Sunday, November 30, 2014

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

Lefty Killen, Clyde Sukeforth, George Gibson, Pete Reiser, Craig Wilson, Russ Martin...
  • 1870 - LHP Frank “Lefty” Killen was born in North Side, then known as Allegheny City. He spent six seasons with the Bucs (1893-98) and twice led the NL in wins, with 36 (a team record) in ‘93 and 30 in ‘96. Lefty’s Pirate slash was 112-82/3.97. The team released him during the 1898 campaign, and his last of 10 MLB seasons was 1900. He ended Wee Willie Keeler's 44-game hitting streak on June 19th, 1897 when Lefty and the Bucs stopped the Orioles 7-1.
Frank "Lefty" Killen 1896 Team Photo
  • 1901 - Pirate coach and scout Clyde Sukeforth was born in Washington, Maine. A long time member of the Brooklyn Dodger organization, he came to Pittsburgh as a coach/scout in 1952 and was said to be the main driver in the selection of Roberto Clemente in the 1954 Rule 5 draft. He turned down the chance to succeed Pirate skipper Bobby Bragan in 1957 and retired as a coach after the season, but remained with the Pirates as a scout and minor league manager through 1962.
  • 1931 - George “Mooney” (he earned the nickname either through his moon-shaped face or because one of his early teams was called the Mooneys; take your pick) Gibson returned for his second spin as Bucco manager, replacing Jewel Ens. He lasted until early in 1934, posting a 200-159 record and two second place finishes. Overall, the Canadian Gibson (he was from Ontario) had a 401-330 (.549) record with Pittsburgh. He got his start as a long-time Bucco catcher, playing from 1905-1916 in Pittsburgh, hitting .238 but leading the NL in fielding three times and had a toss-out rate of 46% against would-be base stealers. Mooney was the Pirates everyday catcher in 1909 when they won the World Series against the Tigers.
George Gibson (uncredited photo)
  • 1976 - OF/1B Craig Wilson was born in Fountain Valley, California. He played as a semi-regular for the Bucs from 2001-06 with a line of .268/.360/.486, 94 HR and 284 RBI, along with a 28% career K rate. Wilson tied the MLB single-season record for pinch-hit home runs with seven in 2001. Hand injuries in 2005 and shoulder surgery in 2007 ended his career.
  • 2012 - The Pirates signed free agent catcher Russell Martin, a three-time All-Star, to a two year, $17M deal, the largest free agency contract they had ever negotiated. He got a $2M signing bonus, $6.5M for 2013 and $8.5M for 2014. Russ was among the league's top defensive catchers and had a .290/.402/.430 slash in his final Pirate season. He left after the 2014 campaign, signing a five year, $82M deal with Toronto.
Russ Martin - photo by Jonathan Dyer USA Today Sports

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pirate Starting Pitchers 2015...Who's Out There?

Gerrit Cole - AJ Burnett - Vance Worley - Jeff Locke - Stolmy Pimentel/Brandon Cumpton. Right now, that's your 2015 Pittsburgh Pirate starting rotation.

Some help is on the horizon. Charlie Morton will be back, possibly by June, from his hip labrum surgery, though hasn't had much luck on the injury front. Jameson Taillon should be set to go to Indy early on, too, after his TJ replacement, but his availability is iffy. We'd expect the Bucs to keep a tight inning count on his prized arm this season, and that caution could short-circuit a 2015 arrival.

Nick Kingham will open the year at Indy, but while his stuff is MLB quality, his consistency isn't, so this will be a big year for him to show up and grind away day-in and day-out. Casey Sadler is also on the short list, although he didn't do much in his 2014 cup of coffee visit to Pittsburgh. Tyler Glasnow and Joely Rodriguez are penciled in to begin the campaign at Altoona, but it would take a real breakout season to have them land in Pittsburgh this coming year.

That leaves the Bucs in the position where a pitcher to slot between Cole and Burnett should be their primary goal during the off season with a secondary goal of building a little depth for the inevitable bumps on the bump along the road. To be sure, they're not looking at Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields, but there is an intriguing and serviceable secondary market waiting on the Big 3 to sign.

Pittsburgh could bring back Frankie Liriano. He turned down the qualifying offer of the Bucs, but that potential first round hit could be the wild card that brings him back in the fold. He's said to be looking at a three year deal, likely in the $12M/year range. At 31, that's not outrageous, so he could be in play.

Eddie Volquez, 31, is said to still be on the Bucco radar. He's looking for three years, and his peripheral stats didn't match his solid counting numbers of 2014. But he'd be a bit cheaper; the Pirates will be weighing the length of his deal versus projected performance.

Brandon McCarthy is another potential, if popular, target. After a terrible start with Arizona, he went 7-5/2.89 with the Yankees. The difference was that the D-backs scrapped his cutter; the Bronx Bombers brought it back, along with a four seamer to keep hitters honest. His 52.6% ground ball rate and 7.8 K-per-9 rate is right up the Pirates alley. Also 31, he'll probably be looking at a Liriano-like deal, held back only an injury history (five times on the DL with shoulder problems) that he managed to shake in 2014 with 32 starts and 200 IP.

Justin Masterson, 29, went from the penthouse to the poorhouse in a New York minute, but he was diagnosed with a rib-cage injury in September after missing a month earlier in the year with a bum knee. He features a power sinker that led to a 58% ground ball rate the last two seasons and averaged 8.1 K even with his issues last year. The injuries are cause for concern, but he's a prime bounce back pitcher. Masterson may take a short-term deal to rebuild his value, although his solid track record prior to last year could earn him a multi-year offer.

Jason Hammel, 32, is another interesting case. He was strong with the Cubs, not so much with the A's. One thing that should concern the Bucs is that his ground ball rate has been in the 40% range the last two seasons after being 53% in 2012. Also, his use of the cutter dropped from 34% in '12 to 24% last year, and that sounds like a Ray Searage adjustment in the making. Hammel is seeking a multi-year deal, probably also in the Liriano-McCarthy range.

Brett Anderson, 26, has managed just 51 starts over his last five years. He hasn't worked more than 112-1/3 innings or made over 19 starts since 2009, and he missed most of 2014 with various injuries, requiring back surgery in August. Still, he has a 55.4% career ground ball rate, tosses from the left side owns a solid slash (3.73 ERA, 3.55 SIERA) when he does make it to the mound and has age on his side. Anderson should be ready for camp, although with his past history, that's not guaranteed. He's another guy who is looking at a short-term deal.

Brandon Morrow, 30, was all that in 2012 when he was 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA until a couple of years of injuries slowed him down (he's visited the DL at least once in every one of the past five seasons, though with no red flag injuries) Now he's yet another pitcher who fits the Bucs' profile of high K (8 per nine), high walk (five per nine) and good grounder rate (50%). Morrow is in line for a short-term deal, too, as he seeks to rebuild his value.

Gavin Floyd, 31, signed with the Braves last year after TJ surgery and then fractured his elbow in June after pitching to a 2.65 ERA. He's been a dependable mid-rotation arm, but his recent rash of major injuries sounds a loud warning bell. Floyd is an inexpensive, short term candidate.

