Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Moves

  •  The recently cut RH reliever Ryoto Igarashi has reportedly been traded to Toronto for cash considerations or a PTBNL.
  •  Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has his Pirate "Off Season In Review" posted today. He assesses the FO's winter moves, and says that he thinks their plan is to "tread water until the farm system produces star-caliber players to surround (Andrew) McCutchen."
  • The Pirates will be featured on the MLB Network's "30 Clubs in 30 Days" preview tomorrow night at 7 PM. 
  • Steve Pearce found a new gig. The Yankees have signed him and sent him to AAA Scranton after he was released by the Twins.
  • Ditto for Jason Jaramillo. The Cubs released him, and he was picked up by the Brewers on a minor league deal. JJ is a Racine, WI, native.
  • Add the Zachster to that list. After being cut by Arizona, the Nats signed Zach Duke to a minor league contract.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Makin' Some Moves...

The Bucs announced that Charlie Morton will start the year on the 15-day DL rather than come north with the team. That allows the team in the short term to add another body to the roster; whether it will be in the bullpen or on the bench hasn't been released by the club yet.

Morton was beat up in his outing today, allowing six runs and eight hits in five frames against the Rays and lasting 75 pitches. He'll be eligible to come back on April 14th, the first day that the Pirates will need a fifth starter this season. That will give Morton some time to rehab in Florida and then pick up a start at Indy before taking the hill for Pittsburgh.

RHP Juan Cruz is expected to be added to the roster tomorrow, and the Bucs will have to trim someone from the 40 man roster to make space. Cruz is the only non roster invitee who looks like he'll break camp with the club.

Finally, RHP Ryota Igarashi, 1B Nick Evans, UT Jake Fox and C Eric Fryer, who had a fairly impressive spring, were sent to minor league camp today for assignment. All are expected to end up at Indy, although Igarashi said he would explore his options.

That leaves 30 players vying for 25 spots. With AJ Burnett and Morton on the DL, its likely that two pitchers and one position player will bite the dust before the weekend.

Other news:
  • The Pirates released 6'-7" 1B Calvin Anderson. In four years since 2008, the big guy never got above High A, and hit 42 HR to go along with 392 K during that span.
  • Josh Rodriguez, the 2011 Rule 5 pick who the Pirates cut yesterday, was signed by the Mets.
  • Some ex-Buccos who were released this week include RHP Ian Snell (LA Dodgers), LHP John Grabow (LA Dodgers), RHP John Van Benschoten (San Diego), 1B Steve Pearce (Minnesota), LHP Joe Beimel (Texas) and  LHP Zack Duke (Houston).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Pedro Conundrum

GM Neal Huntington announced that Pedro Alvarez will start the season with the Bucs in spite of his less than inspiring spring line of .135/2/3 and 18 K in 37 ABs (49%). Hey, we've always said that spring stats aren't worth the newsprint they show up on. But when a 25 year old has been zipped through the minors (El Toro has barely 100 games at the AAA level) and is coming off a .191/4/19 season, they do mean something.

But the meaning is entirely different to the FO and the general fan base. GW casts his vote with the populists: Pedro should start at Indy, based purely on performance and experience. Bucco management begs to differ, and their vote is the one that counts.

There are several reasons for their decision beyond mollycoddling their first-ever primo pick. Pedro is going through some tweaking at the plate, and the Pirate management see mechanical progress in the swing. Their justification is that they'd rather have Alvarez work it out against MLB pitching, exactly the opposite how they felt last season.

Another reason to keep Pedro here is because, well, the replacements aren't really all that much better. Casey McGehee, Josh Harrison, Yamaiko Navarro and Matt Hague aren't exactly Mike Schmidt reincarnations. And there is no question that the September 2010 Alvarez is something the Pirate lineup desperately lacks: middle of the order presence.

Which segues to upside. The Pirate brass are counting on Pedro's pedigree to rise to the top. While his recent game performance leaves something to be desired, he's still crushin' the horsehide at BP. If you need reminded of the value of a guy that can go yard in a hurry, remember that the Pittsburgh cleanup hitter this spring has been Neil Walker, who averages 12 HR and 75 RBI in his career.

And it's tough to argue with that logic. With his potential and no real replacement on the horizon, the team figures it might as well take its shot with Pedro on the big team. We have to wonder, though, about how the Pirates have handled Pedro. Last year it was tough love; this year it's kid gloves. Maybe after he refused to play winter ball, the Bucs decided it was easier to just get along than butt heads.

The results of the Bucco's faith should be apparent by June or July. Either Pedro will be rehabilitated or his last option will be burned. We're hoping the FO is right this time. The Pirate future is much brighter with a productive Pedro than with a Plan B. 

Other news:
  •  Yamiako Navarro was clocked in the elbow with a pitch yesterday against the Phillies. The extent of his injury should be known today.
  • 28 year old Steve Pearce was released by the Twins. The infielder spent part of five season with the Bucs, but every time he was poised to make a move, his body broke down. He was an eighth round pick for Pittsburgh in the 2005 draft.
  • Aaron Thompson, who pitched a few innings for the Bucs last year, was suspended by the league for 50 games after his second drug violation. It was for a "drug of abuse" rather than a PED, meaning he was busted for using a recreational drug.
  • Tim Williams of Pirate Prospects reports that the Pirates have released eight players. The most notable is last year's Rule 5 pick, Josh Rodriguez.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Stretch Run For The Roster...

The Bucs optioned IF Jordy Mercer to Indy yesterday and assigned RHP Shairon Martis, C Jose Morales, and LHPs Jo-Jo Reyes & Doug Slaten to minor league camp. With those moves, the Buc opening day roster spot free-for-all is in its final lap. Here's how our ouija board divines the final 25:

With Charlie Morton looking as if he'll be ready to go north with the team, the April rotation should consist of Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Morton. The Pirates have the advantage of being able to go with a four-man staff at the start if they feel the need to give Morton a couple of extra side sessions. The odd man out appears to be Brad Lincoln, who has an option left. Our guess is AJ Burnett will start out on the 15-day DL and be ready to join the gang in mid-to-late April.

The bullpen has a core of Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Juan Cruz, with Chris Leroux and Anthony Watson filling out the bullpen. That could change, but we have Meek and Leroux making the team because they're out of options. That hurts Daniel McCutchen, who has one left and will likely start out at Indy along with Daniel Moskos and Jared Hughes.  All three will provide the Bucs with MLB-ready insurance. Ryota Igarashi won't make the cut.

