Friday, December 31, 2004

Pirates Draft Analysis

WTM is at it again - he recently posted player-by-player analyses of the last six Pirates drafts. It's certainly too early to say anything definitive about the Littlefield drafts, but WTM shows us that the early signs aren't so good. 2002 isn't very promising: the first overall pick, Bryan Bullington, isn't even really looking like a future big-leaguer right now. Second-rounder Blair Johnston flopped at Hickory, and third-rounder Taber Lee hasn't hit much. Fourth-rounder Wardell Starling, sixth-rounder Brad Eldred and twelfth-round pick Bryan Holliday could wind up being productive players - and Eldred in particular looks to have been an inspired pick, especially for an organization in need of power - but it doesn't look like Littlefield got much talent despite a favorable draft position.

2003 first-rounder Paul Maholm had his 2004 derailed by a facial injury. Second-round pick Tom Gorzelanny has pitched very well and third-rounder Steve Lerud has showed promise, but after that no one else from the 2003 draft has done anything terribly interesting. (It also appears the Pirates only signed 21 players from that draft, which hurts their odds of turning lower-round picks into prospects.) 2004's draft looks a bit more encouraging, but it's hard to read too much into only a couple months' worth of stats.

I'll stop talking now - WTM is the real expert in these matters, and those last two paragraphs you just read are only my way of saying that I find his analysis of the Pirates' situation compelling.

WTM's year-by-year writeups also say a lot about the weird careers of minor-league baseball players. Nothing for these players is permanent, and at any minute a player could be promoted or demoted or released without anyone knowing or really caring. This seems funny to me, since a lot of these players are only a few steps from the big leagues, at least theoretically. But some of these guys might as well be ghosts.

2002 23rd-round pick Dean Devine: "Retired after a few games."
2001 13th-rounder Jeff Dutremble: "Pitched briefly in 2001, then was injured and eventually released."
1999 42nd-rounder Frank Torre: "Signed but never played."

I'm sure this isn't noteworthy to anyone else, but I find it fascinating - these guys were all probably stars for their high school and college teams, then they get at least a theoretical shot to play in the best baseball league in the world and have their highlights all over ESPN - but then they get flushed out of baseball and they completely disappear from public life. There's nothing illogical about it, of course, but the contrast between what could have happened to these guys and what actually did intrigues me.

As I write this, I'm thinking of my first grade teacher's son, whose name was/is Ron Stephens. In 1985, he graduated from Linsly in Wheeling, West Virginia and was drafted by the Red Sox. He pitched at the University of Cincinnati instead and was there when I was in first grade. He visited our class once. He was a huge guy, or at least that's how I remember him. I feel like I remember him ducking to get through the doorway, but there's no way he was that big. Anyway, his mom knew I liked baseball, so she had Ron give me a ball. It stayed on my shelf all the way through high school, and I'm pretty sure I still have it somewhere.

Anyway, Stephens got drafted again in 1988 by the White Sox. I know he pitched at least a couple of years in their system and was very good in at least one of those years, I believe for Utica. Stephens never made the majors, though, and now I can't find his minor league numbers - or any real information about him. Does anyone know anything?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Pirates 2005 ZIPS Projections

Sorry for the absence, but there really hasn't been much to write about in the last week.

Baseball Think Factory - Baseball Primer has posted its 2005 ZIPS Projections for the Pirates. Obviously, projections don't predict the future perfectly - they can't predict playing time at all, they don't know what to do with scouty observations or injuries, and predicting the performances of baseball players is an inexact art (look at the columns of numbers) no matter what tools are available.

Still, these things are fun to look at, and in fact they look pretty good - none of the projections look terribly outlandish.

A few of the more interesting ones:

J.R. House: .267/.320/.458
Daryle Ward: .257/.309/.433

That looks about right. The Pirates just acquired a veteran catcher to keep the first guy in the minors, and just paid the second guy a million bucks. Ward is a lefty and House is a righty, however.

Brad Eldred: .237/.284/.456

ZIPS seems to think Eldred's power will translate but that he won't be able to make contact. That seems to be about what the scouts think. Still, that power is terrific - ZIPS thinks he would hit 25 homers in 447 at bats. Eldred needs some more time in the minors, but he could be looking good in 2006 if he can make contact more consistently.

