Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pens - Pirates?

OK, the hot stove league has been pretty quiet so far, and with camp right around the bend, something needs to stir up the fans. Hey, how about a possible sale of the club, switching hands from Scrooge McDuck personified, Bob Nutting, to the savior of the flightless fowl, Mario Lemieux?

The Post Gazette has had a field day covering the issue, with articles and columns by Dejan Kovacevic, who broke the story, Chuck Finder, Bob Smizik, and Ron Cook. Also chiming in are the Tribune Review's Rob Biertempfel and Kevin Gorman. It appears that Mr. Nutting better hire himself a PR man by the tone of the columnists' prose.

But whassup, besides open season on Nutting, as far as we know? In September, he had a sit-down with Lemieux and money-man Ron Burkle. What was discussed overall isn't known, but during the session, the Pen owners made a preliminary, maybe back-of-the-envelope, offer to buy the Buccos to start the dance.

The hockey guys apparently thought the proposed deal was at least worthy of a counter-offer; the Pirates never offered one and reiterated their stance that the club isn't for sale. They weren't biting. And hey, it makes sense for both sides to take that approach.

For the Penguins, it presented an opportunity to buy low and flex their marketing muscle; there is plenty of synergy between the two teams to potentially increase branding, sales, publicity, attendance, and ultimately revenues. Maybe they saw a pre-Sid the Kid Crosby version of the Penguins in the current Pirates.

The Pirates, according to Forbes Magazine, are the second lowest valued team in MLB at $288M; the league median is just a tad over $400M. So there's lots of room to grow that figure.

And that's likely the rub. The Igloo gang wants in while the price is right, and the PNC crowd would no doubt like to build the team's value before entertaining offers.

For the Pens to leak a no-result meeting that happened several months ago is nothing more than a hardball effort to pressure Nutting by stealing the team's pre-season Pirate Fest thunder and turning the glare of the fans and media on him instead of 2010.

And for Nutting to squelch the tale with a take-no-prisoners counterattack shows that he thinks the team is a couple of seasons away from becoming a considerably more valuable ticket. He can play hardball, too.

Hey, the value of the Texas Rangers in Forbes is $405M; the price they should reel in, when the ink finally dries, will fall between $520-550M, a 25% increase.

There are several reasons for the jump; media market, growth potential, performance, and the fact that Tom Hicks also has a piece of the Dallas Stars hockey team, and as part of the new ownership group can tap into that tie (though oddly, he didn't take advantage as the majority owner), all adding to Texas' value. And both sides in Pittsburgh are more than aware of that dynamic.

As much of a pariah that Nutting is locally, many analysts think that Pirates are on the right track; the next three years will bear out that opinion, one way or another.

Our thought? Where there's smoke, there's fire. With Burkle behind him, Lemieux has the financial clout to bring it off, not to mention the goodwill of Pittsburgh fans. But don't expect it to be a quick process; Nutting is at heart a good businessman, and won't consider selling until he's sure that the Pirates are at a stable value.

The team was worth $274M when he gave Kevin McClatchy the boot in 2007; he won't let it go now, when there's a chance it could increase a good bit over the coming seasons.

We think the matter of selling the Pirates will be revisited somewhere around 2012, when the results of rebuilding, for better or worse, are reflected in the team value.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend Widgets

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette writes that Penguin owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle recently made an offer to buy the Bucs, with the two sides telling different versions of the story. Probably just a feeler and not a big deal; add Lemieux to the list that includes Chuck Greenberg and Mark Cuban.

-- During the Piratefest, Jen Langosh of reports that Frank Coonelly has this to say about adding a vet to to the rotation: "We talked about Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, Braden Looper. But when we talked about what they would bring and what we had internally, we felt like it was a better investment to give those innings to the winner of the Kevin Hart - Daniel McCutchen battle in Spring Training to let them develop."

-- Also during the Piratefest, Neal Huntington told the fans in a Q&A session that they didn't trade Matt Capps because no one was willing to give up a prospect and take on his potential salary, although he still used that non-tender leak as a fallback excuse.

-- Brian Friday, 25, the team's third-round selection in the 2007 draft and current alpha-dog among Pirate shortstop prospects (though that could change quickly) got an invite to spring training, his first. He hit .265 at Altoona last year. There are now 25 non-roster invitees to camp.

-- Baseball America rates the Pirate farm system as 16th in MLB now, solidly in the middle of the pack. Jim Callis noted "It ranked 26th two years ago and 16th is the highest ranking since 2004. The Pirates have more depth than they've had in a while, and Neal Huntington and Co. are on the right track. They do need more star-potential players."

-- Maz's new statue will feature the iconic pose of him running between first and second after hitting his World Series homer, waving his cap. Great choice. They'll dedicate the bronze on September 5th during a "Tribute to Maz" night, part of the season-long 1960 celebrations.

"I had my number retired," Mazeroski said. "Then I went into the Hall of Fame. Then you get a street named after you. How can you get a better life than this? Now I get a statue. I don't know what to say."

We wonder if the annual October 13th party, now held in Oakland, will relocate from the old Forbes Field wall to the Northshore now? We hope not.

-- Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports tweets that Craig Monroe isn't ready to retire. Over the last three years, Monroe has hit .215 with 23 homers in 693 plate appearances for four teams. Is anyone out there willing to give the 32 year-old a minor league deal?

Hey, there's hope for him - after all, Josh Fogg just got a minor league deal with the Mets.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Yoslan Herrera

On December 18th, 2006, Pittsburgh Pirates GM Dave Littlefield announced that the Bucs had signed free agent RHP Yoslan Herrera to a three-year contract worth $1.92 M (signing bonus of $750K, along with salaries of $380K, $390K and $400K). On November 10th, 2009, they released him.

So much for the career of Littlefield’s one ballyhooed Latino signing.

Herrera was born on April 28, 1981, in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junk-baller was a member of the Youth Cuban National Team from 1999-2000, and then spent four seasons playing for the Cuban National Team. He posted an overall record of 18-7 with a 3.27 ERA during his career in Cuba.

Herrera defected from Cuba in July, 2005, and spent the following seven months in Miami. He then went to the Dominican Republic, where he spent most of 2006 training, and was brought into the Pirate fold by Carribean scouts Rene Gayo and Louie Eljaua, who negotiated the deal.

"Yoslan enjoyed a successful career while pitching in Cuba," said Littlefield. "He's a right-handed starter with a good arm and someone who has been very intriguing to us based on his international success."

Not that he was a lock; there were concerns about him not having pitched for two years, his durability to get deep into games, and whether his 87-90 MPH fastball was enough good enough to complement his bread-and-butter offspeed stuff.

Still, he was considered a good pickup by the organization, which had struggled badly in the Latin market under Littlefield, and it was projected by some that Herrera could earn a spot in the Pirate rotation by 2009.

He was rated by Baseball America as the Pirates' fourth best prospect in 2007, and was added to the Bucs 40-man roster. Herrera opened at Altoona and went 6-9 with a 4.69 ERA in 25 starts for the Curve. The righty had problems with his splits against lefties, and showed little ability to miss bats, even at the AA level.

In 2008 Herrera was invited to spring training, but again started the year at Altoona. He was a well-traveled man that season, making 22 starts for the Curve, one with Indy, and five with Pittsburgh.

At Altoona, he went 6-9 with a 3.46 ERA in a team-high 1141⁄3 innings, and earned Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors. Herrera was promoted to Indianapolis for a June spot start against the Columbus Clippers, pitched well, and then returned to Altoona.

Herrera was called up by Pittsburgh on July 12th and made his MLB debut that night, pitching 4-1/3 innings, and getting battered. He did earn his first major league win on July 24th, shutting out the San Diego Padres through six innings. Hererra was optioned back to the Double-A Curve on August 4th.

And with pretty good reason – in five starts for Pittsburgh, he was 1-1 with a 9.82 ERA, lasting just 18-1/3 innings, compiling a WHIP of 2.564 and walking more guys (12) than he struck out (10). That audition virtually eliminated him from the Pirates radar, and he was removed from the 40-man roster after the season.

Herrera split 2009 between Altoona and Indy, no longer a prospect but now just a bit of organizational depth. He went 11-1 with a 3.23 ERA with the Curve. In four games with the Indians, Herrera went 1-1 with a 2.30 ERA.

But now, the Pirates have stockpiled enough arms to fill the Altoona and Indy rotations, Herrera in three years never showed that he was anything better than a good AA pitcher, he’s 28 (he turns 29 in April), and his contract ran out. Buenas noches, Yoslan.

He currently plays for the Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League; so far no El Norte club has taken a flyer on him. Our guess is he’ll remain in the Latin leagues - and remain a cautionary tale of Latino signings.

-- By the way, 3B Bobby Spain, who was drafted in the 19th round by the Pirates in 2007 following an All-American season at shortstop for Oklahoma City University, was released at the same time and signed with the Frontier League Tranverse City Beach Bums. Spain hit .286 with 47 doubles, 10 home runs, and 107 RBI in three minor-league seasons.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Odds And Ends

-- The beat writers report that pitchers that both Steve Jackson and Anthony Claggett cleared waivers and were assigned to Indy.

-- The X-man is back in the NL Central. The Cubs signed Xavier Nady to a one-year deal for $3.3M with $2M in possible bonus money.

-- Pirate Charities, after successfully partnering to build the Miracle League field in Cranberry last season for special needs kids, have announced plans to build another in the Wheeling area. They'll make it public over the weekend during Piratefest.

-- And while the Bucs are in a building mood, they plan to erect a Billy Maz statue on Mazeroski Way, a road that runs parallel to PNC's right field line and ends at a boat landing on the Allegheny.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bobby Bragan

Bobby Bragan, who managed the Bucs in 1956-57, died Thursday night in Fort Worth at the age of 92.

He spent seven seasons as a major-league manager with the Pirates (1956-57), where he coached up Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente; Cleveland (1958), with Larry Doby, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Bob Lemon; and the Milwaukee (1963-65)/Atlanta (1966) Braves, where he managed Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn. He compiled a lifetime record of 443-478 and eight Hall-of-Famers.

Bragan was born and raised in Birmingham and began his baseball career in the Alabama-Florida League with Panama City in 1937. He played two years at Pensacola in the Southeastern League before being sold to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1939.