Catching is easy. With Jose Morales sent down after missing all of camp with an oblique injury, Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry are the only two backstops left standing.

The outfield is easy, too. Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Nate McLouth are locked in, and the fifth outfielder will be come from the infield group, either Garrett Jones or Yamaiko Navarro.

The infield roster will depend mightily on what the Pirates decide to do with Pedro Alvarez. He's been a mess at camp, and we think that he'll start the season at Indy (he has one option remaining) to work on multiple hitting issues. That leaves Jones, Neil Walker, Clint Barmes and Casey McGehee around the horn.

The bench positions have provided the most interesting and heated competition of the camp. Josh Harrison and Matt Hague have been hitting machines, and Navarro has shown that he belongs, too. Nick Evans, who has had a miserable spring, and Jake Fox, who has had a pretty nice camp, are non-roster invitees still in the mix.

Our money is on Harrison, Hague and Navarro sticking. In a perfect world, Hague and Harrison would start at Indy. But if Pedro is sent down, Harrison becomes the third base reserve, Hague becomes Jone's caddy, and Navarro backs up the middle infield and becomes the fifth outfielder. Fox could also be in the running, but adding him would require the Pirates to drop someone from the 40-man roster, and we think that will be the deciding factor against him.

Eventually, they'll have to decide on Rule 5 pick Gustav Nunez's status. He's currently on the 60-day DL.

Our opening day roster:

Starters: Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald and Charlie Morton with AJ Burnett on the 15-day DL.

Bullpen: Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Leroux, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Anthony Watson.

Catchers: Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry.

Outfield: Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth, Alex Presley and Nate McLouth.

Infield: Clint Barmes, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Yamaiko Navarro and Neil Walker with Gustav Nunez on the 60-day DL.

Two big outliers beyond injuries: if Alvarez makes the roster, Hague likely goes to Indy. (In an out-of-body experience, Huntington just told reporters minutes after the post that Alvarez WILL make the team!) And in the last week of camp, teams will be making their finals cuts, so out-of-option players will become available and some minor deals pop up. The Pirates are said to be looking to upgrade at catcher and the pen, especially for a lefty, so that could impact the roster. Of course, half the MLB teams are looking for the same thing.

Camp breaks on April 1st, and opening day is April 5th. It'll be a week of show-downs before six months of showtime.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Notes

  •  Clint Hurdle named Erik Bedard as his opening-day starter against the Phillies on April 5th at PNC Park. Jeff Karstens, James McDonald and Kevin Correia will follow in the rotation, with the fifth spot up in the air, depending on when Charlie Morton (who is starting today) and AJ Burnett return to action.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports hears that the Bucs are sniffing around for catching and a lefty reliever. Makes sense. There's not much depth behind Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry, especially as Jose Morales has yet to play with an oblique injury. The pen has been hurting for LHP since John Grabow and Sean Burnett were traded away, and the FO may be keeping an eye on the waiver wires as teams approach cut-down day.
  • Don't look now, but Pedro Alvarez has struck out in eight of his past 13 at-bats. He's hitting .133 with 13 whiffs in 30 trips to the plate. That's bad news on a variety of levels. To boot, his knee is aching and he'll be out of action for the weekend.
  • AJ Burnett is throwing a simulated game tomorrow, but won't play in any spring exhibition games.
  • The Pirates sent 1B Jeff Clement, OF Brandon Boggs and RHPs Tim Wood & Daniel Cabrera to minor league camp, with 14 more cuts to go.
  • Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reports that Pittsburgh signed five Colombian players, and has their scouting reports.
  • Forbes Magazine's "Business of Baseball" article ranked MLB teams by value. Pittsburgh was 28th, worth $336M.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mid Camp Report: The Bullpen

The Bucs put together a pretty competent bullpen last season, and according to recent formula: a couple of proven arms, a pick up or two, and a sprinkling of minor league two-pitch guys. In fact, the Buc bullpens have been traditionally fairly solid, and this year's edition should be no different in either composition or results.

Last year's pen was a lot like the rotation - strong for four months, and then AWOL during the dog days. Through July, the relief corps was called on to cover 328 innings over 343 appearances (86 games-82 innings/month), and did so to the tune of a 3.05 ERA. In August and September, the firemen were waved in 206 times to mop up 198 frames (103 games-99 innings/month). They were scorched, putting together a 4.95 ERA.

Some of it was the workload. The Bucs led the NL in relief innings worked, and the number of innings and outings they absorbed in the last two months was telling. The bullpen had been rated in the upper-mid pack for much of the season until the August/September meltdown, when it drifted slowly into the bottom third.

A big part of the parcel was the rotation, which left too many innings to be worked by the long guys, generally the weakest link of any pitching staff, especially as the season wore on.

Still, they did OK statistically, posting a 23-29-43/3.76 ERA line with a .256 opponent BA. But it wasn't a lock-down game until Joel Hanrahan stepped on the hill. Hanny converted 91% of his save chances, going 40-for-44, and put up a brilliant 1.83 ERA, earning himself a $4M deal during the winter in the process.

But overall, the Pirates were 43-of-65 in save opportunities, converting just 66% of their chances, and that's not so good. Jose Veras and Chris Resop went a combined 2-for-14 as closers. That's probably as good a reason as any for the Bucs to have hung on to Hanny during the off-season, although his value on the market (and contract) will continue to keep him front and center in any trade rumors involving Pittsburgh.

Most of the back-end bullpen returns. Three right-handers, Jason Grilli, Chris Resop and Evan Meek, are considered close to locks, along with Hanny. The hope is that Meek claims the set-up spot, much like Hanrahan did in 2010, and uses it as a launching pad toward becoming the man. But he's had problems regaining his mid-nineties velocity post-injury after losing much of 2011 to shoulder tendinitis. His heater so far in the spring is sitting at 92 instead of 95-96, and that margin could cost him the eighth inning set up role.

That leaves six pitchers fighting for the final three spots. They are RHPs Daniel McCutchen, Chris Leroux and Juan Cruz, a non-roster signee, and LHPs Tony Watson, Daniel Moskos and Doug Slaten, inked on a minor league deal during the off-season. Clint Hurdle has often said that his preference is to have a pair of lefties in the pen, but in the Bucs case, that may be problematic.

