The Obvious and the Oblivious

The Pittsburgh Pirates experienced another tough loss today to the St. Louis Cardinals by the score of 5-4.  It was a game that the Pirates could have certainly pulled out, but failed to produce when the time came.  Now the August wear has certainly be visible, especially in the game today, but should have been expected, as most teams go through this period.  The expectations have been set high by fans and critics alike, some who want to see this team succeed, while others would like nothing more than to be proven right and see another epic collapse.

The obvious is well, pretty obvious.  As of today, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 12 games above .500 at 66-54.  Currently, the Pirates still have the Wild Card in hand, and even if they happen to slip, will still be in the thick of a playoff race.  No where in sight is the team of last year, so do not expect to see another losing season of baseball.  Some have said this team simply is not good enough to make the playoffs but in my opinion this team is talented enough to make the playoffs, although they will have to do it the hard way.  First and foremost would be to produce runs when runners are in scoring position.  Almost 1A would be to quit leaving men on base, as they left 10 on in the loss today to St. Louis.  These are unacceptable statistics, especially by a team who wants to be playing into late October and hopefully November.  This brings me to the oblivious.  No where does it say Andrew McCutchen has to hit a home run every game, and personally too many people are reading into his power outage.  It is more important to look at his AVG w/ RISP and his OBP%.  Yes, today was a rare occurrence where he did not step up, and being an MVP candidate, he should produce, but he simply cannot do it alone, this is the Major Leagues folks, you need to have more than one producer.  The stat that really needs to be looked at is the K% of the Pittsburgh Pirates which is currently 22.2%, tied for highest in all of baseball alongside the Oakland Athletics.  The strikeout is the most unproductive out that can happen in baseball, and with the Pirates lack of producing at critical times, a singular strikeout could be the difference between a win and a loss.  Another important overlooked stat is the BB%, which the Pirates are currently at a 6.8%, which makes them tied 2nd to last.  The Pirates inability to take pitches and work their way on base is extremely crucial to their success of scoring runs.  A big example happened in tonight’s loss.  Garrett Jones had the green light on a 3-0 count, and swung at a clear ball four that would have loaded the bases with only one out.  Plain and simple, the team’s plate discipline needs to improve.

Another obvious assessment is the pitching staff needs to step up.  James McDonald finally produced a solid outing on Friday night, and hopefully he continues that trend. But the Pirates starters need to string together 3 to 4 solid outings in a row, and not only that, have the bullpen hold the leads that the team manages to put together.  This means that Erik Bedard needs to pitch beyond his normal 5 innings, unlike he did today.  (To his credit, he had been pitching well before today’s start.)  The bullpen is where they have been faltering lately.  Even in not so close games, the bullpen managed to give up runs to make a 5-2 deficit turn into an 11-2 loss.  The margin for error is slim now, and the Pirates need to adjust and play better, and more productive baseball if they want to see themselves fighting for a World Series birth come fall.  Unlike the K% on offense, the K% on defense is critical to a pitching staff.  The K% of the staff in the past 14 days is at 18.4%, down from the 19.4% for the entire year.  Even this slight drop in percentage is drastic, as the strikeout hinders the offenses ability to score runs.  The biggest blunder though has been the inability to finish an inning.  For the year the Pirates staff has left 73.3% of runners on base, good enough to finish in the top 12 in all of the Majors.  However, in the past 14 days, the staff has only managed to leave a measly 58.1% of runners on base, good enough for dead last.  Another simply put, this needs to improve.

The obvious is that the Pirates will still be in the playoff race, and I believe their hunger will push them out of the rut they have been in lately.  Hopefully, they improve and start by taking the series from the Cardinals tomorrow afternoon.  As always, let’s go Bucs and have fun on that road to October!


