Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Victor Black Q&A

Before Sunday's game in Lakewood, WB2PB got the chance to talk with a couple of the Pirates top prospects playing at Class A West Virginia. Today's installment is Victor Black. Black took one on the chin the night before, telling me he "lost the game for his teammates" the night before, allowing four runs (three earned) in a 5-4 loss to the Blueclaws. He still took the time to talk about that night, his season and his future in the Pirates organization.


Victor Black
Height: 6-3     Weight: 185     
Age: 23           Position: Pitcher      
Throws: Right
2011 statistics: 2-1, 5.14 ERA, 21 games, 
Opp. BA .259, 16 BB, 23 SO

How do the pitchers currently on the team and in the organization deal with the pressure of the Pirates recent drafts being so pitching heavy?
Without a doubt you are seeing what they've been investing in for the past three years with Neal (Huntington) being the new GM and their emphasis on pitching and development there. It's bleeding through into the big leagues and you're seeing guys winning. They're enjoying it. It's fun to play baseball again. As a pitcher who has been blessed and has been invested in, there is a gratefulness there. It would be foolish to not steward the opportunity I've been given. I'm not worried about the fact that there are 40 new pitchers coming in with each draft. They took me. They invested in me and now it's my responsibility to the organization and to the people I play with to give it my all and make it my best.

Talk to me about some of the differences you've faced as a bullpen guy rather than a starter.
Nights like last night is what I really struggle with. I pretty much lost the game for us last night but they say that the best lessons are learned from the negative in life. I got up this morning, went through my workout and just try to shake it off. It's not easy but it's one of the lessons I have to learn from at this level to get better. i really need to get better at trusting in my approach and staying focused on what I'm supposed to be doing more than anything else.

The trade deadline just passed last week. Even at low-A, do the guys talk about it in the clubhouse among yourselves or do you think about it at all?
There is always the anxst about it because you understand that you aren't in college, you aren't in high school anymore. It's a business. In a shallow way of saying it, you are a property. They are looking out and they saw a glimpse of success and they are fighting to win and they were in a race and they are going to keep fighting. They look at it as "Hey, we have a shot, maybe it's the time to (trade a prospect). At this level not so much. Guys talk about it but even my buddy Aaron Baker (traded to the Orioles for Derrek Lee July 30) who I've been playing with since summer ball in high school, you see him go. I sent him a text and it's sad to see him go, but it's more of an anticipation of getting to go somewhere to maybe move up or get another opportunity. As long as other teams want you, you still have a shot at this. It's a big bragging right I guess.

What are you working on at this level? What's going well? What's not?
We've basically ditched the slider and we've taken a different approach. I have a straight fastball and a straight change. Due to the rehab last year, the changeup came about. Before I just couldn't do it and during rehab, the easest thing on your arm is a changeup. There's no stiffness, there's no tightness and you aren't trying to force anything. So I just threw it, threw it and threw it and when I came up here, we went to the straight fastball-changeup. I started to throw it and they were swinging through it and I thought 'Hey.' Now that' been the approach and it's been effective when I embrace it fully. I'm still trying to get to the point where I go for it all the way and trust it.

How's life in West Virginia compared to back home in Texas?
West Virginia and Charleston is like any other town I've been able to spend time in. It's not a small town but the people are very nice. You hold doors and greet people and go about your business. My big deal with baseball is that this is what I love to do but it's also my job. But if you get consumed in it and you make it your life ... baseball is really about beating the odds. For hitters, it's about failure and how many times you don't fail. When I get off the field, I just want to feel like a normal person. You have another life and you don't want your identity to be caught up in baseball. A career can be 15 years if you are lucky, and if you are consumed with baseball, then what do you live for?  You can't live like that.


How often does your family get to see you play?
I have a different style of family where I have three sisters who all play volleyball. One plays Olympic, one is about to get married and the other is going into college this year. My parents are consumed with volleyball. My dad would drive down to see me playing college on weeknights and drive back. Neither one of them yet has gotten the chance to see me play since i signed to play with the Pirates and that just kills my Mom. I tried to get her up last week and she was moving my sister in to college. Other than that, my girlfriend has come to visit and it's been a blessing. She's super important so....


Was there anything that surprised you about pro ball that isn't as glamorous as you may have thought?
I played in the Northwest League after my freshman year of college and they were like 'OK, now we jump onto a bus for a 13-hour ride to Canada.' I thought 'Is this something I really want to do' but this is my passion and this is what I really want to do. The bus rides haven't been a shock but I still struggle with sleeping. I just try to keep myself entertained. The only thing that came as a shock was when I joined up with my first team I came in and said 'Coach, my name is Victor' and he turned to me and said 'Don't ever call me coach again, I'm your manager.'

What are you goals for where you want to be on April 1, 2012?
I just want to be a place where I eventually can give Pittsburgh the best opportunity. I want to be where they are comfortable with me to a point that wherever they need me, I'm there and ready to go.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pirates next lesson: Learning how to win

Living in the Philadelphia area, it's been hard to avoid all the success that has come the way of the Philadelphia Phillies. But for Pirates fans looking toward that standard of success in the Bucs' future need to exercise just a little patience.

Even as players like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard became household names, the Phillies were struggling to overcome the Braves and even win games late in the season against the Marlins that would have put them in the playoffs before they finally got there in 2007. And then they lost to the Rockies....

The Phillies organizational plan is totally different, as they have developed their players. They've also been in position to acquire high-priced talent by trading minor league talent and then being able to afford to keep it because they have a very good TV deal and have over 180 straight sellouts.

The Pirates had to hit the reset button in 2008. There was very little talent in the organization, and almost zero pitching. The Bucs have started to take steps to build up the quality pitching in the organization while allowing the couple of good hitters they have to play everyday and began to flourish. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are strong building blocks. Pedro Alvarez has struggled at the start but will certainly get there. The Phillies had their share of fill-ins. Jim Thome was there before Ryan Howard and couldn't get them over the top. They acquired players like Eric Milton, David Bell, Freddy Garcia....all who didn't work out.

The team has high hopes for Starling Marte in Double-A to be a corner outfielder with speed and power. Jose Tabata has proven he can be a quality everyday player when healthy. Is Alex Presley the next Shane Victorino? Maybe. Victorino never really gave the impression of being the player he is now in the minor leagues.

And the Pirates have had their demons. Albert Pujols and the Cardinals. The Brewers, especially in Milwaukee, is another. It's a learning experience that Clint Hurdle was brought in to teach. The Pirates are now facing the pressure of all the world watching, coming off seven tough road games against the NL's best. It's a new situation for everyone in the clubhouse to now be expected to win games. And this team, especially the starting pitching, has played better than anyone expected. A jump of 10 wins with team's talent could be expected by to still be over .500 is a remarkable achievement that has ridiculous thoughts placed in the heads of Pirates and baseball fans alike. It's something young players need to adjust to and learn how to deal with.

Remember, this team was 57-105. Even if they would win just 75 games this season, it would be the biggest season turnaround since the 1958 Pirates improved by 22 games over the 1957 squad. And Pirates fans know a World Series title followed that just two years later.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ludwick, Lee MIGHT make Pirates better....

Pittsburgh Pirates fans may have been hoping for a big bill when general manager Neal Huntington made his way to the checkout line at the trade deadline market. It's been since 1997 that the Bucs weren't stocking the shelves but actually leaving with some of the groceries.  And as a first time in Huntington's four-year tenure, the first-time buyer was accused of sticker shock.

Huntington seemed to feel the effects of those 18 straight losing seasons while shopping, with at least one big fish not wanting to play for the Pirates. He also didn't want to mortgage the future for the present. He admitted after Sunday's deadline in a conference call that maybe the Bucs deserved a little criticism for undervaluing the impact of a two-month rental player and how the team may have been too eager to hold on to "six years worth of major league performance for two months of someone who may or may not make a positive impact."

However, NH stayed on goal while acquiring veteran hitters Ryan Ludwick from San Diego and Baltimore's Derrek Lee, sacrificing very little and utilizing some of the increased revenue to help out the club offensively. However there are certainly questions about both guys.

Ludwick appears to be the biggest example of the Pirates increased spending, with the team picking up all of the remaining $2.2 million on his 2011 contract before he becomes a free agent after the season. Ludwick has hit .238 this season but has 11 HRs and 62 RBIs. That sounds very good until you take a look inside those numbers a bit. Just three HRs since June 1 in 200 plate appearances.

