Friday, December 31, 2010


Aaron Thompson

The Pirates claimed LHP Aaron Thompson, 23, off waivers from the Nationals last week. To claim him, they had to DFA Wil Ledezma. That shows either how much the FO thought of Thompson or how little they thought of Ledezma.

Thompson was born in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and raised mostly in Beaumont, Texas, graduating from Houston's Second Baptist High in 2005. At Second Baptist, he went 8-3 with two saves and 0.84 earned run average in 14 games as a senior, with 133 strikeouts and 35 walks in 66 innings.

The book on him was that he'd be a tough sign in the draft because of a commitment to Texas A&M, but the Aggies fired their coaching staff, and so Thompson willingly entered the player pool.

He was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2005 draft, and got a $1.225M bonus. Lefties that strike out two batters per innings, even at the prep level, don't exactly grow on trees.

He jumped right into the Gulf Coast rookie league after signing. Thompson was 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in eight starts, but averaged 11-1/2 K's per game.

That got him promoted to Jamestown, the Fish short-season club, later in the season. Thompson went 1-2 in five starts and lowered his ERA to 3.10. His K rate dropped drastically, though, and would hover around seven per 9 innings from that time forward.

He moved up to Class A Greensboro in 2006, going 8-8 with a 3.63 ERA in 24 starts. Thompson was the Marlins' Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May, going 4-0 with 0.53 ERA in five starts (6 BB, 34 K in 33-2/3 IP). Thompson also was the Sally League's Player of the Week in mid-May, and was a member of the South Atlantic League All-Star Team.

At the end of 2006, Thompson was ranked as Florida's #6 prospect, according to Baseball Prospectus, which called him “a solid but unspectacular left-handed starter.”

In 2007, he took the next step and pitched for High Class A Jupiter, where Thompson logged a 4-6 record and 3.37 ERA. His walks, hits, and WHIP were all getting in line, too, and Thompson continued on his journey, going to Class AA Carolina.

But Thompson would struggle mightily there. He dealt with shoulder issues in 2008 that cost him two months of the season, and when he was healthy, opposing batters teed off on him. Thompson's record was 2-5 with a 5.26 ERA, and his peripherals were even worse - 12 hits, 4 walks and just 6 K's per nine, with a WHIP of 1.849.

In 2009, he regained his mojo. Thompson was 5-9 with a 4.11 ERA in A Jacksonville before being dealt to the Nats at the deadline for Nick Johnson. In the remaining month, he would go 0-3 with a 3.31 ERA in six starts for Washington's AA club, Harrisburg.

Thompson also had to get himself into a new pitching groove. While the Marlins stressed working the outside half of the plate, the Nationals wanted their guys to pitch inside.

He was assigned to Harrisburg again in 2010, where he went 4-13 with a 5.80 ERA. In 26 starts, he set several negative career marks: his BB/9 ratio of 5.40 walks/9 innings, HR's allowed (16), walks issued (53), runs allowed (88) and ERA (5.80). Not too surprisingly, the Nat's waived him, and the Bucs couldn't resist claiming him.

The million-dollar question is: has Thompson hit the wall at AA, as some evaluators believe, or was 2010 just a bad year as he tried to convert from the Marlin philosophy of working away to the Nat's system of pitching in?

There is some potential upside to Thompson. He's young with a four-pitch arsenal: a low-90s fastball that rises, a plus change-up, a good curve and a workable slider. He's unafraid to attack the strike zone.

Thompson also boasts a good pick-off move and is effective overall at holding runners. His home run rate is an excellent 1 every 14 innings of work. He's said to have the potential to become a #3 or 4 starter in the show as a finesse left-hander.

But he hasn't been able to pitch his way out of Class AA yet, showing no consistency at that level. His career strikeout rate of 6.9/nine innings is a marginal red flag. And he may be another case of a hot-shot high-school pitcher whose future projection was more optimistic than his talent.

Apparently the Pirates liked some of his peripheral numbers, at least enough to overcome the negatives, and plan to add him to Altoona's rotation. After all, a team never does have enough pitching, and being a lefty is an added bonus.

And hey, he'll fit right in, joining Joel Hanrahan and Scott Olsen. If you can't make it in DC, the Pirates are always ready to give you a another chance.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Garrett Atkins

Garrett Atkins, 31, signed a minor league deal with an invitation to camp with the Bucs last week. Three years ago that would have been huge news; now he's just another comeback kid trying to grab a spot on a MLB bench. If he makes the roster, he’ll earn $800K.

Out of baseball since the Orioles DFA'ed him on June 27th in 2010, Atkins batted just .214 with one homer and nine RBIs in 44 games for Baltimore. But Atkins had been all that at one time, and enjoyed his best years under Bucco skipper Clint Hurdle while playing in Colorado.

Atkins first made a name for himself at University High School in Irvine, California. He hit .557 with 13 home runs as a senior, and was recruited by Pepperdine, USC, Oklahoma State, Cal State-Fullerton and UCLA. He was even drafted out of prep school by the Mets in the tenth round of the 1997 draft, but decided to play for the Bruins instead.

At UCLA, Atkins became the first three-time All-America in school history. The first baseman kept some pretty fast company on campus, too - his roomie was teammate Chase Utley. From the time they stepped on campus, he and Utley started every game for UCLA.

On the field, Atkins put together a 33-game hitting streak and finished his career with a .369 batting average, 40 home runs, 56 doubles and 167 RBI. He honed his wooden bat skills, too. Atkins was the Cape Cod League Playoff MVP and on the All-Star West Squad MVP in 1999; the season before he hit .383.

So it was no surprise when the junior was drafted by the Rockies in the fifth round (137th overall) in 2000 and signed in June. Playing in Low Class A Portland, Atkins was named the 2000 Northwest League Co-MVP after batting .303 with seven homers.

During the 2001 pre-season, the Denver Post and TeamOne Baseball anointed him as the Rockies' top first base prospect (he would switch to third in 2002 thanks to a certain Mr. Todd Helton), as he advanced to High A Salem.

There, he finished second in the Carolina League in batting average (.325) in 2001, losing the title on the final day of the year. Atkins did lead the Carolina League in doubles with 43, on base percentage (.421) and in OBS with a .892 mark.

It was quite a season for Atkins. He had a 20-game hitting streak and was named the Carolina League Player of the Month in August when he hit .349. Atkins was the starting first baseman for the CL All-Star Game and homered.

He was named as the Colorado Rockies Minor League Player of the Month in April, and by season's end, he was the 2001 Colorado Rockies Minor League Player of the Year. After the season, Atkins was ranked as the Rockies' No. 3 prospect, and top position player.

In 2002, Atkins batted .271/12/61 for the Class AA Carolina Mudcats, and after the season, he batted .354 in the Arizona Fall League.

In 2003, he nearly broke camp with the Rox after batting .525 with a dozen RBI in spring training. It carried over, and Atkins hit .319/13/67 for the Class AAA Colorado Springs SkySox. He got an August call, but didn't do much with it, hitting .159 in 69 at-bats.

Atkins spent 2004 at Colorado Springs, where he hit .366 with 15 home runs and 94 RBI. He led all of minor league baseball in batting average, and the Pacific Coast League in doubles (43) and OBP (.434). The third baseman got his September cup of coffee with Colorado, and this time hit .357, though with only 28 at-bats.

Atkins started the 2005 season on the DL with a strained hamstring, but after a quick rehab stint at Colorado Springs, he took off. He batted .287/13/89; his RBI total led both the Rockies and all MLB rookies. Atkins was selected as the NL Rookie of the Month in June, finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, and earned a spot on the Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team.

At 26 years old and in his second full big league season, Atkins hit .329 with 29 homers, 120 RBI, and 117 runs in 2006, with a slash line of .329/.409/.556 and an OPS+ of 136. He was fourth in the NL in average and fifth in RBI. Atkins was the NL Player of the Week after the first week of the year and finished 15th in MVP voting.

He helped lead the Rockies to 14 wins in their last 15 regular season games in 2007, pushing them into the playoffs and World Series. During that stretch, Atkins batted .414.

Overall, he hit .301, with 25 homers and 111 RBIs from the fifth/sixth hole hitter, and .349 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI after the all-star break. But a couple of cracks were beginning to show. Atkins batted .349 at Coors Field, but hit only .254 in away games. He had 13 fewer doubles, and his K's jumped by 34%. But that was of little concern then; his monster 2006 season would be tough for anyone to replicate, and 2007 was a fine year with the stick for Atkins by mortal standards.

Atkins spent much of the season playing his original position, first base, in 2008 because of an injury to Helton. He hit .286/21/99, having another solid season. But his eye was beginning to wander. In 2006, he actually drew more walks than he had K's; in 2008, he walked just 40 times and whiffed 100. His OBP dropped nearly 40 points, and after four strong seasons, his run of offensive excellence was about to end.

During the off-season, Atkins inked a one-year $7M contract with the Rockies for 2009. But he struggled mightily, becoming a part-time player and putting up a line of .226/9/48. Ian Stewart and his 25 dingers made Atkins expendable, and he was non-tendered, becoming a free agent. In his seven seasons with the Rockies, Atkins hit .289 with a .354 OBP, 98 homers and 479 RBI in 773 games.

He signed with Baltimore in 2010 for a guaranteed $4.5M and expectations of being their full-time first baseman. But Atkins got only 140 at-bats and hit .214 with seven doubles, one homer and nine RBI before the O's gave up on him. He was DFA'ed in June and released in July. No one picked him up, even though his salary would be on Baltimore's dime.

Now Atkins will get another chance to play in the big leagues in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and his old boss Clint Hurdle.

Does he have a good shot at breaking camp with the Bucs in 2011? Well, perhaps Hurdle can help him regain some of his old thunder. And he might be in line for a break from the baseball gods; in the past two years, his BABIPs have been .246 and .266, way under the league average.

Could he become the next Pat Burrell and rediscover his mojo? Maybe, but his average, homers, doubles, OBP and ISO have all declined each and every year over the past five years, and that's not an easy trend to reverse.

Also working against him: he's considered a product of hitter-friendly Coors Field; his batting splits are fairly even, so platooning won't be much help; no one took a chance on him last year, even for minimum wage; he's a below average fielder at both 1B and 3B, and conditioning is not his strong suit.

