July 31, 2010

Clement, Diaz, McCutchen Called Up

Lost in the shuffle, the Pirates called up three minor leaguers to replace departed veterans today. Don't get too excited but coming to the majors are Jeff Clement, Argenis Diaz, and Daniel McCutchen.

Clement was hitting .305/.335/.555 at Indianapolis. He, of course, was the Opening Day first baseman and then was sent down after hitting .189/.230/.331 in the majors.

Diaz was hitting .248/.302/.285 at Indianapolis. He was up earlier this year, going 0-for-2 in two pinch hit appearances. Nothing in his record indicates that he can hit in the major leagues, or at AAA for that matter.

McCutchen has been back and forth a few times and was 4-8, 3.99 at Indianapolis. He is 1-4 with an 8.68 ERA in the majors which earns him tonight's start. Hopefully the 2011 Bucs will have better spot starting options available in the minors.

McCutchen was expecting to come up, but Indianapolis was scheduled to start a series in Norfolk today so it's doubtful that Clement and Diaz can make it to St. Louis in time for tonight's game. The Pirates might have as few as 21 men in uniform today meaning it is entirely appropriate to start getting pumped for a Zach Duke pinch hitting appearance.

Catcher Snyder Acquired

As speculated here earlier, the Pirates acquired catcher Chris Snyder from the Diamondbacks. He'll immediately become the starting catcher for the MLB team.

Snyder is hitting .231/.352/.426 this year; .233/.335/.402 career. He's an average defensive catcher at the MLB level which is a lot more than can be said for Ryan Doumit. Doumit is also hitting worse than Snyder at .258/.329/.412 and is perennially on the disabled list including right now. Snyder is signed through next year with a pricey option for 2012 that probably won't be picked up.Going to Pittsburgh are D.J. Carrasco, Bobby Crosby and Ryan Church. As you well know, Carrasco is the only useful piece out of that bunch. He's gone 2-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 45 games. Crosby hit only .224/.301/.295 and was a minor disaster at all four infield positions. Church hit .182/.240/.312 this year and frankly it's shocking that any major league team would want him.

This is a great move which upgrades the Pirates in 2010 and for the upcoming championship season of 2011. Snyder will never hit for a great average but has walked in 16% of his plate appearances over the last two years, meaning he gets on base at an above average rate for any player let alone a catcher. He also has 20 home run power although he's never been a starter for a full season. Starting Snyder over Doumit clearly is a major upgrade to the defense as well. Doumit's lack of prowess at catching balls in the dirt made the late innitngs a real adventure. With a competent backstop, pitchers are able to confidently rely on their full arsenal including low breaking balls with men on base.

The Pirates apparently will convert Doumit into an outfielder/first baseman. Hasn't this been tried before? Expect problems at any position Doumit plays.

The Diamondbacks threw in Pedro Ciriaco, an AAA infielder who plays good defense and can't hit. He's 24 and hitting .259/.278/.392 in the Pacific Coast League. I'm not sure what role he plays in the organization other than minor league filler.

Lopez Traded For Bowker, Martinez

Minutes after trading Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers, the Pirates shipped another veteran reliever west as Javier Lopez went to the Giants for two prospects.

Righthanded pitcher Joe Martinez is the better player coming to Pittsburgh. He's 5-3 with a 3.32 ERA for AAA Fresno and also has a 4.91 ERA in 11 major league innings this year.

Martinez throws a 90 mph fastball to go with a curveball and changeup. He's also 27 years old and hasn't even been successful at AAA until this year. I hope I'm wrong but he looks to me like another replacement level arm at the MLB level.

John Bowker is a 26-year-old lefthanded hitting outfielder who has been in the majors for parts of three seasons now and simply hasn't hit. His career MLB batting line is a very poor .238/.285/.339. Yet at AAA, he's hit .318/.414/.561, evidencing better talent than his Giants performance thus far. He'll probably become a fourth outfielder for the Pirates right away and can't possibly do worse than Ryan Church.

It's disappointing to see the dismantling of a great bullpen, and at first glance the return for Lopez looks like a couple of spare parts. However, keeping Lopez would have been pretty pointless so I am willing to accept that this was the best offer for him.

Lopez, of course, did a fine job here, going 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 50 games. He'll be a useful arm for the Giants down the stretch.

UPDATE: Bowker and Martinez are both heading to Indianapolis.

Dotel Traded For Lambo, McDonald

Dealing a huge blow to all bloggers who just designed a new banner heading featuring Octavio Dotel, the Pirates traded their closer to the Dodgers for an AA outfielder and an AAA pitcher.

Andrew Lambo is a 21-year-old corner outfielder who is currently hitting .271/.325/.420 in AA. He was ranked the 49th best prospect in baseball prior to the 2009 season but has fallen off a bit after a year and a half of pedestrian hitting numbers in Double A, coupled with a 50-game suspension this year for violating the drug policy.

However, he's at an age where many players are still in college. If he develops more power he can be a starting outfielder at the major league level in a few years. He should join Altoona's starting lineup immediately.

Also coming over is James McDonald, a 25-year-old righthanded pitcher who's currently 6-1 with a 4.41 ERA in AAA with 57 strikeouts and 24 walks in 63 innings.

McDonald pitched almost all of 2009 as a moderately valuable major league reliever, where he went 5-5 with a 4.00 ERA. He was sent back down to be converted into a starter.

McDonald throws a 93 mph fastball and a good slow curveball but needs to develop his changeup to be a successful MLB starting pitcher. I wouldn't be surprised if he joins the MLB rotation right away.

Dotel ends his Pirate career 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA and 21 saves. He was one of my favorite players on the team and that is a great save number for a team with only 36 victories total. However, I am optimistic about the return for Dotel. Clearly either Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan can step into his closing role; the question is whether any of the other relievers can handle Meek's seventh inning job. For what it's worth, Dotel will probably be a free agent after the year although I'd expect him to sign with a big market team after his good 2010.

UPDATE: McDonald will join the major league team.

Deadline Day Arrives

Internet sites were atwitter with Paul Maholm trade discussion Friday as multiple teams still want to add a starter before today's 4 p.m. trade deadline.

Maholm's losing effort Thursday dropped his record to 6-9 and raised his ERA to 4.52. Yet NL West contenders, anxious to match Philadelphia's Roy Oswalt acquisition, were apparently nonplussed. If the Oswalt trade lifts the Phillies to the NL wild card, that leaves only one remaining playoff spot among the Padres (60-40), Giants (58-45), Dodgers (54-48) and Rockies (52-50). Maholm is the second best pitcher still available after Ted Lilly.

Pittsburgh's asking price is said to be an MLB-ready starter. Unless the Pirates are blown away, I don't see the wisdom in such a move. I am not interested in a Haren for Saunders-type lateral move which essentially exchanges a superior starting pitcher for an inferior one.

Yahoo's Tim Brown claimed the Padres and Pirates are close to a deal. The Dodgers also covet Maholm and the Mets are in the game as well. I'll believe it when I see it.

A New Catcher?
Meanwhile, there are also rumors that the Diamondbacks are considering a deal which would send catcher Chris Snyder to Pittsburgh. This is more intriguing to me because it seems like a deal to build for - rather than sacrifice - 2011.

Snyder is hitting .231/.352/.426 this year which makes him a plus offensive catcher even without my love of low average/high walk guys. He's throwing out only 20% of runners this year but has the reputation of an average defensive catcher.

Snyder is signed for $5.75 million for 2011 with a $6.75 million option for 2012. If this is another salary dump trade for the Diamondbacks, count me in. He's a better option than Ryan Doumit both at the plate and defensively. Additionally Doumit has been on and off the disabled list to the point where it's questionable that he can be counted on as an everyday catcher going forward.