"We feel like we've added two impact hitters, two good guys in the clubhouse and guys who have played meaningful games late in the season that still have gas left in the tank," Huntington said.  "Derrek is swinging the bat better late in the season as he's gotten healthy and Ryan will do better just getting out of San Diego. No offense to San Diego but that's a tremendous pitcher's ballpark.

Ludwick has hit .258 outside of San Diego's Petco Park but he only hit .172 in July. Ludwick is a player who hit 37 HRs in 2008 and another 22 in 2009. It's safe to say the Pirates are hoping the change of scenary will bolster his production.

'"Ryan was brought in here to help us win games. As we move forward, he should be able to help us," NH said when asked if Ludwick will play everyday.  "Our scouts saw the abilities that make him a successful hitter."

Lee is a career .282 hitter but has seen his average decrease tremendously since winning a batting title in 2005. Coming off a .260 year between the Cubs and Braves last year, Lee has hit .246 with 12 HRs in Baltimore. Both of those numbers, despite being a bit below average among baseball's first baseman, is a tremendous upgrade to the Pirates lineup. But how much Lee has left is a big question. He's a career .297 hitter at PNC Park but just .246 from 2009-2011.

There are questions for the Pirates but the strongest part of this deal appears to be what the acquisitions cost. Not one minor league pitcher was traded away, with Baltimore settling for a Class A hitter in Aaron Baker, who was no higher than fourth on the Pirates organizational depth chart at 1B. The Ludwick deal is a player to be named later or cash heading back to San Diego.

Good for NH either way. He certainly attempted to address the team's offensive needs. With Ryan Doumit almost ready to come off the DL, the return of at least Alex Presley in the near future and eventually Jose Tabata in left field and the hopes for Pedro Alvarez's late 2010 power bat, the Bucs are a better team than they were on Sunday. Sitting 4 1/2 games out in the NL Central, the question now is are they good enough to climb back into the divisional race after a brutal road trip through Atlanta and Philadelphia accompanied by the Brewers beating up on the Astros and Cubs.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bob Walk Q & A

WB2PB got the chance to sit down with former Pirates pitcher and TV commentator Bob Walk before the Pirates' Sunday game against the Phillies. Here are some of his comments from that interview.

On the acquisition of Derrek Lee:
"I think it's a good situation for us. He makes us a little bit better in the infield defensively. He's probably not the offensive firepower Derrek Lee of three, four, five years ago but he still has a decent bat. His numbers show that he's gotten a little bit better as the season has gone on after a slow start. I have my fingers crossed that he'll be able to help us going down the stretch. Right now we could use a little bit of help."


The starting pitching has come a long way from this season to last. Can you talk about some of the differences this year?
"We are leaking oil a bit at this point, but earlier in the year they were all doing fantastic. It is an individual thing to each pitcher but in a general statement, except for maholm and correia, the other guys are young and still progressing and hopefully their best years are yet to come. That might be something naturally that they've taken some strides forward and now maybe have to take a few more strides. In Morton's case, he got off to a great start changing the way he's pitching to more of a sinker ball pitcher but recently has struggled with his control. He goes out and gets ground balls and keeps his pitch count down for a couple of innings and then he won't know where the ball is going and have a 30-pitch inning with walks. That's the sort of stuff he needs to get rid of  but all the guys have taken really nice strides this year and I expect them to taken even more next year and (pitching coach) Ray (Searage) deserves a huge amount of credit. This didn't happen on anybody else's watch but his. He's done a fantastic job."

"Maholm and Correia are older, veteran guys with a track record and you can look back at. Normally when guys hit their 30s, they don't take a big spurt in production but occasionally it does and that's what happened to both of those guys. Maholm may not have the wins but the rest of his stats are outstanding and he's having his best year. He's had some runs in the past or some good half seasons or a good couple of months but he's never been able to put together a full season and it looks like this year he is going to accomplish that. Again, even though they are older guys, I'm sure Ray has had a positive effect on those guys as well."

Walk's thoughts on whether the players were looking for some help from the organization to make a move at the deadline:
"I think all year we've been looking for offense. We started talking that this is all about pitching but people come up and say 'you're playing a lot better this year,' and it's really not been about scoring more runs. It's been all about the pitching, so this offense has been there looking at us all year. It's been a little bit of a roller coaster with injuries and stuff but even when we've been clicking, it's not like we're out there beating the heck out of people. When the other team scores more than four runs, I think we've only won four games all year. We don't win very many ball games where the score gets up above five runs. That's been all year obviously and would likely continue on through into the second half unless we get some offense. I've been holding out that Pedro Alvarez comes up and plays like he did at the end of last season. If that happens, there is the answer. I think a Pedro Alvarez that we had in the month of September is better than anyone we can trade for right now. Last year, he has 26 RBI in the last month of the season. He really turned on the long-ball power and I'd love to see that continue. He got the two-run homer (on Saturday off Cliff Lee). That's the kind of Pedro Alvarez we need and would be a big help to us. As far as what is out there on the trading block, getting a big home run hitter, I don't think anyone thought that was going to happen. Bringing in Derrek Lee is a move that is going to make us a better team, but he's not really a gamechanger in the middle of that lineup, at least he hasn't been that way for a little while. Although liek I said, he's gotten a lot better as the season has gone along. He got off to a really slow start in Baltimore."

About the Pirates' minor league pitchers:
"You use those arms to go get bats. Arms are extremely difficult to find. You can't find pitching and pitching has made the difference on our team in wins and losses this year. That's the difference maker at this level. Look at what the Giants last year, it's pitching. Look at what the Giants are doing this year. It's pitching. They don't score any runs either like us. I think it's very wise to invest heavily in pitching in the minor leagues and then when you have that overabundance that you hopefull will get, you then use that to go out and get the bats you really want. I could see that happening when some of those younger minor league guys (Colton Cain, Jameson Taillon, Colten Brewer, Stetson Allie, Gerrit Cole) come up to the top if we are still in the same situation we are now, then perhaps we put a prospect package together and make a push for a real big bat if the time comes and we still need one."

On the fans' response in Pittsburgh and beyond to the team's 2011 success:
It's what we always predicted and hoped for that when the team started playing better, the fans would respond and it's been probably the biggest surprise to me. Even bigger than the way we are playing, the way the Pittsburgh fans have come out is amazing. And it's not just at the ballpark but around the city, in the suburbs. You go to the mall and half the people are wearing Pirate gear and even around some of the visiting ballparks we've gone around to. We are seeing more and more Pirates stuff. I think the people all over are jumping on the Pirates bandwagon. It's a good story, we're a young team that hasn't won in a while. We've got people rooting for us all over the place.

On the rough schedule ahead:
"I think (the media and fans) look at that more than the players do. Andrew McCutchen was asked that after the split in Atlanta. Something about that was a tough series and we could've won three out of four, now you go on to Philadelphia, he said was "it is what it is. Can't do anything about it. We've got to go play the games. And I'm pretty sure they all feel that way down there. It's go out and play the game every night and that is what Clint has been preaching. Not to look too far ahead. We as fans or in media have probably been a little guilty of talking about the future because that is what we are always preparing for. Saying things like 'Yeah, we are going to be good two years from now' The guys in the clubhouse aren't playing that game. All they are thinking about is today.  They aren't even thinking about (Saturday's loss). How is that going to change anything today?"

Walk on how coming to work every day is different with a winner on the field:
"It's been more fun but actually it's been more frustrating. I didn't think I'd be saying this but years past, there would be things that would happen and you'd just shrug your shoulders and say 'OK well we're 20 games out of first place, we've got to get better. We can't be doing that anymore.' Now, we kick away a game or something and you drive home at night mad. The next day you try and forget about it but there is a lot more at stake now than there was in past year and you get irritated at things like a bad call by an umpire. It gets under your skin but that's a good thing really. I was talking to Clint about how my attitude has changed this season watching the ball game and he said to me that there are different ways to judge success and because now things irritate you, that's because they matter. And that shows how far the team has come. It's much more successful than it's been in a long time."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lee deal a good move for NH

 Pirates general manager Neal Huntington recognized the need the Pirates have for middle-of-the-order power hitter and a defensive first baseman and has tried to do something about it.

The Pirates late Saturday night acquired veteran first baseman Derrek Lee from the Baltimore Orioles for Class A hitter Aaron Baker. The team also shipped an undisclosed amount of cash to the Bucs to pick up part of the $2.6 million owed to Lee through the end of the 2011 season.

This idea of getting a first baseman is a no-brainer for the Bucs. First base is traditionally one of the spots in the order power can be counted on from, but through 102 games, the Pirates first base position has yielded just eight home runs and a .228 batting average in 2011. Lee's numbers aren't fantastic, sporting a .246 batting average and 12 HRs. However he has hit .258 with 8 HRs since June 4 and could bring solid veteran leadership to a clubhouse void of it.