Hey, even with all that, Atkins is worth the price; after all, he's going head-to-head with Steve Pearce, Josh Fields and Andy Marte, not Joey Votto and Albert Pujols. But we don't see him coming north with the Pirates this spring, although it would be a good story if he could.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bucco Bits

-- The Pirates' potential shopping list: here's FA starting pitchers who are still unsigned and would fit into Pittsburgh's rotation - Jeff Francis, Chris Young, Bruce Chen, Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer & Kevin Millwood. Some back end relievers remaining are Chad Durbin, Kevin Gregg, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, and Hiroyuki Kobayashi.

-- Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweets that the Bucs, along with half of major league baseball, have interest in Brian Fuentes.

-- Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors takes a look at the needs of the NL Central teams; his take on Pittsburgh is that they're short a starter, a veteran reliever, and need a taker for Ryan Doumit.

-- RJ Anderson of Fangraphs has the tale on new Bucco Garrett Atkins.

-- Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors has a piece on the "New Look Pirates". Well, new look bench, anyway.

-- Jen Langosch of has an article on the Top Five Pirate stories from the 2010 season.

-- John Dreker of the Pirates Prospects blog interviewed Pirates' prospect Evan Chambers on his first full professional season.

-- According to John Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, "...the Toronto Blue Jays have finalized a one-year, $3.5 million contract with reliever Octavio Dotel...The contract includes a $2.75 million salary in 2011, followed by a $3.75 million club option — with a $750,000 buyout — for 2012."

-- LHP Sean Burnett and the Washington Nats agreed on a two-year, $3.95M contract with a mutual option for 2013, avoiding arbitration. Burney went 1-7 with three saves and a 2.14 ERA in 73 appearances in 2010; he's 9-16 with four saves and a 3.80 ERA in four major league seasons.

His deal pays $1.4M next season and $2.3M in 2012. There is a $3.5M option for 2013 with a $250,000 buyout. The contract also includes potential bonuses up to $500K each season based on games finished.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Josh Rodriguez

The FO stated that upgrading shortstop was on their radar this off-season. Well, scratch that. JJ Hardy, Jason Bartlett and Brendan Ryan were all available, and all went to other teams. Orlando Cabrera leads the free agent crop, so we won't go there. All in all, this wasn't the season to go SS hunting; there wasn't much for the taking.

So they brought in Pedro Ciriaco last season, Corey Wimberly during the off-season, and used the Rule 5 draft to toss Josh Rodriguez into the mix. Brian Friday, Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer and company are on the way. And ya know what?

After Luis Rivas, Chris Gomez, Ramon Hernandez and Bobby Crosby, some young bench infielders look awfully good. And just maybe the Bucs will catch lightning in a bottle and find out one of them can challenge the up-and-down, focus-challenged Ronny Cedeno.

Will that player be Josh Rodriguez, the 26 year old (his b-day is 12/18) who the Pirates took from the Cleveland system in the Rule 5 draft? Probably not. But he does have a good chance at sticking on the roster; he's played the middle infield, third base, and the corner outfield and has a little pop to go with his versatility on the field.

The South Houston High grad spent his college days playing shortstop at Rice, where he was named the 2004 Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year after hitting .306.

2005 was even better; Rodriguez had a line of .345/11/54 and made All-America (American Baseball Coaches Association, third team); All-NCAA Regional (Baton Rouge), and All-Silver Glove squads. He also hit .326 with a wooden bat for the touring US National team.

Rodriguez was considered the top shortstop available in preseason draft rankings for the Class of 2006, but his stock took a dive when he suffered a serious elbow injury in the fall of 2005.

He was limited to DH'ing most of the year, and played a little hot corner toward the end to ease his elbow back into action. In fact, current Indy prospect Brian Friday took over the SS job after Rodriguez's injury, and rode it to becoming the Pirates' third round pick in 2007.

His bum wing didn't deter the Indians; Rodriguez hit .344/11/64. The Tribe made him a second-round pick and paid him a hefty $625K bonus. Neal Huntington was the special assistant to the general manager at Cleveland then, and so would have the full monty on Rodriguez's background.

They sent him to short season Mahoning Valley, where in 45 games he hit .268/4/24. He skipped a level in 2007, movin' on up to High Class A Kinston.

All Rodriguez did was lead the Carolina League in runs scored (84), rank second in total bases (227), triples (nine) and walks (68), third in home runs (20), fourth in RBI (82) and games (133) and fifth in extra-base hits (49). His line was .262/.351/.460, and he was named to the CL post-season All-Star Team.

Next, it was off to Class AA Akron, where he butted heads with reality. His first season there ended up with a disappointing line of .241/7/49, not what he or the Tribe was looking for but still good enough to take home Eastern League All-Star honors.

Rodriguez was limited to 33 games during the 2009 campaign because of a right hamstring strain. He would be destined to begin his third straight season at AA Akron, not exactly a good road map to Cleveland. But it would become his launching point.

He hit .297/13/57 with 60 runs scored in 107 games split between Akron and Class AAA Columbus while playing a key role in the Clippers' International League title. He hit .317 with Akron before finishing the year with Columbus, where he batted .293. It was the breakout season he was looking for.

The season didn't seem to impress Cleveland that much; he didn't rate so much as a September cup of joe. But the Indians' western affiliate in Pittsburgh did take notice, and made Rodriguez the top pick of the 2010 Rule 5 draft.

Rodriguez has a career minor league average of .266 with 87 doubles, 24 triples, 44 home runs and 224 RBI in 455 games. He's averaged roughly 13 home runs and 70 walks per 500 at-bats as a pro. Most impressively, he's compiled an OBP of .356.

Most scouts believe his bat will play in the show. He's not a fast guy nor does he hit for a high average, but he has gaps power, can hit the occasional long ball, and has a good eye and the discipline to get on base via the walk.

Defensively, the elbow problem from college didn't linger, and he's supposed to have a rifle. His range (Rodriguez has average or perhaps a bit below average speed) has been called into question, and reports about his ability to play SS are all over the board.

We'll take the middle ground. Rodriguez should be a perfectly acceptable major league defender at second and third, and can play SS or the corner OF if needed. That's pretty much the definition of a utility fielder, no?

He does come with question marks. There have been some reports regarding attitude problems, but none seem to relate to a specific incident that we could find. The issue seems more like a "it's time to change scenery" situation than anything of real concern.

There's also the question of whether he was a one-hit wonder last season. Rodriguez hasn't spent a full season in AAA yet, and hasn't faced a MLB pitcher when it counts. So that's an unknown, too.

It should be interesting when Rodriguez, Wimberly, and Ciriaco get it on in the spring. They may not be replacing Cedeno, but one of them should become 2011's Delwyn Young/Argenis Diaz rolled into one roster spot. And if one of them can replace that 2010 pair, then Clint Hurdle will have the extra bench flexibility that JR never had available.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Corey Wimberly

The Bucs just added another infielder/outfielder to the camp mix before Christmas when they traded for 27 year old Corey Wimberly from the Oakland A's. He joins Pedro Ciriaco and Rule 5 pick up Josh Rodriguez in the back-up middle infielder sweepstakes to be held in Florida a few weeks from now.

His calling card is his legs; the diminutive (he's listed at 5'8"; caveat emptor with that) Wimberly can flat-out fly, and is on the short list of the fleetest minor league burners. He's a product of Alcorn State, and the Pirates have some familiarity with Southwestern Athletic Conference. Pittsburgh took Marcus Davis from Alcorn in the 2007 draft and Calvin Anderson from Southern in the 2008 lottery.

Wimberly wasn't just good at Alcorn; he owned the SWAC. He hit .420/.508/.527 with 52 runs in 42 games as a freshman in 2004, and won the SWAC Newcomer of the Year Award. The infielder was named to the All-Conference Team at second base. He was ninth in NCAA Division I batting and tenth in swiping bases with 40 steals. As scary as it may seem, Wimberly got better the next season.

In 2005, his line was .462/.571/.606. Wimberly was on the All-SWAC team, named the conference's Outstanding Hitter and its Player of the Year. He led all NCAA D-1 players in average and OBP, and he stole 42 bases to finish fifth in the nation in that category. Wimberly was named to the Collegiate Baseball Magazine's All-America team as its second baseman.

That season, he was selected by Colorado Rockies in the sixth round (177th pick overall) of the 2005 draft. The infielder signed quickly for $145K and was assigned to Casper in the rookie Pioneer League.

In 67 games, he hit .381 with an OBP of .427. He began his career miscast by playing mainly at the power position of third base because Eric Young Jr. held down second base.

But Wimberly made the PL All-Star team at second base and was rated the #18 prospect in the league by Baseball America, right behind Mat Gamel. Of course, he was a 21 year old college player and fairly high draft pick, so a flying start was to be expected.

He skipped a level in 2006; his first full pro year of ball was spent at High A Modesto, where he hit .325 with a .404 on-base average and 50 steals in 87 games; he missed a couple of lengthy stretches with a pulled hammy.

Wimberly moved up to the AA Tulsa Drillers in 2007, hitting .268 with an OBP of .323 while leading the Texas League with 36 steals; Baseball America rated him the league's fastest runner. He again had hamstring woes, and it certainly wasn't the kind of season he needed to boost his stock.

He did restore a bit of his luster when he won an off-season batting title by hitting .407 in the Arizona Fall League, and he followed up with a .291 BA and .370 OBP to go along with 59 stolen sacks during his second year at Tulsa in 2008, even with groin problems. His last game was on August 7th, when he left with a nagging wrist injury that would eventually require hamate surgery after the season.

His run with the Rox was over after that. The surgery not only cost him a possible spot on the 40-man roster, but during the off season, Wimberly was traded from Colorado to the A's for Matt Murton.

Oakland, a team that lives and dies by data-driven projections, got a player in Wimberly with blazing speed and great on-base numbers, but who was injury-prone throughout his Colorado career. The 108 games he played at Tulsa in 2008 was his minor league high water mark after four years of pro ball.

2009 was no different. Wimberly was OK for the first 70 games at AA Midland, then he broke his thumb stealing a base. It cost him the remainder of the season; ring up another victim of the headfirst slide syndrome.

But he managed to keep himself in one piece for the 2010 season, getting into 135 games for AAA Sacramento. Wimberly hit .284 with a .373 OBP and 56 swiped sacks, his usual fare. In the field, he was a Chone Figgins clone. He played 89 games in center and left, 31 at SS, 17 at the hot corner, and eleven at his original position, second base.

