Saturday, November 30, 2013

11/30: Lefty Killen, Clyde Sukeforth, Pete Reiser, Craig Wilson, Russ Martin

Lefty Killen, Clyde Sukeforth, Pete Reiser, Craig Wilson, Russ Martin...

  • 1870 - LHP Frank “Lefty” Killen was born in Pittsburgh. He spent six seasons with the Bucs (1893-98) and twice led the NL in wins twice, with 36 (a team record) in ‘93 and 30 in ‘96. Lefty’s line with Pittsburgh was 112-82/3.97. The team released him during the 1898 campaign, and his last season was 1900. 
  • 1901 - Pirate coach Clyde Sukeforth was born in Washington, Maine. A long time Brooklyn Dodger coach and scout, he came to Pittsburgh in the same roles in 1952, and was said to be the main driver in the selection of Roberto Clemente in the 1954 Rule 5 draft. He turned down the chance to succeed Pirate skipper Bobby Bragan in 1957 and retired as a coach after the season, but remained with the Pirates as a scout and minor league manager through 1962. 
  • 1950 - Pittsburgh signed the Boston Brave’s OF Pete Reiser, a three-time all-star for the Brooklyn Dodgers, as a FA. Reiser hit .271 in 74 games as a Bucco bench player and was released following the season.
 Bowman series 1951

  • 1976 - OF/1B Craig Wilson was born in Fountain Valley, California. He played as a semi-regular for the Bucs from 2001-06 with a line of .268/.360/.486, 94 HR and 284 RBI, along with a 28% career K rate. Wilson tied the MLB single-season record for pinch-hit home runs with seven in 2001. Hand injuries in 2005 and shoulder surgery in 2007 ended his career. 
  • 2012 - The Pirates signed free agent catcher Russell Martin, a three-time All-Star, to a two year, $17M deal, the largest free agency contract they had ever negotiated. He got a $2M signing bonus, $6.5M for 2013 and $8.5M for 2014. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Notes...

Holiday notes and thoughts...

  • Starling Marte made CBS's Dayn Perry's "All Black Friday (Bargain) Team." His salary was $500K last season, but he provided $23M in WAR value.
  • Haven't heard much about RHP Ricky Nolasco being on the Bucco radar, and he's off it for sure now. He signed a four-year deal worth $49M with a club option with the Twins, a contract that's way out of the Pirates' comfort zone. 
  • With guys like Javier Lopez, Joe Smith and Manny Parra being signed to seven and eight figure, multi-year contracts in free agency, expect the Bucs to dangle at least one young arm from their bullpen as trade bait during the off season. With the FA market looking a bit overheated financially, the FO may opt to go the trade route to patch the Pirate roster holes, and the value of non-closing relievers is going through the roof.
  • The Giants signed Indy reliever RHP Erik Cordier, 27, and added him to their 40-man roster. His line was 4-2-4/ 4.58 ERA in AAA, but he did crank out 11 K per nine innings, offset by nearly five walks. His numbers aren't there, but the career minor leaguer's fastball sits at 98.We wonder if the G-Men are hoping to slip him through waivers sometime during the off-season after the 40-man rosters fill or if they do think he deserves a MLB contract on velocity alone.
  • Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports that "The Rockies want (Justin) Morneau. He’s their primary target." He adds that rumored Pirate target James Loney is their fall back option.

11/28-29: Kiki, The Tiger & Wilbur Wood Traded; Mike Easler's B-Day

Kiki, The Tiger & Wilbur Wood Traded; Mike Easler's B-Day

November 28, 1927 - Hall of Famer OF Kiki Cuyler was traded to the Chicago Cubs for journeymen Sparky Adams and Pete Scott. He had bumped heads with manager Donie Bush, and owner Barney Dreyfuss was looking to dump salary with the Waner brothers on the payroll, so it was bye-bye Kiki. Cuyler played twelve more seasons, hitting .300+ in six of them.
November 28, 1962 - The Pirates traded 3B Don Hoak, 34, to the Philadelphia Phillies for IF Pancho Herrera and OF Ted Savage. It ended up a minor deal; The Tiger was at the end of his career while Herrera and Savage never established themselves in MLB.
November 28, 1966 - The Bucs completed a deal that sent knuckleballer Wilbur Wood to the White Sox for Juan Pizarro. Wood pitched twelve seasons for Chicago and won 168 games. Pizzaro pitched a season and some change in Pittsburgh before being sold to Boston in 1968; he would return in late 1974, ending his 18 year career as a Pirate.
November 29, 1950 - 1B/OF Mike Easler was born in Cleveland. The Hit Man spend six (1977, 1979-83) of his 14 MLB seasons as a Pirate role player with a .302 BA.

 Topps Series 1981

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Notes: Hot Stove, Minor Leagues, and More...

The off season shuffle...

  • The Pirates are one of eight teams to check in on free agent SS Rafael Furcal, according to his agent and Travis Sawchik of the Tribune Review.
  • Another rumored Pittsburgh target, RHP Dan Haren, inked a one-year, $10M deal with the Dodgers with a $10M option for 2015 if he reaches 180 innings. He's another guy that may have left some money on the table so that he could play closer to his West Coast home, ala Josh Johnson.
  • Eno Sarris of Fangraphs writes "Now there’s a stable of solutions in right field (for the Bucs after the Jaff Decker deal), and some short-term opportunity for those guys to step forward. And if any of them do so successfully, there’s even a chance they continue to play when Polanco is up…" 
  • The Pirates have signed C Nevin Ashley and RHP Cody Eppley to minor league contracts with spring training invites. Ashley, 29, has a lifetime .258 BA and a 23% throw-'em-out rate over the past two years with the Rays and Reds AAA clubs. Eppley, 28, is a 6' 5" reliever who has tossed 56-2/3 IP for Texas and the Yankees, going 2-3/4.61 ERA. The sidewinder throws, of course, a sinker and according to Fangraphs is an extreme ground ball pitcher with a 59.9% rate.
  • When Ben Badler of Baseball America was asked who he thought might be the first pick of the Rule 5 draft, he guessed Pirate minor league RHP Zack Thornton.
  • Thomas Belmont of Baseball Instinct takes a look at the Pirates Top 21 Prospects going into the 2013 season and how they progressed.
  • The Seattle Mariners new manager, Lloyd McClendon, added a pair of former Buccos to his staff:  Andy Van Slyke as his first base coach and Trent Jewett  as his bench coach.

11/25-27: Roberto, Simple Simon, Bob Elliott, The Gravedigger, Bob Walk, Jason Kendall Trade...

Roberto, Simple Simon, Bob Elliott, The Gravedigger, Bob Walk, Jason Kendall Trade...

November 25, 1972 - Roberto Clemente won his 12th straight Sporting News Golden Glove award.
November 25, 2002 - Detroit sent 1B Randall Simon to the Pirates for LHP Adrian Burnside and a player to be named later (RHP Roberto Novoa.) Novoa pitched three seasons of MLB; Burnside went to Japan to ply his trade. Simon ended up better at swatting racing sausages than baseballs, hitting .245 with 13 HR in 152 games as a Bucco between 2003-04.
November 26, 1916 - OF/3B Bob Elliott was born in San Francisco. He spent eight seasons (1939-46) in Pittsburgh with a .292 BA, 124 OPS+ and three All-Star appearances. Traded during the 1946 off season to the Boston Braves, he became the NL MVP in 1947.

Bob Elliott - Lamp Series 1948-49

November 26, 1947 - 3B Richie Hebner was born in Boston. The Gravedigger (his off season occupation) played 11 years (1968-76, 1982-83) for the Pirates, putting up a .277 BA and playing in five NLCS and the 1971 World Series.
November 26, 1956 - RHP Bob Walk was born in Van Nuys, California. He pitched a decade for the Pirates (1984-93) with an 82-61-5/3.83 ERA, an All-Star berth in 1988 and 2-1 record in the postseason. He’s now a Bucco television broadcaster.
November 27, 2004 - The Pirates traded All-Star C Jason Kendall to the Athletics for pitchers Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes as Pittsburgh wanted to unload the $34M due to the catcher over the next three seasons. The Bucs flipped Rhodes to Cleveland for OF Matt Lawton on December 11th.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Miles Mikolas

Neal Huntington is given mad props for the FA he brought in last year, but one big key to the Bucco resurgence was the bullpen. Trader Neal added featured players like Jerry Sands and Clint Robinson into the fold as players to watch, but the useful pieces ended up being Mark Melancon, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and perhaps Stolmy Pimentel.

So while the trade of Alex Dickerson to San Diego netted the Bucs a possible platoon/bench outfielder in Jaff Decker, the more immediate payoff may be with RHP Miles Mikolas.

Mikolas, 23, spent most of the 2013 season with AAA Tucson in the Pacific Coast League, where he went 4-2-26/3.25 ERA in 54 appearances covering 61 IP. None of his peripheral stats jumps out at you - 9.1 hits per 9, 1.295 WHIP, 2.5 walks and 5.9 K per nine, although they have to viewed a bit more gently due to the nature of the hit-happy PCL.

His biggest problem in the majors has been carrying over a couple of telling lines: in the minors, his HR per nine is 0.4 and his walk rate is 2.0; as a Padre, those numbers more than double, to 1.1 and 4.2. But if you did a little deeper, there are things to like beside his counting numbers, especially from a Pirate perspective.

First, he does have some pedigree in the show. In 2012, he made 25 appearances with the Padres, going 2-1 with a 3.65 ERA. Again, his peripherals belied his counting numbers - 1.1 HR per nine, 1.454 WHIP, and 4.2 walks per nine, leading to a 4.18 SIERA and 4.52 xFIP.

But more than performance, he fits the Pirate mold. He's 6'5" for starters, and his MLB fastball sits at 93-94 and has touched 98 to go along with a curve. His groundball rate for San Diego was 50.9%, right in the ballpark with his minor league numbers.

He's mostly a fastball/curve pitcher, but we think one number the Bucs may work on reversing is his four seam/two seam ratio. Mikolas tosses 54% of his deliveries as straight heaters and 10% as two seamers, and our guess is that the Pirate pitching mechanics will work on adjusting that mix.

His four seamer has plenty of zip, but it's been described as flat, so while his velocity has allowed him to get away with the lack of movement in the minors, it's bit him in the majors, as his HR allowed indicate. Keeping the ball down and getting into pitcher's counts are key issues for Mikolas. And they do have time to work with him, as he still has an option left if he doesn't break camp with the Bucs.