I have to say Lee's first comments are a little questionable.These are from the Baltimore Sun:

How do I feel about (the trade)? It’s the business of baseball,” said Lee, who hit .246 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 85 games for the Orioles.“I knew coming into the year there was a pretty good chance I wasn’t going to finish it here,” Lee said. “So, I understood all of it.” 
“Yeah the (Pirates) are playing good. They turned it around so good for them. I’m still playing baseball, so that’s always a good thing,”


Maybe we shouldn't expect more after losing a doubleheader to the Yankees. Not sure if Lee is making the trip to Philadelphia for today's game but he didn't play the nightcap of the doubleheader so maybe a little help as the Pirates try not to fall 4 1/2 out in the NL Central. Lee is a free agent after the season although it is unclear if the Pirates will receive draft compensation for him if he leaves after the season.

As far as Baker, the first baseman was drafted in 2009 and isn't considered a top prospect. He hit 36 HRs in 289 games combined through the Bucs' Single-A teams. With a career .344 on-base percentage, he was a solid bat but certainly not a major piece to part with to improve the Major League roster.

Overall a shot in the arm for the Pirates' offense. With Alvarez's HR on Saturday night, Lee's arrival and still in talks for another OF possibility, NH has stayed the course as far as the future of the team while still making an effort to improve the big league roster in this surprising season.

Strong indications point to Lyle Overbay's release following Lee's activation, a sad end to a season where the Pirates invested 11% of their payroll in a player who simply wasn't cutting it. Overbay has really done very little to help on the field in the team's rise from the ashes, although it would be foolish to discount his veteran presence in the locker room to a group of young players.

Friday, July 29, 2011

WB2PB Trade Deadline Evaluation: Jason Kubel

Over the next nine days, we will take a look at one player who is in the rumor mill to join the Pirates leading up to the trade deadline. Today's installment is Minnesota Twins outfielder Jason Kubel
The batting order with the addition of Kubel: 
1. Presley/Tabata/Paul, LF;  2.. Walker, 2B;  4. McCutchen, CF;  4. Kubel, RF; 5. Alvarez, 3B; 6. Doumit, C; 7. Jones/Pearce, 1B; 8. Cedeno, SS; 9. pitcher.

Strengths
  • Kubel has 4 20+ HR seasons in his career, although his power numbers are a little down this season. He missed nearly two months with a sprained foot which certainly explains his down offensive numbers. His bat this season would be a welcome addition as he is hitting over .300 for the Twins in 227 at-bats.
  • Kubel comes from a team with success, as the Twins have reached the postseason the last two years. Kubel struggled in the playoffs (2-for-29 in his career) but was a starter on back-to-back division title winners.
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Weaknesses
  • Kubel is an OK outfielder but does not have great range and weakens the defense. He would start in RF so the trickly PNC Park left field would not be an issue but the team defense would be reduced with Kubel playing every day.

The Twins are a perfect fit to trade with the Pirates at this point, as they have both an outfielder to trade and a extra pitcher they have little room for in Kevin Slowey. Reports are the Pirates would like to add an extra arm to take a little pressure off their starting pitcher, which has carried this team to where it is in the standings and may start to feel the effects of that as the season goes on. Minnesota is also in discussions to acquire Washington closer Drew Storen and would have to give up young centerfielder Denard Span, which may take Kubel off the market.

The Twins sit six games out of first place in the AL central but they are also in fourth place. The team is still deciding whether it's a buyer or a seller and may try to be both. Kubel has less that $2 million remaining on his 2011 contract and is a free agent after the season. So the rental shouldn't cost the Pirates much, although the team would receive a compensation draft pick if he did so the Pirates would likely have to give up a low-to-mid tier prospect to acquire him.

Just the type of bat could use to get hot for a few months and begin to solve their severe offensive issues.


Likely chance of acquisition:35 percent

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Neal we trust? A breakdown of deadline deals

So it's July 28 at 1:00 p.m. and officially 75 hours until the Major League Baseball trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Pirates have scored 1 run in their last 27 innings, hit 2 home runs in their last 10 games and are facing two more games against the National League's second-best team before a three-game  road series against the league's best, where they will face two of the last three National League Cy Young award winners.

You don't think you're the only one who thinks this team needs some help, do you?

Reported first by ESPN's Jayson Stark more than a week ago and followed up by the Trib-Review's Dejan Kovacevic on Wednesday that Carlos Beltran was willing to go to any of the seven contenders in the National League.  The problem with that was, there was eight at the time. So despite the hype of ESPN and hanging in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals, the most elite hitter on the market didn't want to play in Pittsburgh. And word is the Pirates were willing to pick up all of the $6 million remaining on the contract.

So everything being said about the Pirates needing to make a big splash and add Beltran apparently general manager Neal Huntington agreed with. He tried to reward his team and the fans with the hitter his team so desperately needs. He did everything in his power. And fans have to trust in that.

With hours ticking away, the names are still coming out of the woodwork. White Sox bats like Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko are being discussed. Konerko is incredibly unrealistic but would you rather NH's hand still be in play or would you rather have settled like the Indians' apparently have for Cubs' outfielder Kosuke Fukodome. Houston's Hunter Pence, Oakland's Josh Willingham, San Diego's Ryan Ludwick and Quentin's names are all still in talks between the many teams looking for help.

And the hardest part for Pirates fans is to sit and wait. But it's likely the best scenario. In trade deadline deals, NH is 4-3-2. And since he's made nine trades in three years, it would seem unlikely that the Pirates will do nothing. Here's a breakdown of those July trades.
  • His trade of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees brought back four players. Those four are only the starting left fielder (Jose Tabata), two starters (Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf) and a strong bullpen arm (Daniel McCutchen) on the current team. And where would this organization be without that deal. Enormous win for NH
  • The Jason Bay trade is leaning toward the loss column because the top prospect in the deal (Bryan Morris) is now a bullpen arm in Double-A three years later. It's almost unfair to call it a loss, since the Pirates were in no position to pay Bay. When everyone in baseball knows that, it's hard to get any return none the less four players, one of which Andy LaRoche, was one of the top hitting prospects in the Dodgers organization. But none have worked out. I can sympathize, but it's still a loss.
  • The trade of Jack Wilson and his bad contract to Seattle with Ian Snell garnered starting shortstop Ronny Cedeno, Clement and prospects. One of those prospects, Aaron Pribanic, is a starter at Double-A. I have to give this one a win simply because without any future shortstop in sight, Cedeno has held down the job well for a lot cheaper than anyone could expect. Wilson was a fan favorite but way overpaid. A win.
  • Adam LaRoche being sent to Boston for Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland could be a draw. But I'd say it's a win considering NH saved over $2 million in the deal
  • Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for prospect Tim Alderson is considered a loss. I'd argue that Sanchez has just 700 at-bats in almost two full seasons in San Francisco for almost $12 million that could tip the scales NH's way but Alderson is still up in the air. At 22 years old, he's pitching well out of Altoona's bullpen so he could turn this into a win eventually with his play and the money saved but right now it has to be a tie because Sanchez would be blocking Neil Walker at this point. So tie...for now.
  • Trading John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs for Jose Ascenio, Kevin Hart and Josh Harrison is another deal thought as a loss but I'm not so sure. Grabow has posted a 5.27 ERA in his time with Chicago for $7.5 million while Gorzelanny was 11-11 with a 4.43 ERA in 30 starts before being traded for prospects before the 2011 season started. Hart has been terrible and then injured, but Ascenio was a bust in the bullpen. But Josh Harrison has contributed this season when called upon and currently can be a utility infielder backing up both 2B and 3B to a .263 batting avg. Gorzelanny's average pitching and ability to get the Cubs three players still makes this a loss but it's closer than it appears.
  • At the 2010 trade deadline, NH was busy with three deals. The first, sending Octavio Dotel for James McDonald is clearly a win. McDonald has pitched outstanding while Dotel was traded within days. Hitting prospect Andrew Lambo came from L.A. in this deal as well, and he's still trying to figure it out in Double A, but McDonald has already won this deal for NH.
  •  D.J. Carrasco, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby were sent to Arizona for Chris Snyder, Pedro Ciriaco and cash. Snyder's injury takes this away from being a win. The three sent to Arizona weren't doing much before the trade and haven't since and NH got to see if Ciriaco was an answer at SS. That being said, the Pirates have paid a lot of money for Snyder. So a draw.
  • The same day, the Bucs shipped lefty Javier Lopez to San Francisco for John Bower and Joe Martinez. Martinez is gone and Bowker hasn't been considered an option to help with all the injuries in the outfield while Lopez has been a lights out southpaw out of the Giants' bullpen, with a 1.84 ERA in 77 appearances so far. Lopez appeared in nine playoff games as the Giants won the World Series. Big win for S.F.
It should be an exciting three days. but expect something to happen. Or this Pirates team may just be for a very long end to the 2011 season.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

WB2PB Trade Deadline Evaluation: B.J. Upton

 Over the next nine days, we will take a look at one player who is in the rumor mill to join the Pirates leading up to the trade deadline. Today's installment is Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton

The batting order with the addition of Upton: 
1. Presley/Tabata/Paul, LF;  2. Upton, RF; 3. Walker, 2B;  4. McCutchen, CF;  5. Alvarez, 3B; 6. Doumit, C; 7. Overbay/Pearce, 1B; 8. Cedeno, SS; 9. pitcher.

