Monday, February 28, 2005

Ricciardi Interview

This interview with Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi deals with the question of how closely bloggers should scrutinize GMs.

Essentially, Ricciardi is angry because Batter's Box supported him when he was making intelligent decisions but has abandoned him now that he isn't anymore.

Still, some of Ricciardi's arguments are interesting, at least:

“Over the last year, you guys have lost perspective a little bit," he said. "You get more excited when we sign a minor-league free agent who has never played in the major leagues than when we sign Scott Schoeneweis, who we’re trying to make a reliever of – you guys rip it apart."

Well, that's because Schoeneweis is terrible. Still, he has a point - bloggers probably place too much emphasis on minor transactions, in part because we have to talk about them and in part because many of us know enough about the minor leagues to get pretty excited when our team signs a player (like Graham Koonce) who we always thought should get a shot. It's hard to criticize minor-league deals too much, anyway, because there's so little risk involved - I felt a little bit weird even rolling my eyes at the Pirates' recent Todd Ritchie signing. Ricciardi's right - while minor league deals certainly matter, they don't matter much, and they're the sorts of considerations that make people think that the Royals' Allard Baird is a good GM, even though he hasn't done much that has worked at the major league level.

JP is fully aware that numerous Bauxites have called numerous times for the acquisition of this or that player during the past few months. “We’re four steps ahead of you,” he said bluntly. The Blue Jays have already tried to trade for some of the players suggested by Bauxites – JP didn’t name specific players, but Brad Wilkerson, Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson were among the hitters most commonly suggested at Da Box...

JP went on to say that there are a number of aspects of deal-making that Bauxites simply would not know about – that a given player the Jays signed was maybe not their first choice, or that they gave a two-year contract to a player because another team was also willing to give it and the Jays either had to ante up or lose out. It’s a lot more complicated than it looks.


Again, a good point. GMs shouldn't be criticized too much for failing to acquire a specific player.

However, when a blogger says, "They really should have traded for Brad Wilkerson," or, in my case, "The Pirates really should have signed Corey Koskie," what they mean is actually something like this: "Acquiring Wilkerson or Koskie would have been a much better course of action than the one the team chose, which stunk."

Which brings us to this gem:

“The thing I like about Hillenbrand is that he’s a real aggressive guy, a real hard-nosed guy,” he said. “That’s the team we’re trying to be, and we’re going to be able to do that more now; he brings that toughness. With Koskie, with Hudson, and with some of the grinders we have, we have to be more of a grind-it-out team.”

Riiiggghht. "A grind-it-out team"? What does that mean? How does Shea Hillenbrand, a mediocre offensive player and a bad defensive player (despite his hilarious recent claims to the contrary), help the Jays? How does Schoeneweis help them? "The thing I like about Hillenbrand is that he's a real aggressive guy, a real hard-nosed guy" is GM-speak for "My acquisition of Hillenbrand was completely indefensible."

While bloggers' speculations aren't always completely fair, the broader criticisms they stand in for often are. A GM who just gave a multi-million dollar contract to Scott Schoeneweis has no business complaining that he's being criticized.

Let's Play A Game

It's called "Which one of these is exactly like the others?"

I'll post a link to this article, and a link to this other article, and you tell me which one is different.

Give up? Me too. This is a pretty dumb game.

From Ed Eagle's Bullington article:

Because Bullington was selected by the Pirates with the No. 1 pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, he is always sure to receive more than his share of attention from reporters and fans. And as the No. 1 pick for a franchise which must build through the draft and player development, Bullington is well aware of the high expectations that have been placed on his shoulders.

From Dejan Kovacevic's Bullington article:

Bryan Bullington displays a keen understanding that, no matter how well he pitches, how quickly he develops, it might not be enough to get anyone outside the Pirates' organization to evaluate him on his own merits.

Not when he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft.


Eagle:

"Bullington's development has gone well," said Pirates director of player development Brian Graham. "He has two full seasons of professional baseball under his belt. He is going to be a starter in Triple-A and he's not even [on] the [40-man] roster. That is pretty impressive."

Kovacevic:

"All aspects of his development have gone well," director of player development Brian Graham said. "He has two full seasons under his belt, and he's going to be a starter in AAA. ... That's pretty impressive."