Jake Peavy, 33, looked like a has-been with the Red Sox but was rejuvenated when he was traded to the NL, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA for the Giants. He could slot as a three or four rotation guy, and is said to be looking for a two or preferably three year deal, which may be a bit more than Pittsburgh is willing to offer.

(And no, we didn't forget Ervin Santana; his high fly ball rate, desire for multi-years on a deal and first-round draft pick onus make him a very unlikely candidate for Pittsburgh in our minds.)

This year, the Pirates have a fairly robust market to troll. There are a lot of guys that are fairly young, come without having turned down qualifiers, have tasted success and keep the ball in the dirt, albeit most come with "handle with care" health warnings. The Bucs are thought to have somewhere around $20M to burn, and could land a pair of arms at that price. While some of the candidates are looking for multi-year deals, which the FO has generally been shy about doling out, there are also several one-year, rebuild value contracts to be had.

Pittsburgh has become a prime landing spot to nurture downhill careers - Burnett, Liriano and Volquez can attest to that - and after the elite set the market, the FO should be hot and heavy into the pitching fray during this hot stove season.

Friday, November 28, 2014

11/28-29: Kiki Traded, Forbes Field Sold, Tiger Goes, Wilbur Wood Shipped to Chicago, Hitman...

Kiki Traded, Forbes Field Sold, Tiger Goes, Wilbur Wood Shipped to Chicago...
  • 1927 - Hall of Famer OF Kiki Cuyler was traded to the Chicago Cubs for journeymen Sparky Adams and Pete Scott. He had bumped heads with manager Donie Bush, and owner Barney Dreyfuss was looking to dump salary with the Waner brothers on the payroll, so it was bye-bye Kiki. Cuyler played twelve more seasons, hitting .300+ in six of them. 
  • 1958 - The sale of Forbes Field to University of Pittsburgh was approved; the Pirates were allowed to stay on for five years, until new Northside stadium was built. In reality, the Pirates stayed on not for five but for twelve years, until TRS opened in 1970. The stadium was a political hot potato for a decade, until ground was broken finally in 1968. However, the Bucs lost an open center field view of town when the Steelers vetoed that design in search of more seats; the Pirates made up for that lost scenery when PNC Park was built. 
TRS - photo Zack Hample
  • 1962 - The Pirates traded 3B Don Hoak, 34, to the Philadelphia Phillies for IF Pancho Herrera and OF Ted Savage. It ended up a minor deal; The Tiger was at the end of his career while Herrera and Savage never established themselves in MLB. 
  • 1966 - The Bucs completed a deal that sent knuckleballer Wilbur Wood to the White Sox for Juan Pizarro. Under Hoyt Wilhelm's tutelage, Wood pitched twelve seasons for Chicago and won 168 games with three All-Star appearances. His career was cut short in 1976 when Ron LeFlore’s liner broke his kneecap; Wood missed that campaign and was generally ineffective afterward. Pizzaro pitched a season and some change in Pittsburgh before being sold to Boston in 1968; he would return in late 1974, ending his 18 year career as a Pirate.
Wilbur Wood photo from Hall of Fame Memorabilia
  • November 29, 1950 - 1B/OF Mike Easler was born in Cleveland. The Hit Man spend six (1977, 1979-83) of his 14 MLB seasons as a Pirate role player with a .302 BA. Fittingly enough, he spent his later years as a hitting coach for a handful of MLB squads.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

11/27: Marty O'Toole, Jason Kendall and Happy Thanksgiving!

Marty O'Toole, Jason Kendall and Happy Thanksgiving!
  • 1888 - RHP Marty O’Toole was born in William Penn, PA (Schuylkill County). A big time minor league ace, the Bucs bought him from St. Paul in 1911. In 1912, he pitched 37 games and 275 innings with a 15-17 record, 2.71 ERA and tied for the NL lead in shutouts with six. Alas, his arm was shot after that workload. He lasted just four seasons as a Pirate, from 1911-14 (his last MLB season), going 25-35/3.17. 
Marty O'Toole 1912 T207 series
  • 2004 - The Pirates traded two-time All-Star C Jason Kendall to the Athletics for pitchers Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes as Pittsburgh wanted to unload the $34M due to the catcher over the next three seasons. The Bucs flipped Rhodes to Cleveland for OF Matt Lawton two weeks later. Kendall went on to play eight more seasons with four other clubs, ending his career with 2,195 hits and a slash of .288/75/744.
Jason Kendall 1996 E-Motion series

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

11/26: Bob Elliott, Richie Hebner, Bob Walk...

Bob Elliott, Richie Hebner, Bob Walk...
  • 1916 - OF/3B Bob Elliott was born in San Francisco. He spent eight seasons (1939-46) in Pittsburgh with a .292 BA, 124 OPS+ and three All-Star appearances. Traded during the 1946 off season to the Boston Braves, he became the NL MVP in 1947, helped in part by playing in a much more hitter-friendly field. Elliott was the second MLB third baseman to have five seasons of 100 RBI, joining Pie Traynor, and retired with the highest career slugging average (.440) of any NL third baseman. He also led the National League in assists three times and in putouts and double plays twice each, and ended his career among the NL leaders in games (8th, 1262), assists (7th, 2547), total chances (10th, 4113) and double plays (4th, 231) at third base. 
Bob Elliott - 1948 Leaf series
  • 1947 - 3B Richie Hebner was born in Boston. The Gravedigger (his off season occupation) played 11 years (1968-76, 1982-83) for the Pirates, putting up a .277 BA and playing in five NLCS and the 1971 World Series. He left on a contentious note. After having his contract cut in 1976 after a poor year, he opted for free agency after the campaign. The Pirates GM Pete Peterson offered to match any deal Hebner received on the market, but the Gravedigger wanted a change of scenery and signed with Philadelphia. He returned a few seasons later. 
Richie Hebner - 1971 Arco series
  • 1956 - RHP Bob Walk was born in Van Nuys, California. He pitched a decade for the Pirates (1984-93) with an 82-61-5/3.83 ERA, won an All-Star berth in 1988 and compiled a 2-1 record in the postseason, capped by a three-hitter tossed against the Braves in 1992 to keep the Pirates alive in the NLCS. He’s known now as a Bucco broadcaster, with over 20 years in the booth.
Bob Walk - 1988 Donruss series