He came up as a shortstop and played for the Phillies from 1940-1942. In 1941, he played all 154 games, batting .251 and driving in 69 runs. In 1942, the team was strapped for catching help because of injuries and military call-ups, and Bragan offered to don the tools of ignorance.

Dodger general manager Branch Rickey liked the youngster’s gumption and traded for him. He was a backup catcher for the Dodgers during the next two seasons.

Bragan was a protégé of sorts for Rickey, a Hall of Fame executive, who gave him his first team at Fort Worth when both were with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then brought Bragan to Hollywood and the Pittsburgh organization, where Rickey was general manager from 1951-55.

After spending two years in the military, Bragan returned in time for the 1947 season. The Dodgers played the New York Yankees that year in the World Series and Bragan pinch-hit a double. That would be his only at bat in World Series play, but enough to place him on the list of players who had a 1.000 batting average in the fall classic.

Also during that season, he was introduced to the brave new world of baseball when Jackie Robinson became his teammate. Bragan had been critical of the Dodgers decision to break baseball's color barrier. But after just one road trip with Robinson, he changed his tune and told Rickey that it was an honor to be Robinson's teammate.

Bragan started the 1948 season with Brooklyn, but Rickey wanted to bring up Roy Campanella from the minors. Rickey offered Bragan the manager's job of the Fort Worth Cats, and he took over in July of 1948, remaining with the Cats for five years. He then managed the Hollywood Stars for the next three years.

In 1956, Bragan was Joe Brown's selection as manager, influenced heavily by the recommendation of the retired Rickey, who was still on the Pirate board. He replaced Fred Haney.

The Bucs were in the midst of a Rickey-inspired youth movement, much like today. Their core consisted of Mazeroski, Clemente, Dick Groat, Vernon Law, Bob Friend, Bill Virdon, Bob Skinner, and Elroy Face. But they were a few seasons away from the World Series champs they would become.

Bragan preached fundamentals, and the club, young as it was, improved by six games from its 1956 season. Bragan was vocal - he would get tossed by the umps a half dozen times that year - and unorthodox, completely ignoring the book when he put together a lineup. Attendance doubled during his maiden voyage.

But the wheels fell off in 1957, and a few days after yet another incident and ejection (and a 36-67 record), he was canned and replaced by coach Danny Murtaugh. Bragan, as good a teacher as he was - and he was good - was old school and brusk, and had lost Maz, Groat, and Clemente, among others, making the change inevitable.

In the foreword to Bragan’s bio, You Can’t Hit the Ball with the Bat on Your Shoulder, Cosell wrote about that day, when Bragan was visiting him in his apartment.

Bragan was playing and singing "Mack the Knife" on Cossell's piano when he was interrupted by a call from Pirates GM Joe Brown.

He took the call, talked for a few minutes, then resumed singing. "What did Joe want?" Cosell asked. "Mack the Knife is back in town," Bragan sang, then quickly added a new verse, "...and I was just fired by Joe Brown."

He went on to manage the Indians in 1958 and the Braves in the sixties.

Bragan worked in the 1970s and 1980s as the Texas Rangers' community director of public relations. He remained a special assistant to the club for the past 20 years.

Bragan made news in 2005 when he managed the Fort Worth Cats for one game, at age 87, becoming the oldest skipper of a pro team. He was eight days older than Connie Mack, who managed his last game in 1950.

Always known as an umpire-baiter, Bragan was ejected in the third inning of his comeback, also becoming the oldest person to be ever be ejected from a pro baseball game.

Bragan was an ambassador for the game in the Fort Worth area while helping the community. He was chairman of the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which provides college scholarships to eighth-grade students from public schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and was known as "Mr. Baseball" for his stories and encyclopedic knowledge of the game's inner workings.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Zachster

Zachary Thomas Duke is a 26-year old Texan (he'll be 27 in April), and he's spent the past five years tantalizing or terrifying Bucco fans, depending on the day and season.

Duke was drafted out of Waco's Midway High School in the 20th round of the 2001 draft, signed late after agreeing to a $260K bonus, and began his career the next year with the Pirates' rookie Gulf Coast League team.

He spent 2003 with Class A Hickory, going 8-7 with a 3.11 ERA for the Sally League Crawdads. His breakout year was just around the bend.

In 2004, Duke led all minor league pitchers with a 1.46 earned run average. He posted a 15-6 record in 26 combined starts, amassing 148-1/3 innings of work between Class-A Lynchburg and AA Altoona, while his 15 wins (he finished 15-6) tied for third most victories among all minor league pitchers.

He was named Pittsburgh's Minor League Pitcher of the Year and garnered Carolina League Pitcher of the Year honors.

Duke was rated by Baseball America as the sixth-best prospect in the Eastern League and the best pitching prospect (fourth-best overall) in the Carolina League. He was also cited by BA as having the best breaking pitch in the league.

However, one red flag was blowin' in the breeze. His Lynchburg strikeout rate was 9.8 K's per nine innings; it dropped to 6.3 at Altoona. It was a small sample size - he only threw 51-1/3 innings for the Curve - but would become a trend.

The Bucs were fast tracking Duke, and the internal debate was whether to jump him to the big club or Indianapolis after an impressive training camp showing. Sanity prevailed, and he went to the Indians. Duke went 12-3 for the AAA club, with a 2.92 ERA.

He was named the International League's third best prospect. The Pirates called him up and he made his first major league start on July 2nd against the Brewers, getting a no decision. Duke then rolled off four straight starts without allowing an earned run, and won his first six games.

Duke's piled up 22 consecutive scoreless innings from July 2 to July 21. He was named National League Rookie of the Month in July after compiling a 0.87 ERA, the best among all starting pitchers in the Major Leagues.

The lefty became only the second Pittsburgh rookie to win his first five decisions, joining Whitey Glazner, who set the team standard in 1921. He was also one of only four pitchers during the live-ball era to record an ERA below 1.00 in their first six starts (the others were Fernando Valenzuela, Boo Ferriss and Steve Rogers).

Then the injury bug bit him. He missed several weeks with an ankle sprain, and it probably cost him a shot at the Rookie of the Year award. Duke ended the season 8-2 with a microscopic 1.81 ERA, and it looked like a star was born.

Duke's 2006 season saw him anointed as the team ace, anchoring a young rotation along with Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny and Ollie Perez (remember those heady days?). His performance, not very surprisingly, was up and down, especially during the first half of the season.

The bullpen didn't give him much help, and his peripheries were beginning to catch up with him. His K rate dropped to 4.9 whiffs per nine innings, and his opponents' ball in play average went from .296 in 2005 to .327 in 2006.

Duke's final line for the 2006 season was 10-15 with a 4.47 ERA and he became the first Pirates starter since Kris Benson in 2000 to throw more than 200 innings with 215-1/3 frames. All in all, not the second coming of Sandy Koufax, but a solid performance for a 23 year-old.

He opened 2007 still as the team's top starter, but that wouldn't last long. Duke was smacked around early and often until he went on the DL with a sore elbow at the end of June, not to return until he got a couple of September starts. Duke finished the year 3-8 with a 5.53 ERA.

He gave up career highs in hits per nine innings at 13.5, 1.2 homers per nine, and a WHIP of 1.733 with a .360 ball-in-play average. Duke's fastball velocity dropped from the low 90's to the mid-80s, and his bread-and-butter curve was flat. His K ratio crashed to a career low of 3.4 per nine innings. There was a lot of finger-pointing after the season.

The Pirates claimed that Duke hadn't taken care of his shoulder during the offseason. Duke countered by saying that his elbow had been acting up. Either way, it was clear that he wasn't anywhere near 100% in 2007.

In 2008, Duke had another unimpressive season, though better than 2007, thank goodness. His stuff came around a bit, with his fastball now in the upper 80s, and his curve showing more bite. In August and September, he looked like he had finally found his stride, putting up an ERA of 3.84.

Still, he was a disappointing 5-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 185 innings. His ball-in-play average dropped down to 2006's level of .327, and his K rate picked up, if you can call it that, to 4.2 per nine innings.

He was in his first arbitration year, and signed a one-year, $2.2M deal with the Buccos.

It looked like a steal early last season. The left-hander's 3.29 ERA through the first half of the season earned him a spot as a reserve on the National League All-Star team.

Philadelphia Phillies and All-Star manager Charlie Manuel chose Duke to replace San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain, who was whacked by a liner the weekend before the game. Duke became the first Pirates starter to be an All-Star since Denny Neagle in 1995.

But the wheels fell off after the break; after July his ERA was 5.81. In one memorable early September outing, Duke tied a major league record by allowing hits to eight consecutive batters to start a game against the Cubs, leading to a seven-run first inning.

Only one ball was hit squarely, and every Buc infielder boneheaded a play. To boot, the ump blew call at first. And they were all scored hits. It was indicative of how the season went for both Duke and the Pirates after the annual trade deadline shake-and-bake.

Duke's opponent batting average was .265 during the first four months of the season; it was .326 afterward. The Pirate defense, after Jack Wilson and Freddie Sanchez left, went from top-five to sub par in a hurry. And that makes it tough to get a hold on Duke's future as a pitcher.

He finished off 2009 with a 11-16 record and a 4.06 era in 213 innings, 3 complete games, and a shutout. Again, he was cursed by a shaky bullpen. His ball-in-play average was the same as in his first year at .296, and his WHIP was 1.315, his lowest since that golden 2005 season, but it didn't translate.

Duke was rewarded when in his second arb season when he almost doubled his contract, inking a one-year deal worth $4.3M, in the same ball park as Paul Maholm ($4.5M) and probably about the figure he'd win if his contract went to arbitration.

Duke is a solid major league pitcher, capable of keeping the team in games and notching a couple hundred innings. He has nice control, but nothing that can regularly miss a bat, throwing a high 80's heater and depending on his curve.

He does the little things well. Duke fields his position, holds runners, and can put a ball in play. He's one of the team's better bunters. And he's a young lefty, which puts a premium on his value.

The 800 pound gorilla is his inability to strike guys out at a major league rate. In the past three years, he hasn't averaged more than 4.5 K's per nine innings. That, in turn, makes him exceptionally dependent of his defense, as demonstrated at the end of last season.

His career ball-in-play average is .321; the average is around .300. Duke gives up nearly 11 hits per nine innings.