Still No News On Dotel, Lopez
Conspicuously absent from trade rumors are Octavio Dotel and Javier Lopez. I still wouldn't be surprised if a potential Lopez move flew under the radar. But it seems like Dotel is likely here for the rest of this year and, if his option is picked up, 2011. A big closer move would have probably generated at least some buzz by now.

July 30, 2010

Revamped WFC Blog Looks Toward 2011

Chalking up 2010 as a lost cause despite my formerly high hopes, Pirates WFC Blog staff has decided at the trade deadline to focus anew on the 2011 championship.To that end, I made the sweet new banner which now graces the top of the page and incorporated it into this professional looking minimalist template which I customized to be appropriate for a small market team's needs.

This endeavor contributed to an incredibly scintillating phone conversation with future bride Janet Thursday evening...

Her: "What are you doing tonight?"
Me: "Trying to get a blog header to display in the center of the home page."

CUT TO
Her (20 minutes later): "What are you thinking about?"
Me: "How to get a blog header to display in the center of a home page."

I also bought the domain name pirateswfc.com which should be set up to link to this page soon. I think the old blogspot address will continue to work; I haven't figured that out so don't change your bookmarks yet.

Finally I am working on retrospectives on the five previous WFC teams so that this can truly be a comprehensive WFC Blog. For now those links on the left sidebar just link to the Baseball Reference pages for each team. More changes should be coming as well as I try to transition this site into a "real site."

Time To Get Rid of Ryan Church

What will it take for the Pirates to finally release Ryan Church?

Getting the start yesterday afternoon for the first time in ten days, Church went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.

The game brought his season line to .183/.242/.314. Inexplicably, Church has come to the plate 182 times despite this performance.

As Fangraphs' pitch data shows, Church has never been good against the breaking ball but in his 2006-08 heyday was a very good fastball hitter. Coupled with good defense and average speed, that's a recipe for a good fourth outfielder which is what Church was.

I emphasize 'was' because this year, Church has hit worse against the fastball than any player on the team except Jason Jaramillo. Did anyone - did John Russell - really expect him to get a hit Thursday off of Ubaldo Jimenez?

I am not necessarily faulting J.R. for giving Church the start Thursday. His managerial style is to use the whole 25-man roster that's made available to him, giving everyone at least one start a week. That's generally the only way to get the most out of your bench.

Yet this also means that until he's released, major league plate appearances will continue to be wasted on Ryan Church. He's 31, here on a one-year contract, and although eligible for arbitration will certainly be nontendered after the season. Whether it means going with a four-man outfield or calling up one of Indianapolis's outfielders, it's time to release Church outright and eat the remaining $500,000 on his contract.

July 29, 2010

Pirates Quiet So Far At Trade Deadline

Unlike the frenzied trade deadline action of years past, the Pirates have been quiet so far with only two days remaining before Saturday's 4 p.m. nonwaiver trade deadline.

While Pittsburgh clearly possesses veterans who have significant trade value in Paul Maholm, Octavio Dotel and others, management maintains that it is not shopping any players.

The Case for Keeping Dotel
That's different, of course, than not listening to offers. The Phillies and other teams are still interested in Dotel, who would immediately become the defending NL champs' best closing option.

However, as Dotel continues to perform well his $4.5 million option for 2011 looks like a better and better value. Since May 1 Dotel has a 2.35 ERA and he also hasn't walked a batter in his last 12 straight outings.

The 2011 Pirates will have a respectable lineup which is still league average at best. To attain any level of success next year it may make sense to simply retain the Meek/Hanrahan/Dotel trio which has been the team's main strength in 2010.

Furthermore, Dotel's option becomes a mutual option if he's traded meaning that he would be a two month rental for whoever gets him. If the Pirates are inclined to trade him at all, he would presumably have the same value at this time next season as he has now.

Pittsburgh's Most Valuable Trade Piece
There are rumors that the Dodgers want Paul Maholm, 6-8 with a 4.13 ERA, who would likely draw the biggest return of any player who is a possibility to be moved.

Looking at their career statistics, it's hard to see much difference between Maholm and former Angel Joe Saunders. Saunders, of course, was apparently enough to headline a package that got Dan Haren in return.

That being said, as a guy who doesn't strike out many batters and has never pitched for a winning team, Maholm is hardly the type of shiny name that would make a splash for a big market team. I could see him bringing in a top 100 prospect but probably not a top 50 name.

I continue to think Maholm will stay put simply because of his importance in 2011 and even 2010. Maholm averaged 200 innings in 2008-09 and should throw around 190 this year. Who takes those innings if he is gone? There's no one around of major league quality who isn't already be in the rotation. Taking a six/seven inning guy and replacing him with a gas can like Daniel McCutchen is a recipe for destroying any bullpen. MLB third/fourth starters are commanding $10 million free agent contracts now for a reason, and I doubt the Pirates want to trade Maholm only to give out a contract like that to someone who is probably a lesser pitcher.

Lopez Still Drawing Interest
Multiple sources say that Javier Lopez is still drawing interest. He made his 48th appearance last night which is tied for ninth in baseball. His 2.65 ERA is also lower than all but two of the guys with more appearances. Situational lefties aren't the highest paid or most well known guys out there but there's a lot to be said for a guy who can pitch nearly every day at a high level. I still think the Pirates will deal him for a solid prospect, but at this point he could be the only player moved in the next two days.

July 28, 2010

PNC Park 5th in Baseball in Health Violations

Perhaps this is not surprising for a stadium that managed to serve stale hot dog buns on Opening Day, but the Pirates apparently rank fifth in all of baseball with 53% of food vendors committing critical health code violations.

"At one location with seven critical violations, inspectors found raw chicken and beef stored above bread," ESPN reported.

The MLB leaders:
1. Tropicana Field - 100% of vendors with critical violations
T-2. Coors Field - 62%
T-2. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington - 62%
T-2. Kaufmann Stadium - 62%
5. Pittsburgh - 53%

Just in the top four above we have the team with the second best record in baseball, the 2007 pennant winner, the first place team in the AL West and the best stadium in the American League. While Tampa Bay clearly won't be dethroned, the other three are all beatable.

Also in championship form are Mellon Arena (55% of vendors with critical violations) and Heinz Field (61%).

July 27, 2010

Series Preview: Colorado Rockies

The Brendan Donnellyless Pirates start a road trip in Denver today against the 51-48 Colorado Rockies. Steven Jackson and Wil Ledesma have been recalled to join the bullpen for the trip.

The Rockies are in fourth place and are no doubt hoping to begin a run of winning baseball against the league's worst road team. Colorado's offense is scoring the third most runs in the league despite a non-career year by Todd Helton (.246/.336/.310). Carlos Gonzalez (.307/.336/.5080 leads the team with 62 RBI and has more homers (17) than walks (16). Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.306/.375/.502) returns from injury and will bat cleanup tonight.

Colorado Rockies - Tuesday 8:40, Wednesday 8:40, Thursday 3:10
Tonight, Zach Duke (4-9, 5.22) gets the ball for the Pirates against Jorge de la Rosa (3-2, 5.65). Duke used to be good at home, bad on the road; this year he's been good on Opening Day and bad on all other days. The Rockies' promotion for this game is $1 hot dog coupons for the first 10,000 fans. Really? That merits a star on the schedule? No wonder the Rockies have lost six games in a row. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday, Ross Ohlendorf (1-8, 4.39) faces Aaron Cook (4-6, 4.78). Ohlendorf has been quite good lately and should have more wins, which is something I've probably typed more than once on this site. Well, his record will be a stunningly great 2-8 after this game. My pick is the Pirates.

What is with these start times? I guess it's a different culture out west what with stuff starting 10 or 40 minutes after the hour. Thursday afternoon, All-Star starter Ubaldo Jimenez (15-2, 2.75) will be completely overmatched against Paul Maholm (6-8, 4.13). In a game which might be over in two hours, my pick is the Pirates.

