Notes from Game 1

April 1, 2008

Exciting game last night. A few things worth noting:

– Doumit did not look very sharp behind the plate. The bat more than made up for it, but there was a ball in the 2nd i believe that he did a poor job blocking and let a guy get to 2nd, and another in the 9th that he inexplicably tried to backhand. Also, a couple of the close-ups showed he wasn’t doing a very good job framing the ball. I actually saw the glove go the wrong way on one pitch.

– Capps and Marte control..non-existant. Hopefully not a sign of things to come.

– Yates has a nasty looking fastball. Topped at 97 with some good looking sink. Control was an issue, as was expected, but when he hits spots, I’d have to believe he can be pretty dominant.

– Jason Bay..this could be a long year.

– McLouth swung the bat well. Couldn’t tell for sure, but his jumps on a couple of balls, namely the sliding catch in the ninth and a ball he had to go back on early in the game, looked a little slow. He gets a pass for not catching the ball that Bay missed in the 9th, because let’s be honest, everybody besides Bay just assumed he’d caught the ball. It looked like Bay even thought he was going to catch it until it hit the ground.

– The Pirates looked like a very sound fundamental club, minus a few small details (such as pop-ups to left field, but I’m ready to call that a fluke). I was happy with how Russell managed the game. After thinking about it, I like the sac-bunt that McLouth laid down with no outs and Morgan on 2nd (6th or 7th inning I think, can’t remember off the top of my head). Getting Morgan on third with Steady Freddy at the plate is a good move, as Freddy’s a high-contact-rate guy, and all he needs is a ball in play to drive him in. Unfortunately, Sanchez lined the ball right into the drawn in infield, but it was a wise call on Russell’s part none-the-less. Sanchez gets the RBI more often than not in those situations.

– The infield defense was very, very good. You’ve all seen the Jack Wilson web-gem double play I’m sure, but the play that saved the game might have been made by Jose Bautista. With SS Yunel Escobar at first and one out in the 5th inning, Chipper Jones hit a smash down the line. Bautista had to range way, way to his right to get to the ball, preventing a sure double, possible triple. He didn’t get an out from the stop, but plays like that are major damage controllers. Next play, Mark Teixeira grounds into a double-play, and the score stays 4-2 Braves, rather than at least 5-2 and possible worse. Those are the kind of plays that separate average teams from good teams, and good teams from championships contenders.

– Finally, Xavier Nady. Two home runs, both of righties. That man knows how to become a trade target. Now give us what we want Omar.


Under the Microscope: Neal Huntington

December 11, 2007

Neal Huntington
New Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s resemblance to actor/director Ron Howard has Bucco fans wondering if he’s the man who can bring Happy Days back to the ‘Burgh

We’re almost three months into the Neal Huntington’s reign as Pirates General Manager, and despite some complaints about a lack of off-season activity, Huntington has been a busy man, and I think now would be a good time to stop and reflect on some of the team’s front offices moves since his hiring.

The first order of business for Huntington was the hiring of a new manager and coaching staff. While it is too early to really judge new skipper John Russell and his staff, we did find out a couple of things about Huntington’s philosophy.

Russell, who comes to Pittsburgh with 10 years of managerial experience under his belt, has been known to work wonders with young ballplayers, and is rumored to be a good motivator as well. While with Philadelphia’s triple-A club, Russell worked with former-MVP Ryan Howard and perennial all-star Chase Utley as they made their ascents to the big club.

Thus, we can assume that Huntington’s M.O. is to built towards the future with young, cheap ballplayers. Not a very uncommon approach in baseball these days among small-market clubs, and one that the Pirate faithful are more than familiar with by this point.