Scouting services have him pegged as a middle man with a ceiling as a set-up guy. And that's just fine by the Buccos, which are looking for bullpen help despite a strong 2013 season, as pitchers like Bryan Morris and Jared Hughes could be on the outside looking in. Huntington bringing in Mikolas and bringing back Duke Welker is a pretty strong indicator that he's not going to allow the pen to sit on its past laurels. It's also possible that the middle of the pen gets a big shakeup through trade, conversion to the rotation, or both.

And hey - Mikolas is just the kind of guy to fit in with the denizens of the Shark Tank. He picked up the moniker "Lizard King" when, on a bet, he ate a lizard (washed down with a Dew) in the bullpen during a 2011 Arizona Fall League game. So we know he's got the chops; now to see about that sinker...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bucs Dealin'; Garrett Jones & Kyle McPherson DFA'ed, Dickerson Traded

Well, it's not exactly like a Jhonny Peralta signing, but the Bucs have begun to reshape their roster. The Pirates have picked up OF Jaff Decker and RHP Miles Mikolas from San Diego in exchange for minor league 1B/OF Alex Dickerson.

Decker, 23, was a sandwich pick (42nd overall) in the 2008 draft, and was the #82 Prospect per Baseball America by 2010. He put up a decent slash last season (.286/10/40, 415 PA) for AAA Tucson, although we're always leery of counting numbers from the Pacific Coast League.

He  had picked up several awards in the lower levels, but hit a wall in AA during the 2012 season when the lefty was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis early in the season and then tore his plantar tendon on May 31st. Still, he didn't fall entirely off the radar, as BA had him pegged as the Friar's #23 Prospect.

Decker does have a decent eye; he'll swing through a few pitches, but had a .381 OBP last season and a .402 OBP in his five year minor league career. He can plan all three OF positions and has a chance make the active roster, per Neil Huntington. He has two option years remaining, so he can still spend a season or two at Indy as last year was his first season at the AAA level.

The OF'er is an interesting selection. He provides a LH alternative to Travis Snider in RF as a fourth-outfielder type and frees up Andrew Lambo to move to first, so he allows the FO some wiggle room in the market. But he's no slam dunk. In a small sample size of 26 MLB plate appearances, he hit just .154. But he does make camp a little more competitive and helps to firm up the positional battle lines.

Mikolas put together a  4-2-26/3.25 ERA in 61 IP/54 appearances for AAA Tuscon. The righty has worked a few frames in the show, too, going 2-1/3.44 ERA, with 25 of his 27 outings coming in 2012. In 34 career innings in the majors he has a 3.44 ERA, a 6.4 K/9 and a 4.2 BB/9 ratio.

The 25 year old has a lot of things the Bucs like - he's 6'5", tosses bullets (he sits at 93-94, touching 98) with a ground ball rate of 50.9% per Fangraphs. He couples his heater with an average or better curve. As a plus, he's got one option left, so the Bucs have a chance to look and tinker.

His fastball has a lot of velocity but not much movement. And while his minor league walks per nine was quite good at 2.0, in the show it's jumped to 4.2. Scouts project him not as a future closer, but as a middle reliever or setup man. Unless, of course, the Pirate mechanics can turn that flat four seamer into a heay sinking two seamer...

Neither Decker nor Mikolas were on San Diego's hot list, as both had been DFA'ed on November 20th.

Dickerson, 23, was drafted by the Pirates in the third round of the 2011 draft and was named the Eastern League Rookie of the Year in 2013 after hitting .288/17/68 RBIs for AA Altoona and a post-season All-Star. He was the Bucs #13 Prospect according to BA.

The Pirates sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit well (.290) but played only the corner outfield, not at first base. AIf the Pirates saw him as an OF prospect, well, there was quite a line he'd have to leapfrog to sniff PNC Park. It's possible that they were trying to spiff up his versatility to make him more attractive, too. In either case, the FO didn't see him as an everyday guy .

That caused a couple of secondary moves to clear space on the 40-man roster. Garrett Jones, widely expected to be non-tendered this season, was DFA'ed along with injured RHP Kyle McPherson, who is recovering from TJ surgery.

Jones made $4.5M in 2013 and would have earned $5M+ in his third year of arbitration, making him virtually untradeable after hitting .233 with 15 homers and a .708 OPS in 144 games. The Pirates, we're sure, already have Jones' 2014 salary targeted, maybe for a new first baseman. At age 32 and capable as an outfielder, he should have no problems landing another MLB gig, though he has painted himself into a platoon corner and the paycut that comes with that tag.

Kyle McPherson would have opened the year on the 60-day D, though his release was a bit of a surprise, especially given some of the other guys on the 40-man. It doesn't necessarily mean that the Pirates will cut ties with him. He's not supposed to be ready to pitch until July, so the FO could be trying to squeak him past waivers and then sign him again, but to a minor league deal, for 2014.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

11/24: Bob Friend, Al Martin, Doug Drabek, Million Dollar Arms, Zach Duke...

Bob Friend, Al Martin, Doug Drabek, Million Dollar Arms, Zach Duke...

  • 1930 - RHP Bob Friend was born in Lafayette, Indiana. A three-time All-Star pitcher for the Pirates, he averaged 232 IP and 13 victories for some of the worst teams in baseball. As a 24-year-old in 1955, Friend became the first pitcher to lead his league in ERA while pitching for a last-place team. He led the NL in victories once, innings pitched twice, games started three times, and WAR for pitchers twice, going 191-218/3.55 in 15 years (1951-65) as a Buc. 
  • 1967 - OF Al Martin was born in West Covina, California. Martin played eight years (1992-99) for Pittsburgh, hitting .280 with 107 HR. His best season was 1996, when he hit .300 with 18 HR, 72 RBI and 38 stolen bases. 

 Al Martin - Upper Deck 1992

  • 1986 - In a pitcher swap, the Yankees dealt Doug Drabek, Brian Fisher, and Logan Easley to the Bucs for Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante, and Pat Clements. Drabek went on to win the NL Cy Young in 1990. 
  • 2008 - The Pirates became the first MLB team to sign players from India when they inked pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, winners of a reality show called "The Million Dollar Arm Hunt." Singh pitched with the Bucs' organization until 2012 while Patel was released in 2010.
  • 2010 - After six years as a Pirate, Pittsburgh traded LHP Zach Duke to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a PTBNL (RHP Cesar Valdez).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hot Stove, Player Notes...

In the past couple of days...

  • Travis Sawchik of the Tribune Review reported the Pirates had some interest in Lance Berkman, per his agent, who added that Berkman is leaning toward retirement.
  • With the trade of Prince Fielder to the Rangers, there has been speculation that 1B/OF Mitch Moreland may be on the Pirate radar. It also deflates any thoughts the Bucs may have had in trying to swing a deal for SS Jurickson Profar.
  • There hasn't been much noise yet, but a couple of reports say that the Bucs are still interested in Cubs OF Nate Schierholtz as the LH half of a RF platoon. They were looking at him before pulling the trigger on the Marlon Byrd deal last season.
  • Michael Clair of Yahoo!Sports has a list of pitchers that he thinks are good options for 2014; we're not so sure we agree, but hey...
  • John Dreker of Pirates Prospects posted that Andrew Lambo is playing first and the outfield in Venezuela Winter ball, keeping him in play for both positions with the big club while broadening the options the FO has for off season deals.
  • Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout argues that the Pirate position players did carry their weight offensively last year, but the pitchers' dismal batting - 15th in the NL - short circuited their efforts.
  • Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated has an update article on Joel Hanrahan, who after his surgery is playing a waiting game in free agency.
  • The Giants added RHP Hunter Strickland, who was claimed on waivers from the Bucs last season, on their 40 man roster even though he had TJ surgery last year.
  • LHP Mike Zagurski signed a minor league deal with the Indians with an invite to camp.
  • Former Pirate #1 pick (and fourth overall) LHP Daniel Moskos signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers with an invitation to camp. He joins 1B Clint Robinson, who the Pirates traded for last season and later released.
  • If any of you like to to stuff Christmas stockings with tickets, the Pirates will host Pedro Alvarez (May 24th) and Cutch (June 28th) bobblehead nights in 2014 to go along with their other game promotions. Single game tickets go on sale November 29th.

11/22-23: Bartell, Weaver, Clemente Drafted, USO Trip, Murtaugh Retires, Goose Goes To The Yankees...

Bartell, Weaver, Clemente Drafted, USO Trip, Murtaugh Retires, Goose Goes To The Yankees...

  • November 22, 1907 - IF Dick Bartell was born in Chicago. He began his 18 year MLB career with Pittsburgh (1927-30) and hit .301 as a Bucco before being traded to the Phillies after butting heads with Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss. 

 Conlon Collection Series 4

  • November 22, 1934 - The Pirates acquired P Guy Bush, P Jim Weaver, and 1B/OF Babe Herman from the Cubs for P Larry French and OF Fred Lindstrom. French ended up the key figure; he pitched seven years for Chicago, winning 95 games, while Weaver was a Buc for three seasons and won 36 contests. 
  • November 22, 1954 - The Pirates, with the first pick, selected Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft, signing him to a $20,000 bonus and sending $4,000 to the Dodgers, on the recommendation of scout Clyde Sukeforth. 
  • November 23, 1944 - The MLB put together a USO caravan to visit war zones, including Pirate players Rip Sewell and Paul Waner. 
  • November 23, 1971 - Danny Murtaugh retired as manager because of health reasons after winning the 1971 World Series, and Bill Virdon was named as his replacement. Murtaugh would return again in late 1973 for a final stint as skipper. 
  • November 23, 1977 - The New York Yankees signed Rich “Goose” Gossage to a six-year contract worth $2.75M. Gossage saved 26 games for the Pirates in 1977.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

11/21: Donora All-Stars Stan the Man & Junior Born, Cap'n Willie & Bonds MVP Runner-Ups, Brian Meadows, Clint Barmes Signing...

Donora All-Stars Stan the Man & Junior Born, Al Todd, Pags, Cap'n Willie & Bonds MVP Runner-Ups, Brian Meadows, Clint Barmes Signing...