His base stealing ability should actually step up a notch; one advantage of the Oakland years was that Wimberly got a couple of seasons to get in some work with Rickey Henderson.

Now it's the Pirates' turn to see if Corey Wimberly has what it takes to play in the show.

Wimberly is what he is at the dish, a Punch-and-Judy slap hitter; his lifetime OBP of .373 is higher than his slugging percentage of .363. But hey, he's a little guy with fast feet, so what would you expect? He's a switch-hitter, and his career stats aren't bad: a .302 average with 72 doubles, 17 triples, 10 home runs, 191 RBI, 412 runs scored and 259 stolen bases (76%) in 2,215 at-bats.

So if you need a long fly to get back into the game, fuggedaboutit. But if you're a run down and looking for a guy to lead off an inning with a walk (or pinch run) and steal second, he's your man.

Wimberly has good range to go with his speed, which allows him to be versatile. His hands aren't reputed to be the best, but he does help stretch a bench with his ability to play just about anywhere on the diamond. Over his minor league career, Wimberly has appeared in 253 games at 2B, 105 games at SS, 83 games at 3B, 59 games in CF, and 58 games in LF.

Wimberly will attend spring training as a non-roster invitee. And his enthusiasm at switching scenery is more than apparent. Heck, he announced the trade on Twitter before the teams did. He tweeted "all my hard work paid off someone wanted me now I'm with my new favorite team the Pirates."

He's an easy guy to root for, and been a fan favorite throughout his farm stops. He ends his pregame routine with backflips, wears old-school stirrups, and has been a team leader and role model everyplace he's been. Wimberly wears his enthusiasm for the game on his sleeve.

As for the Bucs, they see a guy with wheels that has all three options, with six years of control when and if he hits the show. He can cover the whole outfield, the middle infield, and offer a jolt of speed to the attack. He - or Ciriaco or Rodriguez, for that matter - has to be an upgrade over the usual Ramon Vazquez or Bobby Crosby veteran back up plan.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Josh Fields

Josh Fields, who just turned 28 less than two weeks ago, was a two-sport athlete at Oklahoma State University, playing both baseball and football.

He earned three letters as the Cowboy's QB, and the Ada, Oklahoma native was pretty good behind center. Fields owns the school mark for most TD passes with 55, went to two bowl games, and even set the Cotton Bowl record with 307 yards passing.

More importantly to this tale, though, is that he was a Big 12 All-Star at third base in 2003 and compiled a career BA of .364. Fields showed enough potential with the stick that he was the first round pick (18th overall) of the 2004 draft, taken by the Chicago White Sox.

Aggressively placed with High A Winston-Salem that year, he put up a line of .285/7/39 in 66 games. Entering the 2005 season, Fields was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the White Sox organization and the #95 pro prospect by Baseball America.

Now with AA Birmingham, he hit safely in 14 straight games and had a line of .252/16/79. It was good enough to keep his spot in the Sox minor league hierarchy although he did drop out of BA's Top 100 Prospects. But Fields would rectify that in a hurry.

Now one step away from the bigs at AAA Charlotte, he hit .305/19/70 and homered in four consecutive games in May. The ol' QB played in the All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park, and got a September call-up from Chicago.

Fields made his MLB debut at the plate on September 18th and drilled a pinch-hit home run off Detroit's Jamie Walker. He became the third player in White Sox history to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, joining Carlos Lee and Miguel Olivo.

The only real area of concern in his rapid rise through the minors was his whiffs; he struck out 352 times in 1,195 at-bats, a 29% rate. Even with that, Fields started 2007 season ranked as the number two farmhand of the White Sox and BA's #45 prospect.

He started the 2007 season with the Charlotte Knights, but was called up to the White Sox in June after a season-ending injury to Joe Crede. Fields got into 100 games and hit .244/23/67 in 373 at-bats. It got him a vote (3rd place) for ROY, but among the signs of promise were two worrisome Sabermetric snags - he struck out at a 34% rate, and had an OBP of just .308. Still, it was a nice rookie year for a corner player.

After that showing, it was thought that Fields would keep the third base job in 2008 and develop while in the majors. But the White Sox couldn't find a taker for Crede after he recovered, and he kept the hot corner job while Fields returned to AAA.

Fields struggled some with injuries in the minors, and in 75 games had a line of just .246/10/35. In late July, he was called up after Crede paid a visit to the 15-day DL, and did very little with the stick. His achy knee was scoped after his injury-plagued 2008 season.

In 2009, Crede signed with the Twins as a free agent and Fields opened season as starter at third. But his bat didn't come through - he hit .222/7/30 with a 32% strikeout rate - and he lost his job to Gordon Beckham in June. At the trade deadline, Fields was demoted to Charlotte to clear space for Mark Kotsay. There was some speculation that his knee wasn't 100%, and may have been a factor in his dismal season.

In 2010, Fields was traded to the KC Royals with Chris Getz for Mark Teahen. It was a good situation for him to get back into the swing of things; Alex Gordon and Alberto Callaspo were both hurt, leaving him an open road to the hot corner.

But he couldn't stay healthy, either. Fields missed nearly the entire season due to hip surgery. The snake-bitten third baseman had arthroscopic surgery to repair his labrum, the same procedure performed on Gordon and A-Rod the year before.

Fields made a brief appearance in September, and hit three homers in 49 at-bats, perhaps a omen that he was finally healthy and pain free. But KC didn't care to find out.

Mike Moustakas, their third baseman of the future, is on schedule to reach the show in 2011 or 2012, and the Royals non-tendered Fields rather than face arbitration, even though his base pay in 2010 was the league minimum.

The Pirates signed Fields to a split minor league deal for 2011 worth $750K if he makes the club and $350K if he doesn't, and invited him to spring training.

They got a guy that's had 796 at-bats in the bigs with a ho-hum line of .234/.303/.421. He strikes out 33% of the time. His BA isn't likely to improve dramatically; his batted ball average is .289, a bit low but close to the norm. His trouble is putting enough balls in play with that huge whiff rate.

Although he's played three positions - 3B primarily, with some 1B and OF - there's not one that he's earned a positive UZR rating for, not too surprising considering Fields is 6'1", 240 pounds and had gimpy wheels throughout his career.

But his ISO (Isolated Power rating) is an excellent .189 (it's about .145-.150 for corner players), and he homers on 18% of his fly balls, with the league average at about 11%. So Fields is a guy that can lose a baseball or two, something the Pirates sorely lack, especially from the right side.

The Pirates also have a great opportunity to max his strengths. His splits are tilted one-way against LHP, which he rakes (.293/.357/.600), so if Clint Hurdle can pick Fields' spots as a platoon or pinch-hit player, he could have a diamond in the rough.

And he may actually be at 100% physically for the first time since 2007.

The Pirates have invited Fields to camp where he'll fight it out with Steve Pearce and Andy Marte for a corner backup gig. It'll be interesting. All three have much better splits against lefties, a very good thing since the guys ahead of them, Lyle Overbay and Pedro, are lefties. All have different skill sets as fielders both in ability and positions, and that may play into the roster decision, too.

Again, it's another low risk/high reward scenario for the FO. If the stars line up right for Fields, not only do the Pirates have some right-handed thunder but a player under team control for awhile. Fields has three arb years remaining, and won't reach free agency until 2015.

So hey, let the cattle calls continue. There's got to be another Garrett Jones out there someplace.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Yes, Even On Christmas...

-- Dave Gershman of SPANdemonium has an interview with the newest Bucco, Corey Wimberly, a 27 year old burner that plays just about everywhere.

-- The Pirates are in the middle of the pack as far as free agent spending goes, according to the calculations of Major League Trade Rumor's Ben Nicholson-Smith. He figures the median amount spend so far this off-season is $19M per team; the Buccos have lightened their pockets by $17.75M.

-- Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reported that "in an offseason dedicated to finding creative solutions to their dearth of pitching, the Mets might already have signed free-agent rotation help: D.J. Carrasco, who may be used as a back-end starter."

Friday, December 24, 2010


Pellas on the Pirates: The Bottom Line

In an offseason that is shaping up as the best one since the current regime took over, there have been a lot of words written in various quarters about the Pirates and what they're doing. That in itself is rather refreshing, but there's already been a very definite difference of opinion that has emerged amongst the august assemblage of, umm, "experts".

In short, the argument is over whether GM Neal Huntington and to a lesser extent team President Frank Coonelley and even Owner Bob Nutting are in "save my job / please the fans" mode, or whether the moves made will legitimately make the team better when it takes the field at PNC in April.

I've read the arguments from both sides, and have decided I'll split the difference between them but lean in the direction of "the team is legitimately improved".

I agree with some that the Pirates were probably (if not definitely) pressured by the MLBPA to spend more money on their major league roster salaries. To be honest, I could care less who or what pressured them, as long as they actually do it, and provided that the players on whom they spend the money are actual upgrades - even modest upgrades - over the players they replace.

That criterion seems to me to have been met this offseason. Which is to say that while Lyle Overbay, Kevin Correia, and Matt Diaz aren't going to lead us to the promised land, we already knew that and that's not the point here.

The point is that a "major league" organization - quote, unquote, har-dee-har-har - quite simply on principle alone would never let its on field product plunge to the depths of the all time worst (as this regime has done by any measure almost since it took control) if it had any other option. To do otherwise, as this bunch has done, is to demonstrate that you are not a, well, "major league" operation.

This offseason, one in which not great, but definitely noticeable improvement has probably been achieved by acquiring a handful of moderately priced productive veterans, proves beyond all doubt that this team definitely had other options besides sending John Russell as a lamb to the slaughter and otherwise all but ignoring the team on the field right now at PNC.

Which is to say, it was never true to begin with that the Pirates had no other choice but to put one of the all time worst teams in big league history on the field over the past 3 years because, well, you see, all those free agents are just too expensive. Absolutely not true. The team simply chose not to spend even the relatively modest dollars it took to bring players like Overbay, Correia, and Diaz to Pittsburgh before this winter.

But really, whether the current offseason has all come to pass because "Opie" is trying to save his job or because "Bobby" is bowing to fan outrage or because the MLBPA or even the Commissioner (such as he is) is leaning on "Frankie", or---most likely---all of the above, I don't care. I'm just glad it finally happened. Ya know why?

