Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last Minute Xmas Shopping

  • The Pirates resigned 1B Jeff Clement, 28, to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training. He missed most of last season after knee surgery. LHP Ryoto Igarashi's previously announced deal was finalized today, too.
  • The Nationals signed Xavier Paul to a minor-league deal. The X-Man has a chance to get some at-bats in DC, as they have an unsettled center field.
  • LHP Brian Burres, the Buccos Indy insurance policy, has moved on to the SF Giants. He inked a minor-league deal with the G-Men with an invitation to camp.
  • The Braves are looking to ink a backup shortstop on a one-year deal, and Ronny Cedeno is a candidate. An earlier report said the Mets were kicking his tires, too.
  • The Dodgers picked up ol' Pirate reliever LHP John Grabow, who had a tough couple of seasons in Chi-Town.
  • The Astros reassigned IF Brian Bixler to AAA Oklahoma City.
  • MLB news of the day: The Rangers won the rights to negotiate with Japanese RHP Yu Darvish. It only cost them $51.7M, the highest posting bid ever made. In Arizona, the D-Backs announced that they signed OF Jason Kubel for 2 years/$15M plus  mutual option year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Home Grown Buccos

Trent Rosencrans of CBS Sports has put together a series where he examines the lineups of teams if they would have kept their home-grown players together. His Pirate lineup is below, and this link takes you to the complete roster.

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF
2. Neil Walker, 2B
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5. Ryan Doumit, 1B
6. Jeff Keppinger, SS
7. Ronny Paulino, C
8. Nyjer Morgan, LF

We're not real sure that he ever saw Dewey play first, but hey...either him or Brad "Big Country" Eldred, right? And Nyjmo?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Sidebars

  • Dejan Kovacevic of the Trib tweets that the Bucs are talking to LHP Jo Jo Reyes about a minor league deal as they continue to stockpile lefty insurance policies.
  • Restating the obvious: During the PirateFest Q&A, Neal Huntington told the media & fans that they're still interested in Derrek Lee.  Maybe he should take David Todd's advice and look at of the Padres Anthony Rizzo or Jesus Guzman now that they have Yonder Alonso (see below). Clint Hurdle kept it rolling when he let it be known that Garrett Jones/Casey McGehee/Nick Evans/Matt Hague are all "in play" for first base next season. 
  • In more pertinent news, the FO said the likely minor league assignments for some Pirate primo prospects are: Gerritt Cole & Jameson Taillon, High A Bradenton; Luis Heredia, Rookie League; Tony Sanchez, AA Altoona, and Josh Bell at Low A West Virginia.
  • Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago says that the Cubbies are in talks to bring Paul Maholm to the Windy City.
  • Two big stories in MLB today: The Reds acquired Mat Latos from the Padres this afternoon for Yonder Alonso, Edison Volquez, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger. The other is that Jimmy Rollins inked a three year deal with the Phils with an option.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pirate Prospects, Player Movement

  • Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus has the Bucs' Top Twenty prospects. He lists Josh Bell, Gerritt Cole, Luis Heredia, and Jamison Taillon as Pirate five-star farmhands. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has his Top Ten from the start of 2011 and again at the end of the year. The update shows how shallow the system still is. There were no new names to add to Mayo's list, just a reshuffling of the original ten.
  • The Bucs signed LHP Kris Johnson. Johnson was a first round sandwich pick of the Red Sox in 2006, but never lived up to his hype in the minors. The Bosox scouting report says that he "...throws three pitches well: a 90-94 mph fastball, a mid-70s hard curveball, and a very good 83-84 mph changeup. Uses his fastball and his change as out pitches...Underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005...curve lacks the same bite." He's worth a minor league flyer; maybe a change of scenery will do him some good.
  • Patrick Newman of NPR Tracker tweeted that  LHP Ryota Igarashi, 32, has signed a split contract with Pittsburgh. The reliever was 4-1/4.66 for the Mets in 2011, averaging 10 Ks and 7 BBs per nine innings.
  • The Twins signed former Pirates 1B Steve Pearce and LHP Aaron Thompson to minor league deals.
  • The Mets non-tendered C Ronny Paulino, making him a free agent. And they're staying in contact with IFs Jack Wilson and Ronnie Cedeno. They must scout Pittsburgh pretty well; they also claimed RHP Jeremy Hefner and signed LHP Garrett Olson to a minor-league deal.
  • The Tigers signed RHP Octavio Dotel. It's a record-setting 13th club for the bullpen specialist.
  • Arizona gave $1M to Lyle Overbay to return in 2012.
  • Jay Michaels, who left the Bucs for a 3-year run with the Astros, has signed a minor league deal with Washington.
  • The Phillies added C Steve Lerud to their system.
  • Toronto sent RHP Jesse Chavez to Triple A Las Vegas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pirate Roster As Of Today

OK, time to look at the upcoming 25-man roster now that most of the shouting has died down. It's still possible that the team picks up another starter for depth purposes - think Brian Burres - or somehow Derrik Lee falls into their laps, although it looks like they have first base covered now.

Our guess would be that the other pick-ups will be minor-league deals, especially as the market for closers doesn't appear to be so tight that the FO will get what they want for Hanny. So here goes:

Rotation: Eric Bedard, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia and Brad Lincoln will be the five when camp breaks, as Charlie Morton is likely to start the year on the DL. Lincoln has an option left, but he'll see plenty of action in Pittsburgh given the health history of the staff. Chris Leroux could fill the old Karstens role of spot starter; he has the desire and stretched out in winter ball as a starter.

Jeff Locke got his feet wet last year, and Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson have to rebound from disappointing debuts at Indy. Pittsburgh still isn't very deep here for all the pitching they've collected and lack an ace-quality arm.

Bullpen: Hanny will close, but the set-up job will be contentious. Evan Meek has a foot up, but if he falters, Chris Resop and perhaps Jason Grilli could step in. Chris Leroux is out of options and should stick while Anthony Watson will represent the lefties. That's six guys, and we think the last spot will come down to Daniel McCutchen or lefty Daniel Moskos. D-Mac is out of options while Moskos has a pair in hand, and that could be the determining factor.

Bryan Morris, Duke Welker, Tim Wood and Aaron Poseda will be on hand. It's deep and a nice pen on paper, depending on how Meek pitches after missing most of 2011 to injuries. Jose Veras was the local whipping boy in 2011, but he was the set-up guy and his 79 appearances will leave a large hole to fill.

Outfield: Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata will start with Nate McLouth as the cavalry should one of the corner guys go down or have performance issues. Our guess is that they'll stick with those four and count on Garrett Jones as the fifth OF'er.

The FO hasn't shown much love for Gorkys Hernandez, and Starling Marte is still a step away. There's an outside chance that Jake Fox, a super utility guy, could be a bench corner outfielder, and Andrew Lambo is still on the radar.

Corner Infield: Pedro Alvarez will get the nod at third; Jones and an accomplice to be named later, probably Casey McGehee, will platoon at first. Jones hits righties well, but McGehee had big trouble with lefties last year, batting at just a .169 clip against them. That's why we think Nick Evans will stick with the club; he's a proven lefty basher and a good glove man, a perfect insurance policy for the position.

Matt Hague, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison will be the upper-level reserves, and the last two are versatile enough to handle third, short and second. Hague is a first baseman working out at third to improve his versatility. Fox is a corner reserve.

Middle Infield: Neil Walker and Clint Barmes will hold the fort, and we're hoping they're ironmen, as Yamaico Navarro is their likely back-up.

Gustavo Nunez for Pedro Ciriaco was a mind-blowing depth swap, and our guess is Rule V pick Gus goes back to Detroit sooner rather than later. Chase d'Arnaud and Brock Holt will open the season in the minors; Mercer is also a candidate here.

Catcher: Looks like Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry are the dynamic duo; we're still not sure why Jason Jaramillo was released.

This spot is considerably weaker than last year's was, at least prior to the injury epidemic. Tony Sanchez, Eric Fryer and Ramon Cabrera still need polished up quite a bit. Jose Morales and perhaps Fox are third catcher candidates.

GW's 25 Man Roster:

Pitchers (12): Eric Bedard, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Leroux, Brad Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, James McDonald, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Anthony Watson. (Charlie Morton - 15 day DL)

Outfield (4): Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata.

Catchers (2): Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry.

Infield (7): Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, Brian Evans, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Yamiaco Navarro and Neil Walker.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Roster Takes Shape

As the bewitching hour approached, the FO tendered all its arb-eligible dudes: Joel Hanrahan, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop, Jeff Karstens, Evan Meek, Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones. Jason Grilli was signed to a new contract earlier in the evening, so the Bucs kept the roster in one piece for the time being.

It's good news that the Pirates tendered those guys; all bring something to the table. And we are pleasantly surprised that management kept the gang together, overcoming their innate "grass is greener" syndrome.

First, they let C Jason Jaramillo go, leaving Mike McKenry as the backup to Rod Barajas, although Scooby Doo showed no particular talent with a bat or plays at the plate. They released IF Pedro Ciriaco and picked up Gustavo Nunez, whose next visit to the AAA level will be his first, and Yamaico Navarro of the good bat and iffy glove.

They swapped out OF Xavier Paul for Nate McLouth as the fourth outfielder, which is the closest move to a bench upgrade they've made. 3B Casey McGehee is a roll of the dice. If 2011 was an anomaly and not the norm, he nicely fills a corner role for the Bucs that had no obvious internal answer. And given the market, he's worth the risk.

Barajas and SS Clint Barmes filled self-created holes, but don't figure to add much to the Pittsburgh portfolio. Both are dependable in the field, but look to be the seven-eight hitters in a lineup begging for some help. LHP Erik Bedard is a welcome upgrade to the rotation, especially if Clint Hurdle can nurse 20-25 starts out him, and is easily the top FA signing of the off-season.