Strengths
  • Upton has incredible potential. He can hit for power, run on the bases and has excellent range in the outfield because of that speed.
  • Has playoff experience from the Rays' playoff runs in 2008 and 2010
  • Would fill a need for a right-handed bat with some pop, sporting 11 HRs against RHP this year
  • Pirates would have him for all of 2012 as he is not eligible for free agency until 2013. Poor start to 2011 make it likely his arbitration price should be around $5 million.
  • Hits very well away from the Rays' home field, posting a .278 batting average on the road this year and .262 for his career.
Weaknesses
  • Upton's power numbers are up but his batting average and on-base percentage are down this year.
  • Not known as a team guy with Tampa Bay. He has worn on his welcome in Tampa and the Pirates are not looking to acquire anyone who will mess with their team chemistry.
The great thing about Upton is that he's a great physical baseball player. And the bad thing about him is that he knows that. Upton, who should have been drafted, developed and be on the Pirates roster today as the No. 1 pick in the 2002 MLB draft, just might be the hitter the Pirates need on the field. Again, Upton doesn't solve the problem of 1st base but that appears to be a difficult nut to crack as there are a few teams (S.F., Ariz) who could use one as well and the most likely candidate for trade (Carlos Pena) appears to be the only one being talked about on the trade market.

It's also hard to say where Upton would bat. I put him second but I'd really like to return McCutchen to the top spot, move whomever the leftfielder is to the No. 2 spot and bat Upton cleanup. Upton hits .275 lifetime at the cleanup spot and he surely would be looking to up his numbers for his next contract. Plenty of incentive Not sure this will be one the Pirates pull the trigger on. Not sure if they are going to pull a trigger at all.

Likely chance of acquisition: 15 percent

Bucs can't afford ump's blunder

A team with the offensive punch of the Pirates needs to seize the moment when a game is close. They certainly don't have the firepower to go hit-for-hit with any team in the National League right now. It's not their style. They have a hard enough time conjouring up enough runs to win a game on their own.

That's one of the reasons you see such aggression on the basepaths. The Braves sniffing out the suicide squeeze in the ninth inning is just one of the desperate moves the Bucs seem to try when they don't have many chances to score.

So when a game is within their grasp, they have to win it. That's what makes the blown call at home plate by umpire Jerry Meals so outrageous this morning.

It's true that Pirates catcher Michael McKenry's tag was early. I'm not saying he didn't tag the Braves' Julio Lugo because it surely looks like he did. McKenry could have done a better job and he was certainly excited to get the tag down for the out. He brought his glove down quite quickly. So quickly Meals thought it was early.

But how many times has the umpire just assumed a second baseman or shortstop's foot clips second base on a double play when it doesn't? This is the same type of play, considering how far up on the baseline from home plate McKenry caught the ball and made the tag and it's really a no-brainer to call the out rather than try to outsmart the 15,000 people still in the stadium and the thousands of sports fans watching at home to tune in for the anomaly of a 19-inning baseball game.

I don't think Meals was tired or wanted to just end it. There really was no maliciousness intended toward the Pirates. But if you are going to make the "I'm smarter than the rest of the world and he missed that tag" call, you have to be right. And it can't be close. A postgame comment saying he "might have" made an error has to be a hard pill to swallow for the 24 Pirates who played last night, including a catcher who was behind the plate for 19 innings.

This win or loss can effect a season, and for a team like the Pirates, who savor every victory not just because they are trying to end a 18-year streak of losing seasons. This one also takes them out of the tie for first place in the NL Central. This is meaningful baseball in Pittsburgh and the high of the momentum they are building as the wins pile up could be thrown off by one bad call. It's really that delicate. Despite the fact that it ruined Armando Galarraga's perfect game, this call is worse than the error made by Jim Joyce on that day. That one has proven to not have effected the Tigers in the standings from that year.

Time will only tell if this one affects history.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

WB2PB Trade Deadline Evaluation: Chris Iannetta

Over the next nine days, we will take a look at one player who is in the rumor mill to join the Pirates leading up to the trade deadline. Today's installment is Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta.
The batting order with the addition of Iannetta: 
1. Presley/Tabata/Paul, LF;  2. Jones, RF; 3. Walker, 2B;  4. McCutchen, CF;  5. Alvarez, 3B; 6. Pearce/Overbay, 1B; 7. Iannetta, C; 8. Cedeno, SS; 9. pitcher.

Strengths
  • For a guy with a .223 batting average, a .377 on-base percentage is pretty outstanding. He's drawn 58 walks in 301 plate appearances
  • Well, he's a healthy catcher and after watching Michael McKenry take a bat to the glove in Monday's game, that really can't be understated, despite Doumit's scheduled return this week.
Weaknesses
  • The best hope for him at the plate is usually a walk. Iannetta is simply atrocious away from the friendly confines of Coors Field, sporting a .154 batting average and just 3 of his 10 home runs.
  • OK behind the plate, but has allowed 5 passed balls this year. He has thrown out 24% of the runners trying to steal on him, about the same as Doumit and McKenry.
Iannetta would come with a $3.550 million in 2012 and a team option of $5 million (which the Bucs would buy out for $250K). The Rockies are sellers in the trading market but the pieces they are offering aren't much to shop for. Jason Giambi was on the block until last night's injured quad made him a likely candidate for the DL. Ty Wigginton has familiarity with Pittsburgh but his road batting avg. in 2011 is almost identical to the .237 average he put up in 337 abs with the Pirates in 2004-05.

The one good thing about Iannetta is that he is a catcher. The Pirates have limped through this season at the position and currently would have a rushed-back Doumit, a needing-to-be-promoted Jason Jaramillo or Travis Fryer behind the plate if McKenry had been injured on the play on Monday. All, including Iannetta, are not big helps offensively but with the uncertainity at catcher, it may just be worth it. Forgotten in this is Chris Snyder, who could return by not likely until rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.

Getting Iannetta might be more of a necessity for GN Neal Huntington that a want. Maybe a package that could also land a pitcher but the only attractive arms for the Rockies are either too young for Colorado to trade or too expensive for the Pirates to pay for.

Likely chance of acquisition: 25 percent

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pedro returns and so do the fundamentals

The story portrayed to America on ESPN's Monday Night Baseball broadcast of the Pirates-Braves game was entirely different than the one folks in the Pittsburgh area likely were following.

For ESPN, this was the celebration of the feel-good Pittsburgh Pirates making a run at ending the longest losing season streak of any major professional sports. They talked about the excellent starting pitching the Pirates have received, their struggle to score a lot of runs but take advantage of the opportunities they have, the Bucs' very successful bullpen, the battery of catchers the team has gone through with injuries and eventually, how the Pirates used their small-ball chances to pick up a 3-1 win over Atlanta. Beginning on Monday, the PBC battles the two best teams in the National League for seven games and getting a 1-0 record on the trip was a fine start.

But Pirates fans weren' focused on that at all. Almost five hours before the scheduled gametime, the team announced that spitfire Alex Presley was headed to the DL with his thumb contusion and the team was recalling Pedro Alvarez back from Indianapolis. With the punchless offense against both the Cardinals and the Reds over the previous six games, fans have called upon GM Neal Huntington to go get a bat and Alvarez's was hot in Triple-A, producing three home runs and 13 RBIs to go along with a .365 average in 63 at-bats.

And even though the first ball in play off the bat of Braves leadoff hitter Martin Prado led to an E-5, I can't think too many Pirates fans were calling for Brandon Wood or Chase d'Arnaud to be back in the lineup. Alvarez's return was quite boring but always encouraging. He drew a walk in the 2nd inning and singled up the middle in the 4th. The slugger the Bucs are counting on rounded his day out with a strikeout in the 6th and ground out in the 8th.