  • 1920 - Hall of Famer Stan Musial of the Cards was born in Donora. 
  • 1935 - The Phillies sent C Al Todd to Pittsburgh for C Earl Grace and rookie RHP Claude Passeau, who worked just one game for the Pirates during the season. Todd caught three years for the Bucs, while Passeau put up a 162-150/3.32 line during a 13 year MLB career. 
  • 1962 - The Pirates traded 1B Dick Stuart and P Jack Lamabe to the Boston Red Sox for P Don Schwall and C Jim Pagliaroni. Pags appeared in 490 games over the next five years for the Bucs, batting .254. Schwall was a multi role pitcher, tossing four years for Pittsburgh with a 22-23-4/3.24 ERA. Stu hit 103 homers in the next three seasons and then faded away, while Lamabe lasted six more seasons in the show, with a couple of effective years in 1966-67.
  • 1969 - Ken Griffey Jr. of Seattle and Cincinnati fame was born in Donora. 
  • 1973 - Pete Rose won the NL MVP, edging out Willie Stargell. Rose took his third batting crown with a .338 mark. Stargell led the league with 44 HR, 119 RBI, and a .646 slugging percentage while batting .299. Many in Pittsburgh still believe Captain Willie wuz robbed because of the Charlie Hustle mystique. 
  • 1975 - RHP Brian Meadows was born in Montgomery, Alabama. He pitched for Pittsburgh from 2002-05. The Bucs converted him to a reliever in 2003, and his line with the Pirates was 8-12-2 with a 4.20 ERA. 
  • 1991 - The Brave's 3B Terry Pendleton, who hit .319 with 22 HR and 86 RBI, won the NL MVP over Barry Bonds, who hit .292, with 25 HR & 116 RBI. 
  • 2011 - The Pirates signed free agent SS Clint Barmes to a two year, $10.5M contract, the first $10M+ free agent deal since they signed Steve Buechele in 1991. 
Topps 2013 Series A

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

40-Man Settled, Arb Approaching, Minor League Deals...

 Three to the 40-Man, Arb Cases Piling Up and Minor League Signings...

  • Joely Rodriguez & Alen Hanson were added to Pirates 40 man roster, per their agents, LA Sports Management. Ben Badler of Baseball America tweeted that Gregory Polanco also was put on the list, and if that's all the additions, the 40-man roster sits at 39 players with a lot of flexibility. EDIT - Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects said that RHP Casey Sadler was also added to the roster, filling it at 40.
  • The next upcoming deadline is December 2nd, when the Pirates have to decide whether or not to tender their unsigned arbitration-eligible players: Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, Vin Mazzaro, Mike McKenry, Mark Melancon, Charlie Morton, Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider and Neil Walker.
  • Pittsburgh has signed RHPs Collin Balester, Jake Brigham, Jay Jackson, Josh Kinney and Seth McClung to minor league contracts. Brigham, Jackson, and Kinney will be non-roster invitees to major league camp; Balester and McClung will be assigned to a minor league team in the spring. Kinney, 34, has appeared for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners.  Balester, 27, a fourth-round pick by the Montreal Expos in the 2004 draft, pitched with the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers. McClung, 32, hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009. Brigham, 25, and Jackson, 26, both starters, haven't tossed at the MLB level yet.

40-Man Roster and Rule 5

All rightie, it's time to fill in the blanks on the 40-man roster today, prior to the December 12th Rule 5 draft. While the Bucs are brimming with ballplayers, many of them are still too young to be included.  The two that are absolute locks to join the 40-man are:


OF Gregory Polanco: He's tearing up the winter league, was just named the Pirates top prospect by Baseball America and could have a mid summer ETA for the show.

SS Alen Hanson: The only other Top Ten prospect that needs protected this year. He has enough upside to be carried on a roster as the 25th guy, and is the Pirates main middle infield hopeful.

The Bucs have a handful of pitchers that they may or may not add, but it seems like every season, they pull someone up unexpectedly (see Kyle McPherson) from the system. The candidates this year are:

RHP Casey Sadler: His Altoona line was 11-7/3.31 ERA, and the 23 year old features a hard sinker. Right now, he looks a lot like he's following in Brandon Cumpton's footsteps as a possible back-end starter or long reliever. A season at AA and a projected seventh man in the pen makes him a guy that could stick with some club.

LHP Joely Rodriguez: The 22 year old lefty only reached Bradenton, but with a fastball is that is consistently 90-93 mph, touching 95, with natural run and sink, a good change and in-progress slider. JR has a good ground ball rate of over 50% and is projected as a back-end reliever and could tempt a team that's not deep in its bullpen.

RHP Zach Thornton: Between Altoona and Indy last season, he averaged 11 K per nine with a funky motion that seems to keep hitters off balance, and that will attract some attention for the 25 year old.

All three have a chance to be taken, or at least considered, by a club looking to the future and with an open spot in the bullpen. The position players, well, they're probably not gonna be in demand as much with Polanco and Hansen off the board.

SS Gift Ngoepe: The 23 year old has a MLB-level glove and some, but his bat hasn't produced past the A level of ball. Some teams carry a middle infielder purely for defense, and Ngoepe can pick with the best. His bat will probably keep him off the dance card, but he's got a puncher's chance of getting selected.

C Carlos Paulino: Like Ngoepe, he has the MLB defensive chops but the bat isn't very strong. He's an insurance policy in Pittsburgh, fourth on the depth chart, but catcher is a premium position and somebody may want to carry a defensively competent catcher.

1B Stetson Allie: He'd really be a stretch. His fielding isn't very good at this point, and while he crushed some balls in Low A, he was stymied in High A at Bradenton. Allie piled up 161 K between the two stops. Maybe next year he'll be at risk, but we think he's safe this season. He's be a tough guy to stash in a MLB dugout, even as a DH. 

1B Matt Curry, 1B Matt Hague, OF Mel Rojas...we don't see it.

The Bucs have four openings on the 40-man, and lots of soft spots on the list to work with. We'd expect to see Polanco, Hansen and a couple of pitchers added, and maybe the FO will swap out a couple of old prospects for newer ones, or drop the guys they don't intend to tender for arbitration. You'll notice that the current 40-man roster below already carries Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, Kyle McPherson, Andy Oliver, Chase d'Arnaud, Jerry Sands and Travis Snider, so it's already protecting a lot of young talent.


40 Man Roster (at 36 Players):

Pitchers (20): Gerrit Cole, Brandon Cumpton, Jeanmar Gomez, Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes, Phil Irwin, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Vin Mazzaro, Kyle McPherson, Mark Melancon, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Andy Oliver, Stolmy Pimentel, Ryan Reid, Wandy Rodriguez, Tony Watson, Duke Welker and Justin Wilson.

Catchers (3): Russ Martin, Mike McKenry and Tony Sanchez.

Infielders (7): Pedro Alvarez, Chase d'Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Garrett Jones, Jordy Mercer, Gaby Sanchez and Neil Walker.

Outfielders (6): Andrew Lambo, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Jerry Sands, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata.

Trade, Hot Stove, Minor News...

In the news:
  • The Bucs got RHP Duke Welker back from the Twins, sending LHP Kris Johnson to Minnesota. It suits both clubs needs; the Pirates wanted bullpen depth and the Twins more arms for their rotation.
  • LA beat reporter Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes that the Pirates "really like (1B Mark) Trumbo." However, he suggests the Angels' asking price would be for an elite, controllable pitcher like Jameson Taillon. 
  • P Josh Johnson, high on the Bucco wish list, signed a one year, $8M deal with the Padres. The Pirates were reported to be on his short list, but he was looking for a Left Coast gig near his Las Vegas home.
  • A couple of guys that may have been on the Pirate radar have signed deals with other teams. P Tim Hudson signed for the Giants for 2 years/$23M, and back up SS Brendan Ryan inked a one year, $2M contract with the Yankees.
  • Peter Gammons, in his blog the Daily Gammons, likes OF Gregory Polanco as the top winter league prospect and sees him arriving in Pittsburgh by August.
  • Vic Black, sent to NY for Marlon Byrd, was interviewed by Joe DeCaro of the Mets blog The Beanball. Among other tidbits, Black said he was "slightly heartbroken" when the trade went down, but was picked up by LaTroy Hawkins, who told the rookie that his arm was "magical." 
  • Pittsburgh released its 2014 spring training schedule.

11/19-20: Groat Traded, Bonds MVP, Chico, Reuschel Comeback Player, Leyland Hired, Jeff Locke...

Groat Traded, Bonds MVP, Chico, Reuschel Comeback Player, Leyland Hired, Jeff Locke...

  • November 19, 1962 - Dick Groat was traded with P Diomedes Olivo to the St. Louis Cardinals for P Don Cardwell and IF Julio Gotay. Groat played five more years, making two All-Star teams, finishing second in the MVP vote in 1963, and won a World Series. Traded as part of a Joe Brown youth movement, Groat was stunned by the deal - he was born in Wilkinsburg - and didn’t associate with the team again until a 1990 reunion of the 1960 World Series Championship team.


  • November 19, 1990 - LF Barry Bonds won the NL MVP, easily outdistancing teammate and runner-up Bobby Bonilla. Bonds hit .301 with 23 HR, 114 RBI, and 52 stolen bases.
  • November 19, 1992 - The Pirates traded 2B Jose Lind to the KC Royals for pitchers Dennis Moeller and Joel Johnston. Chico was beset with personal problems and was out of baseball after the 1995 season. Johnston, once the Royals top prospect, had a strong 1993 season but quickly faded and was out of baseball after 1995; Moeller made ten appearances in Pittsburgh to end his MLB days.
  • November 20, 1985 - Rick Reuschel was named the NL’s Major League Comeback Player of the Year by United Press International. Reuschel went 14-8 with a 2.27 ERA after starting the year in the Pacific Coast League.
  • November 20, 1985 - Syd Thrift hired Jim Leyland to manage the Pirates, replacing Chuck Tanner.
  • November 20, 1987 - LHP Jeff Locke was born in North Conway, New Hampshire. He joined the Bucs in 2009 as part of the Nate McLouth trade, and the Redstone Rocket - Redstone is his home neighborhood - made his debut in 2011, joining the rotation full-time in 2013 and earning an All-Star berth that season.