None of the LHPs are particularly late inning, high leverage guys, and Watson (.193/.297) & Moskos (.250/.364) both had reverse splits, getting lit up by left handed hitters. Slaten during his career has a .297/.241 split, so at least he's somewhat effective against lefties. Moskos has held his own this spring, while Watson and Slaten have had a tough start, though none of the three has worked more than six innings yet.

Cruz has been pretty effective so far, and Hurdle has used him in late inning roles this spring. Often described as the Jose Veras of 2012, the 33-year-old went 5-0 with a 3.88 ERA in 56 appearances for Tampa Bay last season. The 11 year vet has a career line of 37-35-3/4.13 ERA while playing for the Cubs, Braves, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Royals and Rays. He's the frontrunner to date for the set-up spot if Meek continues to struggle while trying to regain his form.

McCutchen replaced Jeff Karstens as the long man last year, and went 5-3/3.72 in 73 outings. Leroux joined the staff during the season, and went 1-1/2.88 with 24 K in 25 innings.But with two weeks to go until opening day, the FO is waiting on guys to step up and claim their spots. Resop, Meek, Leroux, Watson and Slaten all have 6+ ERAs.

We know that spring numbers aren't worth the pixels used to generate them, but with open spots for the taking, the players aren't making roster decisions any easier on Hurdle and the FO. Pittsburgh used 20 guys out of the pen in 2011, and they may end up going through more than a few arms again this year until the players sort things out.

The bullpen outlook is the same as last year's was - strong enough to close out a game in the final three innings, but lacking in mid-game depth and glaringly short on lefties. Its biggest improvement would be for the starters to get into the seventh inning more often and play to the strength of the relievers.

The Neal Huntington bullpen blueprint is to cobble together a strong back end and fill in the bridge guys cheaply through the system and secondary market, and that's the route they've taken again this year.

They do seem to have a pretty fair eye for useful free agents, Joe Beimel not withstanding, having brought in Octavio Dotel, Jose Veras and Cruz in the past three seasons to shore up the back end. Not only did these pick-ups fill a need, but the FO turned Dotel and Veras into James McDonald and Casey McGehee, helping to build the team talent pool, too.

They're grooming a couple of power closing arms with Indy's Bryan Morris and Altoona's Duke Welker, plus possibly Justin Wilson, to finish games in the future. The FO thought highly enough of them to ship fireballing Diego Moreno to New York as part of the deal for AJ Burnett. With a boatload of potential mid-inning guys in the system to go along with the closers, they can ride their template into the near term.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mid Camp Report: The Rotation

The Pirates have optioned Gorkys Hernandez, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson to Triple-A Indianapolis. That leaves 44 guys in camp, battling for 25 positions. It's time for the mid-camp breakdown, beginning today with the rotation:

The Top Level: This is one position the Pirates have made a little deeper, and its make-up probably won't be determined until May. Jeff Karstens, Erik Bedard, James McDonald and Kevin Correia are in right now, and Brad Lincoln has a chance to join them in the early going because AJ Burnett and Charlie Morton are still rehabbing.

Lincoln is on the shortest leash, and with an option left is likely to end up at Indy sooner rather than later, although he has a dark horse chance at a long/spot starter role on the big club. Correia was widely considered the odd man out when Burnett was signed, both based on his 2011 performance (12-11/4.79) and his background as a long man during his years with the Giants. But the 31 year old has spun nine shutout innings in the spring, giving up just three hits, so he's trying to make his case.

He and Karstens have had strong springs. Bedard  has been OK, while J-Mac and Lincoln have struggled.

AAA Indy has Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, and Kyle McPherson rostered and Shairon Martes of the Nats should soon join them. With Lincoln's return looming, the Tribe rotation will be stocked with young arms instead of veteran insurance policies.

The Bucs could use starters Justin Wilson and Jo-Jo Reyes out of the pen. But that scenario isn't written in stone, with Wilson especially likely to get another shot at holding down a rotation spot. Daniel Cabrera, who the Pirates have long liked, is also around for a look.

Gerrit Cole, the camp's first cut, will start the season at Bradenton, the Bucs' High A club, with an eye toward Altoona. Jameson Taillon is expected to join him there. Luis Heredia is slated to start at short season State College, which is a fast track for a seventeen year old, especially for a kid who just came stateside last season. Stetson Allie will probably also start the year off at SC, to work on his control and command before moving on to West Virginia. And by most camp reports, he has made strides in that area.

The Outlook: The Pirates have improved their depth and added a couple of guys in Bedard and Burnett that can miss a bat or two. But the staff doesn't have anyone with a steady track record of success, although the two newcomers have had turns as staff aces, something Pittsburgh has lacked since the Doug Drabek days. There are still alot of health, performance and maturity questions remaining among the group:
  • Will Bedard give Pittsburgh 150-175 innings?
  • Will the NL rejuvenate Burnett?
  • Will statistical regression catch up to Karstens?
  • Will McDonald break the five-inning barrier?
  • Will Morton solve lefties?
  • Will Correia remain effective in the dog days?
  • Will Lincoln get aggressive at this level?
  • Will any of the current AAA guys step up beyond end-of-the-rotation arms?
But even with that laundry list, the Pirate FO has put together potentially the most competent staff of its brief era  And there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The minors are starting to show some movement, though the best talent will likely be no further advanced than Altoona by season's end. But with several elite arms in the pipeline along with some young guys stockpiled in the draft, by 2014 the Pirate system should begin feeding some live arms to the big club. 

The Pirate staff isn't there yet. But considering the train wreck that Dave Littlefield left the Nutting team, this year's MLB rotation should be solid and the organization is finally on the verge of delivering talent to the upper levels.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pellas On The Pirates: Don't Give Up On Lincoln...Yet

I still have hope that Lincoln can be at least a useful mid-rotation guy in the big leagues. Correia will, presumably, be gone after this season (though ya never know), Bedard almost certainly will be, too, Morton has to prove he's healthy and that he's no longer a space cadet---at least not on days he's pitching---Karstens has to show that he can take a regular turn for an entire season, and so on. In short, there are still plenty of opportunities for Lincoln to show he belongs in the Pirates rotation.