Huntington has made only a few moves with players on his roster, and only a couple of them should really come as a surprise to Bucco fans:

  • He claimed pitchers Phil Dumatrait and Ty Taubenheim, outfielder Kevin Thompson, and infielder Josh Wilson off waivers. Dumatrait and Taubenheim may be able to find a spot in the Bucco bullpen in the near future, and depending upon future personnel decisions — e.g. the potential signing of Chris Gomez (see below) — Wilson might be able to squeeze onto the 25 man roster as a utility infielder, but odds are none of these players will have any major effect on the team’s future.
  • Selecting pitcher Evan Meek in the Rule-V draft was an interesting decision by Huntington. Meek has some potential, as he is a pretty big guy (6-foot-1), and throws a heavy, sinking fastball. His control has been inconsistent at best, and he needs to develop his secondary stuff, problems that might not be solved if he is couped up in the Pirates bullpen all season long.
  • Huntington declined options on infielders Cesar Izturis and Josh Phelps. Neither player figured to have any role in the Pirates future plans, unless the Pirates had moved shortstop Jack Wilson, in which case the job would have been left available for Izturis, who won a gold-glove at shortstop with the Dodgers in 2004.
  • My favorite move so far this winter was the agreement reached with utility infielder Chis Gomez. While the deal hasn’t actually been signed yet (I’m a little curious as to what’s happening there), both sides agreed to terms on a one year, one million dollar contract. Gomez is a respectable fielder, and would serve as a more than suitable utility back-up for the Buccos. His .261 career average is fairly unimposing, but don’t sleep on his abilities with the bat. His season average hasn’t dipped below .279 since his hit .251 with the Twins in 2003, and since 2004 he’s hitting a solid .293 in just over 900 at-bats. We just have to hope that the postponing of Gomez’s signing won’t offend the 14-year veteran out of signing the deal when Huntington is ready to pull the trigger.
  • Rumors about potential Pirate deals were flying around the internet during the Winter Meetings last week. If the Pirates go into spring training without dealing at least one of their outfielders, Huntington should be fired on the spot. The team has five guys on the 25 man roster that can do something special, whether it be with the glove, the bat, or on the base-paths, and with 20-year old stud Andrew McCutchen looming at triple-A Indianapolis, there’s no reason for the Bucs to hold onto all these guys going into the season

    Jason Bay and Nate McLouth trade rumors have been particularly wide-spread, with teams reportedly being frustrated by Huntington’s absurdly high asking prices. Look for Huntington to lower his price at some point. Odds are one of those two guys will be dealt, with McLouth being the heavy favorite to end up in another uniform next season. See my views on the Jason Bay rumors here

  • Another one of Huntington’s priorities has been to dump the salaries of his aging bullpen pitchers, thus discussions with the Yankees, Braves, Phillies, Astros, and Mets about lefty specialists Damaso Marte and John Grabow.
  • Huntington’s only trade so far this season was nothing more than a salary dump, as he traded Salomon Torres to Milwaukee for a couple of minor league pitching prospects. Torres, who was set to make somewhere in the ballpark of $3.5 million next season, was the longest tenured Pirate, and you can see my thoughts on the trade here.

I have no complaints about any of the items mentioned above. Some of the moves below, however, are a little more questionable.

  • I understand Pirate’s fans frustrations with infielder Jose Castillo. His lackadaisical approach to the game is often aggravating, and it’s obvious to even the most casual fan that his swing is far too long. But he is only 26 years old, and still has room to improve, especially with some good, motivational coaching, which is supposedly Russell’s strength.
  • This is the one that really stumps me. As was reported by Detroit Free Press reporter Jon Paul Morosi earlier today:

    TIGERS, PIRATES TALKING: The Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates discussed Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge over the last several days, but it’s not clear if the sides have made any progress toward a deal.

    Inge lost his job as the Tigers’ starting third baseman following the acquisition of Miguel Cabrera last week. He has informed Detroit officials that he would rather become another team’s starting third baseman than accept a reserve role with the Tigers.

    Of all the least sensible potential deals that I have ever come across, this one might just rank up there as the most ridiculous. If there is any truth to this rumor, Huntington shouldn’t even be fired, he should just walk out the door and quit. While Jose Bautista is no all-star, he has made tremendous strides as a good defensive third baseman. He is younger than Inge (Bautista is just 27 to Inge’s 30), and comes at a much cheaper price (Inge is set to make $4.9 million next season compared to Bautista’s $397,000).

    Inge is already on the decline of his career, having hit .236 with just 14 home runs in 2007 — Bautista hit .254 with 15 dingers last year — and unless Inge would be willing to make some spot starts as a back-up catcher, something he has already expressed serious dis-interest in doing, he would be completely worthless to the Bucs, especially for nearly $5 million per year.