Of course, the blueprint to success is based on the improvement of the young guys. If the pups like J-Mac, Charlie Morton, McCutch, the Pittsburgh Kid and Jose Tabata can build on 2011 and Pedro Alvarez returns to his late-season 2010 form, the Bucs have enough pieces to build around. And that is the key to the team moving down the road, not the market.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bucs Deal Veras For McGehee; Grilli Signs

Well, well. The Pirates finally got someone for a player they were probably planning on non-tendering, sending RHP Jose Veras to the Brewers for 3B Casey McGehee.

Veras, 31, actually had a nice year for the Pirates, with the occasional breakdowns that come with a team-leading 79 appearances. The righty threw 71 innings and complied a 2-4-1/3.80 line with 79 Ks, running into problems when his control was off.

But he was one of five relievers up for arbitration and in line for a big bump up from his $1M 2011 contract. With several other young guys looking for big league work, he was expendable.

McGehee, 29, hit .223 with a .280 on-base percentage for the Brewers with 13 home runs in 546 at-bats, having a pretty miserable year. But the FO is looking at his 2010 season, when he had 23 home runs, 104 RBIs and hit .285 with a .337 OBP. McG had a nice 2009 rookie line of .301/16/66 as a part-timer, too.

He can play both corners (though he only has a handful of games at first) and provides some pop and a little insurance if Pedro fizzles. If both he and Alvarez have bounce back years, El Toro could get find himself across the diamond. McGehee was also a potential non-tender candidate, especially as the Brew Crew just inked A-Ram. As a first-time arb-eligible player, the Pirates have him under control through the 2014 season.

Per MLB Trade Rumors, Veras projected to earn $2.5M in 2011, while McGehee projected to earn $3.1M through arbitration.

Our guess is that Veras will help Milwaukee more than McGehee will Pittsburgh, but we can't complain about getting a return on a player rather than just cutting him loose ala Matt Capps.

Rob Biertempfel of the Trib tweeted that RHP Jason Grilli signed a one-year deal for $1.1M and appearance bonuses, assuring a veteran presence in the pen, at least until the deadline.

It's still going to be a busy night. Pittsburgh has a hour or so to offer arb to Joel Hanrahan, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, Casey McGehee, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Garrett Jones. And rest assured they'll be eying the non-tendered list, too. We may need a scorecard this year.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rule V Draft - ???

Well, the Bucs dove into the draft pool headfirst. We're not exactly sure why, but that's why we're bloggers and not front office dudes. Maybe it's just a habit that management just can't shake.

The Pirates took SS Gustavo Nunez, 23, from the Tigers. He's a good glove, no hit guy that spent last season split between Hi A and AA. Nunez has a .266 lifetime minor-league BA, and only 133 at-bats were taken above Class A. How he's an improvement over Pedro Ciriaco is a mystery to us, much less how he will last the season in Pittsburgh without a single AAA at-bat on his resume. We guess the grass is always greener...

The organization lost RHP Brett Lorin, 25, to Arizona. He was 7-6 with a 2.84 ERA at Hi A Bradenton last season. He's not an overwhelming arm and is injury prone, so it's hard to tell if the Bucs just didn't see much future for him or thought that his background would allow him to sneak through the draft. Either way, he didn't seem to figure mightily with the team going forward except possibly around the edges.

The minor league portion added a couple of more interesting players. Pittsburgh took former top prospect LHP Aaron Poreda, 25, from San Diego. Poreda can fire the ball, and lefties with smoke are always a welcome commodity, even if the strike zone is a foreign concept to them. In 438 minor-league frames, he's K'ed 400 and walked 252 batters. But he hits the mid-nineties, and certainly is worth a look.

Then came the unsurprising continued run on catchers. Francisco Diaz, 21, was claimed from the Phillies. He's a good field, no hit backstop that spent 2011 in Class A. That was followed by the selection of another catcher, Charles Cutler, 25, from the Cards. His career farm line is .305/.385/.412, but he was behind Wil Rosario and Audry Perez in St. Louis. Cutler is a little long in the tooth for a AA player, but at least can hit.

And as Pat Lackey of WHYGAVS noted, "C Brian Jeroloman was just DFA'ed. You know Huntington won't be able to help himself..."

Unrelated to the draft, but still worth a line: Albert Pujols signed with the Angels for 10 years/$250M and was given  a no trade clause. Aye carumba! That leaves a couple of guys available on the trade market, like Mark Trumbo and the Mets' Ike Davis.

Burning The Midnight Oil

The Bucco FO stayed up longer than ol' GW last night; they were still shakin' and bakin' up to the midnight hour.

First, the Pirates traded RHP Brooks Pounders and IF Diego Goris  to the Royals for infielder Yamaico Navarro in what the KC media described as "a clock-beating move that cleared a roster space before this morning’s Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings."

Navarro, 24, offers some offensive potential, particularly for a utility infielder, but his iffy glovework made him expendable. He's played at second, third, short and the outfield. Navarro began in Boston's farm system, where he was purely a shortstop. The righty hit .272 with two homers and nine RBIs in 25 games at AAA Omaha last year, close to his .279 career farm BA.

Pounders, 21, was 5-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 66 innings over 36 games last season at Class A West Virginia in 2011. He was a second round pick in the 2009 draft, but had fallen behind several of the lower level arms the Pirates have collected during their recent drafts.

Goris, 21, batted .350 with 29 extra-base hits, 53 runs and 46 RBIs in 68 games for the Pirates’ Dominican Summer League club. He was a DSL All-Star the past two seasons.

The Bucs must have an eye at someone in the Rule V draft Friday; they released Ross Ohlendorf to create a spot on the 40-man roster. In fact, the Trib's Rob Beirtempfel tweeted that they've made another yet unannounced move (to make space for Navarro) and will dive into the draft pool.

Also, as expected, Derrik Lee refused arbitration, waiting on Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to find landing spots, and will join the FA market. The Bucs intend to stay in touch, but lotsa luck there. The bright side of the street is that the Pirates will get a compensation pick in the 2012 draft if Lee, a Type B free agent, signs with another team.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bucs Get Their Pitcher...And More

The door swung open for LHP Erik Bedard, OF Nate McLouth and C Jose Morales and shut on SS Pedro Ciriaco and C Jason Jarmillo as the FO earned their money today.

Bedard is the most interesting pick-up. The veteran lefty has eight years in the league, all in the junior circuit, and adds a southpaw that can miss bats to the Pirate rotation. He's 56-50 with a 3.70 career ERA and notched 8.8 Ks per nine innings over that span, so at least he and J-Mac have strikeout stuff.

The Pirates signed him to a plain vanilla one-year contract for $4.5M; no option, no buy-out. In him, they have a guy who can realistically provide 25 starts and 150 innings with an ERA south of four. His caveat emptor - too much time in the tub. He hasn’t pitched more than 150 innings since 2007, and missed the 2010 season due to injuries. But he's been effective when he can take the hill, and if healthy, he'll be the Bucs default number one pitcher. A nice, out-of-the-blue signing.

Nate McLouth officially rejoined the team, not that he'd know anyone who's left in Pittsburgh since his trade. Nate the Great signed for a year at $1.75M, and will be an insurance policy for the pup Alex Presley and the oft-injured Jose Tabata in the corners. He also comes with health concerns and a terrible stretch in Atlanta, so we'll see what he has left in the tank. Clint Hurdle was asked if going "home" to the Pirates will help. His response, as reported by Rob Biertempfel of the Trib: "It worked for Dorothy."

Jose Morales is a good stick but with no power and good throw-'em-out catcher but not otherwise thought of as a strong defensive guy. Morales is athletic enough that he's played some infield, but his primary position is behind the dish. He's a switch-hitter who was inked to a minor league deal with an invite to camp, so apparently he's gonna get a shot at being the reserve catcher.

His odds improved dramatically when Jason Jaramillo was DFA'ed, along with Pedro Ciriaco. The moves caught us a bit off guard for two reasons: one, we thought both had a shot at bench jobs come spring, and two, we expected guys who the Pirates were planning to non-tender would get the ax first. So it may be that there's still some internal debate about the arb-eligible players getting offers, either through a hearing or contract, or the FO plans on making a couple of other moves.

A couple of media sources have said the Bucs are out of the IF Wilson Betemit auction. Rumors still have them linked to Mark DeRosa and Ian Stewart. They're also thought to have some interest in LHP Jeff Francis, who the FO tried to bring to Pittsburgh last year.

Hey, not a bad hot stove season so far. The Pirate attack hasn't been improved enough to notice, but they did at least bring in a pitcher with better upside than anchoring the bottom of the rotation. And hey, maybe they have another out-of-the-box deal in the works...we hope.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Meeting Notes

  • Rob Biertempfel of the Trib said that the Bucs are closing in on deals for OF Nate McLouth and either IF Wilson Betemit or Mark DeRosa. Michael Sanserino of the P-G wrote that the McLouth deal is in the serious stages. Nate is a bit of a surprise. If he's being brought in as an insurance policy on Alex Presley, the numbers show that McLouth hits lefties worse than Presley does. Still, a veteran presence can't hurt and he may be over his Atlanta injury bugs.
  • Pitchers that the Pirates are said to be interested in are LHP Jeff Francis and RHP Aaron Cook. Oddly, one name that hasn't come up at all has been that of Paul Maholm. We're wondering if that late season injury was a little more serious than reported.
  • Pittsburgh will find out if Derrik Lee accepts arb tomorrow, although it seems to be a foregone conclusion that he'll move on. And if they're going to play in the Friday draft, they'll have to take someone off the 40-man Wednesday, too.
  • As Will Pellas noted in his comment on the last post, the Bucs are frustrating because they refuse to address holes that won't be filled in the short term through the system. We'll see if they deal for any players in the longer run. Will mentioned the FA pitching; they could get creative and give guys like Chris Leroux or Chris Resop a shot. We're interested to see if they have a package in mind if Gaby Sanchez frees up (Albert Pujols is given a even chance of landing in Florida.) Take away the outfield and second base, and every other position could be upgraded. It would be a pity to see the first wave of talent crest before the next wave hits shore.
  • The Pirates announced their upcoming PirateFest schedule and the players who will participate.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Meeting Memo

Do things looks like they're falling in place for the Bucs? Well, the jigsaw is taking shape, but the FO appears satisfied to add along the edges now that Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes are in the fold, filling their most critical holes.