The image is from the Pittsburgh Baseball Hero Decks, available at: - Heinz History Center - Sportzburgh, Pittsburgh Airport & Settlers Ridge Shopping Center - Hall of Cards, 300 Mt Lebanon Blvd - Allegheny General Hospital Gift Shop - Morini, The Mall at Robinson - Do It Best Hardware, Ambridge, PA - Washington Hospital Gift Shop - Synders Gateway Travel Plaza, Breezewood, PA

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Clint's Evolution...A Better Team Makes For A Better Manager

Well, heck, Clint Hurdle must be doing something right: the BBWAA joined The Sporting News in naming him Manager of the Year for 2013. Ending 20 year losing streaks is a pretty good way to get your name included in the conversation; winning 94 games and making it to the NLDS just pumps the volume. In fact, Clint was only the second Pirate manager to take the cup; Jimmy Leyland (1990, 1992) was the other.

His greatest strategic victory was getting the club to buy into his mad scientist defensive shifts, saving the Bucs a bundle of runs. And it is a hard sale; pitchers have to limit their selection and location; infielders have to get used to previously unknown patches of dirt and grass. Both are unnatural baseball acts that he sold to the team (well, maybe except for AJ).

With the support of Neal Huntington, a believer in data-aided decisions, and IT man Dan Fox, the Bucs saved 68 runs with their glovework, mainly through the use of the shift.

Communication is his strong suit. He made sure the clubhouse wasn't fixated on 82 wins, even with the self-implosions of prior years. And he reconnected the team to the fans, becoming the most recognized skipper since Jim Leyland and making it cool to wear a Pirate cap again.

Still, it was just a few short months ago that the twitterverse was riddled with #Hurdled, and not in a nice way. He couldn't put together a coherent batting order, his guys ran the bases like they were on kamakazi missions, opponents stole bases like they were a two-year old's candy, and puh-leeze, with the bunts!!!  Ends up his flaws mirrored those of the team.

He's kinda partial to a straightforward, everyday batting order, as he showed in September when Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau arrived. Before then - and we're talking a couple of seasons - he had no order to put together. Even now, if JT and/or Starling Marte is out of the lineup, the #2 hitter could be anyone from Neil Walker to Jordy Mercer, and that's a not on Hurdle but the makeup of the team.

That "play the best eight" view is supported by his use of Morneau and Pedro; they didn't get a break against lefties, though neither could hit them worth a lick. Ditto with Neil Walker, who couldn't hit righties, and Clint Barmes, who couldn't hit, well, anybody. Yet he did stick to straight platoons, like Jones/Sanchez and whomever in RF. So we'll see what kind of comfort level he finds for the lineup in coming years.

The baserunning has actually become a strong point, other than a lack of consistent base stealing, and that problem looks more and more like its roots are sunk in minor league league training. The Bucs go from first to third as well as anyone in the league on the basepaths, even with a lineup that plods with a couple of notable exceptions. They scored 141 runs by coming in from second on a single or first on a double.

As far as controlling the opponents running game, the Pirates made Hurdle look like a turn-around artist when their first free agent signing for 2013 was Russell Martin. Not a whole lot of genius involved in swapping out Rod Barajas for Russ, though the coaching staff did get more buy-in from the pitchers as far as keeping runners close and varying their delivery times to the plate.

Hurdle's maddening bunt 24/7 tactics took a sharp dive this year as he found a little added (if misplaced) confidence in the batters to score more than twice a game. The Pirates still had trouble with the contact play; only two MLB teams (Boston and Milwaukee) had more guys thrown out at home. It could be that's not Hurdle's bad; the Bucco batters roll a lot of balls to the left side with a runner on third. Still, it's incumbent on the coaching staff to have guys look to go up the middle or in the air rather than frittering away runs.

The way he handles pitchers is pretty cut and dried; he much prefers a reliever to open an inning, particularly later in the game, than jump into the fire. Hurdle is also a strict time manager. He even counts warming up in his formula for over-use. Generally, Hurdle doesn't look for pitching match-ups, and that allows him to carry a deep bullpen without a LOOGY specialist.

The only quibble we have with pitching is that he doesn't seem to have a hard line on when to pull a pitcher; second sight has given us plenty of examples of a guy yanked with an inning left in him or kept in a couple of batters too long.

Our take is that strategically, Clint is in the middle of the pack. But he does have qualities that transcend on field decisions. He's not only capable of making data-driven adjustments, but can sell them to the players. He never varies from his tomorrow is another day philosophy, and this year it paid off. Even with a couple of rough patches, the club never had a season-threatening spiral and didn't lose more than four in a row at any point of the season. He even had a three-man council of vets to serve as a sounding board during the season.

Managing is about leadership and getting players to perform. Even with a lineup that had three positions (RF, SS, 1B) in flux and pitchers pulled from the rotation, he never, at least publicly, lost the players involved in the bake-and-shake. He led the team to 94 wins, six over its Pythagorean projection of 88, and that was the difference between having the wild card at a manic, black-out PNC Park instead of on the road.

Communication, consistency, leadership and adapting to the new sabermetric/eyeball mix in baseball is the calling card of the new wave of managers. The Joe Maddons represent the breed, rather than the by the book guys like Dusty Baker. And Clint Hurdle fits right in with that movement. He connects to the team and the City, and he'll get the max out of what Neal Huntington gives him.




Monday, November 18, 2013

Hot Stove, Top 10 Prospects, and House Cleaning...

Notes 'n' News...

  • John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times reports (behind a subscription wall) that a source tells him the Pirates are considering making a run at the Cubs' RHP Jeff Samardzija.
  • No solid link yet, but there's some web & twitter traction being gained on the Bucs taking a look at the Rays' 1B Logan Morrison.
  • From Chris Cotillo ‏of the MLB Daily Dish:  Source: 1B Mark Hamilton, who was with the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox  in 2013, has an offer from the Braves, and strong interest from the Pirates. The 29 year old lefty has a .276 minor league BA and was with the Cards' until last season; he's mostly been used as a DH.
  • Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported a while back that the FO had some interest in extending Neil Walker. This dance has gone on for awhile, and the Pirates have him tied up for three more seasons, so there's no short-term need to ink him, especially with Alen Hanson on the horizon.
  • Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make. Matt Snyder of CBS Sports ranks Edwin Jackson's (who the Bucs had made a three year offer to in 2012) contract as the second-worst pitching deal in baseball.
  • Jim Callis of MLB.com on Gerrit Cole v Jameson Taillon: "Both have frontline-starter stuff, with Cole possessing a little more upside. He throws harder than Taillon, and his slider is more of a wipeout breaking ball than Taillon's curveball. Cole's changeup is better, too."
  • Baseball America has a report on the Buccos Top Ten Prospects - with a couple of new names, like Harold Ramirez - and other interesting sidebar stuff.
  • John Perrotto of Baseball America has a report on 1B/OF Alex Dickerson.
  • Per Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Pirates re-signed minor league FA C Francisco Diaz, 1B/OF Miles Durham and LHP Jhonathan Ramos. Diaz and Ramos provide organizational depth while Durham is a player-coach. They released OF Dan Grovatt, P Lance Breedlove, and C Dylan Child, none of whom had advanced past the A level in the minors.
  • The Pirates have named Jeff Branson Hitting Coach and announced Jeff Livesey has joined the staff as a Coach. Branson was Jay Bell's assistant, and Livesey has been the Pirates minor league hitting coordinator for the past three seasons with managing stints at Lynchburg and the GCL.
  • Pittsburgh's Frank Coonelly tilted at the Japanese posting windmill and blew up the negotiations for this year. He wanted the money spent on posting to go toward the luxury tax; the big spenders and the union don't. Not hard to figure out who's gonna win that battle, although it is nice to hear a small revenue rep pipe up. 
  • Happy B-Day: Jameson Taillon turns 22 today.
  • And nope, no news on the AJ front yet.

11/18: Alleghenys Join NL, Rocky Nelson, Bucs Lose Randa & Trade For Brian Giles...

Alleghenys Join NL, Rocky Nelson, Bucs Lose Randa & Trade For Brian Giles... 
  • 1886 - The NL officially admitted the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, who jumped from the American Association. The Alleghenys made a reported profit of $160,000 in 1886 and finished second in the AA, making the decision an easy one for the NL. They soon became the Pirates. 
  • 1924 - 1B Glenn “Rocky” Nelson was born in Portsmouth, Ohio. He got a cup of coffee with Pittsburgh in 1951 and then platooned with Dick Stuart from 1959-61. He hit .270 as a Pirate, and in the 1960 World Series went 3-for-9 with a Game Seven homer and two RBI. 

 Topps Series 1960

  • 1997 - The Pirates lost P Jason Johnson to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays along with P Clint Sodowsky and 3B Joe Randa to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the expansion draft. 
  • 1998 - The Bucs sent LHP Ricardo Rincon to the Tribe for OF Brian Giles. In five campaigns with the Pirates, Giles would put up a line of .308/.426/.591 with 165 HR and 426 RBI and was twice named to the All-Star team.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Alen Hanson

Alen Hanson was signed at age 16 in 2009 for $90K, weeks after the Bucs lost out on Miguel Sano. The shortstop prospect may not have Sano's pedigree or hype, but has panned out to be a pretty strong Plan B fallback for the Bucs.

A native of La Romana in the Dominican Republic, he's now the top (and maybe only, other than then the hitting challenged Gift Ngoepe) SS prospect in the Pirate organization. After hitting .324 in the Dominican league in 2010, he came north in the following season. In the GCL rookie league, he batted .262 with a .352 OBP and got a cup of coffee with State College. He went to Sally League (Low Class A) West Virginia next as an 19 year old and had a breakout year in 2012.

Hansen hit .309 with a .909 OPS, and surprisingly banged out 16 homers and 33 doubles during the campaign. It was surprising because the switch hitter is all of 5' 11", 155 pounds with an offensive game based more on speed than power, as his 13 triples and 35 stolen bases showed.

He began 2013 at High A Bradenton, where he hit .281 in 92 games, with 23 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs and stole 23 bases. But it wasn't all roses and cream; he got off to to a dismal start both in the field and at the plate and earned a time-out (as Clint Hurdle likes to say, the Bucs hit his reset button). The break was to give him a rest mentally; he's never been a problem child, and is said to be one of the Buccos' hardest workers.

His head cleared, his glove and stickwork improved and earned him a promotion Altoona in July, where he hit .255 during his first taste of upper level pitching. The Bucs continued to push him, sending Hansen to the Arizona Fall league. After another slow start, he was named to the Fall Stars game, with a line of .253/.294/.329 and six stolen sacks.

Hanson should start 2014 at Altoona again as the Bucs look to polish his skill set. He was just outside the Top Fifty going into last season (#54 MLB.com; #61 Baseball America), but his future is still unsettled.