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

11/25: An Odd Couple on a Quiet Day - Bobby Clemente & Randall Simon

An Odd Couple on a Quiet Day - Bobby Clemente & Randall Simon...
  • 1972 - Roberto Clemente won his 12th straight Sporting News Golden Glove award, a string of recognition that spanned back uninterrupted to 1961. He and “Say Hey” Willie Mays are tied for the most GG’s earned by an outfielder with a dozen apiece. In his 2,433 game career, Roberto handled 5,102 chances with a .973 fielding %, threw out 266 runners and put fear of the Lord into countless others. He was such a versatile fielder that in 1956, he actually subbed at third base for a game and at second for two more. Clemente also played center field 63 times. 
Roberto Clemente - undated Associated Press photo
  • 2002 - Detroit sent 1B Randall Simon to the Pirates for LHP Adrian Burnside and a player to be named later (RHP Roberto Novoa.) Novoa pitched three seasons of MLB; Burnside went to Japan to ply his trade. Simon ended up better at swatting sausages (his "Sausage-gate" escapade in Milwaukee cost him a $432.10 City fine for disorderly conduct while MLB suspended him for three games and fined him $2,000) than baseballs, hitting .245 with 13 HR in 152 games as a Bucco between 2003-04. 
Randall Simon's 2003 Sausage Snipe via Dan Friedman

Monday, November 24, 2014

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

Bob Friend, Al Martin, Doug Drabek, Million Dollar Arms, Zachster...
  • 1930 - RHP Bob Friend was born in Lafayette, Indiana. A three-time All-Star pitcher for the Pirates, he averaged 232 IP and 13 victories for some of the worst teams in baseball. As a 24-year-old in 1955, Friend became the first pitcher to lead his league in ERA while pitching for a last-place team. He led the NL in victories once, innings pitched twice, games started three times, and WAR for pitchers twice, going 191-218/3.55 in 15 years (1951-65) as a Buc. He also was active in local Republican politics after his career, serving as controller of Allegheny County from 1967 to 1975 and as a three-time convention delegate. 
Bob Friend - 1953 Bowman
  • 1967 - OF Al Martin was born in West Covina, California. Martin played eight years (1992-99) for Pittsburgh, hitting .280 with 107 HR and 485 RBI. His best season was 1996, when he hit .300 with 18 HR, 72 RBI and 38 stolen bases. In Pittsburgh, he was backed by “Al’s Army,” donated thousands of tickets to various groups and even met fans at the turnstiles before the game. After his Pirate years, though, he was beset with a string of bizarre personal issues, tarnishing his image as a Bucco good guy. 
  • 1986 - In a pitcher swap, the Yankees dealt Doug Drabek, Brian Fisher, and Logan Easley to the Bucs for Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante, and Pat Clements. It took until the 27th to complete the deal, when Rhoden agreed to a two-year contract extension with NY. (As a 5 & 10 year man, he had to approve the deal). The swap gave Jim Leyland his ace; Drabek went on to win the NL Cy Young in 1990. 
Doug Drabek 1991 Topps
  • 2008 - The Pirates became the first MLB team to sign players from India when they inked pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, winners of a reality show called "The Million Dollar Arm Hunt." Patel was cut in 2010 and returned home, but Singh made it to A ball before losing 2013-14 to injury, eventually having TJ surgery. Their story was made into a movie called (what else?) “Million Dollar Arm.” 
  • 2010 - After six years as a Pirate, Pittsburgh traded LHP Zach Duke (45-70, 4.54) to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a PTBNL, RHP Cesar Valdez. Zach reinvented himself as a LOOGY and resurrected his career as a bullpen specialist.
Zach Duke - 2010 Associated Press photo

Sunday, November 23, 2014

11/23: Rip & Big Poison, Danny & The Quail, Goose...

Rip & Big Poison, Danny & The Quail, Goose...
  • 1944 - The MLB sponsored a USO caravan to visit war zones, including players Rip Sewell and Paul Waner. Rip was coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons for the Bucs, notching 21 wins each campaign with his ol’ eephus. Big Poison was at the end of his Hall-of-Fame career, splitting time between Brooklyn and the Yankees; he ended his tenure in the bigs quietly the following year, batting just one more time before hanging up his spikes for good. 
Rip Sewell Launches the Ol' Eephus (photo via Late Innings)
  • 1971 - Danny Murtaugh retired as manager because of health reasons after winning the 1971 World Series, and Bill Virdon was named as his replacement. The Quail led the Pirates to 96 wins and the 1972 NL East title, but a 67-69 performance the following season cost him his job. The Irishman returned in late 1973 for another stint as skipper. Virdon moved on to skipper the Yankees for two years, the Astros for eight more (with two pennants) and closed out as the Expo’s field general for two more seasons. He’s now a special instructor for the Pirates. Bill had the oddball distinction of having been replaced twice by the manager he replaced, bookended by Murtaugh in Pittsburgh and Jim Fanning in Montreal.
Danny Murtaugh & Bill Virdon 1960 (United Press International photo)
  • 1977 - The New York Yankees signed Rich “Goose” Gossage to a six-year contract worth $3.6M. Gossage saved 26 games for the Pirates in 1977, but the Bucs never made a serious offer for him to return - and by most accounts, Goose liked the City, the team and Chuck Tanner - so he took the Yankee deal. When Gossage was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, he invited Tanner as his special guest.
Goose Gossage & Friend (photo via Baseball Fever)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hot Stove Simmering...

So you think the Bucs have been idle? Well, from a blockbuster standpoint, that's true. But from an organizational point of view, it's been anything but quiet as evaluations and their consequences are in full swing, along with the usual player movement.

They've lost, in one way or another, Russ Martin, Ike Davis, Justin Wilson and Jeanmar Gomez from their pre-September roster, with Eddie Volquez as good as gone. Frankie Liriano and Clint Barmes are also FAs with an good chance of landing in other cities. Bit players like John Axford, Brent Morel and Michael Martinez are in the rear view mirror, too.

The FO has filled a couple of everyday holes, reacting quickly to bring in Francisco Cervelli to catch and AJ Burnett to slot in Edinson Volquez's rotation spot, while bringing in a cast of thousands, or so it seems, to audition for middle-inning relief and back-up middle infielder openings. There was even a bit of a coaching shuffle triggered by Jeff Bannister's well-deserved call to Texas.

The roster builders are fortunate that the position spots are adequately manned; the biggest uncertainty is whether they keep Pedro Alvarez around. If they do, first base is covered. But they are thin, particularly in the infield with Josh Harrison earning a regular gig and leaving a bench seat open. And they still need an arm for the front end of the rotation, although that may not come about until the big three of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields find homes and the mid-market guys can generate serious bidding interest.

So far, the FO has made these moves (MLB career slashes for the new guys are included):

November 21 - C Sebastian Valle was signed to a minor-league deal along with C Miguel Perez, who is a player/coach in the system. Cot's Contracts lists P Radhames Liz (6-8, 7.50, 110-1/3 IP) as also being signed on this date, although the team has yet to confirm that deal and haven't placed him on the roster yet.

November 20 - Placed P Jameson Taillon, P Nick Kingham, C Elias Diaz and OF Willy Garcia on the 40-man roster. They DFA'ed 1B Ike Davis and C Ramon Cabrera and outrighted 3B Brent Morel  to Indy. The claimed IF Pedro Florimon (.204/10/57 - 214 games) from the Nats and placed him on the 40-man roster.