Jack Wilson: .286/.326/.413

This looks like a soft landing for Wilson. ZIPS thinks that his batting average and power will suffer a bit, but that he'll take a few more walks than he did in 2005. Either way, a .739 OPS and very good defense seems fine for a shortstop.

Nate McLouth: .282/.339/.394
Tike Redman: .287/.332/.386

ZIPS thinks McLouth will be Redman in 2005. The Redman projection looks a little optimistic - it has Redman taking a dozen more walks than he took last year.

Jason Bay: .286/.375/.497

The projection says Bay will be merely very good in 2005, probably because his 2004 strikeout rate was so high.

Mike Gonzalez: 3.36 ERA

ZIPS says Gonzalez will take a big step backwards but will still be an effective reliever. Gonzalez had 55 strikeouts and 6 walks in 2004, and ZIPS predicts he'll have 75 Ks and 27 BBs in 2005. Gonzalez will have a hard time putting up a 9:1 K:BB ratio again, but I don't see why it should drop below 3:1. I think he'll be better next year than ZIPS suggests.

Brian Meadows: 4.80

Ouch - but I doubt ZIPS takes into account the facts that Meadows is much better as a reliever than as a starter, and he should be reliever in 2005. I think his ERA will be better than 4.80 next year.

Jose Mesa: 4.63

That looks about right - that's a guy you give a minor league contract to, not a guy you give millions.

Oliver Perez: 3.84

Uh oh. ZIPS guy Dan Szymborski explains in the comments that Perez' 2004 DIPS ERA was much higher than his actual ERA, and that the Pirates' defense is likely to be bad again next year.

Mark Redman: 4.31

ZIPS thinks that Redman will land somewhere between his 2003 performance and his 2004 performance.

All in all, nothing here looks terribly encouraging. None of these projections make me look at the numbers and see something I didn't see before that would suggest the Pirates will win more than 75 games next year. Of course, the offseason is still young.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Non-tender Deadline

The passing of the non-tender deadline yesterday means it's open season on these non-tendered players. Trev at has made a list of players the Pirates might be able to use. Here's mine.

The best-known player on the list is Wade Miller (SP), who has been a very good starter for the Astros. He probably isn't healthy, and he may have to sign an incentive-laden deal or a Jon Lieber / Aaron Boone-type contract in which he would sign for multiple years but not be expected to play much for the first year. In any case, he'll probably cost too much for the Pirates' blood.

Next is Josh Phelps (1B) of the Indians. Trev points out Phelps' similarities to Craig Wilson. The Pirates already have the real thing, of course, but with first base the mess it is right now, why not take a flyer on another? After a monster 2002 in Toronto and AAA Syracuse, Phelps was looking like a star in the making, and even if he can't get back on track, he still hits for enough power to be useful as a bench player.

(Phelps' career also bears some similarities to that of the player whose at bats he'd theoretically take. Daryle Ward was once a pretty fantastic prospect, particularly after an excellent season at AA and AAA in 1997. But Phelps is three years younger.)

Miguel Asencio (P) was only 21 when he was taken from the Phillies in the 2001 Rule 5 draft. He's missed most of the last two years due to some pretty grisly injuries, but he had very good stuff before that and will only be 24 next year, so he might be worth a minor league contract.

Eric Munson (3B) possesses serious power and plays third base. Enough said. Well, maybe not. He's a Tony Batista-type player in that he rarely fails to make an out unless he's hitting a home run. Still, from the little I've read, he can probably handle the position as well as Ty Wigginton, and Munson hits lefty, so they might be good platoon mates. It might not be a great idea to spend two roster spots on Wigginton and Munson, though.

Billy Traber (P) is still only 25, and he's a lefty, and he's only a couple years removed from being a very highly regarded prospect. He demonstrated very good control in the minor leagues, although his strikeout rates were rather low. He has a decent performance record for his age at the major league level. He doesn't throw hard, but he has five pitches. Traber has had lots of trouble with his elbow and finally broke down near the end of the 2003 season (sorry, Billy!), so it's not certain that he'll be good when he comes back. Still, he's certainly worth a minor league contract.

