz, 1B Brian Myrow, 2B Doug Bernier, OF Mitch Jones, OF Brandon Moss, OF Kevin Melillo and OF Jonathan Van Every.

From Altoona: RHP Derek Hankins, RHP Dustin Molleken, C Hector Gimenez, 2B Yung Chi Chen and 2B/SS Jose de los Santos.

From Bradenton: 2B Rodolfo Cardona, C Milver Reyes and C James Skelton.

Ex-Buccos on the FA list are: Jimmy Barthmaier, Jonah Bayliss, TJ Beam, Luke Carlin, Ray Chang, Raul Chavez, Robinzon Diaz, Brad "Big Country" Eldred, Eric Hacker, J.R. House, Brandon Jones, Matt Kata, Steve Lerud, Michael Restovich, Jeff Salazar, Chris Shelton, John Van Benschoten, Virgil Vasquez and Ryan Vogelsong.

Interesting list, hey?

-- Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus wrote "Sneaky Good in the Senior Circuit" about guys who flew under the radar. One of his under-appreciated choices was Andrew McCutchen, of whom Seidman wrote "He is the real deal...He legitimately deserves any accolades sent in his direction and much more publicity than he currently receives. He might be the MVP of this group."

-- Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk selected the best and worst unis the Pittsburgh Pirates have ever donned. The best, per CC, was the traditional uniform that dates back to 1948, very similar to today's, and the worst was the seventies' polyester mix-and-match.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tuesday Tidings

-- In the only hard Bucco news of the day, Steve Pearce was given a fourth option year, covering 2011. It's doubtful that tidbit pleased him very much; it just means the Pirates can yo-yo him for one more season. It could come in handy for the FO, though, if his knee isn't 100% come spring camp and he needs to play himself into shape at Indy.

-- Pitchers that one media source or another have associated with the Buccos so far: Hiroki Kuroda, Jorge de la Rosa, Justin Duchscherer, Kevin Millwood and Kevin Correia.

-- Adrian Beltre as a rumor is swell. On a level playing field, he would fill a Bucco need, being a power hitting 3B with a solid mitt. But let's get real.

Beltre turned down a $10M option already, and has Scott Boras for his agent. He's easily the top third baseman on the market, and will be looking at multi-year offers for longer and more bucks than Pittsburgh will - or should - give, especially with Anthony Rendon in their sights. And he'll cost them a second-round pick in the draft. But hey, a phone call and a little good pub for a change can't hurt the cause.

We still think any extra money will go to a second-tier pitcher and either a corner OF/1B type, preferably RH, or a SS. They could get creative and bid on 26 year old Japanese batting champ (.346) Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a switch-hitting SS who hopes to be posted soon.

-- Clint Hurdle gets his Met interview tomorrow. He's not one of the names the media tout as a top candidate, but if he becomes a finalist, Pittsburgh may have to wait until Thanksgiving or later to name a skipper.

-- Al Oliver is one of a dozen players on the ballot for Hall of Fame expansion era (Veterans) ballot. He needs 12 votes of 16 cast to earn a bust. Scoops hit for a .303 BA with 219 HR and 1,326 RBI during an 18 year career.

-- Chuck Finder, who covered the Bucs as Dejan Kovacevic's Post-Gazette sidekick, is leaving the paper. No word on his future plans.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bucco's Top Guns

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has picked the top Pirate prospects: click here for his list.

(Hint: the top three were drafted this year, and the middle selections all pitched for Altoona)

Monday Wash

-- Jon Heyman of SI writes "The Pirates...are believed to be showing interest in some surprising free agent prizes, such as (3B Adrian) Beltre. Whether this is because they are being encouraged to spend more by MLB isn't known."

Sure an upgrade over Bobby Crosby, Ramon Vazquez and Doug Mientkiewicz, hey? Guess they are willing to move Pedro to first, after all.

-- Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors adds his wager to the pot. He selected the Top 50 Free Agents and matched the team they'll sign with; he even had the Pirates landing one: "The Bucs are not typically big game hunters in free agency, but (Hiroki) Kuroda represents a chance to add one of the better available arms with perhaps only a two-year commitment."

Geez, and we'd have been happy with Jon Garland. We wonder if Neal Huntington knows that Cliff Lee is available?

-- The beat guys report that the Pirates signed LHP Justin Thomas to a minor league deal for 2011 with an invite to camp.

-- RHP Sean Gallagher didn't have enough minor league time accrued to become a free agent, so he'll be under the club's control through 2011 even though he was outrighted to Indy, according to Jen Langosch at MLB.com.

-- The Australian Baseball League, out of action since 1999, has started again this weekend. It’s styled after winter ball leagues in Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and backed by MLB.

Pirate prospects playing are RHP Mitch Fienemann, LHP Paul Mildren (ex-Bucco; he played for Lynchburg in 2009), C Dylan Child and OF Quincy Latimore for the Adelaide Bite; LHP Rinku Singh with the Canberra Cavalry; and RHP Jarryd Sullivan for the Sydney Blue Sox.

All but Singh and Latimore are Aussies; Singh is from India and Latimore...well, it's a long way from Raleigh, North Carolina to Adelaide, but somehow he caught the bus.

MLB Off Season Dates

Compliments of Fox Sports:

Nov. 7: Free-agent filing period and exclusive negotiating window ends at 12:01 a.m. ET. Free agents can then sign with any team. Last day to reinstate players from the 60-day DL
Nov. 9: AL Rawlings Gold Glove Awards announced
Nov. 10: NL Rawlings Gold Glove Awards announced; Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards announced
Nov. 15: AL and NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards announced
Nov. 16: NL Cy Young Award announced; AL and NL Manager of the Year announced
Nov. 16-17: General managers meetings, Orlando, Fla.
Nov. 17-18: Owners meetings, Orlando, Fla.
Nov. 18: AL Cy Young Award announced
Nov. 19: 40-man rosters have to be set for Rule 5 draft
Nov. 22: NL-MVP announced
Nov. 23: AL-MVP announced; last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to free agents to preserve their rights to draft-pick compensation
Nov. 30: Last day for free agents to accept salary-arbitration offers

Dec. 2: Last day for teams to tender 2011 contracts to players in arbitration years
Dec. 6-9: Winter meetings, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Dec. 9: Rule 5 draft


Jan. 5-15: Salary-arbitration filing period
Jan. 18: Salary-arbitration figures exchanged

Feb. 1-21: Salary-arbitration hearings
Feb. 13: Voluntary spring training reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players
Feb. 18: Voluntary spring training reporting date for non-pitchers and non-catchers

March 1: Mandatory spring training reporting date for all players
March 2-11: Contracts of unsigned players may be renewed
March 28: Deadline to request unconditional-release waivers without having to pay player's full 2011 salary
March 31: Opening Day

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The ZiPS projections for the 2011 Buccos are out.

The hitting is OK - Pedro has a line of .262/28/116, leading five projected 15+ HR hitters, and the pitching is still pretty bad. But it is an improvement over last year.

The stats were compiled by Dan Szymborski of the Baseball Think Factory's Transaction Oracle blog.

Well, At Least They're Trying

Jon Heyman of SI tweets " the Pirates may still not have a manager...but hearing they're aggressive going for players early."

It's hard to guess who they're after; it's not like there's just one or two holes to stick a finger into. But if they're out this early, maybe they're looking at non-tendered JJ Hardy for short, a guy they should have grabbed last year.

Jason Bartlett and Ryan Theriot are non-tender candidates, too. The market itself is quite slim; Orlando Cabrero and Juan Uribe may be the top players. Corner outfield or first base is really barren; they may have to trade to upgrade there.

The pitching prospects are problematic; it's a thin market. They could be looking at cross your fingers and hope guys like Jeremy Bonderman, Rich Harden, Jeff Francis, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland, Chris Young or Aaron Harang.