But the best part about his return? The Pirates won. And they won playing the kind of baseball they've gutted out all season. Neil Walker poking his bat out on a pitch-out to protect Garrett Jones on a hit-and-run and advance the runner, which lead to Andrew McCutchen's RBI single. Or Alvarez playing heads-up baseball on Nate McLouth throwing to the wrong base so the big man could advance to second and take away any chance for a double play with two on and one out.

James McDonald was solid again until hitting his sixth-inning wall, striking out nine before loading the bases in the sixth inning. But for the second consecutive outing,the bullpen bailed him out again. It was former Brave Chris Resop shutting his old team down and stranding three runners to protect the lead.

Or how about the impressiveness of Jose Veras just smoking Brian McCann as the Braves were threatening in the 8th. Hammer time in the 9th and that means another one went in the books.

There wasn't much glitz in the victory for the ESPN guys to rave over. It wasn't pretty and didn't even include an extra-base hit. But the Bucs showed America a good example of how they are doing it.

As for Alvarez, he played fine. They'll be more fireworks in the future But he didn't look dominated against one of the better pitchers in the NL in Tim Hudson. And that's a big step above the Pedro before his injury and stint in Indy.

Welcome Back to Pirates Baseball: A turning point in franchise history?

Welcome Back to Pirates Baseball: A turning point in franchise history?: "It may have been the biggest play of the 2004 ALCS, which makes it one of the biggest plays in the history of the Boston Red Sox. The Red So..."

WB2PB Trade Evaluation: Koji Uehara

This is the fourth installment in a nine-part series leading up to the Major League trading deadline on Sunday. Today's player is Baltimore Orioles reliever Koji Uehara.

How the pitching staff looks with the addition of Uehara:

Starters: Paul Maholm; Kevin Correia; Charlie Morton; James McDonald; Jeff Karstens
Relievers: Jason Grilli; Chris Resop; Jose Veres; Joe Beimel; Daniel McCutchen; Uehara
Closer: Joel Hanrahan

Strengths:                     
  • Excellent K-to-BB ratio, balancing a fastball with a forkball as his main pitches to strike out 59 batters while walking only 8 in 2011, pitching to a 1.80 ERA

Weaknesses:
  • Not much really. Not a power pitcher but he has really been lights out.
The starting pitchers have logged a lot of innings but the bullpen has its share of appearances because of Hurdle's desire to play matchups in key situations. I'm not sure I'm a big fan of this move because my projections sends Tony Watson to the minor leagues and leaves just one lefty in the bullpen. Maybe it's Resop who is sent down but he appears the only other vulnerable pitcher if the Pirates add a reliever.

The salary I think would be the concern in this situation. Uehara is owed a little more than $1 million the rest of the year but would be arbritration-eligible and likely earn in the $4 million next season, something the Pirates may not want to spend on a bullpen arm with pitchers like Karstens, Hanrahan, Morton and possibly McCutchen owed raises already.

Another move that wouldn't address the offense but possibly a necessity to add an arm or two to help get this team to the finish line innings-wise that simply just cost a minor prospect if the Bucs will pick up the salary.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A turning point in franchise history?

It may have been the biggest play of the 2004 ALCS, which makes it one of the biggest plays in the history of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox had been down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series to the New York Yankees It was the bottom of the ninth and the Bronx Bombers were ahead 4-3. Boston's Kevin Millar drew a walk to give the Sox a baserunner and manager Terry Francona didn't hesitate to insert Dave Roberts into the game as a pinch runner.

After three pickoff attempts by Yanks' closer Mariano Rivera, Roberts broke for second base on the first pitch to Boston's Bill Mueller ... and he just slipped in past the tag of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. The Boston crown came to life. The Yankees weren't a machine. The Red Sox had life. Mueller's single scored Roberts to tie the game. The rest is history. David Ortiz homered to win Game 4 and the Red Sox didn't lose another game on their way to the World Series title, their first title in 86 years. Hope sprung from the depths of defeat and the Sox rode the momentum. A stolen base changed baseball history.

Fast-forward to July 24, 2011 and the Pittsburgh Pirates are desperate. The team hasn't had a winning season in 18 years. The joy of an appearance in first place for the first time since 1992 is fading into despair as the Bucs fall twice, in rather devastating fashion, to division-rival St. Louis in front of a pair of sell-out crowds with another watching on. The thoughts are turning negative on the team and the town after a small glimmer of hope snuck into the dog days of summer. Then came Xavier Paul to the plate.

The team's fifth outfielder came up with one out in the No. 9 spot after entering as a defensive replacement. On a 2-2 count, Paul hit a routine groundball toward first base that was fielded by Cards' first baseman Albert Pujols. The speedy Paul bolted up the line as St. Louis pitcher Mitchell Boggs stepped first and then, after seeing Paul, accelerated toward first base. The toss from Pujols got the ball to Boggs in time for the out. But Boggs didn't make it there first. It was Paul, legging out an infield single.

A single brought to life the sell-out crowd at PNC Park. And the Bucs themselves. On Boggs' next pitch, Paul broke for second base. Cardinals catcher Gerald Laird's throw was left of the second-base bag and dribbled into center field. Paul, in seemingly one motion, slide into the base, popped up and took off for third, beating the throw easily.

And the crowd came to life again. For a team that had scored just 12 runs runs in their last six games and not had a home run in seven straight, this was just the opening they needed to steal a win....to turn the corner....to save their season. Every game means the same at the end of a season but for a team who is headed on a seven-game road trip to face the best of the National League, this was necessary. After battling a division foe that simply dominated you on your turf at your first shot at relevency with the national media starting to pay attention, this one wasn't optional.

And the suspense didn't last long. Maligned rookie Chase d'Arnaud, already with an RBI-double in this game, has struggled since his promotion. His seven defensive miscues in the field had already made them vulnerable in one game on this homestand and his .228 batting average (including .148 with runners in scoring position) had many calling for his return to the minor leagues.

But it was d'Arnaud that flared a hard fly ball to centerfield. Paul backpedaled to tag up and bolted as soon as centerfielder Colby Rasmus made the catch. Paul easily cruised in and the crowd sprung to their feet.


Maybe this win isn't Game 4 of the ALCS. Maybe the Bucs travel to Atlanta and Philly and succumb to the up-start Braves and the aces in Philadelphia. But just maybe -- maybe -- this one means a little more.

It's going to be exciting to watch and find out. And for another day in late July, even if it's by percentage points, the Pirates regain first place in the NL Central.

WB2PB Trade deadline evaluation: David DeJesus

Over the next nine days, we will take a look at one player who is in the rumor mill to join the Pirates leading up to the trade deadline. Today's installment is Oakland A's outfielder David DeJesus

The batting order with the addition of DeJesus: 
1. Presley/Tabata, LF;  2. DeJesus, RF; 3. Walker, 2B;  4. McCutchen, CF;  5. Doumit, C; 6. Alvarez, 3B; 7. Cedeno, SS; 8. Pearce/Overbay; 9. pitcher 

Strengths:
  • Decent plate discipline, with a on-base percentage almost 90 point better than his batting average.
  • Adequate outfielder but has declined with age.
  • Veteran experience... I guess
Weaknesses:
  • Has never lived to his potential, save a couple of good seasons in 2005 and 2008.
  • Another player who has never been on a winner.
  • Has never played in the National League, so would have to adjust to a new set of pitchers on the fly and contribute, which fans have high expectations for if you are trading for him at the deadline.
  • Not much power, not much speed, not much average, not much range. Not quite sure why he's so in the mix

If you think adding a player to improve the worst player on your team is a good idea, then fine. DeJesus is a better player than Xavier Paul. But this is another player who can't lefties (.139 this season compared to .266 vs. RHP). Also, it's very odd when a guy hits all of his HRs in the same month, which he did with his five in May. A trade like this would make you wonder if the Pirates are planning to do Ryan Doumit in right field with Matt Diaz and platoon DeJesus in LF with Pearce, which again doesn't make the team much better.

And why is it that names like Willingham and DeJesus, guys with careers on terrible teams, are coming up as options to join a good team. Why is Melky Cabrera not in the conversation? Is Jason Kubel unavailable? How about Jeff Franceour, who actually has power against lefties, which is lineup definitely needs.

