Monday, January 31, 2011

Littlefield's Larder

OK, we're as guilty as anyone at throwing stones at Dave Littlefield's legacy. While the major league roster he constructed has been systematically demolished by the current FO - we believe that Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit are the last men standing - what did he leave the current regime?

Well, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are former first round picks of Littlefield, and they're key pieces of the 25-man roster. Steve Pearce and Rudy Owens also have a decent shot at being part of the big club sometime in 2011.

Littlefield still has some guys lurking on the current 40-man roster: RHP Brad Lincoln, OF Alex Presley, RHP Mike Crotta, LHP Tony Watson, LHP Daniel Moskos, RHP Ramon Aguero, and RHP Kyle McPherson.

So that's it; a lucky thirteen players on the forty-man roster that pre-date the current FO. There are still some Littlefield draftees floating around in the mid-to-upper minors: IF Brian Friday, IF Jimmy Negrych, OF Quincy Latimore, C Kris Watts, RHP Duke Welker and OF Miles Durham being the most prominent.

But the top guns he took have by and large passed into the baseball netherworld; SS Brian Bixler, SS Brent Lillibridge, RHP Jeff Sues, 2B Shelby Ford, LHP Mike Felix, C Steve Lerud, RHP Bryan Bullington, RHP John Von Benshoten...there weren't many impact guys among his elite picks, and that's dogged the franchise.

Littlefield's efforts in Latin America have been bad-mouthed; everyone uses the example of RHP Yoslin Herrera as the epitome of Pirate struggles south of the border. But we think that may be due more to the financial resources of the McClatchy years, when the team just couldn't or wouldn't get involved in bidding wars for talent.

Rene Gayo did his job as well as he could given the financial constraints he was under, and some of the Latino guys he dug up are working their way through the system. A few - OF Starling Marte, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Ramon Aguero - are considered pretty nice prospects, while others like 3B Eric Avila, LHP Eliecer Navarro, 3B Elevys Gonzalez, OF Rogelio Noris, SS Yhonathan Barrios and C Ramon Cabrero are in the lower levels and progressing.

Remember that it takes a while for Latino talent to surface; the kids are signed generally between 16-18 years old. Gayo's more recent work in that market is still several years from leaving its mark.

So the Littlefield verdict? Meh. He did have a few hits, and did a little better in Latin America than probably given credit for. But all in all, he amassed too many misses and too little talent, leaving Frank Coonelly and gang a massive make-over that they're probably a couple of seasons from completing.

It is an interesting contrast. The Littlefield era was marked by an obvious bend toward the major league product, and that's where the money went, into free agents rather than the organization. The current FO is redirecting the team's financial resources into building a minor league system that will eventually feed and replenish the MLB nine.

One produced a system that put consistently mediocre teams on the field in Pittsburgh; the other a system that produced MLB 100-loss campaigns but minor league championships. Building from the bottom-up is a five or six year project, so the Pirate FO is still in the middle of the process, and it's hard to evaluate just where they're at competitively at this point.

We're beginning to see some results; the pitching from the AA level and down is deep, and Indy, which was gutted of talent over the past two seasons, is quietly starting to reload with Coonelly/Huntington draft picks. This isn't the year quite yet, but in 2012, the turn-around should begin.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pirate Farm System: Half Full or Half Empty?

There's been a little difference of opinion regarding the Pirate farm system. The Bucco FO compares it favorably to KC's, widely recognized as the best in MLB, while national pundits rank it 19th and 21st. The truth? Well, they're both right to a degree.

First, you have to recall that the bright lights of the organization - Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and yes, even Steve Pearce - have made the jump to the bigs in the past season and a half, and that's a pretty impressive feat.

Not many teams have four starting position players jumping from the farm to the show that quickly, and some would argue that Garrett Jones be included among that group (Not GW; a minor league free agent is still a free agent, but hey, to each his own).

So the FO hangs its hat on the quick rebuilding from within. But the national guys look at Indy, and frankly, they don't see much on the horizon. Brad Lincoln and Rudy Owens, Alex Presley as an extra OF'er, maybe Daniel Moskos. There's not much left after the raids of the last two seasons.

So their point is that the Pirates don't have much MLB-ready talent; hence the low rankings.

The reality falls in between.

The current Pirate braintrust is just three draft classes into restocking a minor league system left bare by Dave Littlefield. The FO tries to get the elite guys on the fast track, and the rest of the players are pretty much on the traditional level-at-a-time schedule.

The college picks should be showing up at Altoona and Indy now, while the high school guys should be in high A or AA ball in 2011. And that's about where the Pirates prospects are at.

Chase d'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer will man Indy's middle infield along with Brian Friday. Gorkys Hernandez will be in CF; the question is whether the best defensive outfielder in the organization can develop an eye. Jim Negrych is a Delwyn Young clone.

Tony Sanchez, Andrew Lambo, Starling Marte, Brock Holt, Jarek Cunningham, Josh Harrison, Eric Avila, Exicardo Cayones, Robert Grossman, and Quincy Latimore are the bright lights among the up-and-coming position players. It's a list that needs more names and deeper talent, for sure.

The pitching wave is finally hitting the higher levels. Along with Lincoln and Owens are Justin Miller, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke. Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia will all be rocketed through the system if possible.

In between are pitchers like Zack Von Rosenberg, Quinton Miller, Zack Dodson, Nick Kingham, Brooks Pounder, Victor Black, and Colton Cain. Diego Moreno and Ramon Aguero are future closers. So the Bucco FO is developing depth where an organization most needs it, at pitching. But it's still young.

And they've done a much better job of signing Latino talent. The problem there is that it takes those guys forever to percolate through an organization since they're inked at such ridiculously young ages. But some are beginning to make their mark in the Pirates' system: Moreno, Aguero, Heredia, Marte, Avila, Cayones, Yhonathan Barrios, Jorge Bishop, Elevys's a promising list, and hopefully will grow.

One thing about the Pirates is that they like high school players; it's easier to sign them and get them into the system. You concede two things, though: time and ability to evaluate against higher levels of competition. Apparently they feel the prep route is the best way to combine upside and value in the draft.

But you have a better handle of the talent level of a college player, and you can usually run them through your system far more quickly and aggressively than a high school kid. That would be our main quibble with the Pirate farm template; we'd prefer a better mix of college and prep players.

Another issue is that so few of their picks are impact players; only Pedro and Taillon, so far. That's not to say that there aren't guys who will develop into big-time baseballers, but there are none with pedigrees like that pair. And teams need difference makers to mix in with the foot soldiers.

We'd like to see a few more position guys added to the mix. But three years isn't a huge sample, and the pitching needed the attention, so we'll wait and see. It is easier to find an everyday guy in the free market than it is to land a pitcher.

We give the Pirates a solid B so far in the Coonelly/Huntington era for building a system. They could have have done it maybe a little quicker and with a little more starpower, but they're bringing in players with upside, emphasizing pitching depth, augmenting the organization with Latino talent, and willing to dig deep into Bob Nutting's pocket to sign people.

It's a day and night improvement from the McClatchy/Littlefield years.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Old Bucs, New Teams

-- Chad Jennings of The Journal News writes that Lastings Milledge might be a good fit for the Bronx Bombers - as a fifth outfielder.

-- According to Richard Durrett of ESPN-Dallas, Texas signed a pair of ex-Buccos to minor league deals: RHP Ty Taubenheim and C Robinzon Diaz.

-- MLB Trade Rumor's Mark Polishuk reported that the LA Angels signed RHP Virgil Vasquez.

Overheard at Pirate Fest

A couple of quick observations and notes from Pirate Fest:

-- Clint Hurdle is the anti-JR

-- Bucs pitching mantra: throw the first pitch for a strike, work inside

-- Pedro is a little overweight; move him to first, puh-leese!

-- Opening Day tickets are already limited to single seats and standing room only.

-- The FO really likes Rudy Owens.

-- Hurdle says player accountability starts with him; he makes the lineup. GW loves veiled threats!

-- He also said the Bucs will run and be aggressive. Maybe he didn't see last year's tapes yet...or was that just Lastings Milledge?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Heredia To Start In GCL

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette tweeted that "Luis Heredia, 16-year-old Mexican RHP prospect, will pitch in GCL this summer."

That's pretty aggressive placement for a Latino player, especially one who is so young. Still, that doesn't mean that he's on a bullet train to the bigs. He has more than pitching to assimilate; young Heredia has to acclimate to the Gringo language and culture as well as learning the ins and outs of the hill.

But it's a good sign that the Pirates have enough faith in him to throw him straight into US pro ball. If he advances a level at a time, he'll be in Pittsburgh in 2016 at the age of 21, which isn't bad at all, hopefully ready to join a staff headed by Jameson Taillon.

Bucs Land Local LOOGY

After a late tweet last night by Troy Renck of the Denver Post fired up the hot stove, the Bucs made it official: LHP Joe Beimel, from St. Mary's and Duquesne, is returning to Pittsburgh after leaving in 2003.

The left-handed specialist signed a minor league deal with an out clause if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. And he'll almost certainly make it; there's no proven LH competition. The minor league deal is just some slight of hand to keep the 40-man roster intact for a few more weeks.