Finally, there's Dustan Mohr (OF). Anyone who puts up a .394 OBP deserves a look from the Pirates. That .394 is in a relatively small sample size, and it's way out of line with Mohr's history in the majors and minors. But even if Mohr tails off, he should be able to help the Bucs, especially if he can play center field occasionally.

Pirates Offer Contracts to All Seven

Ridiculous. In my last post, I said that what the Pirates did yesterday would say a lot about Dave Littlefield's plans for 2004 and the future.

Well, the results are in, and we've learned that Littlefield would rather stick with the crap he's got than use available funds to improve the team. The Pirates offered contracts to Kip Wells, Craig Wilson, Jack Wilson, Rob Mackowiak, Josh Fogg, Brian Meadows and Daryle Ward. The first three guys are worth keeping, and offering a contract to Mackowiak is defensible given his bat and the Pirates' situation in center field. But Fogg? He'll cost millions, and the Pirates already have lots of young starters. Meadows? He's a pretty good reliever, but there's no reason to pay a million dollars or more to someone like him. And, seriously, Daryle Ward? Why in the world would you pay a million dollars or more to Daryle Ward?

There is one silver lining to this situation, and it's that we now know the Pirates are willing to spend some money. Good. But here are some 2005 salaries to which the Pirates have committed (the ones for the arbitration-eligible guys are approximate):

Jose Mesa: $2.5 million
Josh Fogg: $2 million
Brian Meadows: $1 million
Daryle Ward: $1 million
Benito Santiago: $.7 million
TOTAL: $7.2 million

$7.2 million can be used to pay the yearly salary of a player who is very likely to be an enormous upgrade (Corey Koskie, who's a much better offensive player and exponentially better defensive player than Ty Wigginton) or a player who at least has enormous upside (Richard Hidalgo). True, these players might not want to play for the Pirates, but $7.2 million is a significant amount more than either of them got. The Pirates could then sign a bunch of guys to minor league contracts in order to find the next Meadows or Mesa. These arbitration offers are a terrible use of resources. Fogg, Ward and Santiago are scrubs, Mesa's pretty bad and a thousand years old, and there's no reason to commit to a reliever who isn't dominant.

* * *

Conversation with my brother:

CHARLIE: The Pirates gave contracts to all those players, including Ward.

SAM: Well, but they didn't do the worst possible thing, right?

CHARLIE: You mean non-tender Craig Wilson or something?

SAM: Right. If they don't do the absolute worst possible thing, you've got to consider that a victory, right?

* * *

SAM (upon learning of the Benito Santiago trade): Darwin would say that this team shouldn't exist.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Pirates Must Decide on Seven Players by Monday

Joe Rutter reports.

Here are the seven Pirates who are eligible for arbitration.

Jack Wilson, SS
Craig Wilson, OF/1B/"C"
Kip Wells SP
Josh Fogg SP
Brian Meadows P
Daryle Ward 1B/"OF"
Rob Mackowiak UT

The Pirates have until Monday to reach agreements on contracts with each of these players. For the players that do not sign a contract by Monday, the Pirates will have to decide which to take to arbitration. Although they can still negotiate with the players they choose until arbitration occurs, they must take those players to arbitration if an agreement cannot be reached.

The arbitration process is one area in which I can't criticize the Pirates' front office the way I usually do, or at least I can't until Monday. I am regularly mystified by the salaries players get after going through arbitration. This may be due in part to my limited understanding on the process, although I also suspect that sometimes the arbiters are just as confused as I am.

In any case, by Monday we should have a lot more information available on Dave Littlefield's plans for 2004 and the future.

Keeping the Wilsons and Wells should be a high priority for the Pirates. Jack Wilson could get more in arbitration than he is worth - after the 2003 season, he got $1.8 million in arbitration. That seemed like an insane amount to pay a player who at that point had shown nothing on offense, especially since most defensive metrics suggested that his defense was worth less than met the eye. In 2004, however, he earned his money by improving his defense and having a solid offensive season. Not all those gains are likely to stick in 2005, especially since his plate discipline remains ghastly, but he should continue to be one of the Pirates' few genuinely good players.

