Thursday, December 31, 2015

12/31: Roberto's Crash; HBD Bobby & Estaban; Walkie Inks His Last Contract

  • 1972 - The day that baseball still mourns: Roberto Clemente, 38, was killed when his plane, on a humanitarian trip to Managua, crashed in the Atlantic while on a rescue mission. (Click for the NY Times story.) Clemente had quietly spent much of his time during his off-seasons involved in charity work. When Managua was affected by a massive earthquake, he put together relief flights to aid in its recovery and was aboard on the fourth trip he had personally organized, on an overloaded and mechanically cranky DC-7. In an eerie trivial bit, pitcher Tom Walker, Neil’s dad, helped The Great One load the plane and was going to take the flight with him, but Clemente insisted he stay in San Juan and enjoy New Year’s Eve. Roberto went because he thought the situation called for his presence as some supplies were being hijacked by government officials, but it wasn't to be. The plane crashed into the ocean, and Clemente's body was never recovered. In fact, Manny Sanguillen missed Roberto's memorial service; he was diving in a search for the body. Posthumously, Clemente was elected to the Hall of Fame, not only as the first Latino player, but the first to have the five-year wait waived. The Roberto Clemente Award was established to provide a charitable grant to the player who was the most committed to community service. His number was retired by the Pirates and his statue is prominent near the Roberto Clemente bridge leading to PNC Park. So while he's gone, his memory and legacy remain.

Other 12/31 Events:
  • 1884 - 3B Bobby Byrne was born in St. Louis. The pint sized (5-7, 145) scrapper played five seasons for the Pirates (1909-13) and hit .277 with 97 stolen bases in Pittsburgh. He was acquired late in 1909 and helped the Bucs to their World Series title against the Tigers. A leadoff hitter, Bobby had 176 stolen bases in his career and walked more often than he whiffed. Byrne was also a very good soccer player, making the All-St. Louis team as a youth and playing in the area until Barney Dreyfuss made him stick to one sport.
  • 1971 - RHP Esteban Loaiza was born in Tijuana. He began his 14 year career in Pittsburgh from 1995-98, where he showed maddening promise, but no consistency, going 27-28/4.61 over that span. He did put it together once, in 2003 for the White Sox, going 21-9/2.90 and earning his first of two All-Star berths. He was also considered for the Cy Young that year, finishing second behind Roy Halladay but ahead of Pedro Martínez and Tim Hudson.
  • 1991 - RHP Bob Walk inked his final contract, signing up for two more years with the Bucs. He earned $4.2M over the two campaigns, cashing in on bonus money included in the package. He went 23-20 over the life of the deal.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jason Rogers: Beefin' Up the Bench

Jason Rogers, 27, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 32nd round of the 2010 draft from Columbus State University. He advanced through the farm system a level at a time with a couple of stops in the Arizona Fall League, showing some power and a good average with decent plate discipline.

In 2013, he became a bright blip on the Brew Crew radar. While at AA Huntsville, he was named the Brewers' Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .270/.346/.468 with 22 home runs and a Southern League high 87 RBIs in 133 games, and was added to the 40-man roster during the off season. Jason has 546 minor league games on his resume with an overall .290 BA and .372 OBP.

Jason Rogers (photo Scott Kane/USA Today)
Rogers, a right handed stick, slashed .296/.367/.441 with four home runs and 16 RBI in 152 at-bats for Milwaukee last year in a pair of stints with the big club after tearing it up at AAA Colorado Springs (.344/.449/.607 w/1.056 OPS and eight homers). He started 22 games at first base, two in left field and one at third base.

Best suited as first baseman, he's probably not going to see much time there except as an insurance policy. Rogers looked like the heir apparent to Adam Lind in Milwaukee, though this deal squelched that view. And with the acquisition of John Jaso, he doesn't look like part of the mix for platoon duty in Pittsburgh, at least as Plan A.

Rogers put in time at third base from the 2014 season and has 132 games at the hot corner since, albeit with 26 boots, but could see some duty at third until Jung Ho Kang is up to speed. He also can play left field, but his arm and speed aren't plus tools (maybe not even average), so PNC Park isn't a real good fit for him as far as the pasture is concerned, although some road starts could be in cards.

He's a good stick and mediocre, tho somewhat versatile, glove addition to the bench. His reverse split (.306 v RHP, .263 v LHP) in a small MLB sample of 169 PA suggests that he's the equivalent of a switch hitter, which makes him valuable as a pinch hitter; he put up a .283 BA off the pine last year. Rogers also shows good plate discipline, and that seems to be a factor in the FO's roster construction this season, along with their usual eye for positional versatility.

And though Rogers is 27, he has a potentially long shelf life. He's still pre-arb regarding service time, and won't be eligible for arbitration until 2018. Jason has at least one more option, too, so he's a roster friendly addition to the club.

The bench, long a sore point for the Bucs, looks pretty solid right now. If Kang is on the active roster after camp, it looks like Rogers, Morse/Jaso, S-Rod and Chris Stewart are the front runners for the cavalry, along with a fourth outfielder TBD. And that's what this deal is about, strengthening the club down to its 25th man.

12/30 HBD Jim Viox; Babe for Babe Trade

  • 1890 - IF Jim Viox was born in Lockland, Ohio. Viox played from 1912-16, starting at second base from 1913-15. His five year career was spent as a Bucco, and he put up a .272 lifetime BA. The Buc infielder had a good eye, drawing 100 more walks during his career than strikeouts. He left during the purge of 1916, when the Bucs, in a downward spiral since 1912, made major changes to the roster (it didn't help - the Pirates weren’t a contending club again until the 1920s). In a 506 game career, Viox had a .361 OBP, countered by *ouch* a minus-114 defensive runs rating per Total Baseball. He never played MLB ball again and became a minor league player/manager, including skippering the 21 year old Pie Traynor at Portsmouth of the Class B Virginia League.
Jim Viox 1916 Famous & Barr
  • 1943 - The Phillies traded 1B Babe Dahlgren to the Pirates for C Babe Phelps and cash. Dahlgren hit .271 with 176 RBI in his two year stay with the Bucs. “Well traveled” described Dahlgren to a tee as he played for eight teams in his 12 year career, and he was best known as the player who replaced Lou Gehrig in 1939. The deal was a win for Pittsburgh as Phelps, 34, never played again after the trade. He did log a solid career, though, being named to the NL All-Star Team from 1938-40 while his .367 batting average in 1936 for Brooklyn remains the highest for any catcher of the modern era. Babe, btw, was a nickname given to oversized (or baby-faced) players. Dahlgen at 190 pounds was just large. But Phelps was a 6’ 2” jumbo who tipped the scales at 235 lbs. with a stance and swing, not to mention physique, that were similar to Babe Ruth’s. He also answered to a second, less kindly moniker later in his career - “Blimp.”
Babe Dahlgren via

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

12/29: HBD Jack, Clyde & Emil; Black & Gold Streak Ends

  • 1895 - OF Clyde Barnhart was born in Buck Valley, PA. He spent his entire career (1920-28) with the Pirates, starting as a third baseman and moving to the outfield. In 814 games, he hit .295, batting over .300 in five of his nine campaigns. Barnhart played on two World Series teams and hit .273 with nine RBI in 11 Fall Classic matches. Clyde played his college ball at Cumberland Valley State Normal School, today known as Shippensburg University.
Clyde Barnhart 1921 (photo via The Sporting News collection)
  • 1974 - OF Emil Brown was born in Chicago. Brown started his career as a Pirate, playing in Pittsburgh from 1997-2001, but could never hit his way into the lineup, with a .205 BA as a Buc. Brown did breakout with the Royals from 2005-07 with a slash of .279/38/229, but after a so-so season with Oakland, he was released by the Mets in 2009 after just six PA.
  • 1977 - Jack Wilson was born in Westlake Village, California. He played SS for the Bucs from 2001-09, hitting .269. He was named to the All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger in 2004. The slick fielder (he led MLB in PO, assists and DPs 2004-05) collected 201 hits that year, the franchise's first player since Dave Parker (1977) and the first Pirate shortstop since Honus Wagner (1908) to reach the 200-knock mark. After Pittsburgh, he played for Seattle and Atlanta, but a steady stream of nagging injuries led to his retirement after the 2012 season.
Jack Wilson 2007 Topps Opening Day
  • 2013 - Black & Gold trivia: The Steelers were eliminated from the post-season, marking the first year since 1991 that the Pirates made the playoffs but the Steelers didn't. The streak began anew in 2014.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Holiday Notes: Jaso, Medina, Lobstein In; LaFromboise Out; Bullpen Props; Freddy Retires