Interestingly, Major League Trade Rumor's Tim Dierkes said that Beimel had other unspecified major league offers and even a proposed two-year deal, but chose to return to Pittsburgh for 2011. Local ties, Clint Hurdle, who coached him in 2009, and the lack of lefties apparently swung the deal.

EDIT - Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweeted that "Beimel's offers from Baltimore and Boston were minor league offers. He turned down ML offer from Pirates that was for less $$ (than his split contract)." He added the MLB portion of the contract was for $1.75M with $300K in possible bonuses, double his $850K salary from 2010. So add geld to his reasons to return.

Beimel, 33, has a 4.16 career ERA over 562-1/3 innings, and beside Pittsburgh, has pitched for Minnesota, Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington and Colorado. He was 1-2 with a 3.40 ERA for the Rox in 2010, holding lefties to a .221 average, although righties toasted him to the tune of .329. His lifetime splits aren't so far apart: .259 LH/.288 RH.

With Jose Veras and Beimel virtually locked into bullpen spots, the guys that are out of options - Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, Jeff Karstens, Scott Olsen and Charlie Morton among them - better bring their A games to camp.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Day In Bucco History...Dale Long

OK, another slow day on the Bucco front. And rather than tell you about the Pirate Caravan and the grade schools it visited, instead we'll dedicate the day to the memory of Dale Long, who died on this day in 1991 at the age of 64.

The bashing first baseman set a record by homering in eight consecutive games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956. His record has since been tied by Don Mattingly in 1987 and Ken Griffey Jr. in 1993.

Long also was one of the last left-handed catchers in MLB. He caught in two games for the Chicago Cubs in 1958; only Mike Squires and Benny Distefano have followed suit since.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Speak of the Devil...

Hey, we were just talking about the Pirates' minor league talent, and even tho GW is a widely renown tightwad and unlikely to scale the tiniest of subscription walls, thanks to John Perrotto's tweets, we have the rating of the Pirate's farm system:

Baseball America rates the Buccos at #19 in their Handbook, and Keith Law of ESPN ranks them #21 in his Insider report.

So even with all the money tossed at the draft in the past three years, the combination of very little talent from the Littlefield days coupled with some misses dealing for prospects and an emphasis on prep arms by the current FO still leaves the Pirate organization in the MLB's bottom third. It's tough to build a club that way.

Maybe, just maybe, the guys running the club will take a serious look at the free agent market in the future; it doesn't look like the self-grown help is going to arrive for awhile yet.

What If...

Among GW's quirks is a taste for alternate history; you know, the "what if" stories. Here's a alternate history baseball tale from Paul Francis Sullivan in the Hardball Times that every Bucco fan should read.

It's "what if" is what if integration began in 1938 instead of 1947...and what if it began in Pittsburgh, with the Pirates purchasing the contracts of a few select Homestead Gray and Pittsburgh Crawford players, like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, "Cool Papa" Bell...?

Pretty interesting stuff, especially if you're familiar with some of the ol' local Negro League stars (and if not, never fear; Sullivan has even figured out their WAR!) Hey, well worth a read on a snowy January night.

Taillon Makes The Cut

Hey, the kid is 19 and hasn't thrown a pitch as a professional ballplayer yet. But Jameson Taillon has the juju. named him its #18 ranked prospect in baseball, the only Bucco to crack the ratings.

Geez, and we thought Pedro was hyped to the max; we can't wait to hear the drumbeat accompanying Taillon. But of all the things the Bucs need, a top-of-the-order pitcher is number one on the list. Let's hope that the FO hit the jackpot with him, as it seems to have done with Pedro.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More McCutch Love

Man, the accolades have been pouring in for CF Andrew McCutchen lately. It's nice to know that a Pirate can get noticed in this era. But here's something that proves his value, even to Sabermetric worshipers:

Andrew McCutchen produced more WAR than the entire Pittsburgh offense and defense, himself included. McCutch in 2010 had a 3.3 WAR; the Pirates had a 2.8 WAR. That's happened just once since 2004, when Jim Thome outdid the White Sox.

Joe Pawlikowski has the story at Fangraphs.

Nate McLouth

MLB Trade Rumors has a piece written by Mike Axisa on ex-Bucco OF'er Nate McLouth titled "Make or Break Year: Nate McLouth."

It covers the Pirates selling high and Nate the Great, now 29, hitting the free market after the season. Was 2010 just the year from hell or did the NL pitchers put together a book or McLouth? We'll find out soon.

Bucs' Minors Loaded? is set to anoint its Top Fifty Prospects tonight on The MLB Network. Don't hold your breath waiting for any Bucco pups to be highlighted.

The web site issued its Top Ten lists for prospects at 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, C, OF, LHP and RHP. One Bucco made the grade - RHP Jameson Taillon, drafted #1 last year and still waiting to throw his first professional pitch.

No Tony Sanchez, no Chase d'Arnaud, no Starling Marte, no Alex Presley, no Rudy Owens, no Bryan Morris...

Hey, the lack of position players is somewhat understandable. Pedro's already in the show, as are Littlefield's top guys like McCutch and Neil Walker, while Sanchez missed a lot of last year with injuries.

Still, it's a little scary when not one of your farm hands is considered a top gun. Without talent in depth, you can't deal from strength or even reload.

The pitching has even more reason to be overlooked. The Pirates loaded up on high school kids who are still bumping around in Class A and maybe AA this year; the first wave of young arms is just approaching Indy.

They chose upside over urgency by opting for prep rather than college arms. It will take a bit to see if that decision pays off as they hope.

In fairness, the current bossmen have only gone through three drafts so far, and had an exceptionally bare cupboard when they arrived. But it has to be asked: are the young Bucs just lacking time and experience, or does the FO lack evaluation and development skills?

Looking at their high profile acquisitions - Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, Craig Morton, Tim Alderson, Lastings Milledge - you have to wonder.

As the fourth year of the new regime begins, the answer to that question is what the near-term future of the franchise is hinging upon.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Buc Tickets Kinda Stay the Same

The Pirates froze their ticket prices for the ninth straight year, IF you're buying them in advance. Game day tickets went up by $2-5. Still a pretty nice deal; the OF grandstand seats are $11 on game day, up to $57 for the club seating.

Enjoy it while you can; the product has to get better sooner or later, and the ticket prices will rise with the talent. And eventually, the FO will tap into the new rage of floating ticket prices, based on the opponent.

As usual, there are lots of promotional events:

The highlight should be the 40th Anniversary celebration of the 1971 World Series championship team when the Pirates host their 1971 World Series opponent, the Baltimore Orioles, from Monday, June 20 through Wednesday, June 22.

The three-game "Skyblast" series of fireworks and a band continues:

• Skyblast I on Saturday, June 11, will kick off the series with a TBA band when the Bucs meet the New York Mets;
• .38 Special will be the feature for Skyblast II on Saturday, July 9 after the Pirates take on the Chicago Cubs.
• Train will perform on Saturday, August 6 after the Pirates battle the San Diego Padres.

In addition to "Skyblast," on Saturday, September 24, the Pirates will host the new "Fan Jam" featuring the Steve Miller Band performing live following the Pirates game against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Pirates will give away an Andrew McCutchen action figurine on Saturday, April 23 when the Pirates battle the Washington Nationals, a Neil Walker bobblehead on Saturday, May 21, when the Pirates take on the Detroit Tigers, and a kids Pedro Alvarez replica batting practice jersey on Sunday, June 5, as part of the Philadelphia Phillies' lone visit to PNC Park in 2011.

They'll also begin "Free-Shirt Fridays," which will feature a different Pirates t-shirt giveaway at all 13 Pirates Friday home games this season (thirteen Friday games? How lucky can that be?). "Free Shirt Fridays" will also feature a tailgate with live music on Federal Street prior to the game.

Sundays will again be "Kids' Day," with give-aways for the young 'uns with the pre-game Federal Street festivities and post-game base run.

Andy LaRoche Goes To Oakland

According to a team tweet, third baseman Andy LaRoche, 27, signed a minor league deal with the A's, and has an invite to camp. it's not likely that he'll be knocking Kevin Kouzmanoff out of work, but he does have a shot as a back-up.

LaRoche had a .206/4/16 slash last year, losing his job to Pedro Alvarez, and a lifetime line of .224/22/108. He was a key component of the current FO's original albatross, the Jay Bay trade.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This Day In Bucco History...Every Vote Counts

Nothing much cookin' before Stiller kickoff, but for those that need their daily horsehide fix:

Ralph Kiner was elected into the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers on this day in 1975. The ex-Pirate slugger received 273 votes on the 362 ballots cast by the writers, earning HoF membership by a single vote.

He played only ten years in the majors, but led or tied for the NL lead in home runs the first seven seasons of his career and retired with a home run percentage second only to that of Babe Ruth.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Silly Season

Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweets that "Pirates have some interest in rhp Armando Galarraga." He later tweeted that his source said "I don't see it happening."

Let's hope he's got it right with the second tweet. Web sources say the D-backs and Nats are the two teams after Galarraga.

As Wil Pellas and I were discussing just today (see comments), the Pirates have all the bottom-end pitchers they need right now. Leave some room for the Rudy Owens and Justin Wilsons to get their shot. Look for guys that are mid-to-top level arms for some impact, not more depth or insurance pitchers.