Derrik Lee, by all reports, will suit up again next year somewhere, but not until Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder sign and open the market for him and Carlos Pena. The odds of either falling to Pittsburgh are slim, so it looks like a platoon between Garrett Jones and Nick Evans/Matt Hague/Jake Fox is in the cards.

The Pedro Alvarez saga continues to twist and turn. The FO told the media that they're in touch with his trainer, and that El Toro won't play any winter ball. We're sorta surprised that they're not taking a more active role in his winter PT program, especially after cleaning out the training staff in the post-season.

They've admitted that the biggest impact improvement they could make would be for Pedro to live up to his clippings, but it does seem like they're putting Alvarez on a shorter leash in 2012. Mark DeRosa & Ian Stewart are still on their radar, and internally, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison could get a look in the spring. The management is at least considering Plan B. But make no mistake, the job is still Alvarez's to lose. That will be the storyline in Florida and the early part of the season.

The Ryan Kadish/Nate McLouth rumors mean two things: One, that they're still not convinced Alex Presley is an everyday player - he did have rough splits last season - so they're looking for insurance, and they're likewise leery of bringing up Gorkys Hernandez, who now has to feel Starling Marte hot on his tail. We're not exactly sure why every other club's prospects look so good to the FO while their home-grown guys have to sit and simmer, but that's consistently been the MO during the Coonelly/Huntington era.

The pitching rotation still needs upgraded, but the talk so far is to add another back-end, inning-eating veteran hurler. It would seem to make sense to look for a number two type arm to hold the fort for a couple of years until guys like Gerritt Cole, Jamison Taillon and Luis Hernadez make their Pittsburgh debuts, but doesn't seem to be the direction they're headed.

It's likely that they'd  have to overpay, ala the Nats and Jayson Werth, to attract that kind of talent and so they're understandably gun shy. One big albatross contract can hold back a low-revenue team like Pittsburgh for a couple of seasons or more. Even the deep pocket Cubs have big problems digging out from under bad commitments.

Watch to see if they add to the bullpen; five guys are up for arb from the relief corps, and they all may not be tendered; Jose Veras at least is on the bubble. But that's a tough read. The FO has been content to wait out the market to add those pieces.

The Rule V draft concludes the meetings, and the FO has remained non-committal as to whether they plan to dive into that pool again. The 40-man roster is full, so someone has to go if they do opt to participate. They could lose a pitcher like Nathan Baker, one of a couple of relievers, or outfielder Andrew Lambo, who is raking in winter ball, to the draft.

There is one possibility of a big move, and that's through a trade. No smoke yet, but they will listen to offers for Hanny and have a small crowd of outfielders and lower level arms for less splashy deals or as add-ins.

One positive thing did happen today. Pirates Director of Media Relations Jim Trdinich was named the winner of the MLB's 2011 Robert O. Fishel Award for Public Relations Excellence. He's been tub thumping for the Pirates for 23 years, and that's one long, thankless stretch.

Into The Winter Meetings...

  • Will he or won't he? Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweeted that the Pirates are talking to Derrik Lee, but he has other suitors. His answer, which should come by Wednesday, will tell us a lot about how the first base FA market is shaping up.
  • Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports says the Bucs are in the market for spare outfielders. One they're looking at is Nate McLouth, who would in essence become the 2012 Xavier Paul. He also tweets that Pittsburgh has inquired about Ian Stewart, the Rockies 26 year old infielder.
  • For those who thought Pittsburgh tended to send players back into battle before they were ready, Rob Biertempfel of the Trib wrote that the GM agreed, at least in one case:  “We learned a valuable lesson with James McDonald,” Neal Huntington admitted. “We’ve got to make sure we give our guys spring training. We put James in a tough spot.” 
  • BTW, the Buc roster has been entirely remade. None of the 25 MLB players inherited by Frank Coonelly/Neal Huntington play in Pittsburgh any longer, and Evan Meek is currently the longest-tenured Pirate.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sunday Stuff

  •  The winter meetings, the official start of the hot stove league, kick off tomorrow. The Pirates will search for another starter and maybe a first baseman, depending on what Derrik Lee decides. He has until Wednesday to accept or nix their arbitration offer. Our guess is he'll opt for the market and start entertaining offers after Sir Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder ink deals. The Pirate FO has also mentioned that they're exploring trades. Hanny, the outfield, and a glut of young, lower level arms are the likeliest bait.
  • A couple other upcoming dates of interest: the winter meetings close on Thursday, December 8th with the Rule V draft and arb-eligible players have to be tendered by Monday, December 12th. The Bucs have nine players in that category this year.
  • Mark Simon blogged in ESPN that the Bucs may have had an ulterior motive in signing 1B Nick Evans from the Mets. Not only does he hit pretty well against lefties, but in limited action last season, he tied for the league lead in runs saved at the position with 7. The Sabermetric driven FO continues in its efforts to shore up the Bucco D, as last year's Pirate firstbasemen surrendered 11 more runs than average with their glovework.
  • For our female readers, bad news: Neil Walker was married Saturday. Congratulations and we wish a long happy life for the couple. And it is still possible; GW has logged 33 years with his bride and never been thrown out the house even once (through no fault of his own, lol).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hot Stove

  • IF Mark DeRosa, who has missed the past couple of seasons because of a pair of wrist surgeries, is looking to come back according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. He adds that the Pirates are one of a handful of teams doing at least due diligence on him.
  • Per John Perrotto of Inside Pittsburgh Sports, the Pirates will listen for any possible Hanny deals at the winter meetings. A source told him that "...you never know how badly a team wants somebody." There's been a lot of smoke regarding Hanny so far this off-season, though no solid rumors have taken shape - yet.
  • One unconfirmed rumor that's made it's way into a thread or two is that Pittsburgh is looking at Red Sox prospect OF Ryan Kalish, 23, who was Boston's #3 farmhand in 2010 before labrum surgery derailed him last season. He's a larger, RH version of Alex Presley.
  • LHP Chris Capuano signed with the Dodgers for 2 years/$10M. Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports said the Bucs were in on him, too.
  • The Bucco stockpile of catchers is scattering into the wind. Dusty Brown signed a minor league deal with the Rangers and Matt Pagnozzi did the same with the Indians. They join Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder, and Brian Jeroloman in the backstop exodus from Pittsburgh. That does still leave them with Rod Barajas, Jason Jaramillo, Mike McKenry and minor leaguers Tony Sanchez, Eric Fryer and Ramon Cabrera. They also have Wyatt Toregas back, although he may be destined to coach rather than play.
  • Matt Eddy of Baseball America notes that OF Brandon Moss has left the Phillies organization and signed with the Oakland As.

Bunts And Bleeders

  • Not a huge surprise, we guess, but Keith Law of ESPN rates Pirate CF Andrew McCutchen #2 in his ranking of baseball's top players who are 25 or younger.
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Trib tweeted that the Bucs have been looking at  LHPs Wei-Yin Chen, 26, from Taiwan, and Tsuyoshi Wada, a 30 year-old Japanese hurler. Chen throws heat, hitting the radar in the low-to-mid 90s, and Wada is more a finesse/control guy. He adds that the Pirates are in on the edges for Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes, but won't get involved in an auction with the big buck boys - and his contract could top $50M.
  • Bill Blank of the Post Gazette said that if RHP Charlie Morton isn't ready to go at the start of the season, the FO isn't about to panic. Because of the early off days, the team could use a four-man rotation in the opening month and only need two spot starts. That's a pretty telling statement regarding their depth.
  • The Pirate draft pool pot for 2012 has been calculated at $9,270,800 by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. The spent $8,750,000 in bonus money in 2010 for Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, and $13 M for Gerritt Cole and Josh Bell last year. It looks like the second-round gravy train is about to derail. (PS - sharp eyed reader Ryan says that's not for the upcoming draft, but the past one. So the Bucco budget is yet to be determined)
  • The Pirates announced that they'll keep minor-league managers Dean Treanor (Indy), P.J. Forbes (Altoona), Carlos Garcia (Bradenton) and Tom Prince (Gulf Coast League). Rick Sofield, who most recently coached at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, will step in to manage in West Virginia. Dave Turgeon will be leaving there to manage short-season State College. Turgeon was West Virginia's pitching coach last season. 
  • Why Joel Hanrahan is such a gaudy trade trinket, part three: the Marlins just signed closer Heath Bell to a  $27M/3 year deal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pirate Patter