Don’t Be A Yinzer Pirate “Fans”

As I was on my way home from work last night, I was listening to 93.7 The Fan as I traditionally do.  The topic of discussion was last night’s 5-4 loss to now the much hated Cincinnati Reds.  As they kept taking calls, fans kept calling in complaining about the Pirates and the loss.  What I heard next from a certain caller though absolutely blew my mind.  The caller claimed that the Pirates were completely DONE do to the fact that they lost the past two games to the Reds.  Not like done for the NL Central, or making the Wild Card, or even managing a .500 or over season, no completely done like last year’s slide.  Now, this is not something I have not heard before, as there are the doubters out there every time the Pirates drop a game or two to proclaim the complete un-doing of a club that is still 14 games over .500.  But to claim a complete slide like last year, come on now!  Frankly, I am sick of the whole thing.  The caller, who could not even name half of the starters for the Pirates, only referring to Travis Snider as the RF who has not showed him anything, had no backing as to why the Pirates would ultimately collapse and have yet another losing season.

Certainly the bandwagon was filled with many Pirate “fans” when they started this magical run, but now it seems as if those same “supporters of all along” know everything about Pirates baseball, or baseball in general.  The callers into 93.7 The Fan that discuss the Pirates have said some of the most bizarre and idiotic things I have ever heard in my lifetime.  Let me reiterate the fact that most of them still do not know the players on the team, one guy even calling Juan Cruz some other hispanic/latino first name, (which escapes me because of the shear stupidity of the caller), multiple times.

Pittsburgh has been built into the mindset that if you do not win everything, you have won nothing.  To an extent I agree with that mindset, but not in baseball, not in this situation, not with the Pirates.  Most of the Yinzers think the Steelers should be 16-0, the Pens 82-0, and the Pirates 162-0, and have them all win championships just because of the success they have had.  To them, a .500 or over season, or even making it to the playoffs, would not be enough, and any loss by the Pirates with 56 games still left to play is unacceptable.  Well you know what is unacceptable, the Yinzer’s lack of faith in a club that has produced two magical summers in the past two years, when pretty much all of Pittsburgh, and the nation for that matter, would not even give this team a second-look over.

So what is my point in all of this venting?  If you are a Yinzer, either have some faith or walk the plank, cause come October you will be crying not to be mutinied.  More importantly, if you do not know the game of baseball, quit acting like you do, and let the real fans fill PNC Park, and make believers out of the whole city.

Non-Wavier Trade Deadline Moves

As the 4pm non-wavier MLB trade deadline passed, the Pittsburgh Pirates made some moves to improve their current roster for this year and beyond.  So far, the reaction from the Pirates fans has been negative, though looking at the deals, the Pirates could look like geniuses.

The first trade was actually made late last night as the Pirates sent reliever Brad Lincoln to the Toronto Blue Jays for OF Travis Snider.  This trade has seen the most resentment from the fans, but Snider could turn into a gem for the Pirates in the future if not this year.  First, Snider is under control until 2016, the first time he can become a free agent.  Second, he has the potential to be a huge power bat, especially with a short porch in right field.  Third, the Pirates essentially gave up an average relief pitcher for an everyday starter, which any General Manager would be crazy not to accept.  Last, Snider is younger than Lincoln, and at 24 could make the Pirates have one of the top outfields for years to come.

Snider has only played in 10 games for the Blue Jays so far this year but has a slash line of .250/.300/.556 while hitting 3 HRs.  He has a career slash line of .248/.306/.429 to go along with a .735 OPS and 31 HRs.

Lincoln threw in 28 games for the Pirates this year and had a 4-2 record with a 2.73 ERA.  He struck out 60 and walked only 14 in 59 1/3 innings pitched.

The second deal of the day had the Pirates acquiring 1B Gaby Sanchez and RP Kyle Kaminska from the Miami Marlins for OF Gorkys Hernandez and their competitive balance pick.