McCutch Gets A Lot Of Love

OK, GW was asleep for this one: Kristy Robinson at "Hands Off My Pirates Booty" blog (stories linked below) reports that MLB Network, in a couple of different episodes, picked Andrew McCutchen as baseball's best center fielder. Not most underrated, not best of the pups, just...the best.

Greg Amsinger of MLB's "Thursday Countdown" said: "It's time to find out (who) the number one center fielder in major league baseball is right now and he resides in Pittsburgh. The Pirates Andrew McCutchen is #1."

A couple days prior, when Ken Rosenthal of Fox was pressed to select the MLB's best CF, he said on MLB's "Front Burner" that "I'll go with the guy that no one talks about because he plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That would be Andrew McCutchen. People don't realize how good a player this kid is becoming and is already."

Hmmm...maybe the Bucs better tie him up long-term before the Yankees and Red Sox decide to start bidding on him.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pirates Get A Little Love...

-- Jayson Stark of ESPN picked his All-Underrated Team, and it came as no surprise to us that his CF was McCutch. Of course, as Stark says "...there's no better ticket to underratedness than playing for the Pirates. So the talents of Andrew McCutchen are so far off America's radar screen, NASA might need a week to track them down."

-- Jonathan Mayo of picked his Top Ten RHP Prospects, and Pirate wonder Jameson Taillon made the cut at number six. Mayo wrote "High school pitchers like this don't come around often. He's yet to make his pro debut, but he has the type of arm at his age that could move him fairly quickly through the Pittsburgh system."

-- The Pirates signed C Kawika Emsley-Pai. The Diamondbacks selected him in the 10th round of last year's draft and released him in early December. Emsley-Pai hit .167 in 90 at-bats for short-season Yakima. The Bucs are short behind the plate at the lower levels, explaining the sudden run on minor-league catchers.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Swingin' Bunts...

-- C Tony Sanchez tweeted that his LASIK surgery today went quite well; he says his vision is already clearer. And he did wear contacts, previously unbeknownst to GW. Live and learn, hey?

-- LOOGY Javier Lopez agreed to a $2.375M deal with SF, avoiding arbitration. He went to the Giants at the deadline for OF John Bowker and RHP Joe Martinez. Bowker looks like a camp longshot while Martinez was sold to the Indians after being DFA'ed. A lefty in the pen would sure look good about now...

-- The Mets just signed RHP Chris Young; Carl Pavano reupped with the Twins; Jeff Francis went to KC; geez, the Giants even signed Jeff Suppan to a minor-league deal. About the only worthwhile arm left on the market belongs to Justin Duchscherer, and he just worked out for two AL clubs.

He'll hold another open audition next week. Word is JD is looking for a team he can start for; due to arm and hip woes, many suitors look at him as a bullpen option.

The Pirate efforts to improve the rotation may have begun and ended with Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lowballing Ohlie?

The Bucs have one player remaining in arbitration, RHP Ross Ohlendorf. They exchanged figures yesterday, and the Pirates offered $1.4M, exactly what they gave Joel Hanrahan, and Ohlendorf asked for $2.025M, according to a tweet from the Post-Gazette's Colin Dunlap.

Ohlie was 1-11 in 21 starts for the Bucs in 2010. $2M for a pitcher that won one game? Ya gotta be kidding, right?

Well, not so fast, my friends. After all, Ohlie did have a fair 4.07 ERA; J-Mac, everyone's favorite Pirate pitcher, put up a 4.02 ERA in twelve starts. So we're talking what right now is one fist of the Pirates 1-2 punch in the 2011 rotation.

Factor in his solid 2009 campaign, when he went 11-10 with a 3.92 ERA. His WARs for the past two seasons have been 1.1 and 0.9, worth $8.5M total in Fangraphs "if he were a free-agent" salary world.

So we're wondering why the Bucs are lowballing Ohlie. Like Jeff Karstens last year, he's a Super Two player that will have four total years of arbitration instead of three; maybe that's why the FO is holding down the simoleon count. Still, that's a poor excuse, at least to us.

A slightly heftier offer isn't going to geometrically escalate Ohlie's pay scale for the next three years. Only a heftier performance will do that.

Hey, they still haven't set a hearing date, and the two sides can agree to a figure between the club and player's offers before then. Give the guy $1.75-2M. He deserves it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Just in case Pedro's agent Scott Boras didn't notice, Joey Votto signed a three-year, $38M contract with the Reds that carries him through his arbitration years, but doesn't cost any free agency seasons.

And Prince Fielder just inked a $15.5M deal to settle his third arb year before he hits the market. We know Pedro's agent is aware of that contract, since Boras negotiated it.

We think Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek's reps may have heard that Matt Capps just put his X on a $7.15M deal to buy out his final arbitration year.

Neil Huntington, Frank Coonelly and Bob Nutting are cognizant of the cost of business nowadays. We're waiting to see what happens when some of their current kids are due their payday, like the above and McCutch, who has Jay Bruce's 6-year, $51M contract as a template.

In the Central Division, the Cubs and Cards have always had $90M+ payrolls; now the Brewers and Reds are starting to pony up, too. The time is fast approaching where Pittsburgh is gonna have to up their ante; sooner or later, ya gotta pay to play.

More Spring Camp Invitees

The more the merrier. The Pirates invited the following minor-league guys to camp: OF Andrew Lambo (Chattanooga-Altoona, .272/6/35), C Eric Fryer (Bradenton, .300/8/48), SS Chase d'Arnaud (Altoona, .247/6/48) and 2B Brian Friday (Indy, .257/2/28).

C Tony Sanchez (Bradenton, .314/4/35) also got his formal invite, although it was known during mini-camp that he would begin spring training in camp with the big club.

The club also announced the formal signing of RHP Jose Veras and added C Wyatt Toregas, who came from the Cleveland organization (big surprise there) where he played at all three levels last season. Toregas, 28, is a seven year minor league vet with a .262/52/284 slash line in 2,114 at-bats. He got into 19 big-league games for the Tribe in 2009, hitting .196, and was invited to Bucco camp.

One Down, One To Go

Joel Hanrahan bypassed arbitration for 2011 and signed a one year deal with the Pirates today that the beat guys say is worth $1.4M. Sounds fair; we thought given the market he'd be in the $1.5M range.

He joins prior arbitration signers Ronny Cedeno ($1.85M), Jeff Karstens ($1.1M) and Wil Ledezma ($700K). Ledezma was lost to the Blue Jays, and other arbitration-eligible dudes that moved on were Zach Duke (to Arizona) and Delwyn Young (to Philadelphia), along with released and as of yet unsigned Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge.

Now there's one to go: RHP Ross Ohlendorf. Ohlie is coming off an injury and snake bitten 2010 campaign. He went 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA, following a very nice 11-10, 3.92 ERA effort in 2009. It'll be interesting to see what the final contract looks like.

The last Buc to go through arbitration, BTW, was Jack Splat in 2004. He won a $1.8M deal, $400K more than the FO offered.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Whoops, There Goes Another Ace

Looks like the Bucs last best chance to land a top end pitcher may have bitten the dust. Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated wrote "Carl Pavano and the Twins are expected to have a two-year deal by the middle of this week. The Pirates in particular have made a run at Pavano, but the Twins' advantage is that they are a contending team...(and have) provided a comfortable environment for the pitcher to thrive in the last two seasons."

Heyman tweeted before the deal that the Pirates were one of the teams still actively seeking pitching. Hey, Aaron Heilman is still available!

Gorzo Goes To Nats

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Major League Trade Rumors reports that according to various sources ol' Bucco Tom Gorzelanny is headed to Washington. The Cubs will get two Class A pitchers, Grahmam Hicks and AJ Morris, and a good-looking AA outfielder, Michael Burgess, for the lefty.

The Pirates got Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and Josh Harrison for Gorzo and John Grabow at the 2009 deadline.

A Little Birdie Told Me...

An interesting tweet from C Tony Sanchez today: "Heading home for my last break till ST and getting my LASIK procedure done."

The LASIK job is kinda a surprise to us; we weren't aware of him wearing contacts, although that was entirely possible. We wonder if the pair of beanings he suffered in 2010 or his .206 Arizona Fall League average with 21 K's in 68 at-bats drove him to the doc...maybe both?

Anyway, it's usually not a very complicated medical procedure. LASIK has a 95% satisfaction rate, and its biggest complication is "dry eye," which has haunted Brian McCann. So let's hope it's a quick trip to the shop and Tony Sanchez will be 100% for his first MLB camp.

Jose Veras A Bucco

MLB Trade Rumors Zach Links announced that "The Pirates have agreed to sign Jose Veras to a minor league deal, according to Enrique Rojas of The reliever will earn a base of $1MM plus incentives if he makes the big league roster, Rojas tweets. Otherwise, the veteran will make $15K each month in the minors."

Sounds like a pretty good deal to shore up the pen by the FO.

Veras is a 6'5", 235 pound power pitcher with some experience. The 30 year old Dominican has pitched for the Yankees, Indians, and Marlins, with a career slash of 12-9-3/4.24. He's struck out 170 in 176-1/3 IP, and walked 98, which is no doubt the reason Pittsburgh ended up with him.