Almost all the quotes in the article have the same sorts of similarities, which just amplifies the absurdity of the face-saving Dave Littlefield and Brian Graham are trying to do. The quotes beg the question: Who decides who the beat writers write about? Do the Pirates do it? Or do the beat writers huddle up each morning and decide who to write about that day?

Both articles give misleading impressions of Bullington's status as a prospect. Eagle works for Major League Baseball, so it's no surprise that he does this. Kovacevic's article is better written and presents a clearer picture, but the headline is "Bullington making steady progress in Pirates' system."

Kovacevic probably didn't write that, and it's technically true, but it's not the first thing you'd hope someone would remember about Bullington. If he weren't a #1 draft pick, he'd be back at AA in 2005, which means his progress wouldn't be steady.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

On Eric Byrnes

You hardly need me to point out that the Pirates are, in John Perrotto's words, "hot" for Eric Byrnes. Various sources are speculating that the deal will definitely happen, that it will never happen, and that the cost will be two prospects.

Here are the names I've seen mentioned as possible Byrnes Bait. They're mostly entirely unsubstantiated, so I'm just listing them here as a beginning point for discussion.

-Ian Snell
-Nathan McLouth
-Tom Gorzelanny
-Mike Gonzalez
-Freddy Sanchez

Freddy Sanchez is 27 years old. If the Pirates want to trade Sanchez for Byrnes, that's fine with me.

As for Snell, McLouth, Gorzelanny and Gonzalez: there are two important factors when evaluating any trade. The first is whether the exchange of talent is fair, and the second is how the trade works in terms of what each team is trying to accomplish.

This begs the question: what are the Pirates trying to accomplish? I have no idea. Recently, they traded a prospect for a stopgap starter. Six months ago, they traded Kris Benson to the Mets for a stopgap starter and two prospects. Six months before that, they DFAed various prospects and left several more unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. Six months before that, they traded a superstar for a young pitcher and two prospects. Around the same time, they traded a stopgap starter and a reliever for a prospect. They also traded a young and promising third baseman for a young bench player, a stopgap starter, and a prospect. Then they DFA'ed the prospect.

Anyone notice a pattern here? I don't. A GM certainly can attempt to achieve many things at once, but I have no idea what Dave Littlefield is trying to achieve. The only compelling explanation for his actions that I've heard is that he's trying to "Drive for 75" wins each year, sacrificing a little of the future and a little of the present at the same time in order to keep the Pirates from having a disastrous season and keep them from being pressured to spend money. What this means would be that the Pirates are sacrificing shots at the playoffs and the World Series just to avoid being completely abysmal.

This strategy is hopelessly depressing. But even more depressing is the alternative explanation: that Littlefield and Kevin McClatchy are completely incompetent rather than simply pretty bad.

I'm not aware of any other convincing explanations for Littlefield and McClatchy's behavior. And please, I don't want to hear from anyone that 'he has a plan, we just don't know what it is.' Littlefield has had three years now to turn his plan into action, and turning plans into action typically requires direction and a certain consistency of behavior. If he had a plan other than "Drive for 75," we'd know about it by now. The A's have a plan. The Indians have a plan. The Brewers and Braves have plans. The Pirates probably do not.

In the past, I've written about how the Pirates could have the best young players in baseball right now, with a team that could destroy everyone in 2007 or so. Unfortunately, they don't have a collection of great young players now, thanks to the Littlefield regime. (Baseball Prospectus released its list of the top 50 prospects in baseball this week; there's not a single Pirate on it.)

So given what's already happened, what should the Pirates do about Byrnes? Given that the pointless bungling of the last three years has already occurred, what should the Pirates do now with the talent they have?

The Pirates won 72 games last year with a young team, but some of their top performers last year are likely to take a step backwards this year; their major offseason move was to part ways with one of their best players. I don't see how it's possible for them to improve the 15 or 20 games or so necessary to win enough games to make the playoffs this year. Fifteen games is a whole lot, and there are only a few ways for a team to improve that much in an offseason.