The biggest debate is whether he can develop into a pro SS; he's shown some problems with range and an average arm. The range could be countered with some coaching up on positioning and angles, as he's got the physical ability to cover some ground, but it's hard to hide a so-so arm from the hole. So the smart money has him shifting to second when he arrives, with some murmurs of moving him to the OF. Second seems much more likely; the Bucs are loaded in the pasture. But the brass will keep him at short for as long as possible, where he holds more value and the Pirates have greater need.

The switch hitter also needs work on his stick. He's never stolen fewer than 24 bases in a season during his pro career, even though he's still unpolished as a base larcenist, and the Pirates would love to plug him into the top of the order. But he's not terribly patient at the plate, and in his brief stay in the upper levels, his walk rate was 5.3% for the Curve and 4.7% with the AFL Scottsdale Scorpions, with respective OBP of .299 and .294, not the numbers associated with a lead off guy.

We wouldn't be too judgmental on those numbers yet; he's only had 236 plate appearances in AA and the AFL, hardly a fair sample size considering that he's now looking at quality off speed stuff. But he does need to sharpen his eye.

Another problem that may be on the horizon is his splits. Hansen was pretty neutral until this past season, when his splits began to widen; like Neil Walker, he's become much more a threat from the left side. His pro K rate is 17%+, but he hasn't faced much top level pitching yet, so we'll see how that trends as he moves up.

No prospect comes up without a red flag or two, and the Pirates have been moving him along at a fair pace, but not overly aggressively. He's a kid that's athletic, with plus speed, quick hands, a little pop and a solid work ethic who projects well as a MLB middle infielder.

At 21 next season, he'll be age appropriate for Altoona where he'll begin to polish his rough edges at the top levels. We don't expect Hanson to be a piece of the 2014 Pirate puzzle, but a Pittsburgh landing date of mid-2015 isn't a stretch.

11/15-17: Maurice Van Robays, Parker, Groat, Clemente MVP, Hurdle Hired, Danny Murtaugh, Kendall Contract...

Maurice Van Robays, Parker, Groat, Clemente MVP, Hurdle Hired, Danny Murtaugh, Kendall Contract...

  • November 15, 1914 - OF Maurice Van Robays was born in Detroit. Van Robays replaced RF Lloyd Waner late in 1939. He finished third in the NL with 116 RBI and received a smattering of MVP votes the next season. Bomber (his nickname after he hit 11 HR in 1940) had a strong 1941, too, but began to fade. MVR developed vision problems and had to wear glasses, and it took him almost two seasons to rediscover his batting stroke. Then he missed the war years of 1944-45 while serving with the 1st Infantry Division, and played one last season in Pittsburgh in 1946. 
  • November 15, 1978 - RF Dave "The Cobra" Parker won the NL MVP, topping runnerup Steve Garvey of the LA Dodgers. Parker had 30 HR with 117 RBI and led the league with a .334 batting average, a .585 slugging percentage, and 340 total bases. 
  • November 15, 2010 - Clint Hurdle, former Colorado manager, became the Pirates sixth field boss since 1992, replacing John Russell, and the first to guide the club to a playoff spot since Jim Leyland in 1992 when his club earned a wild card berth in 2013, reaching the NLDS. 
  • November 16, 1960 - NL batting champ (.325) Dick Groat was named NL MVP, outpolling teammate Don Hoak 276-162. 
  • November 16, 1966 - RF Roberto Clemente won the NL MVP, edging out Dodger ace Sandy Koufax. Clemente hit .317 with 29 HR and 119 RBI. 
  • November 17, 1947 - The Bucs traded for 1B Johnny Hopp and 2B Danny Murtaugh, sending the Boston Braves C Bill Salkeld‚ P Al Lyons‚ and OF Jim Russell. Hopp played three years for the Pirates, hitting .310 but providing little power as a first baseman. Murtaugh’s career was stronger as a manager than player, but he started full-time around the infield in 1948, hitting .290, finishing his playing career as a Bucco reserve in 1951.
  • November 17, 1992 - The Pirates lost OF Alex Cole to the Colorado Rockies, along with P Danny Jackson and IF Ramon Martinez to the Florida Marlins, in the expansion draft. 
  • November 17, 2000 - C Jason Kendall signed the richest contract in team history. The $60M, six-year contract extension, which included a $4M signing bonus, had a base salary of $6M in 2002 and peaked at $13M in 2007.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cutch - Is the Best To Come?

It was no surprise that Cutch won the NL-MVP last night; only the margin of victory (28-of-30 first place votes) was a stunner. He joins a select Bucco band that consists of Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Barry Bonds (twice) to achieve that honor.

There's no question the 27 year old earned it. He hit .317/.404/.508 with a .911 OPS, 21 homers, 97 runs, 84 RBI, 27 stolen sacks, an 8.4 UZR/150 as a defender and a NL-leading 8.2 WAR in 2013. Cutch finished in the NL's top seven for BA, OBP, slugging and OPS. And being on a team that finally made a post season appearance didn't hurt the cause. Last year, he put up a better offensive line (.327/.400/.553, .953 OPS) but received just one first-place vote for MVP while finishing third.

The Bucs took him as the 11th overall pick in 2005, passing on guys like Jay Bruce (whom the brass were also considering), Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley. Though most folks think he was stuck in the minors too long (remember when learning to bunt was still on his check list?), the truth is that the Pirates fast tracked the high schooler. He went through the rookie leagues at 18, Class A at 19, and spent the next two seasons and some change in the upper levels. Cutch never disappointed, and was a Baseball America Top Fifty Prospect from the day he was drafted.

Forty-nine games into his 2009 season, Pittsburgh gave him the center field job, trading the popular All-Star Nate McLouth when his value was at its peak to Atlanta for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernadez, who was later flipped for Gaby Sanchez.

He's had 5+ WAR for the past three seasons for a total of 20.4 WAR over that span, per Fangraphs (20.8 per Baseball Reference). Consider that 4 WAR during a season puts you in All-Star territory and 6 WAR merits MVP consideration. And that's where Cutch has been lately, with three AS berths, a third place MVP finish in 2012 and the whole enchilada this year.

And the cherry on top is that Cutch is a Buc for a long time. Just before the 2012 season opened, Cutch inked a deal that should max out at seven years, $66M (with bonuses, of which he's fairly certain to cash in), with the Bucs holding a 2018 team option. Will his value still be holding up into his age 31?

Sure should. beside being tied up for his prime production years, most indicators are that Cutch has become a more mature and productive player, beginning in 2012. For contract conspiracists, his pre-deal line was .276/.365/.458, while in the past two years it's been .322/.402/.531. Maybe there is something to be said about a nice warm security blanket.

But there's a lot more to base the future on. His line drive rate has increased from 20% to 24.5% over that span. He puts plenty of balls in play, too - his K rate was just 15% last year, and he's approached the MLB average of 20% only once in his career. It also shows in his walk rate; it's never been under 10.4% and his lifetime average is 11.4%. Cutch has the patience to go deep into counts and come out ahead.

McCutchen is a well reputed lefty masher, but in the past couple of seasons he's solved righties pretty well, too. In his first three campaigns he never reached a .280+ BA and had just one .800+ OPS against same-siders, but in the past two years he's hit .309 BA/.900 OPS and .302 BA/.864 OPS against RHP.

His power has pretty much settled in. In the past three years, Cutch has lost 75 baseballs with a .190 ISO or better and about a 12% FB/HR ratio, so a ballpark figure of 25 homers looks to be sustainable. And his slugging percentage (.489 lifetime) will remain strong as long as his wheels do, giving him those extra power-padding leg doubles. It also helps pad his BABIP. Cutch has had one season when his balls-in-play % was under .311, and it sits at .322 lifetime.

His baserunning does more than send caps flying;  Bill James estimates that he's created 13 runs on the bases in the past two years.

That elite speed will help him in the outfield, too. Despite low defensive ratings in 2012, McCutchen bounced back with his best season in the field. His range improved: he went from costing the team five runs in 2012 to saving seven last year (per Bill James), and he has a quicker, more accurate release now on his throws, a necessity due to his quite average arm. And a saving grace is that he's not locked into center into his 30s; with Starling Marte on his flank, the loss of a step just requires a switch of spots.

So speed, patience, defense and passable power are all there. Cutch is also said to be the hardest worker on the team; every season there's an aspect of his game that you can see he's dedicated the off season to improving.

There are a couple of cracks in Cutch's armor. While generally patient at the dish, he has to guard against his tendency to pull the ball the way he did in 2011, when he hit .259. He's a more dangerous hitter going gap-to-gap. McCutchen can't exactly be considered a streak hitter, but he seems to settle into a fairly deep funk during some point in the season; fortunately, in 2013 it was at the start of the year rather than the finish.

Defensively, he has to play with a mental edge. He'll get to balls other guys wave at, but his arm will always require forethought to be effective. He averages nine assists a year, and that's more a testament to opponents running on him than his lasers.He could be a more vocal leader, but his on-and-off field example and the times he does take the dugout floor are more than enough. But enough with the quibbling.

Cutch is set up to have a long run as da man in Pittsburgh. His speed and peripherals support his counting numbers, and they should only go higher as Cutch gets deeper into his career and hopefully surrounded by more talent.

It's hard to post WAR numbers like Cutch's, and we doubt that even he could keep running up 6+ WAR every year. But it's easy to see him as the club's automatic All-Star, and there's no reason to believe that won't last through his contract.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

11/12-13-14: Ground Chuck, Ultimatum, MVP, Beat 'Em Bucs, Stan Rojak, Paul Wagner, Cy Young and 9-Man Trade...

Ground Chuck, Ultimatum, MVP, Beat 'Em Bucs, Stan Rojak, Paul Wagner, Cy Young and 9-Man Trade...