A little holiday action and an update on departed Buccos:
  • The Bucs signed 1B/OF John Jaso, 32, to a two year, $8M deal. Jaso hit .286 and produced a .380 OBP/.839 OPS in 70 games with the Tampa Bay Rays last campaign. He's also played all of five innings at 1B in his seven year MLB career, so he's a project in the field. John has actually been primarily a catcher and DH in the show, with a handful of games in the pasture. Pittsburgh sent RHP Jorge Rondon to Indy to clear roster space.
  • The Pirates got LHP Kyle Lobstein from the Tigers for cash considerations. The soft tossing starter is a depth/back-end addition; he was DFA'ed by Detroit after going 4-10/5.33 in 18 starts and 103 IP over the past two campaigns. An injured arm (shoulder inflammation) hurt his stat line - he tossed to a 4.34 ERA before the injury, but 10.69 afterward.
  • Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the Bucs, along with a handful of other clubs, have "checked in" on RHP Mat Latos, 28, who is said to be looking for a one-year deal to rebuild some value.
  • The Pirates claimed RHP Yoervis Medina, 27, from the Cubs. The reliever had two solid years with the Mariners from 2013-14, with a 2.81 ERA and 9.4 K/9. But he was always a wild child who lost a couple feet off his heater in 2015, putting up a 4.71 ERA, getting demoted to the minors and then being DFA'ed.
  • LHP Bobby LaFromboise was released and claimed by the Angels. BLF tossed well for the Bucs in very limited work with a 1.54 ERA over 11-2/3 IP. With his departure, the only lefty reliever left on the 40-man roster is Tony Watson.
  • Curve reliever Clario Perez, 23,was suspended for 80 games beginning at the start of the season after testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing drug. Perez went 2-3 with a 1.79 ERA and three saves for High Class A Bradenton last season and was promoted to Altoona, where he was 0-1 with a 3.89 ERA and one save.
  • Dave Schoenfield of The Sweetspot looks at the NL Central; he's concerned about the back end of the Buc rotation.
  • Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs gives love to the Pirate bullpen and shows how well deserved it is.
  • Late add: WEEI named Tim Neverett as the Red Sox' play-by-play announcer, joining Joe Castiglione for Boston radio broadcasts. Good luck, Tim, on your homecoming.
  • RHP Josh Wall signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. He had a 2.45 ERA out of Indy's pen last year, and has some time in the show with the Dodgers.
  • LHP Allen Webster's decision to go to Korea was in the works before the Bucs bought him from Arizona per NH, just another reminder of caveat emptor. 
  • Freddy Sanchez, 38, finally hung 'em up. He officially turned his his retirement papers to the league this week. Steady Freddy hit .301 in his six (2004-09) Pirate years, but injuries took their toll. He last played in 2011, and after that, there were no more comebacks.
  • Pittsburgh hired Wayne Mathis to scout south Texas and Lousiana after spending 14 years with the MLB Scouting Bureau. He has a pretty interesting back story.
Bucs who left after the season:
  • JA Happ signed with Toronto (3yr/$36M), Joakim Soria with the Royals (3yrs/$25M) and Andrew Lambo was claimed by Oakland and Bobby LaFomboise by the Angels. Sean Rodriguez was also a free agent but returned to the team (1yr/$2.5M). Neil Walker, Charlie Morton and Kevin Broxton were traded.
  • Pedro Alvarez, Antonio Bastardo, Joe Blanton, Jaff Decker, Corey Hart and Travis Snider are still looking for contracts.
  • AJ Burnett and Aramis Ramirez retired.

12/28: HBD Hammer & Zane; Klu Deal; Charlie Hayes Signs

  • 1949 - John Milner was born in Atlanta. “The Hammer” (he was a huge Henry Aaron fan growing up) was a platoon 1B/OF and pinch hitter for five years (1978-82) in Pittsburgh, hitting .263 with a .333 BA in the 1979 World Series. He had perhaps his best season during that championship year, hitting .276 with 16 HR and 60 RBI. His low point came during the coke trials, when he admitted to cocaine and amphetamine use.
  • 1957 - The Pirates swapped first basemen with the Reds. Pittsburgh acquired Ted Kluszewski, known for wearing cut-off sleeves to show off his guns, and Cincinnati received seven year veteran Dee Fondy in return. Neither got much; Klu’s power days were behind him, and Fondy spent just one more season in MLB. Factoid: Klu’s last year was with the White Sox, and Bill Veeck introduced player names on the back of Chicago’s jerseys for the first time in MLB history. Kluszewski became the first player to appear in a game with his name misspelled (go figure), with a backwards "z" and an "x" instead of the second "k."
Ted Kluszewski with his new nameplate (Getty Images via Sports Illustrated)
  • 1960 - LHP Zane Smith was born in Madison, Wisconsin. Smith came to the Bucs in 1990 in the Moises Alou deal with Montreal. He pitched well down the stretch in ‘90 and won 16 games in ‘91. Zane tossed five years (1990-94, 1996) for the Buccos, with a 47-41/3.35 line. He almost made history in a clutch September match against the second place Mets, giving up a leadoff single to Keith Miller, then holding NY hitless afterward, and the Bucs won his complete game outing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth to stretch their NL East lead to three games.
  • 1995 - IF Charlie Hayes was signed as a FA by the Bucs to a deal worth $1.75M, then flipped at the deadline to the New York Yankees for a minor leaguer, P Chris Corn. Hayes had a good September run with the Bronx Bombers, made the playoff roster and earned himself a World Series ring. Charlie’s son, His son Ke'Bryan, a third baseman, was selected 32nd overall out of high school by the Pirates in the 2015 draft. 
Charlie Hayes 1996 Leaf Signature

Sunday, December 27, 2015

12/27: Tiger Days; HBD Jim Tobin & Craig Reynolds

  • 1912 - RHP Jim Tobin was born in Oakland, California. Tobin spent his first three seasons (1937-39) as a Pirate, going 29-24 with a 3.71 ERA, before being traded to Boston, where he would spend the majority of his nine-year career. He was OK with a stick, too; Tobin pinch-hit over 100 times in his major league career with a batting line of .230/.303/.345 in the majors. He totaled 35 doubles, 17 homers and 102 RBI in 796 at-bats in the show. Tobin is the only pitcher in the modern era to hit three home runs in the same game, batting against the Cubs when he pitched for the Braves in 1942.
Jim Tobin 1938 - 1994 Conlon Trivia Collection
  • 1952 - SS Craig Reynolds was born in Houston. The Bucs selected him in the first round (22nd overall) of the 1971 draft, signing the Houston HS Player-of-the-Year to a $2M bonus. He played sparingly for the Pirates, hitting .225 in 38 games over 1975-76 and was traded to Seattle for Grant Jackson, unable to oust Frankie Tavaras from the SS job. He went on to have a pretty solid career, playing 15 seasons with a .256 BA (11 with his hometown Astros) and a earning pair of All-Star berths while fielding league average short.
  • 1961 - 3B Don Hoak married Avonmore’s Norma Jean Speranza, better known as pop singer and TV starlet Jill Corey, in a civil ceremony in Common Plea judge Frederick Weir’s chambers, with Mayor Joe Barr as a guest. The Tiger met the singer at a promotional event at Forbes Field and the pair exchanged vows 16 months later. 
Mr & Mrs Tiger on their wedding day (photo Associated Press)
  • 1969 - Don Hoak died exactly eight years later, on the same day that Danny Murtaugh was named manager, a job the Tiger thought he deserved. His widow claimed that Hoak died of a broken heart because the Pirates had passed him over as skipper, although he suffered his fatal heart attack chasing after a relative’s stolen car.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

12/26: Hanny for Mark the Shark; Danny O'Donnell Deal; HDB Jeff King, Mario Mendoza, Lee King