His incredible-for-a-pitcher stick is a big plus, too. Other than Carlos Zambrano, he might already be the best hitter at his position in the National League. Seriously, he's that good with the bat. So, he doesn't really have to be anything more than reliably average to be a definite asset for this team.

But to this point he hasn't been reliably average or even mediocre. He's had a handful of good outings and about twice as many really bad ones. He also doesn't seem to trust his stuff very much; he's a real nibbler, which is puzzling for a guy who has a true hammer for a curveball. I know he's lost a few feet off his fastball because of the surgery, but if I'm not mistaken his heater is still hitting 92-93 MPH---not great, but definitely a better than average major league fastball.

The fact that he doesn't have a third pitch has been pointed out in various places, and his fastball is also pretty "straight," but even so you'd think he'd go right after hitters a lot more than he does. There are many pitchers, in other words, who have lesser stuff than Lincoln who succeed by being far more aggressive. So, it's very strange.

Maybe his best position would be in the bullpen after all. A number of commentators said so back when Lincoln was first promoted; I have fought against that perception because we need all the starters we can get and because I think we need his bat, but maybe in the 'pen he can dial it up for one or two innings at a time and he'll have better results. I dunno. The clock is ticking with him, that's for sure.

(Will Pellas, GW's co-conspirator, contributes his thoughts on the Brad Lincoln enigma.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Turk Comes A'Callin'

The Bucs made their first major roster trim of the spring today, sending ten guys back to minor league camps.

SS Chase D'Arnaud plus LHPs Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke were optioned to Indy. RHP Duke Welker was sent to Altoona. RHPs Mike Crotta and Logan Kensing, OF Robbie Grossman,Cs Tony Sanchez and Ramon Cabrera along with IF Anderson Hernandez were reassigned to minor league camp, joining RHP Gerrit Cole, who had been sent there earlier in the week. They'll be assigned to their minor league clubs later.

No surprises in the group, except perhaps that d'Arnaud got his ticket punched a bit early, but he was slated for Indy this year. He showed too many holes last season in his brief stay, both at the dish (.217/.242/.287 in 48 games) and in the field UZR/150 of -35.6 in 206-2/3 innings, a very small sample) The FO recognized that D'Arnaud needed playing time, not pine time.

The Pirate posse is still pretty beefy at 48 players, and 13 are non-roster invitees. A handful of those guys - RHP Juan Cruz, LHP Doug Slaten, UT Jake Fox, C Jose Morales, and 1B Nick Evans - have a shot at making the team, and would require a space on the 40-man roster if they did.

The most interesting spring battles should be the time share among Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee and Pedro Alvarez, the middle infield reserve spot between Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro, and the bullpen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Brad Lincoln

Brad Lincoln was raised in Lake Jackson, Texas, and played baseball & football for Brazoswood High. For a couple of years, anyway. By his junior season, he gave up QB'ing and went full-tilt for baseball. It was a good decision. When his season season ended, Lincoln was named All-District and All-County MVP and an All-State player.

Texas chose Lincoln in the 28th round of the 2003 MLB draft, but he wisely opted to attend the University of Houston, rejecting not only the Rangers but the competing college overtures of Texas A&M, Saint Louis, New Mexico and Texas-Arlington.

He broke out there as a junior when he went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA, piling up 152 strikeouts in 127-2/3 IPs for the Cougars, launched by a strong 2005 Cape Cod summer league campaign. When he wasn't on the hill, hey, no problemo - he hit .295 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI as a 1B/DH.

Lincoln was honored as the Conference USA Player of the Year, and took home the Dick Howser Trophy (National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top player; Clemson's Kris Benson won it in 1996), the Brooks Wallace Award (College Baseball Foundation's top player) along with the ABCA/Rawlings and Player of the Year Awards.

Scouts liked Lincoln a lot as a pitcher, and he sure wasn't one of Dave Littlefield's sign-on-the-cheap selections. He threw in the mid nineties with a hook and a show-me change up. Pittsburgh chose him fourth overall in the first round of the 2006 MLB draft (they took Alex Presley eighth). He signed quickly for $2.75M.

In a show of confidence, Pittsburgh assigned him to Low Class A Hickory after two Rookie League starts rather than to the usual jumping off point, short-season Williamsport. The FO had high hopes of starting his career on the fast track.

But unfortunately, he spent more time in the tub than the track. An oblique strain shut him down after four starts and sixteen frames at Hickory. It would get worse. Lincoln had Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews in April, 2007, after complaining of pain in his right arm during spring training and lost the season.

Lincoln returned to the Crawdads in 2008 and was promoted to the High Class A Lynchburg Hillcats at midseason. His stats were workmanlike, with a combined 6-10/4.69 ERA and 1.264 WHIP in 103-2/3 innings. In 2009, he split the year between Altoona and Indy. Lincoln tore up for the Curve, with a 2.28 ERA and 1.080 WHIP, and went 6-2/4.70 with the Tribe in a dozen starts.

The following season, Lincoln got the call for his MLB debut on June 9th vs. Washington, and notched his first MLB win on June 30th against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He pitched seven innings, striking out six and walking just one as the Pirates won 2-0.

But those type performances were few and far between. Lincoln was sent back to AAA after giving up 5+ runs three times in his final four outings. In eleven big league games (9 starts), he was 1-4/6.66 averaging 4 Ks and 2.5 Ws per game.

Lincoln was having noticable mechanical problems and his speed was down by a couple of ticks. Many felt that he was out of sync because of Joe Kerrigan's excessive tinkering, and the way he handled Lincoln may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for Kerrigan.

Again putting up workmanlike numbers in Indianapolis in 2010 (7-5/4.12 and a 1.138 WHIP in seventeen starts) and having gotten a taste of the show, the 26 year old righty came into camp in 2011 looking for a spot in the rotation. But after taking a liner off the arm, he missed some March turns and lost out to Ohlie and Charlie Morton.

He was sent back to Indy - the Pirates still thought highly enough of him that they wanted him to keep making regular starts - and he was the same ol' Brad, 7-8/4.19 with a 1.218 WHIP.

Lincoln was called up in July for a spot start, and then again in August after injuries began to hound the Pirate staff. He was assigned to the pen, where he wasn't very good (4 appearances, 7.94 ERA), and was shortly back to work as a starter.