  • The Pirates announced that they signed Met's 1B/OF Nick Evans to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. Evans' career work product is a .256 batting avg, 28 doubles, eight home runs and 46 RBI in 386 at-bats over parts of four seasons. His addition gives the Bucs a security blanket if Derrik Lee bolts town and they have to platoon; he's basically Matt Hague with a MLB track record. And he's hit .295 with 6 dingers against lefties in 176 ABs.
  • The Bucs have so far invited five minor league free agents to camp: Evans, RHP Tim Wood, C/OF Jake Fox, RHP Shairon Martis and OF Brandon Boggs. 
  • John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus tweeted that the Bucs had some interest in free agent OF David DeJesus, who signed with the Cubs. Our question would be why.
  • Jen Langosch of MLB.com has an article on the Pirate game plan heading into the winter meetings.
  • Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout analyzed Clint Hurdle's platooning and bullpen tendencies. It's pretty interesting stuff and the results may be a little different than you thought. 
  • Ashley Marshall of MiLB.com has broken down the best of the baby Buccos by position. Her All-Prospect team has C Ramon Cabrera, 1B Matt Hague, 2B Jarek Cunningham, SS Jordy Mercer, 3b Elevys Gonzalez, UT Wes Freeman, OFs Starling Marte, Robbie Grossman and John Bowker (who is now in the Philly organization), RHP Kyle McPherson, LHP Nate Baker and reliever Tim Wood.
  • The Bradenton Marauders have just introduced a new logo. It's a grinning skull with a Pirate patch backed with crossed bats. Holy shiver me timbers!
  • Christina Kahrl posted an article on ESPN's Sweet Spot suggesting three fixes for each NL Central team. For Pittsburgh, it's take stock, get some corner OF offense, and jump-start Pedro.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bucco Bits

  • Keith Law of ESPN reported that the Pirates would at least listen to offers for Andrew McCutchen. The story is behind the ESPN Insider's subscriber wall.
  • Bill Brink of the Post Gazette wrote that the FO is kicking the tires of veteran righty Aaron Cook. The question is will Cook be the BP pitcher of 2010-11 or the solid three-four guy of 2005-09? He's another of Clint Hurdle's old charges, which we're sure is helping to get his foot in the door.
  • OF Xavier Paul wasn't claimed after being DFA'ed, so he's now a free agent. The Pirates paid lip service to signing him again, but that's unlikely. Because of when he was DFA'ed, he can't ink a deal with the Pirates until mid-May.
  • The Bucs have two weeks to decide who to offer arbitration to. There are nine players eligible: Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Evan Meek, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Resop and Jose Veras. Five are RHP from the pen, so it wouldn't be a surprise if one or two of them were non-tendered. The FO also has the option to offer a contract instead of arb, so we'll see how it ends up.
  • Primo Pirate prospect OF Starling Marte missed a month of winter ball in the Domincan League with a tight groin, but the good news is he returned to action today. He plays for Leones del Escogido.
  • Bradenton OF Robbie Grossman had a breakout year for Bradenton (.294/13/56 with a .418 OBP and 24 stolen bases). He was interviewed by MiLB.com's Ashley Martin in this Q&A article.
  • And on the CBA front: Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com wrote that MLB has shut the door on building up draft pool value by not signing a couple of top ten picks. The league says that if you don't sign someone, that round's slot figure will be subtracted from the pot. He also has a couple more clarifications/factoids to add to the draft process.

Turkey Week Leftovers

Hey, gang, hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving. Didn't mean to take such a long holiday break, but with nothin' happening for the Buccos and the nice Turkey week weather, well...

  • The Pirates offered free agent 1B Derrik Lee arbitration. If he accepts, he'll be a Buc in 2012, and probably draw somewhere in the neighborhood of $8M. If he signs elsewhere, the Pirates get a sandwich pick in the upcoming draft. Pittsburgh already has one extra selection thanks to Ryan Doumit joining the Twins. The FO did allow Chris Snyder and Ryan Ludwick to enter the market. Those were the four Pittsburgh free agent  "B" Players. That means that they ranked statistically in the top 21-40 percentile of FAs at their position, and are worth a bonus pick if they refuse to accept arbitration with their old team.
  • C Eric Fryer cleared the waiver wires and was sent to Indy. However, new C Brian Jeroloman lasted but a weekend as a Pirate. He was DFA'ed and subsequently reclaimed by his former club, Toronto.
  • The Bucs inked minor leaguers  RHP Kyle Cofield, 24, formerly of the White Sox system, and 1B Stefan Welch, 23, from the Mets organization. Cofield spent all but two innings at AA Birmingham, where he was 1-2/2.89 and was used solely as a reliever. Welch, from Down Under, put up a line of .271/16/53 at High A St. Lucie.
  • LHP Justin Thomas, who was 8-2/3.89 at Indy, was signed to a minor league deal by the Boston Red Sox. He joins LHP Donnie Veal, who went to the White Sox, and 3B Brandon Wood, who signed with Colorado, as free agents looking for greener pastures.
  • Ramon Cabrera, 5'-7" fireplug C for the Bradenton Marauders, was named to the Topps A All-Star team. RC led the Florida State league in hitting with a .343 BA and was one of just ten players named to the team.
  • The next batch of baseball stories will pop up soon when the Baseball Meetings begin in Dallas on Sunday, December 4th. The event will be capped on December 8th with the Rule V Draft. The Pirates will be looking for a pitcher and a first baseman. Movement has been slow all around the league so far, but with the new CBA in the bag, it should be fast approaching wheelin' and dealin' time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New CBA, New World

The rule hardest for the Bucs to swallow will be the draft cash limit; you can bet that no small revenue team is willing to pay a tax on the draft. There will be start-up problems - how will teams deal with Scott Boras when he asks for the whole ten-round ball of wax for one player? - but all in all, it will just create a new set of rules to work through, and the FOs around the league will.

The changes:

* A raise in the minimum salary from $414,000 this year to $480,000 in 2012, and eventually $500,000+. It's the MLBPA version of a COLA.
* Blood testing for human growth hormone as early as next spring, with a 50-game suspension for a first failed test. So now HGH is considered a no-no along with PEDs.
* It changes the draft-pick compensation for the signing of free agents. Type A and Type B ratings are eliminated, and teams can only get draft pick compensation if they offer the player a guaranteed one-year contract with a salary equal to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players from the prior season.
* Active rosters can increase to 26 players for double-headers to allow for the call-up of a minor-league starter.
* Internationally, teams will be given caps for the amount that they can spend on prospects outside the draft, with the teams having the worst records getting the biggest budget.
* Here's the Bucco killer: A luxury tax on teams that spend above an agreed-upon figure for players signed in the amateur draft.Bud Selig hated teams like the Pirates ignoring his slot system, and the MLBPA didn't like the money being spent on prospects instead of players. So if teams go over slot (not by pick, but by total spent in the first ten rounds), MLB will place a tax worth 75-100 % of the overrun, with the potential loss of first and second-round selections.
* Other draft rules: players can only be signed to minor league contracts, and teams can trade their unspent draft or international budget to another team if they expect to come in under the MLB cap.
* New draft lottery rules: teams with the lowest revenues and worst records will participate in a lottery of forfeited picks (how ironic that the Pirates might be in a lottery for their own pick!); there's also a lottery of extra picks for small revenue and market teams.

Bud Selig wanted the draft to go purely in order of perceived talent instead of an auction, and he won with the help of the MLBPA, who not surprisingly fell on the side of their membership.Baseball will lose the high school kids to college and prep multi-athletes other sports, and prospects will enter the draft much closer to MLB ready. Colleges will truly become the minor leagues.

So Pittsburgh will have to wait and see if their internal budget and the MLB's international cap are copacetic.  More importantly, they'll have to adjust to the new draft era and reallocate monies from the amateur pool to the MLB roster. It's a change in direction, not a death sentence.

As all of us who have ever built a project know, the blueprint is nice to have, but the secret to a finished project is the inevitable work-around.

Bucs Make Minor Moves

Baseball America's Matt Eddy tweeted that the Bucs are beginning to stock the farm. He says they signed C/1B Jake Fox, 29, late of the Orioles, and RHP Shairon Martis, 24, from the Nats to minor league deals.

Fox, a RH batter who was released after the season, was one of names tossed around when the Bucs were searching for catchers after Dewey, Chris Snyder and Jason Jaramillo went down last year. He's been a monster in the minors, averaging a homer every 19.5 at-bats with a line of .275/ .351/.491. It hasn't quite translated in the show, where he's hit .237/.288/.425 over four seasons and 489 at-bats.

Martis has 20 MLB outings under his belt, 19 of them starts. He spent 2011 at AA Harrisburg, where he was 8-6/3.05 ERA and 2010 at AAA Syracuse, where he put up a 8-7/4.09 ERA line. The righty, a sinker-slider pitcher, averaged about 7 Ks and 3 BBs per 9 innings in his minor league career.

OF Brandon Boggs, 28, from the Brewers and RHP Jose Diaz, 29, of the Orioles, also inked farm deals, according to Baseball America

The right-handed hitting Boggs joined the Brew Crew from Texas. The LF put together a .209/.315/.380 MLB line in 326 at-bats, with 10 HR and 43 RBI. He's had a solid but unspectacular minor league run.

Diaz is a moose. The righty is just a Hi-Ho away from 300 pounds, although he can deliver a heater in the mid-to-upper nineties. A closer, his minor league career line is 13-16-71/2.87 with 309 K in 307 IP. He started in the LA organization, and has never pitched in the show thanks in large part to four surgeries on his arm.  

So the Bucs are restocking their upper levels with some veteran depth players who can serve as insurance in a pinch.

The Pirates have also set loose a small army of free agents, consisting of veteran minor-leaguers and guys lopped off the 40-man roster, so far losing Donnie Veal to the White Sox and Brandon Wood to the Rox.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Barmes Signed, FA Arb, Top Ten Prospects, 2015 Lineup

The Bucs announced that they got their man for short, Clint Barmes. They inked him for two years and $10.5M ($5M - 2012, $5.5M - 2013), an overpay but one that protected them from a complete meltdown at short if they risked going deep into the free agent season. Chris Cwik of Fangraphs has Barme's story and agrees that he was at the top of the second level of free agents, with a caveat or two.