Because I want to see a team that is just mildly interesting, competent, and entertaining while we wait for the supposed "real" team---the one now mostly in the minors---to arrive. I don't believe now, nor have I ever believed, that such an expectation is unreasonable or impossible or unachievable, even in the bottomless well of insanity that is the economics of major league baseball.

I'm not asking for a World Series winner from the roster we see at present. Just a team that has a legitimate chance to beat any other team on any given day while we wait for the harvest to come in down on the farm.

Maybe the Pirates won't win more than they will lose for the time being, but I'm okay with that given the Marlins-Rays model this front office has chosen to implement. Or rather, I'm okay with that as long as we have a team something like the one we figure to have in 2011.

So, the bottom line for me is the bottom line: this team as presently constructed has a chance to win 70-plus games and to win some meaningful contests against the upper echelon of MLB while also providing the added intrigue that will be added later in the year by our next wave of kids from the minors. I can live with that.

I'm still not thrilled, but I'm willing to wait on the kids as long as the here and now product isn't criminally incompetent - which is what it has definitely been up til now.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Busy Bucs

-- The Pirates signed 1B/3B Garrett Atkins, who played for Clint Hurdle at Colorado, to a minor league contract. The 31 year old has had consecutive sad seasons, with lines of .214/1/9 for Baltimore in 2010 and .226/9/48 for the Rox in 2009.

He joins Andy Marte and Josh Fields as corner bench candidates. Steve Pearce looks like he's going to have his hands full trying to avoid another year at Indy.

-- The Pirates claimed LHP Aaron Thompson off waivers from the Washington Nationals and DFA'ed LHP Wil Ledezma to make room for Thompson on the 40-man roster. The 23-year-old Thompson was the Florida Marlins first-round selection (22nd player chosen overall) in the 2005 draft.

Ledezma, who will turn 30 in January, can opt for free agency if he clears waivers, but since he has already inked a $700K major league contract for 2011, he may want to remain a Pirate and report to Indy rather than try out the free-agent market.

-- The Pirates acquired Corey Wimberly from the A's, tweets's Jenifer Langosch. The A's acquire 23 year old RHP Ryan Kelly in the deal, counter-tweets's Jane Lee.

The 27-year-old Wimberly posted a .284/.373/.354 line with 56 steals while playing at at short, second, third, left and center. Seems like they're loading up on middle infielders, too.

Kelly is a reliever for West Virginia who was 3-2-6 with a 4.30 ERA & struck out 75 batters in 75 innings last season in low Class A.

Lyle Overbay

Well, so far the shiniest Christmas gift Santa has stuck in the Buccos' stocking is first baseman Lyle Overbay.

He's a Centralia, Washington native, a month away from turning 34. Overbay started his pro career when he was drafted from the University of Nevada at Reno by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round of the 1999 draft.

The minors didn't prove to be much of a challenge; Overbay was playing AA ball by 2000 and was a full-time big leaguer by 2004. His minor league career line was .341/.411/.531 with 161 doubles, 63 dingers and 427 RBI in 2,000 farm at-bats.

Overbay was the D-Back's minor league player of the year and got a cup of coffee with Arizona in 2001-02. Overbay's first long sip was an 86 game audition in 2003 (he made the team, was sent down in June and recalled in September) when he hit .276/4/28.

In December, he was traded with Chris Capuano, Craig Counsell, Chad Moeller, Jorge de la Rosa and Junior Spivey to the Milwaukee Brewers for Richie Sexson, Shane Nance and Noochie Varner.

The big lefty did pretty well with the Brew Crew, too. In two seasons, he hit .289/35/159 with 87 doubles. He did well enough to catch the eye of the Blue Jays, looking for a first sacker. They got him and Ty Taubenheim from the Brewers in exchange for David Bush, Gabe Gross and Zach Jackson.

In 2006, he had a career season with a line of .312/22/92. Overbay was named AL Player of the Week after hitting .423 and hitting 4 HR from June 26th to July 2nd. His reward was a new four-year contract worth $24M, buying out his final two arb years and his first two years of free agency.

The glow didn't last long. He was whacked with a pitch in June, breaking three bones his hand and landing Overbay on the DL. He didn't return until after the All-Star break, and hit just .240/10/44 in 122 games.

Overbay rallied some in 2008, hitting .270/15/69 in 158 games. He also set a team record by reaching base in his 12th consecutive plate appearance by walking on a full count. Overbay is also became one of only 14 players to hit into an unassisted triple play that year.

He had a very similar season in 2009, with a line of .265/16/64, and earned another Player of the Week award in June. His .243/20/67 stats in 2010 came at the end of his Toronto contract, and also ended his Blue Jay career. He was mentioned in trade speculation from the off-season forward, and ironically one of the strongest rumors was a purported Overbay-for-Chris Snyder deal.

Becoming a free agent for the first time wasn't exactly discovering a pot of gold for Overbay, as the Bucs signed him to a one-year, $5M deal. He made nearly $7M in 2010, but this contract it gives him a year to either rebuild his value or show his age.

Similar batters to Overbay, according to Baseball Reference, are Kevin Young, Donn Clendennon, and Adam LaRoche, a pack of steady but not difference-making first basemen with dependable bats and gloves. His average 162-game line is .274/17/75, which the Pirates would be thrilled to get from him.

His acquisition upgrades the defense significantly without impacting the offense. Overbay is a better first baseman than Jones, and Jones is a better outfielder than Ryan Doumit. Overbay wasn't brought in to replace Garrett Jones but to complement him; in reality, he's Doumit's replacement.

He's an OK bat, with more gap power than long ball muscle, although the FO is hoping that the short fence at PNC adds to his HR total in 2011. The biggest knock on him is that he's a DP candidate, but he averages 15 GIDP per season compared to Dewey's 16, so that's a wash.

In fact, his 162-game average line of .274/17/75 with 554 at-bats is a twin to Doumit's line of .268/18/72 in 531 at-bats. They've even hit lefties at the same rate during their careers, with Overbay holding a slight .259 to .256 BA advantage over Dewey.

And it's not just a matter of same bat, better glove. One key may be that the most games that Doumit has played in a season is 124, and he's topped 400 AB just twice, while in the past seven years, the fewest games that Overbay has played has been 122 (he's topped 150 five times) and batted 500 times+ for five of those seasons, never getting fewer than 423 at-bats.

The Pirates are getting an upgrade defensively and some added durability. Overbay is also somewhat of a fan fav, with "O" signs greeting his Brewer and Blue Jay at-bats. Heck, Milwaukee even had a bobblehead night for him. His signing isn't a season-changing dynamic, but it does get them one step closer to respectability.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday Widgets

-- Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reports a rumor we passed on a bit back and still has some legs: The Bucs are interested in bringing back Octavio Dotel as a closer, along with Toronto and Tampa Bay.

-- The Bucs have invited a dozen non-roster players to camp so far: Dusty Brown, Jeff Clement, Josh Fields, Sean Gallagher, Andy Marte, Fernando Nieve, Rudy Owens, Justin Thomas, Cesar Valdez, Donnie Veal, Justin Wilson, and Tyler Yates.

-- OK, the Bucs finally cleared up the 40-man roster mess by DFA'ing RHP Joe Martinez, who came with John Bowker from the Giants. He may get through waivers. Martinez pitches ala Jeff Karstens and most teams already have a couple of those guys on hand. We assume the delay in making the move was because someone they signed got into the MLB pipeline late.

Minor's Musical Chairs

The Pirates kept one minor league manager in place for 2011; that's Tom Prince, who will remain in charge of the GCL rookie team. His coaches will be Miguel Bonilla, Mike Lum & Woody Huyke. The other teams and their coaching staffs:

Indianapolis Indians (AAA): Manager: Dean Treanor, coaches Jeff Branson & Tom Filer. Treanor took Ray Searage's place as pitching coach in 2010, and Filer, the new pitching coach, was at Altoona last year. Old skipper Frank Kremblas is now the Pirates' minor-league field coordinator, whatever that is.

Altoona Curve (AA): Manager: P.J. Forbes, coaches Brandon Moore & Wally Whitehurst. Forbes managed Bradenton to a division title last season. The former boss was Matt Walbeck, who managed to win a championship and get fired at the same time last year.

Bradenton Marauders (High A): Manager: Carlos Garcia, coaches Ryan Long & Mike Steele. Garcia coached for JR in 2010, but wasn't held over by Clint Hurdle.

West Virginia Power (Low A): Manager: Gary Robinson, coaches Dave Howard & Jeff Johnson. Robinson was the skipper for State College last season. Former Power manager Gary Green will become the Bucs' minor league infield coordinator

State College Spikes (Short Season A): Manager: Dave Turgeon, coaches Edgar Varela & Justin Meccage. Turgeon was the associate manager and pitching coach at Arkansas State for the past thirteen years.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Tidbits

-- The Pirates resigned RHP Tyler Yates according to a tweet from Baseball America's Matt Eddy. One of Neal Huntington's first pick-ups in 2008, he hasn't pitched since undergoing his second TJ surgery in mid-2009.

-- Tim Dierkes of Major League Trade Rumors noted that Argenis Diaz, the good hands SS recently released by the Bucs, has signed a minor league deal with the Tigers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Monday Shuffle

-- We're still waiting on the Pirates to trim their roster to 40 players; they've been carrying 41 since Friday's signing of Kevin Correia. We thought that MLB was a little stricter about their rules, but hey...

-- The Pirates signed Josh Fields, 28, to a minor league deal. He was a first-round pick (18th overall) of the White Sox in 2004. Looks like with Andy Marte's signing and the long audition of Andy LaRoche that Pittsburgh is becoming the elephant's graveyard for third base hot shots.

He's also played a little first and corner outfield and is another guy who will compete with Marte and Steve Pearce for a RH bench spot. In parts of five seasons, Fields has hit .234/34/107 in 796 at-bats with 235 Ks.

-- John Perrotto and Rob Biertempfel tweet that the Pirates might be in on Carl Pavano. Interesting choice for a veteran anchor, as he's almost 35 and is said to be looking for a three year deal. Maybe the FO is hoping to buy some time for the young guns - or maybe they're set on finding a new home for Paul Maholm.