Back to DeJesus. It just seems that taking on a player for almost $2 million isn't a bad idea, but if he hits .232 with no power and little speed he may not be work $2. And he has no versatility, which means gap wide open still at 1B. The only positive thing would be...He's better than Xavier Paul. And he won't return to the team as he will be a free agent after the year.

Likely chance of acquisition: 40 percent

Pretenders or contenders

Clint Hudle needs better offensive options if his team
plans to stick around in the NL central race.
If the last two games against the St. Louis Cardinals have taught us anything, it's that the euphoria of first place can come to a screeching halt very quickly when the surprising starting pitching of the 2011 season looks more like the 2010 team. Paul Maholm allowed a four-spot in the first inning of Game 1 Friday night as the Bucs dropped a 6-4 decision and then Kevin Correia couldn't get out of the fifth inning before allowing seven runs in a 9-1 loss.

Starting pitching is the key to any success in baseball. Three of the top five teams in the National League are almost guaranteed of a playoff spot this season and it's only July. Both Philiadelphia and Atlanta appear to be shoe-ins already as the NL East-champ and NL wild card teams, barring a major collapse by either. San Francisco has the NL West right now by four games this morning and has some of the best starters in the league. The Bucs are fifth in pitching, leaving the No. 3 San Diego Padres pitching as the only team without much hope of the playoffs. 

The interesting observation is that three of these teams (Pittsburgh, San Francisco and San Diego) are also in the bottom three of the offenses in the NL.

San Francisco, the defending World Series champs, spend over $118 million on their club. The Pirates and Padres, combined for less than $90 million.

Names like Jeff Karstens, Correia, Maholm and Charlie Morton have overachieved to a point that the Pirates are just a game out of first place, despite having some of the worst offense in baseball. But the team could actually do something to solve this problem. There is offense to be bought on the open market.

Carlos Beltran could be had for $6 million and a mid-tier prospect. Carlos Pena could be at 1st baseman for Monday's game for a few million dollars and a Class A pitcher very likely. Catcher Ramon Hernandez could be had for a little more than $1 million at catcher if the Reds lose a a few more games in the standings. Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick....this team has options. It is projected that attendance will be up 500,000 for the season. That projection leads to around $10 million the team picked up that was unexpected.

So what's the excuse for not spending it on the product on the field? If it's signing draft picks Josh Bell and Gerrit Cole, that's one thing. If it is going into a big account that will eventually retain Andrew McCutchen for a long time, that'd be another thing as well.

But the Pirates aren't showing this loyal fan base much consideration when a full house shows up to see Steve Pearce in right field, Matt Diaz in left field and Brandon Wood at first base in the starting lineup. It's known that Alex Presley was out of the lineup with a thumb injury. Innjuries happen in baseball so that's understandable. It isn't understandable that the team is trotting out that lineup to a fan base that is supporting the team like it is a contender to tot out Brandon Wood at first base. If Presley hits the DL, what's next? Starling Marte from Double-A? Gorkys Hernandez from Triple-A?

It's time to play with the big boys and get some Major League talent. If the Pirates want this latest boom in attendance to grow, they have to continue to meet the expectations that they've set for themselves throught the first 95 games of the season. The average fan wants 82 wins this season, but after that, they'll want more. The crowds shown by the last 15 home games will come out but you have to give the team a chance to score runs with Major League hitters. And since there are so few in the current system, take the extra $10 million you weren't expecting and go get a few. July 31st is eight days away. This isn't the time for dropping eight of 10 and following out of it.

A shot in the arm to the offense would go a long way toward scoring more runs. The hitters would appreciate it and the pitchers and fans deserve it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

WB2PB Trade deadline evaluation: Josh Willingham

Over the next nine days, we will take a look at one player who is in the rumor mill to join the Pirates leading up to the trade deadline. Today's installment is Oakland A's outfielder Josh Willingham

The batting order with the addition of Willingham: 
1. Presley/Tabata, LF;  2. Cedeno, SS; 3. Walker, 2B;  4. McCutchen, CF;  5. Doumit, C; 6. Willingham, RF; 7. Alvarez, 3B; 8. Pearce/Overbay; 9. pitcher 

Strengths:
  • Willingham brings a much-needed right-handed bat to the lineup, and has some pop. His 12 HRs are considered deceiving because he plays half his games in Oakland's pitcher's park.
  • Power from both sides of the plate, he has 5 HRs in 86 ABs against lefties.
  • A veteran presence at 32 and likely not too expensive prospect-wise as he'll be a free agent this year. Likely cost about $1.6-$2 million for rest of the season.
  • Familarity with NL, spent two seasons before 2011 with Washington and hit .263 with 40 HRs with the Nats
Weaknesses
  • First off, he takes away the chance to keep both Presley and Tabata on the field. That might not be in the Pirates thinking but they've been a speed/defense team.
  • Simply adequate on defense. His percentages are ok and his range is fine but nothing spectacular.
  • Likely will be more of a platoon player, mostly in the lineup against RHP. Averaged has dropped 56 points in one season to .221 against LHP
  • Veteran presence is with Florida, Washington and Oakland. His career record as a player is 321-415. Not exactly adding a winner to a team that is used to losing. His batting average is 99 points worse (.317 to .218 then losses), Just seems like a big difference.
Willingham's lack of winning experience for some reason really bothers me. Why add a guy who has never been in a playoff situation to a team that has never been in a playoff situation? It just feels like a move that the Pirates are settling for, rather than making the big leap to try and create even more buzz if it's possible and add a special player.

Maybe that's unfair to say but if there is an announcement of the Pirates trading for Willingham -- in a deal that will involve trading away fan favorite Garrett Jones most likely --it  just screams mediocrity. While the Brewers make the big splash with K-Rod, the response from the Pirates seems more like a whimper. It just doesn't rev up the fan base.

And I'm not sure the lineup is in better shape. First base is still not addressed. And the defense is weaker with Presley or Tabata being moved to the bench to make room for Willingham in the lineup. This trade for anyone will bring a lot of pressure because the 25-30K fans that are showing up at PNC Park are expecting big things from whoever they acquire. Baseball reference.com has a stat called Leverage Index, which measures pressure situations in baseball. Willingham just doesn't cut it there, with an average of .242 in high leverage situations while hitting .272 and .262 when in medium to low pressure abs.

Just nothing about this moves says "we're going for it" or "thank you fans for coming out, here's our way of showing you we are in it to win it."  Just blah....I think I'd rather no move than Willingham

Likely chance of acquisition: 60 percent


Friday, July 22, 2011

Biggest Game 1 in PNC Park history?

The Pirates have something they haven't had in almost 20 years. The baseball world's attention. Previous to this weekend, series against St. Louis were more about area baseball fans getting to see the best player in the game than watching the hometown team. That changes beginning at 7:05 when Albert Pujols and the Cardinals hit the field against the PBC.

I imagine the crowd outside of PNC Park will look more like a Steelers home game. A hot Friday night in Pittsburgh will pale in comparison to the energy that will walk through the turnstiles to watch ace Paul Maholm take on Chris Carpenter.

But this is the Pirates' opportunity. They are three games into a stretch that the pundits say will expose them of benefitting from a weak division and just plain luck to be in a tie for first place in the NL Central. They scored just four runs in three games and won two of them. That anemic offense won't do against the Cardinals.

But sending Maholm out for Game 1 may help. His 0.88 ERA in his last five home starts and career 3.33 ERA againt the Cardinals give the Bucs a fighting chance. They beat Carpenter already this season in St. Louis. Even more shocking is the 24-14 record against its division foes.

The Bucs are fighting the tradition that they are supposed to roll over for a team like the Cardinals. They avoided a June swoon and are in the thick of it. The city has returned to the ballpark but the national media continues to  treat this team like a cute little puppy that will eventually run away. This is their chance. After the Cardinals series, the Braves will host Pittsburgh, including an ESPN game. THen three more in Philadelphia against the NL's top team.

Winning this series is an opportunity to keep the momentum going and earn even more respect. But giving up a big lead early in Game 1 allows the doubters to creep in, gives the naysayers ammunition and the attitude of being a  loser  begins to be talked about.

Game 1 is the key in every series, but this one may be the most important in a long, long time.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

WB2PB Trade deadline evaluation: Carlos Pena

Over the next nine days, we will take a look at one player who is in the rumor mill to join the Pirates at the trade deadline. Today's installment is Chicago Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena.