July 25, 2010

Lincoln Optioned; Donnelly DFAd

After today's game the Pirates announced changes to their pitching staff as starter Brad Lincoln was optioned to AAA Indianapolis while reliever Brendan Donnelly was designated for assignment. No corresponding moves were announced.

First Round Pick Struggled In Majors
Lincoln, 25, started the year 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA at Indianapolis and was one of the year's most anticipated callups. But he could not command his fastball within the strike zone at the major league level and left too many pitches out over the plate. Today's six run outing raised his ERA to 6.57 to go with a 1-4 record.

The former first round draft pick was a strikeout guy coming up through the minors but couldn't miss bats this year in the majors even in the games where he pitched well, striking out just 21 in nine starts.

He'll slide into the Indianapolis starting rotation and try to get things together starting Friday at Syracuse. There's enough of the AAA schedule left for Lincoln to get in seven more starts, hopefully resuming his development. A good showing will likely bring him back to Pittsburgh in September.

Veteran Reliever Couldn't Find The Plate
38-year-old Brendan Donnelly was signed to be the club's primary setup man after putting up great numbers last year with the Marlins including a 1.74 ERA. Needless to say that plan didn't work out.

Age catches up with every player at some point and it's just looking like Donnelly has reached the end of the line. He never had pinpoint control but things got ridiculous as he walked 25 men in 31 innings this year, going 3-1 with a 5.58 ERA.

The Pirates can trade or release Donnelly; if no one claims him he can be sent to Indianapolis. I think some MLB team will pick him up for the stretch run at the minimum salary. Brendan's value in terms of a trade was likely finished with his three walk outing Friday when he failed to retire a batter.

If this is the end of the line for Donnelly, he can call it a successful career. Pictured here in better days, he improbably debuted in the majors at the age of 29 and got into 386 big league games with a 32-10 record and a 3.22 ERA. He earned nearly $6 million in his career and more importantly, won a World Series ring with the Angels in 2002 when he appeared in five games and allowed no runs on one hit.

Who's Next?
A quick look at the Indianapolis staff reveals no intriguiing starting candidates. Daniel McCutchen (4-7, 4.06) was rather terrible in the majors. Hayden Penn (4-4, 4.68) was sold to Japan. I think we'll see the return of the lesser McCutchen. That being said, I would strongly prefer to either bring in a starter from outside the organization or stretch out D.J. Carrasco. Carrasco was a starter in 2005 and put up a respectable 4.79 ERA in Kansas City which is likely better than what any of our AAA guys can do.

For the relief role, Wil Ledezma has put up an 0.94 ERA in 35 AAA games with 50 strikeouts in 38 innings. Ledezma has only a 5.06 career ERA in the major leagues but this is looking like a career year for the journeyman lefty - one that shouldn't be entirely wasted. The Pirates probably would like to add another lefty in the bullpen, especially if Javier Lopez is traded. Another option is the righthander Steven Jackson who is 3-0 with a 3.92 ERA at Indianapolis.

July 23, 2010

Series Preview: San Diego Padres

I am pleased to state that the final home installment of the crapfest Pirates-Brewers rivalry is over. Now the Pirates entertain one of the top teams in the National League, the San Diego Padres.

I can report that San Diego is a border town in southern California, with a lot of military guys and caged animals. Think of San Diego as Grand Forks and Tijuana as East Grand Forks; it's just like that.

San Diego Padres - Friday 7:05, Saturday 7:05, Sunday 1:05
The Padres (55-39) are surprisingly in first place despite an unbelievably awful lineup of Adrian Gonzalez (.294/.390/.528) and no one. Literally, Yorvit Torreabla is their second best hitter. Yet they've ridden a 3.33 team ERA to first place in the hardest division in the league. This is despite having some truly awful fake military looking third jerseys.

Tonight the Padres go with their worst starter Kevin Correia (6-6, 5.22) against Pirates "ace" Paul Maholm (6-7, 4.03). Andrew McCutchen is still out of the lineup; reports are he's coming back Saturday but I really doubt it - he hasn't taken batting practice yet and obviously wasn't even available to pinch hit last night considering he didn't get into the game in a 3-2 loss. How sweet will Maholm's stats look when he improves to 7-7 with a 3.98 ERA. The answer is sickeningly sweet. This would be Maholm's last start as a Pirate if he were getting traded which he isn't. My pick is the Pirates.

Saturday the Pirates give the ball to de facto second starter Jeff Karstens (2-5, 4.84) against the Padres' Mat Latos (10-4, 2.45 and putting up those numbers without the benefit of an extra 't'). Steve Miller Band is playing after the game. Unfortunately for the sellout crowd, all of the good Steve Miller Band songs are actually Eagles songs, so this might be a disappointing Skyblast. However, the Pirates are great in Saturday games post-All Star break. My pick is the Pirates.

Sunday the Pirates go with Brad Lincoln (1-3, 6.29) against Wade LeBlanc (4-8, 3.28). Forget the stats; look at the names. Brad Lincoln sounds like a four year letter winner in every sport at every high school, Class of '51 through '99, every year. Wade LeBlanc is probably the name of that guy Sarah Jessica Parker moved in with in Europe in the worst plot ever in Sex and the City history which is saying a lot because there have really been some bad ones. My pick is the Pirates.

July 22, 2010

Trade Deadline Update

I always wondered how hard it would be to write posts on the Internet consisting of trade rumors that you BSed yourself. It seems like a great business to be in. The answer is 'not hard." Since it's been a few weeks since I first looked at the Pirates trade possibilities, here's a quick update as you prepare to watch the hometown offensive juggernaut...

LIKELY TO BE TRADED

Javier Lopez - I have seen no rumors on Lopez but I still consider him the most likely Pirate to be dealt. Lopez, 2-1 with a 2.62 ERA, is one of the better lefthanded specialists in the game and is making just $775,000 on a one-year deal. Most playoff teams have multiple strong lefty hitters, and typical bullpen usage makes having two lefty specialists a near essential in the postseason. Finally Lopez has done a good enough job that he's unlikely to return to Pittsburgh.

D.J. Carrasco - Multiple teams are interested in Carrasco, 2-2 with a 3.93 ERA. I think the Pirates will take the highest offer for him. Carrasco is here on a one-year deal for $950,000, so virtually any team could afford him. The one caveat is that he's the type of pitcher who's more beneficial in the regular season than the postseason.

Octavio Dotel - Dotel, 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA and 20 saves, has attracted the interest of the Mets and others. Presumably the Marlins would be interested. But while most people in baseball expect Dotel to be moved, I'd say it's only a 50/50 shot. He has a $4.5 million club option for 2010 which converts to a mutual option if he's traded - meaning Dotel would become a two-month rental.

Dotel has struck out 11 batters per nine innings this year while holding the opposition to a .235 batting average. It wouldn't be a terrible idea for the Pirates to simply keep him and pick up his 2011 option - retaining the back end of the bullpen as a team strength for next year.

UNLIKELY TO BE TRADED

Paul Maholm - The Dodgers are reportedly pursuing Maholm. Presumably the Phillies would have interest. I don't expect Maholm, 6-7 with a 4.03 ERA, to be moved. He's signed through next year and seriously, who would pitch his 200 innings if the Pirates don't bring him back? Moreover, even if the Pirates are inclined to trade him, they could keep him for another full year and still get good value.

Brendan Donnelly - Donnelly, 3-1 with a 5.28 ERA, is on a one year deal and would presumably be available. He hasn't been linked to any rumors, probably because of his walk rate of 6.5 per nine innings.

Joel Hanrahan - Hanrahan, 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA, has drawn a lot of inquiries. Yet he's striking out 12.4 batters per nine innings and is under club control for three more years so the price will be high. Too high for any team to meet, in my opinion. There was no point in trading for Hanrahan only to turn around and move him a year later after he's done an excellent job.