-- Chan Ho Park won't be back, and he's not going to Korea, either. He decided to cast his lot with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japanese League in 2011. He had a nice career in the show, pitching for seven teams over 17 years and going 124-98 with a 4.36 ERA.

-- Brian Bixler signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nats. BB has a .178 lifetime average and spent 2010 playing AAA ball for three teams.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jeff Francis News

Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post says that Jeff Francis' decision of whom to sign with should be made shortly. He could enlist for another go-around with the Rockies or accept an offer from his known suitors, the Pirates, Mets or Nats.

Brew Crew Playing Some Hardball

From Tim Dierkes of Major League Trade Rumors this morning:

"The Brewers acquired ace righty Zack Greinke from the Royals, confirms ESPN's Buster Olney. Milwaukee will reportedly send shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, and pitching prospects Jeremy Jeffress (who may be replaced by a PTBNL) and Jake Odorizzi to the Royals for Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, and $2MM."

"The move represents the second major pitching acquisition of the winter for the Brewers, who previously traded top prospect Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum. The Brewers had long indicated a desire to shore up a starting rotation whose 4.65 ERA ranked near the bottom of the National League in 2010. Moving a handful of young players in the two trades, while hanging on to Prince Fielder, suggests that the club feels they can immediately contend in the NL Central."

Now the Brewer rotation consists of Grienke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson with Chris Capuano in reserve. Kinda puts the Kevin Correia - Scott Olsen deals in perspective, hey?

It didn't come cheap. Greinke has two years left on his contract at $13.5M per season before he becomes a free agent in 2013. Marcum is under team control for two more years also, hitting free agency in 2013. He's in his second arb year and made $850K in 2010. The Brewers are talking to him about a contract extension.

Fangraphs Marc Hulet takes a look at the guys Milwaukee sent to the Royals, and his take is that it represents quantity over quality.

"There are no can’t miss prospects and no blue-chip, young stars. You have a raw, potential No. 2 or 3 starter, an eighth- or ninth-inning reliever, a slick-fielding, light-hitting infielder, and a speedy centerfielder with contact issues."

It's actually a package the Pirates probably could have matched except for the middle infielder, which was on top of KC's trading wish list. Of course, it doesn't make much sense to get a pitcher who will become an unaffordable free agent just about the time when the pieces for your team are hopefully falling in place.

We wonder if we'll be shufflin' along this mortal coil long enough to see the Pirates swing a deal like this.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Hit Man

Hey, it's nice quiet weekend while we await the Buccos efforts to trade someone by Monday morning to open a spot on the 40-man for Kevin Correia. So we figured hey, it's been awhile since we ran a bio of an old timey Bucco, like Mike "The Hit Man" Easler. So...

Mike Easler was born on Wednesday, November 29, 1950, in Cleveland, Ohio; he turned 60 last month. He spent six of his fourteen major league seasons in Pittsburgh between 1977-82.

And it was a challenging task to reach the show. Easler spent ten seasons in the minor leagues with five organizations and his winters playing in Latin America to earn his daily bread before becoming a full-time major-leaguer at the age of 28.

He was drafted out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 14th round of the 1969 draft. His bonus was a $500 tuition payment at Cleveland State University.

Assigned to the rookie league Covington Astros, Easler hit .319, but fielded just .897 as an OF-3B. He spent the next two seasons with the Class A Cocoa Astros. The Hit Man had a very so-so 1970, but found his stroke in 1971, hitting .293/11/68 and earning a spot on the Florida State League All-Star team.

It was a really good year: he married his wife Brenda, the sister of Cliff Johnson, in 1971. Not only was she his mate, but during Easler's minor league years, she threw BP to him (he was quoted as saying that "she never had much of a breaking ball." He's lucky he didn't get a high hard one in the ear for that crack!)

In 1972, he was sent to the AA Columbus Astros and batted .269. 1973 was much stronger; he hit .310 in Columbus and moved up one more step to the AAA Denver Bears, where he hit .284.

It earned then 22 year old Easler a September call-up to Houston. A full-time gig in the bigs was just around the corner, it seemed.

Well, maybe not. But his power jumped dramatically in AAA. Astro coach Bob Lillis helped Easler develop his stroke. He batted .283/19/63 at Denver, and collected his first big league hit as a late season call-up.

He made the roster in 1975, but was quickly 0 for 5 for Houston as a pinch hitter and 1 for 27 in his short career. He asked to be sent back to the minors to play regularly, and it was off to AAA ball again.

Easler was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in June for a PTBNL, RHP Mike Barlow. Between the two organizations' AAA clubs, he hit .313/15/69 and was named to the American Association's All-Star team.

In 1976, the 25-year-old OF played for the Cards' AAA Tulsa club. Easler hit a scorching .352/26/77, leading the AA in average and OBP while second in slugging percentage. He even topped all AA outfielders with 16 assists, and came in second for the league MVP, losing to Roger Freed. But that didn't seem to impress St. Louis very much; he didn't even get a September cup of coffee.

In early September, St. Louis dealt Easler away to the California Angels for another PTBNL, career minor-leaguer Ron Farkas. Easler hit .241 in 21 games for the Halos.

On April 4, 1977, California dealt Easler to the Pirates for minor league RHP Randy Sealy. Easler reported to AAA Columbus and again drilled the ball, hitting .302/18/75. He had 8 hits in 18 at-bats in September with the big club, but was sold to the Boston Red Sox during the off-season. They traded him back to Pittsburgh in March for farm hands George Hill and Martin Rivas, plus cash.

Easler had another yeoman's season in 1978 for the Clippers, batting .330/18/84. He didn't get a call up, caught in a numbers game among Al Oliver, Dave Parker and Omar Moreno in the Pittsburgh outfield. But Easler was picked to the International League All-Star team, and his days as a major leaguer were fast approaching.

The 28 year old was making $22K, and he made the team when the Bucs released pinch-runner Matt Alexander and kept him. He batted only 54 times for the "We Are Family" Bucs in 1979, but was effective, putting up a .278/2/11 line, and stuck for the season as a bench stick. Easler was on the post-season roster, too, batting three times and drawing a walk, the only playoff action he would see in his career. It was enough for a ring.

Easler became a semi-regular for the 1980 Pirates, platooning with Lee Lacy. He had a line of .338/.396/.583 with 21 homers and 74 RBI in 445 at-bats. He also hit for the cycle in June and put together a sixteen game hitting streak.

In 1981, he hit .286/7/42 in 349 at-bats, and somehow earned a spot on the only All-Star team he made during his career. Easler was solid the next two seasons, hitting .276/15/58 and .307/10/54.

But his value as a Chuck Tanner player was limited. He was used in a platoon role with Lacy and Bill Robinson or as a pinch hitter, and the slow-footed and iron-gloved Easler was often removed late in games for a defensive sub.

So it was a no-brainer when Easler was traded to Boston for LHP John Tudor, a deal that was considered a steal at the time. And it would have been, except after a year as a Bucco, the lefty was dealt to St. Louis for George Hendricks. *sigh*

But the Hitman could hit. Easler had the highest slugging average (.472) and second best batting average (.301), behind only his platoon mate Lee Lacy's .304, of any Pirate of the eighties with 1,000+ at-bats.

Boston and Easler was a match made in heaven in 1984. He became a DH, and hit .313/.376/.516 for a 140 OPS+ and had a 20 game hitting streak. Easler was top ten in the AL in average (.313), slugging (.512), OPS (.819), hits (188) and total bases (310), not to mention mashing a career-high 27 homers.

For the 1985 Red Sox, he hit .262; that follow-up got him shipped to the Evil Empire for Don Baylor. Easler hit .302 for the 1986 Yankees but was traded that winter with Tom Barrett to the Phillies for Charles Hudson and Jeff Knox.

Easler hit .282/.316/.345 for the Phillies but his power was going, going, gone at age 36. He was returned to the Yanks for prospects Keith Hughes and Shane Turner, and hit .281 in NY. It was his last hurrah.

Overall in the majors, Easler hit .293/.345/.454 with 118 HR's and 522 RBI in 3,677 at-bats during parts of fourteen seasons.

Easler signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters partway through that 1988 season and returned in 1989. He came back to the states to play in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association.

He managed the independent league Miami Miracle in 1990. He was the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1992. His hitters had the second best average in the league, but he felt that other coaches were giving them contradictory advice on hitting.

So it was on to the Boston Red Sox for 1993, where he bonded with Mo Vaughan, who called Easler "the doctor." But when he refused to work with replacement players during the 1994 strike, the Boston FO canned Easler.

He was manager of the Nashua Pride in the independent Atlantic League in 1998 and 1999 and returned to the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000, but Mitchell Page replaced him as the hitting coach on July 14, 2001.

Easler declined a job as a roving instructor and filed a suit against the team (he was to swap spots with Page, the minor-league hitting instructor, after missing a nine-game stretch because of health issues), but later retracted it.

In 2002, Easler was elected to the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.

He was the hitting coach for the Jacksonville Suns in 2006 and the Las Vegas 51s in 2007, both in the Dodgers’ minor league system. The Hitman knew his stuff; at Vegas, he worked with Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andy LaRoche, Tony Abreu, Delwyn Young and Chin-lung Hu.

In January of 2008, he stepped in to become the hitting coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers, replacing Don Mattingly, who resigned for family-related reasons (he ended up getting divorce).

Easler was dumped the next year when Mattingly returned sans wife, returning to his former role as a minor league hitting instructor for the remainder of the season. Then it got ugly.

After the season, the Dodgers offered him a position as the Class A hitting coach. He declined the demotion and asked for a scouting position. The Dodger FO said there weren't any to offer. Easler filed a grievance, and we assume there it still lies.

But The Hitman is still coaching, even if it's not Dodger prospects. He co-authored a book with Brandon Smith called "Conditioned to Hit: How to Become a Dangerous Hitter." Easler operates a "Lock and Loaded" hitters camp; his website even offers Hitman gear.

So the story of the Hitman continues.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Flashes

-- M. Spiciarich of The Sports Banter thinks that Garrett Jones and Lyle Overbay are the same player, and has some stats to bolster his point. The general tone of his post is captured by its head "Piling On the Pirates."

-- Jen Langosch of writes that Garrett Jones accepts his platoon role, but is going to spend the off-season shortening his swing so he can handle LHP better.