His career has shown long stretches of mid rotation potential, but his performance has been maddeningly inconsistent. Duke seems to have dodged the off-season meat market; it'll be interesting to see where he's at in August.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hot Stove Punchlist

It's been a fairly active winter for the Bucco suits, as they've shuffled the 40-man roster, completely retooled the bullpen, bulked up the middle infield, and added some new bodies to the major league club. Here's the moves they've made since the smoke cleared from the trainwreck of a 2009 season:

January 21, 2010: Designated RHP Anthony Claggett for assignment.
January 20, 2010: Agreed to terms with RHP Octavio Dotel for a one-year contract worth $3.25M with a team option for 2011 worth $4.5M and possible bonus money worth an undisclosed amount based on games finished.
January 19, 2010: Agreed to terms with LHP Zach Duke on a one-year contract worth $4.3M, buying out his second arbitration year.
January 19, 2010: Designated RHP Steve Jackson for assignment.
January 19, 2010: Claimed OF Brandon Jones off waivers from Atlanta.
January 18, 2010: Traded SS Brian Bixler to the Indians for minor-league utility man Jesus Brito.
January 16, 2010: Agreed to terms with RHP Brendan Donnelly on a one-year contract worth $1.35M which could reach nearly $3M with possible bonus money.
January 16, 2010: Agreed to terms with RHP D.J. Carrasco on a minor league contract. If he makes the team, the one-year deal is worth $950K with $250K in possible bonus money.
January 13, 2010: Agreed to terms with OF Ryan Church on a one-year contract worth $1.5M with $572K in possible bonus money.
January 12, 2010: Agreed to terms with RHP Brian Bass, C Luke Carlin and OF Brian Myrow on minor league contracts.
January 4, 2010: Agreed to terms with LHP Brian Burres, LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Tyler Yates and OF Jonathan Van Every on minor league contracts. Cotts and Yates are both coming off TJ surgery; if they pitch in the bigs in 2010 Cotts' deal is worth $900K and Yates' is worth $925K.
December 23, 2009: Agreed to terms with LHP Jack Taschner on a minor league contract. If he makes the club, his one-year deal will be worth $835K with $465K in possible bonus money.
December 18, 2009: Agreed to terms with LHP Javier Lopez on a one-year contract worth $775K with $550K in possible bonus money.
December 12, 2009: Agreed to terms with SS Ronny Cedeno on a one-year deal worth $1.125M. The contract bought out Cedeno's second arbitration year.
December 12, 2009: Declined to offer 2010 contracts to RHP Matt Capps and LHP Phil Dumatrait, making them free agents. Capps signed with the Nationals and Dumatrait signed with Detroit.
December 10, 2009: Agreed to terms with SS Bobby Crosby for a one-year contract worth $1M with $500K in possible bonus money.
December 10, 2009: Selected OF John Raynor in the Rule 5 draft.
December 7, 2009: Assigned RHP Jeff Sues to Indianapolis, removing him from the 40-man roster.
December 8, 2009: Agreed to terms with RHP Vinnie Chulk on a minor league contract.
December 6, 2009: Designated INF Luis Cruz for assignment. He signed with the Brewers.
November 30, 2009: Agreed to terms with LHP Wilfredo Ledezma on a minor league contract.
November 27, 2009: Designated C Robinzon Diaz for assignment. He signed with the Tigers.
November 21, 2009: Designated RHP Jeff Karstens for assignment; he's now on Indy's roster.
November 21, 2009: Claimed RHP Chris Jakubauskas off waivers from Seattle.
November 21, 2009: Purchased the contracts of RHP Brad Lincoln from Indianapolis; RHP Ramon Aguero and OF Gorkys Hernandez from Altoona; and RHP Bryan Morris from Bradenton and added them to the 40-man roster.
November 6, 2009: Assigned RHP Virgil Vasquez and RHP Eric Hacker outright to Indianapolis and C Steve Lerud outright to Altoona. Vasquez remained with the team, Hacker signed with the Giants and Lerud signed with the Royals.
November 6, 2009: The Brewers trade JJ Hardy. This is of interest because Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette said the Pirates offered Matt Capps for him, and a Fox Sports report cited by the Bucs Dugout said that they also offered Ryan Doumit. Hey, they tried.
November 3, 2009: The Pirates trade RHP Jesse Chavez to the Tampa Bay Rays for 2B Akinori Iwamura. Iwamura is in the walk year of his contract, and will make $4.85M in 2010.
October 30, 2009: Claimed LHP Justin Thomas off waivers from Seattle.
October 21, 2009: Outrighted RHP Denny Bautista, RHP Chris Bootcheck and RHP Craig Hansen to the minor leagues, making them free agents. Bautista signed with the Giants, Bootcheck went to Japan, and Hansen is still a Bucco.

(Contract values taken from Cot's Contracts.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Finishing Touch

Octavio Eduardo Dotel was born November 25, 1973 in Santo Domingo, of the Dominican Republic, and was signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1993.

Since then, the 36-year old righty has thrown for the New York Mets, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, and now is set to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dotel made his major league debut in 1999 for the New York Mets. He ended the season as the winning pitcher in the 1999 NLCS game against the Atlanta Braves. His reward? Dotel was traded with Roger Cedeno and minor leaguer Kyle Kessel to the Astros for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell.

His 4-1/2 year stint with Houston would become his longest gig, and he and Billy Wagner formed a powerful one-two punch for the Astros beginning in 2000.

In 2000, Dotel was converted from starter to relief pitcher for the Astros, filling in as closer for an injured Billy Wagner. The season was the first time in NL history that a pitcher combined over 15 starts with 15 saves (it happened once in the AL, when Tim Wakefield made 17 starts and notched 15 saves for the Boston Red Sox).

In 2001, Dotel again began the season as a starter but quickly moved into the bullpen as the setup man for Wagner. In 2003, Dotel and Wagner were joined by future Astros closer Brad Lidge and all three took part when six Astros pitchers combined for a no-hitter against the New York Yankees on June 11, 2003.

After the 2003 season, Wagner was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, and Dotel started 2004 as the closer for the Astros. But not for long.

On June 24, 2004, Dotel was traded to Oakland in a three-way deal that brought Carlos Beltran to the Astros, with Mike Wood, Mark Teahen, and John Buck joining the Royals.

Dotel closed for the Athletics and finished the 2004 season with a career-high 36 saves, 22 for the A's and 14 for the 'Stros. He began 2005 in the same role, but had a rocky start and went on the 60-day DL in May, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 1st, ending his season after just 15 games. The A's let him walk after the season.

Dotel signed a one year deal with the New York Yankees in December 2005. He missed the first four months of the 2006 season, recovering from his Tommy John surgery, and then developed tendinitis in his elbow while on rehab. He didn't return to action until August.

Dotel became a free agent at the end of the 2006 MLB season, and was hotly pursued by the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Devil Rays. But he didn't bite on their offers.

Instead, he inked a one-year contract with the Kansas City Royals in 2006 for a guaranteed $5M with bonuses worth up to $2.5M. It was reported that the chance to close was the deciding factor in signing with KC. It would become a recurring theme.

At the 2007 deadline, the Royals traded Dotel to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Kyle Davies. But on August 10th, he was placed on the DL with a right shoulder strain. He made his return in late September, and finished the season 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA.

A free agent again, Dotel agreed to a two-year, $11M deal with the Chicago White Sox in 2008, where he worked as a set-up man for Bobby Jenks. He worked 134 games in that span covering 129-1/3 innings, striking out 167 batters and walking 65. The Dominican strung together ERAs of 3.76 and 3.32, finishing 7-7.

Dotel was the yule log of the Bucs' off-season hot stove, and they finally landed him after dangling the closer's role in front of him. They were the only team to offer him that opportunity, and he took it.

Yesterday, he signed a 1-year, $3.25M deal with the chance to earn some bonus loot based on the number of games he finishes. The contract also includes a club option next season for $4.5M with a $250K buyout, so the suits control him through 2011, plenty of time to see if Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek can eventually take over the job.

His fastball crosses the plate at 92-93, touching 96, with good movement. Dotel also features a cutter and slider. He can miss bats, giving up just 7.2 hits and averaging 11 K's per nine innings during his career, stats that he mirrored for the White Sox. Dotel likes to work his heater upstairs, which explains both his high strikeout rate and flyball tendencies.

But he also averages a lifetime 4.1 walks per nine innings, too, and had problems against lefties last year, with a line of .268/.422/.577 against them along with considerably poorer walk and strikeout ratios. That may be an anomaly; his lifetime splits are pretty strong across the board.

The closer's role is his to lose now, but he's not certain to put a stranglehold on it. Dotel combines the good, the bad, and the ugly. He can throw the pill past anyone, but often can't find the dish.

He has lots of experience finishing off games, but hasn't closed since midway through the 2007 season. And Dotel's lifetime stats show 83 saves in 122 chances. That's a 68% mark, and below what you'd hope for in a shut-down guy. Matt Capps converted 66 of 78 opportunities, an 85% rate, and look what it got him.

So the Pirates have their closer, and maybe switching leagues will lead him to the fountain of youth. At best, he'll become the Wizard of Whiffs for Pittsburgh. At worst, he's a good and affordable choice from the arms available on the 2010 market, and buys the team some time to evaluate their internal prospects.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rosters, 2009 & 2010

OK, the Bucs signed Octavio Dotel for a year with an option, and announced he'll be the closer; we'll have more on him tomorrow.

Here's what the 40-man roster looks like now:

Pitchers (18) - Ramon Aguero (R); Jose Ascanio (R); Brendan Donnelly (R); Octavio Dotel (R); Zach Duke (L); Joel Hanrahan (R); Kevin Hart (R); Chris Jakubauskas (R); Brad Lincoln (R); Javier Lopez (L); Paul Maholm (L); Daniel McCutchen (R); Evan Meek (R); Bryan Morris (R); Charlie Morton (R); Ross Ohlendorf (R); Ronald Uviedo (R); Donnie Veal (L).

Catchers (2) - Ryan Doumit (S); Jason Jaramillo (S).