November 18 - Singed P Jeremy Bleich, P Deolis Guerra and P Blake Wood (6-7-1, 4.39, 127 IP), along with SS Gustavo Nunez to minor league deals with invitations to camp. They also inked P Collin Balester (7-16, 5.30, 185 IP) to a non-roster minor-league deal with an invite to camp.

November 17 -  P Brad Lincoln (9-11-1, 4.74, 221-1/3 IP) was signed to a minor league deal with an invite to camp.

November 14 - Free agent AJ Burnett (155-150, 4.04, 2,567-1/3 IP) inked a one-year, $8.5M contract.

November 12 - The Bucs sent P Justin Wilson to the Yankees for C Francisco Cervelli (.278/10/92 - 250 games).

November 11 - Pittsburgh sent P Shane Carle to the Rockies for P Rob Scahill (2-0, 4.42, 57 IP).

November 7 - 2B Jake Elmore (.221/2/13 - 87 games) was claimed from the Reds.

November 4 - Clint Hurdle added Brad Fischer, the Bucs' minor-league coordinator, as a bench coach and announced that field coaches Nick Leyva and Rick Sofield would switch positions, with Leyva going to first base and Sofield to third.

November 3 - The Pirates tendered $15.3M qualifying offers to C Russ Martin and P Francisco Liriano; they both refused the offer, guaranteeing the Pirates a sandwich pick if they signed elsewhere (as Martin did). They did not make offers to their other free agents, Eddie Volquez and Clint Barmes. Also, P Jeanmar Gomez, UT Chase d'Arnaud and P John Axford were outrighted.

October 25 - The Pirates bought SS Justin Sellers (.198/3/17 - 99 games) from the Indians.

October 23 - P Josh Stinson (0-2-1, 4.47, 52-1/3 IP) signed a minor league deal with an invite to camp.

October 16 - P Chris Peacock signed a non-roster minor league contract.

October 9 - OF Jose Tabata was DFA'ed.

The next big roster-building date is December 2, when the Pirates have to tender offers to their arb-eligible players. They've whittled the list down (Axford, Davis, Gomez, & Morel were let go), but these 11 guys remain: Pedro Alvarez, Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison, Jared Hughes, Mark Melancon, Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider, Chris Stewart, Neil Walker, Tony Watson & Vance Worley.

They could add $35M to the payroll, with only Gaby being a bubble guy.

The hot stove pot may be barely simmering to Bucco fans, but it's plenty bubbly to keep the FO stirring. And that's according to plan. The Pirates are built to replace from within; if they have more than a couple of holes to fill in the off-season, they've wandered off the track that Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington have been patiently plowing since their arrival.  

11/22: Dick Bartell, Guy Bush + Big Jim, & the Great One Joins the Club...

Dick Bartell, Guy Bush + Big Jim, & the Great One Joins the Club...
  • 1907 - IF Dick Bartell was born in Chicago. He began his 18 year MLB career with Pittsburgh (1927-30) and hit .301 as a Bucco before being traded to the Phillies after butting heads with Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss; it seems fitting his nickname was “Rowdy Richard.” But he still added 14 more seasons to his resume, missing a couple of years during WW2, and made a pair of All-Star teams. 
Dick Bartell - 1928 via Out Of the Park Baseball
  • 1934 - The Pirates acquired P Guy Bush, P Big Jim Weaver (he was 6'6"), and 1B/OF Babe Herman from the Cubs for P Larry French and OF Fred Lindstrom. French ended up the key figure; he pitched seven years for Chicago, winning 95 games, while Weaver was a Buc for three seasons and won 36 contests.
Big Jim Weaver & the Waner Brothers (copyright Mark Stewart)
  • 1954 - Pittsburgh, with the first pick, selected Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft, signing him to a $20,000 bonus and sending $4,000 to the Dodgers, on the recommendation of scout Clyde Sukeforth. It was money well spent for a Hall-of-Fame player with 3,000 hits, four batting titles, 15 All-Star games and 12 Golden Glove awards collected during his career.
Roberto Clemente via The Ole Ballgame

Friday, November 21, 2014

Roster Moves: Mostly Bench, Bullpen Auditions

The Pirates filled their 40 man roster yesterday, and without too many surprises. They added no-brainers RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Nick Kingham, C Elias Diaz and bubble player OF Willy Garcia.

Taillon is a top arm in the making, just recovering from TJ surgery. The good news is that he recovered well, and may even be ready for camp. But it did delay his development a year, and assuming he'll be on an inning count after missing last season, he looks more likely to be on a 2016 arrival schedule than 2015; we'll see how he performs and how the Pirates schedule him.

That makes Kingham the more likely to see big league action in 2015. He's not a finished product and has to show a little more consistency, but he'll start at Indy and could be a mid-season addition if the situation calls for another arm. Diaz is the heir apparent behind the dish after a breakout year in 2014; the Bucs will want him to show that his .328/.378/.445 slash at Altoona wasn't a fluke. He only has 10 games at AAA, and with Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez ahead of him in Pittsburgh, he should remain in AAA this year to see if his bat can match his defensive prowess.

Garcia was a bit of a surprise, given how deep the Pirate outfield is. He strikes out a lot and walks a little, but the speedster is a long ball threat with a rifle for an arm, and remains an intriguing piece down the line either as a fourth OF'er - the Pirate system isn't real deep in right-handed boppers - or as trade bait.

The cuts they made to clear space were 1B Ike Davis & C Ramon Cabrera, both DFA'ed, and the outrighting of Brent Morel to Indy. Davis was, of course, a dead man walking in Pittsburgh, but it was thought the Pirates may tender him and then deal him away rather than just cut him loose, although any expected return wouldn't be much. So they cut ties cleanly, and allowed him to play the market. Cabrera is a good contact bat, shaky glove guy which flies in the face of current Bucco thinking for a catcher. The Pirates are awash now with middle infield bench guys, making Morel expendable.

Roster from Pittsburgh Pirates
That leaves a couple of Bucs exposed to the Rule 5 draft, chief among them LHP Andy Oliver and OF'er Mel Rojas Jr, both who could stick on the right active roster. A couple of other guys could also be in play, although the remaining names aren't great bets to make it through an MLB season. But the Brewers managed to carry Wei-Chung Wang throughout 2014, so anything is possible.

Another move should be just over the horizon. The Pirates are reported to have agreed to a two year/$3M deal with RHP Radhames Liz, a toolsy power starter with a good heater and nasty hook, so when that becomes official, another 40-man player will bite the dust. And, of course, we'd expect the Pirates to dabble in the FA market, though that may take a while. Their top priority should be another pitcher, and that market won't settle until the elite sign.

The moves do show an emphasis on middle relievers and the backup infield spot. The Bucs are carrying a small herd of arms to compete for the relief spot, cleared out with Bryan Morris' and Justin Wilson's departures. They are Collin Balester, Jeremy Bleich, Deolis Guerra, Preston Guilmet, Brad Lincoln, Chaz Roe, Rob Scahill & Blake Wood. And when Liz finally is processed, his two-pitch arsenal may land him among the bullpen candidates, too.