  • November 12, 1983 - Charlie Morton was born in Flemington, New Jersey. The promising righty came to Pittsburgh in 2009 as part of the Nate McLouth trade with Atlanta, and has been in-and-out (mostly out) of the rotation ever since because of various injuries. 
  • November 13, 1956 - The Pirates announced that they would consider moving out of town if a new stadium wasn’t built to replace Forbes Field, the second oldest yard in baseball after Shibe Park in Philly. Buc VP Tom Johnson said in the Pittsburgh Press that “What we need is a municipal stadium in Pittsburgh we both (Pirates & Steelers) can use. If we don’t get one, there’s a chance the Pirates will have to leave this city.” They got their wish, though it took some time. The political football was kicked around for years until Three Rivers Stadium opened in July of 1970. 
  • November 13, 1979 - For the first time in MLB history, two players shared the MVP. The NL co-winners were Willie Stargell, who hit .281 with 32 HRs, and the Cards 1B Keith Hernandez, who led the NL in runs scored (116), doubles (48), and batting average (.344). With the win, the Pirates have taken (or shared) all four "MVP" awards for the season (All-Star Game, NLCS, World Series, and NL regular season). This was the first award sweep in MLB history. Stargell took the honors for the NLCS, World Series, and NL regular season, while Dave Parker won the All-Star Game MVP. 
  • November 13, 2010 - Beat ‘Em, Bucs! The Byham Theater hosted a sneak preview of a 50-year-old B&W movie, copied from TV for owner Bing Crosby, of NBC's telecast of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. Dick Groat and Bob Costas were the event hosts of The MLB Network production, later aired on TV and then made available on DVD. The Post Gazette’s Bob Hoover wrote “Fans hailed the eight members of the '60 team invited for the showing, clapped rhythmically to start rallies, reacted loudly every time Roberto Clemente appeared on the screen and leapt to their feet for the two clutch home runs in the eighth (Hal Smith) and ninth (you know who) innings.” 
  • November 14, 1947 - The Bucs bought SS Stan Rojek, 29, from the Dodgers with plans to make him the starter in Pittsburgh; he was blocked by Pee Wee Reese in Brooklyn. He played 156 games and hit .290 in 1948, but faded after that season, became a backup in 1950 and was traded to the Cards in 1951. 
  • November 14, 1967 - RHP Paul Wagner was born in Milwaukee. A 12th round draft pick in 1989, he pitched for the Pirates for six campaigns, from 1992-97, mainly as a starter, and went 26-40/4.58 during that span. 
  • November 14, 1990 - RHP Doug Drabek, who posted a 22-6 record and a 2.76 ERA, was named the NL Cy Young winner, collecting 23 of a possible 24 first-place votes. 
  • November 14, 1996: The Pirates sent 2B Carlos Garcia, 1B/OF Orlando Merced and P Dan Plesac to the Toronto Blue Jays for P Jose Silva, IF Abraham Nunez, and OF Craig Wilson plus prospects SS Brandon Cromer, P Jose Pett and P Mike Halperin, who never got out of the minors.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Byrd Flies Coop, Possible RF, 1B, P, SS Moves, More...

Marlon Byrd signed a reported two year, $16M contract with the Phillies today. With AJ looking less likely to return by the day, the FO is left in the enviable position to have a couple of bucks to spend, presumably on a first baseman and upper end pitcher.

The Bucs would have liked to keep Byrd as a bridge to Gregory Polanco, but weren't going to commit two years to him. And RF was never quite as pressing a need as some other spots. In the last month of 2013 (per Baseball Reference), Byrd went .309/.345/.444 with a .789 OPS and 2 HR, 10 RBI and 10 RS in 87 AB. Over the same span, Jose Tabata went .308/.348/.508 with an .856 OPS, 2 HR, 10 RBI and 7 RS in 70 AB. With Andrew Lambo due a look, the Bucs should be able to keep RF warm for Polanco without leaving the house.

As far as AJ is concerned, the longer he goes without a deal, the likelier it seems to us that he won't be returning to Pittsburgh. The FO doesn't want to blow a hole in the budget by offering him what seems a fair enough $14M; perhaps they're looking for a home-town discount or maybe the relationship has frayed at both ends.

At any rate, it should leave them enough money to bring in either James Loney (who would platoon with Gaby Sanchez) or Corey Hart to fill in at first base.

The three pitchers most often cited in the Bucco sights are Josh Johnson, Dan Haren and Bartolo Colon. They'll have enough to ink one of them, or whomever else strikes their sabermetric fancy, and may have the luxury of mid-season cavalry arriving in the arm of Jameson Taillon.

One last thing; we don't expect them to sign a FA shortstop, but we'd certainly not be surprised if they swung a deal for one. Several organizations are jammed up at the spot, though many others, including the Cards, are trawling the waters just like Pittsburgh, making for a competitive market. The Pirate system does have some pitching to offer, and guys like Jed Lowrey, Alexi Ramirez, Elvis Andrus and Asdrubal Cabrera are available to one degree or another.

Other notes:
  • Jay Bell was hired as the bench coach of the Cincinnati Reds by Bryan Price, the Reds' new manager, who Bell had worked with in the Arizona organization. Congrats to Jay; it's a nice upward move on the road to becoming a manager one day.
  • Neal Huntington lost the Sporting News MLB Exec of the Year award to Ben Cherington of Boston, whose worst-to-first reversal with the Red Sox outpolled Huntington's FA magic.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Notes

As we approach next week's baseball meetings, when the fun should begin...

  • AJ Burnett hasn't determined if he will retire or pitch for the Pirates in 2014. The Pirates' refusal to make a qualifying offer could be a factor; Burnett, 36, would have value on the market as a FA and could land a one or two year deal if he feels the Bucs are lowballing him.  
  • Clint Hurdle is the first Pittsburgh skipper that the local Rotary has named as "Chuck Tanner Manager of the Year." Their awards banquet has been a part of the Pittsburgh scene since 2007.
  • Starting tonight, the Baseball Writers' four major awards - Rookie of the Year on Monday, manager of the Year on Tuesday, Cy Young on Wednesday and MVP on Thursday - will be announced on the MLB Network at 6PM each night. The Bucs have two horses in the race: Clint Hurdle for MOY and Cutch for MVP. The Bucs also have 11 nominations for the 2013 GIBBY (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) awards, given out during the baseball meetings later this month.
  • MTV Networks and Major League Baseball said Monday they are collaborating on a weekly series that melds pop culture and baseball. Boston's Big Papi Ortiz and the Pirates Andrew McCutchen are the executive producers of the series, set to air next spring.
  • Sometimes it pays to clean out the ol' closet. Bill Mazeroski’s collection of 1960 World Series stuff - jersey, spikes, bat, etc. - sold for $1.7M.
  • The old gang is getting back together. New Seattle coach Lloyd McClendon is interviewing the Nats' Trent Jewett, who was part of his Pittsburgh staff and expected to join Legendary Lloyd and the Mariners.
  • Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs has some team valuation figures for the MLB and the Bucs taken from Forbes and Bloomberg.
  • The Braves confirmed that they're moving to Cobb County in 2017 from DT Atlanta and Turner Field.

11/10-11: Big Trade, Alleghenys, Cap'n Willie, Hot Rod, Rabbit, Jake Stenzel, Pie Traynor, George deTore, Jason Grilli...

Big Trade, Alleghenys, Cap'n Willie, Hot Rod, Rabbit, Jake Stenzel, Pie Traynor, George deTore, Jason Grilli...

  • November 10, 1897 - The Pirates sent established veterans OF Elmer “Mike” Smith and RHP Pink Hawley along with $1,500 to the Reds for five players - C/1B Pop Schriver, OF Jack McCarthy, P Billy Rhines, 3B Bill Gray and 2b Ace Stewart. Of the players the Bucs received, Stewart never played a game, McCarty, Gray and Rhines lasted a season or two, and Pop stayed with Pittsburgh for three years, batting .260 as a part timer. Smith hit .342 for the Reds and Hawley went 27-11 in 1898 for the Reds. That would be their last hurrahs as neither had a strong campaign afterward and retired after the 1901 season.
  • November 10, 1888 - The disbanding Detroit Wolverines sold Jack Rowe and Deacon White to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Both players had solid resumes, but were rolling downhill and lasted just a year with the Alleghenys. White, 41, was a Hall-of-Fame 3B, and hit .253 in 55 games, while Rowe, 32, played 75 games at SS, batting .259. 
  • November 10, 1971 - Joe Torre‚ who led the NL in RBI (137) and batting (.363) while hitting 24 HR‚ won the MVP Award over Willie Stargell (.295/48/125). Torre received 318 points to Stargell's 222. 
  • November 10, 2011 - The Pirates signed free agent C Rod Barajas to a 1 year/$4M contract with club option for 2013 ($3.5 million with no buyout). Hot Rod hit .206 and threw out just a half dozen baserunners all year; his option wasn’t exercised. 
  • November 11, 1891 - IF Walter “Rabbit” Maranville was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Hall of Famer spent four (1921-24) of his 23 big league seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .283 during his stay. In 1922, he led the league with 746 PA and 672 AB, scoring 115 times. 
  • November 11, 1896: CF Jake Stenzel was traded along with bench players RHP Elmer Horton, OF Tom O'Brien and IF Harry Truby to the Baltimore Orioles for CF Steve Brodie and 3B Jim Donnelly. Stenzel, who had a .360 BA over five years with the Bucs, hit .353 with 116 RBI for the O’s in 1897. Brodie was released after 1-1/2 years in Pittsburgh and Donnelly only lasted one season. Brodie was re-signed by Baltimore after the Bucs let him go and hit .308 for them through 1899, replacing Stenzel who was traded to the St. Louis Browns after his big 1897 season. 
  • November 11, 1898 - Pie Traynor was born in Framingham, Massachusetts. The HoF 3B played 17 seasons (1920-35, 1937) for the Pirates with a career .320 BA. He hit over .300 ten times, had over 100 RBI in a season seven times, and was considered the top third baseman of his era. 
  • November 11, 1906 - Scout George Detore was born in Utica, New York. He served on Danny Murtaugh's MLB coaching staff during 1959 season, taking the place of Jimmy Dykes when he left the Pirates to become the manager of the Detroit Tigers. Detore joined Pittsburgh in 1950 as a New York based scout/scouting supervisor from 1955–58, 60-63 and then 69–86. 
  • November 11, 1976 - RHP Jason Grilli was born in Royal Oak, Michigan. Since signing as a minor league FA in 2011 out of the Philadelphia system, the veteran righty has successfully reinvented himself as a dominating back-end reliever, serving as Joel Hanrahan’s set-up man before taking control of the closer reins in 2013.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

11/8-9: Wally Westlake, Jay Bay, Billy Sunday, Nick Maddox, Johnny Gooch, Fred Brickell, Red Witt and Scott Sauerbeck...