Sanchez, who is 28, has struggled this year with a slash line of .202/.250/.306  but has the potential to be a solid platoon with Garrett Jones.  He has a career slash line of .260/.334/.422 to go along with 43 in his 5 seasons.  Sanchez is also a very solid defensive 1B with a career .994 FLD%.  Kaminska, is a 6’4/180 lb., right-handed reliever who is only 23 years-old.  He has a career 4.34 ERA, 1.8 BB/9, and 7.4 K/9 in 460 2/3 innings pitched.  The Pirates gave up Hernandez, who despite being the best defensive outfielder in the system, has struggled to produce at the plate and had become expendable once they acquired Snider.

The last trade was made right at the deadline.  The Pirates acquired RP Chad Qualls from the New York Yankees for 1B/3B Casey McGehee and cash.  Qualls will fill in for Lincoln, and McGehee had become expendable for the Pirates after acquiring Sanchez.  Qualls has a 4.89 ERA to go along with a 2.8 BB/9 and a 4.9 K/9 so far this year.  He is a dependable reliever who has 3 years of post season experience, which is something the Pirates will need down the stretch and possibly into the playoffs.  McGehee had hoped to rediscover his potential in Pittsburgh and at times showed it.  He had a slash line of .230/.297/.377 with 8 HRs in 293 plate appearances this year.  Recently he has seen his playing time diminished due to Garret Jones’s hot streak.

The Pirates will be better off with these moves, as they did not mortgage the future, and still helped the future and the current team.

A Week In Review

After losing today in Houston 9-5, the Pittsburgh Pirates capped off an interesting week.  Let us review all that has happened in the past seven days.

First, the Pirates acquired LHP Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros on July 24th for LHP Rudy Ownes, LHP Colton Cain, and OF Robbie Grossman.  This figured to be the first of a couple moves that the Pirates will make before the July 31st trade deadline.  Some fans were critical of the trade because of what the Pirates gave up, however it bolstered the Pirates rotation for the stretch run.  Rodriguez made his first appearance for the Pirates on Saturday, giving up 3 earned on 6 hits in 6 innings of work.  He also walked 5 batters and struck out 5 while throwing 103 pitches.

The corresponding move to this was the demotion of SP Kevin Correia to the bullpen.  Correia has not taken this demotion lightly, as he has seemed out of sorts and quiet.  After appearing against Houston in the finally today, Correia requested the Pirates to trade him before Tuesday’s deadline.  Correia has pitched well of late, and is 8-6 on the year with a 4.24 ERA entering today.  Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that GM Neal Huntington has put a high price on Correia as the Pirates still look to add a bat.

Secondly, the Pirates did acquire a bat from within their own system with the promotion of uber OF prospect Starling Marte.  Marte impressed in his debut, going 2-4 and hitting a HR on the first pitch he saw in his first Major League at-bat.  However, he has struggled since that game, going 0-9 in the next two games after his debut.  

Lastly, the trade market for a bat has heated up for the Pirates, who are apparently interested in Philadelphia OFs Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, as well as Cleveland OF Shin Soo Choo.  The trade talks for San Diego 3B/OF Chase Headley has dwindled, as his asking price has seemed to be too high for the Pirates liking.  The Pirates are hopeful to get a deal done by Tuesday, and remained focused to upgrade their need for OF/leadoff man help.

Pirates Fail To Sign Appel, Others

The 5 p.m. deadline has passed to sign 2012 MLB Draft Picks, and Stanford RHP Mark Appel has decided to head back to school for his senior year instead of signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Many within the industry believed that Appel was not going to sign with the Pirates after Appel and agent Scott Boras turned down $6 million dollars from the Houston Astros to be the number 1 overall pick.  The Pirates last offer was believed to be $3.8 million dollars, approximately $900K over the slot recommendation.  As compensation for failing to sign Appel, the Pirates will receive the number 9 pick in the draft in 2013.

Here is Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s statement after failing to sign Appel:

“We were unable to reach an agreement with first round selection Mark Appel and bring him into our already strong organization.