Infielders (10) - 3B Pedro Alvarez (L); SS Ronny Cedeno (R); 1B Jeff Clement (L); SS Bobby Crosby (R); SS Argenis Diaz (R); 2B Akinori Iwamura (L); 3B Andy LaRoche (R); 1B Steve Pearce (R); INF Ramon Vazquez (L); 3B Neil Walker (S).

Outfielders (10)
- Ryan Church (L); Gorkys Hernandez (R); Brandon Jones (L); Garrett Jones (L); Andrew McCutchen (R); Lastings Milledge (R); Brandon Moss (L); John Raynor (R); Jose Tabata (R); Delwyn Young (S).

As best as I could reconstruct it, the opening 2009 40-Man Roster:

Pitchers (20) - Jimmy Barthmaier (R); Sean Burnett (L); Matt Capps (R); Jesse Chavez (R); Phil Dumatrait (L); Zach Duke (L); Tom Gorzelanny (L); John Grabow (L); Chris Hansen (R); Jeff Karstens (R); Paul Maholm (L); Daniel McCutchen (R); Evan Meek (R); Ross Ohlendorf (R); Ian Snell (R); Jeff Sues (R); Ronald Uviedo (R); Donnie Veal (L); Virgil Vasquez (R); Tyler Yates (R).

Catchers (4) - Ryan Doumit (S); Robinzon Diaz (R); Jason Jaramillo (S); Steve Lerud (C).

Infielders (8)
- 3B Pedro Alvarez (L); INF Brian Bixler (R); INF Luis Cruz (R); 1B Adam LaRoche (L); 3B Andy LaRoche (R); 2B Freddy Sanchez (R); INF Ramon Vazquez (L); SS Jack Wilson (R).

Outfielders (8) - Eric Hinske (L); Nate McLouth (L); Andrew McCutchen (R); Craig Monroe (R); Nyjer Morgan (R); Brandon Moss (L); Jose Tabata (R); Delwyn Young (S).

That's a pretty remarkable 23 changes in 12 months; only six guys removed from the roster remain with the organization.

The opening day lineup in 2009: LF Nyjer Morgan; 2B Freddy Sanchez; CF Nate McLouth; C Ryan Doumit; 1B Adam LaRoche; 3B Andy LaRoche; RF Brandon Moss; SS Jack Wilson; and P Paul Maholm.

Our best guesstimate of 2010's opening day lineup: CF Andrew McCutchen; 2B Akinori Iwamura; 1B Garrett Jones; C Ryan Doumit; LF Lasting Milledge; RF Ryan Church; 3B Andy LaRoche; SS Ronny Cedeno; and P Ross Ohlendorf.

What do we think about the movement? Better rotation, if for nothing else due to addition by subtraction; a deeper bullpen, though the closer's role is still to be proven; probably a stronger bench, depending on the configuration, and a lineup that still needs some boppers. Looks like a lotta question marks to us.

But hey, don't worry. This crew isn't going to stay together that long anyway. There are still changes afoot, and August's team will probably bear little resemblance to this one.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette pulled out his handy Casio and calculated the cost of this year's team: The 25-man payroll will start at an estimated $35.65M, probably the MLB's lowest, and the 40-man payroll, which was $ 48.693M last year according to Cot's Contracts, should fall between $40-45M in 2010.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pellas On The Pirates - Mea Culpa...Sort Of


So, the Pirates' front office evidently had some kind of plan going into this offseason, after all. No sooner had the virtual ink from my last missive on The Green Weenie dried, than the suits went ahead and did exactly what we've been clamoring for them to do: they went out and signed a handful of carefully chosen, fairly affordable, good-but-not-great-but-definitely-helpful veterans.

This is good news, and if Octavio Dotel puts his "X" on the dotted line in the near future (as has been rumored for weeks), so much the better. All of which makes the 2010 edition of the Pirates look a lot like the fondly-remembered 1997 "Freak Show", a team that rode on the back of several similar veterans to stay improbably in contention until September.

To be sure, long-suffering fans have more reason to invest in the Bucs now than they did during the second half of the 2009 season. That period of time saw what many observers consider to be the very worst stretch of baseball this city has ever witnessed from its home nine. I am personally still more than a little steamed at what I still consider to have been a far more radical than necessary demolition job.

I'll say again that it's one thing to do a substantial teardown-rebuild, something we all agree was necessary. It's quite another to abandon even the smallest pretense of professional and competitive integrity while you're doing surgery on the organization. In my view, the Pirates came perilously close to that point in 2009.

Still, with or without Dotel, the combination of relative bargain veteran free agents (Carrasco, Lopez, Donnelly) with a few holdovers who can reasonably be expected to be solid contributors (Jones, McCutchen, Milledge, LaRoche), added to trade acquisition Akinori Iwamura and if-he-could-only-stay-healthy Ryan Doumit, all of a sudden makes this team, at least on paper, one that is approaching respectability.

If any of the nearly ready for prime time players, ie, Lincoln, Tabata, and Daniel McCutchen, rises to the top and makes a significant impact, things could actually get interesting past the All Star break.

So, while it appears we were right to cry foul about the disaster that was the second half of 2009, and while we were not out of bounds in urging the team to pursue at least a few free agents, apparently either the front office was listening or they had already decided they were going to follow the same course of action we had in mind. We just didn't believe them. Thus, a mea culpa of sorts is in order.

That said, the vast majority of the Pirates' offseason activity has been in the bullpen. The bullpen last year, to put it kindly, was horrible after the trade deadline.

Without John Grabow as the veteran glue to hold things together, with Evan Meek and Phil Dumatrait hurt and with Jesse Sanchez wilting from overuse, there was little or no hope for the team unless the starting pitchers went the distance. The relief corps, then, definitely needed a makeover.

But at the risk of sounding like sour grapes, where was Huntington's free agent alacrity during his first two seasons? If, as he has obviously shown this winter, a functional if not overwhelming 'pen can be assembled mostly from veteran spare parts, why wasn't this done in 2008 and 2009? If nothing else, it might have been fun to see how many more games Paul Maholm would have won with any kind of support behind him.

And even if the suits had already decided to blow up the team as part of the rebuilding, wouldn't things have been better with more reliable relievers? Surely the team didn't decide to deliberately ignore the 'pen in order to make the team less competitive so the demolition would be more palatable to fans...did they?

Sorry to go all Oliver Stone here, but when I see how much really good work the front office has done this offseason to address bullpen weaknesses, then compare it with the almost total silence on that front over the previous two offseasons...I wonder.

Unprovable conspiracy theories aside, we might quibble just a tad with the position player signings this winter. It's not that they're bad. It's that they weren't as good as they could have been and really, should have been given the softest free agent market in decades thanks to the recession.

Bobby Crosby? He's not an unreasonable gamble and he's not the worst one or perhaps two year bridge to our minor league middle infield prospects, but he's also not likely to recapture his previous form and he might fall off the table altogether.

Ryan Church? Yeah, he's got some skills and he's probably serviceable as a fourth outfielder, but he's been hurt repeatedly most years and there were better players on the market who wouldn't have cost much more than Church did, if they cost more at all.

A similarly favorable economic climate is not likely to be in the offing anytime soon, if ever. Thus it seems to me that the Pirates blew a real opportunity to snag some veteran impact position players for relative chump change, whether the team was rebuilding or not.

So as I said, this is a sort-of mea culpa. The team definitely made some smart moves this offseason, and it's certainly far better to be quibbling over which moves weren't made than it was to be howling about the aimless and hopeless McClatchy - Littlefield Reign of Error.

At the same time, it's hard not to wonder what took them so long to address the bullpen, and it's difficult to be particularly excited about the position players who were added via free agency. But all in all, the Pirates are in a better place now than they were just three months ago, and that's a good thing.

But, onward from here. The team looks at least semi-interesting as we get ready for Bradenton

(Will Pellas is considering a new sackcloth suit...sort of)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

DJ Carrasco

Daniel J. "D. J." Carrasco is a 32 year-old (he'll be 33 in April) Safford, Arizona native, and is rejoining the Bucco organization after an eight-year hiatus.

Carrasco was drafted in the 26th round of the 1997 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, but never did pitch a minor league game for them. He signed late, missing the season, and was released before being assigned in 1998.

He played for the Cleveland Indians' short-season team in 1998, and they cut him loose in August. DJ ended up in the Pirates' farm system between 1999-2002, tossing for Williamsport, Hickory, Lynchburg, and Altoona. He had a 1.61 ERA for the Hillcats in 2002, but he was Rule 5 eligible and the Bucs didn't protect him.

So Carrasco spent all of the 2003 season with the Kansas City Royals as their Rule 5 pick, making 50 appearances, and was up and down with the team from 2004-2005. His first two seasons were spent almost exclusively in the pen; in 2005, he started twenty games. KC released him after the 2005 season.

He pitched briefly in Japan for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in 2006 and for the Arizona Diamondbacks' AAA Tucson Sidewinders in 2007. In 2008, Carrasco signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Chicago White Sox, and started the year at AAA Charlotte.

On July 9th, Carrasco was recalled by Chicago after posting a 2.38 ERA in seven appearances with the Knights. In those three months, DJ put up a 3.96 ERA in 31 outings in the show, used mostly as a bridge to the set-up crew.

He had a 3.76 ERA in 49 appearances as a long man (he made one spot start) in 2009, and his 93-1/3 innings led all American League relievers.

On December 12, 2009, Carrasco was non-tendered by the White Sox, making him a free agent. It was his first arbitration year; and though he was making the minimum ($440K), the Sox may have though a judge would give him more than they thought a long reliever was worth. Holy Neal Huntington!

A month later, Carrasco signed a minor league contract with the Pirates with an invitation to spring training. If he makes the team, he'll earn $950K in base pay with as much as $250K more available in appearance-based bonuses.

His major league line so far is 20-16 with a 4.45 ERA. None of his peripheries stand out - he doesn't miss many bats (5.5/K per 9 innings), he gives up 3.7 walks/9 innings, and his WHIP is 1.474.

But he is durable, making 80 appearances in the past two years while posting sub-4 ERAs, and his split is OK, with a 25 point spread. Carrasco's heat comes in at around 90, he has a bread-and-butter cutter that he uses about half the time, and shows a slider and curve. Plus he's under team control for two more years.