The middle infield gang is also crowded, probably by plan after the Bucs failed last year to put guys like Robert Andino on the 40 man roster and had to live with Michael Martinez, who was. The players now who are eyeing Clint Barmes' bench spot (and it doesn't look like his return is in the cards) are Jake Elmore, Pedro Florimon, Gustavo Nunez & Justin Sellers. All but Nunez have some MLB experience as good glove, bad bat utility guys and are on the 40-man; the 26 year old Nunez has the most upside.

The roster is just a snapshot in time right now; the Pirates will surely dip, sooner or later, into the free agent or trade market, and there will be more signings and claims during the winter. And there's plenty of fringe talent to clear sufficient room without breaking the bank. But now, it gives a strong indication that the FO is looking hard at filling in the fringes at this point, which is a good marker that except for first base (Pedro's job to lose as of now), the starting eight are pretty well set for 2015.

11/21: Donora's Day: Stan the Man & Junior, Al Todd, Captain Willie, Brian Meadows, Barry Bonds, Clint Barmes...

Donora's Day: Stan the Man & Junior, Al Todd, Captain Willie, Brian Meadows, Barry Bonds, Clint Barmes...
  • 1920 - Hall of Famer Stan Musial of the Cards was born in Donora. Stan the Man compiled 3,630 career hits, ranking fourth all-time and first in a career spent with only one team. With 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 on the road, he also is considered to be the most consistent hitter of his era. He hit 475 home runs, was named the NL's MVP three times, and won three World Series championship titles. He shares the MLB record for the most All-Star Games played (24) with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Musial was a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. 
  • 1935 - The Phillies sent C Al Todd to Pittsburgh for C Earl Grace and rookie RHP Claude Passeau, who worked just one game for the Pirates during the season. Todd caught three years for the Bucs, while Passeau put up a 162-150/3.32 line during a 13 year MLB career. 
Al Todd - Retro Images Archive

  • 1969 - Ken Griffey Jr. of Seattle and Cincinnati fame was born in Donora. The Kid was a 13-time All-Star, and his 630 home runs rank as the sixth-most in MLB history. Griffey also won 10 Gold Glove Awards in center field. He's tied for the record of most consecutive games with a home run (8 games, tied with Don Mattingly and Dale Long). His dad, Ken Griffey Sr., was born there and was a multi-sport star at Donora HS, graduating the year before it merged with Monongahela to form Ringgold. 
Stan the Man & Junior, Donora's B-Day boys. They combined for 6411 hits, 3611 runs, 1105 homers, 3787 RBI, four MVPs & 33 All-Star Games.(photo via Mariner's Blog)
  • 1973 - Pete Rose won the NL MVP, edging out Willie Stargell by a 274-250 tally. Rose took his third batting crown with a .338 mark. Stargell led the league with 44 HR, 119 RBI, and a .646 slugging percentage while batting .299. Many in Pittsburgh still believe Captain Willie wuz robbed because of the Charlie Hustle mystique. 
  • 1975 - RHP Brian Meadows was born in Montgomery, Alabama. He pitched for Pittsburgh from 2002-05. The Bucs converted him to a reliever in 2003, and his line with the Pirates was 8-12-2 with a 4.20 ERA. He went on to Tampa Bay in 2006 and retired the following season after failing to make it out of camp with the Reds. 
Brian Meadows (photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
  • 1991 - The Brave's 3B Terry Pendleton, who hit .319 with 22 HR and 86 RBI, won the NL MVP over Barry Bonds, who hit .292, with 25 HR & 116 RBI by a 274-259 point count. Bobby Bonilla came in third and may have split Bond's vote. 
  • 2011 - The Pirates signed free agent SS Clint Barmes to a two year, $10.5M contract, their first $10M+ free agent deal since they signed Steve Buechele in 1991. Barmes inked a one-year deal in 2014 for $2M to serve as insurance for Jordy Mercer and is currently a FA. His 2013 walk up song, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," became the Bucs' theme for the season when they finally broke their 20-year losing streak and made the playoffs.
Clint Barmes (photo by John Edmonds/Getty Images)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

11/20: Schwall & Pags, Rick Reuschel, Jim Leyland Hired, Happy B-Day, Jeff Locke...

Schwall & Pags, Rick Reuschel, Jim Leyland Hired, Happy B-Day, Jeff Locke...
  • 1962 - The Pirates traded 1B Dick Stuart and P Jack Lamabe to the Boston Red Sox for P Don Schwall and C Jim Pagliaroni. Pags appeared in 490 games over the next five years for the Bucs, batting .254 while Schwall became a multi role pitcher, tossing four years for Pittsburgh with a 22-23-4/3.24 ERA. Stu hit 103 homers in the next three seasons and then faded away, while Lamabe lasted six more seasons in the show, with a couple of strong campaigns in 1966-67.
Don Schwall 1965 Topps series
  • 1985 - 36 year old Rick Reuschel was named the NL’s Major League Comeback Player of the Year by United Press International. Reuschel went 14-8 with a 2.27 ERA, starting the year with Hawaii in the Pacific Coast League after signing as a free agent with Pittsburgh during the off season. 
Rick Reuschel 1989 Fleer series
  • 1985 - Syd Thrift hired Jim Leyland to manage the Pirates, replacing Chuck Tanner. During his Pirate years from 1986 to 1996, Leyland won two Manager of the Year awards (1990 & 1992), finished as runner-up in 1988 and 1991 and led the team to three divisional titles (1990-92). 
Jim Leyland 1989 Topps series
  • 1987 - LHP Jeff Locke was born in North Conway, New Hampshire. He joined the Bucs in 2009 as part of the Nate McLouth trade, and the Redstone Rocket - Redstone is his home neighborhood - made his MLB debut in 2011, joining the rotation in 2013 and earning an All-Star berth that season. 
Jeff Locke 2012 Bowman Chrome Rookie series

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

11/19: Uncle Al, Groat to the Cards, Bonds Beats Bobby Bo For MVP, Chico...