  • 1892 - OF Lee King was born in Hundred, West Virginia, just across the PA state line. After being picked up from the Central League’s Wheeling Stogies, he played for Pittsburgh from 1916-18, with a .241 BA. King’s Bucco career ended when he enlisted during the war; when he returned in 1919, his contract was purchased by the New York Giants. He played through 1922, mostly in NY, spent a few seasons in the minors and retired to his native West Virginia, where he would relive the old days with an occasional trip to watch the Pirates at Forbes Field.
  • 1950 - IF Mario Mendoza was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. In five seasons (1974-78) with the Pirates, the infielder put up a .204 BA. About the Mendoza line: "My (Seattle Mariner) teammates Tom Paciorek and Bruce Bochte used it to make fun of me," Mendoza told Dave Seminara of the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 2010. "Then they were giving George Brett a hard time because he had a slow start that year, so they told him, 'Hey, man, you're going to sink down below the Mendoza Line if you're not careful.' And then Brett mentioned it to Chris Berman from ESPN, and eventually it spread and became a part of the game."
Mario Mendoza 1975 Topps
  • 1953 - The Pirates sent 2B Danny O'Connell to the Milwaukee Braves for 3B Sid Gordon, P Max Surkont, OF Sam Jethroe, and minor league hurlers Curt Raydon, Fred Waters, and Larry LaSalle. The Braves threw in $100,000 to sweeten the deal. It was the only 6-for-1 deal in MLB history, outgunned only by Vida Blue’s 7-for-1 swap in 1978.
  • 1964 - 3B Jeff King was born in Marion, Indiana. The first pick overall in the 1986 draft, King reached Pittsburgh in 1989 and stayed until 1996, hitting .258 with 493 RBI during that span and was part of two division titlist teams in 1990 and 1992. King is one of three players, along with Willie McCovey and Andre Dawson, to hit two home runs in the same inning twice during his career. On August 8th, 1995, he hit two home runs in the second inning of the Pirates' 9-5 victory over the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. On April 30th, 1996, he repeated the feat in the fourth inning of the Pirates' 10-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Cinergy Field.
Jeff King 1990 Upper Deck
  • 2012 - RH closer Joel Hanrahan and IF Brock Holt were traded to the Boston Red Sox for RHP Stolmy Pimentel, IF Ivan De Jesus, RHP Mark Melancon and 1B/OF Jerry Sands. Hanny, 31, was the key player for Boston, with 76 saves in 2011-12, but ended up with TJ surgery and is now a free agent, tho Holt blossomed as a utility guy. The Bucs got some prospects that never quite cut it but a sterling back end reliever in Melancon who thrived as both a set-up man & closer awhile earning a pair of NL All-Star berths as a Pirate.

Friday, December 25, 2015

John Jaso: Catching On At First Base

John Jaso, a 32 year old California native, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays out of Southwestern College in the 12th round (338th overall) of the 2003 draft.

His bat played well in the minors, and his .263/.361/.406 farm slash earned him spots on various MiLB all-star teams from 2004-07. After the 2007 season, Tampa Bay added him to the 40 man roster, called him up for a September audition the following campaign and by 2010, he was pretty much a regular for the Rays. The catcher was beginning to build his resume and some travel miles.

John Jaso (photo Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times)
In 2011, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners during the winter and got a little payback when he caught Félix Hernández's perfect game against Tampa Bay. Just before 2013 camp, Jaso was shipped to the Oakland Athletics in a three-team swap that among other flips sent his current Bucco teammate and apparent platoon partner Michael Morse to the Mariners.

Two years later, Jaso was traded back to his first club, the Tampa Bay Rays, with Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell in exchange for Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist. He was a different player; a series of foul tips in 2013 sent him to UPMC to be treated for a serious concussion. He came back the following year, and 56 games later, another foul tip triggered the syndrome all over again. Jaso became a DH with a little outfield work tossed in for the Rays. In 2015, he landed on the 60 day DL again, this time due to a left wrist contusion after an awkward slide into second base. Still, he put up a line of .286/.380/.459 in 216 PAs.

It was also his walk year, and Jaso strolled north to Pittsburgh to sign a two-year/$8M contract with the Pirates as the LH half of their first base platoon. It's a leap of faith for the Bucs; Jaso has five MLB innings at the position, with a whopping 15 more frames in the minors. It is, tho, a position that many catchers have adopted. Some notables include Joe Torre and Joe Mauer; heck, Craig Biggio and Neil Walker even transitioned to second base. At any rate, it's not as if Pedro left him a very high defensive bar to vault.

But Jaso wasn’t brought aboard for his glove. He brings a disciplined and productive (tho not very powerful) platoon bat to the lineup. Platoon is the key word; 197 of his 216 appearances last year were against righties, with little wonder. He slashes .274/.368/.429 against RHP in his career (Pedro's line was .246/.320/.473), opposed to just .178/.309/.232 versus southpaws, even more dreadful than El Toro's efforts.

JJ doesn't run poorly for a big galoot (tho with 15 career steals, he's not a go-go guy), will work the count and has a nice OBP. He should slot into the two hole, allowing Gregory Polanco a couple of extra pitches to eyeball with when he's aboard and Starling Marte to bat somewhere in the middle of the order.

That addresses an imbalance in the lineup, too -  Jaso will be the only lefty beside Gregory Polanco in the order against righties, and the Bucs faced RH starters in 126 games last year (78%); rotations in the NL Central are loaded with portsiders. That's what made Jason Rogers' reverse split so attractive and why lefty OF'er Danny Ortiz will get a longish look at camp despite all the young, but RH'ed, Bucco MiLB outfielders.

Jaso can also be spotted in the corner outfield, a position that he was beginning to transition to last year. JJ added that he'd be glad to don the gear as a third catcher, but given his concussion history, we can only hope that situation never rears its head.

So if he can play passable defense, Jaso looks like a nice signing. It's just a two year commitment with a friendly payroll hit and without the added ouch of losing a young 'un via trade. It gives the Bucs their 2016 platoon at first without any major blocks in place for Josh Bell and provides a late inning bench bat when he doesn't start with a little bit of flexibility for mad scientist Clint.

The final benefit of the signing is that it puts the current Pirate 25 man payroll at a guesstimated $94M, counting the usual fuzzy estimates for the arb and pre-arb salaries ($63M committed, $25M arb per Mark Schwartz's MLBTradeRumor projections, $6M pre-arb/bonus). That allows the Pirate to keep Mark the Shark unless there's a blow-me-away baseball deal to be made. His $10M projection fits the budget with enough in the kitty for a LH reliever and another reclamation/depth piece or two of the puzzle.

The Pirate FO was in a box this year as the team is in the midst of a transition, trying to stay competitive without blocking Bell, Alen Hanson, Tyler Glasnow, Jamison Taillon, and their posse of young outfielders. Come April 3rd, we'll find out if Jon Neise, John Jaso, Mike Morse and company are enough to weather the transformation without The Kid, Pedro, AJ, JA, Charlie & the gang in 2016. 

12/25: HBD Pud Galvin, Gene Lamont, Rick Renteria and Merry Christmas to All!

  • 1856 - RHP James Galvin was born in St. Louis. The Hall of Famer was MLB’s first 300 game winner and may have had the most nicknames of any player ever, going by "Pud," "Gentle Jeems," “Gentleman James” and "The Little Steam Engine." He threw 6,003 IP and 646 complete games, both of which are second only to Cy Young. Pud tossed seven years (1885-89, ‘91-92) for the Pirates, with the 1890 campaign lost when he jumped to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the rogue Player’s League. He was 126-110 with an ERA of 3.10 during his Buc career. As for his litany of nicknames, Charles Hausberg in Galvin’s SABR bio wrote “He may have been called 'Pud' because of his ability to turn batters into pudding, or from his pudgy physique. He was presumably called 'The Little Steam Engine' because he was small but powerful, and he was called 'Gentle(man) James' or 'Gentle Jeems' for his kind demeanor.”
Pud Galvin image from Perez - Steele Hall of Fame set
  • 1946 - Gene Lamont was born in Rockford, Illinois. After serving stints as Jim Leyland’s 3B coach, he took over the team reins in 1997. In his first year Lamont finished second with a young, inexperienced team (“The Freak Show”) that was widely predicted to finish last, and he was runner up behind Dusty Bake for the Manager of the Year. That was the highlight; after the 2000 season, Lamont was fired after compiling a record of 295–352 and replaced by Lloyd McClendon. After coaching stops at Boston and Houston, Lamont has been the Detroit Tigers’ third base and now bench coach since 2006.
Gene Lamont (photo Matt Freed/Post Gazette)
  • 1961 - Rick Renteria was born in Harbor City, California. The Pirates selected him 20th in the 1980 draft, and he was rewarded with a cup of coffee with the team in 1986. He went on to play parts of four more seasons in the show before taking coaching jobs with the Marlins and Padres. His latest gig was a one-year stint as manager of the Cubs, but despite doing a generally fine job with a rebuilding team, he was shown the door when Joe Maddon became available.
Rick Renteria 1986