The righty was signed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998. He rose through the Tampa Bay minor league system, mostly as a starter. Veras struggled when he reached AAA, and was converted to a relief pitcher.

He was released following the 2004 season, after getting bombed as much from the pen as when he started. In 2005, he toiled for the Texas Rangers' AAA affiliate at Oklahoma, and began his turnaround, going 5-3 with 24 saves and a 3.79 ERA while striking out 68 in 60-1/3 innings.

Veras signed with the Yankees before the 2006 season, which he spent mostly at AAA Columbus, though he also made his major league debut, pitching 11 innings with a 4.09 ERA. Veras was injured early in 2007, but rehabbed and returned to the major leagues as a September call up.

In 2008, he blossomed and became the set-up man after the Yankees traded Kyle Farnsworth, going 5-3 with a 3.59 ERA and averaging 9.8K/9 innings.

But reality bit in 2009; he gave up almost 5 walks and 2 homers per 9 innings in his first 25 appearances. Veras was DFA'ed by the Yankees on June 16th, and was purchased a week later by the Tribe.

The Indians had him up for a couple of stints in between a trip to AAA, and his line improved except for his walk rate, which hit 5.1/9 innings.

He was non-tendered by the Indians after the season, and signed a minor league contract with the Florida Marlins with an invite to spring training. Veras made the roster, but lasted just a few days before he was sent down for current Bucco hopeful Chris Leroux.

Veras was called up on June 25th and finished the year with the big club, posting a 3-3 record with a 3.75 ERA. This was his first arb year, and the Fish let him go rather than risk a big arb hit. So now he's in Pittsburgh, and given the state of the bullpen, has a fair shot at breaking camp with the Buccos.

Veras throws three-quarters, almost sidearm, and has a four-seamer that can touch 98 and sits in the the 93-96 range. His other pitch is a sharp slider thrown in the low 80's.

His peripherals are all over the board. His career K's average 8.7/9 innings, and hits at 7.1/9 innings (.220 OBA), both great marks. His HR's are OK at 1.1/9 innings, but his walks, at 5.0/9 innings are a huge problem and drive his WHIP up to 1.350. Veras isn't much of a ground ball guy; his average balls in play show just 39% hit in the dirt.

Make no mistake; Veras is a legit MLB talent and has the stuff to be a back ender in the bullpen if he can find the dish with some regularity. The Pirates may have overpaid, but they get a guy with two more years of team control and one that they had to outbid the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays to land.

So the rebuilding for 2011 continues...anyone have a top-end starting pitcher or shortstop they're looking to get rid of in the next six weeks?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Week's Interviews

With the guys cornered in mini-camp, there were several interview/Q&A type sessions pumped out this week. Here's the list:

-- Steve Pearce (Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

-- Jose Tabata (Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review)

-- Ross Ohlendorf ( on-line chat transcript)

-- Jameson Taillon (Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

-- Jameson Taillon (John Lembo, Bradenton Herald)

-- Tim Alderson (Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review)

-- Jeff Clement (Jenifer Langosch,

-- Lyle Overbay (Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

-- Clint Hurdle (Q&A with Rob Biertempfel, Tribune-Review)

Saturday, January 15, 2011


The week-long Bucco mini-camp in Bradenton, the first get-together for the Clint Hurdle Buccos, just ended. Players that showed up for the voluntary get-together were:

Attending from 40-man roster: IF Pedro Ciriaco, RHP Mike Crotta, OF Matt Diaz, RHP Joel Hanrahan, RHP Kevin Hart, OF Gorkys Hernandez, OF Garrett Jones, RHP Jeff Karstens, C Jason Jaramillo, RHP Brad Lincoln, LHP Jeff Locke, OF Andrew McCutchen, RHP Daniel McCutchen, RHP James McDonald, RHP Kyle McPherson, RHP Evan Meek, RHP Bryan Morris, RHP Charlie Morton, LHP Dan Moskos, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, 1B Lyle Overbay, 1B Steve Pearce, OF Alex Presley, RHP Chris Resop, IF Josh Rodriguez, OF Jose Tabata, LHP Aaron Thompson, 2B Neil Walker, and LHP Tony Watson.

Notably missing: 3B Pedro Alvarez (getting married, guess that's worth a pass), OF John Bowker, SS Ronny Cedeno, RHP Kevin Correia, C/OF Ryan Doumit, LHP Paul Maholm, LHP Scott Olsen and C Chris Snyder.

Can't explain the absences, other than to emphasize that work-outs are voluntary. Still, you think the guys would like to eyeball Hurdle and the new staff, and those on thin ice roster-wise would like to make a good impression. Oh well, go figure.

Attending non-roster camp invitees: C Dusty Brown, LHP Brian Burres, 1B/3B Josh Fields, RHP Fernando Nieve, C Tony Sanchez, LHP Justin Thomas, RHP Cesar Valdez, LHP Donnie Veal and IF/OF Corey Wimberly.

Notable minor league attendees: Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia. (We don't have much of a handle on all the the minor-leaguers in camp, so that's the reason why we're lacking a no-show list for non-roster guys.)

Not much of consequence happened. The Pirates have had a change of focus, and now use the camp to assess physical conditioning, plant a couple of mental seeds, and have a team kumbaya.

We also found out that the players call Hurdle "Hurd," and that he has as many baseball cliches as Aesop had tales. He's gregarious and hands-on, so that will be a change from the JR days.

Tyler Yates and Kevin Hart threw a few fastballs off a mound for their first action since surgery last year. McCutch and Garrett Jones showed up late, but show up they did, and that effort is worth an "attaboy."

Best of all, there were no leaked "fat boy" stories, just notes that Tabata is bigger and Jones is smaller, so we can assume everyone is in reasonable shape for a change.

Management still hasn't decided on who is gonna close, but plan to have the answer before camp. Oddest competition we've even seen, but the FO does work in mysterious ways.

Everyone survived the encounter, and the Bucs are off on their annual PR campaign, the Pirate Caravan capped by Pirate Fest.

The News

My apologies to the GW gang for the unexpected vacation; lately Blogger, Comcast, and my PC have been at loggerheads. Hopefully that's now a thing of the past. The good news is that we haven't missed much:

-- Pirates pitchers Ross Ohlendorf and Joel Hanrahan filed for salary arbitration. They'll be given hearing dates in February, and they can agree to a deal any time up to the judge's final decision.

It's likely they will come to an agreement, as the current FO hasn't yet gone to arbitration with a player. But - isn't there always a but? - the market has been very kind to back end relievers so far, and that might impact the bottom line the guys are seeking. Even if the FO hasn't noticed, we're pretty sure the agents have.

-- The Pirates have offered RHP Jose Veras a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training workouts, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes. So have the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays.

The 30-year-old reliever pitched last season for the Fish. He had a 3-3 record with a 3.75 ERA. In his 48 innings pitched for the Marlins, he allowed 32 hits, 20 runs, walked 29 and struck out 54. Veras has spent five season in the majors and has a career ERA of 4.24 and 170 strikeouts in 178 innings. Power arm, Pirate interest.

He should decide which offer to accept this coming week.

-- Pirate target LHP Jeff Francis has signed with the KC Royals. This means the Bucs are probably done adding to their starting pitching, even though Jon Heyman of SI wrote that "a veteran starting pitcher couldn't hurt -- though how much it would help is debatable."

As for the remaining FA's, Carl Pavano is looking at a return to the Twins (although there is some speculation that there is still a mystery team in the bidding), there are questions whether or not Chris Young's arm is ready for prime time yet, and the smart money says that Justin Duchscherer will have to work out the pen, at least in the short term.

Joe Blanton, Tom Gorzelanny, Kenshin Kawakami and Armando Galarraga are the top names on the trade market (along with Paul Maholm). Sure not much to rummage through this year.

-- RHP Ian Snell is back in the NL Central. The Cards signed him to a minor league deal with an invite to camp.

-- The Mets have signed C Raul Chavez to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

-- The Giants will take a peek at Brad "Big Country" Eldred and Ryan Vogelsong during camp as non-roster invitees.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pirates Top Ten Prospects Per BA

Baseball America has released its Top Ten Pirate Prospects list for 2011, prepared by Dejan Kovacevic; it's pretty much the usual suspects.

They say "The organization currently has a wave of hitting that has just crested over the top, a wave of pitching coming from the bottom and a whole lot of question marks in between."

They also have their "best of" tools section & the top prospects of the decade.

Kris Benson Calls It A Career

Fifteen years after being the first overall pick in the 1996 draft, pitcher Kris Benson called it quits yesterday. He was a coulda been, shoulda been, big-time major leaguer before injuries wrecked his arm.

Injuries rained down on Benson throughout his career. He missed the 2001 season to Tommy John surgery, and then missed the 2007 and 2008 seasons for surgery for a torn rotator cuff. All told, Benson was placed on the DL eight times in his nine year career.

Benson pitched for the Pirates from 1999 to 2004, the New York Mets from 2004-2005, the Baltimore Orioles in 2006-2007, the Texas Rangers in 2009, and Arizona D-Backs in 2010. He won just two games in the show after his 32nd birthday.