Uncle Al, Groat to the Cards, Bonds Beats Bobby Bo For MVP, Chico...
  • 1847 - Albert G. Pratt, nicknamed "Uncle Al," was born in Pittsburgh (actually, he was from the North Side, then Allegheny City).  Pratt was a pitcher who played for three Pittsburgh indy teams, the Enterprise Club, The Allegheny Club and the Xanthus. The Civil War vet also tossed a couple of years for the professional Cleveland Forest Citys and then umped afterward, but is best remembered locally as the skipper of the first major league club in Pittsburgh, the Alleghenys, which joined the American Association in 1882. Uncle Al managed the club from 1882-83, going 51-56. He was also an organizer of the Union Association, and a part owner of the National League Pittsburgh club in 1890 during the Players League revolt. 
Uncle Al Pratt via The Baseball Page
  • 1962 - Dick Groat was traded with P Diomedes Olivo to the St. Louis Cardinals for P Don Cardwell and IF Julio Gotay. Groat played five more years, making two All-Star teams, finishing second in the MVP vote in 1963, and won another World Series. Traded as part of a Joe Brown youth movement, Groat was stunned by the deal - he was born in Wilkinsburg - and didn’t associate with the team again until a 1990 reunion of the 1960 World Series Championship team. 
  • 1990 - LF Barry Bonds won the NL MVP in a runaway by taking the top spot on 23 of the 24 ballots cast to top teammate and runner-up Bobby Bonilla (.280/32/120). Bonds hit .301 with 23 HR, 114 RBI, and had 52 stolen bases. The All-Star duo led the Pirates to 95 wins and a first place finish in the NL East, but Pittsburgh lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS. 
Bobby Bonilla & Barry Bonds from the 1990 All Star Game (Getty Images via Sports Illustrated)
  • 1992 - The Pirates traded 2B Jose Lind to the KC Royals for pitchers Dennis Moeller and Joel Johnston. Chico was beset with personal problems and was out of baseball after the 1995 season. Johnston, once the Royals top prospect, had a strong 1993 season but quickly faded and was out of baseball after 1995; Moeller made ten appearances in Pittsburgh and those marked the end of his MLB days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

11/18: Big Date For Alleghenys, Rocky Nelson, Johnny Hopp & Danny Murtaugh Arrive, The Trade That Kept On Giving...

Big Date For Alleghenys, Rocky Nelson, Johnny Hopp & Danny Murtaugh Arrive, The Trade That Kept On Giving...
  • 1882 - The case of the Pittsburgh Alleghenys versus C Charlie Bennett was decided. Prior to the 1882 season, Allegheny signed Bennett to a $100 agreement which stated that he would sign an 1883 contract with the club. Instead, Bennett re-signed with the Detroit Wolverines. The Western Pennsylvania District Court ruled in Bennett’s favor for several reasons, including restraint of trade and because there was no concrete contract agreed to by the parties. Sadly, Bennett lost both his legs in 1894 when he was run over by a train.
  • 1886 - The NL officially admitted the Alleghenys, who became the first franchise to jump from the American Association. The club made a reported profit of $160,000 in 1886 (per Wikipedia) and finished second in the AA, making the decision a no-brainer for the NL. The 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys finished sixth in their first NL campaign with a  55-69 record. They played their home games at Recreation Park that year and became known as the Pirates a few seasons later in 1891.
James "Pud" Galvin - 1887 Opening Day pitcher for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys
  • 1924 - 1B Glenn “Rocky” Nelson was born in Portsmouth, Ohio. He got a cup of coffee with Pittsburgh in 1951 and then platooned with Dick Stuart from 1959-61. He hit .270 as a Pirate, and in the 1960 World Series went 3-for-9 with a Game Seven homer and two RBI.
  • 1943 - LHP Jim Shellenback was born in Riverside, California. He was a seldom used reliever for the Pirates from 1966-67 and 1969, going 1-1-2 with a 3.35 ERA. He put together a nine year career with some solid seasons for the Washington Senators and afterward became a long-time minor league pitching coach for the Twins organization.
  • 1947 - The Bucs traded for 1B Johnny Hopp and 2B Danny Murtaugh, sending the Boston Braves C Bill Salkeld‚ P Al Lyons‚ and OF Jim Russell. Hopp played three years for the Pirates, hitting .310 but providing little power as a first baseman. Murtaugh’s career was stronger as a manager than player, but he started full-time around the infield in 1948, hitting .290, finishing his playing career as a Bucco reserve in 1951.
Danny Murtaugh 1951 Bowman series
  • 1997 - The Pirates lost P Jason Johnson to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays while P Clint Sodowsky and 3B Joe Randa went to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the expansion draft.
  • 1998 - The Bucs sent LHP Ricardo Rincon to the Tribe for OF Brian Giles. In five campaigns with the Pirates, Giles would put up a line of .308/.426/.591 with 165 HR and 426 RBI and was twice named to the All-Star team. That deal began a chain reaction of other swaps that eventually led to the Pirates acquiring Jason Bay, Ollie Perez, Xavier Nady, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, and Bryan Morris before the smoke finally cleared. 
Ricardo Rincon who began an impressive trade tree (1998 - Pacific series)

Monday, November 17, 2014

11/17: Red Lucas, Expansion Losses, Kendall & Bay Hit Paydirt...

Red Lucas, Expansion Losses, Kendall & Bay Hit Paydirt...
  • 1933 - The Pirates traded OF Adam Comorosky and 2B Tony Piet to the Reds for P Red Lucas and OF Wally Roettger. Lucas was the key player. He lasted five seasons in Pittsburgh, going 47-32/3.77 and making 96 starts. After the trade, Lucas never lost a game against Cincinnati, going 14-0 against the Reds during the remainder of his career. Red went 15-4 in 1936 with a 3.18 ERA in his best Bucco campaign and was also handy off the bench with a career .281 BA.
Charles "Red" Lucas 1934 Diamond Stars series
  • 1992 - The Pirates lost OF Alex Cole to the Colorado Rockies, along with P Danny Jackson and IF Ramon Martinez to the Florida Marlins, in the expansion draft. 
  • 2000 - C Jason Kendall signed the richest contract in team history. The $60M, six-year contract extension, which included a $4M signing bonus, had a base salary of $6M in 2002 and peaked at $13M in 2007. To this point from his rookie year of 1996, Kendall had hit .300 or better every season except 1997, when he hit .294. He became the second highest paid active catcher in baseball, behind only Mike Piazza. 
Jason Kendall 2004 Studio Plus Photofile
  • 2005 - Jason Bay agreed to an $18.25M, four-year contract that ran through his arbitration eligible seasons. He hit .296 with 58 HR and 183 RBI in 2004-05 and began his career by winning the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

11/16: Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente Win MVPs, Brandon Cumpton's B-Day

Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente Win MVPs, Brandon Cumpton's B-Day...
  • 1960 - NL batting champ (.325) Dick Groat was named NL MVP, outpolling teammate Don Hoak 276-162. Also trailing him in the race were Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, all who had big years. Groat won despite losing the last three weeks of the season to a bad wrist, injured on a Lew Burdette pitch. Vern Law, Roberto Clemente, Roy Face and Smoky Burgess also received votes to place six Pirates among the Top Twenty finishers. 
Dick Groat 1961 Topps series
  • 1966 - RF Roberto Clemente won the NL MVP, finishing ahead of Dodger ace Sandy Koufax by a narrow 218-208 count. Clemente hit .317 with 29 HR and 119 RBI. His strong play kept the Pirates in the hunt until the next-to-last day of the season. The Great One finished the year fourth in batting, 10th in home runs and second in runs batted in. 
Roberto Clemente - Pittsburgh Pirates Legends Collage
  • 1988 - RHP Brandon Cumpton was born in Augusta, Georgia. A sixth starter, the Georgia Tech grad saw action as an injury replacement in 2013-24, going 5-5 with a 4.02 ERA. He was the ninth round pick of the Pirates in the 2010 draft.
Brandon Cumpton photo by Charles LeClaire USA Today Sports

Saturday, November 15, 2014

11/15: Maurice, Gus, MVP Cobra, Clint Comes To Town...