Wally Westlake, Jay Bay, Billy Sunday, Nick Maddox, Johnny Gooch, Fred Brickell, Red Witt & Scott Sauerbeck...

  • November 8, 1920 - 1B Wally Westlake was born in Gridley, California. He played 4-1/2 seasons for the Pirates (1947-51) and hit .281 with 97 HR in that span. Wally was an All-Star in 1951.
  • November 8, 2004 - Jason Bay, who hit .282 with 26 HRs and 82 RBI, became the first Pirate (and Canadian) player to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
  • November 9, 1862 - OF Billy Sunday was born in Ames, Iowa. Sunday spent three seasons (1888-90) with the Alleghenys before being traded for two players and $1,100 as an early salary dump because the team was broke. He was a flashy outfielder and speedster, but hit just .243 for Pittsburgh. But his true calling was as an evangelical preacher, and from the turn of the century until his death in 1935 he was renown for preaching non-denominational Christianity across the country. He used his reputation as a ballplayer to advance his later calling during its early years.
  • November 9, 1886 - RHP Nick Maddox was born in Govanstown, Maryland. He tossed four years (1907-10) for Pittsburgh, his entire MLB career, with a 43-20/2.29 line. He tossed a no-hitter as a rookie, won 23 games in 1908 and a World Series contest in 1909. Maddox won his first four starts, something no other Pirate would match until Gerrit Cole in 2013. He stayed in Pittsburgh after his brief career ended, raising nine kids while holding down a job at the Fort Pitt Brewery.
  • November 9, 1897 - C Johnny Gooch was born in Smyrna, Tennessee. He caught eight years (1921-28) for the Pirates, hitting .286 in a part-time role and was part of the 1925 and 1927 World Series clubs. He was a Pirate pitching coach and scout from 1937-42.
  • November 9, 1906 - OF Fred Brickell was born in Saffordville, Kansas. Brickell played for Pittsburgh from 1926-30, hitting .312 as a reserve outfielder. His son Fritz also played in the major leagues from 1958 to 1961.
  • November 9, 1931 - RHP George “Red” Witt was born in Long Beach, California. Red tossed for the Bucs from 1957-61, going 10-13/3.93 as a starter/long man, and worked three games in relief against the Yankees in the 1960 World Series without surrendering a run.
  • November 9, 1971 - LHP Scott Sauerbeck was born in Cincinnati. The lefty spent the first five years (1999-2003) of his MLB career with Pittsburgh after being selected as a Rule 5 pick from the Mets. He went 19-15-5/3.56 in his Pirate time.

Parity: Show Me the Money...

Parity, schmarity. In the past few seasons, MLB has done all it can to tighten the rules so that small revenue clubs like the Bucs and their brethern have to scuffle even more to keep the pipeline flowing.

The Pirates broke the camel's back in the draft by overslotting Josh Bell. The Pirates picked Bell in the second round (61st overall) of the 2011 draft, although the high schooler told the clubs he wouldn't sign because he had a rock solid commitment to Texas. But the FO was pesistent, took its best shot, and Bell and the Pirates agreed to a contract with a $5M signing bonus shortly before the deadline, the highest bonus ever paid for a player drafted in the second round. In fact, the Pirates gave out a record $17M in signing bonuses to that class, or the equivalent of what you'd pay for one elite FA pitcher.

The grumbling brought about a cap on the amount spent on Top 10 picks, with the amount slotted for a player lost if he didn't sign. So the days of the overslot are gone, a Pittsburgh ploy that landed guys like OF Robbie Grossman (6th round -2008, flipped to the Astros as part of the Wandy Rodriguez deal), RHP Tyler Glasnow (5th round 2011 - $600K), RHP Clay Holmes (9th round 2011 - $1.2M) plus some hefty early round candy spread out to upper tier selections (Gerritt Cole; $8M as first overall in 2011) and generous payments to mid-round HS players.

It bit them in 2012 when RHP Mark Appel fell in their laps, but the Bucs were limited in their ability to negotiate with him by the newly imposed cap system. The offer he reportedly rejected from the Astros that year was equivalent to to Pittsburgh's entire draft pool.

There is a flip side to this; the larger market teams, with the support of the MLBPA, felt like revenues should be spent on major league payrolls, not the draft, which is an argument that led to caps in the NBA and NFL. Another is that if teams like the Pirates continued to be aggressive players in the overslot game, the big boys would eventually join in the fun and elbow them out.

An added benefit to the clubs that can afford offers is a chance to really rub the small market teams noses into it. Because New York and Boston can afford to extend qualifying offers, if they're rejected, the Yankees will have five fraft picks before the Pirates have two; the Red Sox will have four.

Another thing to watch is whether any traction is gained on adding Latino players to the draft. They've already capped the amount that can be spent on those FAs. The Pirates seemed to have worked around that in the early going - time will tell - but would lose a fruitful alternate player source, one that's supplied them with Starling Marte and guys like Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson and Luis Heredia if the international players are added to the draft pool.

The free agent qualifying system has always been a thorn to the smaller revenue clubs, but some managed a work-around by dealing for top players at the deadline and then offering them the qualifier at the end, secure in the knowledge that they were looking for greener pastures after the season. That loophole was removed; now only players that spent a full season with a club can receive an offer.

The offer is based on the average of the top 125 contracts; it was $13.3M in 2012 and $14.1M this season.  So it's a bit pricy, although probably fair for the players involved, although for a guy like Kyle Lohse, not always. If the player accepts, he gets a year at the offered salary; if he turns it down, the team that loses him gets a sandwich pick and the team that signs him loses its highest pick (the top ten picks are protected, and of course there's no draft shuffle if he signs with his old team.)

This is a great improvement over the old Elias based "A & B free agent" system that led some players to a tacit agreement that they wouldn't be given an offer; most guys in this position are coming off good years and are looking for multi-year contracts, and a first round pick on top of a juicy agreement was often a deal killer. Most smaller revenue teams have countered by locking up their star players as well as they can with early deals through arbitration and the opening season or two of free agency to keep them off the market and in the home unis for a couple of extra seasons.

There are only two drawbacks. One is due to the inequality of revenues; Boston and the Yankees both gave out three qualifying offers, while teams with payrolls like the Pirates would be suicidal to tie up $42M in three players. Still, that's a market inequity, and that will always be in play.

On the other of the coin is the loss of the draft pick for signing a top gun, which takes development teams like Pittsburgh out of the hunt for elite FA, even if the financial resources are available. That could be fixed quite simply. Continue to give the team that loses a player their sandwich pick as compensation, but don't penalize the team that signed him. That should open up the marketplace to some added competition.

The Pirate model that was used by Neal Huntington to rebuild the system has eroded in the past couple of seasons; the way of all major sports now is to funnel money to the players with resumes, not the rookies. That's especially true of baseball, whose draftees take years to develop. And revenue roadblocks will continue; the Pirates and teams of their ilk with never be able to afford the posting fee for Japanese players, the crazy money for Cuban players, signing their veteran stars or the elite FA crop.

So that's the challenge ahead for Pittsburgh, Oakland, Tampa and the gang. The road is going to get rockier in the years ahead; the MLB is closing the ways the small revenue teams used to game the system. So unless some truer form of revenue sharing, especially of media rights, or a hard team salary cap is somewhere near the horizon, they'll have to continue to adapt develop new player acquisition strategies  to keep up with the big boys.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hot Stove Trolling, Notes...

Profiles of some potential 2014 Pirates...

  • Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects has a "Player Rewind" of RHP Tyler Glasnow.
  • Tom Singer of MLB.com checks out the return of RHP Phil Irwin, now working in the Arizona League after losing the 2013 season to surgery.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors looks at FA 1B James Loney of Tampa. As an added twig to toss into the fire, he switched reps and went to Legacy Sports, which is Francisco Liriano's group (although they have different agents).
  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs doesn't agree that FA 1B Kendrys Morales of the Mariners is all that.
  • Ken Davidoff of the NY Post predicts AJ will sign with the Bucs for one year/$11M and so will Marlon Byrd, for one year/$8M. He rates them as Top-25 Free Agents this season.
  • Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated has a Hot Stove preview of the Buccos and the NL Central.
  • Russ Martin was selected as the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year for the Pirates.
  • Do you recall two-sport star Pirate OF'er Tyler Gaffney, who left the Bucs and returned to Stanford for his senior year? He rushed for 157 yards against Oregon last night.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Silver Sluggers, Pirate Notes

And the beat goes on...
  • Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez were named 2013 NL Silver Slugger Award winners, honoring the best offensive players at each position. Cutch won for the second straight season, while Alvarez was a first-time winner. The Silver Slugger, which was first awarded in 1980, is voted on by coaches and managers from both leagues.
  • Chris Cotilla of The Daily Dish mentioned free agent SS Rafael Furcal and the Pirates in the same breath...
  • JJ Cooper of Baseball America explains how Stolmy Pimentel is out of options at age 23.
  • MLB.com's Philly beat writer Todd Zolecki posted that Pirate pitching coordinator Jim Benedict told Philadelphia he was going to remain with Pittsburgh. That's a plus for the Buccos; Benedict was said to have interviewed well and as Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects writes, has mentored his share of success stories for the organization.
  • Pirate Fest will be held at the David Lawrence Convention Center on December 14-15th. The Caravan schedule will begin that week.
  • Jack Moore from Sports on Earth posts that nothing illuminates the changing of the guard like Brad Ausmus taking over for Jimmy Leyland.
  • Speaking of changing the guard, the Astrodome is about to join TRS in the scrap heap of history. Ted Berg of USA Today remembers some of its less known highlights.

11/6-7: SS Swap, Branch Rickey, Candy Man, Stu, Kris Benson...

Shortstop Swap, Branch Rickey, Candy Man, Stu, Kris Benson...