-- Matthew Leach of looks at the 2011 NL Central race, and calls it "wide open." But for the Pirates, he says "...the better tactic might still be to keep 2012-14 in mind. Pirates fans are obviously sick of looking to the future, though, so you can understand where the front office is coming from. Either way, the question for the '11 Pirates is the continued development of the kids..."

-- Keith Law of ESPN touched on these draft topics that may be of interest to Bucco fans during his chat yesterday:

Anthony Rendon isn't assured to be the Bucco pick in the draft this year. "Rendon is not the lock that Strasburg and Harper were. Cole, Springer, Gray, Barnes, Starling ... it's a good list of high-end talent." But if he is, Law is high on him. "Rendon should be in the big leagues in a year, 18 months at the most, and fairly productive out of the chute."

And he doesn't feel that Rendon will influence Pedro's position on the diamond. "I think Alvarez is going to 1b no matter what."

-- Mike Puma of New York Post writes that the Mets are looking at ex-Bucco Tom Gorzelanny, whom the Cubs are shopping. Gorzo was 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA and averaged 7.9 K's/9 and 4.5 W's/9 last season.

-- The Orioles announced that they have reached a one-year deal with reliever Jeremy Accardo, who the Bucs were said to have on their short list. He signed for $1.08M next season, according to a tweet by Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The New 40-Man

Just in case you want to keep score on the 2011 Buccos, here's the 40-man roster as it exists today. There are actually 41 guys; Kevin Correia needs a space cleared for him. (The players in italics were added after the season.)

Pitchers (23): Ramon Aguero, Jose Ascanio, Michael Crotta, Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Hart, Jeff Karstens, Wilfredo Ledezma, Chris Leroux, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Paul Maholm, Joe Martinez, Daniel McCutchen, James McDonald, Kyle McPherson, Evan Meek, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Daniel Moskos, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Olsen, Chris Resop, and Tony Watson.

Waiting to be added: Kevin Correia.

Removed after season: Zach Duke, Sean Gallagher, Steve Jackson, Justin Thomas, and Donnie Veal.

Catchers (3): Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo, and Chris Snyder.

Infielders (7): Pedro Alvarez, Ronny Cedeno, Pedro Ciriaco, Lyle Overbay, Steve Pearce, Josh Rodriguez, and Neil Walker.

Removed after season: Jeff Clement and Andy LaRoche.

Outfielders (7): John Bowker, Matt Diaz, Gorkys Hernandez, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Alex Presley, and Jose Tabata.

Removed after season: Lastings Milledge, Delwyn Young, and Brandon Moss.

GW's shot-in-the-dark order: McCutchen (CF), Tabata (LF), Walker (2B), Alvarez (3B), Overbay (1B), Diaz/Jones (RF), Snyder/Doumit(C), Cedeno (SS).

Walker could drop down, but he runs better than the guys behind him, so we kept him at the three spot. Cedeno and Snyder are interchangeable at the bottom of the order; we don't think Dewey is long for Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some Minor Signings...

Minor League deals:

-- LHP Donnie Veal returned to the Bucs today after being removed from the 40-man roster last month. The Pirates announced that he signed a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

-- The Yankees signed LHP Neal Cotts. The Pirates signed him as a minor-league free agent last year, but he never got into a game as he was recovering from TJ surgery performed in 2009. They also inked veteran farmhand Doug Bernier who spent 2010 at Indy as a utility player. Both were reported by Zach Links of Major League Trade Rumors.

-- Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweeted that RHP Jonah Bayliss, who spent 2006-07 traveling between Indy and Pittsburgh, was signed by Tampa Bay.

He also tweeted that the Oakland A's inked LHP Vinnie Chulk, who pitched at Indy in 2010 before moving on to the Japanese League Hiroshima Carp.

The busy Eddy added another tweet to announce Jonathan Van Every's contract with Washington. He was an OF with Indy last season.

-- Previous transactions: RHP Brian Bass & C Erik Kratz signed with the Phils and LHP Dana Eveland went to the Dodgers.

Overbay, Diaz - Upgrades?

OK, the Bucs have dumped Lastings Milledge and are, according to all reports, offering Ryan Doumit around the league as their blue-light special. Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay are the new hires brought in to add some thump to the lineup.

As collateral damage to the right side remake, Garrett Jones now looks like he's gone from full-time first baseman to part-time right fielder, while Steve Pearce has lost his chance to be a platoon guy at first and is now fighting for a spot on the pine.

Hey, anyone who thinks their position is safe on a team that lost 105 games is delusional; some shakeup is demanded. The point of change, of course, is to improve the team, otherwise the baby is being tossed with the bath water. So does bringing aboard Diaz and Overbay and ditching Milledge and probably Doumit make the Pirates any better?

At first base, 33 year old Overbay brings a veteran presence; he's been in the league for a decade and started for the past seven. Offensively, both guys went through a tough 2010 season, and their final stats were pretty even.

Jones' line was .247/21/87 in 592 at-bats; Overbay's was .243/20/67 in 534 at-bats. Jones was looking at platooning this year, with a lifetime .282 average against righties but just .210 against southpaws.

Overbay, who reportedly cast his lot in the 'Burg because it was his best opportunity for full-time employment, has a career .279 average against righties and a more acceptable .259 average against lefties. But the clincher is in the field.

The ex-Jay has a rep as a strong defender and had a career UZR/150 of 0.2 with a 0.1 in 2010 (His rep is stronger than his numbers). The 29 year old Jones has a lifetime UZR/150 of -7.1 and earned an -8.4 last season. While the bats don't separate the pair by a lot, the gloves do and it shows in their WAR - Overbay is 1.5, Jones 0.1.

So first (and so the whole infield) is upgraded, certainly on defense and possibly at the dish, too, if Overbay regresses to his average stat line, although at his age, you have to be watchful. From what we've garnered, new skipper Clint Hurdle will platoon but prefers not to.

That's too bad; ideally, Overbay would get 400-450 at-bats against right-handed pitchers and Pearce would pick up the starts against lefties. Pearce is a Mendoza line stick against righties, but lights up lefties with a line of .304/.392/.557, and his career UZR/150 at first base is 6.5; it was 10 in 2010. We think he and Overbay would be a nice team at first, even with Pearce's tiny sample size. We'll see what the FO thinks.

As for Doumit, he has the stick to compete for first, but somehow a lifetime UZR/150 of -22.4 seems just a little too shaky. In fact, his rating at first in 2010 was -66. That pretty much rules him out. And as far as being a big bopper, his Isolated Power measure of .155 falls behind that of both Jones (.167) and Overbay (.189).

Long shot Andy Marte may provide a challenge Pearce; he's RH, plays the corner IF, and has some pop. Jeff Clement appears to be left shivering in the Pittsburgh cold; three LH first basemen are two too many.

In right, it looks like a straight platoon situation will play out. Diaz is a monster against southpaws, with a career .335/.373/.533 line, and Jones beats up righties to the tune of .282/.359/.495. Milledge doesn't hit RH'ers as well as Jones nor LH'ers as well as Diaz, and doesn't have the power of either one.

Doumit's bat isn't quite as good lifetime as Jones against RHP nor does it match Diaz's against lefties. The fielding? Well, let's hope they hit a lot balls that McCutch can run down. In 2010, Diaz had a UZR/150 of 0.2; Jones' was -3.5, Milledge's was -1.2 and Dewey's was -40.4. When Matt Diaz is your defensive upgrade...

John Bowker looks like the guy left standing in this game of musical chairs. His .219/5/21 line in 2010, his relative lack of on-field versatility (1B & RF) and being another left-handed bat limit his opportunities. Alex Presley, because of his glove and speed, has a better shot at landing the fifth OF spot if the Pirates don't sign a vet.

So are the Bucs improved? Judging by the WAR, after all the coming and goings, the Pirates are one game better. We think they'll have a little more pop in the lineup, and the infield should be helped by Overbay's glove. But there are no difference makers here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Overbay Key To Unjamming The Right Side

The Bucs went under the radar and landed Lyle Overbay, 33, as a free-agent first baseman today. He signed a one-year deal, reportedly for $5M.

Overbay, a lefty, has been a starter the past five years at Toronto and the two seasons prior to that at Milwaukee while earning a thermos of coffee in Arizona during his first three years of MLB. His lifetime line is .274/122/524 with an OBP of .358, and he's got a solid mitt.

Last year was one of his worse in the show, hitting .243/20/67. Still, at his age, the Bucs can probably wring another year or two out of him, and he appreciably improves the defense on the right side.

His addition, along with Matt Diaz, does a lot to break up the logjam of players around first base and right field. Overbay will get the lion's share of work at first (he hasn't played in fewer than 122 games since 2003), with Steve Pearce going mano-a-mano with Andy Marte for the back-up bench spot.

Garrett Jones (the smoke signals coming from the FO pow-wow indicate that Dewey's Bucco days are just about done) will share right with Diaz. John Bowker and Jeff Clement are both looking hard at starting 2011 at Indy or with a new club.

Hey, who knows? Maybe they'll surprise us and find another starter next, although we suspect their next move will be to solidify the bullpen. If they ink a veteran back-ender, then the FO can play the Joel Hanrahan/Evan Meek card this year.

Let the games go on.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Andy Marté

Andy Manuel Marté, 27, was born in Villa Tapia of the Dominican Republic and signed by the Atlanta Braves in 2000 as a 16 year old. After a very so-so beginning in the Appalachian Rookie League in 2001 (.200/1/12), the Marté myth began.

The lanky youngster hit .281/21/105 in Class A Macon as an 18 year old. He entered the 2003 season ranked as Baseball America's #40 prospect, and didn't disappoint. Marté didn't tear up High A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League quite as much, but still put together a .285/16/63 line. It impressed BA; he went into 2004 as their #11 prospect.

Marté's 2004 line at AA Greenville of the Southern League was .269/23/68, worth another bump up by BA; his 2005 rank was #9. That season, with AAA Richmond of the International League, his line was .275/20/74. But in a pattern that would repeat over and over in his career, the third baseman hit only .140/0/4 in 57 at-bats during an audition with the Braves.

The Braves inked Chipper Jones to a contract extension, but lost SS Rafael Furcal in free agency in the off-season. Marté, blocked at the hot corner, was traded to the Boston Red Sox for a new SS, vet Edgar Rentería, and cash - $11M.