1) Sign really talented players. The Pirates didn't do this. In fact, they did the opposite of this by ridding themselves of a really talented player.
2) Be completely abysmal, 2003 Tigers-style, in the year before the improvement. The Pirates didn't do this.
3) Get really wild breakout seasons from a number of players, without getting many regressions from other players to offset the breakouts.

Option number 3 seems like the only possibility for the Pirates to win in 2005, and it's extremely remote - in 2004, the Pirates got huge steps forward from Oliver Perez and Jack Wilson, good years from Craig Wilson and Jose Mesa, career years from Brian Meadows and Salomon Torres, and way-beyond-expectations rookie seasons from Jason Bay and Mike Gonzalez. The only even reasonably likely breakout candidates are Kip Wells and Jose Castillo. In other words, there isn't a ton of upside for 2005, and the Pirates would have to harness pretty much all of it to contend, even with Eric Byrnes.

Besides, Byrnes isn't even that good. Why do you think the A's, who have a much better shot at contending in 2005 than the Pirates, want to trade Byrnes for minor leaguers? So they can play Bobby Kielty and Charles Thomas who, again, aren't that good.

On the other hand, the Pirates do have a ton of pitching, and even a few position prospects, at AAA and AA, including McLouth, Snell and Gorzelanny. Not all of it is great, but at least they should have mostly prospects in the Indianapolis and Altoona rotations. They also control many of the key players currently on the major league roster - Perez, Bay, Jack Wilson, and Gonzalez - through 2007. So why not wait a year or two, see how the pitching develops, and then start acquiring players like Byrnes for a playoff push? The Pirates won't even be very good then, but most of the best players on the team will still be there, and so will a number of the remaining Bonifay prospects. Even given the planless wandering of the Littlefield administration so far, better days, although still not particularly good days, are on the horizon. Why squander them for the present, especially when the only prize is a player like Byrnes?

In certain contexts, Byrnes for Snell might not be a terrible idea. If Snell belonged to a team with a good rotation, serious outfield needs and a decent chance of making the playoffs, Snell might be a fair price for Eric Byrnes. However, those characteristics do not describe the Pirates - they have an okay rotation that Snell will probably wind up in at some point in the year and no reasonable shot at the playoffs. They have enough outfielders in general; their real problem is center field, and Byrnes doesn't solve that problem - he has good speed and plays hard, but like the Pirates' current walking disaster Tike Redman, he takes weird routes. UZR, which uses play-by-play data to determine how many balls a player gets to compared to how many he should get to, is probably the best defensive stat we have. UZR measures Byrnes at 24 runs below average in left field last year. Byrnes must be regarded as a corner outfielder, and not a very good one at that, and the Pirates already have plenty of defensively-challenged corner outfielders.

Given that Byrnes isn't a great fit for the Pirates and the Pirates aren't likely to contend anyway, they would be better off waiting for their young pitchers to develop before trading youngsters for players like him.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

New News

As if being a Pirates fan didn't feel bad enough.

Tike Redman on steroid use:

"Me, I've never done steroids. Everything I do is natural," he said. "But some guys, they come out there and hitting these bombs and these liners to the gaps like ... as soon as the ball comes off the bat, you can't move quick enough. It's already by you. I'm not talking about the moon-shot home runs. I'm talking about the line drives. You wouldn't believe it."

Got that? It's not Tike's fault his defense reeks, it's the 'roids. His failure to "move quick enough" wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that his routes to the ball look like a staircase turned on its side. Oh no.

J.R. House may be done for the season:

House learned yesterday from the Pirates' medical staff that he has a dual injury in his right shoulder, a torn labrum and a 30 percent tear of the rotator cuff... Although House described the injury as chronic, he pinpointed the start of the current trouble to his ninth game in the Dominican Republic's winter league two months ago... General manager Dave Littlefield said the Pirates were aware of House's chronic shoulder pain for an extended period of time.

Wait a minute - what is a catcher with chronic shoulder pain doing playing winter ball? That's a serious question. Is it common for teams to treat players this way?

Oliver Perez is reporting shoulder problems. Uh oh.