Craig Wilson and Kip Wells should also be worth two or three million dollars each in 2005. In 2004, Wilson was the generic but effective slugger everyone thought but the Pirates always thought he would be; health permitting, he’ll hit at least 25 homers again in 2005.

If Wells is healthy, he should bounce back a bit from his 4.55 ERA in 2004. Batters hit .321 on balls in play against Wells in 2004, which is very high, even given the Pirates' bad defense. Pitchers have very little control over what happens to balls once they’re put in play. His batting average on balls in play should be lower in 2005, and so should his ERA.

The cases of Fogg, Meadows, Ward and Mackowiak are less clear. Fogg is a nice guy to have around, but he’s mediocre, and the Pirates recently acquired his mirror image in lefty Mark Redman. As I've pointed out recently, Fogg’s strikeout rates are dropping, which doesn’t bode well for his future. Given that the Pirates already have a number of capable young starters who are ready for the big leagues or close to it, now would be a good time to use the two or three million dollars Fogg is likely to get on someone else. That’s probably not what the Pirates will do, however.

Meadows was downright excellent for Nashville in 2003 and very good for the Pirates in 2004. He should be a fine reliever again in 2005. He’s started for the Pirates before, but he’s been terrible after throwing 45 pitches in a day, so it might not be a good idea to count on him to do that again. If he can't start, he's fungible. Rutter says the Pirates will probably non-tender Meadows if they can’t reach a favorable deal by Monday; that’s what I would do, too, although I’d like to have him back.

Daryle Ward was a pleasant surprise in 2004, although that doesn’t mean he was actually any good – he hit 15 homers in 293 at bats (Rutter’s article incorrectly claims that he had 25), but he also posted a .305 OBP, which is dreadful for a first baseman. His defense also leaves a lot to be desired. Given that his 2004 performance was on the upper end of what we might have expected for him, he isn’t the sort of player the Pirates should be paying much or counting on. The Pirates did neither in 2004, and they shouldn’t in 2005. I’m all for keeping Ward if Jason Bay can really play center field – Craig Wilson can be moved to right field, Matt Lawton can be moved to left field and Tike Redman can be moved as far from the field as possible. But even in that case, the Pirates are likely to get better production from J.R. House or Brad Eldred if he’s ready, or even a cheap stopgap like Brad Fullmer. (Fullmer is coming off an injury but could nonetheless provide a lot of offense for a small price. He's also left-handed.) Ward isn’t worth taking to arbitration.

Rob Mackowiak came out of the gate strong last season, then didn’t hit much after May, but he wound up with an OPS similar to his career total. His value to the Pirates now is, or at least should be, connected closely to his hitting ability – he’s played a zillion positions during his career, but he doesn’t play any of them all that well, and the Pirates limited him to corner duty and centerfield last year. He didn’t play second base at all. He’d likely be better as a starting third baseman than Ty Wigginton next year, but the Pirates are unlikely to bench Wigginton only months after acquiring him in the Kris Benson trade. Another problem for Mackowiak is that the Pirates have a ton of young infielders; neither Bobby Hill nor Freddy Sanchez will have starting positions going into spring training, but both will be cheap, and Sanchez is also likely to be better than Mackowiak. Mackowiak may provide insurance in center field next year for the Pirates, however, and he has showed some plate discipline and power in each of the last three years. The Pirates will probably keep him, and I think that’s what I would do as long as he’s not too expensive.

Friday, December 17, 2004

More on Santiago, and Comments

Honestly, I checked about a dozen Royals blogs before I could find one that had anything to say about the Benito Santiago trade. Apparently, nobody noticed it, except Royals Revival, who likes Leo Nunez' strikeouts, control, and stuff.

I've added Haloscan comments to this site in the hopes that more people will post comments. Now, you won't be asked to log into Blogger if you try to say something. There are a couple of threads here that have been active in the past couple of days, so I pasted the comments from those into the new comment system.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

I Still Want Stinnett

The trade is done - the Pirates sent Leo Nunez to the Royals for Benito Santiago and some cash to pay part of his salary.