The batting order with the addition of Pena: 
1. Presley, RF; 2. Tabata, LF;  3. Walker, 2B;  4. McCutchen, CF;  5. Pena, 1B; 6. Doumit, C; 7. Alvarez, 3B; 8. Cedeno, SS; 9. pitcher 

Strengths:
  • Pena has a fantastic glove (.994 fielding percentage this year, 2 Gold Gloves)
  • 20 of his 70 hits are HRs
  • Has great plate discipline, sporting a .340 on-base percentage
  • Could take advantage of the short-porch in RF
  • Veteran presence in the clubhouse who has been to the playoffs twice, including the World Series in 2008
Weaknesses
  • Projected for his fourth consecutive 150-strikeout season, sporting a .224 batting avg with the Cubs
  • Unlikely to return for 2012, so pretty much a rental player for the Pirates. 
  • Another left-handed bat on a team that already has Walker, Alvarez and Doumit, leaving McCutchen as the only real threat as a right-handed hitter in the starting lineup.

One of the big things going the Bucs way in any deal for a first baseman is that most good teams in a playoff race have a solid one. STL-Pujols; Mil-Fielder; PHL-Howard; ATL-Freeman. The competition in the NL is San Francisco and Arizona and LAA in the AL could use a big bat at 1B

The hole at first base for Pittsburgh is so glaring and comparing Pena with Lyle Overbay is shocking. Despite hitting 9 points below Overbay, Pena is slugging 99 points better, has a 36 point stronger on-base percentage, carries a 100-point OPS edge and 13 more home runs. If Alvarez returns and plays like the late-season Pedro, Pena could hit 6th or 7th and get the bottom of the order some top. A lackluster Pedro puts Pena's bat behind Walker and McCutchen. Pena has hit 13 HRs in June 1 and is average

The Cubs are out of it andshould be trying to get something before they just pay him to stay on a team that could lose 90 games. If there is a person that the PBC can get without giving up a top or even mid-level prospect and pick up some of his cash due, Pena could be the temporary pop the Bucs lineup could use instantly.

Likely chance of acquisition: 75 percent

10 Pirates who may not be on Aug. 1


Pirates fans may be saying goodbye to Garrett Jones in the next 10 days.

With 10 days until the trading deadline, here's 10 players who may not be on the team on Aug. 1
  1. Xavier Paul -- Trade rumors have the Pirates looking for an outfielder. McCutchen isn't going anywhere and Alex Presley is more valuable to the Pirates than any other team. Matt Diaz is hitting a very soft .313, but has another year on his inexpensive two-year, $4 million deal. The only thing that could save Paul is Jose Tabata's injury status. Tabata left Wednesday's minor-league rehab game in Bradenton with tightnes in his quad. If Garrett Jones stays or is moved for an outfielder and Tabata is still hurt, Paul likely stays.
  2. Jones -- His .239 batting average has been quite disappointing but he has considerable value because any team getting him has his rights for four seasons. His ability to play first base and a corner outfield position are valuable in a trade and his ability to hit right-handed pitching could make for a DH in the AL.
  3. Chase dArnaud -- The rookie needs more seasoning in Triple-A. Cedeno's return takes away his starting job and you want him playing everyday. Brandon Wood can fill in to give Cedeno a breather.
  4. Jason Jaramillo -- This originally said Eric Fryer but Jaramillo is a better option behind the plate after rehabbing at Indianapolis as a back up for Michael McKenry. The Pirates have almost navigated through the disaster of losing Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder as Doumit could be back before Aug. 1.
  5. Christopher Leroux -- This is an easy one as Jason Grilli will join the Pirates tomorrow from the Philadelphia Phillies organization and it is Leroux is on his way back to Triple-A. Grilli is 34 and pitched for Clint Hurdle in Colorado.
  6. Pedro Ciriaco -- Another easy one, as Ciriaco hasn't done much in over 50 days on the roster. His bags were being packed after Wednesday's game according to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch.
  7. Lyle Overbay -- Since 2008, his batting average has dropped every season from .270 in '08 all the way to this year's .236. It's unlike the Bucs to eat his $1.6 million salary for the rest of the year but if Carlos Pena is brought in or the team decides to go with a Jones/Pearce platoon. Overbay's roster spot is expendable.
  8. Paul Maholm -- The Pirates would have to be blown away but the reality is, Maholm is due $9.5 million next year. Ross Ohlendorf and Brad Lincoln are waiting in the wings to return. This would be an incredibly unpopular move because Maholm is as close to a No. 1 as the Pirates have. But if you look at the return the Bucs got from Nate McLouth or the Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte deal. Maholm should secure two top-tier guys for him to go.
  9. Diaz -- Another seller-type move. Diaz could bring a mid-tier prospect from a rich team that could use a OF who hits LHP. Another player who may be worth more to the Pirates than to others but Diaz's numbers are so deceiving. He's hitting .206 in high leverage situations and .206 against power pitcher. The right team could be a good fit for a building minor leaguer
  10. Jeff Karstens -- If you think Maholm would outrage fans, try trading the No. 3 ERA pitcher in the NL. The fact is his numbers aren't all that different from previous years. Since June 1, Karstens is 5-1 with a 1.26 ERA. Not bad for a career 4.36 ERA starter. Karstens can file for arbritration and will command a big number. With McCutchen, Walker, Maholm, Hanrahan, Morton and others who will eventually make you a core of this franchise, Karstens may not be a salary that the Pirates can afford later on. Another ultimate sell-high player if there ever was on.
Any thoughts?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Time to send d'Arnaud back to minors

There's something we all enjoy about watching a young ballplayer giving every ounce of his talent on the field. Whether you like their teams or not, players who go all out like Derek Jeter and Chase Utley are really hard not to like and respect because they give everything they have everytime out. And Pirates rookie shortstop Chase d'Arnaud has shown signs of being cut from the same mold.

There's no doubt his hustling from first-to-third on Neil Walker's single on Monday night was huge to winning the first game of the Reds series. And the glove save (and a beauty) in the first inning saved two runs that night as well. Remember d'Arnaud's first hit, the triple in the opening game of the Boston series. It was a fantastic spark.

That being said, he's still just not ready. His two errors at shortstop cost the Bucs' two runs in Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Reds. He now has 7 errors in 21 games. A strong Jeff Karstens performance was wasted and a winable game now were lost because of routine defensive mistakes.

His speed is useful but his .250 on-base percentage pretty much negates it being relevant. The rookie has drawn just 3 walks in 94 plate appearances and struck out 19 times. Manager Clint Hurdle gave him enough chances to take the job while Cedeno was on the DL and he simply hasn't done it. With 25 ABs with runners in scoring position, d'Arnaud has just 1 RBI and hitting .160.

It's a nice story that he has helped give a spark but quite simply, over the long term, his 21-game sample size has shown this team has just another hole to fill. When Ronny Cedeno is promoted for the Cardinals series on Friday, it should be d'Arnaud and not Josh Harrison heading back to Indianapolis.

Harrison's can play 2B and 3B and has been an active utility infielder and posts a .266 batting avg. Brandon Wood has made just 1 error in 71 chances and has power to go along with his glove.

d'Arnaud may be a possible future shortstop for this ballclub. Future being the key word. This team is playing for the present.

Pitching staff tosses another gem

Chris Resop quietly shut down  the Reds' 1-4 hitters and lef the bases
loaded in the 7th to secure the Pirates' 1-0 win on Tuesday night.
James McDonald was cruising. After just 73 pitches, the Bucs starter on Tuesday had posted six zeroes against the defending NL Central champion Reds and was pitching into the seventh inning for the fifth time in 19 starts when he hit some trouble. First it was a walk to Miguel Cairo. Chris Heisey's sac bunt moved Cairo to second with one out. Great hustle by the Reds' Fred Lewis beat Brandon Wood's throw to 1st base for an infield single and then JMac walked Ryan Hanigan to load the bases. With the pitcher's spot up, slugger Jay Bruce was headed to the plate and that sent McDonald to the bench.

McDonald's struggles shouldn't be a surprise. In his four previous stretches to seventh-innings this season, his ERA is 10.80. and he hasn't finished a seventh this year. 

Fortunately, Joe Beimel was sitting in the bullpen to get Jay Bruce and Chris Resop followed with a one-pitch groundout by Drew Stubbs which paved the way for the Bucs' 1-0 win. The victory secures yet another series win as the PBC goes for the sweep today at 12:35 p.m before the biggest series in more than a decade with the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend.

The starting pitchers get a brunt of the credit, as they should. McDonald has been impressive since May 1 (14 starts, 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA) but also benefited from great defensive because over that stretch team's are batting .270 against him, incluing a .319 clip with balls hit into play. Morton's turnaround is amazing, Correia's impact has been surprising, Maholm is stepping into an ace's role with only -- incredibly -- Karstens and his 2.34 ERA fighting him for that role. .