He wasn't in Beantown for long. A few weeks later, Marté was shipped to the Cleveland Indians along with RHP Guillermo Mota, C Kelly Shoppach, PTBNL minor-league RHP Randy Newsom, and cash for CF Coco Crisp, C Josh Bard, and RHP David Riske in what was considered a blockbuster deal.

Marté was rated #14 for 2006, and spent most of the year with AAA Buffalo, where he cobbled together a .261/15/46 line. In 50 games with the Tribe, his numbers were .226/5/23. And for the first time since 2003, he dropped off BA's Top 100 prospect list.

Things didn't pick up much for him in 2007. Marté hit .267/16/60, and got into 20 games for Cleveland, with a line of .193/1/8.

The Dominican started 2008 with the big team after breaking camp, and initially received little playing time. But after the Indians traded Casey Blake in late July, he had the third base job to himself.

Hitting .221/3/17 in 80 games/235 at-bats (both career highs) pretty much lost the job for him. He strained his calf in late September to end a most forgettable season, one that took him out of the Indian's future plans entirely. The Tribe traded for Mark DeRosa to play the hot corner in 2009.

Marté was dropped from the roster that winter, but re-upped with the Indians when no other teams came sniffing around. He began 2008 on Columbus' bench. But given a second chance because of injuries, Marté rallied to put up a line of .327/18/66.

Following the trade of Ryan Garko on July 27th, Marté was recalled to the Indians, where he again was a model of mediocrity, hitting .232/6/25 in 155 at-bats. After the season, he was DFA'ed to make room for Juan Salas. Marté cleared waivers and was assigned to Columbus again.

He again made the team as a reserve out of camp, and his performance was pretty much the same ol', same ol'. Marté's line was .229/5/19 in 80 games, missing several weeks with a pulled hamstring. He did make his first pitching appearance, throwing a perfect inning with one strikeout in a mop up operation. Unfortunately for him, the Tribe was paying him to hit the ball, not hurl it.

In November, Marté was outrighted to Columbus yet again, removing him from the 40-man roster, and he filed for free agency. The Bucs signed him to a minor-league contract on December 1st with an invite to camp, where he'll get a chance to earn a bench spot in the spring. His glove is OK (about league average) even though he's a leadfoot; his final destination will be determined by his twig.

The once top prospect has a .218/.277/.358 batting line in the big leagues with 20 HR and 96 RBI in 838 at-bats. Marté has never batted more than 235 times nor played over 80 games during a season. What happened?

He may have just been flat-out overrated. In higher level minor league ball (AA & AAA), he only batted over .275 once in five seasons, though he did hit with consistent home run power.

Maybe he is just a AAAA player, like Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Brad "Big Country" Eldred, Bryan Bullington, John VanBenschoten - hey, remember Bobby Bradley and JJ Davis from the late nineties? It's a long list.

Trying to replicate the farm longball swing may be part of the problem he has in the show, too. Scouting reports claim that he's trying to pull everything, and his long swing gives MLB pitchers a big hole to work on. His patience and eye are also lacking; he had a solid 2:1 K to W ratio in the minors, but it's 3:1 in the show.

His minor league OBP was a very good .350; in the majors, it's just .277. That's just not indicative of fewer walks; Marté is also an extreme fly ball hitter, with a 50% average for balls in play. And if the flies aren't dropping over the fence, well...his BABIP is .252; the league average is right around .300.

It might be that Marté is a bit miscast as a clean-up style slugger. Maybe keeping him out of the middle of the order, in the six or seven hole, will help his discipline and shorten his swing - sliders kill him - by taking some of the HR pressure off of him. His fly ball/home run percentage is just 6%; the MLB average is close to 11%. That's a sign of either minimal power or overswinging; we think the latter is more likely.

There are the conspiracy theorists, too. They believe that the Tribe in general and Eric Wedge in particular misused Marté by not giving him an opportunity to win the job as a pup, but using him sparingly off the bench. According to this gang, if there is anything shred left of Marté's confidence, the only thing that can restore it - and his swing - is a change of scene.

Neal Huntington is taking a low risk gamble that they're right.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Shorts

-- The Pirates don't look to be in the race for additional free agent pitching, with the only remaining players we've heard them associated with being Chris Young and Justin Duchscherer. But there are couple of interesting names being offered around the league.

The Bucs don't have the organizational depth to take on a Zack Greinke deal with KC, but Tampa Bay is reportedly offering Matt Garza and James Shields. And they're said to be looking for pen help (Hanrahan), OF/C help (Doumit) and/or prospects. We don't know if there's a deal to be made there, but hopefully the FO is at least chatting with the Rays.

-- Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports lists the Pirates among the winter meeting winners, saying "The Pirates, meanwhile, have said they will spend and are starting to do it. The names aren't big — Kevin Correia, Matt Diaz, Scott Olsen — but Clint Hurdle should have a respectable roster in his first year as the Pittsburgh manager."

-- Tony Beasley, JR's third base coach, was hired to manage the Washington Nat's AA team at Harrisburg.

-- MLB Network will air the 1960 Pirate-Yankee Game #7 at 7PM on Wednesday, 12/15. Bob Costas will be the host, and he'll have interviews from the sneak preview held last month at the Byham Theater.

-- Upcoming dates to remember: January 5th-15th, arbitration filings (Ross Ohlendorf & Joel Hanrahan tendered but unsigned); February 1st-21st, arbitration hearings; March 1st, mandatory camp reporting date (voluntary report date is mid-February); April 1st Opening Day @ Wrigley Field and April 7th, home opener vs. Colorado.

Scott Olsen

The Pirates finalized a one-year deal with free agent LHP Scott Olsen on Friday. Olsen gets a $450K salary next season with a $4M club option for 2012 or a $100K buyout. He can also can pick $3M in bonuses based on starts next year and $1M more in 2012, if he's still here.

Olsen, 26, was born January 12th, 1984, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He attended Crystal Lake South (Illinois) High School, where he was all-conference in baseball. He was drafted 173rd overall in the sixth round of the 2002 draft by the Florida Marlins.

He wasn't highly touted when he was drafted, but Florida's staff coached him up into a top prospect. Baseball America rated him the 67th best prospect in baseball pre-2004, the 38th best prospect pre-2005 season and 34th best pre-2006.

Olsen debuted in the show in 2005 with the Fish when he was called up from AA Carolina to replace an injured Josh Beckett. He went 1-1 in five starts, with a 3.98 ERA, but gave a sign of things to come when he was placed on the DL himself with an elbow injury.

The lefty started 2006 in AAA Albuquerque, but after one outing was back in the bigs. Olsen went 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA. He and fellow rookies Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez got in the record books when the 2006 Marlins became the first club in MLB history to sport four rookie pitchers with ten or more wins in one season.

With 166 strikeouts, Olsen set the Fish single-season rookie strikeout record. His 11-strikeout performance against Pittsburgh was the most by any Marlin pitcher in 2006. Olsen came in ninth in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

He also began to wear his Florida welcome thin. He was given a black eye by teammate Randy Messenger, and later in the season, manager Joe Girardi grabbed him and confronted him.

Television cameras caught Miguel Cabrera going after Olsen as the pitcher walked past him in the dugout after they had exchanged words on the field following a Cabrera boot. The pair had to be separated by teammates.

He screamed at the Phils' Chase Utley for calling time just before a pitch. Olsen was a fight waiting to happen.

Olsen finished the 2007 season with a 10-15 record and a 5.81 ERA. His .384 opponent OBP was the highest in the majors, as was his .315 BAA and .504 opponent slugging percentage. It was the first major blip in his career.

His escapades continued. Olsen was fined for making an obscene gesture towards fans during a game in Milwaukee in June.

In July, Olsen had a confrontation with teammate Sergio Mitre in the tunnel heading toward the team clubhouse. He ripped off Mitre's jersey and the pair got into a wrestling match until the other Fish broke up the bout. Olsen got a two-game suspension, but didn't miss a start.

Then he was arrested by police in Florida for speeding a few days later. He tried to outrun the cops, and ended up being tasered and charged with DUI, resisting arrest with violence, and fleeing and eluding a police office.

Olsen went 8-11 with a 4.20 ERA in 33 starts in 2008, a nice comeback after a miserable 2007 season, and managed to keep his nose clean, too. His 30 wins over the 2006-08 seasons ranked him second among pitchers 24 or younger, trailing only Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, who won 35 times over the span. He was also a workhorse, piling up over 550 innings in those three years.

But his time in Florda was at an end. On November 11th, he was traded with Josh Willingham and sent to the Washington Nationals for second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and a pair of minor leaguers.

Olsen was a fish out of water in a Washington uniform, going 2-4 with a 6.03 ERA in 2009. Shoulder tendinitis forced Olsen to miss about a month and a half of the season, from May 16th to June 29th.

He pitched only three more times after his return before being diagnosed with a small left labrum tear following a mid-July start. Surgery to repair the labrum was performed on July 23rd, and finished him for the season.

Olsen was non-tendered by the Washington Nationals, making him a free agent. But he re-signed with the Nats for a one year, $1M deal with bonuses that could increase the take home to almost $4M based on starts. Sound familiar?

In 2010 Olsen started in the minors as one of the Nats last camp cuts, but after one class AAA start was called up. In early May he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves. That game was part of a five game streak where Olsen went 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA, and ran together 20 scoreless innings.

But on May 21st, he ended up on the DL. Olsen had been experiencing discomfort but a MRI exam revealed no structural damage. He ended up spending two different stints on the DL with left shoulder stiffness and inflammation, not a good thing for a guy recovering from surgery

He was 4-8 with a 5.56 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) for Washington. After a miserable outing at the start of September, he was moved to the bullpen, both as a matter of performance and to save a pocketful of cash, as each start was worth $100K in bonus money.

It saved the Nats some cash but didn't do much for Olsen. He pitched just twice more after it was found that he couldn't loosen up quickly enough to work effectively out of the pen. (And yes, we assume that if GW could find that out, so could the FO).

On November 6th, Olsen became a free agent in November after being outrighted off the Nationals' roster and joined the Bucs a month later.