Carrasco can work a variety of bullpen roles, and has outperformed Jeff Karstens over the past two seasons. He's an upgrade over the long-to-middle arms the Pirates have had under the Huntington regime, and has a pretty good shot at sticking on the roster.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bixler To Tribe

The Pirates announced today that they have killed a couple of birds with one stone - they traded infielder Brian Bixler, who was being groomed into a potential super-utility player, to Cleveland for third baseman Jesus Brito.

So in one fell swoop, they cleared a roster spot for Brendan Donnelly, moved BB, who floundered like a fish out of water in Pittsburgh, and plowed the minor league road to make room for the upcoming batch of SS prospects.

Bixler, 27, was the Pirates' second-round selection in the 2004 draft, and was a slick-fielding and good-hitting prospect in the minors, but couldn't get his act together in the show. Heck, the Bucs used Luis Cruz instead of Bixler when Ronny Cedeno was hurt in September, and they cut Cruz a few weeks later.

He hit .178 in 166 at-bats as a Pirate in 2008-09, with 62 K's (37%), and worse, he committed eleven errors in fifty-five games for a .954 fielding average. BB was a career .282/.355/.403 hitter in the minors, though his strikeout rate was still an unacceptable 27% for a hitter that was used at the top of the order.

With Brian Friday moving up, Argenis Diaz already at Indy, and Chase D'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer advancing to Altoona, Bixler was the odd man out and was basically little more than a speed bump to the young guys organizationally.

Bixler did show decent range and speed, and the Indians are stockpiling middle infielders, so if he can get over his deer-caught-in-the-headlights Pittsburgh phase with the change of scenery, he could stick with the Tribe as a bench player. If not, he still has an option left for Cleveland to burn.

Bix is a Sandusky, Ohio native; maybe some home cooking will revive his career.

In return, the Bucs get 22 year-old Jesus Brito (he was born on Christmas; we suppose that explains the name), who split last year between the Arizona Rookie League, where he was an All Star, and the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers after spending three seasons in the Dominican Summer League.

The righty batter Brito hit .366 with 36 runs, 12 doubles, eight triples, three homers and 25 RBI for the Indians Arizona Rookie League club last year, and .333 with 16 runs, seven doubles, two triples and 18 RBI at Class A Mahoning Valley.

He was a base stealing threat for the DSL Indians, swiping 20 bases in 2008, but just 4-of-7 in the minors last year. Still, considering his past history and ten 2009 triples, we can assume he has pretty good wheels.

The 6'1", 160-pound stringbean has played all over the diamond, also logging time in left field and first base, defending none of the spots particularly well. Brito did experience a breakout offensive year in 2009, hitting .353/.431/.567 overall in the Tribe's lowest classifications.

Of course, how much of that is due to his age as opposed to finally figuring it out is the question. And he's shown precious little power for a guy that plays the corner positions, although he is said to be a hitter who meets the ball squarely. Who knows? Maybe a few super-sized Happy Meals will bulk up his swing.

Brito is a player with a little upside who was acquired for a modest price. He'll probably start out at Low A West Virginia, position unknown. But hey, it beats going the Matt Capps route with Bixler. At least the Bucs got a warm body back in the deal.

Brendan Donnelly

Brendan Kevin Donnelly (we think he might be Irish), the Buc's new reliever, has quite a colorful history. It's pretty safe to say that the fans can expect very few dull moments when he takes the hill. Hey, what would you expect from a Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the Fourth of July?

To start with, to paraphrase Johnny Cash, he's been everywhere, man. So far, if our count is right, Donnelly has pitched for two independent squads, eighteen minor league teams, and five MLB teams in eleven different big-league organizations. Heck, he was even Bucco property briefly in 1999, when he made a couple of completely forgettable appearances at Altoona.

Anyway, the New Mexico native began at Mesa State College, and in 1992, he was drafted in the 27th round by the Chicago White Sox.

He almost made his MLB debut in 1995, when he was briefly a replacement player in spring training during the strike. Not only did he not make the team, but he was barred from membership of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

After that, he bummed around the minors until 2002, spending a decade on the farm until he broke camp with Anaheim, where he would spend the next five campaigns.

Donnelly became a Halo fan favorite because of his intensity, his goggles, and mostly because of his effectiveness as the setup man for Troy Percival. He had a 2.17 ERA in 49-2/3 innings, and the Angels won the Series. Beat up in the AL playoffs, he came back to pitch 7-2/3 scoreless innings against the Giants in five outings during the Fall Classic.

In 2003, in the same role, Donnelly posted an 1.58 earned run average and was selected to the All-Star team. Not only did he pitch in the game, but nailed the win, too.

He suffered a broken nose during spring training in 2004, and missed a big hunk of the season. A batting practice flyball smacked him on the beak. Donnelly saw a minor injury; doctors saw a fracture in 20 places.

Donnelly pooh-poohed it, but it took three surgeries to correct. The nose actually burst during recovery, and it was touch and go for a few hours as the docs pumped blood out of his stomach.

But when he finally came back, Donnelly remained fairly effective for the American League West Champion Angels, who lost to Boston in the playoffs. He appeared in forty games, and struck out 56 batters in 42 innings with a 3.00 ERA. More ominously, 2004 is when he first felt a twinge in his elbow, which would ultimately lead to TJ surgery.

Donnelly also started a long-running feud with then-teammate Jose Guillen, who was benched by manager Mike Scoscia. Guillen thought he was being picked on; Donnelly thought Scoscia was right. Since then, there have been episodes of trash talk, beanballs, mound charges, and bench brawls when the pair match up.

He earned a mention in the 2007 Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball that year, too. Donnelly admitted asking a clubhouse guy about scoring some Anavar, an anabolic steroid, to speed his recovery. The attendant says he delivered it to him; Donnelly said he quickly discovered it was a banned substance and denied ever getting any of the juice. Nothing came of it, except as a part of the Senate transcript.

His last couple of years with the Angels saw his ERA numbers finish at a middling 3.72 and 3.94, and his strikeout rate dropped a bit. No longer though of as a premier set-up guy, Donnelly was dropped to middle relief and then was traded to Boston for Phil Seibel.

Still, he didn't leave the Angels without a last dust-up. He was bounced from a game in 2006 for having pine tar on his glove, leading to a verbal war of words between the National's skipper Frank Robinson and the Halo's Scoscia.

The righty did OK for the Beantown club, with a 3.05 ERA in 20 appearances, until on July 31st, 2007, it was announced that he would need Tommy John surgery. He became a free agent after the season.

On February 6th, 2008, the Cleveland Indians signed Donnelly to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. The Indians hoped he would provide bullpen help at the end of the season, but he didn't. It was probably too much, too soon, after undergoing the knife. In 15 late-year outings, his ERA was 8+, more than double his previous season high.

A free agent again, he signed with the Rangers, and they cut him during spring training. Donnelly hooked up with the Astro's AAA Round Rock club, where he put some nice numbers - 1.75 ERA and 23 K's in 24 innings - and signed with the Marlins in July.

In thirty outings, he posted a 1.78 ERA, reviving his career. The Fish protected his arm, using him for just 25+ innings, and his peripheries were back in his normal range - a strikeout per inning and 1.224 WHIP. But they didn't offer him arbitration, and for the third straight year, he was cut loose.

On January 16th, Donnelly agreed to a deal with the Pirates for a one year MLB deal worth $1.35M, with a total of $3M possible if he meets his bonus incentives according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette.

The Bucs get a veteran guy who's shown persistence, a nose-to-the-grindstone approach approach to the game, and enjoys working with younger pitchers. Donnelly isn't a hard thrower; his heater sits in the low 90's. When he first hit the show, Donnelly threw the fastball about 75% of the time; now it's down to 50%. He uses a slider early and often, and also has a changeup in his arsenal.

They're hoping that his performance with the Fish, matching his career norms, are what they get this season. Overall, the 38 year-old has a 3.02 ERA, with 8.9 K's, 3.3 walks, and 0.7 HR's allowed per nine innings with a 1.210 WHIP. Donnelly's lifetime splits are strong, too - .225 vs righties, .231 vs lefties.

If he can duplicate that, he's got a chance to return to his set-up days. But his signing isn't without some risk. After all, he's as old as the hills, has a zipper scar on his elbow, and has pitched only about 60 big-league innings in the past three years.

Still, it's a relatively low risk move, with a potential for a decent return, and gives the Bucs time to season Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan, their future hammers. And besides, anyone who charges out of the bullpen accompanied by AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" is OK in Green Weenie's book.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Bullpen Bucks

With most of the chickies in line for the 2010 bullpen (Octavio Dotel being the mystery man; is he that hard to sign or is his agent playing one offer off another?), we thought we'd take a look at what the 2009 pen, left intact with their 2010 pricetags, would have cost versus the new look pen:

Matt Capps ($3,500,000 + $425,000 bonuses)
John Grabow ($3,500,000)
Sean Burnett ($425,000)
Tyler Yates ($975,000)
Jesse Chavez ($425,000)
Craig Hansen ($825,000 - 2009; minor league deal - 2010)
Donnie Veal ($425,000)

Yates and Hanson were replaced by Meek and Jackson, so the 2010 bullpen payroll, at the going rate, would have been $9,550,000 with bonuses and no movement. (It would be $11,350,000 assuming Yates and Hansen were not replaced.)


Joel Hanrahan ($450,000)
Evan Meek ($425,000)
Javier Lopez ($775,000 + $550,000 bonuses)
Brendon Donnelly ($1,350,000 + $1,650,000 bonuses)
D.J. Carrasco ($950,000 + $250,000 bonuses)
Steve Jackson ($425,000)
Chris Jakubauskas ($425,000)

Other possibilities: Neal Cotts ($900,000), Jack Taschner ($835,000 + $465,00 bonuses); Wil Ledezma, Brian Bass, and Brian Burres (undisclosed minor league contracts); Anthony Claggett and Justin Thomas are minimum wage players. Yates and Hansen are also in the mix, but injured and won't be ready for the first part of the season, as is Cotts.

With Donnelly signed to a MLB deal, a guy has to come off the 40-man roster; the suits haven't announced the player yet. And if Carrasco sticks out of spring training, as expected, another will have to go. And if they sign Dotel...

Without Octavio Dotel, the 2010 bullpen's base salary is $4,800,000. If you add $3,000,000 for Dotel and $2,450,000 for met bonuses, it's $10,250,000.