So it appears Chase d'Arnaud will return to finishing school at Indy, which leaves the back-up infield competition right now between Pedro Ciriaco and Jordy Mercer, unless Josh Harrison can figure out shortstop in a hurry. And poor C Brian Jeroloman, who the Bucs just claimed, has been DFA'ed. We never could figure out why they took him, anyway.

With Rod Barajas in the fold, the Bucs have opted for a little dependability. Cedeno's inconsistencies were legendary, and Dewey couldn't snag nor frame a pitch the few times he was healthy enough to get behind the plate.

Both Barajas and Barmes are older players who hover about .300 with OBP, so the bottom of the order will be pretty problematic next season. But they keep the team at an even keel and can potentially provide some leadership to a team that's still peach-fuzzy and give the baby Bucs a little time to learn their craft.

We're hoping after the recent Aki Iwomura, Lyle Overbay and  Matt Diaz episodes that the FO did some due diligence on B & B. The baseball gods couldn't be that ornery again...could they?

Anyway, the hunt continues for at least some added pitching and maybe for first base and a RH bench outfielder. Sooner or later, they're going to have to look for offense. It's hard to see where it will come from internally, at least in the near future, even if Pedro does a 180.

A bit of upcoming housecleaning news: the Bucs have until midnight Wednesday to offer their rated free agents arbitration (which is different from the young players arb). The ranked FAs are 1B Derrek Lee, C Ryan Doumit, C Chris Snyder and OF Ryan Ludwick, all Type B players.

If the team offers arbitration and is turned down, in effect guaranteeing that they will lose the player to another club, the Pirates would get a sandwich pick in the draft. Because Doumit has already signed with another team, Pittsburgh gets a pick for him. The odds are they'll offer Lee arbitration, as they'd like him back. Probably less so for the other two, who would put the Bucs in a bind if they accepted since they're no longer part of the plan. And lastly...

Baseball America has the Top Ten Pirate prospects per John Perrotto, and there's nary a one within sniffing distance of Pittsburgh yet. The article does pick the players with the best tools, and has an interesting sidebar on the 2015 lineup. Neil Walker, McCutch and J-Mac are the only current regulars to survive the next three seasons according to BA's projections; even Hanny is gone.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bucs On Barmes?

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is reporting that the Bucs are the frontrunner in the Clint Barmes sweepstakes. Barmes, who played for the Rockies under Clint Hurdle and then moved on to the Astros, is considered a strong & steady infielder with a little pop in his stick. He's looking for a starting gig with a two year deal in the $8-10M range, although SI's Jon Heyman hears it will be 2 years/$11M.

Barmes is a lifetime .252 hitter and can knock a dozen or so balls out of the yard every season. His UZR/150 for 2011 was an excellent 10.8, and it's at 7.2 for his career. He had a career high 3.1 WAR in 2011, and it looks like it's about to pay off for him.

If the FO lands him, it's been a nice job for them in the early days of the hot stove season. Zeroing in on Rod Barajas and Barmes, both toward the top of second-tier free agents at their position this year, should help the team defensively and give them a couple of guys that are at least a threat to go long.

Having said that, the Pirates haven't improved noticeably. Barajas is basically a Chris Snyder clone and Barmes is a less frustrating model of Cedeno.

Both are placeholders until the Bucco farm produces an everyday player, currently hoped to be Chase d'Arnaud and Tony Sanchez. But in a year when the free agent market is thin, they did well to tread water and not lose ground, even if they overpaid (maybe to keep the Player's Association at bay, maybe just to overcome the Pirate stigma, or maybe knowing what it would take to land their man against the competition).

They are still trawling the pitching waters, and crossing their fingers that a first baseman falls into their lap without breaking the bank. But until they bring in a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and a couple of mid order bats, they're not building but just buying time.

Bucs Set Roster

The Pirates set their 40-man roster last night with only a mild surprise or two during the proceedings.

They added LHPs Rudy Owens, 23, and Justin Wilson, 23, RHPs Duke Welker, 25, and Jeremy Hefner, 25, OF Starling Marte, 23, IF Jordy Mercer, 25, 1B Matt Hague, 26, and C Brian Jeroloman, 26. Hefner and Jeroloman were plucked from the waiver wires.

To clear space, the Pirates moved Cs Matt Pagnozzi and Eric Fryer along with OF Xavier Paul off the roster. If they clear the wires, Pagnozzi and Paul will be offered a minor-league deals and Fryer will be assigned to Indy.  Paul lost his spot to Alex Presley, and Pagnozzi was a late-year waiver claim. Both are good bets to leave the organization if they clear, as they will become free agents.

Fryer was the only surprise cut, apparently the victim of upper-level catcher overload in the Pirate system and judged by the FO the likeliest catcher to sneak through waivers. The Bucs are taking a calculated risk with him. We don't really see the why of bringing in Jeroloman if it means risking Fryer, who looks like he still has some upside behind the plate.

As for the remaining players, Welker was most borderline of the additions. The Pirates have a boatload of back end starters and potential relievers stuck in the middle of the organization, and Welker was the only arm they chose to protect of the group. He's a power pitcher, but with a history of being a wild child.

Hefner is a big arm snatched from the Padres, and Jeroloman is a glove-first catcher without much power and a pretty hefty K rate. The other five players were no-brainers. Marte is the Pirates top minor-league position player, Hague had a breakout All-Star season at Indy, Jordan has the best pop of the top level Bucco farm infielders, Owens was the organization's pitcher-of-the-year in 2009-10, and Wilson is a lefty that can bring some heat.

Their 2011 numbers:

Matt Hague: .309/12/75 - Indy (AAA)
Jeremy Hefner: 9-7/4.98 - Tucson (AAA)
Brian Jeroloman: .240/2/26 - Las Vegas (AAA)
Starlin Marte: .332/12/50 - Altoona (AA)
Jordy Mercer: .255/19/69 - Altoona-Indy (AA-AAA)
Rudy Owens: 9-7/5.05 - Indy (AAA)
Duke Welker: 4-5-6/2.76 - Bradenton-Altoona (A+-AA)
Justin Wilson: 10-8-3/4.13 - Indy (AAA)

The roster is full at 40 players, so as it stands now the Bucs aren't likely to be diving into the draft pool this year. The unprotected players at greatest risk of being selected in the draft are RHPs Michael Colla, Diego Moreno and Aaron Pribanic.

And it won't be the final roster. Pittsburgh is still looking for more pitching, a shortstop and maybe a first baseman to add to the squad.

  • Because he was a Type B free agent, Ryan Doumit's signing with the Twins will net the Bucs a sandwich pick in the 2012 draft. 
  • The Colorado Rockies signed Brandon Wood to a minor league contract. The Rox hope he can provide some depth and possibly compete with Ian Stewart at the hot corner.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Nuggets

  • The Pirates claimed minor league RHP Jeremy Hefner from the Padres and C Brian Jeroloman of the Blue Jays off waivers today and outrighted C Matt Pagnozzi to Indy. Hefner has some potential (he hits 94 and has three pitches) while Jeroloman appears to be another good glove, no-hit guy added to the collection, although he at least walks a lot. His career OBP is .378; his slugging % is .347. The 40-man roster now has 36 players on it; midnight is when it has to be set for the Rule 5 draft, so some more shakin' and bakin' is sure to occur, and soon.
  • Dewey signed with the Twins for $3M and one-year. He's a nice fit in the AL, where he can DH and spot start behind the dish and in the corner OF. The length of the contract, we understand, was his decision as he tries to rebuild some value for himself.
  • The Cubbies hired Dale Sveum to lead the Chicago nine. Dale has a lot of Pittsburgh mojo in his background, first as a player (1996-97, '99) and then as the manager of Altoona from 2001-03, compiling a 213-211 (.502) record. He led the Curve to its first back-to-back winning seasons in 2002 (72- 69) and 2003 (78-63), including the club's first appearance in the Eastern League playoffs in 2003, and was named 2003's Top Managerial Prospect in the Eastern League by Baseball America
  • More NL Central news: The Astros will go to the AL West, probably in 2013, leaving two 15-team divisions. Other contract tidbits: Interleague play is likely to stay at 18 games (although the number 30 has been floated around) and will last from April through September. Also, one extra wildcard team will make the playoffs. The two wildcards will play a one game winner take all series as things now stand. Expect some sort of cap & tax on the draft to become part of the CBA.
  • The Bucs will start five games at 4:05 PM in 2012. The two on Saturday should be OK, but the three on Thursday seem like odd fits.
  • The 2012 promotional schedule was released:  There will be two Sky Blasts, two Jam Fests, a Hanny bobblehead, continued free shirt Fridays and a bundle of lesser give-aways.
  • Chris Jaffe from The Hardball Times has a couple of Pirate related items today: this is the anniversary of Pittsburgh joining the National League in 1886 and of the Brian Giles - Ricardo Rincon trade of 1998. Worked out well for the Bucs, too, as Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ohlie and D-Mac are all Buccos descendants of that deal. It would have been even nicer if any of the Jay Bay pieces would have hung around.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

And The Beat Goes On...