But the surprise I think is the bullpen. Beimel stepping in to strike out Bruce may be one of the biggest outs of the season. And Resop not only got the grounder to end the7th  inning but pitched the 8th as well, handling the Reds' 2-3-4 hitters, which included All-Stars Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, with relative ease. The Hammer does his thing and 26,000+ go home happy again.

The trade rumors have the Pirates looking for bullpen help. I don't see that need this morning. The only pitcher in the pen over a 3.30 ERA is Beimel, who was struggling with arm issues before going on the DL and he has pitched well in two stints since his return. That doesn't include All-Star Evan Meek, who could take the spot of Chris Leroux when he returns. It's a long season but even some of the arms at Triple A (Daniel Moskos) weren't awful. Ross Ohlendorf, who struggled in an outing at Bradenton on Tuesday, isn't factored in at all as well, possibly replacing Karstens' bullpen spot with a fresh arm that can log innings.

As the days tick toward the trade deadline, these 25 players, and those rehabbing at Triple-A, may be making GM Neal Huntington's job even harder. It's hard to sit back and say 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' especially when the offense scores just 3 runs in two games against one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball. 

But the team is also 29-18 since a two-game sweep by the Braves on May 24-2. Over 47 games, the Bucs' winning percentage is .617. And that's nearly 29 percent of the season. Something's going the right direction. A good clubhouse, a favorable schedule, a positive outlook. The team keeps going onward and upward.

And right now all of baseball appears to be enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Deadspin checks in on Bucco's success


This is my brother-in-Bucs Dom Cosentino's piece at Deadspin.com. A really great read. Enjoy!

http://deadspin.com/5822676/then-and-now-with-the-pirates-in-first-place-in-july

Rookies raise Bucs to sole possession of first place

For all the talk about what the Pirates need and where they just aren't that good, the team doesn't seem to know any better  I guess that's to be expected from a bunch of guys who've never been here before. But I guess it's safe to say none of the Pirates have ever been in first place before this late in the season.

Shorstop Chase d'Arnaud's plus-minus for the night was four and rookie reliever Tony Watson pitched 2 2/3 inning of no-hit ball out of the bullpen as the Pirates' four pitchers allowed the Cincinnati Reds just three hits to move into first place in the NL Central with a 2-0 win in front of a resilient 22,016 fans at PNC Park that waited out two rain delays.

The Pirates haven't led the NL Central this late in a season since July 17, 1997. That statement itself is pretty awful, but the Bucs and their fans are relishing the role as Cinderella story and the rest of baseball is starting to take notice.

d'Arnaud, much maligned for his weak .224 average and suspect errors in his first 20 games, stopped two Reds from scoring with a sensational stab up in the middle with the bases-loaded in the first inning. The rookie vaultled the ball out of the palm of his glove to second baseman Neil Walker just in time for the force out to end the inning.

In  the fourth inning, d'Arnaud singled to lead off the inning and then used his speed to stretch Walker's single to the gap to third base with Walker advancing to second, putting two runners in scoring position, rather than second and first. Instead of Andrew McCutchen's grounder beginning a double play, it was an RBI which scored d'Arnaud. Matt Diaz's sac fly plated Walker and the Bucs had a 2-0 lead. Both McCutch and Diaz deserve credit as well, considering both noticeably just focused on getting the runs in, rather than trying to do too much. On his advancement to third base, d'Arnaud slid head first into Reds third baseman Miguel Cairo's leg and appeared woozy after the play.. He the left the game an inning but said he was fine, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Watson has certainly earned his spot on the roster since his promotion to the big leagues to replace Jose Ascenio on the roster June 7. In his longest career outing on Monday, he navigated through the powerful Reds lineup after relieving starter Charlie Morton, who returned after the second rain delay to pitch five innings for a desperate Pirates bullpen. The Bucs used seven pitchers in Sunday's 11-inning win over Houston and manager Clint Hurdle said relievers Chris Resop and Jose Veras were unavailable.

The trade rumors begin again last night and continue this morning. The latest is the Mets' willingness to pick up most of All-Star Carlos Beltran's $6 million salary for the final two months of the year for a mid to top-tier prospect. Pundits like ESPN's Buster Olney and John Kruk have begun with the public national media pressure for the Bucs to make a move.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trade talk may be just that -- but it needs to be more


Jeff Mathis, really?

WIth this morning's Pittburgh Trib-Review report that the Pirates are scouting Hunter Pence among others with the trade deadline just 13 days away, maybe it's time to chime in on some of the rumors and give a few thoughts.

1. Any indication that Garrett Jones is headed out of town for the below-Mendoza hitting Jeff Mathis in Anaheim should be old news. When the Pirates were desperate and Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder and Jason Jaramillo were all hurt, of course the team was hunting for help and willing to overpay. Fortunately, it was Michael McKenry that was acquired, and, despite a weak bat, he has done an excellent job of handling the pitching staff. My opinion is this will be a difficult guy to put back on the bench, despite Doumit's expected return. Remember Pittsburgh fans, defense wins championships.
When you think Jeff Mathis, think Jeff Clement. Enough said.


2. Carlos Pena's power can't possibly be argued. His 19 HRs would lead this team by five. Unfortunately for Pena he really should be a platoon player himself. Against RHP, Pena's .256 in 2011 and .251 lifetime is tolerable with his power. The downside is the .105 in 2011 and .211 career batting avg. against LHP.  Depending on what goes back to the Cubs or how much the Bucs have to pay of the rest of his $10 million salary, Pena is a big bat but not the savior that the fans will expect from a July trade. And you'd still need someone to play 1B against left-handed pitching, which likely would be Steve Pearce. Pearce's past indicates that would be fine but it is another person to carry on the 25-man roster.

3. Kevin Slowey came up, partially because he's a Upper St. Clair native and partially because he could be a MLB-ready pitcher if the Pirates need to part with a current starter to acquire a blockbuster bat. Slowey isn't much of an improvement on Ross Ohlendorf, who returns in August and would be another pitcher in the mix that blocks Brad Lincoln and Justin Wilson in Triple A. Lincoln looked good in his start before the All-Star break and Wilson appears to be a pitch-to-contact arm that is tossign to a 3.79 ERA for Indianapolis. A good PR move maybe, but Slowey isn't any better than what they already have so why trade for the sake of trading.

Matt Kemp, Pretty, pretty please?
4. Money issues appear to make the Dodgers and Pirates trade partners. The Pirates have the money to take on some of the salary that the Dodgers can't afford. They have worked together already, when Neal Huntington fleeced Ned Coletti for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo in the Octavio Dotel deal but that makes up for Andy LaRoche. So there is some history.  Andre Ethier is arbitration-eligible in 2012 and the Bucs would likely have to pay him $10-12 million to get value from the deal. Ethier's power is down this year but his avg. and on-base percentage are up. Another consideration is Matt Kemp, which would be a big splash and eventual financial commitment. Kemp is on-base to contend for a 40-40 season and should be untouchable. But if NH can pull that off, the cost should be Jose Tabata, Stetson Allie and at least another top prospect. That would back up the statement that the minors are there to fuel the PBC. And Ethier Kemp makes the Pirates instantly legitimate across baseball. It makes a statement that the team is here to play with the big boys. I like Tabata but wouldn't you take Kemp-McCutchen-Presley?  James Loney is the other name and if it's required to take him with one of those outfielders, you go for it. But he isn't much of an improvement over Lyle Overbay.

Hunter Pence -- a possibility?
5. Lastly, this morning's Hunter Pence report. Pence is to Houston what Jason Bay was to Pittsburgh. What Kemp likely is to the Dodgers. In a lesser sense, what Derek Jeter is to the New York Yankees. He's the face of the franchise. A team in turmoil and on the verge of sale, it's likely Astros GM Ed Wade would need permission from the current owner, the new owners, the mayor of Houston, the governor of Texas and possibly every single season ticket holder to trade Pence. Pence will have two-plus years with his new team at a price tag of about $25 million through arbritation. Similar to Kemp, it'll take a Pirates' treasure (sorry...lol) to get him but Wade has done this before. Roy Oswalt was the face before Pence and for a lot longer before being traded to Philadelphia last year. Lance Berkman the same. If Pence is out there, the Pirates have to be first in line and willing to do the deal.

Standing pat is not an option. The fanbase is eager for a winner and this group unfortunately has the responsibility to its fans to do every possible to make up for 18 years of losing. The fans asked for a winner, the Pirates and management have started to give them one, the fans started coming back to the ballpark. Your move, Pirates management.