In the same article, the Eric Byrnes buzz continues. I like Byrnes just fine, but he's 29, he's not a great player, and I'm terrified of what will happen if Littlefield tries to trade with Billy Beane again. Most of the rumors suggest that the price for Byrnes will be a prospect or two. The Pirates' young talent was never all that good to begin with, and in the last six months Littlefield has traded one prospect, dumped several others, and had three important ones (John VanBenschoten, Sean Burnett and House) go down with major injuries. Please, let's stop trading prospects for roster spaces and other players who aren't that good.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Letter to Kovacevic

Mr. Kovacevic, in this week's Q+A, you defend Dave Littlefield, writing:

"Look at the roster that Indianapolis should have this summer, and ask yourself when is the last time the Pirates had a Class AAA team that had more prospects than retreads."

Prospects at the AAA level are nice, but Littlefield doesn't deserve credit for their presence, unless one feels that those players are there primarily because of coaches hired by Littlefield.

The prospects at AAA this year are likely to be J.R. House, Jose Bautista, Nate McLouth, Chris Duffy, Cory Stewart, Bobby Bradley, Brian Bullington, Ian Snell, Matt Peterson and Jeff Miller. Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke and Brad Eldred also stand a good chance of winding up in Indianapolis at some point during the season.

Stewart was acquired by Littlefield in his excellent Brian Giles trade, but the chances that Stewart will turn into an effective big leaguer are small. Peterson was acquired and Bautista reacquired in a dubious trade in which Littlefield gave up the best starting pitcher on the market at the time along with another prospect, Jeff Keppinger, who would have added to the list of prospects at Indianapolis if he were still around. Bullington was Littlefield's top pick overall in the 2002 draft, and he didn't pitch well at AA last year; that pick now looks like a massive missed opportunity. Eldred was an inspired Littlefield selection. All the rest of the players in the long list of Indianapolis prospects were acquired by Cam Bonifay and his scouting director Mickey White.

If we instead look at the low minors, where most of Littlefield's picks in the last three drafts are playing, the picture looks bleak. While it's too early to judge those drafts conclusively, very few players Littlefield has drafted are looking like good prospects: there's pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, pitcher Paul Maholm (who was injured most of 2004), catcher Neil Walker, and not much else. The Pirates' teams in the low minors have posted good records during Littlefield's tenure, but that's mostly because of his reliance on non-prospect ringers like Adam Boeve and Jon Benick, who are way too old for their levels. There is ample reason for concern about what's going to happen when there aren't any more Bonifay prospects left to promote.

Given Littlefield's awful track record at the major league level and his embarrassing and pointless losses of good young players in the Rule 5 draft and to waivers, I can understand the need to look to the minors for some sort of ray of hope. Unfortunately, the credit for that ray should go not to Littlefield but to Bonifay, who's currently with the... uh... Rays.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Early NL Central Preview

With Spring Training on its way, I'm taking an early look at what the NL Central might have in store this year. A lot of top talents left the division this offseason, including Sammy Sosa, Matt Clement, Moises Alou, Edgar Renteria, Woody Williams, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent, Wade Miller and Jason Kendall. The only similar talents to enter the division were Mark Mulder and Carlos Lee, and the only team that obviously improved itself was the Brewers. The Central is a wide-open division next year; while it's unlikely that any of its perennial bottom-dwellers (Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh) will climb to the top, Milwaukee has a shot, and 88 wins or so might be enough for one of the other three teams to win. Here are my analyses of the six teams and the order in which I think they might finish.

(NOTES: The additions and subtractions aren't exhaustive; I only listed the comings and goings I thought might have a significant impact on the 2005 season. Please put a note in the comments and let me know if I missed anything major, like a season-ending injury.)

CHICAGO
2004 Record: 89-73
2004 Pythagenport record: 94-68

Major additions: 2B Jerry Hairston, OF Jeromy Burnitz
Major subtractions: OF Sammy Sosa, P Matt Clement, OF Moises Alou, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, P Kyle Farnsworth, OF Ben Grieve, P Kent Mercker

Despite the losses of a number of big-name players, the Cubs are better off than they appear. Sammy Sosa hit .253/.332/.517 in 2004; Baseball Prospectus has pointed out that manager Dusty Baker has a track record of getting great performances from veteran hitters, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Jeromy Burnitz replace Sosa's production in 2005. Moises Alou's ridiculous .293/.361/.557 should be trickier to replace, but the Cubs will benefit enormously from a full season of Nomar Garciaparra rather than Ramon Martinez and the execrable Alex Gonzalez. On the pitching side, the Cubs lost Clement and they probably won't get another 3.47 ERA from Glendon Rusch, but those things probably won't matter if they can get full, healthy seasons from Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