  • Pittsburgh, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors, may discuss a new deal with SS Ronny Cedeno, recently cut adrift after the FO rejected his $3M option for 2012. Boy, that must be one thin shortstop market. Think the braintrust isn't booting itself in the butt for not making a serious run at JJ Hardy last season?
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reports that talks between Neil Walker and the Bucs are on the back burner. Could be a lot of reasons in play; we think the hold up is over his value as a possible "Super Two" player, which would give him four years of arbitration and add to his asking price.
  • Jen Langosch of MLB.com says that the Bucs are kicking the tires of 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff and OF Josh Willingham as bench depth. Both are looking for starting gigs probably not available in Pittsburgh, so we'd guess it's another due diligence deal by the FO.
  • This is very weird. Jen Langosch also has an article about OF'er Xavier Paul and some winter ball scamming. It seems a minor league wanna-be somehow signed him up to play Australian baseball during the off season as part of a package deal, completely without Paul's knowledge. He didn't have a clue until the Down-Under team called to find out where the heck he was!
  • The Bucs wasted no time signing C Rod Barajas, and that's probably a good thing. Bill Shaikin of the LA Times tweeted that the Angels contacted him, but after he had already agreed to his Pittsburgh deal. He who hesitates...
  • Vlad of Bucs Dugout has a piece saying that the Pirates offered 15 year old Mexican  LHP Julio César Urías a $200K deal - and he turned it down.
  • Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has the dope on the CBA talks; he thinks they may be concluded before Thanksgiving. There will be some changes, and not particularly to the Pirates advantage...

Monday, November 14, 2011

News And Notes

  • Friday is 40-man roster day, when the pups have to protected from the Rule 5 draft. The Bucs have a couple of dozen first-timers eligible for the draft, plus another small mob of previously eligible players from past seasons. We'd expect Starling Marte, Rudy Owen, Justin Wilson, Matt Hague and Jordy Mercer to be the ones to fill the five remaining roster spots.  But other guys like Altoona's Mike Colla and Andrew Lambo or Bradenton pitchers like Brett Lorin or one of the relievers may be in the mix, too. And they'll still need room for a shortstop, pitcher, and firstbaseman before opening day. Should be interesting.
  • We think Joel Hanrahan's ears will be burning whenever Neal Huntington has a conversation on the phone. He's Pittsburgh's most attractive - and valuable - trade lure on the roster outside of Andrew McCutchen.
  • The Los Angeles Times Steve Dilbert reported that Ryan Doumit turned down a just-under $3M offer from the Big Blue. His agent has let the word out that several teams have checked in on Dewey, from both leagues, and that he may be signed before the December 5th baseball meetings. Doumit earned $5.2M in 2011. And congrats; he got married last weekend.
  • The national media have noticed a couple of guys with local connections sniffing around the Dodgers, Pen's owner Ron Burkle and the Mavs' main man, Mt. Lebanon's Mark Cuban. The guesstimate cost for the team and some affiliated property is between $900M & $1B according to ESPN. Geez, just think what the franchise would be worth if Frank McCourt hadn't run it into the ground.
  • Old catcher Mike Matheny was picked to replace Tony LaRussa at St. Louis. Up until last week, when Matheny's candidacy started to gather steam, the frontrunner was New Brighton's Terry Francona, formerly of the BoSox.
  • Dale Sveum is still alive in the Cub and Red Sox manager derbies, and has earned a second interview with Boston's suits. He managed at Altoona and played in Pittsburgh under Jimmy Leyland and Gene LaMont, who is also being interviewed for the job.
  • The news regarding the new CBA is good and bad. It's good news that it's expected to be wrapped up by Thanksgiving, but bad news because all the scenarios we've heard involve hard draft slotting of one form or another, which will take away the small revenue clubs likeliest road to success.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pirate Movement, Players, Rumors

Some Bucco personnel notes:
  • Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports writes that the Pirates are kicking the tires of Detroit utility infielder Ramon Santiago as Ronny Cedeno's replacement. The 31 year old has been in the show for a decade, compiling a career .249 BA. He's considered a sure glove and a good head in the locker room. Santiago has averaged about 70 starts per year over the past three seasons, split between short and second.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors says the Bucs were one of the teams at Cuban CF Yoenis Cespedes workout. The defector is expected to draw up to a $30M deal, so we'd think the FO was just showing due diligence before the big money boys duke it out for his services.
  • Troy Renck of the Denver Post tweets that Pittsburgh is one of the teams that SS Clint Barmes could be a fit for, but as a matter of sheer speculation.
  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports notes that "...a low-revenue club such as the Pirates could afford RHP Gavin Floyd’s salaries in 2012 and ’13, and fit him nicely into the middle of their rotation." We do have to stress that's just out-loud thinking on Rosenthal's part. There's no smoke from that fire...yet.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post said the Pirates were talking with the Yankees about dealing for a young catcher before they signed Rod Barajas.
  • Just a thought: If the Marlins sign Albert Pujols, Gaby Sanchez suddenly becomes redundant. And there is that dark hole in Pittsburgh at first base...
  • And if you're wondering why Hanny's name pops up during trade talks, it's because his value is high now and clubs traditionally overpay for closers, as shown by Jonathon Papelbon's 4 year, $50M deal with the Phils. Add in that's he's under team control through 2013 and that the FO believes that a bullpen is easy to build, and the stars seem to be aligning if the swag is right.
  • Pittsburgh has nine guys on the 40-man roster that are out of options, notes Jen Langosch of MLB.com. They are pitchers Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Chris Leroux, Chris Resop and Jose Veras, along with position players Jason Jaramillo, Pedro Ciriaco, Xavier Paul and Garrett Jones. That means if they don't make the opening day roster, they have to clear waivers to be reassigned to Indy. Some will be tough calls for the FO; a lot of the players are depth guys, making their status day-to-day under the best of circumstances. 
  • Pirate OF prospect Robbie Grossman fractured his hamate bone this week and will have surgery on it next week. His recovery time is estimated at six weeks, ending his breakout season in the Arizona Fall League. He led the league in walks (20), was tied for fifth in average (.375), sixth in runs (20), tied for second in hits (39), second in home runs (7), fourth in OBP (.472) and fifth in OPS (1.097). He'll be healthy in plenty of time for next season, although hamate surgery often robs a player of his power the following season until full strength returns. 
  • Tim Williams of Pirate Prospects notes that the off-season waiver period has begun. The Pirates have selected a guy during this time for the past four years, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them add a player or two via the waiver wire again this year.
  • LHP Donnie Veal, the FO's first Rule 5 pickup, has signed with the Chicago White Sox organization.
  • RHP Chris Jakubauskas, who you may recall took a vicious Lance Berkman liner in the puss as a Bucco in 2010, signed with Arizona.
  • Remember OF/1BJamie Romak, part of the Adam LaRoche deal back in 2007? The 26 year old re-signed with KC, where he hit 23 homers for their AA club last season.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bucs Get Barajas, Arbitration Decisions

The Bucs patched one hole quickly today when they announced the signing of C Rod Barajas. Barajas, 36, was with the Dodgers last season and put up a line of .230/16/ 47, pretty much within his career parameters. He's played 13 MLB seasons for six different teams and never collected more than 429 at-bats, so he's perfectly used to catching four or five times a week.

The right handed hitter's scouting report is short and sweet - strong defensively with good power. So Barajas is Chris Snyder, except a lot easier on the pocketbook.

Tim Brown of Yahoo!Sports tweeted that the Bucs inked Barajas for one year at $4M with a club option for $3.5M in 2013, thought that was not confirmed by Pittsburgh. That's a bit of an overpay - he made $3.25M last year, and LA thought that was too much - but it allowed the club to plug a gaping hole from the git-go and move on to patching some others.

That leaves Jason Jaramillo, Mike McKenry and Matt Pagnozzi in the running for the reserve spot. JJ is out of options and has more experience, and being a switch hitter should give him a leg up on the competition. McKenry is out of options, too, and the Bucs liked his work defensively last season. Pagnozzi, at this point, looks like a veteran insurance policy. The Pirates even re-signed Wyatt Toregas for depth.

Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez aren't ready to be thrown into the major league mix yet, although the Pirates are crossing their fingers for a 2014 ETA in the show.

So the Bucs got their starting catcher, and hope to get 110-20 games out of him this season. He did start 110 games for the Blue Jays in 2009, but only 172 in the past two years. And his bat will work, too - he's hit 50 long balls in the past three years, a nice number for a guy who looks to bat toward the bottom of the order.

A plus is that Barajas is a Type B free agent, meaning the Dodgers get a compensatory pick for him, but from the league, not the Pirates.

All in all, it seems like a good play by the FO to keep the spot warm for a year or two if Barajas can escape the Pittsburgh curse on catchers' health. Now for that pitching (shortstop)(first base)opening...


Jen Langosch of MLB.com reports that the Bucs may not be done paring their arbitration list yet after outrighting Steve Pearce and Brandon Wood. She writes that GM Neal Huntington says "We're going to non-tender some players that people don't want us to non-tender. We're going to tender some players that probably surprise some people. But those are the business decisions that we have to make."

There are nine Pirates remaining who are arb-eligible: Garrett Jones, Joel Hanrahan, Charlie Morton, Evan Meek, Jeff Karstens, Chris Resop, Jose Veras, Ross Ohlendorf and Jason Grilli.

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors says "Relievers Meek, Resop, Veras, Grilli, and Hanrahan figure to be tendered contracts. Each should fall between $800K and $1.5MM, with the exception of Hanrahan, whose saves should propel him to $3.9MM. Starters Morton ($2.2MM) and Karstens ($2.8MM) will remain affordable as well."

"If Meek, Jones, Morton, Resop, Hanrahan, Karstens, Veras, and Grilli are retained," he speculates, "the total could be around $16M." He was assuming Steve Pearce, Brandon Wood and Ohlie weren't getting tendered, and so far he's right for two out of three. We'd guess Veras and Resop are on the bubble, and others have added Jones to that category.