More or less the same money for a better and deeper pen. Maybe Neal Huntington does know what he's doing - sometimes.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jeff Clement

Jeffrey B. Clement was born August 21, 1983 in Marshalltown, Iowa, and became a local legend in a hurry. As a twelve year old, Clement led the 1996 Marshalltown entry to a spot in the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

At Marshalltown High School, he broke the national high school home run record, formerly held by Drew Henson, with 75 dingers. Clement led his Bobcat team as a catcher/pitcher to the Iowa 4-A State Championship game in his senior year.

Clement was featured in the September 16, 2002, issue of Sports Illustrated as part of the "For the Love of the Game" article. Hey, "Field of Dreams" is set in Iowa, right? He fit right in.

He was drafted in the 12th round by the Minnesota Twins (362nd overall) in 2002. Too low, he thought, and so it was off to Southern Cal.

Clement started right away at SoCal, and also played on the U.S. National Team. In his freshman year, he was named Collegiate Baseball Freshman National Co-Player of the Year, Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year, earned Baseball America Freshman All-America first team, and Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American first team honors.

As a sophomore, Clement earned 2004 BA Preseason All-America first team and NCBWA Preseason All-America first team honors, as well as Collegiate Baseball Preseason All-America second team honors. He was also named as a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award.

In 2005, he won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher, earned 2005 Baseball America All-America First Team, USA Today Sports Weekly All-America first team and Collegiate Baseball All-America first team honors, as well as 2005 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-America third team honors, was a Finalist for the 2005 Golden Spikes Award, and named All-Pac-10 for the third straight year. Whew! Pretty good junior year, we'd say.

His Trojan line that season was .348/.469/.617 with a 1.086 OPS, 15 homers and 52 RBI in 230 at-bats.

Not too surprisingly, his draft status shot through the roof. Clement was the Seattle Mariners' first round draft pick (third overall) in the 2005 draft, inking a $3.4M deal in a class that included Justin Upton, Ryan Braun and Ryan Zimmerman.

The big lefty started out in A ball, and played 15 games in AA the next season before being promoted to AAA, and there he's stayed, with an occasional cup of coffee in the show (.237/.309/.393, 7 HR/26 RBI, 219 at-bats), ever since.

His 2006 season was cut short by knee surgery and by an operation to remove bone chips from his elbow.

Overall, he's compiled a .282/.370/.495 minor league line with 67 homers and 276 RBI in just over 400 games. Clement walked at about a 10% rate and whiffed at a 20% rate. And until the Bucs got him as part of the Jack Splat/Ian Snell booty, Clement was used almost exclusively behind the plate.

When the M's made a major commitment to 33 year-old Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima by signing him to a $16.5M, three-year contract in 2008, Clement's future in Seattle was pretty well sealed, especially with a young Adam Moore tailing him in the M's system. Knee surgery, always a red flag for backstops, derailed him at the end of 2008, so both hinges have been under the knife.

He was optioned to the Triple A Tacoma Rainiers late in spring training, and in late July caught a cross-country flight to Indy.

In a very small big-league sample, Clement strikes out too much, walks too little, and has a odd split - he hit lefties 75 points better than righties. And that's why no one bases anything on such sketchy data. His minor league plate discipline was much sharper, and his splits were much less spread.

He expanded his strike zone noticeably in the majors; hopefully, that was due to trying to show off his muscle rather than adjustment problems to MLB pitching.

The big question in Seattle was where to put him. The school of thought on the left coast was that Clement just wasn't going to pan out as a catcher, and had a 1B/DH future awaiting him. But oddly, the Seattle brass never played him anywhere but behind the dish except for a half-dozen games at first, though they did DH him quite a bit.

Pittsburgh, of course, doesn't have the DH option, so they're working him at first base. Clement, by most reports, isn't a train wreck there, showing a willingness to work and some athleticism, and he's been getting the Delwyn Young treatment in mini-camp, coming out early to learn the position.

The truth is that he's played 28 games at the position. The Pirates would love to get a big lefty bopper in the lineup, so they're giving him a long, hard look at first with the hopes that he'll come north with the team after spring camp.

Clement will be locked in a battle with Steve Pearce for the spot. He's just four months younger than Pearce, both have an option left and oodles of team control remaining on their clocks, so there's not much to pick from there. Clement crushes a ball; Pearce is a proven commodity at first.

Logically, the Pirates would probably be stronger in the short-term if Clement started at Indy and got some reps at first while platooning Pearce in Pittsburgh, who showed the ability to hit lefties.

And the Bucs might be better served to show off Pearce if they don't consider him part of the future, if they want to get anything in return when and if they decide to move him. Additionally, the right field/first base spot seems to be overflowing with left-handed hitters, though that could change quickly enough after camp.

But the middle of the order falls so much more nicely into place if Clement can produce at PNC, and there's always that pesky upside to consider, so it's going to be one of camp's more interesting match-ups.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Heatin' Up...

-- Unless they've not learned their Mad Capper lesson, the suits are gonna have deal Delwyn Young or Brandon Moss; both are out of options and Ryan Church (Fangraph's Jack Moore loves the deal) is making at least one of them redundant. Steve Pearce, Brian Bixler, and Neal Walker all have at least one option remaining.

The beat gang also says a couple more free agent signings are in the air, along with a possible trade. Change is Pittsburgh's only constant. Neal Huntington is at a GM meeting in Arizona now. We wonder what Zach Duke or Ryan Doumit are worth these days?

Our guess is the signing of Luke Carlin was to shore up the catching spot if someone meets Huntington's price for Doumit. The Bucs didn't suffer too badly with Jason Jaramillo and Robby Diaz splitting dish time last season.

-- The beat guys and gals are also reporting that a deal for Octavio Dotel is just around the bend, on the heels of agreeing to terms with long-man D.J. Carrasco for a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. It'll be worth $950K if he stays in the show and some bonus sugar if he pitches enough, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette.

-- Adam LaRoche overplayed his hand a bit, so it seems. After reportedly turning down a two year/$17.5M deal with the Giants, he ended up with the D-Backs, getting one year and between $4.5-5.5M, according to tweets and stuff collected by Major League Trade Rumor's Tim Dierkes.

-- Green Weenie may have to give up on sabermetrics. No, not because he's too old school to do the math, but because according to the Associated Press, someone wants to trademark the term, which has been in the public domain for 30 years. Lawyers and baseball, bah!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


OK, mini-camp has started, and except for visa problems *sigh* for Jose Tabata and Jose Ascanio, the gang's all in Florida.

For the Pirates, it's step one in determining a roster with which to bravely march into the future. There are two places where the traffic is especially congested, the outfield corners and the bullpen.

The crowd in the pasture consists of sure shots Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Garrett Jones, and Ryan Church. After that, aye carumba!

Will this be the end of the road for Brandon Moss or Delwyn Young? Can John Raynor transfer his center field skills into a roster position? Jonathan Van Every is in camp too, even though he seems to be penciled in as Indy insurance. The only oufielders absent are Moss and Church.

The outfield shakeout will be one top storyline to watch in March to see who wins the steel-cage match for the suddenly crowded field of fly boys. It'll be affected by a couple of questions - when will Tabata take his bow, and will Jones remain at least a platoon OFer or become a full-time first baseman?

The bullpen is another area that's drawn a cattle call. Roster players Anthony Claggett, Joel Hanrahan, Steven Jackson, Chris Jakubauskas, Javier Lopez, Evan Meek, and Ronald Uviedo are in Florida. Uviedo is the only guy that will start for sure on the farm, though Claggett is a long-shot.

Non-roster attendees are Jeff Karstens, Vinnie Chulk, Virgil Vasquez, Jeremy Powell, Jack Taschner, Justin Thomas and Brian Burres. No Dotel or Carrasco signings - yet.

Ascanio, Tyler Yates, Neal Cotts, and Craig Hansen are out with injuries; Wil Ledezma, Ramon Aguero, and Jean Machi all got byes because they were in winter ball.

This will be another storyline worth watching in the spring. Hanrahan, Meek, and Lopez are locks; four positions will be up for grabs.

Starters Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Daniel McCutchen, Hart, Brad Lincoln, and Donnie Veal are also throwing. Jimmy Barthmaier is there too, but hasn't recovered enough from his TJ surgery from last May to toss the pill yet.

There are some storylines here, too - when will Lincoln get the call? Will Hart start in the pen or rotation? Do the suits think they have enough depth to deal a Duke or Maholm?

Other position players that are taking advantage of some early work are Ramon Vazquez, Jeff Clement, Andy LaRoche and Steve Pearce along with catchers Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo and Erik Kratz.

The storyline here is what becomes of Clement and the guys who split time between Indy and Pittsburgh - Pearce, Brian Bixler, and Neal Walker?

So the prelude is finally being played. 2010 may not add a lot of wins to the Bucs' total, but it looks like a year in transition as the suits finally muck their way into putting together a roster for the future.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's Up Doc?

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette is reporting that the Bucs and Ryan Church have reached a deal, pending a physical. And rest assured the Pirate sawbones will poke and prod Church.

Church's 2009 list of maladies included a sore hamstring, hyper-extended elbow, and back spasms. The back issues are the main concern. He also suffered a minor concussion while running out a grounder in 2008 and catching a knee to the noggin.

The 31 year-old was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 14th round of the 2000 draft, from the University of Nevada at Reno. In January of 2004, he was traded by the Indians to the Montreal Expos.

He got into 30 games for the Expos in 2004, and stunk the joint out. But in 2005, he rallied after a slow start to get himself into the ROY race. That's when his first brush with the injury bug-a-boo occurred, ironically at PNC Park.

On June 22nd, 2005, he crashed into Pittsburgh's outfield wall. At the time, Church was batting .325 with a .544 slugging percentage. After the collision, he made two trips to the disabled list and faded in the second half of the season.

Still, he finished hitting .287 with with 9 homers and 42 RBI in just over 300 at-bats. Church started 2006 in AAA, but was called up quickly and in the past five years has put together a .272 lifetime average and played all three outfield positions.

Want some more Pittsburgh connections? On November 30th, 2007, Church was traded by the Washington Nats along with Brian Schneider to the New York Mets for Lastings Milledge.