“Our final offer exceeded the available bonus pool money and was essentially up to the last dollar we could offer prior to falling into the second tier penalty which would have resulted in the loss of a first round draft selection. While, as we have
shown in past years, we are willing to be aggressive with our financial offer, we simply did not feel it was in the best interest of the organization to forfeit our first round selection in the 2013 amateur draft.”

“Selecting Mark was a calculated risk, as we knew he would be a difficult sign. As an organization, we need to continue to take these types of calculated risks. While we would’ve preferred to add Mark to the group of talented prospects in our system, we wish Mark, and his family, nothing but success in the future.”

“We were able to add quality talent and depth from this year’s draft. We look forward to having the ninth selection in the 2013 draft as compensation for the non-signing of Mark, in addition to our conventional pick in the first round and beyond,to continue to further strengthen the talent level within our system.”

And here is Appel’s statement on his decision not to turn pro:

“After much thought, prayer, and analysis of both opportunities, I came to the conclusion the best decision is to remain at Stanford continuing my studies, finishing my degree, and doing all I can to assist the Cardinal baseball team in our goal to win a National Championship.

I greatly valued the prospect of a professional opportunity and I will pursue a professional baseball career after getting my Stanford degree.

I appreciate the love, support, and guidance from everyone who helped me make this decision.”

The Pirates also failed to sign 4th round pick, Brandon Thomas, an OF from Georgia Tech.  He also will return to school for his senior season.  However, the day was not a total loss, the Pirates did sign 8th round pick Kevin Ross, a high school SS who was signed to play for Michigan.  The Pirates also signed RHPs Hayden Hurst and John Kuchno, the 17th and 18th round picks respectively.

Reasons For And Against Trading For Justin Upton

It is now clear that everyone who follows the Pittsburgh Pirates knows that the Pirates have interest in trading for Arizona Diamondbacks OF Justin Upton.  Since that story first broke, there have been many who want to trade for the superstar outfielder, while others stand firm that the Pirates should not.  So let us look at the pros and cons of acquiring such a player in a trade:


1. Adding a PROVEN bat/player:

In his 6 years in the majors, Upton has a career slash line of .276/.357/.477 and has hit 98 HRs.  Not to mention he is a two time All-Star, and finished 4th in the National League MVP voting last year, while winning his first Silver Slugger Award.  He has a career OPS of .834, with two seasons in which that number was .898 and .899 respectively.  Realistically, he will hit .270 on average, while knocking about 20+ balls out of the yard.  Throw in around 15+ stolen bases a year, and you are looking at a solid OF with more All-Star appearances and potential MVP awards in his future.

2. He is not just a one year rental:

Upton is currently under control thru 2015, as he is in the middle of his 6 year/ $50 million dollar deal he signed with Arizona in 2010.  Let us not forget that Upton is only 24, and would not turn 25 until August 25th of this year.  This puts him as only around 13 months older than the top OF prospect in the Pirates system, Starling Marte.  This would give Pittsburgh at least 2 1/2 years of Upton playing next to Andrew McCutchen in the outfield, and having a potential 3-4-5 of McCutchen/Alvarez/Upton in their batting order.

3. Takes him off the table for other contenders:

Obviously other teams would love to add Upton to their lineup.  The Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, and Cincinnati Reds have all shown interest in acquiring the Arizona outfielder.  Only the Cincinnati Reds would pose a serious threat to the Pirates in terms of playing one another for the rest of the year, unless the Pirates were to make the World Series.  If the Reds would acquire Upton, that would make the next 2 1/2 years tough when the Pirates would play the Reds and that already stacked lineup.