Thursday, December 24, 2015

12/24: Cover Boys, HBD Frank, Forbes Field Sizzles

  • 1949 - Frank Taveras was born in Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Dominican Republic. The SS spent eight years (1971-72, 1974-79) with the Pirates as a top-of-the order guy, swiping 206 bases with a streak of four seasons with 44+ steals, including an NL-leading 70 in 1977. But his bat (.253), OBP (.306) and not-so-steady glove work made him expendable and he was sent to the Mets in April of 1979 for Tim Foli, a dependable fielder and contact hitter that helped jell the World Series infield. Taveras played three seasons in NY, then spent his final year (1982) with Montreal. 
Frank Taveras 1976 Topps
  • 1970 - There was a fire in the right field stands of the vacated Forbes Field. The damage this blaze caused, followed by a July 1971 fire, hastened the old ballyard’s demolition. The Christmas Eve blaze became a five-alarm fire when Pitt security guards couldn’t find the keys to the center-field gate, delaying the firefighters entry to the ballpark.
Christmas Eve Fire at Forbes Field (photo Bill Levis/Post Gazette)
  • 1979 - The famous Willie Stargell/Terry Bradshaw cover issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands when the pair were named co-Sportsmen of the Year. Willie led his team to the World Series title and Terry & the Steelers won the Super Bowl, with both being named MVP. 
Yah, City of Champions!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

12/23: HBD Goshen Schoolmaster & Rick White

  • 1871 - RHP Sam "The Goshen Schoolmaster" Leever was born in Goshen, Ohio. He was a Pirate mainstay on the hill from 1898-1910, compiling a record of 191-100 with a 2.47 ERA, spending his entire career with Pittsburgh. Leever won 20 games or more four times and led the league with seven shutouts in 1903. Sadly for Sam, he went 0-2 in the 1903 World Series, trying to pitch through a shoulder injury, and didn’t appear in the 1909 World Series. Sam got his nickname not only because he did indeed teach for several years before he made it as a ballplayer, but also because of his serious, school-marmish disposition. 
Sam Leever via the Goshen Historical Society
  • 1968 - RHP Rick White was born in Springfield, Ohio. White, a 15th round draft pick of Pittsburgh in 1990, began his 12-year MLB career as a Buc in 1994-95, and made another Steel City stop in 2005. He went 10-15-8 with a 4.03 ERA as a Pirate, who used him as a swing man. He was converted successfully full-time to the bullpen by Tampa Bay in 1998.
Rick White 1994 Topps Update

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

12/22: Teke, Todd, GI, Dewey Signed; HBD Connie & Matty; Bucs Look East; Mazzilli Deal

  • 1862 - Cornelius “Connie” Mack was born in East Brookfield, Massachusetts. Mack was a reserve catcher for the Pirates from 1891-96, hitting a modest .242. Mack's last three seasons in the NL were as a player-manager with Pittsburgh from 1894 to 1896, eventually leading to a 50 year gig as manager of the Philadelphia Athletics (1901–1950), where he won five World Series and became a Hall-of-Fame skipper.
  • 1938 - CF Matty Alou was born in Bajos de Haina, Dominican Republic. Obtained from the Giants for the 1966 season, he became a hitting machine under Harry “The Hat” Walker’s tutelage. In his time in Pittsburgh, he won a batting title and hit .300+ for four straight years. Mateo was traded to the Cards for the 1971 campaign after hitting .327 as a Pirate. Alou is part of the Dominican’s first family of baseball, joining his brothers Felipe and Jesus in the show.
Matty Alou 1967 Topps
  • 1982 - OF Lee Mazzilli was traded by the New York Yankees to the Pirates for minor leaguers Don Aubin, John Holland, Jose Rivera and RHP Tim Burke. The key figures were Burke, who had an eight year career as a reliever with 100+ saves, and Mazzilli, who played 3-½ years (1982-85) for Pittsburgh, playing outfield and first base while putting up a .244 Bucco BA.
  • 1983 - Free agent RHP Kent Tekulve re-signed with the Pirates for three years/$900K per season. In 1983, Teke had 18 saves and a 1.64 ERA for Pittsburgh. The inking was a big deal for the Bucs; Telkulve had been a bullpen fixture since 1975 in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates had to fend off the deep pockets of California Angel owner Gene Autry to seal the deal. Teke picked a good year to hit the market; after the Yankee’s Goose Gossage, he was the top reliever available.
  • 1998 - RHP Todd Ritchie signed as a free agent with the Pirates. Ritchie won a career-high 15 games in 1999, and was the Pirates’ Opening Day starter in 2001. In his three Pirate seasons, he went 35-32/4.29 for the Bucs before he was dealt to the White Sox for Kip Wells, Josh Fogg and Sean Lowe after the 2001 campaign.
Todd Ritchie 2000 Upper Deck Victory
  • 2008 - C Ryan Doumit signed a three year, $11.5M extension that bought out his arbitration years, with a team option for 2012/13 worth $15.5M. Doumit hit .271 during his time as a Pirate, but he was often injured and not very strong defensively. The Pirates didn’t pick up the option seasons, and Dewey signed with Minnesota in 2012.
  • 2008 - The Bucs signed FA 1B/OF Garrett Jones to a minor-league deal. He was on the big club by mid-year and never looked back. He sprinted from the gates, becoming the first Buc to hit seven home runs in his first twelve games since Dino Restelli in 1949 and finished with flair when in 2013 he became the second player and first Pirate to hit a home run out of PNC Park and into the Allegheny River on the fly. The big lefty hit .256 with 100 HR/325 RBI in his five Pittsburgh seasons before signing with the Marlins in 2013.
  • 2014 - The Nexen Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization accepted the Pirates’ posting offer of $5,002,015 in exchange for negotiating rights for SS Jung-Ho Kang, a five-time KBO All-Star and the league’s 2014 MVP after a .356/40/117 slash. The Bucs had a 30-day window to sign him. Asian free-agency was a new market for Pittsburgh; it was the first time the Pirates had ever won a bid for an international player thru the posting system. He was officially inked to a deal three weeks later.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Notes: Vogelsong, Arroyo, Players on the Move...

The shakin' and bakin' this weekend:

  •  The Pirates signed RHP Ryan Vogelsong to a one year/$2M deal with $3M more available in incentives. Apparently with a wave of young guys due up next year, they see no reason to commit to multi-year deals required to land a mid-tier arm, so this looks like a transitional season for the staff. Can't debate that the FO has a decent eye for pitchers, though Vogelsong's 45% ground ball rate last year was good but not extreme, so we'll see how this one works out in the short term. It's likely that he's a placeholder for Tyler Glasnow and could go to the pen, where he spent some time last year, tho not too successfully (5.68 ERA/19IP). 
Everything old is new again - 2002 Upper Deck
  • Jayson Stark said the Pirates have inquired about Bronson Arroyo. Must be homecoming week.  Not sure if the interest was before or after the Vogelsong deal.
  • IF prospect Adam Frazier gets an invite to Spring Training. His slash was .324/.384/.416 for Altoona this season, per John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. Frazier followed up with a big winter, moving up from the Arizona Fall League to play for Team USA.
  • Well, that was quick. RHP Allen Webster, who the Bucs recently acquired, was released to allow him to jump to Korea, where the Samsung Lions inked him for $850K. The Lions also signed reliever Collin Balester, who tossed for Altoona and Indy from 2014-15, to a $500K deal.
  • 2015 Altoona C Sebastian Valle, who declared for MiLB free agency, signed a deal with the Yankees with a camp invite. Fair is fair; Pittsburgh has taken more than its share of NY catchers.
  • The Indians signed LHP Tom Gorzelanny to a MiLB deal with a camp invite.
  • RHP Tim Alderson, who the Pirates received from the Giants for Freddie Sanchez in 2009, signed a minor league contract with the Nationals. 
  • OF Rajai Davis, who was part of the straw that finally broke Dave Littlefield's back when he was traded to the Giants for bust Matt Morris in 2007, signed a one year deal with the Indians.
  • The Pirates placed well in Sports on Earth's Organization Report Cards.
  • Geez! It's not enough that the players and field/office staff are getting raided; now Boston is after Tim Neverett, a New England native son, per the Boston Herald. The job is radio only; as of now, Tim is in the "considering it" phase.
  • ESPN announced that Cards-Bucco game on June 12th at PNC Park was chosen for the opener of a Sunday Night Baseball doubleheader.