ST. LOUIS
2004 Record: 105-57
Pythagenport: 101-61

Major additions: P Mark Mulder, SS David Eckstein, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, P Mike Myers
Major subtractions: SS Edgar Renteria, P Woody Williams, P Dan Haren, P Steve Kline, P Kiko Calero, C Mike Matheny, 2B Tony Womack

The Cardinals were fantastic last year, but it's hard to see how they might win 100 games again. Despite the addition of Mark Mulder, the pitching will probably be worse - Woody Williams is gone, and so are three valuable cogs in Haren, Kline and Calero. It's hard to believe that Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan can again pitch almost 600 fantastic innings between them. Matt Morris will start the year on the DL, and Mulder collapsed badly down the stretch last year.

The Cardinals are replacing Edgar Renteria with the adorable but inferior David Eckstein and also have new starters at second base and catcher, but the main difference between 2005's offense and 2004's could be age. The 2004 outfield of Larry Walker, Jim Edmonds and Reggie Sanders returns, and while they were terrific last year, they're all ancient. It wouldn't be a surprise to see one or more of those three get injured or fall off the table next year, and if that happens, they'll likely be replaced by John Mabry or Roger Cedeno, both of whom are also in their 30s. Any offense led by Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen will be productive, but the Cardinals' hitting still shouldn't be as good as it was last year.

HOUSTON
2004 Record: 92-70
Pythagenport: 92-70

Major additions: Um, Dave Burba? John Franco?
Major subtractions: OF Carlos Beltran, 2B Jeff Kent, P Wade Miller

The Astros lost three very important players in Beltran, Kent and Miller. Their other stars are mostly at the age where a steep decline is just around the corner. Lance Berkman should be hurt to start the season. Pitcher Andy Pettite had elbow surgery in August and is a huge question mark. 2B Chris Burke and OF Jason Lane should get a chance to make an impact, and they'd better do it, or the 2005 season could get ugly very quickly for the Astros. If Burke, Lane and the young leadoff type Willy Taveras perform well and Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio keep it up for another year, the Astros should be able to impersonate a contending team for a while; if they don't, Houston could be leapfrogged by any or all of the three teams I've put below them.

MILWAUKEE
2004 Record: 67-94
Pythagenport: 67-94

Major additions: OF Carlos Lee, C Damian Miller, P Jose Capellan, P Ricky Bottalico, P Justin Lehr
Major subtractions: OF Scott Podsednik, 2B Keith Ginter, P Luis Vizcaino, P Danny Kolb, IF Craig Counsell

Things are finally looking up for Milwaukee. They've got an ace in Ben Sheets, some interesting young pitchers, and several grade-A hitting prospects. They also had an excellent offseason. They signed Damian Miller, a solid catcher who will provide an enormous upgrade over Gary Bennett and Chad Moeller, to a contract that seemed more and more reasonable as the offseason went along. They traded two mediocre players for Carlos Lee, a very good hitter in the prime of his career. Then they dumped their closer, Danny Kolb, on Atlanta in exchange for Jose Capellan, a very promising pitcher who could help Milwaukee immediately. This is a young and talented team, so a wide range of results are possible for the Brewers - they might fall flat again, or they might surprise nearly everyone. Either way, it's hard not to pull for an organization that appears to finally be back on the road to respectability. The Brewers should be contenders in the next few years.

PITTSBURGH
2004 Record: 72-89
Pythagenport: 74-87

Major additions: P Mark Redman, OF Matt Lawton, C Benito Santiago, OF Ben Grieve
Major subtractions: C Jason Kendall, P Brian Boehringer, OF J.J. Davis, P Frank Brooks

The Pirates' big move this offseason was to dump one of their few unambiguously good players in Jason Kendall on the A's in exchange for some money and a few trinkets. That bad move looked even worse as February rolled around and the Pirates found themselves several million dollars under budget and with no one to spend their money on. GM Dave Littlefield has said that the Pirates plan on spending that money this year come hell or high water, so expect them to trade promising young talent for a terrible veteran who will block a better and younger player the Pirates already have.