Andy LaRoche - LaRoche, hitting .232/.297/.310, lost his starting job to Pedro Alvarez. Yet I think it would be shortsighted to sell low on LaRoche for this reason. He's only making $450,000; why not just keep him as infield depth?

WON'T BE TRADED

Zach Duke - Duke, 4-9 with a 5.22 ERA, simply hasn't pitched well enough this year to get much in return at the deadline. He's arbitration eligible for 2011 and will no doubt be back in the rotation with little to no raise.

Ryan Doumit - Doumit, hitting .259/.329/.412, apparently suffered a concussion in yesterday's game and went on the disabled list today. That kills his trade value for this year, if his monthlong slump didn't already. He'll be back in 2011.

Ryan Church - There's no way a team would give anything for the beleaguered fourth outfielder, hitting just .190/.246/.325. Church is on a one-year deal and is, however, a candidate to be released outright.

Akinori Iwamura - Iwamura is hitting .303/.465/.424 at Indianapolis. That's nice, but no team is giving up value or even taking on Iwamura's $4.25 million contract after his disaster first half. At best, he'll stay in AAA and help the I-Tribe's pennant chances. At worst, he'll be recalled in September and we'll be subjected to him again in Pittsburgh.

A Look Back at the 2008 Deadline Deals

With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline less than a week away, many fans are expecting the Pirates to once again trade their best players. I think only a few minor moves will be made. That was certainly not the case two years ago however, as GM Neil Huntington was an aggressive seller at his first trade deadline.

On July 26, 2008, the Pirates were 48-55. The playoffs were out of the question with the Bucs 12 games out in the Central and 11 games behind Milwaukee for the wild card. Yet the offense was strong and a portion of the fan base favored making a run at a winning record. Huntington waved the white flag, sending reliever Damaso Marte and right fielder Xavier Nady to the Yankees for outfielder Jose Tabata and pitchers Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf.

This deal was certainly a success. Nady, hitting an absurd .330/.383/.535 at the time of the deal, was sold at his highest possible value. He hit .268/.320/.474 with the Yankees the rest of '08, then missed all but seven games in 2009 with injuries while earning $6.55 million. He signed with the Cubs as a free agent and has been awful this year. Marte, 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA at the time of the trade, is still with the Yankees but has been mostly ineffective ever since with a 6.02 ERA in pinstripes.

Tabata, the deal's centerpiece as Baseball America's #38 national prospect, has shown quite a bit of promise two years later as a 21-year-old rookie. He's hitting a pedestrian .266/.335/.364 but has excellent speed and defense and a good approach at the plate. Count this as a win for the Pirates' scouting department; he was hitting only .248 at Double-A at the time of the deal but was a consistent .300 hitter in the Pirates' system.

Ohlendorf was a solid second piece. He wasn't ready for the majors in '08 but was Pittsburgh's top starting pitcher last year, going 11-10, 3.92. This year he got hurt early and struggled to a 1-7, 4.62 mark although he's had a number of very good starts lately.

Karstens has been serviceable in three Pirates seasons with a 4.93 ERA in a swingman role. He remains under club control for three more seasons. Dan McCutchen is the lone failure in the group as he looks like he won't amount to more than an AAA pitcher.

On July 31, 2008, the Pirates were involved in the year's biggest blockbuster. Left fielder Jason Bay went to the Red Sox in a three-team deal that brought in pitchers Craig Hansen and Bryan Morris, third baseman Andy LaRoche and right fielder Brandon Moss. This was of course the same deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. This one looks like an unmitigated disaster.

Bay, hitting .282/.375/.519 at the time of the trade, immediately replaced Manny in the Red Sox lineup and hit .293/.370/.527 the rest of the way. He hit .341 with three home runs in the playoffs that year. Returning in 2009, Bay hit .267/.284/.537 and drove in 119 runs, finishing seventh in the MVP voting.

LaRoche, the deal's centerpiece, was ranked the #31 prospect in baseball prior to 2008. He had hit .295/.382/.517 in the minor leagues, leading the Pirates to overlook his .217/.348/.316 big league line with the Dodgers. Yet that performance now looks like Andy's true talent level, as he's hit only .231/.303/.348 in 266 Pirates games. He's a solid fielder but simply didn't hit enough to keep the third base job.

Moss was a 24-year-old outfielder with strong defense who had already hit .291/.348/.456 in 49 games with the Red Sox. The stale hot dog buns at PNC Park are apparently no Fenway Franks, as Moss hit only .232/.300/.381 in 178 Pirates games - not even enough to merit a reserve role. At age 26, he's putting up middling numbers at Indianapolis.

The jury is still out on Morris, the Dodgers' first round pick in '06. He dominated at Bradenton this year but has put up a 4.78 ERA at Altoona, albeit with solid peripherals. At age 23 I would like to see a better performance.

Hansen was the most puzzling inclusion since he already had pitched 74 big league games with a 6.15 ERA. I am not sure why the Pirates persist in acquiring pitchers with a proven track record of putting up a 6 ERA in the major leagues. They've done it three times already this year with Hayden Penn, Dana Eveland and Sean Gallagher. Hansen put up a 6.95 ERA here and has been on the Indianapolis disabled list all season. Truthfully I forgot about him entirely before looking up trades for this post.

The Pirates immediately started to play out the string lackadaisically and were 57-70 on August 21, 2008 when Huntington made his final move of the season. Third baseman Jose Bautista went to Toronto for catcher Robinzon Diaz.

This deal was another disaster. Bautista has hit .236/.346/.472 with Toronto since the trade and remains under the team's control for 2011. He's the current AL home run leader and is drawing a lot of interest at the current trade deadline; presumably the Jays are receiving better offers than Robinzon Diaz. Diaz, for his part, hit .289/.315/.363 in 44 games for Pittsburgh before leaving as a free agent. He's catching for the Tigers' AAA team. His offense wasn't bad but he couldn't actually catch, to the point where he led the NL in passed balls last year despite catching in only 33 games.

The remaining Pirates were unwatchable for most of the rest of 2008. Of course that is mainly because I didn't have a TV in Pittsburgh until October. Nevertheless, but they went 17-37 after the Bay trade to finish 67-95.

The Lessons Learned
It is a strange trio of trades - one hit and two misses.

Somewhat incomprehensibly, one and a half years of Bay, a bona fide star, brought the Pirates less in return than the complementary pieces Nady and Marte.

This happened even though the Pirates were clearly in the superior bargaining position. The Red Sox absolutely had to deal Manny Ramirez and there was no one out there other than Bay who could replace his production. Yet they didn't even have to kick in a top 100 prospect to make the deal.

In the Nady/Marte trade, the Pirates gave up both players at the peak of their value and got a package that seemed like more than fair value even at the time. Yet the Bay trade, consummated at the last possible minute, seems more like settling for the best possible package. Bay was hitting at exactly the level he had hit at for his whole career, and would have brought a huge return in a trade even had the Pirates waited a full year until July 2009.

At this year's trade deadline, the Pirates' most valuable piece is undoubtedly Paul Maholm. Yet like Bay, Maholm is a player who will retain value, both in trade and on the field, for another full year. So there's no reason to deal him unless the Pirates are truly overwhelmed. Certainly I wouldn't give him up, as the Pirates did bay, for a package headlined by a player who is already performing poorly in the major leagues.

Cliff Lee is a more recent lesson. The lefthander, traded three times in the past year, brought the most in return in the most recent trade. How is he worth more with 0.5 years remaining on his contract than with a full year or 1.5 years? Because someone was willing to give it. The Indians felt rushed to deal Lee at last year's deadline but could have benefitted from his services for a full season and gotten more in return by waiting another full year.

Regarding the Baustista deal, this deal went down the day after I moved to Pittsburgh and mystified me at the time. Bautista had hit .241/.329/.403 in five Pirates seasons, spending time at all three outfield positions as well as first, second and third base. One would think that is the perfect formula for a utility guy. Yet somehow, after Andy LaRoche hit .160 for three weeks at one of the six positions Bautista could play, the Pirates decided he would be worth over the next three years and change than a backup catcher.