12/21: B-Days - Josh Gibson, AVS, Freddy Sanchez, Bugs, Danny & John; Gino, Frankie Deals

  • 1911 - Hall of Fame catcher Josh Gibson was born in Buena Vista, Georgia. Considered the top HR hitter (the “Black Babe Ruth”) of the Negro Leagues, he played for the Grays and Crawfords. Gibson was the second ballplayer, behind Satchel Paige, to be elected to the Hall of Fame because of their exceptional Negro League careers.
  • 1920 - LHP Bill Werle was born in Oakland, California. Werle was known as “Bugs” because he was an amateur entomologist (a bug collector). He spent from 1949-1952 with the Bucs, going 29-39-15 and working everything from starts to closing. Bugs got into some hot water with the Bucco suits in 1952, coming in late one night, was fined, suspended, and traded soon thereafter.
  • 1930 - C Danny Kravitz was born in Lopez, near Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The reserve catcher played five years (1956-60) for Pittsburgh, hitting .236, but missed out on the ‘60 Series when he was traded in June to KC for Hank Foiles. His first homer was memorable: it happened on May 11, 1956 in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded and the Pirates trailing the Phillies 5-2, and his walk-off grand slam gave the Pirates a 6-5 win.
Danny Kravitz 1957 Topps
  • December 21, 1959 - Deals made and not made: After Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh rejected the A's offer to deal Roger Maris for SS Dick Groat earlier in the month, Pittsburgh obtained OF Gino Cimoli along with RHP Tom Cheney from the Cardinals for RHP Ron Kline. Maris, who was dealt to the Yankees, had the first of his two consecutive MVP years in New York, while Groat played a key role for the World Champion Bucs the next season and was named the NL MVP.
  • 1960 - OF Andy Van Slyke was born in Utica, NY. AVS played eight years (1987-94) for the Bucs, hitting .283, earning three All-Star spots while winning five Golden Gloves and two Silver Sluggers during his stay. He was a mainstay of the Jimmy Leyland teams of the early nineties after coming over from the Cards in the Tony Pena deal.
  • 1970 - RHP John Hope was born in Fort Lauderdale. The high schooler was a second round draft pick in 1989, signing for an $85K bonus, but never panned out. He went through elbow and shoulder surgery, and in part of four seasons (1993-96) with the Pirates, the righty went 1-5 with a 5.99 ERA.
John Hope 1994 Fleer
  • 1977 - 2B Freddy Sanchez was born in Hollywood. In six years (2004-09) as a Pirate, he hit .301, winning the batting crown in 2006 with a .344 BA and appearing in three All-Star games. It was a dark day in the City when fan favorite Steady Freddy was traded to the Giants, where injuries derailed his career. He hit .292 for the G-Men in the 2010 World Series season, but shoulder and back surgeries followed in 2011-12.
  • 2012 - LHP Francisco Liriano reached an agreement to sign with the Bucs, pending his physical. He broke his right arm over the holidays, but he and and the Pirates worked out an alternate deal that was worth $7M over two years. The Cisco Kid won 16 games in 2013 and was the “Comeback Player of the Year.” After the 2014 season, he returned after testing the free agent market, inking a three year contract worth $39M.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

12/20: HBD Jimmy, Branch, Spud & Jose; Holiday Dealing

  • 1876 - 2B Jimmy Williams was born. He only played two years in Pittsburgh, but made quite a splash. In his first year, 1899, Williams hit in 27 straight games, setting an MLB rookie record that wasn’t broken until 1987, and one that’s still a Pirates team standard. His 27 triples are also an MLB rookie record, and he ended the campaign with a .354 BA. But the next year he returned to reality, hitting .264, and then jumped leagues in 1901, joining the AL Baltimore Orioles and opening the door for Tommy Leach to take control of the hot corner.
Jimmy Williams - 1900 team photo
  • 1881 - Branch Rickey was born in Stockdale, Ohio. An innovator of things as diverse as the breaking the color line, a feeder minor league system and batting helmets, Rickey was the Pirate GM from 1950-55. His Pittsburgh teams were notoriously poor (“The Rickey-Dinks”), but his player development pipeline helped to form the core of the 1960 World Championship club.
  • 1904 - The Pirates traded 1B Kitty Bransfield, IF Otto Krueger and OF Moose McCormick to the Phillies for 1B Del Howard. In his first MLB season, Howard hit .292 for the Pirates and was included in the deal for P Vic Willis the following year. Kitty, a member of the Pirates first World Series club, stayed on for seven campaigns in Philadelphia, with a .269 BA. Moose, one of baseball’s earliest players to fill a pinch-hitter’s role, didn’t play again until 1908 after leaving the game to become, of all things, a salesman. Krueger hung around for one more year before leaving baseball.
  • 1904 - C Virgil “Spud” Davis (his uncle gave him the nickname as a youth because Virgil loved potatoes) was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He spent his last four seasons (1940-41, 1944-45) as a back-up catcher who hit .301 as a Bucco. From 1943-44 he coached before returning for a couple of seasons during the war years. He continued as a coach and a scout for the Pirates and briefly managed the team when manager Frankie Frisch resigned in September of 1946. Spud left baseball for good in 1950. Davis hit over .300 ten times in sixteen MLB seasons, and as of his retirement, his .308 career BA was second only to Mickey Cochrane all-time among major league catchers. At last look, it’s still in the Top Five.
Spud Davis - 1940 Play Ball
  • 1960 - RHP Jose DeLeon was born in Rancho Viejo, Dominican Republic. After being taken in the third round of the 1979 draft, he reached Pittsburgh in 1983. He went 17-38 with a 4.02 ERA as a Buc before being traded to the White Sox in 1986. DeLeon lasted 13 seasons in the MLB, but never matched his promise with his performance.
  • 1984 - SS Tim Foli, OF Steve Kemp and cash were sent by the NY Yankees to the Pirates in exchange for SS Dale Berra, OF Jay Buhner and LHP Alfonso Pulido. Buhner went on to have a 15 year career with 310 homers, mostly with Seattle, while not much else was gotten out of the other guys involved in the deal.
  • 2001 - In a minor deal, the Bucs sent RHP Jose Silva (one day after his birthday) to the Reds for minor league RHP Ben Shaffar. Silva pitched one more year in the big leagues while Shaffar never made it to the show.
Jose Silva - 2001 Topps
  • 2002 - RHP Chris Young and minor leaguer Jon Searles were traded to the Montreal Expos for RHP Matt Herges. The 6’10” Young, a third round pick of the Bucs in 2000, went on to win 32 games between 2005-07 and landed an All-Star berth before injuries threw a series of speedbumps at his career, while the Pirates cut Herges in spring training.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

12/19: HBD Tommy & Jose; Bucs Sign Amos Otis & Corey Most; Biggest Flop of the Year

  • 1918 - OF/3B Tommy O’Brien was born in Anniston, Alabama. O’Brien was a three-time All State football player and enrolled at the University of Tennessee, but opted for baseball. He started his MLB career as a Pirate, hitting .301 between 1942-45, toiled in the minors from 1946-48 and returned to the show in 1949-50 with Boston and Washington. His claim to fame came in 1943 when he had seven consecutive hits in a double header against the NY Giants.
Tommy O'Brien 1943 (photo via Out Of the Park Developments)
  • 1938 - In a poll of writers by the Associated Press, the Pirates were selected as the biggest disappointment in sports for the year, edging out the Rice Owls football team. The Pirates had a seven game edge on September 1 and were up 3-½ games after September 22nd, but dropped six of their final seven games to finish the season two games behind the Cubs after losing the famous “homer in the gloaming” game. The Bucs went 28-26 in the final two months of the season while the Cubs rampaged through September, winning 21 of their last 26 games.
  • 1973 - RHP Jose Silva was born in Tijuana, Mexico. Jose worked five years (1997-2001) for the Bucs, starting 53 of his 140 Pirate games. He finished 25-28-4 with a 5.41 ERA in his Pittsburgh years. He worked one more MLB campaign, and moved on to the Mexican League.
  • 1983 - The Pirates signed 37 year old OF Amos Otis. A five-time All-Star with the Kansas City Royals, Otis hit .165 in 40 games for the Bucs. He was released in August and never played in the majors again. Ironically, the Royals had agreed to a deal sending him and Cookie Rojas to the Pirates for Al Oliver after the 1976 season, but Rojas voided the transaction by exercising his 10-and-5 year veto rights; Pittsburgh was that close to landing Otis in his heyday.
Amos Otis 1984 Topps
  • 2014 - The Pirates signed free agent 1B/OF Corey Hart to a one year, $2.5M contract with another $2.5M available in bonuses based on at-bats. Hart had microfracture knee surgery in 2013, missing that year, and hit just .203 with Seattle in 2014, but prior to that was a career .271 hitter and two-time All-Star playing for Milwaukee, swatting 30 homers twice. Hart got just 57 at bats with the Bucs before his knees gave out again, and he’s a free agent this season.