For 2005, the Pirates are a mess. Even when Benito Santiago isn't injured, he's a vastly inferior player to Kendall. Matt Lawton's defense will drive the Bucs' pitchers nuts, and his hitting is nothing to write home about. Mark Redman will be capable but uninspiring in the rotation.

As for the returning players: as bad as the Pirates were in 2004, they actually had quite a lot of good luck. Oliver Perez and Jason Bay were better than anyone could have expected. Jose Mesa got through the season without getting shelled. Brian Meadows and Salomon Torres had career years in the bullpen. Mike Gonzalez was simply ridiculous. And Jack Wilson went from being one of the worst hitters in the National League to an above-average batter for a shortstop. Despite their youth, it would be unreasonable to expect the returning Pirates to improve as a group. The Pirates' Pythagenport record last year was 74-87; I'd be pleasantly surprised if they won more than 74 this year. .500 is still a distant dream. The Pirates have a theoretical chance of contending for a while this year, but only in a 1997 best-of-the-worst sort of way, and even that won't last. They're a long way from building anything lasting, and in a few years they're going to wonder how the Brewers got so much better than them all of a sudden.

CINCINNATI
2004 Record: 76-86
Pythagenport: 66-96

Major additions: P Eric Milton, P Ramon Ortiz, 3B Joe Randa, P Kent Mercker, P David Weathers, P Ben Weber
Major subtractions: SS Barry Larkin

The Reds should again have a terrific outfield, but their infield isn't great, and Sean Casey won't hit .324/.381/.534 again. Their Pythagenport record suggests that they were also a lot worse in 2004 than their win totals indicated. This offseason, the Reds ownership correctly identified their biggest weakness - pitching - but they ended up throwing a ton of money (for them) at mediocre hurlers, which won't help. Eric Milton might give up fifty home runs this year. The Reds' fortunes are unlikely to change much until they develop some good starting pitching from within.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

For Your Amusement

I wouldn't normally post something like this, but since there isn't much Pirate-related news today, I'll mention it. There's a ton of bad baseball writing out there, but this is some of the worst I've seen in a long time, and it's in USA Today. It's written in a Rosenthal/Gammons bullet-point style, even though Rod Beaton has few juicy rumors to report. Beaton does, to his credit, have one of the better names of all time. To his discredit, he apparently does not have a copy editor.

-Beaton mentions that "Now you get utilitymen who bash while on the lineup card as first baseman, left fielder, DH and catcher." After mentioning only Ryan Garko and former Pirate prospect Chris Shelton, Beaton adds, "Get used to it. There will be more of these guys." This is, of course, hardly breaking news: Matt LeCroy and Craig Wilson have been cast in exactly this sort of power-utilityman-catcher role for years.

-Beaton then says that Eric Munson has been a flop, and that (therefore?) teams should be wary of drafting another USC catcher, Jeff Clement. Why? Is there some problem with USC? It follows from Beaton's logic that teams should eagerly draft all of USC's pitchers at the first available opportunity, since Mark Prior came from there.

-Then there's a paragraph on the Pirates: "The Pirates have had some starters suffer serious setbacks. Their No. 1 pitching propect was left-hander Sean Burnett, KO'd for the season. Another was/is, right-hander Bobby Bradley, back from a similar setback and lefty Paul Maholm. One starter, left-hander Zach Duke (5-1, 1.58 in AA), remains standing, and should eventually stand out."

In addition to at least two grammar errors and one spelling error in that series of sentences, there's awkward writing. To what does "another" refer? "Another" what? And why do we have to guess what Paul Maholm's name is doing there?

-Check this one out:

Arizona's Luis Gonzalez has really helped his arm strength and accuracy in workouts, "I feel like Tom Brady out there," he told The Los Angeles Times. And while we're into football lingo, Padres general manager Kevin Towers, 42, says ageless center fielder Steve Finley "is the Dick Clark of baseball. He never seems to age." Towers is too young to recall Clark's American Bandstand, but there is a re-creation of the hit on the Sunday soap, American Dreams.