Expect another cattle call for the bullpen; those arms are ample and available, especially if they commit to Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan to set up and close. The rest is easy.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Arbitration Decisions Just Beginning

The Pirates' current FO has a pretty good field record with arbitration; they've only lost two of sixteen players, and never had a case decided by a hearing judge.

Their first season, without having even seen a player in action, they kept Jose Bautista, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady aboard with one-year contracts, Freddy Sanchez put his X on a two-year deal, and Jose Castillo got the boot.

After 2008, Zack Duke, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche, and Tyler Yates reached one-year deals, while Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm and Nate McLouth inked multi-year deals. Last year, Duke and Ronny Cedeno signed one year contracts; Matt Capps was non-tendered.

That, of course, is very likely to change this season because of performance and value issues. Eligible for arbitration this season are:

First year: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Ross Ohlendorf and Delwyn Young.
Second year: Wil Ledezma.
Third year: Ronny Cedeno and Zach Duke.

They've already resolved one bubble case by signing Ledezma for $700K. Hanrahan, Ohlendorf and Cedeno are certain to get tendered, while Milledge and Young are also likely to get offers from the team. Duke, Karstens and LaRoche are on the fringe because of performance issues. We'll see what the brass decides; they have to tender an offer by December 2nd.

And the beat will go on; as a young team, arbitration will become a bigger and bigger issue as the years march by. After next season, the following guys will be up for arbitration (assuming everybody returns):

First year: Garrett Jones, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop and Steve Pearce. Jose Ascanio, Sean Gallagher and Jason Jaramillo could join the list, and Andrew McCutchen has a good chance of becoming a "Super Two" player, getting four years of arb instead of the standard three.
Second year: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Ross Ohlendorf and Delwyn Young.
Third year: Wil Ledezma

After the 2012 season, the arb-eligible list will read:

First year: John Bowker, Brian Burres, Jeff Clement, Kevin Hart, Joe Martinez and Neal Walker; Walker is the only guy who is odds-on favorite to reach 2012 as a Bucco.
Second year: Jose Ascanio, Sean Gallagher, Jason Jaramillo, Garrett Jones, Evan Meek, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop and Steve Pearce.
Third year: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Ross Ohlendorf and Delwyn Young.

And in 2013:

First year: Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Brad Lincoln, and possibly Pedro Ciriaco, Argenis Diaz, Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen and Alex Presley. There's an outside chance that an early 2011 call-up, like Rudy Owens or Bryan Morris, could sneak in, too.
Second year: John Bowker, Brian Burres, Jeff Clement, Kevin Hart, Joe Martinez and Neal Walker.
Third year: Jose Ascanio, Sean Gallagher, Jason Jaramillo, Garrett Jones, Evan Meek, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop and Steve Pearce.

Free agency dates are:

2010: Chan Ho Park
2011: Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Chris Snyder.
2012: Wil Ledezma
2013: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Ross Ohlendorf and Delwyn Young.
2014: Jose Ascanio, Sean Gallagher, Jason Jaramillo, Garrett Jones, Evan Meek, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop and Steve Pearce.

The Pirates are approaching the time when Bob Nutting's wallet will have to be opened for the MLB product instead of the draft. This year shouldn't be too challenging, but after the 2011 season, the wheels will have to begin turning.

McCutch, Meek and Jones will join Hanrahan and Ohlie; Milledge, Morton, Pearce and Resop should have shown whether they're MLB players one way or the other in the coming year, too.

Then the decisions - tendering arb or not, contract dollars, and offering long term deals through the arb years - will show if the FO has the wherewithal and smarts to build a MLB team or will continually spin around in "prospect" mode.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Beat Goes On

No mercifully quick ending to the manager hunt; the drama will continue for a bit longer. Clint Hurdle will take his show to New York next week to interview for the Mets' vacant skipper's job after talking with the Bucco brass yesterday.