He was better than 2010, but still inconsistent and much too prone to nibbling instead of challenging hitters. His velocity was erratic and it seemed to take him an inning or two to settle in, as his 1st & 2nd inning ERAs of 10.12 & 7.04 showed. And there was no Joe Kerrigan to blame this time around. He finished 2-3/4.72 with a 1.469 WHIP, not very solid numbers.

With the addition of AJ Burnett, his slim chances of breaking camp as part of the rotation were pretty much, barring injury, turned to ash. He has an option remaining, and the Bucs will probably exercise it to keep him pitching regularly at Indy.

He may eventually slot into the old Jeff Karstens role of long man/spot starter, although we don't think that will be this spring. But it may be soon. Burnett, Morton, Karstens, and J-Mac all return in 2013, and Jeff Locke may bypass Lincoln as the minor league insurance policy this season. After that, there are a lot of young arms trying to get noticed, so it's hard to say how much longer Lincoln's window will remain open.

He's the top pitcher in the Pirate system right now in terms of MLB readiness. And he'll have to take advantage. The rest of the field is gaining quickly.His challenge is threefold: regain his aggressiveness, his velocity, and hit the street running. If he can do that, he can still be a piece of the Pirate future.

Monday, March 12, 2012


As a teen, Des Moines native Joel Hanrahan was a hard throwing righty from Iowa's strong Norwalk High Warriors baseball program. After he graduated, he passed on a scholarship to play for the Nebraska Huskers and went straight into the 2000 MLB draft.

He had pretty good reason to jump into pro ball with both feet. The 18 year old was considered the 70th-best prospect that yearn by Baseball America, and ended up drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 57th player taken overall. He signed for a $615K bonus..

Hanny started off pretty well in the Bleedin' Blue system, landing in AAA Las Vegas toward the end of the 2003 season. But he couldn't break through the AAA wall for LA, hamstrung by a high homer rate and control issues. and yo-yoed from level to level for the next three seasons.

After the 2006 season, Hanrahan exercised his option for minor league free agency, and quickly struck a one year deal with the prospect-hungry Washington Nationals. He started as part of the Nat's AAA Columbus rotation, and Hanny pitched decently, with 5–4/3.70 line.

The Nats called him to the show, and on July 28th, 2007, Hanrahan made his major league debut against the Mets, and finished the year with a line of 5-3/6.00 in eleven starts, but with a WHIP of 1.902 and a 6.7/9 inning walk average. He made the club out of spring training 2008, but Hanny was out of the rotation and now a member of the bullpen.

And a funny thing happened. As a starter, he threw low-90s sinking heater along with a slider and change. After moving to relief, his fastball increased to the mid-to-upper 90s while his slider got a little nastier as his second pitch.

After trading Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala, Hanrahan was next to be the Nat's closer. He was 6-3-9 with a 3.95 ERA, dropping his walk rate to 4.5 and pumping up his K's to 9.9 per nine innings. He won a spot on Team USA during the 2009 World Baseball Classic as an injury replacement in the spring.

But he got lit up as the Nat closer once the season started, with a line of 1-3-5/ 7.71 and 1.96 WHIP, though his punchout rate remained at an excellent 9.6/nine innings and his walks were down to 3.9/nine. He lost the job and on June 30th, the Nats traded Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge to the Pirates for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett in your basic change of scenery deal.

And the flip from the Potomac to the Allegheny had immediate effects, at least on Hanrahan. His numbers as a Bucco read 0-1/1.72 in 33 games, and though his walks rose to over 5 per game, he also recorded 10+ Ks per nine. He even won a game during a nap, when a weather-delayed game he was winning as a Nat was completed later in the season after he had switched uniforms.

Hanrahan worked as the setup man for Octavio Dotel in 2010. He went 4-1-6 with a 3.62 ERA, 100 Ks (in 69-2/3 IPs) and a personal best 72 outings. Heck, he even had a bobblehead night.

It got interesting in the dog days. Dotel went to the Dodgers for J-Mac and Andrew Lambo, so Hanny and Evan Meek both were given the opportunity to compete for the closer's role by JR. Neither guy was brilliant, but Hanny came through in 6-of-10 save opportunities and got a win for one that he let get away.

Rather than go into camp and have the pair duel for the closer's spot, the Pirates made it easy on everyone. In February, Clint Hurdle announced Hanrahan as the 2011 closer for the Pirates, and then everybody knew their role; Hanrahan closed, Meek would set-up, and they could spend the spring preparing for those spots.

Pretty good decision on the FO's part. Hanny's closing pedigree was shaky, but the experience in the role was the tipping point in his favor. He took it from there. He was named the DHL Delivery Man Award winner for reliever of the month in June and selected to the All-Star game in July. He finished with a career high 40 saves and a 1.83 ERA.

The big righty had a sea change on the mound, too. He could still reach back for the strikeout when needed, as he averaged 8K/nine innings, but more often went for the quick out instead of challenging every hitter. His sinker became his bread and butter pitch, with Hanny going to it over 80% of the time, and it led to his first MLB season with 50%+ of his outs recorded on the dirt.

The breakout season earned him a nice payday. He signed a one-year/$4.1M deal with another half mil in bonuses on the table if he finishes 60 games in 2012. This off-season was his second arbitration-eligible year, so Pittsburgh has him under team control through 2013.

If he lasts that long. The Pirates believe that a bullpen can built from scratch and without a great deal of investment (and they're probably right.) We all recall when Matt Capp got too costly for the FO's taste and was just flat out released. That won't happen with Hanny, but he could get expensive enough that this might be his last season in Pittsburgh.

Whether he goes at the deadline or the off season probably depends on how the Pirates are sitting then. The brass would love to be competitive and won't be selling off pieces if they're in a race. But closers are generally overvalued in the MLB marketplace, and if Pittsburgh is floundering in late July, Hanny could be a hot item.

If not, we expect him to be shopped in the off-season, while he still has a year of team control remaining. The 30 year old was eyed by Texas during the winter and several rumors of other possible suitors zapped across the web. It's possible that the FO sees a Pirate window opening and would like to keep him around for that fine day, but we see a truly competitive team being more in the 2014-15 timeframe, and that would make for one costly contract for the Bucs.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Starling Marte

Say this for Dave Littlefield - he didn't have much of an eye for pitchers, but he could spot a centerfielder. In 2005, he drafted McCutch, and two years later inked a 17 year old Dominican product, Starling Marte, who is now the next big thing in the system. Rene Gayos signed him for $85K, which may work out to be one of the best bargains struck in recent Bucco memory.