With regard to my last post comparing the Diamondbacks' situation to the Pirates', a couple people have pointed out that Stinnett is coming off Tommy John surgery. I have no idea why that wasn't mentioned in any of the stuff I read about Stinnett before I posted, and more to the point, I don't know why it didn't occur to me to try to figure out why Stinnett only played 20 games last year. That's my fault.

Still, I'd much rather have him. Stinnett is supposed to be ready to go in time for spring training, so for all I know he's still a better bet to be healthy than a 40-year-old catcher with a jillion games caught and a complex injury history. Santiago is fragile and no longer terribly effective on offense or defense.

Also, Stinnett himself is not the point. He was a convenient guy to use for the purposes of my post because of the similarities between the Diamondbacks' situation and the Pirates'. But there are lots of guys who will perform at the sorts of levels we might expect of Stinnett and Santiago next year, and you don't need to give up prospects or money or even roster spots to get them.

By picking a suspect guy in Stinnett to focus on, though, I give supporters of this trade an easier time, and they really should be having a very hard time making arguments, because this trade stinks. Does anybody out there think that Santiago represents more than a minor upgrade over House and Cota? In my mind, one would be hard-pressed to prove there's an upgrade at all, but just to give the benefit of the doubt, let's say Santiago improves the Pirates by ten runs over House and Cota this year. That will never, ever be the case, but what the heck?

Keeping in mind that the Bucs aren't going to contend this year, does anyone really feel that upgrade is worth keeping one of the Pirates' best prospects at a level he's already mastered? Is that upgrade worth losing one of the team's best pitching prospects for? How are the Pirates ever going to contend if they keep dumping prospects like this?

Instead of continuing to repeat myself here, though, I'll just point you to WTM's bio of Santiago, which explains the problems this trade poses for the Pirates in the short term and the long term (aside from the cost of losing Nunez, which is bad enough). It's a really, really bad trade.

* * *

Also, check out Mike Berquist's analysis of the Pirates' two Arthur Rhodes deals as his Phillies blog. He argues that in addition to screwing up the Pirates' offense, these deals also make their already-bad defense even worse.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I Pine For Kelly Stinnett

Or, How the Pirates are Getting Outsmarted by the F*$@ing Diamondbacks

So, the Pirates are about to give up a 21-year-old flamethrower with a very good performance record in Leo Nunez in order to get 39-year-old drug abuser Benito Santiago. This would be a bad idea for a young, non-contending team no matter what the circumstance. But it's especially bad when we consider that Santiago is unlikely to help the team much.

2004 Stats
J.R. House .288/.344/.508 (in AAA)
Humberto Cota .227/.271/.500
Benito Santiago .274/.312/.434

There's no convincing evidence here that on offense, Santiago will outperform either of the catchers the Pirates already have. In fact, it seems unlikely that he will outhit either of them, since 1) House and Cota are young and likely to get better, while Santiago is as old as the hills and just as likely to erode and 2) Santiago put up his numbers in a good hitters' park, whereas neither Cota nor House played in hitters' parks.

Further, it seems unlikely that Santiago will even be available to help the Pirates next year, since he only played 49 games last year despite beginning the season as a starter. If a player has injury problems one year, he's also likely to have them the next year, particularly if he's a 40-year-old catcher.

The Pirates are concerned that Cota can't hit - they're probably right about that one - and that House can't catch. But however bad House may or may not be as a catcher, Santiago is not likely to be an improvement behind the plate. He had six passed balls despite a small number of games played last year. His arm, once a major strength, has become a weakness - I was unable to find the number of runners he threw out in 2004, but in 2003, he threw out just 8 of 44 runners attempting to steal on him.

The Pirates probably think that someone like Santiago would be good to have around not necessarily as a starter, but as an insurance policy in case things go wrong with House or Cota. I disagree. If House or Cota gets hurt, the Pirates can use Craig Wilson as a backup for a while, or call up prospect Ronny Paulino. There is no need for the Pirates to acquire a veteran catcher now, especially not one who isn't an improvement on the guys they already have.