Maurice, Gus, MVP Cobra, Clint Comes To Town...
  • 1914 - OF Maurice Van Robays was born in Detroit. Van Robays replaced RF Lloyd Waner late in 1939. He finished third in the NL with 116 RBI and received a smattering of MVP votes the next season. "Bomber" (his nickname after he hit 11 HR in 1940) had a strong 1941. MVR developed vision problems the following season and had to wear glasses, and it took him until 1943 to rediscover his batting stroke. Then he missed the war years of 1944-45 while serving with the 1st Infantry Division, and played one last season in Pittsburgh in 1946. Van Robay's is credited with naming Rip Sewell's famous "eephus" pitch. After seeing it delivered, Van Robays said "that's an eephus pitch," believed to refer to the Hebrew term for "nothing." 
  • 1928 - OF David "Gus" Bell was born in Louisville, Kentucky. he came up with the Pirates, and between 1950-52 hit .270 with 40 HR. He was traded to the Reds, where he went on to win four All-Star berths. Gus is Buddy’s father and the grandpap of David and Michael.
Gus Bell 1951 Bowman series
  • 1978 - RF Dave "The Cobra" Parker won the NL MVP, topping runnerup Steve Garvey of the LA Dodgers. Parker had 30 HR with 117 RBI and led the league with a .334 batting average, a .585 slugging percentage, and 340 total bases. That was despite the fact that he missed two weeks after breaking his jaw in a home plate collision with the Mets' John Stearns and returned wearing a football-style facemask, thought to be the first time such a contraption was worn in an MLB game, and wore it until early into the next season. 
Dave Parker photo by Dave Arrigo/ESPN
  • 2010 - Clint Hurdle, former Colorado manager, became the Pirates sixth field boss since 1992, replacing John Russell. Clint was the first skipper to guide the team to a playoff spot since Jim Leyland in 1992 when his club earned a wild card berth in 2013 while also snapping a record-setting 20-season losing streak.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Well, STFD - Batman Is Back In Black!

"I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello..."
Well, good-bye, Eddie Volquez, and hello, AJ. The Bucs just signed the righty to a one year, $8.5M deal - no options or buyouts, just a straight contract - to help baby-sit the rotation through 2015 while Charlie Morton is on the mend and Jameson Taillon/Nick Kingham get ready to join the staff. That's a good price for a guy that slots to be mid-rotation and eat 200 IP, while the one-year deal makes it unnecessary to bring Volquez back on a multi-year contract.

AJ was hugely popular in Pittsburgh during his two-year stay, and why not? He posted a 26-21 record and a 3.41 ERA while making 61 starts with the Pirates and was edgy enough to pump up the fan base after seasons of watered down vanilla.

There was much gnashing of teeth when he signed with the Phils after a long, drawn-out off season of "will he or won't he?" He spurned the Bucs $12M bid - they didn't make a qualifying offer - and took Philadelphia's $16M deal. Burnett made an NL-leading 34 starts while pitching 213-2/3 innings last season. He also put up an 8-18/4.59 slash. Philly finished last in their division with 73 wins; so much for the greener pastures.

Batman does arrive with some concerns, chief among them being that he will be working his 17th season at age 38. He also led the league in losses, earned runs allowed and walks in 2014. The walks are worrisome, as is his GB rate, which dropped from 57% as a Buc to 51% with the Phils. Another issue is that his velocity dropped a bit - is that age or injury related?

But there are a lot of plusses. First, he really wants to be here; he had his agent negotiate solely with Pittsburgh, even though his backyard team, the Orioles, were said to be sniffing around. Leaving $4.25M on the table by signing with the Pirates instead of exercising his option is about as clear an indicator as can be. And Burnett is a guy the fans have taken in, and by all reports a mentor to young arms if occasionally a bit rowdy in the clubhouse. It's homecoming for AJ.

He also pitched through a hernia through most of the 2014 season; he had that taken care of October 3rd, and is ready to begin training. As far as the pitching, he'll be returning to a park that's friendly enough to hurlers and a shifting defense that should help a ground ball pitcher. Burnett and Ray Searage had a good relationship and better game plan, and that should pay off, too.

So the Bucs have added a fourth arm to join Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke; one more front-ender like Frankie Liriano, Brandon McCarthy or Jason Hammel should be on the agenda. Of course, the Pirates being the Pirates, another reclamation project could be on the horizon, too.

Another point of interest is that the 40-man roster now has 38 players. The deadline to protect players eligible for the Rule 5 draft is November 20th. Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Elias Diaz are no brainers, and there are a couple of other names that will be considered.  A couple of weeks later, the Bucs have to settle with their arbitration-eligible players on December 2nd. So unlike last year, this hot stove session promises some early spartks.

11/14: Doug Wins the Cy, Fred, Stan, Paul, Xavier, & A Big Deal...

Doug Wins the Cy, Fred, Stan, Paul, Xavier,  & A Big Deal...
  • 1881 - C/1B Fred Carisch was born in Fountain City, Wisconsin. Playing between 1903-06, the reserve hit .229 for the Pirates. Fred became the center of a storm in 1923, when as a Tigers' coach, he was forced to catch when his team's final receiver was ejected. A protest was filed, but the Cleveland Indians rallied to win in the tenth, making the point moot.
Fred Carish 1905 - Library of Congress (Chicago Daily News collection)
  • 1947 - The Bucs bought SS Stan Rojek, 29, from the Dodgers with plans to make him the starter in Pittsburgh; he was blocked by Pee Wee Reese in Brooklyn. He played 156 games and hit .290 in 1948, but faded after that season, became a backup in 1950 and was traded to the Cards in 1951. 
  • 1967 - RHP Paul Wagner was born in Milwaukee. A 12th round draft pick in 1989, he pitched for the Pirates for six campaigns, from 1992-97, mainly as a starter, and went 26-40/4.58 during that span. Wagner came close to capturing a little magic - in 1995, he had a no-hitter broken up against the Colorado Rockies with two out in the ninth on an AndrĂ©s Galarraga single. 
Paul Wagner - 1994 Topps series
  • 1978 - OF Xavier Nady was born in Salinas, California. The X-Man played for the Bucs from 2006-08, hitting .301 as a Pirate. He had been on the Pirate radar for awhile - GM Dave Littlefield tried to pry him from the Padres in 2003, and settled on Jason Bay instead when SD wouldn’t deal Nady. The Friars were that high on him - Nady went straight to the majors without playing minor league ball in 2000 while with San Diego, though the stay didn’t last long, as he was sent to the farm after one game. 
  •  1990 - RHP Doug Drabek, who posted a 22-6 record and a 2.76 ERA, was named the NL Cy Young winner and became the first Pirate since Vern law in 1960 to take home the award. He received 23 of 24 first-place votes and 118 of a possible 120 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. 
Doug Drabek - 1991 Fleer Ultra
  • 1996 - The Pirates sent 2B Carlos Garcia, 1B/OF Orlando Merced and P Dan Plesac to the Toronto Blue Jays for P Jose Silva, IF Abraham Nunez, and OF Craig Wilson plus prospects SS Brandon Cromer, P Jose Pett and P Mike Halperin, who never got out of the minors.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Francisco Cervelli - His Story and the Sidebars

Well, looks like the Bucs, although talking a good game, have positioned themselves to move on without Russ Martin by trading Justin Wilson to the Yankees for Francisco Cervelli, who should slide into Pittsburgh's #1 catching spot.