We'd think non-tendering Jones without shoring up first base would be a mistake by the FO. And even if they do fill the position, for the money he'd earn, Jones would be worth keeping if nothing more than a multi-positional lefty bench bat and shiny trade lure.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November 18th - 40 Man Roster Due

In ten days, the Bucs will have to formalize their 40-man roster to protect their prospects from the Rule 5 draft raiders.  Right now, it consists of 34 players:

Pitchers (19): Kevin Correia, Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Jared Hughes, Jeff Karstens, Chris Leroux, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Daniel McCutchen, Jame McDonald, Kyle McPherson, Evan Meek, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Daniel Moskos, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Resop, Jose Veras, Tony Watson. 

Gone: Brian Burres, Kevin Hart, Paul Maholm, Aaron Thompson.

Catchers (4): Eric Fryer, Jason Jaramillo, Mike McKenry, Matt Pagnozzi.

Gone Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder.

Infield (5): Pedro Alvarez, Pedro Ciriaco, Chase d'Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker.

Gone: Ronnie Cedeno, Derrek Lee, Steve Pearce, Brandon Wood.

Outfield (6): Gorkys Hernandez, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Xavier Paul, Alex Presley, Jose Tabata.

Gone: Ryan Ludwick

The Pirates have already jettisoned 11 players from last year's 40-man roster (15 if you count declared minor league free agents RHP Jose Ascanio, LHP Garrett Olsen and Cs Dusty Brown & Wyatt Toregas), and we'd expect a couple more players to go. OF Starling Marte along with LHPs Rudy Owen and Justin Miller will certainly be added this season, and the Pirates have to give serious consideration to including SS Jordy Mercer and 1B Matt Hague among the fortunate forty.

The Bucs also have an assortment of farm club pitchers in the Nate Adcock mold who project to be middle-inning relievers/spot starters. That's a position of strength in the organization, and they may risk losing an arm or two if they don't protect them. But it's not, nor should be, a high priority. Their top end pitching is still too young to be draft-eligible, and that's where the action is.

Beside protecting their home grown products, the Pirates have to clear some room for players brought in via off season trade or the free-agent market. With holes in the rotation, first base, shortstop and catching to patch, we'd be surprised if the FO didn't make a push to bring in a handful of vets before trying to fill the positions internally.

They may also have an eye out for a Rule 5 prospect during the December 8th draft. Though it's less likely this season than in year's past, it remains a possibility.

So the paring probably isn't quite done yet; another player or two may be looking for a new clubhouse before the 18th.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bucco Bits

  • Four Pirate free agents - 1B Derrek Lee, OF Ryan Ludwick, C Chris Snyder and C Ryan Doumit - have been designated as "B" level, meaning that the team that signs them has to send a second round draft pick to  Pittsburgh if the Bucs offer the player arbitration and he rejects it. Look for the FO to offer Lee arbitration, for two reasons: one, they really need a first baseman, and two, they really want him. We'd expect him to turn it down. The remaining trio aren't likely to get an offer because they might accept it, and for health/financial reason, the Bucs want rid of them, at least at their current price (they may try to resign Dewey if his salary drops). The Pirates have until November 23rd to make an offer; the players have until December 7th to accept it. 
  • OF'er Matty Alou, who spent 1966-70 with the Bucs, died today at the age of 72. He played with his brothers Felipe and Jesus in SF, forming the first all-brother outfield. He won a batting title with Pittsburgh, although he will be forever associated with the Gunner's call after Alou dropped a "can of corn." Jane McCauley of the Associated Press wrote Alou's bio, and Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times has a list of his career highlights.
  • The Pirates, along with several other clubs, did their due diligence by watching Grandfather Time, 49 year old free agent lefty Jamie Moyer, go through some pitching drills, reported Fox Sports Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal. He missed last season after 2010 TJ surgery.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has posted his expected arbitration value for the eligible players around the league. The Pirates have nine guys in line for arb. Our guess is that Ross Ohlendorf won't be offered arb, Jose Veras may or may not, and Garrett Jones, along with Chris Resop, are likely to reach a deal. The other five - Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Evan Meek & Jason Grilli - should be sure things. Two other arb eligible players, Steve Pearce and Brandon Wood, have already been outrighted to Indy and are expected to become free agents. Hanny is expected to get the highest deal at $4M.
  • RHP Gerritt Cole was selected to start Saturday's Arizona Fall League All-Star game. OF Robbie Grossman is also on the team.
  • SS Pedro Ciriaco is off to the Dominican to play winter ball for the second half of the season.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bucs Housekeeping Continues

The Pirates continued their post-season housecleaning today by outrighting Brandon Wood, Steve Pearce, Brian Burres, Aaron Thompson and Kevin Hart from the 40-man roster to Indy. All five can become free agents because of the move, and it would be a surprise if they didn't.

Wood put together a line of .220/7/31, and the Bucs have plenty of young infielders that can match those numbers. Pearce was coming off a terrible year that saw him hit .202/1/10 while visiting the DL twice more. A change of scenery for Pearce, who did show flashes of ability, is probably best for him and the team.

Burres was an insurance policy who did his job. He was 5-5 with a 4.84 ERA over the past two seasons and picked up 15 starts. Thompson was purely a depth guy. Hart never got untracked in Pittsburgh, undergoing a pair of surgeries after coming over from the Cubs as part of the deal for John Grabow & Tom Gorzelanny.

The moves also figures to open up a couple of upper level starting positions in the organization, which is facing a jam of young pitchers who need to advance.

With the four declined options of yesterday, the Pirate 40-man roster sits at 35 (four of the players moved were on the 60-day DL, and so were technically on the roster but didn't count against it). By Friday, it should sit at 34, when Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick will be gone as free agents and Kevin Correia will be added from the DL.

That's cutting it awfully close. We think that the FO will want to protect at least Starling Marte, Rudy Owen and  Justin Miller, while Matt Hague and Jordy Mercer should be on at least the short list. And the FO plans to bring in some fresh blood, so the 40 man still needs some room to stretch. And there are only a couple of weeks until it needs finalized; it has to be set on November 18th for the Rule 5 draft.

  • Neil Walker and Ronny Cedeno were announced as Gold Glove finalists. 
  • RHP Chris Leroux may be making the FO rethink his chances of starting. He's 1-0 for Toros del Estes in the Dominican League after 3 starts with a 0.60 ERA. He's stretched it out an inning at a time, going 4, 5, and 6 frames in his starts. He has 13 strikeouts in 15 innings.
  • Gerritt Cole was selected as one of the Arizona Fall League's "Rising Stars." He'll get to play in a fall minor-league All-Star game Saturday.
  • RHP Tim Wood, who was sold to California late last season, has rejoined the Bucs, signing a minor league deal with an invite to camp.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bucs Pass On Cedeno, Maholm, Dewey & Snyder

The Bucs had four contract options going into the off season, for Paul Maholm, Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit and Ronnie Cedeno, and passed on them all.  Cedeno's was a surprise, not so much based on performance as affordability, a dearth of MLB ready SS's in the system and a weak class of FAs. The others were long expected.

Maholm had an option year worth $9.75M, with a buyout of $750K. Snyder's option was for $6.75M, also with a $750K buyout. Dewey had a double option; if the Pirates picked it up, they would be on the hook for $7.25M in 2012 and $8.25M for 2013. His buyout is $500K. The Pirates may try to cut a deal with Maholm and/or Dewey for a more team-friendly contract, but now they're competing against an open market and that is likely to drive their price beyond the FO's comfort level.

With RC, it looks like a matter of just running out of patience and finally severing ties. His option year was an affordable $3M with a $200K buyout. While his fielding has been above par during his Pittsburgh stay (he came to town in 2009 as part of the Jack Wilson deal with Seattle), Cedeno never showed the day-in and day-out consistency the team sought, just frustrating flashes of his talent when he was on his game. The fact that he spent half of the past season in Clint Hurdle's doghouse had to have an impact, too.

The FO says it will keep the lines of communication open with the four during free agency, meaning that if their price drops significantly, they'll deal. But the catchers are competing in a weak market, as is Cedeno, and a LHP that can take the mound every fifth day has value to contending clubs. So we wouldn't expect them to return, even if the Bucs haven't slammed the door and nailed it shut.

It cost the Bucs $2.2M to release the four, not a very hefty parting gift, and cleared $18.65M in 2011 salary (and $26.75M in 2012 payroll) from the books. But now they have two very big holes to fill behind the plate and at short and need an inning-eater to join the staff.

The internal candidates at short are Chase d'Arnaud, Pedro Ciriaco, and Jordy Mercer. None appear ready to step in everyday, but the Pirates may have decided that this was time to end the Cedeno bottleneck and audition their young infielders. Brock Holt is also in the mix, but at least a year away.

Assuming the Bucs will pass on Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, the free market SS's the Pirates may look at are John McDonald, Clint Barmes, Cesar Izurtis, Yuniesky Betancourt, Nick Punto and Jamey Carroll plus a couple of veteran heads. Rafael Furcal may hit the market, too, but is probably out of the Pirates price range.

The Pirates got through a few weeks without Dewey and Snyder, but Mike McKenry and Matt Pagnozzi haven't shown that they can become a regular tandem behind the plate. Eric Fryer has some promise, but his game needs polished. The wild card is Jason Jaramillo, who is out of options this year but is the most experienced and accomplished catcher remaining in the organization.

The market has a pair of guys that can catch 120 games in Ramon Hernandez and Rod Barajas. The rest are career back-ups or players on the downside of their careers.

The pitching will be a poser, especially with Charlie Morton recovering from surgery. Brad Lincoln may have enough to hold down the bottom of the rotation, but Rudy Owens and Justin Miller hit a wall at Indy while Jeff Locke's audition failed to impress. The FO will kick the tires of Edwin Jackson, Jeff Francis, and Chris Young along with a long list of available back-enders.