He spent the most of his career with the Pirates, where he had a 4.26 ERA in 782 innings in parts of six seasons. Overall, Benson retired with a 70-75 record and a 4.42 ERA in 1,243-2/3 IP compiled over 206 games (200 starts).

His final career ERA+ was 100, noted Alex Remington of Big League Stew, meaning he was better than half his peers and worse than the other half over the course of his career. In other words, he was completely and utterly average.

Kristin James Benson was born November 7, 1974, in Superior, Wisconsin. He was born to baseball nut parents whose kids names all started with "K," as in strikeout.

Benson played at Sprayberry HS in Marietta, Georgia with future All-Star Marlon Byrd. He was one of two players in school history to make the varsity as a freshman, and finished his senior year with a 0.60 ERA and a mantle full of national awards. Even so, Benson wasn't drafted as a prep star.

So hey, he went to powerhouse Clemson University from 1993 to 1996 instead. His teammate was Billy Koch, who played with him in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta where the USA won bronze. His nickname was "Messiah."

Benson went 14-2 with a 2.02 ERA during his junior year, including the national playoffs. He K'ed 204 in 156 innings, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in wins and strikeouts while second in ERA. His two losses were during the College World Series even though he struck out 26 hitters; most attributed his lack of success to a tired arm, as he led the nation in innings pitched.

The honors kept coming: he won the Baseball America Player of the Year, ACC Player of the Year, and the ACC Male Athlete of the Year (the only other ACC baseball player to win it was B.J. Surhoff of UNC and the Brewers/O's). Benson also won the Rotary Smith Award, Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year, the Dick Howser Trophy and ABCA Player of the Year. Needless to say, Benson was first-team All-American.

In 2003 he was named to the ACC's 50-Year Anniversary baseball team, and was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Amateur Hall of Fame in 2005.

Benson was the first overall pick of the 1996 draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates made him a well-to-do young man when they signed him for a $2M bonus. Baseball America named Benson the #1 prospect in Pittsburgh's system before he played a game in the minors, and he rose like a rocket, spending just two years in the bushes.

He split his first year between the Lynchburg Hillcats (5-2, 2.58 ERA, 72 K in in 59-1/3 IP) and the Carolina Mudcats (3-5, 4.98 ERA, 66 K in 68-2/3 IP). Baseball America rated him the #2 prospect in the Carolina League between top dog Russ Branyan of Kinston and the league MVP, Lynchburg's Aramis Ramirez; BA named him the #6 prospect in Carolina's Southern League.

In 1998 at AAA Nashville, the numbers weren't so pretty. Benson was 8-10 with a 5.37 ERA. But BA wrote that he had the best breaking pitch in the Pacific Coast League, and considered him to be the Pirates #3 prospect behind Chad Hermansen and Warren Morris.

Although thought to be not-quite-ready-for-prime-time, Benson earned a spot in the '99 rotation after a camp injury to Jose Silva. On April 9th, Benson made his MLB debut, beating the Chicago Cubs (his first strikeout victim was Sammy Sosa). He become the second #1 overall pick to win his opening game, following David Clyde who had turned the trick in 1973.

Benson had a rock solid frosh season, going 11-14 with a 4.07 ERA, finishing 4th in the NL Rookie of the Year Award race. He also became a married man, hitching up with Anna, who he had met while pitching in Nashville; no wonder he was distracted there.

The young righty followed with what would be his best season, going 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 217-2/3 IP. He posted career highs in earned run average, strikeouts (184), innings pitched, and games pitched (32); he also broke the record for most strikeouts in Pirates history for a right handed pitcher. And as an aside for the record books, Benson started the last game at Three Rivers Stadium. In March, Pittsburgh signed Benson to a 4-year, $13.8M deal.

But then it began. In what would become a recurring theme, the Bensons stirred a bit of controversy when Kris and Anna were interviewed in Penthouse Magazine and spilled some steamy bedroom beans.

Quickly following what was to become another recurring theme, injury. Benson badly sprained his right elbow, requiring ligament transplant, aka Tommy John, surgery in May and missed the entire 2001 campaign.

After successful rehab stints, Benson's 2002 return to the Buccos wasn't so successful, at least at the start. He began 0-4 with a 7.79 ERA in 8 starts, but then was 9-2 with a 3.57 ERA in his last 17 starts to finish 9-6, with a 4.70 ERA. His second half surge gave the Pirates confidence that he was fully recovered.

But he struggled with tendinitis in his right shoulder, which ended his season in mid-July. He went 5-9 with a 4.97 ERA in 2003. With the contract ending, Anna, and his always aching arm, Benson was primed for a move to another town.

Benson started the 2004 season 8-8 with a 4.22 ERA. Rumors filled the air about a deadline deal; the hottest regarded a trade for Ryan Howard that the trigger was never pulled on. Some sources say Phil's GM Ed Wade got cold feet; others claim that the Bucco FO thought Pirate prospect Brad Eldred and Howard had basically the same upside, and that two first basemen were one too many.

At any rate, on July 30, Benson was traded with Jeff Keppinger to the New York Mets for Jose Bautista, Ty Wigginton and Matt Peterson.

He pitched OK through 2006. He stayed with the Mets for 2004-05, long enough to sign a three-year, $22.5M contract, before being dealt (allegedly because of another Anna-generated spat) to the O's for John Maine and Jorge Julio in 2006.

Then February of 2007, Kris was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Upon his return in 2008, he signed with the Phils, then the Rangers a year later, and the D-Backs in 2010. In those three years, he got into 11 games for 36-1/3 innings.

His arm never recovered from the 2007 surgery, and he hung up the spikes rather than continue on the hamster wheel of rehab.

But outside of having never reached his potential because of a bad arm, we wouldn't feel too badly for Kris Benson. According to Baseball Reference, he earned nearly $39M in his career.

A marketing major at Clemson, Benson also is working to form his own business management company. He doesn't have cash flow or financial concerns now because he had some of the Met money deferred, so it's still rolling in.

And hey, for all the yap about Anna, Benson has a family of four kids and is involved in charity work. As a player, he's won the Pirates' Roberto Clemente Award, along with the Thurman Munson Award, the Joan Payson Award, and the New Jersey Sports Writers Humanitarian of the Year Award for his community efforts.

Anna and Kris Benson founded the non-profit organization Benson's Battalion after 9/11, which has been recognized by Congress for its support of public safety departments' needs. The couple have also made tidy contributions to Clemson University, as well as to the Mets and Orioles charitable foundations while Benson played there.

So hey, for all the ooh-la-la's and voyeurism involved in Kris and Anna's stops, the couple are out of the limelight now and getting on with their lives' work, whatever that may end up being. We wish them well, and hope that Kris' arm holds up well enough so that he can at least enjoy a toss with his kids, even if his slider days are done.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bucs Sign Wild Child Jorge Julio

Jorge Dandys Julio Tapia, 31, the Venezuelan wild child, has signed on for another tour with Pittsburgh. Let's hope this one lasts longer than 2010's stint, when he was released before throwing a pitch.

Julio is the classic low-risk, high reward signing. Hey, he's not even being given an invite to camp, just a chance to resurrect his career at Indianapolis.

JJ spent the winter in Venezuela, where he had an 1.95 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 27 innings. In 2010, he pitched indy ball for the Bridgeport Bluefish and struck out 57 batters in 55 innings without allowing a home run, with a 1.15 ERA.

He's also a guy who's had some MLB success. Julio debuted in the show in 2001 with the Orioles. His first full season followed, and he went 5–6, posting a 1.99 ERA with 25 saves and 55 Ks in 68 innings, finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

But he lost his job as the Orioles closer to B. J. Ryan at the end of 2004, and the roller coaster ride began.

After the 2005 campaign, Julio was sent to the Mets with John Maine for Kris Benson. Then he was traded to the Diamondbacks in May for Orlando Hernández. He replaced José Valverde as the Arizona closer, saved 15 games in 19 chances, and so gave the job back to Valverde in early September.

In 2007, he was traded to the Marlins for Yusmeiro Petit, and was their closer coming out of camp. Julio lost that job quickly enough, too, and was traded to the Rockies for Byung-Hyun Kim in May.

Did OK, too, in lower leverage situations, pitching as both a middle relief and a set-up guy for Colorado. He appeared in 58 games and posted an 0–3 record with a 3.93 ERA for the Rox.

Julio was a free agent in 2008, and he landed in Cleveland. Julio wasn't very good again, and was DFA'ed in May and released in June. He signed a minor league contract with the Braves, and as a September call-up, he won three games and posted a 0.73 ERA.

He then signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, but was released in June after compiling a 1-1 record and a 7.79 ERA.

Julio was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays, sent to AAA Durham Bulls, and released in August. He signed up for the Buccos in 2010, but was cut before the season started, and so it was off to Bridgeport.

His MLB line is 17-34 with a 4.43 ERA, which isn't too shabby. In 467 IP, he has 448 K and 223 BB. The first number makes him intriguing; the second makes him frustrating.

But through all his ups and downs, Julio could always bring it, and still can. He throws both a four-seam and a two-seam heater in the 95–100 MPH range and sometimes better. Julio also has a downward-breaking slider, which comes in at between 86-90 MPH, and a show-me changeup.