1. The return package:  When the rumor first broke the Pirates were interested, people speculated on what Arizona would get in return for Upton’s services.  The Pirates have said they would rather part with top pitching prospect, Jameson Taillon, instead of Gerrit Cole because Cole is closer to being major league ready.  Taillon would certainly be the headliner of the deal, but would not be enough for Upton.  Starling Marte would most likely also head to Arizona in the deal as well, as Arizona would want a close to MLB ready position player.  Those two players would just be the start of the package though.  Arizona most likely would also ask (and receive) one of the triple-A lefty starters Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, or Justin Wilson.  Throw in one or two more prospects and you have got yourself a deal.  That seems like an awful lot for one player, and would GM Neal Huntington give up that much?

2. Injury concerns:  A report came out that Upton was hampered by a possible injury to his throwing shoulder, which would mean the physical he would take could become quite an interesting storyline.  A non-healthy Upton would almost certainly take him off the table for any trade, especially if it has lingering effects.

3. Possible Attitude problems:  It has been well noted that Upton and the Arizona management team do not get along.  Most recently, fans have even booed Upton for his performance and lack of effort in the field.  This could pose problems for a Pirates team who has gelled quite nicely this season, and could throw a kink in their chemistry.

4. Not the best outFIELDER: He has a career .965 FLD%, which is nothing to write home about.  He made 13 errors last year for the Diamondbacks while only having 5 assists.  To put those numbers in perspective, the MLB average FLD% for players at his position was a .983, or 18 points below average.  However, he has had seasons where he was on average in terms of FLD% for right-fielders, so it is possible he just had a down year.

So, should the Pirates make the trade for Upton?  For me, if the Pirates can get him at the right price they should go for it.  He is a proven talent that will most likely continue to be an excellent bat.  Also, you never know how those prospects will fair in the majors, if they even make it to the bigs.  So Huntington, if you are reading this (which I highly doubt you are) pull the trigger if Arizona gives you the bullet.

Possible Trade Candidates

With the MLB season crossing the official halfway mark, the Pittsburgh Pirates are sitting in first place in the NL Central and looking as strong a contender as any.  As early July will quickly turn to mid to late July, the trade deadline will creep up on many teams.  For the second year in a row the Pirates look as if they will be buyers at the deadline.  There have been many articles claiming the Pirates should make a trade in adding a big bat or even another ace, and there have been other articles saying the Pirates should either stay put or make small moves internally to improve the team.  Personally, with the way the offense is playing of late I see a move to get a bat to not be a need but more of a want.  The same could be said of the pitching staff, though it has been struggling of late.  However, it is always fun to speculate, so here is some of the potential trade candidates the Pirates brass could acquire in the weeks ahead.


 3B Chase Headley – San Diego Padres: Headley could add some power to a Pirates team that actually has not been lacking the long ball, but the question remains where would he play?  Pedro Alvarez almost seems a lock to keep playing 3B with his current tear and both Garret Jones and Casey McGehee seem to have 1B covered as a platoon.  Plus it would take a hefty return to get Headley and going forward it does not seem like a great fit for the Pirates, even though most people are high on him.

OF Carlos Quentin – San Diego Padres: An unlikely trade destination for Quentin but with the way he has hit this year would be a nice 3rd-4th OF for the Pirates.  Almost kind of what Ryan Ludwick was last year for them (Despite Ludwick’s struggles at the plate).

OF Justin Upton – Arizona Diamondbacks:  A report just came out that Upton could be on the market for the right price.  Obviously it would take a great return for the young Upton, who is only 25 and under control through 2015.  It almost certainly would take a package that would be headlined by Gerrit Cole/Jameson Taillon/Starling Marte and other prospects, but just imagine a Pirates lineup for the next 3-4 years with both Upton and McCutchen in it.

1B Justin Morneau – Minnesota Twins:  Morneau has certainly struggled this year and has been banged up in recent years, but still has considerable value.  The only thing is that Jones/McGehee platoon at 1st has been successful of late and it would certainly almost make no sense for the Pirates to acquire him.