The lesson of this deal is that a team should not give up major league talent for nothing, just because there appears to be no place to play the player. Of course the man this applies to is none other than Andy LaRoche.

LaRoche is currently hitting .228 with three home runs. Do you think any owners are telling their GMs, "Make a deal for a corner infielder with three home run power!"? I have seen LaRoche's name in trade rumors, but trading him now would sell him at his lowest possible price - likely a useless piece like Diaz. He has more value to this team just sticking around as a backup.

July 20, 2010

Kenny Lofton Is A Hall Of Famer

He only played for the Pirates for one season, and he's not eligible for voting so far. Yet it is time to point out that former Pirates center fielder Kenny Lofton should be in the Hall of Fame.

By the time Kenny Lofton made it to Pittsburgh, he was a 35-year-old mercenary who had seen better days. As the 2003 Pirates' center fielder, he hit .277/.333/.437 before being sent to Chicago in the Aramis Ramirez deal.

Certainly he didn't feel like a Hall of Famer at that point. But he should be.

In 17 seasons from 1991-2007, Lofton compiled an impressive statistical record. He hit .299/.372/.423, scoring 1528 runs on 2428 hits. He stole 622 bases and won four Gold Gloves. He had six 100-run seasons and 12 90-run years.

More importantly, Kenny Lofton was a winner. He was a guy who could bat leadoff for your playoff team. To that end, Lofton appeared in 11 (!) postseasons and 95 playoff games. Could all that be coincidence?

Strangely for a hitter who played in one of the great offensive eras, Lofton is hurt by his time. His career year took place in the strike year of 1994 when he hit .349/.412/.536 and scored 105 runs for the 1994 Indians.

Many players have scored 105 runs. How many did it in 113 games? Extrapolate that to a full season and Lofton would have scored 151 runs. That would have made him one of two players (Jeff Bagwell being the other one) who scored as many runs in the era of 1938-present. That is a pretty long goddamn era.

Indeed, during his eight year heyday from 1993-2000, Lofton scored 854 runs in 1065 games. That's 130 runs per 162 - an insane number for any era.

In his 1992 rookie year at age 25, Lofton hit .285/.362/.365 and scored 96 runs for a 76 win Cleveland Indians team. In his final year, 2007, at age 40, Lofton hit .296/.367/.414 and scored 86 runs while propelling the Indians to the ALCS. In the middle he was better. Look through the history of baseball. The list of players who were effective for 17 consecutive seasons is quite short. Almost all are in the Hall of Fame.

Judging by Wins Above Replacement, Lofton had seven years when he contributed over five. Joe Dimaggio had ten. Clemente had nine. Unless the Hall of Fame standard is that impossibly high, Lofton makes it.

You could win a pennant with Lofton in center, hitting leadoff. Many teams learned that. In fact, you would be quite unlikely to miss the playoffs.

In the worst year of Lofton's career, he scored 91 runs and helped the 2001 Indians to a first place finish.

Lofton wanted to play again in 2008, and was coming off an outstanding .296/.367/.414 season. Yet no one signed him because it was a collusion year. Can we then fault the player for failing to have the year when he increased his already HOF-worthy totals?

To a casual observer, his numbers may be diminished by the '94-'95 strike and the steroid use of his contemporaries. They should not be. Kenny Lofton, an extroardinarily effective player on offense and defense for 17 years, is a clear Hall of Famer.

July 19, 2010

Lastings Milledge's Turnaround

Entering the 2010 season, I was one of many observers who hoped for a breakout season by Lastings Milledge. After arriving via trade, Lastings compiled an unspectacular .291/.333/.395 batting line in the second half of 2009. His defense was quite good, but - more importantly for a player who came to town with a bad reputation for character - he was unquestionably a player who played hard throughout the nightmare final 40 games of that season. This year, he turned 25 on Opening Day and was given a starting job as the Pirates and their fans hoped to see the talent that years ago led a popular Mets blog to feature the header "In Lastings Milledge We Trust."

Two months later, on May 31, Milledge's line was a rather terrible .248/.320/.317. In 46 games, 40 of them starts, our five-tool left fielder compiled zero home runs and a whopping three steals. This start was even worse than the numbers indicate, as he was taking bad routes to balls in the outfield and running the bases with a level of recklessness normally associated with the Milledgeville, Ga., police.

Millege's 2010 looked like a lost season at that point, and truthfully he would have lost his job if not for Ryan Church being even worse. Yet quietly, he has responded by putting up a month and a half of outstanding baseball this summer.

From June 1 onward, Milledge has hit a Dave Parkeresque .337/.396/.525. In 31 games, 27 of them starts, he has 12 extra base hits (three home runs). He has done this despite uneven playing time and a move across the diamond to right field to accomodate the new left fielder Jose Tabata.

Sunday was Lastings's fifth consecutive game scoring a run and his fourth multi-hit game in the last five. Dare I say he is living up to his potential?

There is something to be said for talent. It is easier for a fast runner to learn to be smarter on the basepaths, than for a slow runner who never makes outs to learn speed.

Of course, April and May happened. They can't be discounted. Yet they will become distant memories if Milledge can keep up his star-level performance of the past six weeks for the rest of the season. It is one of the many storylines that will enthrall all of us as the Pirates drive towards their 2010 World Championship.

July 17, 2010

Time To Give Up

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 17, 2010

I never wanted to say this but it is time to give up.

The Pirates are now 30-59 which is a record that most great teams never possess.

We are still one game ahead of the Orioles. Nice.

I was on hand to witness our 5-2 loss to the Astros, my 17th home game of the year, and I can't imagine anyone caring about this team. Maybe that is why I have met zero hot chicks as a result of this blog*.

* I have met several hot chicks. I met one last night. It was not blog related.

This season's mission has officially switched from winning the World Series to trying to lose as many games as possible to get the first draft pick.

With regards to the second goal, our team is built quite well to work towards that objective.

It is sad. It is depressing. To those of us who don't have the courage to commit suicide, it is devastating. But it is life.

The Pirates will not win the 2010 World Series. I am sorry.

We live to fight again.

July 14, 2010

Revisiting the Top 20 Prospects - Part II

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 14, 2010

Continuing with the preseason #11-20, we see a lot of disappointments on this list. I am ready to give up on Daniel McCutchen and Gorkys Hernandez already, and a couple others have lost developmental time to injury.

11. Victor Black - Incomplete
The 49th overall pick in 2009, Black has great stuff and poor control. He's missed almost the entire season with shoulder and biceps injuries, throwing only 4.2 innings. He should return this month but he'll be lucky to get ten starts in this year making this somewhat of a lost season.

12. Daniel McCutchen - F
I thought that McCutchen could be a solid fifth starter in the major leagues. He proved that he cannot by going 1-4, 8.58 for Pittsburgh in the first half while allowing opposing batters to hit .300. He had solid results at Indianapolis (4-5, 3.86) but at age 27 that is little consolation. The Pirates should make him into a reliever because he clearly isn't going to be a major league starter.

13. Brett Lorin - Incomplete
The Pirates hoped Brett would be in Altoona by now. Instead, he underwent hip surgery and has only thrown eight innings. This is a major setback since he is 23 this year and with normal development, should be at AA by next year at the latest. At least he's back from injury now and should join Bradenton at some point in the second half.

14. Robby Grossman - D
Grossman has hit just .223/.329/.321 at Bradenton. He has continued to walk a lot while cutting his strikeout rate but is still striking out once a game - bad news for a guy who has hit only two home runs. He is only 20 and has the luxury of time, but he won't be a top 20 prospect for next season after this performance.

15. Diego Moreno - B
Moreno was a middle relief ace at Bradenton as he went 3-0, 1.37 in 26 innings with 11 hits allowed, two walks and 39 strikeouts. Promoted to Altoona, he has suddenly become hittable but still has 12 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. Overall, a solid half season for a guy in his second USA minor league year.