The guy is 31, a 6'1", 225 pound righty power pitcher who has worked for eight MLB teams, throws BBs and has 99 career saves. What's not to like about the deal? The Pirates love hard throwing relievers even if they are clueless as to the location of the plate, and Julio is one that just may have a touch of upside left.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Pen

Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review wrote today that LHP Brian Fuentes is off the Bucco wish list; he apparently wants a multi-year deal at $5M per year, kinda steep for a 35-year old set up/closer type.

But he'll get someone to bite; it's been an odd year for relievers. Usually among the last to be added to a roster, this year they went early and for multiple years.

There's not much left for the Pirates to sort through; the team is pretty well set with RHP and was looking for a couple of lefties for balance. The FO has said they're still searching, but the Bucs may end up with an in-house crew this year, for a couple of reasons.

The back end is set with Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. The Pirates have said that they didn't plan to have them compete in camp, and they would decide who would close before that. Well, tick tock...

Hanrahan will likely get the call. Not only has he closed for the Nats in his prior MLB life, but he was 6-for-10 in save chances last year and struck out a dazzling 100 batters in 69-2/3 innings.

That 6-for-10 may not sound like money, but compared to Meek, who was 4-for-10 in converting save opps, it is. So we think we're looking at Hanny closing and Meek as the eighth inning set-up guy.

The bridge pitcher out of the gate will be Chris Resop. The hard throwing righty whiffed 26 batters in 21 frames and handled himself pretty well as the seventh inning arm, Meek's position until the Octavio Dotel trade. He'll get a look at the more highly leveraged set-up spot whenever one of the dynamic duo needs a blow.

All three are under team control for the next 3-4 years. Hanrahan entered his first arb year this off-season; Resop and Meek become arb-eligible after the 2011 campaign. They're all locks to make the 25-man, and that's a good thing. Only Meek has any options (2) remaining.

Middle relief is set; in fact, it's logjammed. One can assume that the loser of the Scott Olsen-Craig Morton battle for the fifth spot will claim one seat on the bullpen bench. Both Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart have to be on the 25-man roster or DFA'ed. Ascanio should be healthy; it's possible they could delay a decision on Hart for awhile, although he should be back from labrum surgery by camp.

Jeff Karstens is almost automatic as the long man/spot starter; it's a role he fills perfectly. And that adds up to a full complement of seven bullpen guys, none of whom can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers except Olsen, who has options remaining but could opt for free agency if demoted (thanks to Tim Williams at Pirates Propects for that heads-up).

But as Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend!" If Olsen wins the fifth start, which given the competition is entirely possible, the Pirates would have no lefties in the pen.

They do have a couple of in-house LHP candidates in Danny Moskos, the answer to "who did the Pirates draft first in 2007 instead of Matt Weiters?" and Tony Watson. Moskos is a back-end pitcher who tore up Altoona but fizzled at Indy, while Watson, 25, is a starter who's a potential LOOGY but hasn't pitched higher than AA ball yet. Justin Thomas, a non-roster invitee who spent some time with the big club in 2010, is also available.

We think all three, for a handful of good baseball reasons, are ticketed to start out at Indy.

But the bullpen situation, while fairly predictable at the moment because of options, is still fluid. There's not much on the market, but between the available FAs, the in-house arms, and where Olsen ends up, adding a lefty or two could change the middle tier of relievers considerably.

And the Pirates still have a couple of trade irons in the fire. If they pull the trigger on a Paul Maholm deal, the pitching fallout will impact both the rotation and the middle relief crew.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

LaRoche And Jones By the Numbers

Adam LaRoche signed a two-year contract with the Washington Nats yesterday. He’ll get $7M in 2011 and $8M in 2012, with a $10M mutual option/$1M buyout for 2012 for a guaranteed total of $16M.

The Pirates dealt him to Boston in 2009 for RHP Hunter Strickland, now 26 and who spent last season in High Class A Bradenton, and since-released SS Argenis Diaz. They felt they couldn't pony up enough to keep LaRoche around when he became a free agent.

The Pirates had an unexpected windfall after the trade when Garrett Jones came out of nowhere to claim the first base job. And when we look at the stats put up since the July 2009 trade, the LaRoche-for-Jones clearance was a pretty copacetic swap.

Offensively, LaRoche hit .278/38/143 in 791 at-bats after leaving Pittsburgh; Jones batted .263/42/130 in 906 at-bats as his replacement. Jones wasn't as productive, but close enough considering the gaping hole that LaRoche's absence was anticipated to leave.

Fielding, well that was another story. The steady-as-she-goes LaRoche has a lifetime UZR/150 of -2.6; his range was never much but he caught everything he could get to. Jones has a career rating of -7.1, and that doesn't really factor in his missed throws and DPs unturned.

It was for sure a sweet financial coup. LaRoche was earning $7.05M as a Bucco, and got $4.5M last year from Arizona, though he had to sweat it out til January to close that deal (and there's no way he would have resigned in Pittsburgh for that amount).

He's been a bargain; his WAR over 2009-10 averaged 2.4; his street value over the two seasons according to Fangraphs should have been $19.9M, or just under $10M/year.

The Bucs plugged in Garrett Jones, who earned $400K and $425K during the same span. His WAR averaged 1.4, although unlike the steady LaRoche, his WAR dropped from 2.7 in '09 to 0.1 in 2010. His Fangraphs value was $12.9M.

So assuming - and it's a very unlikely assumption - LaRoche signed with Pittsburgh for the same salary he took with the D-Backs, and discounting time played in 2009, the Pirates saved about $6M by swapping out LaRoche for Jones, at a WAR cost of a couple of wins in 2010 (the WARs were similar in 2009, so that season was a wash).

Neither player was the Pirate first baseman of the future (LaRoche is 31, Jones will be 30 in June). In fact, with the-soon-to-be-34 Lyle Overbay's addition, the Bucs officially admitted they have no first baseman of the future, unless during knee surgery Steve Pearce received bionic implants to improve his eye against LHP, and turn his gappers into homers.

And hey, with that being the case, saving a few mil and losing 105 games instead of 103 was probably worth the move.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Beat Goes On...

-- Jen Langosch of has a list of the Pirates 15 non-roster camp invitees, while Dan Mennella of MLB Trade Rumors has a couple of comments on the class. She also has the full contract details for Garrett Atkins and Brian Burres.

-- Josh of Billy Beane Is My Hero blog lists the ten worst rotations in baseball heading into 2011. Guess which one is #30? Where's the Kevin Correia/Scott Olsen love at?

-- The Pirates still need a lefty reliever; Brian Fuentes is the top of the remaining crop. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors wrote late last week that "The Blue Jays, Rays, Mariners, Twins, Pirates, Yankees, and Mets do seem destined to add relievers, though I can see a shift toward a buyer's market a few weeks from now."

That still holds true; Fuentes is hoping for a pot of gold; the Pirates are hoping for a drop in cost as February approaches.

-- Several sources report that the Twins are close to signing up Carl Pavano again. The Pirates were believed to be interested in him, although to what degree is unknown.

Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review has some notes on both Pavano and Fuentes.

-- The Phillies signed Delwyn Young to a minor-league contract with an invite to camp.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bucs Still Looking For A Few Good Arms

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweets that the Pirates are one of seven teams still in the Jeff Francis sweepstakes.

As we've noted before, the Pirates already have a small posse of pitchers on hand. We're wondering if they're planning to hold back their young pitchers for another season for developmental reasons.

It's just a guess, but after Brad Lincoln, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen were spanked in 2010, the suits may have decided that fast-tracking guys is not the way to go.

Our read so far is that J-Mac, Ohlie, Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia are in, and there's a wide-open competition for the fifth spot, which looks a lot like a shoot-out between Charlie Morton and Scott Olsen.

Rudy Owens is the best lock to move up to Indy. The betting line is that he'll be joined in the rotation by Lincoln, Sean Gallagher, Cesar Valdez and maybe Olsen, who is signed but still has two options remaining, or Brian Burres, or Fernando Nieve. Danny Moskos and Ramon Aguero should open for the Tribe in the pen.

Mike Crotta, Kyle McPherson and Tony Watson, all protected on the 40-man roster, have to get some innings in, too, as does Donnie Veal. They too should be in Indy this coming season.

That leaves Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Aaron Thompson and Aaron Pribanic/Brian Leach toiling for Altoona. All have some aspect of their game to work on; spending a little more time in the slow lane might be a blessing in disguise. But their arrival at Indianapolis is inevitable, even if the time table is delayed by a few weeks or months.

To add to the equation, Morton, Hart, Jose Ascanio and Jeff Karstens are all out of options and have to get through waivers if left off the 25-man roster. And with Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, and Chris Resop in as bullpen locks, we're sure Clint Hurdle with be looking for a couple of southpaws.

We don't think they plan to go into the year with just Moskos, Justin Thomas, and maybe Watson as the sum of all their left-handed depth; rest assured that they'll find a lefty or two. That being the case, the out-of-option RHPs can't all be stockpiled in the outfield (although that may be Ascanio and Karsten's ultimate destination).