New York GM Sandy Alderson has already spoken with Bob Melvin and Dave Jauss, and will be meeting with Wally Backman, Terry Collins and Chip Hale this weekend in San Diego. Ken Oberkfell is also said to be in the mix. While Bobby Valentine appears to be the peoples' choice, there's nothing in the air to indicate that he'll get an interview for the post.

Alderson was just hired last week by New York, and only began manager interviews yesterday. It's thought that the Mets' process could take until late November, so if Hurdle is one of the finalists, it could be a couple of more weeks of waiting for the Pirate FO and fans.

Hey, good thing Chuck Tanner is still around, just in case...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hot Stove Embers

-- Clint Hurdle is in town today for his interview. Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that the Pirates are down to Hurdle and in-house candidate Jeff Banister as the finalists for the job. A decision on the skipper's spot should be made shortly thereafter.

-- From Frank Coonelly's MLB.com chat: "...we have the capacity to add meaningfully to our 2011 payroll if we are able to secure players who will help us win in Pittsburgh. We have the capacity to have a payroll over $50 million and we'll add those payroll dollars if we are able to bring in players that can help us win."

He added "...we'll aggressively pursue adding at least one starting pitcher during the off season, either through a free-agent signing or a trade. Of course, the free-agent market for starting pitchers is rather thin this off season and thus there is no guarantee that we will be able to add a free-agent starter..."

-- Troy Renck of the Denver Post tweets that notes that Pittsburgh could be interested in Jeff Francis if former Rockies' manager Clint Hurdle is hired to manage the Bucs and if Zach Duke is non-tendered.

-- In with the new, out with the old: the Colorado Rox declined Octavio Dotel's option. And FC mentioned that the team would consider adding an experienced closer to the Bucco bullpen mix. Talk about circumstance and opportunity meeting head on...

-- Beside free agency, Coonelly was upbeat about the rookies on the way to the show, saying "...one or more members of the Altoona Curve starting rotation (Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke) could force his way into our starting rotation at some point in 2011.

"Alex Presley, our Minor League player of the year, has put himself in the position to compete for a role with the club next year. And there are several exciting young bullpen arms who have a chance to have an impact next year as well.

"Position player prospects like Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Andrew Lambo and others may be a year away but all will be working to demonstrate that they deserve a shot on the Major League roster at some point in 2011."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The First Shuffle

The beat guys report that the Pirates have announced the following moves:

-- Signed LHP Will Ledezma to a one year contract (terms not released), avoiding arbitration.

-- RHP Chan Ho Park is a free agent.

-- RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP Jose Ascanio and 1B Steve Pearce have been removed from the 60-day DL and returned to the 40-man roster.

-- 1B Jeff Clement was taken off the DL and outrighted to Indy. He's out of options, which means that he has to make the 25-man roster out of camp or risk being lost.

-- RHP Sean Gallagher was taken off the 40-man roster and outrighted to Indy. The Pirates have a brief window to sign him to a minor-league deal before he can become a minor-league free agent; Jen Langosh of MLB.com reports that the FO is trying to ink him.

-- Removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Indy were OF Brandon Moss, LHP Justin Thomas and RHP Steven Jackson. All can now declare themselves minor league free agents and are expected to do so.

So that's five guys removed from the 40-man roster and four added, leaving two openings on the list. There's still probably a move or two left to create a little more space to protect Rule 5 guys like Starling Marte, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Brian Friday, Danny Moskos, Jim Negrych and other fringier candidates along with room to add any FA signings.

-- Some blowback from the Edwin Rodriguez signing in Florida: Perry Hill will rejoin the Fish as their infield and first base coach, and Bo Porter, shunned by the Marlins and Bucs, will coach third base for the Nats.

-- Also, the Pirates will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the 1971 World Series championship during the June 20th-22nd interleague series against the O's.