  • November 6, 1930 - IF Dick Bartell was traded by the Pirates to the Philadelphia Phillies for IF Tommy Thevenow and Claude Willoughby. Thevenow spent six season with the Bucs and hit .251 while Willoughby went 0-2 for Pittsburgh in his final MLB season. Bartell played 14 more seasons and ended up with a .281 lifetime BA as the Bucs ended up on the short end of the SS swap.
  • November 6, 1950 - Branch Rickey signed a five-year contract with the Pirates to become the team executive vice president/GM, replacing Roy Hamey. His son, Branch Jr., assumed the post of Pittsburgh's VP and farm system director.
  • November 6, 1953 - LHP John Candelaria was born in New York. The Bucs selected the LaSalle Academy (Brooklyn) star in the second round of the 1972 draft. In 12 years (1975-85, 1993) with the Pirates, his line was 124-8716.3.17, with a 1-1, 3.91 ERA mark in his four post-season starts. The Candy Man earned one All-Star nod in his 19 yeat MLB career.
  • November 7, 1932 - 1B Dick Stuart was born in San Francisco. “Dr. Strangeglove” played in Pittsburgh from 1958-62, hitting .273 with 117 bombs as a Bucco, and was a 1961 All-Star after losing 35 baseballs. The slugger’s inability to field was legendary; he was once hit in the back when Roberto Clemente threw behind a runner, and received an ovation for spearing a hot dog wrapper blowing past him at Forbes Field. Stu also mashed 66 home runs for the Lincoln club of the Class A Western League in 1956, so his glove wasn’t the main reason he got a paycheck.
  • November 7, 1974 - RHP Kris Benson was born in Kennesaw, Georgia. The first overall selection of the 1996 draft, the Clemson grad pitched for the Pirates from 1999-2004 (missing 2001 after TJ surgery) with a line of 43-49/4.26.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pittsburgh's Minor League Free Agents, Past & Present...

Matt Eddy of Baseball America compiled the list of minor league free agents, those souls with six years on the farm and no 2014 contract in place. We cribbed his list for guys that have passed through the Pirate organization:

Pitchers: Nate Adcock (Arizona - AAA), Tim Alderson (Baltimore - AAA), Chad Beck (Toronto - AA), Joe Beimel (Atlanta - AAA), Sean Gallagher (Colorado - AAA), Daniel McCutchen (Baltimore - AA), Evan Meek (Texas - AAA) and Jonathan Sanchez (LAD - AAA).

Position Players: Brian Bixler (NYM - AAA), Luke Carlin (LAA - AAA), Jeff Clement (Minnesota - AAA), Argenis Diaz (Detroit - AAA), Josh Fields (Philadelphia - AAA), Jake Fox (Arizona - AAA), Gorkys Hernandez (KC - AA), Brian Jeroloman (Washington - AA), Andy Marte (LAA - AAA), Jason Michaels (Washington - AAA), Xavier Nady (Colorado - AAA), Yamaico Navarro (Baltimore - AAA), Jim Negrych (Toronto - AAA), Ray Olmedo (Minnesota - AAA), Ronny Paulino (Detroit - AAA), Clint Robinson (Toronto - AAA), Josh Rodriguez (NYM - AA), Jamie Romak (St. Louis - AAA) and Drew Sutton (Boston - AAA).

Others You Should Know: Matt LaPorta, Stu Pomeranz, Jeremy Hermeda, Reid Brignac, Micah Owings, Corey Patterson, and Mike Fontenot.

The Pirate MLFA are:

Pitchers: David Bromberg (Altoona), Brooks Brown (Indy), Dan Cevette (Altoona), Erik Cordier (Indy), Jason Erickson (Bradenton), Graham Godfrey (Indy), Jared Goedert (Indy), Doug Mathis (Indy), Jhonathan Ramos (Altoona), Luis Sanz (Altoona), Atahualpa Severino (Indy), Kyle Waldrop (Indy) and Kurt Yacko (Jamestown).

Position Players: Brian Bocock (Indy), Russ Canzler (Indy), Brett Carroll (Indy), Ivan De Jesus Jr. (Indy), Francisco Diaz (WV), Miles Durham (WV), Darren Ford (Indy), Devin Ivany (Bradenton), Lucas May (Indy), Anthony Norman (Bradenton), Miguel Perez (Altoona), Ali Solis (Altoona) and Oscar Tejeda (Altoona).

There are only a couple of keepers on the list. Bromberg looks to be a capable MLB insurance policy for the pen, while Ramos and Sanz have shown unrealized promise. Unfortunately for DeJesus, he's limited to second because of his range, and the inability to play short takes him out of the middle infield reserve mix.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

11/4-5: Dick Groat, Wee Tommy, Mike Dunne, John Grabow, Lefty, Manny-for-Chuck, Syd, Rod Scurry & John Russell...

Dick Groat, Wee Tommy, Mike Dunne, John Grabow, Lefty, Manny-for-Chuck, Syd, Rod Scurry and John Russell...

  • November 4, 1877 - “Wee Tommy” Leach was born in French Creek, NY. Leach hit 63 career homers; 49 were inside-the-park, which is still a NL record. During Leach's years in Pittsburgh (1900-12), the Pirates won the NL flag four times and World Series champions once. His 1903 triple was the first World Series hit. Leach is still in the top 100 all-time in stolen bases (361) and runs scored (1,355).
  • November 4, 1930 - SS Dick Groat was born in Wilkinsburg. The Swissvale Golden Flash HS star was a two sport ace, twice an All-America at Duke in basketball. He was selected as the Helms National Player of the Year in 1952 after averaging 25.2 points per game and played one season in the NBA. But he made a more permanent mark in baseball. As a Bucco bonus baby, he never played in the minors. He was the NL-MVP during the 1960 World Series campaign, and in his Pirate era (1952-62, with two years out for the service), he hit .286 and was a three-time All-Star. A Pitt basketball announcer, in 2011 Groat was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first man ever inducted into both the college basketball and college baseball halls of fame.
  • November 4, 1978 - LHP John Grabow was born in Arcadia, California. Grabow, a third round draft pick in 1997, pitched from 2003-09 for the Bucs until traded to the Cubs. In 390 Pirate appearances, he went 20-15-6/4.09.
  • November 4, 1987 - Padres catcher Benito Santiago was the unanimous selection as the NL Rookie of the Year‚ while Pirate RHP Mike Dunne (13-6, 3.03 ERA) finished second.
  • November 5, 1908 - LHP Ralph “Lefty” Birkofer was born in Cincinnati. Lefty worked for the Bucs from 1933-36 and went 31-26/4.04, mainly as a starter.
  • November 5, 1976 - The Pirates sent catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000 to Oakland to land manager Chuck Tanner. It was the second player-for-skipper deal in MLB history (excluding player/managers), the first being in 1967 when the Mets sent RHP Bill Denehy and cash to the Washington Senators in exchange for manager Gil Hodges.
  •  November 5, 1985 - The Pirates hired Syd Thrift as their GM, replacing Harding Peterson.
  • November 5, 1992 - Rod Scurry, one of the main figures of the infamous Coke trials in Pittsburgh during the eighties, died of a cocaine induced heart attack in Reno, Nevada. He was 36 years old.
  • November 5, 2007 - The Pirates named third base coach John Russell as manager, replacing Jim Tracy. The Bucs' new skipper was the 2006 International League Manager of the Year at Scranton.

BBWAA Nominees, Lloyd Lands a Gig, Notes...

The Bucs have a horse in the MVP and Manager of the Year races this year. The award announcements: Rookies, 11/11; Managers, 11/12; Cy Youngs, 11/13 and MVPs, 11/14 on the MLB Network at 6 PM...

  •  Andrew McCutchen is a Baseball Writer's NL MVP finalist, along with 1B Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks and C Yadier Molina of the Cards. The last Bucco MVP was Barry Bonds in 1992 (also in 1990).
  •  The BBWAA's NL Manager of the Year finalists are Clint Hurdle, Don Mattingly (Dodgers) and Fredi Gonzalez (Braves). The last Pirate manager to win the MOY was Jim Leyland in 1992.
  • Gerrit Cole didn't make the cut for the Baseball Writers NL Rookie of the Year. The finalists are Jose Fernandez (Marlins); Shelby Miller (Cardinals) and Yasiel Puig (Dodgers). Pittsburgh was also, not too surprisingly, cut out of Cy Young consideration. The nominees were Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals) and Jose Fernandez (Marlins).
  • The Pirates are the second most active team on the trade market since 2003 with 138 transactions, per Baseball Nation's Grant Bisbee. Their most frequent trade partners during that span were the Red Sox and Indians.
  • Andy LaRoche signed back up with Toronto, inking a minor league deal with an invite to camp.
  • Lloyd McClendon did land on his feet. As confirmed by CBS Sports Jon Heyman, he'll take Eric Wedge's gig at Seattle. McClendon last managed in 2005 with the Pirates, where in five seasons, he went 336-446 (.430).

No Qualifier For AJ, But 13 Others Get Bid, More Notes...

The Pirates did not exercise a one-year, $14.1M qualifying offer to AJ Burnett yesterday.

That doesn't mean that they plan to break ties with him. Burnett said that he'd be back in Pittsburgh if he didn't retire, and the qualifying offer is to guarantee a draft pick for a departing FA. It also guaranteed $14.1M for AJ if he accepted, and that's likely more than the Pirates want to pay, or even use as a starting point for negotiations.

It seems a bit penny-wise and pound foolish to us, but we're assuming that the move didn't occur in a vacuum and that FO has been in contact with AJ or his people.

Burnett, who will be 37 in January, put up a 3.30 ERA (2.92 xFIP, 3.10 SIERA) with a NL-leading 9.8 K/9 and 56.2 % ground-ball rate in 191 innings in his second season with the Pirates. His WAR was 3.0, which makes his market value about $15M. Various guesstimates have the Pirates looking to offer him $12-12.5M for a year.

So the Bucs are rolling the dice on AJ not playing the field; we'll see if it was a good bet. Still, low balling your top FA is a curious decision, especially with an influx of new national TV money. Maybe the Bucs are inviting him to leave.

The players who received qualifying offers this year are Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda and Curtis Granderson (Yankees); Mike Napoli, Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew (Red Sox), Ervin Santana (Royals), Ubaldo Jimenez (Indians), Brian McCann (Braves), Nelson Cruz (Rangers), Kendrys Morales (Mariners), Shin-Soo Choo (Reds) and Carlos Beltran (Cardinals).

That roster includes a handful of guys the Pirates were said to be looking at; Napoli and Morales at first, Drew at SS, Beltran in the OF and maybe P Santana. The draft pick will limit the teams that can compete for them and probably eliminates the Pirates, not that they were anything but dark horses before the offers went out for that group.

  • In other news, in the Player's Choice awards, Cutch was voted the NL Outstanding Player of the year by his peers for the second straight season, while Francisco Liriano was selected as the NL's Comeback Player of the year.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors takes a look at the next group on the Bucco list, the arbitration-eligible gang - Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider, Michael McKenry and Vin Mazzaro.