Quite a crowd this year, unlike most seasons. And with a couple of months before camp, there still may be some roster shuffling, especially in the bullpen. We're hoping the Pirate evaluators can make the numbers game a good problem to have this season.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Whoops, There Goes Another Lefty...

The Toronto Blue Jays claimed Wil Ledezma today, as the Bucco bullpen options from the left side continue to shrink.

Ledezma, who will be 30 in a couple of weeks, who was signed to a split $700K/$300K deal, has pitched for six teams in an eight year career, with a lifetime line of 15-25 with a 5.26 ERA and 277 K in 390-1/3 innings.

This leaves the Pirates with Danny Moskos and Tony Watson on the 40-man roster as LH relievers. Justin Thomas and Donnie Veal are minor-league roster options.

Lefties remaining unsigned in free agency are Joe Beimel, Tim Byrdak, Randy Flores, Brian Fuentes, Mark Hendrickson, Ron Mahay, Will Ohman, Dennys Reyes, Scott Schoeneweis, Bobby Seay and Taylor Tankersley. Not a particularly overwhelming list with a couple of exceptions, but expect one or two to land in our fair city.

Blyleven An Immortal

Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame today. Blyleven became the first full-time starting pitcher elected to the Hall since Nolan Ryan in 1999.

Blyleven had a 22-season career that began in 1970 with the Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels. He was a member of two World Series-winning teams: The 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates and the '87 Twins.

Over those two decades, he was 287-250 with a 3.31 ERA, 60 shut-outs and 3,701 K's in 4,970 innings of work spread over 685 starts (692 appearances).

Pirate Fest Around The Corner...

OK, even an indie blogger has to flack for the home team every so often, and this is for an event, the Pirate Fest, that many Bucco fans eagerly await. Here's the official release:
PirateFest 2011 will take place Jan. 28-30 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Players Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Evan Meek and James McDonald, along with new manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage, are all scheduled to participate.

PirateFest is a giant indoor baseball carnival for the entire family, featuring live events, free autograph sessions, prizes, games, youth baseball clinics, photo ops, Q&A sessions, single game ticket sales, the Pirate Parrot and more.
For tickets ($12), click here or call 1-800-BUY-BUCS/412-321-BUCS.

Hurdle Speaks

Clint Hurdle was interviewed by recently, and here's what he had to say:

-- On the roster turnover> " the end of the day your actions have to speak louder than your words. There's definitely some action been taken here, and there will be the rest of the winter."

-- On changing the team culture> "Everything we do is fun. This is a game you play. I'm not big on talking about working the game. We work in practice and we play the games. That's the way it should be."

-- On optimism for the upcoming season> "...we need to put a foot down and reverse a trend here...We can't just hope for it to happen or say we're going to need some time to make it happen. We need to start to make it happen right now."

-- On the new coaching staff> "We were looking for guys who are going to energize our players, challenge our players and encourage our players...The players are going to look to my coaching staff and myself for direction and guidance. They're going to look at how we handle our day-to-day activities, how we handle winning, how we handle losing, how we handle adversity, how we handle success."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bucs and Bucks

Curious about the payroll gap in the NL Central? Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball has a decade long breakdown of the spending and the growing financial chasm between everybody and the Pirates (with links to the rest of the MLB figures).

Brown notes:"...the NL Central shows how growing revenues and possibly disincentivized low-revenue maker the Pittsburgh Pirates, has seen a growing gap between the highest and lowest end of year payroll."

Bucco Prospects

John Sickels has listed his Top Twenty Pirate Prospects; not a one is rated as an elite player. In fact, the top pair haven't even played an inning of pro ball yet.

His take: "Overall, the system could use more hitting but I like what they are doing on the pitching side."

Martinez to Tribe

Joe Martinez, the RHP obtained as part of the Javier Lopez deal last season, was traded to the Indians for future considerations, either cash or a PTBNL. Martinez, who was DFA'ed when Kevin Correia signed, still has two options remaining.

He is a fairly soft thrower, and didn't really fit into the Pirate bullpen's power pitching mold, which is why he got the ax instead of Chris Leroux. Between Pittsburgh and SF last year, JM was 0-1 with a 4.12 ERA, and his career line is 3-3 with a 6.16 ERA.

2011 Rotation: A Numbers Game

Brian Burres, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, Brad Lincoln, Paul Maholm, Daniel McCutchen, James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Olsen.

Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, Donnie Veal, Sean Gallagher, Cesar Valdez.

Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris.

What do these guys have in common? They all may get a chance to be a starting pitcher for your Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.

Hey, the FO must have learned by now that there is security in numbers when it comes to pitching. Last year, the rotation was set going into camp with Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and Kevin Hart. Remember how that worked out?

Morton and his replacement, McCutchen, got bombed; Hart went to the chop shop after being sent down, Ohlie got hurt and it took Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres to more or less come to the rescue, as guys like Dana Eveland and Hayden Penn came and went at a dizzying pace.

In 2009, they started with Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. That staff broke up pretty quickly, too.

Anyway, the Pirates have insurance policies all over this season; they probably have the greatest collection of back-end pitchers in MLB history. There are just two problems: first, J-Mac, Ohlie, and maybe Maholm are the only guys with mid-rotation upside. There is no ace or even #2 arm on the staff right now, and not too darn many #3's, for that matter. So talent is one question.

Problem number two: only five guys can start in Pittsburgh, and one or two others may take up bullpen spots. So that leaves a whole mob of hurlers looking for some work at Indy. Younger pitchers like Owens, Wilson and Morris have to move up, and it's not likely that the Tribe will go to a ten-man rotation to accommodate them all.

To further acerbate the numbers game, Morton, Hart, Ascanio and Karstens are out of options. So are Gallagher and Burres, but the Bucs have them inked to minor-league deals, so at least they're accounted for. The others can be lost if they don't make the cut out of camp.

The Pirates have learned a painful lesson about pitching depth. To their credit, they have addressed it short-term by loading up with guys they can plug in if the situation calls for it, unlike years past. But now, the pressure is on at Indy.

The Pirate evaluators have to determine who they need for big-league insurance while not creating a log jam for the pitchers coming up through the system, and there are quite a few hurlers between Bradenton and Altoona who should be advancing in the system.

Some guys could be moved to the bullpen, like McCutchen, Ascanio, or Karstens, but it will be an interesting challenge for the Pirate brass this year, striking a balance of support for the MLB team and developing the future arms.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Right Field - 2011

OK, right field will not be split between Lastings Milledge and Ryan Doumit in 2011; it will be the domain of Matt Diaz and and Garrett Jones. Good or bad?

We thought we'd play with a couple of simple stats and see how RF past compares with RF future. First, on the offensive side:

Doumit, against righties: .282/11/35 with 277 AB in 2010, and
Milledge, against lefties: .320/4/17 with 125 AB in 2010

Doumit/Milledge 2010 platoon: .294/15/52 with 402 AB (.294/23/78 with 600 AB)

Jones, against righties: .262/15/59 with 378 AB in 2010, and
Diaz, against lefties: .318/5/15 with 121 AB in 2010

Jones/Diaz 2010 platoon: .265/20/74 with 499 AB (.265/24/88 with 600 AB)

As you can see, not much difference in the 2010 performances (the OBP's are offsetting; they average in the low-to-mid .330 range for both pairs); maybe a little more run production out of the new guys at the cost of a couple of hits from the old.

The Pirates are betting on two things; one, that Diaz returns to his southpaw slugging form (.335 lifetime against lefties), and that Jones regresses to his lifetime norm against righties (.292).

Doumit and Milledge both hit above their lifetime averages in 2010 against opposite throwers (Doumit .272 career vs RH; Milledge .289 career vs LH), so it would be realistic for the FO to feel that they maxed out on their potential.

So according to the Bucco mainframe, the RF duo of Diaz and Jones should outperform that of Doumit and Milledge at the plate next year. Bill James' 2011 projections, shown in Fangraphs, agree. So we'll see if the old adage about lies, dang lies, and statistics holds water or not.

In the field, expect a lot more consistency and a lot less Keystone Kop action. Jones had a -2.6 UZR/150 in right in 2010, and Diaz's corner OF at Atlanta was a 0.2 UZR/150. Lifetime, both are average OF'ers (Jones -0.2 UZR/150, Diaz 0.6).

Doumit and Milledge played butcher ball in RF last season; Dewey had a -40.4 UZR/150 and Milledge a -4.1. Both had good excuses of sorts, though.

Doumit was jerked around the field last year and stuck in right as an afterthought; his actual lifetime rating in right is 6.3 UZR/150, not the nightmarish performance he turned in during 2010. So his misadventures maybe a byproduct of the Pirate tendency to play guys out of position; then again, catching may finally be catching up to his wheels.

Milledge had a positive OF rating in left of 0.6 last year. Being tossed into right with no break-in period when Jose Tabata arrived backfired, as LM has no real fundamental base to ease him into the transition; he plays on pure instinct. Those instincts need sharpened by practice reps, and he didn't get enough to master PNC's short porch, where there's no room to make up for mistakes with speed.

Whether you use today's fielding metrics or the old school eyeball approach, Jones and Diaz don't project as toolsy, but they run their routes well and make the plays they should, which is more than Dewey and Milledge could do last year. The improvement in right may not be dramatic, but should be noticeable.