16. Justin Wilson - A
Making the jump from Lynchburg to Altoona, Wilson has lowered his ERA by nearly two runs, went 7-4, 2.85 and is holding Eastern League hitters to a .212 batting average. He's struck out 85 although his 37 walks are a few too many in 92 innings. Next year, Wilson will be a bona fide prospect in the Indianapolis rotation, something that club lacks right now.

17. Colton Cain - Incomplete
Signed for a bonus of $1.1 million, Cain had back surgery in the spring before throwing a professional inning. He got his first professional work in the Gulf Coast League and had a 3.77 ERA in 14 innings with 15 strikeouts. He has been promoted to State College where he'll pitch the rest of the year.

18. Gorkys Hernandez - D
Hernandez had a disappointing performance at Altoona last year and hasn't improved at all in 2010. He just hasn't hit enough to remain a prospect - .264/.335/.337 with two home runs. He also has struck out more than once a game. Jeff Locke looks like the only decent prospect acquired in the Nate McLouth trade, although McLouth has been awful enough since the trade to make that a good return.

19. Trent Stevenson - Incomplete
Last year's seventh round draft pick, Stevenson has a 3.94 ERA over 16 innings between State College and the GCL. He has good control but hasn't been striking many batters out.

20. Brooks Pounders - Incomplete
The #53 overall pick, Pounders has been hit around at State College with a 6.06 ERA in 16 innings. It's a disappointment, but he's only made five starts so far and has a good K/BB ratio of 12:2.

July 13, 2010

Revisiting the Top 20 Prospects - Part I

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 13, 2010

To an increasing number of fans, it is seeming like this blog's prediction of a World Series title in 2010 might not be correct. For those of you already looking to the future, let's take a look at how the Pirates' top prospects did in the first half of the year.

Of course, the minor league season ends Labor Day weekend so each team is well over halfway through the year.

There are a lot of prospect rankings. I am using John Sickels' Top 20 rankings, which notably like most lists didn't rank Neil Walker at all. Here are grades for the top 10, the rest will be in another post. The grades are for how well these players done this year, not how good of a prospect they are overall.

1. Pedro Alvarez - B-
Alvarez hit .277/.363/.533 at Indianapolis earning a major league callup. He really struggled early but has shown some power lately and is hitting .214/.272/.381 in 24 games with Pittsburgh. His defense has been better than expected but still needs a lot of improvement. On offense, clearly he needs to either take more pitches, make better contact, or drive the ball more.

Keep in mind Alvarez is in his second professional season. I've heard a lot of negativity about him on the radio and in my forays into real life. It is too early to worry. Another player of the same age and experience, the Rangers' Justin Smoak, only hit .209/.311/.346 yet the Mariners still liked him enough to give Cliff Lee in a trade for him. A decent hitting third basema named Mike Schmidt hit only .196 at this age. I'm not concerned, yet, with what we've seen from Alvarez. Considering his great work at Indianapolis, the half season has been about what I expected.

2. Jose Tabata - A-
Tabata was promoted to Pittsburgh after hitting .308/.373/.424 at Indianapolis. In the majors he's hit .241/.323/.328 through 29 games.

While Jose's offensive production has been below average, unlike Alvarez Tabata has had good at bats even when he's made outs. He's also playing the outfield at a Gold Glove level. Considering most players his age are still in AA or High A, I am fine with his hitting so far. He needs to cut down on times caught stealing. Overall, his year has to be considered a success to this point.

3. Tony Sanchez - A-
Tony hit .314/.416/.454 at Bradenton before his season was ended after 59 games due to a broken jaw suffered when being hit in the face with a pitch.

Provided that the mental trauma of this injury does not affect Tony's approach at the plate, I am still very pleased with his season. A broken jaw is not a chronic type injury and he alredy showed more than enough to start next season with Altoona. The Florida State League is the most pitcher-friendly league in baseball and those offensive numbers are just outstanding. He would have been a legitimate MVP candidate in the league. While Sanchez loses a half season of play, that's half a season less wear and tear on his knees considering he would have started 2011 at Altoona no matter what anyway. My only concern would be that he threw out only 15% of base stealers.

4. Zack von Rosenberg - Incomplete
Still only 19, von Rosenberg is currently in the State College rotation. He's gone 0-4 with a 5.57 ERA yet has shown great control in five starts. I am not going to grade the short season guys because they've only played a month. Also it's common for prospects this young to improve dramatically even between June and August - which is hopefully happening with Zack.

5. Tim Alderson - D
Tim Alderson's season has been somewhat of a disaster. He went 7-5 with a 5.30 ERA at Altoona while allowing opposing batters to hit .307. Alderson has alternated good games with complete disaster starts, the latest of which earned him a demotion to Bradenton.

Alderson is still only 21 and certainly has time to turn things around. But at this point he's looking like a poor return for the Pirates' All-Star second baseman.

6. Brad Lincoln - B
Lincoln went 6-2, 3.16 in 11 starts at Indianapolis and earned a promotion to the big league rotation. At Pittsburgh he's gone 1-3, 5.14 in seven starts. None of his starts have been disasters but he also hasn't struck anyone out and is looking like another pitch to contact, back end starter. That's valuable but you would hope to get more out of a #4 overall pick, although it's not Brad's fault that Dave Littlefield drafted him too high.

7. Chase d'Arnaud - D
After hitting .293/.398/.454 during a breakout season in A ball last year, d'Arnaud has slumped to .240/.325/.356 at Altoona. At age 23 he should be showing a lot more to justify top prospect status. He has good range but has already made 20 errors at shortstop. Chase is still walking a lot and is 17-of-19 in stealing bases, but he'll be a utility infielder in the major leagues if he can't hit for contact better than this.

8. Starling Marte - Incomplete
Marte has missed most of the season after undergoing hand surgery, but is still hitting .283/.374/.391 in 26 games at Bradenton which is very good for a 21-year-old center fielder. On the bad side, he has 26 strikeouts and no home runs. He's only played 85 minor league games in the U.S. and will probably play in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball this offseason to get more experience.

9. Rudy Owens - A
Owens has gone 8-3, 3.00 at Altoona so far in his age 21 season. He had 81 strikeouts compared to just 17 walks. Owens was just a 28th round pick but emerged as a prospect last year when he put up a 2.10 ERA in A ball. His stock has really risen with his mastery of the AA level.

10. Ronald Uviedo - Gone
In 16 relief appearances at Altoona, the 23-year-old Uviedo had a 3.22 ERA and was striking out over a batter an inning while holding hitters to a .165 average. In one of the dumber trades in recent memory, the Pirates shipped him to Toronto for Dana Eveland, a 26-year-old righty who had a 6.45 ERA with the Jays and walked more batters than he struck out. Eveland was terrible in three games and was designated for assignment; no other team wanted him so he went to Indianapolis where he has a 15.75 ERA. Meanwhile the Blue Jays have unsuccessfully converted Uviedo to a starting pitcher.

July 12, 2010

Worst Pirates All-Stars

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 12, 2010

People's definitions of an All-Star vary, but basically the fans' selections are always the most popular guys. The managers then fill out the rosters with the remaining players who had the best years up to the All-Star Break. Here are five Pittsburgh Pirates All-Stars who fit into neither of these categories.

Frankie Zak
Shortstop, 1944

Zak's All-Star season in 1944 is one of the strangest ever. Yeah, the AL had Jason Varitek as an All-Star in '08 when he couldn't hit or throw anymore, but at least he was a starting MLB player. Zak was a rookie who got into 87 games and had 160 at bats that season, hitting .300 with no home runs and 11 RBI. He was a starter for three weeks before the All-Star game which was apparently enough. Zak told newspapers he was surprised at the selection. Apparently so was his manager, as he was routinely pinch hit for in key spots in games. Without doing any research I am going to B.S. that he's the only position player All-Star to come to bat less than 300 times in his career.