But let's say you're Lloyd McClendon, and you may go into convulsions if you don't have a veteran catcher available. It seems like a bad idea to me to depend on Santiago - who, again, played 49 games last year - to be around to play at all. And there's another problem: the Pirates can probably only spend two of their 25 man roster spots on catchers. So if you carry Santiago, who has a guaranteed major league contract, you effectively move House back to AAA. House already hit well at AAA, and with Ryan Doumit and Paulino likely to be there at some point next year, House is likely to play first or outfield rather than catch if he's there anyway. In other words, there is no particular benefit to moving House to AAA rather than the majors.

The Arizona Diamondbacks entered the offseason in a position similar to the one the Pirates are in now. They had two reasonably promising young catchers, Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder. Both are question marks, however. Hill is coming off an injury. (Ty Wigginton ended Hill's season with a bodyslam that caused Wigginton to bleed from the head and an intern at SportsCenter to develop carpal tunnel from pressing rewind over and over.) And Snyder spent all of 2004 at Class AA El Paso and, like House, faces questions about his defense.

So what did the Diamondbacks do? This week, they signed Kelly Stinnett to a minor league contract. They don't have to pay Stinnett much of anything for the privilege of taking him to spring training, and he can play at Class AAA unless there's a problem with Hill or Snyder. Both those guys can therefore stay on the major league roster, and the Diamondbacks pay virtually nothing for their insurance policy.

What makes this even better for the Diamondbacks is that Stinnett a good bet to outperform Santiago next year. He's five years younger than Santiago, he hit very well in a small sample last year in the majors, and he has a respectable lifetime .709 OPS, barely below Santiago's. There's no reason to think Stinnett can't reach that next year. At this point, his defense is likely better than Santiago's, too.

It's important to remember, also, that both these guys are, or should be, backup or third string catchers. The minute differences in performance between them look even more minute when one considers the small number of games that both should be playing in next year.

The Royals themselves are going into camp with a young starter, John Buck. Instead of keeping Santiago to tutor him and back him up, they're depending on journeyman Alberto Castillo, who hit a measly .255/.348/.329 at AAA Omaha in 2004. The Royals and the Pirates are in similar places right now - they're both bad teams trying to claw their way up. Why are the Royals willing to part with Santiago and promote Castillo?

The answer is that neither figures to play much next year, so the differences between them won't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, the Royals will gladly take a very promising prospect off the Pirates' hands.

Instead of going through with this terrible trade, the Pirates should just sign someone like Stinnett and send him to Indianapolis. The differences right now between Santiago and Stinnett, and even Alberto Castillo, are minor. And there are always plenty of Stinnetts and Castillos available. True, they don't have Santiago's name recognition, but given the sports world's recent worries about steroid abuse, perhaps that's a good thing. (Attempts to justify this Santiago/Nunez trade on the grounds of veteran leadership are silly, and not just for the usual reasons that arguments for veteran leadership are silly: is Santiago really the kind of leader the Pirates want?)

Meanwhile, the Pirates can keep a roster spot free for House, who clearly deserves a shot in the big leagues. And they can keep Nunez, who may one day develop some name recognition of his own. I'm not convinced a veteran catcher is necessary at all, but if you've got two interesting young catchers, it's far better to do what the Diamondbacks did than what the Pirates are thinking of doing.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Trade For Santiago Expected Soon

The Trib reports that the Pirates are close to trading for Royals catcher Benito Santiago and will likely give up pitcher Leo Nunez in return.

Yesterday, Trev of the excellent new Bucco Beyond articulated something I've felt for a while: that analyzing trades can be complex because of the number of ways you can look at them.

Well, this trade wouldn't be one of those trades that's tough to analyze, because it reeks from every angle.

Let's start with this one: Santiago will be 40 before the season starts. He only played 49 games last year and has played more than 130 games in a season only once since 1996. He put up lukewarm offensive statistics last year in one of baseball's better hitters' parks. He can't throw runners out anymore and his range factor is off from years past.

Or how about this one: Just days after the steroid scandal broke in a big way, the Pirates are acquiring a player who told a grand jury he used steroids. Now that's PR.