What? 'And while we're into football lingo, here's an utterly irrelevant reference to a TV drama'?

-The Seattle Mariners worked for more than a year to get shortstop/second baseman Yuniesky Betancourt out of Cuba and signed. That detemination [sic], plus his age (22), suggest he is worth it all. The same goes for his good swing. That's another sign of the athleticism he has exploited as a position player at times.

-Just when it seems Japan's arms corps is not as strong as it has been, and the ones who arrive come over most often as middle relievers. An Ichiro or Hideki Matsui is rare indeed. The latest ordinary import is Denny Tomori, 37, who just left Japan and took his 8.50 ERA with him (stats from Jim Albright, the Japanese Insider, with BaseballGuru.com).

You might think I'm taking these out of context, but I'm not. Hilarious stuff.

Another:

"Nakamura could win spot in the post-Beltre world."

Did Beltre die? And who, or what, is spot?

* * *

Anyway, go back to your regular reading. You'll need something cogent to clear your head after the Beaton article. There's been some inspired Pirate blogging in the last week. It's just that I haven't been doing any of it. Check out WTM's argument about what the Pirates should do in the first round of the draft. Then head over to Let's Go Bucs, where Jeff has posted a table containing Pirate salary information.

Thanks to Ryan.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Sign Matt Diaz

The AP reports that the Devil Rays have signed Travis Lee and designated Matt Diaz for assignment. The Pirates, who still want some outfield help, should grab Diaz. Diaz is coming off two straight years in which he has hit for excellent average and developing power in the high minors, and 2005 will be his age 27 season.

Yesterday, the Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates were one of three teams pursuing Danny Bautista this offseason. (Bautista wound up with - surprise - the Devil Rays.) Bautista is a bad hitter who hasn't managed an OPS over .800 since his injury-shortened 2002 season, even though he's been playing in one of the best offensive environments in baseball. He'll turn 33 during the 2005 season. In addition, the Pirates are still tentatively planning on giving a bunch of at-bats to Daryle Ward, who hasn't put up an .800 OPS since 2000. Given his atrocious defense, Ward is one of the worst starters in baseball.

Diaz is very likely to outproduce Bautista and Ward next year, and he can now be had for a ridiculously low price. The team that acquires him will be able to pay him the league minimum salary for his age 27, 28 and 29 seasons, and he has a decent chance at being a very good spare part or even a functional starter during that time.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Kearns or Huff to Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic reports that the Pirates' attempt to get Jeromy Burnitz for one year and around $4.25 million is likely to be unsuccessful. The fact that they offered that money in the first place shows that the Pirates are willing to spend real money on a hitter, however. There aren't really any hitters left on the free agent market, though, so the Pirates may look to make a trade. Kovacevic names Austin Kearns, Aubrey Huff and Eric Byrnes as possible targets.

Kovacevic doesn't say if these names came from the Pirates' front office or if he's just guessing. I suppose there are two main ways to look at this article. The first, less cynical way is to be excited about the possibility of getting Kearns or Huff. Both have as much talent and upside as any current Pirate hitter except possibly Jason Bay. Kearns and Huff also happen to play for teams with seriously dumb front offices. The Pirates' front office is just as bad, but there's at least the possibility that they could wind up giving up far less for Kearns or Huff than they're worth, especially since they'd probably be willing to take on salary. Eric Byrnes isn't nearly as good as Kearns or Huff, but he's light years better than any hitter the Pirates currently have except Bay and Craig Wilson.

Huff and Kearns are genuinely valuable players, and the Pirates' much-ballyhooed "pitching depth" doesn't actually really exist, so it's doubtful that they'd give up too much in a deal for either player. The young pitchers I'd be most upset about losing are Oliver Perez, Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny, and I don't see the Pirates trading Perez or Duke.

The more cynical way to think about this article is to guess that Kovacevic is just wish-casting, and that the Pirates will instead try to get an older or lower-upside player. That's what they did before the 2003 season when they traded prospects for Randall Simon and Matt Herges. They did it again this offseason when they traded Leo Nunez for Benito Santiago. I'm trying to be optimistic here, but given Dave Littlefield's track record, my urge to be cynical is hard to suppress.

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