Strangely enough, in this era the All-Star managers tried to use their best players and generally make moves that were designed to win the game. Thus, Zak didn't play in the game.

Murry Dickson
Pitcher, 1953

Unlike the rest of the players on this list, Dickson was a pretty solid player for a long time. He was deserving of an All-Star spot in several different seasons. Yet his 1953 season wasn't one of them, and in fact was probably the worst of his career other than his final year when he was 43.

A short righthanded junkballer, in 1953 Dickson had a stellar 10-19 record with a 4.53 ERA. At the All-Star break he was 7-11 with a 4.76 ERA. Yet who was it coming out of the bullpen to save the game for Warren Spahn? Murry Dickson, of course. He pitched the final two innings allowing one run.

Carlos Garcia
Second Baseman, 1994

Carlos Garcia, really? In one of the greatest seasons for offense ever, Garcia hit .277 with six home runs and 16 walks on the season. It was a strike shortened season, so let's say he would have gotten to nine home runs and 24 walks. His on base percentage was still .309. At the break he was hitting .267/.307/.332. He didn't deserve to be an All-Star in any year but of his four full seasons with the Pirates, 1994 was actually Carlos's worst year.

Garcia had two All-Star at-bats and singled off Randy Johnson. He was immediately picked off.

Tony Womack
Second Baseman, 1997

Tony Womack was hitting .272/.318/.357 at the break and ended up at .277/.330/.389 for the year. Without any walks or extra base hits, he was only a marginal offensive player despite his 60 steals. According to Fielding Runs, he gave back all that value and more by being the third worst defensive player in the National League in '97. Jose Guillen was the second worst.

With the NL making a strong attempt to come back from a 3-0 deficit, Womack replaced Craig Biggio - who was in the midst of his career year in which he scored 146 runs - and went 0-for-1.

Mike Williams
Pitcher, 2003

Mike Williams, a deserving All-Star in 2002, was 1-3 with an outstanding 6.44 ERA at the '03 midseason break when he was inexplicably on the All-Star team again. He also had walked 22 while striking out 19 in 36.1 innings. Somehow he had 25 saves by the break which is why he made the team, yet he was clearly the worst closer in baseball. The NL managed to blow a 5-1 lead even though Williams didn't pitch in the All-Star game. The winning pitcher, of course, was Brendan Donnelly.

Traded to the Phillies later that month, Williams and Jose Mesa (5-7, 6.52) formed a one-two punch out of the Philadelphia bullpen that was worse than actually getting punched twice. For the season Williams finished 1-7 with a 6.14 ERA. He got a non-roster invitation to the Devil Rays camp the following spring and couldn't make a team that was coming off a 99 loss season. He never pitched again.

July 10, 2010

Great Pirates In History: Dave Cash

With the Cliff Lee trade to Texas, Pirates WFC Blog staff plans to publicly and annoyingly consider a move south over the next two months. Imagine the synergy of a team that has Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton and a WFC Blog. I am a man now, so I can no longer carry the burden of being the main blogger in a championship push. I'll keep you posted.

In today's installment of Great Pirates in History, we salute an underrated player who, at a young age, was a major contributor to three consecutive playoff teams including the 1971 World Champions.

Dave Cash is the archetype of a player who is largely absent from the game now, but who was common from the 1960s to the 1980s. These men were always second basemen or shortstops. On defense they were unspectacular but reliable, not Gold Glovers but still possessing slightly above average range and good fielding percentages. On offense they virtually no power but made great contact and would hit between .270 and .300 with few walks and strikeouts. They were good bunters and great hit and run men. They weren't big time base stealers but had the speed to go first to third on a single and score from first on a double.

Today, a player of that skill set would be expected to play three or more positions and would still only be a part time player, but in the 1970s it was considered a coup to have a middle infielder who didn't hit .220 or make 30 errors. So in their heyday these men were valuable starters who would hit first or second in a lineup. Examples from the National League in the early 1970s are Glenn Beckert, Felix Millan, Ted Sizemore, and of course our man Dave Cash.

Replacing A Legend
Dave Cash was drafted in the fifth round in 1966 out of high school in Utica, New York. Good times in Central New York. He had his breakout prospect year in '67 when he hit .335 for the Pirates' A team in Gastonia of the now defunct Western Carolinas league.

Cash continued to hit as he moved up through the minors, but of course the Pirates had some guy named Bill Mazeroski at second. He caught a break when Mazeroski was hurt for the second half of 1969, and he earned a late season call-up by hitting .291 at AAA Columbus. Starting the last 18 games of the season, the 21-year-old Cash acquitted himself well by hitting .279/.371/.361 with only one error in the field.

With Mazeroski back in 1970, Cash returned to Columbus. But in late May, Maz was hitting below .200 while Cash was hitting .313 in Triple A. It is hard to replace a legend, but the time had come. Cash was called up and proceeded to hit .314 the rest of the way while splitting time with Mazeroski, who hit .229. The Pirates won the NL East, returning to the playoffs for the first time since the '60 World Series.

The World Series
The uneasy timeshare returned for 1971. Cash hit .289/.349/.354 and seemed to have taken the everyday job from Mazeroski. But yet another second baseman, Rennie Stennett, was called up in the second half of the season and proceeded to hit .353. Cash moved to third base in September. Of course, an excess amount of talent is to be expected on a team that would go 97-65.

Come playoff time, Cash's superior defense and solid hitting won out. He started at second for all eleven postseason games and collected 12 hits while scoring seven runs. Like the rest of his career, it was a steady but not spectacular performance - and one that helped the Pirates win the World Series.

Every championship team has its superstars. The '71 Bucs had Stargell and Clemente. But the current Brewers have Braun and Fielder and will never win a thing. It is the Dave Cashes, the players who might be the seventh best hitter in the lineup but are still above average contributors, who separate the champions from the .500 clubs.

1972-73 And The Departure
To start the 1972 season, the Pirates had two second basemen who were capable of hitting .300 and a third guy who was a Hall of Famer.

Maz reached the end of the line that year, but the other two men put up identical numbers. Cash hit .282 and Stennett .286. Cash played superior defense but Stennett was three years younger. By now Richie Hebner was himself a .300 hitter at third base, and apparently neither second sacker had the arm to play at shortstop. The Pirates rolled right along and went 96-59. They would have been the franchise's only 100 win team if not for a spring training strike that wiped out seven scheduled games.

Come crunch time, manager Bill Virdon once again turned to Cash to start in all five playoff games. This time, the Big Red Machine was too much. Cash drove in four runs but hit only .211 in the series. The Pirates, gone but not forgotten, lost the NLCS 3-2.

1973 brought one of those inexplicable down years for a solid team. The Pirates still had their World Championship team largely intact but nonetheless slumped to 80-82. Cash joined in with his worst year in Pittsburgh, hitting just .271/.328/.342 - though he had the best defensive year of his career.

Rennie Stennett had an even worse year - a bona fide bad one - hitting .242/.265/.358. Nonetheless, for some reason the Pirates decided Stennett had won the second base job. Cash was traded to the Phillies that offseason for pitcher Ken Brett.

For his Pirate career, Cash hit .285/.338/.365 while playing excellent defense and helping the team to three playoff appearances and a World Championship.

The Rest Of The Story
Finally given an everyday job in Philadelphia, Cash flourished. He played in 162, 162 and 160 games for the Phillies from 1974-76 and got MVP votes each year while putting up two 200 hit seasons. He had another great year for the Expos in 1977 and was basically done as a hitter after that. For his career he hit .283 with 1,571 hits.

Despite Cash's success, the Cash-Brett trade appeared to be working out as Brett was a solid back end starter while Stennett hit well from the second base spot. But infamously, the Pirates made one of their worst trades ever by sending Brett, Dock Ellis and Willie Randolph for pitcher Doc Medich. Yep, three All-Stars for one guy who would go 8-11 in his only Pirate season.