Friday, December 18, 2015

12/18: HBD Jack & Gino; Bucs Sign Lopez, Stairs, Schourek, Herrera; Neverett Hired

  • 1915 - OF Jack Barrett was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. He played from 1942-46 and hit .251. His best seasons were 1944-45, when he stole 53 bases (he led the NL in steals in 1944 with 28) and scored 196 runs. But when WW2 ended and the players returned, Barrett’s career came to an end; he hit .193 in 1946, his last big league campaign.
  • 1929 - OF Gino Cimoli was born in San Francisco. He only played a season and some change (1960-61) for the Bucs, but was their fourth outfielder for the 1960 Series champs, hitting .267 as a Pirate and .250 in the series. He scored the first tally in Pittsburgh’s five-run eighth inning in the deciding game seven and started several games in place of the injured Bob Skinner. He was one of Bob Prince’s favorites - every time Cimoli came through on the field, The Gunner would say “Thatsa my boy, Gino!”
Gino Beats the Rap - 1961 Topps World Series set
  • 1998 - LHP Pete Schourek signed a two-year/$4M FA contract with the Pirates. After going 4-7 with a 5.34 ERA, he was released after a season, with the Pirates eating the second year of his contract. He was the Cy Young runner-up to Greg Maddux in 1995 after going 18-7 for the Reds, but various injuries limited his effectiveness. He pitched through 2001, but he never won more than eight games after that breakout ‘95 season.
  • 2002 - Utilityman Matt Stairs signed as a FA the Pirates, accepting a $900K deal. He had a strong season, hitting .292 with 20 HR despite just 305 AB, earning himself a three year/$3.55M contract with KC the following campaign. He retired after the 2011 season and joined another ex-Buc in the record books: Stairs played for more major-league teams (12) than any position player in big league history (technically, he was rostered on 13 teams but for just 12 franchises, as he played for the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals). Octavio Dotel holds the record for pitchers and all players at 13 clubs.
  • 2006 - Cuban RHP Yoslan Herrera, 25, agreed to a $1.92M, three-year contract with the Pirates. He defected in July of 2005 and was signed by scouts Rene Gayo and Louie Eljaua after posting a combined record of 18-7 with a 3.27 ERA during his Island career as a member of the Youth Cuban National Team for two years (1999-2000) and four seasons with the big boy Cuban National Team (2001-2004). His numbers didn’t translate in the US, and he won just one game for the Bucs. In a nice bounce-back tale, Herrera was signed to a minor league deal by the LA Angels in 2013 after last pitching in the majors in 2008, put together a nice run at the end of 2014 (1-1, 2.70 -16IP), then moved across the Pacific to toss in the Nippon League in 2015.
Yoslan Herrera (photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
  • 2008 - Tim Neverett was hired as the Pirate play-by-play man. Prior to joining the Pirates, Neverett spent four years working for FSN Rocky Mountain, where he spent the 2008 campaign serving as both the pre and post-game studio host for Colorado Rockies games along with calling many other sports. Neverett began his baseball on-air career in 1985 at the age of 19 with Pittsburgh's Class AA affiliate in the Eastern League, the Nashua Pirates.
  • 2009 - The Pirates signed LHP Javier Lopez to a one year, $775K contract. The LOOGY reestablished his credentials in Pittsburgh and then was traded to the Giants at the deadline. The southpaw is the only active player to have played on four or more World Series championship teams, winning three times with the G-Men and once with Boston.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trade Analysis: Rogers for Broxton/Supak

The Bucs dipped into the minor league depth tonight and pulled off a trade of players around the fringes, reeling in corner player Jason Rogers from the Brewers for OF Keon Broxton and RHP Trey Supak.

Rogers is not a gifted (or for that matter, even good) defensive player, but he can line up at first, third or a corner OF spot. He was brought in as an offensive piece of the bench, and could serve as a hot corner insurance policy if Jung Ho Kang isn't up to speed early in the season. His MLB slash in 191 PAs is .286/.358/.429, with acceptable K and BB numbers. He also has shown a reverse split in the show, making him useful as a pinch hitter and a possible platoon partner for Michael Morse in a quickly shrinking first base market. (We'll have his bio/report up later).

Jason Rogers (photo Scott Kane/USA Today)
In exchange, the Brewers brought in Broxton and Supak. The deal suits both clubs. The Pirates were looking for a productive bench bat and the Brewers are looking for young guys as they rebuild.

Broxton, approaching his age 26 season, is a raw but athletic outfielder with speed to burn.  He had good credentials, being a third round pick of Arizona in 2009 and making appearances in their Top 30 Prospect list. During 2015, Keon had a decent minor league slash of .273/.357/.438 with 39 stolen bases between Altoona and Indy, earning a late September call up, mainly as a pinch runner.

He struggles at the plate, but his outfield defense is major league and he's a plus runner. The Brewers put him on their 40-man roster and said he has a shot at breaking camp with them as a fourth outfielder, which seems to be his projection as a big leaguer. The Bucco system is awash in outfield prospects, and so it's no surprise that one of them was finally dealt; he won't be the last. Broxton is a work in progress; reading major league pitchers on the bases and handling off speed stuff at the plate are two weaknesses that were apparent in his brief Bucco stint.

Keon Broxton (photo via
Supak, 19, was drafted out of high school in the 2014 sandwich round and signed to a $1M bonus. rated him as the Pirates #15 prospect, and his development is probably the key to the deal. He's a big kid - 6'5" - with a flat low 90s heater, a curve that's sometimes on, sometimes off and a changeup that lags behind the other two pitches.

In two seasons at Bradenton in the GCL, he went 2-5/6.02, not a very promising jump out of the gate with time missed last year. But the Pirate MO is to pound the fastball first with their developing pitchers, so it may be that focusing a downhill angle for his heater explains his struggles with the breaking stuff. The teen has just 52-1/3 MiLB frames under his belt, and he has to be considered raw rather than a wash out at this point of his career. The Brewers are betting on a little patience and a lot of growth from Supak, who still projects as an eventual MLB starter.

Trey Supak (photo Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
So the deal works for both sides. The Pirates deepened their bench with a bat that can handle, in a small sample, pitching from either side. He can also allow Josh to play second in April (caveat emptor: Rogers played one NL game at third last year, tho he has extensive MiLB work there) and then slide over to give Morse a blow until Josh Bell figures out how to work his 1B mitt. It's a short term move to try to keep them competitive in a dog-eat-dog division. For Milwaukee, which like the Reds are in full-blown rebuild mode, it adds a couple of guys that could pan out in the future as they stock up on youth.

It also fits into farm philosophies. The Pirates don't seem to be terribly patient with guys like Supak (or Rob Grossman, JaCoby Jones, etc.), preferring some production attached to potential, while the Brewers are willing to roll the dice on young guys growing up eventually. Last year, if you recall, they swapped A-Ram for Yhonathan Barrios, 23, and after a terrible campaign at Indy, he made the show at Milwaukee and put up 6-2/3 scoreless frames in his September cup of coffee with seven whiffs. Small sample again, but the Brewers are looking for potential. The Pirates are looking for pennants.

Notes: S-Rod Returns, Signings, Moves & Random Stuff...