In the past three years, Marte has gone through the levels from A ball to Altoona, and hit .300+ at each stop. He's slated to open at Indy this season after winning the Eastern League batting title in 2011 with a .332 average.

Considered by many to be a five tool player blessed with a great baseball physique, he didn't show much long ball bop until last season, when he hit 12 homers for the Curve. And that was just a year after having power-sapping hamate surgery. The other tools were all evident: speed, an arm, a glove and the ability to hit for average. ranked him as its #40 prospect, The Hardball Times as #48,  Baseball Prospectus as #56, John Sickels as #64, Keith Law of ESPN as #73, Baseball America as #73, and The Scouting Book as #80 with a bullet. While not exactly in the can't miss category, those ratings are pretty fair indicators of Marte being on the radar, especially as a AA player.

And other teams know his potential. When the Bucs showed some interest in Met first baseman Ike Davis, the New York brass was reported to ask for Marte as part of the return package. That shut down that avenue in, well, a New York minute. Washington had even less luck; they were told he was unavailable. Now the Pirates claim no one on the roster is untouchable if the price is right, but it would take one heck of a deal to pry Marte loose.

The 23 year old has been in six spring games this year. He's put up a .692 average with a eight-hit streak and a couple of homers in 13 ABs. That showing won't get him a ticket to Pittsburgh yet.

Marte is still raw for all his physical tools. His command of the strike zone needs considerable work, as his Altoona 100K to 22W ratio shows. The more veteran hurlers in AAA will try to exploit his plate aggressiveness, so that will be his first challenge. He has plus speed, but his stolen base success rate last year was a so-so 67%. Marte has to work on combining pitching reads with his pure speed to improve on that phase of the game.

He gets a great jump in the outfield, but sometimes his routes are iffy and he considers every ball catchable, so he needs to polish up his mental game plan in the pasture. Marte has also had some problems this spring in adjusting to the corner outfield, a combination of unfamiliarity with the position and Florida's windy conditions.

While he'll patrol center at Indy, he's ticketed for the vast expanses of PNC Park's left field when he gets his call. It's thought that his physical tools could eventually earn him a spot in center, but Cutch will not go gently into that good night.

When will that call come? It depends on not only Marte's body of work - remember that Alex Presley tore the league up last year and still cooled his heels - but Pirate needs. Major league injuries and performance will factor in one way or another. And based on past roster moves, the FO will not be eager to start his clock ticking a minute sooner than they have to, a low revenue given.

But an outfield of Marte, McCutchen and Jose Tabata has to be a fly ball pitcher's dream come true, especially with the Pirates loading up on power arms in the minors, and that configuration isn't too far in the future.

The good news about Marte is the few chinks in his armor are correctable. He's young, and a bit of baseball maturing as provided at the AAA level should be his ticket. How quickly he achieves that maturity will be the key to his future role as a Pirate.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Camp Report

Ol' GW isn't a big believer in spring performances, especially a week into the games. We do like Clint Hurdle's approach to camp, though.

Like most of the other managers, he's sticking to a "get everyone some innings" approach early on. He's stacking the top of the order with regulars and letting the fringe guys fill in the bottom. It's tough to get a read on the regular season order that way, but that will clear up in a couple of weeks and it does get the everyday players an extra swing or two during the games.

Hurdle continues to work hard on getting his squad aggressive on the bases. That project has been a little on the ugly side so far, but at least he and third base coach Nick Leyva should have an idea of who to wave and who to hold once the games begin to count, and it should get the squad in a first-to-third state of mind.

The club is also pushing versatility. The middle infield candidates are getting looks at both second and short, while guys like Nick Evans and Matt Hague are being introduced to the hot corner. That's in keeping with the team philosophy and gives Hurdle a couple of more options during games.

While the pitching is usually behind the hitting at this point, the Pirates are showing some improvement early on with the lumber. They've gone five straight games with 10+ hits compiling a .313 BA, and Cutch is en fuega, squaring up on everything.

OF prospect Starling Marte has also been swinging a hot stick, putting together an eight hit streak. That's impressive even if grandma is on the hill. His caveat: he looks a little bewildered as a corner outfielder, and top gun or not, the odds of him bumping McCutch out of center, at least in the short term, are shorter than Sarah Palin's chances of being sworn in come January.

Josh Harrison is also off to a hot start, with 4 hits, including 3 doubles, in 7 AB.  Matt Hague doesn't look lost, either, with a .385 average, so he'll probably get a long look from the staff in his first MLB camp. So far, ten Bucs are hitting over .400 in the first week of games, which at least shows they came to camp ready to play.

Forget about a guess on the pitching. In seven games, 28 different guys have thrown and only one (J-Mac) has reached the five inning mark to date. That'll sort itself out shortly. The Bucs have already sent Gerrit Cole packing to minor league camp because of the innings available, and there will be a small posse joining him in the next few days.

The Bucs do have a couple of guys dinged up, always a spring concern. Along with AJ Burnett, the Bucs have a few guys who have limiting injuries - SS Gustav Nunez (ankle - 60 day DL), RHP Logan Kensing (abdominal strain) and C Jose Morales (oblique strain). 2B Neil Walker (back tightness), IF Josh Harrison (elbow bruise) and RHP Daniel Cabrera (forearm tightness) are day-to-day. There haven't been any reports regarding Charlie Morton, who appears to be a couple of weeks behind in his prep work.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Happy Birthday Arky!

Why did Bill James list Arky Vaughan, Bucco infielder from 1932-41, as the second greatest shortstop of all-time in his New Historical Abstract, right behind fellow Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner?

How about a .318 lifetime BA with a .408 OBP and a career OPS of 136? Or 73.5 WAR over those 11 Pirate seasons? Oh, and a bust in Cooperstown.

Well, baseball historian Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times has his tale in the article "100th birthday: Arky Vaughan." Give it a click; Vaughan is one of the greatly under-appreciated guys to ever wear a Pirate uni.

Monday, March 5, 2012

McCutch Makes His Deal

The Pirates and Andrew McCutchen, 25, struck a six-year deal that will carry the All-Star centerfielder through his arbitration and first two free agency years, with an option for 2018 according to Mike Sanserino and Bill Brink of the Post Gazette. All that's left is the physical.