    Also, Neil Walker will be spending the early part of this season preparing for his September cameo at PNC Park, and if he meets expectations, it won’t make a whole lot of difference if Inge or Bautista has been at third, because they will both be out of a job. Might as well save the cash, lord knows the Pirates need it.

There have been a lot of grumblings about Huntington early on, but honestly, its too early to judge his worth as a GM at this point. It will be interesting to see in what direction he decides to take this team.

There’s potential here for some big deals that could make or break Huntington very early on in his GM career, and its an Anthony Smith-guarantee that Bucco fans will be watching him closely.


A Little Inside Scoop

December 6, 2007

I would like to take advantage of recent Damaso Marte trade rumors to post a suggestion to the Pirates, based on some inside knowledge I have of the Yankees’ farm system.

Any trade the Pirates make with the Yankees needs to include Scott Patterson. Patterson grew up about five minutes from my house in Pittsburgh, and this past spring I had the opportunity to catch a couple of his bullpen sessions. He has a low-90’s fastball with good, sharp sink to it, along with a plus splitter and a curveball that both break late and sharp. I’d say his stuff would be a little above average on for a major league pitcher, but what defines him is his control.

I kid you not when I say that every pitch he threw was exactly where I put the glove, and according to those who have seen him work in live game action, his accuracy almost never waivers, even in tight, pressure-packed situations.

Patterson made 43 appearances for the AA Trenton Thunder in 2007, accumulating a minute 1.09 ERA and an even tinier .81 WHIP. Most impressive: he struck out 91 guys — in just 74.1 innings. That’s a K/9 of 11.02.

The only downside to Scotty P. is that he’s already 28-years old, which is probably the reason the Yanks seem to have been hesitant to make him a priority in their farm system. Fortunately for the Buccos, this means he could come pretty cheap, possibly as a near toss in on any deal the Bucs and Yanks do agree to.

I realize I have the tendency to be a bit bias in situations like these, but I would bet everything I own that Patterson could be a successful pitcher in a middle relief spot.


Bucco Meetings Update

December 6, 2007

• Talks between the Buccos and the Indians have supposedly been on and off all week long, and though it was rumored the two teams were close to a five player swap that would send Jason Bay and Ronny Paulino to the Tribe in exchange for Cliff Lee, Kelly Shoppach, and Franklin Gutierrez, the deal was never made and talks appear to have died down, if they ever began at all.

To be honest, it’s a deal that I think has some serious potential, although I don’t see it happening until the season has begun. I have faith that Bay can bounce back strong next season, since I firmly believe that injuries were the main deterrent to his ’07 campaign. For that reason, it’s probably best for the Pirates to hold on to Bay into the start of the season, in hopes that the Tribe will offer a little bit more. Either Jeremy Sowers or Fernando Cabrera, both young pitchers with plenty of potential, could be good fits if Bay bounces back strong.

That said, Gutierrez is a guy I like a lot. He showed some improved power in ’07, belting 13 home runs in just 271 at bats, and his OPS increased for the third straight season.

Also, Shoppach could be a good fit, as he brings a stronger defensive presence behind the plate. His offensive numbers took a considerable jump from his sophomore year, and although I think Paulino can learn a lot from new manager John Russell, I wouldn’t complain about seeing Shoppach behind the dish for the Bucs next year, especially if Paulino continues to struggle early on in the season.

• The Pirates filled a hole when they signed utility man Chris Gomez to a one-year deal. Gomez is a perfect fit for the Buccos, as he can play good defense at 2nd or 3rd, and can fill in very effectively as a pinch-hitter. Though he sports just a .261 average for his career, Gomez is hitting an impressive .293 over the past 4 seasons, with an OBP right around .350. If Freddy Sanchez or Jose Bautista go down with injuries early in the season, don’t be surprised to see Gomez step in and make the Pirates think twice about rushing either of the current starters back into action.

• CF Nate McLouth has been garnering a lot of team’s attention, including the Cubs, Padres, Phillies, Giants, Marlins and Braves. With so many teams interested, it would be a very good idea for GM Neal Huntington to listen carefully to any offers, as McLouth is certainly expendable to a Pirates club stocked with outfield potential.

• Other rumors that I’ve come across include a potential Damaso Marte and/or John Grabow to the Yankees deal. One report I saw even had Ian Snell and Ian Hughes somehow mixed into the deal, but I highly doubt that there is anything behind those rumors.