Or this one: the Pirates already have two catchers, one of whom may have a very good big league career ahead of him. Why the Pirates would want to acquire Santiago rather than playing J.R. House at catcher is beyond me. House hit very well at AAA last year. He's ready. If the quality of his offense doesn't offset his defense (and I'm sure it would, I'm just covering all the angles here), Humberto Cota is available. There is no need whatsoever for the Pirates to acquire a veteran catcher.

Is that enough for you? No? Don't worry, I've got more.

About the guy the Pirates are rumored to be trading to the Royals: he's 21, he throws 95, he has an excellent performance record, and his nickname is "Little Pedro." There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, of course, but Nunez is one. His ceiling is probably as high as any pitcher in the Pirates system.

Or how about this angle: in case the Pirates have forgotten, they're nowhere near contending. Why are they considering trading any prospect for a 40-year-old?

Don't do it, Littlefield.

Thanks to Baseball Primer.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Pirates Trade For Lawton

The Pirates have traded Arthur Rhodes for Matt Lawton. According to the AP, each team is sending cash to the other to complete the trade. Since Lawton is signed for about $7 million for this year only and Rhodes will make about $7 million total this year and next, I imagine that the Indians will send money to the Pirates this year and the Pirates will send money to Cleveland in 2006.

Unless the Pirates are sending a lot more cash to Cleveland than they're receiving - and I have no reason to believe that is the case - I like this deal, at least when considered in isolation from the mistakes the Pirates have made before. Lawton is by no means a perfect player - he doesn't field very well, he almost certainly can't play centerfield anymore, he gets hurt a lot, and he doesn't hit for much power. But he should be a good leadoff option for the Pirates - not nearly as good as Jason Kendall would have been, but pretty good.

Meanwhile, the Pirates give up very little. Rhodes' velocity is off from his '01-'02 prime, and his strikeout numbers are way down also. And the Pirates have several lefties who could be very good out of the pen next year, including Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow, Mike Johnston, and possibly Cory Stewart.

Perhaps more important than any of this is the fact that the addition of Lawton means the Pirates are one good player away from being able to keep Tike Redman and Daryle Ward from ever starting again. Lloyd McClendon has said that centerfield is Jason Bay's best position. So let's say the current lineup looks like this:

LF Lawton
SS J. Wilson
CF Bay
1B Ward
RF C. Wilson
3B Wigginton
C Cota
2B Castillo

Redman's gone, which is a plus. But other than that, that lineup is kind of ugly. By midseason, however, the Pirates could be looking like this:

3B Sanchez
SS J. Wilson
CF Bay
LF Lawton
1B Eldred
RF C. Wilson
C House
2B Castillo

Lawton's the only lefty in there, but Rob Mackowiak and Ward would be lefty threats off the bench. That lineup could score some runs. Sanchez, Bay, Craig Wilson and Lawton should all get on base at reasonable rates, while Jack Wilson and J.R. House should provide above-average power at their positions. Castillo and Eldred are question marks, but both have lots of upside.

Essentially, the Pirates have traded Jason Kendall for Lawton and Mark Redman. If the Pirates are willing to spend the money they save on Kendall's contract in 2006 and 2007 (a huge if, given the Pirates' recent history), and if they open a spot for House and use Lawton to plug one of their offensive holes rather than as an excuse to bench Craig Wilson or something, the Pirates could come out of this series of trades looking okay, at least on offense.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

New Bucs Minor League Signings

Dave Littlefield has made several nice no-risk signings.

One of them is Mark Corey, who we've all seen before. He'll likely do what he did last year, spending part of the season at Class AAA and pitching in Pittsburgh when someone gets injured. He should continue to be a pretty good low-cost option.

Littlefield also signed Damon Minor to a minor league deal. I like this move a lot. Minor was looking like a very good prospect after he racked up 30 homers and 87 walks in the PCL as a 25-year-old in 2000. He barely played in 2001, then was a helpful role player for the Giants in 2002. He didn't hit in 2003, which got him traded to the Phillies, who sent to AAA Scranton, where he didn't hit much either. He was back in the Giants' organization in 2004 and he again hit well, with 17 homers and 50 walks in only 338 at bats. He can apparently handle first base and he possesses obvious power and patience, so if the Pirates are lucky they could end up with a very good bench player next year at virtually no cost to them.