Cervelli, 28, is a Venezuelan who has shown a good glove and decent bat, albeit without a lot of power, and is in his second year of arbitration, earning $700K last year and expected to fall into the $1M range this season. His career slash is .278/.348/.381 with a .301 BA last season, but he comes with a caveat - he hasn't played much for a guy who made his MLB debut in 2008, with just 785 PA in 250 games. Not only has he been the caddy of Martin and then Brian McCann in New York, but he's pretty much an accident waiting to happen.

Francisco Cervelli (photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday)
In 2008, he broke his wrist in a home plate collision that sparked a brawl, then later sprained his knee. He broke his foot in 2011 and was given a concussion when he was beaned after his return. In 2013, he broke his hand and then lost 50 games after being swept up in the Biogenesis PED scandal. Last year, he had hammy problems and migraines. Ergo, he's the poster boy for small sample size.

If the Bucs can pump him with some extra-strength calcium, though, he fits the bill behind the dish. Cervelli is said to have the intangibles - a good rapport with the pitchers, a knack for handling a staff and a good idea on how to set up hitters - along with several defensive plusses. He's an excellent pitch framer and does a good job of blocking balls, two traits the new-age Bucs look for behind the plate. His only drawback is that he has problems with happy feet; Francisco has just a 22% toss-out rate, although his arm strength is sufficient and he's fairly accurate. So we'll see if that's a function of slow pitchers or a slow set-up and release.

His hitting should be OK, too. His .408 BABIP of last season is unsustainable, but he should bat in the .260 range and draw an occasional walk. He does have a 3.7 WAR for his career, and that's not bad with just 250 games under his belt.

If the FO can get 100 games out of Cervelli (and that may be a stretch; 93 in 2010 is his season high) with Chris Stewart as the back up, the leather will be pretty strong and the batting won't be a black hole. That takes care of one position that was problematic. The Pirates, maybe surprised that a potential trade target like Hank Conger moved so quickly, became proactive in swinging a quick deal and avoiding a very thin FA catching market. That does led to the inevitable question, though - what of Tony Sanchez?

Tony Sanchez (photo by Justin Aller/Getty Images)
He's in the Dominican winter league to catch, but it's a fairly telling sign that the Pirates are looking ahead to the arrival of Elias Diaz sometime in 2016 rather than prepping Sanchez. His throw-out rate and lapses behind the dish overshadow his generally strong defensive performance. His hitting is erratic, and he also comes with a lengthy injury history.

Tony has one more option and will almost certainly begin the year at Indy. It may be a make-or-break season, if not with the Bucco organization then as trade bait, with Cervelli under team control through 2016 and Dias rising with a bullet. Expect to see more of him at 1B in 2015 as the team works to make him a more versatile package.

Another thing that the deal does by firming up the catching spot, with the assumption that Martin is as good as gone, is to free up some money that can go to landing a marketplace player. Now the Bucs have a little more leverage if they want to bring Frankie Liriano back into the fold or replace him with a Brandon McCarthy type. Ditto if they decide to blow up the first base platoon. The FO is handling Martin's looming loss a lot more effectively than they did with last year's AJ saga.

It did cost them Wilson, a talented but erratic arm, and they face the risk of him turning it around ala Bryan Morris. But dealing a bridge guy for a potential starter is a no-brainer. It also shows that the Bucs believe that Big John Holdzkem has leapfrogged Wilson, leaving Bobby LaFramboise (on the 40 man roster) or Andy Oliver (not) as organizational replacement lefties, with the probable addition of a southpaw or two signed to a spring invite. And it has to be remembered that Clint Hurdle is not by nature a match-up guy, for better or worse, so the L/R balance in the pen isn't quite so much a big deal in Pittsburgh as it would be in other cities.

11/13: Jack Hallett, A Quiet Threat, Starg Splits MVP, Bucs in Black & White, Charlie Morton...

Jack Hallett, A Quiet Threat, Starg Splits MVP, Bucs in Black & White, Charlie Morton...
  • 1914 - RHP Jack Hallett was born in Toledo, Ohio. He tossed for the Bucs from 1942-43, and then after wartime service returned in 1946. Working mostly from the pen, Hallett went 6-10 with a 3.06 ERA for Pittsburgh. He was a solid stick, hitting .238 with one home run in 80 lifetime at-bats, and a perfect fielder, handling all 60 of his career chances flawlessly.
  • 1956 - The Pirates announced that they would consider moving out of town if a new stadium wasn’t built to replace Forbes Field, the second oldest yard in baseball after Shibe Park in Philly. Buc VP and co-owner Tom Johnson said in the Pittsburgh Press that “What we need is a municipal stadium in Pittsburgh we both (Pirates & Steelers) can use. If we don’t get one, there’s a chance the Pirates will have to leave this city.” They got their wish, though it took some time. The political football was kicked around for years until Three Rivers Stadium opened in July of 1970.
Tom Johnson - attorney, Pirate VP, team co-owner
  • 1979 - For the first time in MLB history, two players shared the MVP. The NL co-winners were Willie Stargell, who hit .281 with 32 HRs, and the Cards 1B Keith Hernandez, who led the NL in runs scored (116), doubles (48), and batting average (.344). With the win, the Pirates had taken (or shared) all four "MVP" awards for the season (All-Star Game, NLCS, World Series, and NL regular season) for the first award sweep in MLB history. Stargell took the honors for the NLCS, World Series, and NL regular season, while Dave Parker won the All-Star Game MVP.
Willie Stargell - Dick Perez art
  • 2010 - Beat ‘Em, Bucs! The Byham Theater hosted a sneak preview of a 50-year-old B&W movie, copied from TV for owner Bing Crosby, of NBC's telecast of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. Dick Groat and Bob Costas were the event hosts of The MLB Network production, later aired on TV and then made available on DVD. The Post Gazette’s Bob Hoover wrote “Fans hailed the eight members of the '60 team invited for the showing, clapped rhythmically to start rallies, reacted loudly every time Roberto Clemente appeared on the screen and leapt to their feet for the two clutch home runs in the eighth (Hal Smith) and ninth (you know who) innings.”
And yesterday's news:
  • November 12, 1983 - Charlie Morton was born in Flemington, New Jersey. The promising righty came to Pittsburgh in 2009 as part of the Nate McLouth trade with Atlanta, and despite excellent stuff, has been in-and-out of the rotation ever since because of various injuries.
Charlie Morton - Dilip Vashwanat/Getty Images