During the end of last season and into the fall, the FO has made noise about pulling the trigger on a trade or two to fill in the holes. We'll see where that chatter leads. There haven't been any signs of smoke along that front yet, but the rumors won't really heat up until the winter meetings begin on December 5th.

The first log has been thrown in the hot stove.

  • The Braves tweeted that they picked up Eric Hinske's $1.55M option and declined Nate McLouth's, which was $10.65M.
  • A-Ram declined his $16M mutual option with the Cubs and will try his luck on the market.
  • Javier Lopez agreed to a two-year, $8.5M deal with the Giants.
  • Still no word on Octavio Dotel or Zach Duke's options; the betting line is that the Cards will pick up Dotel ($3.5M) and the D-Backs pass on the Zachster ($5.5M).
  • Tony LaRussa retired while on top at St. Louis, and there should be a long line forming in St. Louis for the skipper job. He's exactly the kind of guy that opponents hated and the home crowd loved.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Decision Time Approaching

Congrats to the St. Louis Cards. They proved that playing to the last strike is sometimes rewarded by the baseball gods. That's a lesson that the young Buccos should take to heart - grind it out through the dog days, even if it looks like pride is the only thing left to play for.

Of course, it helps when the players who are digging deep are named Pujols, Holliday and Carpenter, with role players like David Freese and the bullpen contributing mightily, and filling in that kind of roster is a job for the FO. And decision time for 2012's roster is just around the corner.

The Pirates have quite a few personnel decisions to make in the coming weeks. The winter meeting starts December 5th, and that's the traditional starting gun for wheeling and dealing.

There's been no smoke concerning free agents Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, so we're assuming that Lee is going to dive into the FA market, as will Ludwick. They can declare for free agency this week, on November 3rd.

The club also holds options on Paul Maholm, Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit and Ronny Cedeno. No mystery involved there. The FO has announced that they're not going to tender offers to Maholm or the catchers, and there's been no indication that they're working on signing the three to more team-friendly contracts.

Our guess is that they'll keep RC and allow the rest to dip their toes in the marketplace before talking turkey, especially in the case of the catchers. They have no depth there, and if one of the pair drops into the $3-4M range, the Pirates may have some interest in bringing one of the two back. If they don't fall back to earth, then the Bucs will dust off Plan B, either going the FA route or filling in internally.

The team does have a boatload of players up for arb: Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Steve Pearce, Chris Resop, Jose Veras and Brandon Wood.

Pearce and Ohlie are almost certain to be non-tendered, with Veras and Wood on the bubble. We'd be surprised if the others aren't brought back via contract. That deadline is December 12th, a week after the meetings.

But it's the under-the-radar moves that will be telling during the off season. The Pirates, whether they planned to or not, built fan expectations with their first half run. The only way to continue the buzz among the base is to stay competitive - not contending, just competitive - until the young guns like Coles, Taillon, Marte, Bell and company arrive a couple of years down the road.

They can only do that now through free agency; the major league ready guys in the system are already in Pittsburgh. The FO knows it has holes in the pitching, catching, first base and shortstop positions, and have to patch them, in that order.

Even more telling will be the composition of their 40 man roster. November 18th is the deadline to set the rosters for the 2011 Rule 5 draft. The roster already is full, and Kevin Correia has to be added to it from the DL. Maholm, Snyder, Pearce and Kevin Hart are also on the DL, but we assume that they won't be added.

There are, of course, guys likely to be removed without much soul searching - Lee, Ludwick, Aaron Thompson, Brian Burres, Ohlie, Dewey, and possibly Pedro Ciriaco, Daniel McCutchen, Jose Veras, and Xavier Paul.

The balancing act requires that a spot be open for a replacement player - the Pirates are almost assuredly going to bring in a pitcher or two, a catcher and maybe a first baseman - and leave room to protect first-time draft eligible players like Starling Marte, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson and Matt Hague, along with a handful of others who are on the bubble.

The Cards put a dramatic ending to the 2011 MLB season, and the foundation for 2012 is already being poured in Pittsburgh and around the league.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Third Base

The FO inherited Jose Bautista at third base, and dumped him unceremoniously in 2008, sending him to Toronto for long-gone C Robinzon Diaz and clearing a spot for Andy LaRoche. They also drafted Pedro Alvarez that same season, so the hot corner looked to be in good shape for years down the road.

Well, funny thing about that. La Roche is working on a .226 career BA and looking for work after a gig in Oakland while Pedro is coming off a season that he and the Pirate Nation would like to forget. There was great anticipation for his coming-out party after a hot September in 2010 when he put up a .306/6/27 batting line, but reality set in this year when the April pitchers reclaimed the hill.

The big third basemen hit .191 with 4 homers and 80 K's in 235 at-bats. He tore the cover off the ball at Indy, but there are a long list of folk who crush AAA pitching but can't hit a major league slider. In early May, he was showing some small signs of coming out of his slump before injuring his quad.  By the time he came back in late July, he was lost at the dish.

It's said that the FO wanted El Toro to play winter ball, but he declined. Let's hope he spends the off season in the gym. The Pirates retooled their training staff, and we suspect Pedro - and the teamwide sprain and strain epidemic - had a lot to do with that. Maybe a more specific PT regimen will benefit him and the whole squad. And the team could really use what he brings to the table.

The truth is that right now, Pedro is the lone egg in the Bucs' third base basket. Brandon Wood can field the position, but his .220 average won't help the attack untrack though he does have some pop. Josh Harrison can hit the ball (.272) but has no power to speak of and a questionable mitt. Chase d'Arnaud saw time at the hot corner too, but profiles strictly as a middle infielder.

In the minors, Altoona's Jeremy Farrell, 24, has hit the ball OK, with a career .271 BA, but has neither corner power nor very much leather. A better chance at playing the hot corner belongs to Indy's Jordy Mercer, a shortstop who's played 75 games at third in the minors, although not in 2011. Mercer has some pop in his bat and probably profiles the best at third base among the Bucco minor league prospects now.

The third base FA class is really weak. There's no one who has Pedro's upside, except for A-Ram, on the market. Some hot stove talk involves switching The Pittsburgh Kid to third. While technically viable (Neil Walker was a dandy glove at the hot corner), after two seasons in the show, it looks like his bat profiles well for a middle infielder but it's not very special for an everyday corner infielder. Second base looks like Walker's home.

We once thought sending Pedro to first ASAP was a no brainer, and it may be someday if he regains his stroke. But now the cupboard is bare, and his fielding, while pedestrian, isn't blood curdling, and so there's no compelling reason to add to his challenges by moving him across the diamond. 

The Pirates are between a rock and a hard place right now, playing the waiting game. There's no point in looking for a third baseman until Pedro takes himself out of the running, and a bad sophomore season hardly does that. There is no guarantee that Pedro will even start the year in Pittsburgh, but there is no doubt that the position is his to lose, at least in 2012. The hot corner may require a little baby-sitting while Alvarez looks for his missing mojo, but the two go together now.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

First Base

The Bucs were set going into 2011. Veteran Lyle Overbay would man first base and Garrett Jones would platoon with Matt Diaz in right, adding some pop to the Pittsburgh lineup. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men...and FOs.

Overbay crapped out after a line of .227/8/37 in 103 games and Diaz delivered not one long ball. Alex Presley bumped Garrett Jones to first, and he got bumped in turn by the late season acquisition of Derrek Lee. Steve Pearce was injured again while Matt Hague raked at Indy. It all adds up to one highly unsettled position going into 2012.

The Pirates would like Lee to baby-sit the position, but that seems improbable. The 36 year old Lee is a free agent, and his 2011 stat line - .267/19/59 - will probably net him a nice deal on the market. And he was in the City during the Pirate nosedive, with no first-hand experience of Pittsburgh's boisterous crowds or winning baseball, so there's not much to recommend the Buccos to him except for a juicy overpay.

Internally, the Pirates could go with Jones, 30, ideally in a platoon situation. His lifetime BA against righties is .275 compared to .199 vs southpaws, with equally disparate production numbers. So getting 350-400 at-bats against righties wouldn't be a bad thing, even if his glove is at best average.

Finding a righty to compliment Jones might be a problem. Steve Pearce is out of options and the FO is probably out of patience with him, even with the occasional flash.

Matt Hague, 26, is unproven, but has hit at all levels in the minors (.302 career BA), is a good defender at first, and has some experience and the arm to play third. He also has noticeable splits, so a platoon, if he's ready for the show, should be the answer.

Hague doesn't provide much home run power, but he's had 30 doubles or more over the past three seasons. But he'll have to shine to come out of camp with the team. Like Presley, the FO wants a follow-up year before moving him up.

And after Hague, there's not a lot more in the cupboard. Third round pick Alex Dickerson, 21, is in the process of being converted to first base, and after a strong start at State College, expected for a major-college player (he played for Indiana), he should be fast-tracked to High A Bradenton in 2012.

The other guys all have holes and need to pick it up to make the radar. Matt Curry, 23, is the highest rated of the remaining players, though he hit a bump at Altoona last year, batting just .242 with a 26% K rate. But he was moved aggressively and skipped a level, so his second go-round with the Curve should give us a better idea of his potential.

There are a couple of FAs floating around that could fill the bill in Pittsburgh. Casey Kotchman (29) could be a longer term fit, although he doesn't bring much pop to the lineup. Carlos Pena was a player the Bucs were supposed to have interest in, and he's on the market this off season. The rest of the pack, minus Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, are quite pedestrian; that's why Lee may take his chances in the market this year.

Like much of the infield, first base is a position with a variety of routes available, and the off season will tell which road they choose.