Another new addition is Joe Roa, who's a control pitcher - he doesn't strike out many guys, but he doesn't walk many either. He's pitched for about a jillion organizations and hasn't been effective for all of them, but he was decent all year coming out of the Twins' bullpen.

Indianapolis' third baseman next year will be Jose Leon, who turned 28 yesterday and has spent his career with the St. Louis and Baltimore organizations. He hasn't hit in any of his brief stops in the majors, but they've been brief, and he tore the cover off the ball at AAA Ottawa last year. Hopefully, he won't be the Pirates' 2004 version of Chris Truby, killing the ball all year at AAA despite a gaping hole at third base at the major league level.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bucs May Non-tender Fogg

Peter Gammons reports. This is fine with me. Fogg's a useful, but nonetheless mediocre, starter.

Here are his 2004 stats:
IP 178.1 K 82 BB 66 HR 17 ERA 4.64

Here are his K/9 rates in the last three years:

2002: 5.23
2003: 4.50
2004: 4.14

I'd post his K/BB numbers, too, but they're almost irrelevant at this point, since Fogg simply isn't striking anyone out, and his K rates have progressed from bad to terrible. What kept Fogg from being awful last year was his HR allowed rate, which declined considerably from previous years. If his strikeout rate keeps dropping, though, even that's not going to help him.

Here's the Pirates' rotation next year:

Very Likely
Oliver Perez
Mark Redman

Likely
Kip Wells
Dave Williams

Possible
John VanBenschoten
Ian Snell
Ryan Vogelsong

Possible Mid-Season Promotions
Zach Duke
Bobby Bradley (finally)
Cory Stewart

What if there's a problem?
Salomon Torres
Brian Meadows

The Pirates have lots of options already, including lots of pretty good ones. Except for Zach Duke, every one of the players listed above is already on the 40-man roster. There's no reason to worry much about losing Fogg, who will be 28 and unlikely to improve next year. The Pirates should non-tender Fogg, then use the money saved to help acquire someone who stands a chance of really benefiting the team - not a bargain free agent like Randall Simon who stinks it up and blocks better players, but someone who's markedly better than the available options, preferably a third baseman.

Update: I just looked at Batting Third and he's talking about this too.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Pirates Interested in Nishi

The Pirates are reportedly interested in infielder Toshihisa Nishi, and Nishi is interested in coming to the majors.

I don't understand this. Nishi is 33, and he plays second base. The Pirates already have not one, not two, but five players (Jose Castillo, Freddy Sanchez, Rob Mackowiak, Bobby Hill and Ty Wigginton) who are younger than Nishi and can at least kind of play second base. At the very least, they've got two players who can really play the position, which is plenty.

Would Nishi help on offense?

2002 .244/.285/.371 8 HR
2003 .246/.291/.356 8 HR
2004 .289/.329/.475 28 HR

I have no idea why he had the power spike in 2004, but it doesn't really matter. In two of the last three seasons, his numbers would have been unacceptable at the major league level. And these numbers came from Japan, where the competition is typically just a tick better than Class AAA in the USA. Nishi's power is really his only skill on offense - he doesn't draw walks or really hit for average, and he no longer steals many bases. Many players to come from Japan recently, such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, have seen their power decline severely after coming to the majors.

I don't know enough about baseball in Japan to know whether this is just a coincidence or whether it's related to differences between the majors and Japanese baseball. Some have speculated that the decline in Matsui's power might have something to do with the fact that Japanese pitchers rarely throw sinkers.

In either case, though, it seems safe to say that Nishi wouldn't hit for much power in the majors. He's old and likely to decline, he'd be coming from a league in which the level of competition is lower, and since he didn't hit for power in 2003 or 2002, it's doubtful that he has much power left anyway. And if he doesn't hit for power, he's not going to help the Pirates at all. The Pirates have plenty of guys to play second, including two (Castillo and Sanchez) with real potential. They don't need another.

Thanks to Honest Wagner.

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