On July 10th, 2009, he was traded to the Braves for Jeff Francoeur, and was DFA'ed by Atlanta on December 8th, 2009 to make room for the return of Rafael Soriano. The Braves non-tendered Church, whom we believe has one more arbitration year (he was a Super Two guy), making him a free agent and reconnecting him with the Pirates.

If he gets past the doc's exam later this week, he fills a definite need for the Bucs. Church is a left handed hitter, which means that Garrett Jones can go to first when a righty is on the hill (and that Brandon Moss' chances of making the team are growing dimmer; the Pirates will have more outfielders in camp than Carter has little pills!)

He hit .287/.357/.460 against righties over the past three seasons, making him a perfect platoon guy (he's played both off the bench and as a starter) and insurance policy for Jose Tabata.

Church is a pretty accomplished gloveman, too, having played center for Washington once upon a time, although he's surely penciled into a corner spot, likely right, in Pittsburgh.

The contract terms weren't announced. Church took in $2.8M last year, so it'll be interesting to see what the Bucs offered.

So if his back is up to snuff, it'll be time for the suits to reel in a couple of relievers and head to Florida.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hey, Big Spender

Ya know, ol' Green Weenie can't help but to look at the rest of the free-spending Central Division and wonder how the penny-pinching Pirates fit in.

The Central King-Kong is Chicago. The Cubs have $104M+ invested in just in eight players: Carlos Zambrano, Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, and Carlos Silva (they took on his bad contract in exchange for Milton Bradley's bad contract and $9M).

They haven't made any real moves except for signing Marlon Byrd for $3M and John Grabow for $3.5M.

Overall, their contracted obligation is $124,625,000 for eleven signed players; they have eight more guys entering arbitration. Estimated Payroll: $140M

Then there's St. Louis. They just signed Matt Holliday to a seven year, $120M contract. The holy trinity of Holliday, Albert Pujols, and Chris Carpenter will earn $47.5M this year.

The Cards have a $81,287,500 commitment to a dozen players this season and two arbitration-eligible players. Estimated Payroll: $100M

The Astros? They don't have the long green to bring in a big gun; heck, they have $48M tied up this year in just Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Roy Oswalt. Geez, it was all they could do ink Brandon Lyon to a three year, $15M contract.

So far, they owe $74,106,500 to twelve players in 2010, and have six guys entering arbitration. Estimated Payroll: $93M

Milwaukee's big signings were lefty Randy Wolf for three years, $29.75M, LaTroy Hawkins for two years and $7.5M, and resigning Trevor Hoffman for another $7.5M.

The Brew Crew has $62,987,500 payable to ten players under contract this season with three guys due arbitration. Estimated Payroll: $80M

Look at our Ohio rivals, the Cincy Reds. Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated just tweeted that they are on the verge of signing Cuban fastballer Aroldis Chapman for a guaranteed five year, $30M deal.

Hey, he's a 22 year-old lefty that hits 102 MPH; some people think he's the second coming of Randy Johnson. Stephen Strasburg, last year's numero uno, looks like a bargain at a mere $15M. We won't even bring up the peanuts involved in the Miguel Sano bidding war.

They have $63,879,167 committed to ten players in 2010; three of the remainder are due for arbitration. But they're a young team, and like the Bucs, feature a lot of players under team control. Estimated Payroll: $73.5M

Hey, Pittsburgh added $4M+ to its payroll when it dealt for Akinori Iwamura; of course, they made a big chunk of that up by releasing Matt Capps.

The Bucs have $20,525,000 due to eight players under contract; Zach Duke is due arbitration. Estimated Payroll: $34M

We don't really think any deep analysis is needed. The Buc payroll is less than half of the next lowest in the division. That's OK for now.

Here's the upcoming conundrum: all the players the Pirates have under control will sooner or later become eligible for arbitration and real contracts. They're in decent shape for the next couple of years, but then the young talent they've been hoarding will come due for major league salaries. That's when the salary gap will become unsustainable.

And that's when we'll find out if the Pirates can compete financially or will just continue their hamster-wheel existence of dealing players for prospects.

EDIT - Guys, sorry that I ended up with a modestly expanded version of Dejan Kovacevic's article from Sunday's Post Gazette. That's what I get for watching football all day instead of checking out the local sports before I post!

(Contract and payroll figures were taken from Cot's Contracts. The payrolls are based on 25-man rosters.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Bullpen Rebuild

Hey, should we be worried about the 2010 Pirate bullpen? After all, the suits, in many public statements, have made it fairly clear that they believe that it's an area that's a) can be addressed year-to-year by market means, and b) not a place to tie up money.

Unlike some of the other suit philosophies, Green Weenie thinks they're right on in this case.

They've lost Solly Torres, Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Sean Burnett, Jesse Chavez, and Matt Capps since Neal Huntington's arrival. Ramon Aguero and Ronald Uviedo are the only relievers on the 40-man roster who predate the current front office.

All the gonzo guys were from the back end of the pen, and three of them signed up with other teams for $3M/year or better contracts.

Now we'll admit some of the replacements have been less than stellar - Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Romulo Sanchez, Frankie Osario, Marino Salas...but the key is none of those guys were supposed to see the ball with the game on the line. They were cannon fodder, meant to eat innings when the starters faltered early.

A bullpen is as good as the arms it can trot out to close a game in the last two or three innings; that usually requires an investment in three, maybe four pitchers. Heck, you don't even need a lights-out closer. Having Mariana Rivera is nice, but there have been plenty of closer-by-committee pens, or closer switches during the year. Just look at Pittsburgh.

We went back to Teke's last season of 1984 to see who closed: they were John Candelaria, Don Robinson, Jim Gott, Bill Landrum, Stan Belinda, Alejando Pena, Rick White, Cecilio Guante, Dan Miceli, Francisco Cordova, Rick Loiselle, Mike Williams, Jose Mesa, Mike Gonzalez, Solly Torres, and the Mad Capper.

There were a couple of clunkers in there, but all in all, they finished games pretty well and affordably over the past twenty-five years. Mike Williams closed for four years to lead the pack; Capps was actually one of our longer-tenured ninth inning men.

Let's start with the basic building block, the closer. It appears that Joel Hanrahan is the default guy, with Evan Meek on tap if he reverts to Nat days. That's one place we'd like to see a veteran guy as an insurance policy.

Octavio Dotel would do just fine if the Bucs can ink him; we're not at all convinced that Kevin Gregg is an upgrade, and there's no need for a pricey closer for a team that's still building. Ramon Aguero will be at Altoona if the fat hits the fire.

Meek and Javier Lopez will be the set-up men; its possible that one of the Cub pitchers the Bucs got for John Grabow and Gorzo, Jose Ascanio or Kevin Hart, could become late-inning guys if they fizzle as starters.

Both Tyler Yates and Neal Cotts fit in here, but neither will be back from TJ surgery until the late summer at best. Ascanio and Chris Hansen aren't throwing yet, either; their recovery timeline is still up in the air.

For a bridge arm, Steve Jackson should have a leg up on the competition. Chris Jakubauskas, Wil Ledezma, and Justin Thomas are all looking to land a spot here, too. If the Pirates are hot on DJ Carrasco, this is his place in the puzzle; he's a mid-inning pitcher, not a back ender.

For the long man/sixth starter spot, Hart, maybe Daniel McCutchen if he doesn't land a starting role, Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres are all possibilities.

It's not unusual for a bullpen to be unsettled at this time of the year; both the Brewers and Cardinals were in the same boat last year, and showed you can build a viable relief corp from scratch.

Do we like this bullpen? Not yet. It's too young and thin at the back end. But add a veteran set-up guy and have someone rise to take Matt Capp's role, and it's OK. There are still dozens of arms on the market, and we think that a couple at least will sign on for a stint at Pirate City in March.

But we do agree with the basic premise that now's not the time to load up on $3M set-up guys. In a couple of years, when a win is worth something in the standings, that may change. But for now, it looks like the suits are on the right track for filling the pen.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Hey, Washington Heights in Manhattan is noted for many things, some cool and some that aren't all that savory. But it was home to one of baseball's hallowed fields, the Polo Grounds, where Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Tom Seaver once strutted their stuff.

The Heights was also the nest where a couple of pretty fair major league careers were hatched; those of Manny Ramirez and Rod Carew. The Pirates are hoping to add a third name to Washington Heights' MLB honor roll, Pedro Alvarez.

Alvarez, who will be 23 in February, was a high school phenom. In his senior year of 2005, he set records for his team, Horace Mann, an independent prep school, in home runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and RBIs. Alvarez was named the Louisville Slugger and Gatorade New York Athlete of the Year and was on LS's All-America squad.

He also took his summer club team, the Bayside Yankees, to a national title in 2005. The Red Sox drafted him in the fourteenth round after that season, as he was ranked as the 97th best pro prospect in the country by BA. The Sox offered him a bonus said to be $775K, but Alvarez opted to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt. Good move. It's not often the Pirates outbid the boys from Boston for a player.

He got off to a scorching start at Vandy and was picked as BA's National Freshman of the Year in 2006. Alvarez was then selected to the USA National team, leading the team in batting average. Baseball America ranked him as the 2nd best pro prospect on the squad. Sports Illustrated ranked him as the best pro prospect on the team and said that he was the "early favorite to be drafted first in 2008."

Before the 2007 campaign began Alvarez was named to the watchlist for the SEC and national player of the year awards and a pre-season All-America. Alvarez lived up to the hype, hitting .397 with 17 home runs, 65 RBI, 72 runs, an on-base percentage of .467, and a slugging percentage of .706 for the 51-11 Commodores.

Vanderbilt won its first ever SEC regular-season championship that year. During the SEC Tournament, Alvarez was named Tournament MVP. He was invited back to Team USA and led the team in homers, RBIs, batting average, hits, and slugging percentage.

He was first team All-America for three publications, and second-team on another pair before the 2008 season. Hey, even Dave Littlefield knew this kid could play, although we shudder to think who the Bucs would have picked if the new suits hadn't come aboard.

Alvarez kept raking as a junior, but he suffered a broken hamate bone, which sapped a lot of his power that season and took him out of the lineup for several weeks.

Maybe because of that (or the dreaded signability issue), Tampa Bay led off the 2008 draft by picking high school shortstop Tim Beckham, and the new Pirate front office earned huge cred among the long-suffering fans by taking Alvarez next.