In parts of six seasons, Olsen is 37-49 with a 4.85 ERA in 130 games, of which 127 were starts. He's struck out 528 (6.6/9) and walked 239 (3.6/9) in 723 innings. He was durable while with the Marlins, making at least 31 starts each year from 2006-08, but been one hurting cowboy the past two years with the Nats, averaging just 72 innings per season. And his behavior has been fine for the past three years.

He throws a 90 MPH fastball (92 toward the end of season, which was 2006 velocity for him), slider and change. The heater's not his main pitch; his off-speed stuff is his bread and butter. Olsen is a flyball pitcher, and he's a lot tougher on lefties than righties.

As for the inevitable career comparisons to Zach Duke: Olsen's ERA is higher, 4.85 to 4.57. In fact, the split between the FIPs (Fielding Independent Pitching) is much more dramatic, 4.89 to 4.33 in Duke's favor.

Olsen walks a batter more per game, but gets a couple more punchouts, which is a handy tool to have in the box. Olsen also gives up a hit less per game; his BAA is .276, Duke's is .300. Olsen, though, is brutal with the longball; he gives up 1.4/9, compared to Duke's 0.9/9.

So hey, you have the perfect statistical breakdown of two back-end pitchers. Here's Bill James' projection for Olsen in 2011: 4-6 record, 4.81 ERA, 16 starts, 88 innings.

So with that as his baseline, what do the Pirates have to lose? If his shoulder is knit back together and he returns to his 2008 form, the Pirates have a steal. If not, they're paying pre-arb money for a guy with six full MLB seasons.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Plan...

OK, the FO took over a floundering franchise in 2008. They scuttled it about as completely as a club has ever been sunk and vowed to refloat the ship with home grown Buccos.

The first wave has arrived - Andrew McCutchen and Neal Walker, thanks to Dave Littlefield and company, along with Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, brought in by Neal Huntington. In fact, just about the whole team belongs to the new order.

The last soldiers standing from the Littlefield era are McCutch, Walker, Steve Pearce, Dewey and Paul Maholm at the MLB level, and the remaining prospects from his days are Brad Lincoln, Starling Marte, Rudy Owens, Ramon Aguero and Diego Moreno. And they're shopping Maholm and Doumit.

Huntington and Frank Coonelly have virtually complete ownership over this team's on-field product. Their players, sold to us as the future of the franchise, are beginning to take the field and have an impact. But no franchise is entirely self-sustaining; free agents and trades are needed to fill in the gaps. Can the FO take that next step?

They went into the season knowing what they needed: more starting pitching, a couple of bullpen arms, an upgrade at short and a right handed stick for 1B/RF. The winter meetings are usually the catalyst to jump-start the deals. What has it brought Pittsburgh?

Let's start with the pitching. Basically, Pittsburgh has traded Zach Duke for Kevin Correia. Correia may be a bit of an upgrade, but it's still replacing one #4 pitcher with another, and no one's sure what the PETCO effect for Correia may be.

Scott Olsen was brought in to join the cage match for the fifth spot; we guess that would be the reason they have interest in Kenshin Kawakami.

If they do deal Maholm without getting an equal or better pitcher back, the rotation will actually be downgraded, not improved. Guys like Olsen and Kawakami don't build trade depth as much as organizational depth. And Pittsburgh already has its share of back end pitchers.

The bullpen, after being dismantled at the deadline, bounced back after a reconfiguration. Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek and Chris Resop seem like solid building blocks. So far, all the FO has done is bring in Fernando Nieve, a long relief type. Traditionally, the bullpen slots are filled later in the off season.

But all the omens point toward Pittsburgh moving Hanrahan. Other teams have interest in him, the Pirates have been sniffing around closer types like Kevin Gregg, and he's entering arbitration this year, 'nuff said.

In fact, while all the attention has been on Maholm and Doumit being dangled as trade bait, if the Pirates are to make a big move this off season, it will almost certainly involve Hanny.

With JR gone, the FO was on a mission to improve shortstop, manned by the human roller coaster Ronny Cedeno. There wasn't much available, and the Bucs let Jason Bartlett and JJ Hardy go; both were traded for a pair of relievers. In their defense, the Twins, as we understand, wanted Hanrahan for Hardy, and that would involve some additional talent from the Twin Cities that apparently wasn't forthcoming.

Still, even Cesar Izturis was signed; there's not much left but all glove and no bat Brendan Ryan and graybeard Edgar Renteria. It's a huge disappointment that the best they could do was come up with a Rule 5 SS, Josh Rodriguez, to do battle with Pedro Ciriaco for the back-up spot. Maybe that shows how thin the ice is that Cedeno is skating on.

Other back-ups the Pirates have kicked the tires on are Bill Hall and Alfredo Amezaga.

The first base/corner OF logjam was barely nudged when the FO dumped Lastings Milledge for Matt Diaz. Diaz has more power and is a wash defensively, which is being damned with faint praise, but is still a platoon guy statistically despite Huntington's full-time babble.

Ah, but platooning with who? Until and unless Doumit is traded, he'll be Diaz's partner in the pasture. If he goes, the LH job will likely go to John Bowker. If Jeff Clement outduels Bowker in the spring, then JC will go to first to split time with Pearce while Jones goes to the outfield, unless Andy Marte wins a roster spot. Clear as mud, hey?

Anyway, here's the point. This is the fourth year of the "plan" as envisioned by Huntington and Coonelly. They took over a 2007 team that won 68 games and had a 15 year losing streak. Last season, the team won 57 games and the streak reached eighteen years.

OK, we understand that it's always darkest before dawn, yada yada. We also understand that the Pirates refused to bid on or deal for any player with full time potential that could join the lineup and make the Pirates a better team than they were last year.

The Pirates are nine weeks away from the pitchers and catchers reporting to Bradenton. There's a lot of work to do, and the FO sure hasn't done theirs yet. We'll see what Maholm, Doumit and Hanrahan will fetch them in the market, but it won't be enough to get to 82 wins in the near future.

The Bucs will be better; the young players have some experience under their belt, and Clint Hurdle will probably use his pieces better with a platoon system. But 2010's holes are still 2011's holes; the brass has just played around with the fringes of the roster.

With the money that was supposed to be burning a hole in their pocket, this quiet hot stove season has been especially mystifying. And for those who have raised the specter of Bob Nutting's short pockets, well, this off-season has done nothing to dispel their fears.

Let's hope there's a boffo finale planned by the management between now and camp.

Friday, December 10, 2010

If You're Saving Your Money For Something...

Well, the Bucs certainly aren't making any free agents wealthy. Maybe it's time that they made a couple of their home-grown players sweat the Bush tax cuts. For example, have you ever wondered what it will take to get Andrew McCutchen signed long term? Here's a couple of recent examples of contracts for players of similar age and talent:

-- The Reds just inked Jay Bruce to a six-year, $51M deal that will keep him in Cincy through 2016. He gets a $13M option in 2017 with a $1M buyout, a partial no-trade clause and the chance to earn more money with award bonuses.

The 23 year old batted .281/.353/.493 with 25 homers as Cincinnati's everyday right fielder in 2010.

-- D-Back Justin Upton's six-year, $51.25M deal will keep him in Arizona for all of his arbitration seasons and his first two years of free agency. The 23 year old signed the deal in March after a 2009 line of .300/26/86. He remains under team control through 2015, with very limited (4 teams) no-trade protection and no option year.

-- The 162-game averages for the three players, from Baseball Reference:

Bruce (3 years) .257/.327/.474 25-2B, 31-HR, 82-RBI, 80-RS, 5-SB
Upton (4 years) .272/.352/.471 32-2B, 23-HR, 80-RBI, 87-RS, 16-SB
McCutch (2 years) .286/.365/.459 38-2B, 17-HR, 68-RBI, 104-RS, 34-SB

McCutchen is 24 (he has an October birthday), and has a good chance of hitting his Super 2 arbitration status after 2011. A six-year deal after next season will keep him under Pirate control until 2017, and the FO have the Bruce and Upton contracts to serve as guides.

Will the Pirates step up to the plate for McCutch?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Little More Pitching News

-- The D-Backs announced that they sent 25 year old RHP Cesar Valdez to the Bucs as the PTBNL in the Zach Duke dump. Valdez got a cup of coffee in Arizona last year, going 1-2 with a 7.65 ERA in nine appearances, two of them starts.

Valdez, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an amateur free agent in 2005, isn't considered a prospect, and his AAA stats bear that out. In two seasons at Reno, he was a starter with a 13-16 record, 5.34 ERA, 1.508 WHIP and 7.1 Ks/game against 3.7 walks/game. Not very inspiring; he looks like just a warm body.

-- Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted that Scott Olsen's contract is for $500K with up to $3M more available in incentive money. The deal includes a $4M club option for 2012.

Rule 5: Get One, Lose One

-- The Bucs took utility guy Josh Rodriguez with the first pick of the Rule 5 draft. The versatile 25 year old (he'll turn 26 in ten days) played every position but pitcher, catcher and first base in 2010 between AA Akron and AAA Columbus.

The Cleveland Indians drafted Rodriguez, who played his college ball at Rice, with a second-round pick in 2006.

Jim Callas of Baseball America calls him an "offensive-minded utility type. Bench fodder, not a potential regular." He does get on base, with a .293/.372/.486 line in 2010 with gap power and the ability to deliver the occasional long ball. He's not very toolsy, and kinda a surprise pick with Pedro Ciriaco on the roster and all the youngsters on the way through the system.

We would have expected them to go for Ryan Adams or Brad Emaus if they were looking for infield help; looks like they're stocking up SS backups for Ronny Cedeno since Jason Bartlett and JJ Hardy both were dealt.

-- The KC Royals took 22 year old RHP Nathan Adcock from the Bucs; he's spent the past two seasons in High A at Lynchburg and Bradenton. He was 11-7 with a 3.38 ERA at for the Marauders, but the Pirates thought they could sneak him through because he hadn't pitched in the upper levels yet.

And it is unlikely that the young and inexperienced Florida State All-Star is ready to stick around for a full MLB season yet, although stranger things have happened.

-- In the minor league portion of the draft, the Bucs took CF Bradley Chalk and C Travis Scott. Chalk, 24, was taken by the San Diego Padres in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft, and played three levels last year. He's speedy with a .340 OBP but no HR power. Scott, 25, also played first base and has appeared in just four games at the AA level for the Angels, but has shown a decent bat and good arm.