Hey, it has to be - the Pirates threw eight players (John Bowker, Ryan Church, Doumit, Jones, Milledge, Alex Presley, John Raynor, Delwyn Young) in front of Clemente Wall in 2010. Just getting it down to two guys is an improvement.

It's certainly far from a long term solution, but the OF'ers of the future - Starling Marte, Andrew Lambo, Gorkys Hernandez, Robbie Grossman - are still down the road. Diaz and Jones should be capable of holding the fort until one of them gets here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Matt Diaz

Goodbye, Lastings Milledge, hello Matt Diaz.

Milledge, John Bowker and Ryan Doumit formed such a formidable trio in right field at the end of last season that the powers that be flipped LH Garrett Jones from first base and inked RH Diaz to form the 2011 two-headed right field monster.

Diaz, 32 (he'll turn 33 in March) was born in Oregon and raised in Florida. After a stellar career at Lakeland's Santa Fe Catholic High, he took his game to Florida state.

He became a two-year starter for the Seminoles and appeared in two CWS. Diaz made earned Freshman of the Year honors from the Sporting News in 1998. The next season he was named an All-America by the American Baseball Coaches Association and the National Baseball College Writers' Association.

During his brief two year career at FSU, Diaz batted .384 with 43 HR and was named an NCAA Regional MVP and to the College World Series’ All Tournament Team.

Tampa Bay selected him in the 17th round of the 1999 draft. He wasn't considered very toolsy, was kinda bulky physically, and for a guy that was drafted for his bat, he had a funny swing. So he signed quickly with the Devil Rays and jumped right into his pro career.

He started for the short-season Hudson Valley Renegades, and his first pro season was nothing to particularly write home about. Diaz hit .245/.284/.351 with one HR and 20 RBI in 54 games. He was such a free swinger that he got hit by a pitch as often as he walked, a half dozen times each.

Still, he got a nice boot upstairs to the High A St. Petersburg Devil Rays, and his slash looked better: .270/.305/.385 with 6 HR and 53 RBI in 106 games. Same odd pattern with the HBP and BBs, though - he collected eleven of each in his first full pro season.

In 2001, he got another year to season in High A with the Bakersfield Blaze, and had a breakout year with the bat. Diaz's line was .328/.370/.510 with 17 HR ansd 81 RBI in 131 games. Heck, he finally drew more walks than bruises; his eye had to be improving.

It was a mixed bag for Tampa Bay evaluators - although Bakersfield played in a notorious pitcher's park, Diaz was 23, long in the tooth for that level, and his glove was iffy as he made 10 outfield errors. His AA performance would be more telling.

He put together a solid 2002 with the Class AA Orlando Rays, hitting .274/.337/.408 with 10 HR and 50 RBI in 122 games. He stayed there next year, and tore the league up with a slash of .383/.444/.542 with 5 HR and 41 RBI in 60 games.

That offensive outburst earned him a promotion to the Class AAA Durham Bulls, and he kept on keeping on, batting .328/.382/.518 with 8 HR and 45 RBI in 67 games. It was quite a season; combined, he hit .354/.412/.529 with 13 HR and 86 RBI in 126 games.

Did he get a shot at the show? Yep. The Rays gave him ten September at-bats and sent him back to AAA to start 2004.

He didn't mope, but just kept beating up pitchers with Durham. His 2004 slash was .332/.377/.571 with 21 HR and and 93 RBI in 134 games. He became a minor-league All-Star for the third time in the past four seasons. Tampa gave him another September call-up; he got 24 plate appearances this time.

The late-blooming Diaz was behind Jose Cruz, Damon Hollins and Rob Fick on Tampa's OF list, and was released after the 2004 season despite killing the ball at AAA. The KC Royals signed him as a free agent. No where to go but up, right? Well...

He earned a bench spot out of camp, and actually started 17 games and had a .281 BA with 10 extra base hits and 12 RBI in a mostly backup role. An oblique injury in June landed him on the DL, and it took him until July to heal and finish rehabbing. With 32 games missed, KC sent him down to AAA Omaha. Diaz again crushed the ball there, hitting .371/.408/.649 with 14 HR and 56 RBI in 65 games.

At his age, Diaz was beginning to pick up the patina of a AAAA player. He hit for high average with very good gap power and some pop ever since his AA days, but his freeswinging ways and questionable glove seemed to doom him to being a minor league legend.

But his patience was about to pay off. Atlanta GM John Schuerholz sent minor league RHP Ricardo Rodriguez to the Royals, and Diaz's days on the farm were over.

He got into 124 games with the Braves in 2006, and put up a slash of .327/.364/.475 with 15 7 HR and 32 RBI in 297 at-bats. At one point, he tied the MLB record by banging out 10 straight hits, including back-to-back four hit games. The 28 year old looked like he finally found his path to the show, oddly enough for a contender after cellar-dwellers gave up on him.

One year, of course, doesn't mean a thing. So in 2007, when he put up a line of .338/.368/.497 with 12 HR and 45 RBI in 358 AB, it looked like his foothold on a MLB job was a little more secure.

In 2008, Diaz started season as the everyday left fielder. But he started of hitting just .244, and then he suffered a strained posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He went to the chop shop in late May, and played in only one game after surgery, pretty much blowing his big chance to break into the line up and perhaps jeopardizing his big league career.

Butinstead of throwing in his hand, Diaz bounced back with a strong year. His line was .313/.390/.488 with 13 HR and 58 RBI and a career-high 425 at-bats. In fact, he claimed the everyday left field job after the All-Star break when Jeff Francoeur was sent to the Mets and Garrett Anderson didn't work out as his replacement. The only problem he had was toward the end of the season when a thumb infection required some minor surgery, but it would unfortunately linger.

In 2010, the thumb bothered him from April on; in May he had surgery on it again and was out until July. He had a miserable year, hitting just .250 and managing only 224 at-bats.

The 32 year old outfielder was non-tendered by the Braves, who feared that the $2.55M he made in 2010 would shoot upward in his final year of arbitration. Diaz became a free agent, and a pretty popular one, considering his spotty MLB career.

Several national news outlets speculated that he had 10 or 11 teams interested in him, among them Seattle, Arizona, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Boston, the Yankees, Texas and Pittsburgh. And hey - the Buccos got their man.

They reached agreement on a two-year, $4.25 million deal without an option, covering Diaz's last arb and first free agency year.

Why Pittsburgh? Diaz had heard Nate McLouth talk fondly about Pittsburgh while they were teammates. Ranger players he talked to while team shopping spoke well of new skipper Hurdle. And Neal Huntington and the FO sold him on "the plan" which is supposed to bear fruit in 2012 (maybe they'll let the fans in on it next).

In Diaz, the Pirates get a guy that feasts on lefties, with a career .335 average, .373 OBP, and .533 slugging percentage against southpaws. If the platoon holds up, he should get 400 or so at-bats.

He's a free swinger who rarely walks, but makes up for it with a high average and BABIP that's well above average because of his line drive tendencies despite his awkward looking swing. Diaz can hit anything, especially fastball-changeup combinations.

And his fielding, which has been bad-mouthed, is just about average by every measurement we can find. His UZR/150 in 2010 was 0.2, and while it's true he doesn't have much range, he does take direct routes to the ball, and a center fielder like McCutch will help him on the gappers.

He's also an overachiever, a hard worker, and a great clubhouse and community guy by all tales. So if he can match his career norms, he'll have the cred to be a veteran leader and mentor to a still young crew of Buccaneers.

There is the downside, too: Diaz will turn 33 shortly before the 2011 season starts, and that's about when a player typically begins to decline in production. He also seems to have a tendency toward nagging injuries that drag out; it may be a stretch for Pittsburgh to get two healthy seasons out of him.

Diaz isn't the home run hitter the Pirates sought for right, though he does have a history of pounding out doubles (his .465 lifetime slugging % would put him third on the 2010 team). And though he's had a shot at being an everyday outfielder, the splits scream platoon player.

Still, a platoon of Diaz and Garrett Jones in right has the potential to both shore up the fielding and vastly improve the hitting. We just hope that Clint Hurdle doesn't take a page out of JR's book and keep pounding round pegs into square holes.

And there's always the chance that he's just another example of the Pirate FO bringing in a vet to dump for prospects at the deadline, although his two-year deal might delay that very real possibility until 2012.

In his personal life, Diaz is a born-again Christian, and he and his wife Leslee have three children, Nathan, Anna, and Matthew. The family makes their winter home in Florida. And for those fans of Christian rock, his brother is singer/songwriter Jonny Diaz.

So Matt Diaz seems like a good head and a good risk to cover the corner until the Starling Marte, Andrew Lambo and Robbie Grossman outfield prospect class, none sure things, wend their way to PNC Park.

New Year Notes

-- Tracy Ringolsby of Fox Sports has Neal Huntington on the short list of GM's on the hot seat this season: "Huntington becomes the next scapegoat unless there are tangible signs of development."

-- We failed to mention that longtime baseball man Bill Lajoie died earlier this week. He was a special assistant to the GM regarding personnel. Lajoie, 76, was best known for his 23-year run with the Tigers.

Wil and I wish you all a happy 2011; may it be your best year yet.