What went down this week:
  • Jerry Crasnick reports that S-Rod had a small bidding war going on, but he came home to the Bucs, signing a one year/$2.5M deal. We'd expect to see more of him in the infield this year instead of first, taking over the Josh Harrison role he was originally brought in to fill.
Sean Rodriguez (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
  • So far, Antonio Bastardo & Joe Blanton seem to have flown below the radar. Tony Sipp's three year/$18M deal has given Bastardo more leverage on the market now and he has at least Detroit & the Cubs sniffin' around, while the only team we've heard associated with Blanton is Toronto. Our guess is that both are out of Pittsburgh's cost comfort zone. 
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote "The Pirates and Brewers, who both have had prior interest, could be a fit for a trade of 1B James Loney."
  • Michael Morse told Adam Berry of that a change in clubhouses drove his improved, albeit in a small sample, performance in Pittsburgh.
  • NH was interviewed on MLB Network Radio and said that not only Tyler Glasnow but Jameson Taillon could be in Pittsburgh by midseason. He added that " we sit here now, we expect to have Mark Melancon and Tony Watson at the back end of the bullpen." He did toss in a qualifier, saying that he will listen to offers for The Shark but "we're gonna have to get something that really makes sense to even consider moving him."
  • Tho he missed two campaigns on the hill, Taillon told Bill Brink of the Post Gazette that he feels like he's actually improved his game during the down time. 
  • Enos Sarris of Fangraphs considers the Pirate options at first base.
  • WBOY's Anjelica Trinone talks to OF Keon Broxton and gets a couple of takes on the youngster from Rick Sofield. 
  • Sad news to report: John Holdzkom's brother Lincoln was killed over the weekend in a car wreck. Lincoln bumped around in the minors as a pitcher, suiting up for Altoona in 2009.
  • Pittsburgh signed veteran MiLB OF'er Antoan Richardson, 32, to a minor league deal. It's an interesting move. The Bahamas-born and Florida-raised switch-hitter is a classic leadoff hitter, putting the ball in play and drawing walks, with plenty of speed and a good defensive rep. He's shown well in a couple of cups of coffee in the show, but missed most of 2015 with back surgery. Maybe he's Indy's top-of-the-order guy, even tho the Bucs' pipeline is flowing with outfielders moving up.
  • Fangraphs has the 2016 ZiPS numbers out for the Bucs.What those figures project pretty well match up with the smell test.
  • John Perrotto for Baseball America wrote (behind a subscription wall) that the Bucs feel no pressure to rush Austin Meadows. 
  • Altoona 1B Jose Osuna has been suspended six games for his part in a bench-clearing brawl with Bruce Rondon during a Venezuela Winter League game.
  • Joey Cora will replace Tom Prince as Altoona's manager. Prince has been reassigned as a minor league field coordinator, and will instruct & evaluate all the minor league managers, coaches and staff; that was at one time Jeff Banister's job. All the other MiLB skippers for the Buc clubs will return.
  • Neil Walker will wear his dad Tom's former #20 with the Mets; he couldn't claim it here because it had been Pie Traynor's number and was retired in 1972. 
  • 1B/OF Garrett Jones has inked a one-year/$2.5M contract to play with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, according to NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman. (Jon Heyman of CBS has his salary a bit higher at $2.8M plus bonuses).
  • So much for the Trevor Cahill speculation; he signed up for another stint with the Cubbies. He was inked to a one year/$4.25M deal.
  • Ditto for 1B Mike Napoli, who has signed a one year deal with the Indians for $7M with an additional $3M dangled as incentives. He was probably never much more than an afterthought at best; the Bucs are looking for a LH hitter to platoon w/Michael Morse, and Napoli is a righty. The same holds true for Mark Reynolds, who signed a one year deal with the Rox. 
  • Korean OF/1B Hyun-Soo Kim, 27, who the Bucs were said to have some interest in, signed with Baltimore for two years/$7M pending his physical.
  • OF Alex Presley signed a minor league deal w/camp invite with the Brewers. 
  • LHP Dana Eveland, who tossed for the Bucs in 2010, has joined Tampa Bay on a minor league deal with a camp invite
  • For the baseball historians out there: Cut Four has a piece on the evolution of the stirrup/sock, with Cutch's design at the top of the stocking chain.

12/17: HBD Rebel & Marvell; Kevin Correia Signs

  • 1883 - CF Ennis “Rebel” Oakes was born in Lisbon, Louisiana. He played five years for the Reds and Cards, then jumped to the Federal League when it was established in 1914. After two seasons as the player-manager for the Pittsburgh Rebels, perhaps named in his honor, the league folded and Oakes never returned to MLB despite his .295 BA. SABR writer Phil Williams believes “Rebel Oakes was effectively blacklisted” after the Federal League’s demise. Btw, he didn’t earn his nickname by being particularly iconoclastic; when he was in the minors, an Iowa sportswriter dubbed him Rebel because of his Deep South birthplace.
Rebel Oakes 1915 Cracker Jacks
  • 1959 - CF Marvell Wynne was born in Chicago. He started his career with the Pirates, playing from 1983-85. Projected as a leadoff hitter, he stole 46 sacks but batted just .245 with an OBP of .297 before being traded to San Diego for Bob Patterson. Marvell’s last season was 1991, playing in Japan. His son, also named Marvell, became a pro jock, too, but as a MSL soccer player.
  • 2010 - RHP Kevin Correia signed as a FA with Pittsburgh, agreeing to a two year, $8M deal. In those two seasons, he would post a line of 24-22/4.49 before joining the Twins after losing his spot in the rotation to Wandy Rodriguez. He started 54 games, appeared 59 times, represented the Pirates at the 2011 All-Star Game and was their Opening Day pitcher that same season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

12/16: HBD Rick Sofield; Ray Mueller, Bobby Schantz, Benito Santiago Deals

  • 1938 - The Boston Bees traded catcher Ray Mueller to the Pirates for C Al Todd and OF Johnny Dickshot. Todd had a couple of good seasons left, while Dickshot wouldn’t hit his prime until his last two seasons in 1944-45 during the war for the White Sox. “Iron Man” Mueller (he picked up his nickname in the early forties after catching 233 consecutive games for the Reds) played 90 games in Pittsburgh as a reserve catcher, hitting .269. Factoid: Mueller was from Pittsburg - Pittsburg, Kansas, which was named after our fair town.
  • 1956 - Coach Rick Sofield was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was a #1 draft pick and outfielder for the Twins, worked in the minors (he was the Pirates' minor league field coordinator in 2002) and managed in college. Sofield was brought back to the Pirate fold by long-time bud Clint Hurdle, managing at West Virginia for a season before joining the big league staff in 2013.
Rick Sofield in his prospect days 1979 Topps
  • 1960 - The Bucs sent UT Harry Bright, 1B RC Stevens and RHP Bennie Daniels to the expansion Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers) for veteran LHP Bobby Shantz. Daniels was a useful starter in DC for several seasons, while Shantz lasted a year in Pittsburgh before being lost to the Houston Colt .45s in the 1961 expansion draft. He went 6-3-2/3.22 in 43 games with the Pirates, and pitched fairly effectively afterward, his career lasting until the end of the 1964 season. Schantz won 24 games in 1952 as a starter for the Philadelphia Athletics and was voted the AL MVP, but arm injuries drove him from the rotation to the bullpen.
  • 2004 - The Pirates acquired C Benito Santiago and cash from the Royals for RHP Leo Nunez (Juan Oviedo). The 30 year old Oviedo served a 2012 suspension after pitching for seven seasons because of name fraud; he went by Nunez to make it appear he was younger. Santiago, 40, got in six games before his release and never played in the majors again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Jon Niese: Big Shoes To Fill

Jon Niese is by no stretch another Pittsburgh Kid, but his beginnings aren't terribly far removed from the Golden Triangle - he was born in Lima, Ohio, about 260 miles to the west as the wheels turn. He went to Defiance HS, where he was pretty good at soccer but most excellent at baseball. Niese was named Ohio's Baseball Player of the Year twice, becoming the first player to win the award in back-to-back seasons. After turning his tassel, the Mets selected the lefty 209th overall (seventh round/ninth pick) during the 2005 draft.

Jon Neise 2015 (photo Kathy Kmonice/Associated Press)
The youngster climbed the ladder in the minors in good progression, making it from the Gulf Coast League in 2005 to AAA by 2008, with performances that were more workmanlike than dazzling (MiLB slash: 40-32/3.72).