Ah, but no one anticipated the upcoming drama. Scott Boras dragged the negotiations out to the midnight hour, when the Pirates announced they signed Alvarez to a $6M contract. After a few days of silence, Boras claimed that the ink dried two minutes late. The deal was no deal according to his calculations.

The whole affair was dumped in the league office's lap and went in front of a judge. But again, at the last minute, Alvarez and Boras relented and signed a new contract worth $6.35M. Why the brinkmanship?

As near as GW can figure, it was because Buster Posey got a $6.2M bonus in 2008, the highest ever before Steven Strasburg and Dustin Ackley bettered that number in 2009. So not only did Boras get the richest bonus up to that time, but he set the bar higher for the upcoming rooks. Devil or angel, he can sure work the system.

Of course, others rightly point out that the union filed the grievance, not the agent, and it was to uphold the contract, as the league had always allowed a little wiggle room for late signings and they didn't want to upset the apple cart. Apparently, both sides were leery of the ramifications of a binding decision, so they settled before a verdict was rendered. Machiavelli could be a GM today.

Anyway, 2008 was a lost year professionally for Alvarez, who bore the brunt of Boras' machinations. The Bucs front office didn't help by darkly muttering about his uncanny resemblance to the Sta-Puf Marshmallow Man. In fact, Alvarez didn't stay in shape because of a bout of tendinitis in his knees; he's in much better condition now that his knees have calmed down and he's on a structured program.

The draft flap was much ado about nothing. By all accounts, Pedro is a good kid, hard worker, and an academic whiz. Still, he bore the onus of being an ornery Boras client in the short term while losing what should have been his rookie season.

But everyone, from Neal Huntington to Scott Boras to Joe Fan knew that his public persona would eventually be linked to his performance. And hey, he's done a pretty good job of earning a little love lately.

After tearing it up in training camp, Alvarez was assigned to High A Lynchburg. He was productive, with 14 homers and 55 RBI in 243 at-bats, although he was hitting just .247. No problem; he was moved on to Altoona.

Alvarez hit .333/.419/.590 for the Curve with an OPS of 1.009, whacking 13 homers and driving home 40 in 222 at-bats. His overall maiden line was .288/.378/.535 with a .913 OPS, 32 doubles, 129 K's and 71 walks in 465 at-bats. And while he didn't exactly play third like Andy LaRoche, he wasn't Richie Hebner, either.

His arm is strong enough. He's a big guy (6'-2", 210-15 pounds), and his range isn't great. But Alvarez has an adequate mitt at the hot corner for now. Whether or not he moves to first, we think, will depend on how Andy LaRoche, Garrett Jones, and Jeff Clement play out by the time Pedro gets his call, likely this summer.

He's ticketed to start the year at Indy, and if all goes according to plan, it'll be Pedro time at PNC come June.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

#2 - Jose Tabata

José Tábata, born August 12, 1988, in Anzoategui, Venezuela, was inked by the New York Yankees in 2004 at the tender age of 16 for $550K. He was highly thought of from the get-go, considered to be one of those rare five-tool players almost unanimously by scouts. And by 2008, he had become the Yankees' Number 2 prospect, according to Baseball America.

At the age of 17 and in his first year of American pro ball (he spent his sixteen year-old season in the DSL), Tábata led the Yankees farm system in batting average, hitting .314/.382/.417 for the Gulf Coast Yankees in 2005.

In 2006, Tábata batted .298/.377/.420 for the Low A Charleston RiverDogs of the Sally League. He was selected as a member of the All-Star Futures Game as a member of the World Team. The game was part of the 2006 All-Star Game at PNC Park, and he played center field while going 1-for-3 with a single off fellow Yankees farmhand Phil Hughes.

He was hit on the right wrist later in the season, ending his year. The wrist would continue to bother him throughout 2007, and he finally had the hamate bone removed in August of that year. He was still having problems with it into early 2008.

In 2007, Tábata played for the High-A Tampa Yankees, where he hit .307/.371/.392, and was assigned to AA Trenton to begin 2008.

The Yankees started to wonder about his mental makeup after he was suspended twice that summer.

Tabata first lost three games for leaving a contest without the team's permission. A short while later, he either was yanked after he didn't back up Austin Jackson in the outfield, or got into a shoving match inside the dugout. Either way, it cost him more time.

Even before those incidents, some scouts claimed that Tabata coasted through many games, playing hard only as the spirit moved him. Copping a 'tude, especially in a tradition-laden organization like the Yankees, probably torpedoed any career plans he had to pull on the pinstripes.

On July 26, 2008, Tábata was part of the return, along with Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen, when Xavier Nady and Dámaso Marte went to the Big Apple.

He moved from AA Trenton to Altoona, and during the year his line was .277/.345/.388.

Tabata started 2009 with the Curve, and got a late call to Indy. He started off slowly, then missed nearly two months with a late April hamstring injury (he also missed time in 2008 with a pull). His combined line last year was .293/.357/.406. In five minor league seasons, he's compiled a .295/.364/.402 line.

Tabata finished the year in the Arizona Fall League, where he raked, hitting .392/.448/.517, and was added to the forty-man roster on November 11th.

His maturity level, questioned by the NYY, seemed just fine here. In March of 2009, Tábata's wife, Amalia Tábata Pereira, was arrested and charged with kidnapping a 2-month-old girl in Florida.

In what could have been a springboard to personal disaster, Tabata instead handled himself well, and had a problem-free 2009 season. A combination of being a little older, speaking and understanding English a bit better, and being out of the New York media splash have contributed to his maturity.

The guy some scouts compared to Manny Ramirez ain't quite there yet. The most noticeable difference is that Tabata has never hit more than eight home runs in any minor-league season, certainly an un-Manny stat.

Some people think he's a line-drive hitter whose swing is built to crank out doubles and top out as a 12-15 homer guy; others believe that his stronger base (he's put on 50 pounds since the Yankees found him in 2004; he's 5'-11" and 215 pounds now) and complete recovery from hamate surgery will make him a potential 30 HR guy.

His speed is good, but Tabata hasn’t stolen 20 or more bases since leaving the GCL in 2005. His speed has decreased a bit as his lower body has gotten heavier, and last year was his poorest showing on the basepaths, stealing just eleven bases in nineteen tries (58%).

Still, he runs well enough that he's played plenty of center field, although he projects to be a corner outfielder when he reaches the show. He's gotten time in right because of his plus arm, although PNC's left field would seem a natural spot for him.

Tabata turned 21 in August. His first three or four pro season saw him playing as one of the youngest guys at his level, and with little command of English to help him along.

He hits for average, has a good OBP, an above-average arm, above-average speed, and plays above-average defense. The power question is still up in the air, although we don't think he's going to end up a big bopper. All in all, maybe not five tools, but a plus player in almost every aspect of his game. He's close to winding his Major League clock.

Jose Tabata is scheduled to start the year in Indy. He could be up as soon as June, time enough to get his feet wet and still avoid Super Two arbitration status.

(Next - #1 Pedro Alvarez)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Three Million - The Line In The Sand

The Bucco bye-bye boys and what they’re worth today:

-- 1B Adam LaRoche supposedly turned down a 2-year/$13M $17M offer from Giants; San Fran and the O’s are said to be the only teams interested in him. He made $7.05M in 2009 with his last Pirate contract.

-- RF Xavier Nady signed a one-year/$6.65M with the Yankees for 2009, avoiding his last arbitration season, and then had TJ surgery. He’s a free agent this year.

-- RHP Matt Capps signed a $3.5M contract with Washington with $425K in bonuses.

-- LF Jason Bay inked a deal with the Mets for 4-years/$66M, including a vesting option for 2014 that could bring the total to $80M over five years. The contract contains a $17M option for 2014 that vests if Bay reaches 600 plate appearances in 2013 or 500 in both 2012 and 2013; both are easily attainable if he remains healthy.

-- RHP Jesse Chavez had a $402K contract in 2009. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2012.

-- LHP John Grabow became the first MLB free agent to reach a new deal when he signed a 2-year/$7.5M contract with the Chicago Cubs.

-- SS Jack Wilson signed with Seattle for 2-years/$10M and can earn $250K a year in performance bonuses. The M’s avoided the $8.4M option with a $600K buyout under Wilson’s old Bucco deal. He reportedly rejected a Pirate offer for two years and $8M.

-- The Giants swapped 2B Freddy Sanchez's $8.1M Pittsburgh option for a two-year/$12M deal. He supposedly turned down a 2-year/$10M offer by the Bucs.

-- RHP Ian Snell has a year and $4.25M remaining on his deal with $6.75M and $9.25M club options for 2011-12.

-- LHP Tom Gorzelanny is entering his first year of arbitration. He made $433K in 2009, and the Cubs have tendered him.
-- LHP Sean Burnett is arbitration-eligible this year, and the Nat’s tendered him a contract offer. Burney earned $408,500 in 2009.

-- LF Nyjer Morgan won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2012. He earned $411,500 in 2009.

-- CF Nate McLouth has $4.5M and $6.5M due to him from the Braves in the next two years, with a $10.65M club option ($1.25M buyout) for 2012.

-- LHP Damaso Marte signed a 3 year/$12M deal with the Yankees in 2009, after the Bronx Bombers turned down his $6M Pirate option.

-- RHP Salomon Torres made $3.333M in 2008 and retired in 2009, even though Milwaukee exercised his $3.75M option.

And this tells us what? Well, it sure draws the line in the sand – when you make $3M, you’re on the Bucco gonzo list, at least in this stage of the Pirates’ development.

So if we were Paul Maholm ($4.5M), Akinora Iwamura ($4.25M), Ryan Doumit ($3.55M) or Zach Duke (he made $2.2M in 2009 and is up for arbitration that's sure to net him more than $3M), we wouldn’t get real comfortable.

The first exception to the "trade down" rule was in Iwamura's case, when the team dealt Jesse Chavez, affordable and under team control until 2014, for a guy in his walk year with a real MLB contract.

We'll see about him; the Pirates say they'll try to resign him if he's a fit, but we suspect he's another July trade waiting to happen.

Still, it'd be nice to see a couple of players land here and plug a hole or two while the farm raises its crop. Maybe someone like, oh, Xavier long as he doesn't ask for $3M.

(Unless otherwise noted, the contract info was taken from Cot's Contracts.)