1B/OF Bryan LaHair – Chicago Cubs:  A breakout year for LaHair has him heading somewhere before the deadline, as he is not a future cornerstone for the Cubs.  LaHair has been struggling of late, and with his position limitability, does not seem like a good fit for the Pirates.

1B/3B Edwin Encarnacion – Toronto Blue Jays:  Talk about the long ball, Encarnacion would certainly add another imposing figure into the Pirates lineup.  He has played 1B/3B/LF and DH for the Blue Jays this year, and would be nice if he could play LF or RF for the Pirates.  The one thing holding this deal back would be if the Blue Jays make a run and become a contender in the AL East.

OF  Shane Victorino – Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are still unsure if they are going to wholesale the team by the deadline, but Victorino seems like he is on the market.  He would be a nice leadoff hitter for the Pirates, which they have been lacking all year.  The Phillies would obviously ask for a decent return for Victorino, but nothing the Pirates could not afford.

2B/SS Marco Scutaro – Colorado Rockies:  The SS position for the Pirates has been, well, lackluster to say the least.  Clint Barmes has just been horrible and the Pirates need a solid SS in order to make a playoff run.  Scutaro is hitting .280 so far this year and would certainly add some offense to a position that certainly has been the weakest for the Pirates.

SS Jed Lowrie – Houston Astros: A breakout year for Lowrie has him almost destined to be dealt, and what a better place to land than Pittsburgh?  Lowrie would bring solid defense and a good bat that would almost certainly make the Pirates lineup a little more intimidating.

OF Josh Willingham – Minnesota Twins:  He seems like the perfect fit for the Pirates, who tried to acquire him in the offseason.  A power bat that could play either 1B/3B/LF or RF, Willingham would give the Pirates a solid 4 hitter to hit between McCutchen and Alvarez.  The only problem is that he is under control for a couple more years, but really is that a problem?


RHP Zack Greinke – Milwaukee Brewers:  Ken Rosenthal thinks the Pirates should pull a 08 Brewers and trade for an ace like Greinke or Cole Hamels (see below), but is it worth it?  The staff for the Pirates has been great this year and despite recent struggles still looks to take this team to its’ first winning season in 20 years.  It is no guarantee the Pirates will make the playoffs, and a trade for Greinke or Hamels would devastate the farm system for just what would be a one-year flyer.

LHP Cole Hamels – Philadelphia Phillies:  Pretty much the same thing as Greinke, except now we can talk about what kind of deal would be done for either of these two.  Rosenthal mentioned a deal that would not require the Pirates to give up Cole/Taillon could be possible, but it almost seems as if the Pirates would have to give up at least 5 prospects for either of the two.  That would mean a Grossman/Locke/Owens/Wilson type of deal.  Personally, I would say thanks, but no thanks.

LHP Wandy Rodriguez – Houston Astros:  A more manageable fit for the Pirates, who has gone 6-6 with a mid 3 ERA so far this year.  The 33 year-old is under control through 2013 and would cost the Pirates a couple of decent prospects, but certainly a deal that could be done.

RHP Matt Garza – Chicago Cubs:  The Pirates look to be a unlikely destination for Garza, and would probably cost the Pirates a package in the ballpark like that of a Hamels or Greinke type of deal.

RHP Brandon McCarthy – Oakland Athletics:  He has been on the DL twice this year, but he has pitched remarkable so far.  He has expressed an interest to stay with the A’s but Billy Beane certainly likes to deal arms for prospects.  McCarthy would be a perfect fit for the Pirates, and more importantly he throws strikes and walks very few batters.

Overall, the Pirates do not have to make a move, but if they did I would love to see them get either Lowrie/Encarnacion/Willingham/ or McCarthy.  It certainly would be a dream for the Pirates to land Upton, and if they could get that deal done the Pirates would become contenders year after year.  If they do not make a move externally, look for the Pirates to bring up Marte, Locke, Owens, or Wilson if certain players struggle down the stretch.