Pirates: Center/Left Field

Yah, we know the corners are usually lumped together, but the Pirates have settled on playing a two center fielder set to cover PNC Park's spacious pasture. In the trade off, they've given up on the big bopper corner theory; that's a debate for another day.

The current duo, Andrew McCutchen, who turned 24 last month, and Jose Tabata, 22, have it all going for them. Both are young, speedy, under team control for awhile (McCutch is arb eligible in 2013 as it sits now, and Tabata a year later), good sticks (McCutch hit .286 with a .365 OBP in his two years; JT batted .299/.346 in 2010) and raw but promising defenders.

McCutcheon has average power, bopping 28 HR in his first 262 games; Tabata not so much, with 4 long balls in 102 games. Still, OK for the top of the order. Both have room to grow in the field and on the bases, and should do that growing in Pittsburgh.

25 year old Lastings Milledge (.277/.332/.380), who should be around at least through 2011, is adequate as a back-up for days off and injury time-outs. He's out of options and entering arbitration, but his pay grade makes him a keeper.

Alex Presley, 25, the Pirates minor-league Player of the Year, will be an insurance policy at Indy. He hit .261 in a September curtain call after hitting .294 at Indianapolis and .350 at Altoona.

Actually, this position is fairly well stocked in the minors, too. Gorkys Hernandez, 23, is the most polished minor league OF'er in the system, with a great glove, speed to burn, and a bat that needs some work.

He hit just .266 at Altoona, but after coming on following an ice-cold start, Hernandez broke a finger and missed the last three months of the season. He has no power to speak of and is a top-of-the-order guy. Hernandez was a Top 100 prospect as late as 2009 for Atlanta and still young enough to make an impression.

He'll join Presley at Indy, so the Bucs will be OK numbers-wise; this position is about as deep as it gets in the organization. And all five players are already on the forty man roster.

There are a couple of guys coming up, too, which bodes well for the future. Chief among them is Starling Marte, who missed a good portion of the season after hamate surgery. He still put together a .315/.386/.432 at Bradenton, but without a homer, possibly a lingering effect of his injury. He'll play center for Altoona in 2011.

The Dominican turned 22 in October, and is Rule 5 eligible this season, so he'll have to be placed on the forty man roster.

Robbie Grossman, 21, was a sixth round high school selection in the 2008 draft. He's not had the breakout year that the Bucs have hoped yet, but has been young at every level he's played at in the organization and has good OBPs (.381 - 2008; .373 - 2009; .344 - 2010).

The switch-hitter should be moving on to the Curve in 2011, though he may be starting at Bradenton. Grossman is likely to end up a corner OF'er, though he's been playing center and could still qualify as a PNC left fielder. If he wants a gig in right, he'll have to cut down his K's and pump up his HR's.

Two others to watch are Exicardo Cayones and Mel Rojas Jr. Cayones is a Venezuelan the Pirates signed for $400K in 2008 and who just turned 19 in October. He played in the GCL in 2010 and hit .263; the lefty had problems against LHP, but is on a fast track and could end up in West Virginia next season.

Rojas, 20, is a toolsy but raw player the Bucs drafted in the third round this year. He played at Wabash JC, and struggled at State College, barely hitting over the Mendoza line though drawing walks at a better than 10% rate. Like Grossman, he's a CFer now, but he's big-legged and may end up a corner OFer. His next stop is West Virginia.

Manger Search Continues (Yawn)

OK, Clint Hurdle is on the way to parlay, Jeff Banister is on the back burner, and Tony Pena is apparently not on the dance card. Big deal.

This team isn't going to leapfrog the rest of the division because of the managing. It needs some players, particularly those that can throw the ball. So don't get too involved in this searching for Waldo game (heck, it doesn't even look like the FO is that into it) and instead keep your eye on the signings, the 40-man roster changes, and the call-ups through April.

Then you'll have a clue what the 2011 Pirates - and beyond - are on their way to becoming. All the manager provides is the cherry on top.