The template for a deal has been out there for a couple of seasons, using Justin Upton and Jay Bruce contracts as models, as they eventually did.

Upton's 2010 contract was signed for 6 years/$51.25M, while Bruce's 2011 deal was inked for 6 years/$51M with a $13M option year. All three players signed after their third year and strong WAR seasons - Uptons' was 4.8 in '09, Bruce's 4.6 in '10, and McCutch's 5.5 in '11. All three players were selected as Top Twelve picks in the 2005 draft.

While there are few details out yet, the basic McCutch agreement covers six years, including this coming one, and is worth $51.5M with a team option for $14.75M in 2018. That breaks down to an average of $8.583M/season. He'll start with $500K this year, plus $1.25M in signing bonus money per the Trib's Rob Biertempfel.

(EDIT: Sanserino tweeted the terms: 2012: $1.25M bonus + $500k 2013: $4.5M 2014: $7.25M 2015: $10M 2016: $13M 2017: $14M 2018: 1M buyout or $14.75M club option.)

The Bucs got a bit of a break, as McCutchen's agent, Steve Hammond, let the Pirates slide on inflation (not the US rate, but its MLB counterpart) and didn't press Cutch's superior consistency (In three seasons, McCutchen has compiled 12.4 WAR. In five, Upton has 11.5 and Bruce, in four years, 6.3). We thought that McCutch would make a case for $55M or better.

Still, the contract is the second biggest in team history, topped on by Jason Kendall's 6 year/$60M deal from 2002.

So both sides should be happy, and the team's best player is locked up for the foreseeable future, with Neil Walker being next in line. We'll say this for the FO - they've made an effort this year to solidify the MLB team, a different and welcome approach. Let's hope the stability pays some dividends in the next season or two.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rod Barajas

The Bucs seemed set at catcher going into 2011. They had Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo returning, with Tony Sanchez ticketed for Indy by mid-season. Well, scratch that bit of Bucco wishful thinking.

Snyder herniated his disc with an awkward early June slide into second, Doumit went down in May with an ankle injury following a collision at the plate, and Jaramillo had elbow and back issues at Indy that sent him to the minor-league DL. Snyder never returned, while Dewey came back in mid-August and JJ in September. Sanchez hit .241 and lost his pop at Altoona after missing much of 2010 with a broken jaw.

The parade began. Dusty Brown, Wyatt Toregas, Eric Fryer, Matt Pagnozzi and Mike McKenry all had a shot. McKenry was the default number one guy, starting 54 games behind the dish, and is is the only player among the eight with a shot at returning in April with the big club. But with a .222/.276/.322 line and OPS of 66, he was hardly the player Pittsburgh wanted to don the tools of ignorance on a regular basis.

The old posse was set loose after the season and found new homes - Snyder with the 'Stros, Doumit with the Twins, and Jaramillo with the Cubbies - and that left the Bucs with one big honkin' hole behind the plate. As they did with Clint Barmes, they identified the guy they had rated at the top of the mid tier FA market, went after him early, overpaid just a bit and landed Rod Barajas.

In early November, Pittsburgh signed the 36 year old Mexican native to a $4M deal with a $3.5M team option in 2013 and no buyout fee. He was the first player that they brought into the fold.

The thirteen year vet has played with Arizona, Texas, Philadelphia, Toronto, the Mets and Dodgers, and comes with a good glove rep that includes being a coach on the field for the staffs he's worked with. Barajas has a lifetime 31% throw 'em out rate, and it was 25% for LA last year after a dismal 15% in 2010.

The big guy also arrives with a less than sterling career line of .238/.284/.412 and an OPS of 80 as a hitter, with a .230/.280/.430 line and 16 HRs in 2011. The 6'2", 250 pound Barajas does have a little pop, smacking double-digit HRs for the past eight seasons, except for 2007 when he was Carlo Ruiz's caddy for the Phils and only got into 48 games.

He's third among MLB catchers in homers since 2009 with 50, and was the first Met to hit a walk-off dinger at Citi Field. The righty is equally effective against pitchers toeing either side of the rubber, having virtually no gap in his career splits at the the plate in average or power.

Barajas isn't going to be trotted out everyday, but he's been able to wiggle the fingers for 100-110 games per year, and we suspect the Pirates will be satisfied to get 110 outings from him; any more would be gravy.

He fits in with the 2012 Pirate philosophy to bring in a little defense first, veteran presence in the form of starters rather than bench guys to help support their clubhouse mentoring roles. He's already begun that process, not only working with the pitchers but picking McKenry's brain for staff tendencies. And make no mistake that's a two-way street. McKenry and the pitchers are learning as much from Barajas as he is from them.

We're not too concerned with his age, as catchers tend to bloom later and last longer than other position players. The only red flag we note is his caught stealing rate, which we'd keep an eye on as an indicator of his continued skill set.

He's not blocking anyone short-term, and has a friendly deal in that the FO can jettison him at no cost if Father Time catches up to him after the year, or keep him around another season to tutor Sanchez if the youngster can put it together enough to arrive by 2013. If Sanchez isn't ready, Barajas serves as his insurance policy.

His signing may also be the beginning of a new phase of Pirate team development.

While the Pirate organization as a low revenue club will always be on the lookout for prospects, this is the first year under the Coonelly/Huntington reign that the team raided the FA & trade markets to reel in veteran players, albeit mid-range, to plug holes and upgrade talent in Barajas, Barmes, Erik Bedard and AJ Burnett. Aki Iwamura and Kevin Correia are the only two examples we can recall from the past to fit that mold.