The 21 year old took his major league bow on September of 2008, and tossed three starts (one gem, two clunkers) during his call up. The southpaw began 2009 at AAA Buffalo, getting a ticket to New York in May when Ollie Perez was hurt. Maybe that's when he landed on the Bucco radar, with his first start against Pittsburgh. He spun six innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with no walks and five whiffs in a no decision that was eventually won by New York. Niese made five fairly effective spot starts before he was injured stretching for a ball at first base, ending up with a complete tear of the hamstring and season-ending surgery. It would be the first of several injuries during his career.

The 2010 campaign was Niese's first full season as he broke camp with the Mets. He slashed at 9–10/4.20 in 173-2/3 IP, with the stat line bloated when he hit a wall in late August. Still, he was named to Baseball America '​s 2010 All-Rookie Team. Niese's 2011 season was sketchy, as he finished 11–11/4.40 ERA in 157-1/3 innings. The year was cut short following an August rib cage injury. After that healed, he had an off season rhinoplasty to improve his breathing. After all the medical work, he and the Mets agreed on a five year/$25.5M extension just as the season began.

He answered the 2012 bell after inking that deal, going 13–9/3.40, spinning a career high 190-1/3 frames.  Niese was named the Mets opening day starter for 2013 after Johan Santana went down and beat the Padres. But the injury bug continued to bite Niese, who missed several starts because of rotator cuff woes. 2014 was more of the same. He opened the campaign on the DL due to inflammation in his pitching elbow, came back, and then was again placed on  the DL for elbow soreness again in early July. He was effective when healthy, posting a 9-11/3.40 line in 187-2/3 IP.

In 2015, Niese made some mechanical adjustments during spring training in order to ease the strain on his arm (about time, too, we'd guess). But his biggest challenge would prove to be the arrival of a rotation of young, fireballing arms and the steady performance of ol' man river, Bartolo Colon. Niese didn't really help his own cause much, tossing another workmanlike campaign for the Mets, putting up a  9-10/4.13 line and ending up a bullpen member by season's end.

On December 9th, the Mets traded Niese to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Neil Walker. With Charlie Morton's departure, Neise is a natural to step into his #4 spot in the rotation. But with AJ and JA Happ both gone,  he's plugged into the middle of pack. If he pitches like he did from 2012-14, it's a slotting the Bucs can get away with. Niese could pull it off; he's coming to a team that doubles down on his strengths.

What he has going for him is that he's a ground ball guy (50.0% career; 54.5% in 2015) and that plays into a Bucco strength, especially as the right side of the infield should be stronger with the leather this year. In fact, Niese made a point of that, telling the beat guys that “I’m sure what I’ll appreciate more than anything is the way (the Pirates) play defense. I’m looking forward to that.”

The lefty had a rough year with homers last campaign, and PNC Park is much more forgiving of long flies. He's also coming into a situation where he fits into the rotation; the Pirate starting staff is thin right now, unlike the New York situation where there were arms overflowing. That should relieve a little of the pressure.

So the Bucs are banking on a change of scenery to put the sparkle back in his stat line. His Tango projection for the coming season (as a Met) is 8-9/3.87 and 165 IP; Pittsburgh is rolling the dice that a new ballyard, a healthy year and a little Uncle Ray TLC can help Niese top that slash, especially if he's taking up the spot that AJ & Jay Happ tossed from last year, producing 16 wins.

Jon throws four pitches - a fastball that averaged 89 last year, along with a cutter, change and curve. He picks his spots for his heater, as it was just 47% of his pitch mix last year. He does have the ingredients for a bounce-back year, plus he's young at 29 and has a fairly friendly contract. Niese makes $9M this season, with club options for 2017 ($10M) and 2018 ($11M) and a $500K buyout. If he performs as the FO expects, he's set up to be more than a rental.

A final trivia bit: Niese was the longest tenured Met and Walker the longest tenured Pirate. It's not easy to start and finish a career with one team anymore.

12/15: HBD Jim Leyland, Jim Nealon, Bucky Williams, Art Howe; Vic Willis & Other Deals

  • 1884 - 1B Jim Nealon was born in Sacramento. He’s one of the Buccos sadder stories. Nealon played from 1906-07 for the Pirates, and in his rookie season tied for the NL RBI lead (83) while hitting .255. Jim hit .257 the next season, then contracted tuberculosis. He went back home to California, played a couple of years of minor league ball and died of typhoid pneumonia in San Francisco in 1910 at the age of 25.
Jim Nealon 1907 (photo: Chicago Daily News)
  • 1905 - In one of their better deals, the Bucs picked up Hall-of-Famer RHP Vic Willis from the Boston Beaneaters for journeymen UT Dave Brain, IF/OF Del Howard, and P Vive Lindaman. Willis won 20+ games in each of his four years (1906-09) in Pittsburgh, with a slash of 88–46/2.08 ERA and was part of the 1909 World Series championship club. The “Delaware Peach” (he went to Delaware College) was a workhorse throughout his career, completing 388 of his 471 starts.
  • 1906 - IF Wallace “Bucky” (a childhood nickname) Williams was born in Baltimore and moved to Pittsburgh at the age of six months. After stints with the Pittsburgh Keystone Juniors and Monarchs, he played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1927–32; 1937-39) and the Homestead Grays in 1936, and was named an honorary member of the Negro League Hall of Fame in Kansas City. Bucky also played for his employer as part of the Edgar Thomson Steel team after his pro career; his sandlot squad once defeated the Grays in an exhibition game. He went to Holy Rosary and Crescent Elementary before leaving school for work, and rests now in Calvary Cemetery.
  • 1944 - Pirate manager Jim Leyland was born in Perrysburg, Ohio. Leyland was the fiery, chain-smoking manager of the Bucs from 1986 to 1996. He won two Manager of the Year awards (1990 and 1992) and finished as runner-up in 1988 and 1991. Under Leyland, the Pirates went to the NLCS three straight seasons (1990-92) but lost all three, with the latter two going the full seven games against the Atlanta Braves. He did win a title in 1997 as the skipper of the Florida Marlins and also managed the Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers. Leyland became a Pittsburgh boy; he still lives in Mt. Lebanon.
Jim Leyland (photo: Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • 1946 - IF Art Howe was born in Pittsburgh. He began his career with Pittsburgh in 1974-75 as a utility infielder, batting .195, before being traded to the Astros, where he became a regular for six seasons beginning in 1977. He played for 11 years in all with a .260 BA, and managed for 11 more years after his playing days, winning a pair of AL West titles with the Oakland As.
  • 1952 - Vic Janowicz was signed to a $75,000 contract by the Pirates a bonus baby. Janowicz was a Heisman-winning running back at Ohio State in 1950, but Pittsburgh saw his future in baseball. As a bonus baby, he had to be carried on the MLB roster for two years. Vic hit .252 as a C in 1953, but dropped to .151 as a 3B’man the following year, for a two year line of .214 with two HR and 10 RBI in 215 PA. He left the team after that season and jumped to the NFL Washington Redskins, where he played two years before a car accident ended his sports career.
  • 1967 - Pittsburgh traded for RHP Jim Bunning, sending the Phillies pitchers Woodie Fryman‚ Bill Laxton and Harold Clem along with IF Don Money, who would be the Phils regular 3B until Mike Schmidt arrived and then become an All-Star with Milwaukee. HoF’er Bunning stayed in Pittsburgh for 1-½ seasons, slashing at 14-23/3.84.
Jim Bunning (photo: The Sporting News Archives)
  • 2003 - The Pirates lost five players in the Rule 5 draft, 1b Chris Shelton, OF Rich Thompson, LHP Frank Brooks, RHP Jeff Bennett and 3B/OF Jose Bautista, who they traded RHP Kris Benson for to get back in July, 2004. Oddly, the Pirates had three openings on the 40-man roster, but GM Dave Littlefield told the local media that the need to add free agents to the lineup for next season was more important than keeping players the club thought would not make an immediate impact. The rest of baseball reacted a bit differently as the five Pirate farmhands went in the first six picks of the draft. Littlefield also removed pitchers Duaner Sanchez and Matt Guerrier from the 40-man roster to protect Mike Gonzalez and John Grabow, so he may have had more talent on hand than he suspected.
  • 2005 - Pittsburgh signed free agent RHP set-up man Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $2.75M contract, and then flipped him to the Mets at the 2006 deadline for Xavier Nady.