So we're hoping this is the start of the second era in Pirate baseball, one in which the FO is as committed to improving the big league club as much as upgrading the minor league system.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Spring Has Sprung

  • The Bucs lost their spring opener 7-1 to the Blue Jays. Not much to be taken from the game except that it's windy in Florida and that Clint Hurdle is looking at the fringe guys early on, with just four starters in the lineup. The home opener is a rematch tomorrow at McKechnie Field with Erik Bedard getting the ball.
  • The news on AJ Burnett post-surgery is that he's expected to miss 8-12 weeks. So until mid-May or beyond, the Pirate staff will be pretty similar to last year's, with Bedard swapped for Paul Maholm and Brad Lincoln looking like the sixth man. It does appear that Charlie Morton is on track to join the rotation out of camp, so that's a plus.
  • The Bucs renewed/agreed to contracts with 25 players who have under three years of service time and are on the 40-man roster. They are position players Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Chase d'Arnaud, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Jody Mercer, Yamaico Navarro, Gustavo Nunez, Gorkys Hernandez, Starling Marte, Alex Presley and Mike McKenry, in addition to pitchers Jared Hughes, Chris Leroux, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Daniel McCutchen, James McDonald, Kyle McPherson, Bryan Morris, Daniel Moskos, Rudy Owens, Tony Watson, Duke Welker and Justin Wilson.They did it a week before the March 11th deadline, which probably tells us that extensions for McCutch and The Kid are on the back burner.
  • Six Bucco spring games will be broadcast on TV this year. Four will air on Root Sports: Saturday, March 10th vs Minnesota (1:05 PM), Wednesday, March 21st vs Boston (1:05 PM), Saturday, March 24th vs Houston (1:05 PM) and Monday, March 26th vs Baltimore (7:05 PM). The MLB Network will show the other two: Friday, March 9th at Boston (7 PM) and Tuesday, March 27th at Philadelphia (1 PM). Several other games will be available on MLB.TV, on delay from the MLB Network, or on the radio from KDKA-FM 93.7.
  • The Bucs open the season at home on Thursday, April 5th against the Phillies.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

AJ Out

Welcome back to the NL, AJ. Taking part in some bunting drills yesterday, the Bucs' most recent addition to the starting staff, AJ Burnett, fouled a pitch off his eye. And no, the delivery wasn't from a threatened member of the rotation, but a disinterested pitching machine during a Clint Hurdle bunting competition.

The Pirates just announced that he has an orbital fracture and will have surgery on it tomorrow. They didn't give a time frame for his return to action, deferring until the surgery is done to see how much damage is involved and the effect on his vision.  We won't speculate on his return, although recovery seems to involve at least several weeks if all goes well from the information we've seen.

Not exactly the kind of news we were hoping to hear from camp.

Clint Barmes

Clint Barmes, born in Vincennes, came out of Indiana State University, and was drafted in the tenth round by the Rockies in 2000. The SS came up to the big team in 2003, and yo-yoed back in forth for three seasons with the Rox, putting up some pretty impressive batting numbers as a part-time player.

In fact, in 2005 he was the NL Rookie of the Month for April, and was hitting .329 when he broke his left collarbone in early June while carrying a load of deer meat up his apartment steps. Barmes came back in September, hitting just .216 after the layoff.

In 2006, he was given the everyday job at short, and had one of his worse years at the dish, hitting .220 with a .264 OBP. That opened up competition for the job the following year, and a youngster named Troy Tulowitzki claimed the position. Lotsa luck knocking him out of a job.

He was shuffled to second base in 2008, and after initially losing out to Jayson Nix and then going on the DL, Barmes eventually started for the Rox the next two seasons, hitting a solid .290 in 2008 but slumping to .245 in 2009, though he did have his best season as a slugger, with 23 HR and 76 RBI.

The next year, he flipped between middle infield positions when Tulowitzki was hurt. But his .235/8/50 line didn't cut it, and he lost the second base gig to Eric Young Jr. He was shipped to the Astros for P Felipe Paulino in the off season.

In 2011, Barmes missed several weeks for Houston with a broken left hand, incurred when he was hit by a pitch just as camp was set to break in late March. He went on to play 123 games with a line of .244/12/39 and entered free agency.

He hit the jackpot in Pittsburgh as the perfect storm washed him ashore on the banks of the Allegheny. Clint Hurdle had wearied of Ronny Cedeno's "the lights are on, but nobody's home" act. The timing wasn't great, as shortstop market was pretty weak.

RC's option wasn't exercised, and he signed with the Mets in January for $1M as a back-up infielder. Without a MLB ready SS in the organization, the Bucs, as they did with Rod Barajas in a similar market and situation, identified Barmes quickly (they considered him the top mid-tier FA available, plus Clint Hurdle had coached him) and overpaid to get him in November before the market was picked over.

Barmes earned $3.925M with the Astros, the biggest paycheck of his career. The Pirates inked him for two guaranteed years at $5M and $5.5M. It was the Bucs biggest FA deal in total dollars since they signed 3B Steve Buechele for four years and $11M in the 1991-92 offseason. That's pretty sweet for a guy who was considered a bench infielder by many clubs.

He comes to Pittsburgh with a rep as a good glove guy with a stick that has some pop, but not very strong at getting on base with a .302 career OBP. Barmes leather netted him a 10.8 UZR/150 in 2011 and he had his highest MLB single season WAR of 3.1, mainly due to that solid fielding.

That comes with one caveat: he's only played 1000+ innings at short twice (2006, 2011) in his nine year career, although he's posted strong defensive ratings both seasons. Barmes will be 33 next week, and given his age, his range could decline, although his ability to catch and throw what he can reach shouldn't be affected. And his more consistent technique should help Neil Walker make the turn at second, a work in progress that was hampered by Cedeno's sometimes erratic feeds. So Barmes should be a plus at short.

The hitting could be a different story. There’s a strong chance that his offense could drop off in PNC Park, after stints in hitter friendly Coors Field and Minute Maid Park. He's a fly ball hitter - 47.6% career, and he's only been under that line once since 2005 - and PNC is not kind to guys that put the ball in the air.

His average reflects a lowish .281 Batted Ball in Play for Hits average, which correlates to so many fly balls. Another stat to watch is that even in the friendly confines he's called home, his FB/HR ratio is just 6.8%, well under the league average of 9.1%. His career Isolated Power number is .149, on the lower end of MLB average.

So don't be surprised to see a few Coors Field homers/doubles become cans of corn in front of the Notch. However, Barmes does have a .276 BA at PNC in 99 plate appearances with 4 homers and a .425 slugging %, so perhaps that won't be quite as big a deterrent as the stats would suggest.

The Bucs rolled the dice on signing Barmes, though given the fact that he's a placeholder until until someone in the system - Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Brock Holt, et al -  can step up, it was an understandable risk. With the dearth of quality shortstops both in Pittsburgh and major league ball as a whole, the FO is hoping to get two healthy, steady years out of Barmes.