To me, the 1971 World Champion Pirates have been strangely neglected in this city. I hear a lot about the '60 and '79 teams, a little less about the current team, and nothing about the '71 squad. Hopefully the Pirates remedy this during next year, the 40th anniversary season.

Dave Cash played hard and well and was the leadoff hitter for the 1971 World Champion Pirates team. For those contributions, he is truly a great Pirate in history.

July 9, 2010

Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 9, 2010

Get excited - it's Pirates-Brewers games #4,000 through 4,002 this weekend.

Milwaukee is always one of the toughest places for the Pirates to play, but the Brewers have now been blown out in their last five consecutive games. Their record is now at 37-49 and the Brewers look poised to post their worst record since the 67-94 team of 2004. Despite the poor season fans are still packing Miller Park at a rate of 34,540 a night to see Fielder, Braun & Co., and manager Ken Macha is holding on to his job.

Braun (.285/.340/.457) and Fielder (.265/.393/.479) are each performing well below their typical levels. Of course, we said the same about Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee before they played the Pirates. In any event surprisingly good seasons by Corey Hart (.288/.350/.562), Rickie Weeks (.271/.369/.456) and Casey McGehee (.277/.345/.465) have helped the Brewers to field the fourth highest scoring offense in the National League.

Milwaukee Brewers
Friday 8:10, Saturday 7:10, Sunday 2:10

Friday the Brewers will start Doug Davis (1-4, 7.56) against Paul Maholm (5-7, 4.50). Maholm is usually a very reliable starter but has been lit up in two of his past three starts, raising his ERA by nearly a full run. Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo (8-4, 2.58) is hurt, which is why Davis returns from minor league rehab to make this start. He just hasn't gotten anyone out in the majors this year. Look for Maholm to put up a great start and the Pirates to break out of their season-long offensive funk. My pick is the Pirates.

Saturday the Pirates will use Jeff Karstens (2-3, 4.71) against Dave Bush (3-6, 4.23). Can anything be said about either of these pitchers? Of course not. My pick is the Pirates.

Sunday, in the final game before the All-Star break, John Russell will give the ball to Brad Lincoln (1-3, 5.25) against Randy Wolf (6-8, 4.49). It is too bad for this pair that guys who start Sunday can't make the All-Star team. Lincoln struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings at Indianapolis but so far is striking out just 3.5 per nine in the majors. Needless to say I would like to see that number rise significantly, and a Sunday getaway day before the All-Star break against one of baseball's most strikeout-prone teams is a good time to start. My pick is the Pirates.

July 7, 2010

Evan Meek's Improbable Career

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 7, 2010

Evan Meek has surprised many around baseball with his lights out season this year. For a guy who is still young, Evan has taken one of the strangest imaginable paths to stardom.

In 2002, Evan was drafted by the Twins in the 11th round out of Bellevue Community College. At that school which has produced one other MLB player in its history, Evan won zero awards. At the time he threw a 90 mph fastball and had no secondary pitch.

Signed nearly a year later as a draft and follow prospect, Meek went to Minnesota's Elizabethton rookie league team in the summer of '03. He was already old for the league at 20, but went 7-1 with a 2.47 ERA. Little did he know that his next good year would be in 2009.

The Meltdown
Meek was promoted to the single A Midwest League in 2004 and completely fell apart. In three starts he lasted a total of 5.2 innings and walked 15, hit two and threw four wild pitches. Clearly this was a case of Rick Ankiel disease. The Twins placed him on the disabled list, then returned him to Elizabethton in the second half of the season. There he walked 25, hit eight batters and threw 11 wild pitches in 22 innings.

Somewhat unbelievably, Meek remained in the Twins organization for 2005. Returning to full season A ball, in 18 innings he walked 36, hit two batters and threw eight wild pitches. Minnesota released him in June and he didn't catch on with another team for the rest of the year. Evan's career looked over at age 22.

"The lowest point of all this was not being able to get out of the second inning of a game and not being able to figure out what was wrong," Meek said after his release.

A Slow Recovery
After his summer off, Meek went to a Padres tryout camp in Arizona. The Padres signed him for $1 with a $1,500 bonus if he made a minor league team out of the next spring training. He could be forgiven if at that point he forgot that baseball is a big money sport.

Meek made the Padres' advanced A Lake Elsinore team to claim his $1,500. His control was better but he still walked 4.7 per nine innings. He also gave up more than ten hits per nine innings. The Padres traded him to Tampa Bay who moved him to relief. Overall he went 6-7 with a 5.14 ERA - an inauspicious comeback season. But his fastball was now reliably at 95 mph and hitting 97 at times, the same speed he throws today.

Tampa Bay promoted Meek to their AA Montgomery team for 2007. Again old for his league at 24, he had another middling season with a 4.30 ERA and more than a walk every two innings. He had the hard fastball and was striking out a batter an inning, but was still getting hit hard with 9.9 hits per nine innings.

Pittsburgh Bound
Tampa's fatal mistake was sending Evan Meek to their Arizona Fall League team that fall, despite his eligibility for the Rule V draft. For the first time since his 2004-05 implosion, Evan showed his unhittable form with only three hits allowed in nine appearances. The Pirates took him in that year's Rule V.

For the '08 Pirates, Meek appeared to implode again, walking 12 with three wild pitches in nine appearances. Not wanting that juggernaut to be dragged down by a poor relief pitcher, the Pirates offered him back to Tampa who accepted (undoubtedly small) cash considerations rather than taking him back. So the Pirates sent him to the minors. At the time a Pittsburgh sports blog speculated that they would have taken a slice of cheese pizza for the control-challenged pitcher. Not even a one-topping slice!

The Rest Is History
That demotion turned out to be Evan Meek's big break. He's pitched great ever since.

For the rest of 2008 Evan had a 2.51 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in Altoona and Indianapolis. More importantly he walked only 2.7 batters per nine, by far the lowest total of his career.

Last year, Evan had a 1.04 ERA in six appearances at Indy. Promoted to the Pirates, he went 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 41 games and became a key back end reliever for John Russell in the second half of the year. And of course this year, Meek has been the league's top set-up man with a microscopic 0.96 ERA. He's walked 11 men in 47 innings - not bad for a guy who walked 76 in 46 innings in 2004-05.

It's one of the better climbs from obscurity to All-Stardom ever, and one that's even more improbable when you consider that he did this before 2009 and therefore without the benefit of being inspired by Miley Cyrus's "The Climb."

July 6, 2010

Series Preview: Houston Astros

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 6, 2010

With the Pirates at 32-50 my best guess is they'll have to go 57-25 the rest of the way to make the playoffs. This will be quite an exciting stretch run, which began by taking three of four from the defending NL champion Phillies over the weekend. The Pirates' train rolls on with a three game series in Houston.

Houston Astros - Tuesday 8:05, Wednesday 8:05, Thursday 2:05
Today's model Carmen Silguero apologizes for the recent lack of previews.

While the Pirates' record is clearly a fluke performance by a championship caliber team, at 32-51 the Houston Astros are legitimately one of baseball's worst teams. Lance Berkman (.243/.356/.414) is still getting on base with 42 walks, but looks like he's clearly on the downside of his career. He's one of only three Astros starters with an on base percentage above .300. Former slugger Carlos Lee (.232/.279/.379) has been awful and Pedro Feliz (.224/.249/.309) ranks as one of the offseason's worst free agent signings. The Astros owe Lee another $46 million through 2012.

Tonight the Astros go with Wandy Rodriguez (5-10, 5.30) against the Pirates' Brad Lincoln (1-2, 4.65). Nobody told Wandy that this is the Year of the Pitcher. He was one of the NL's best starters last year with a 3.02 ERA in 206 innings, but like Houston's other '09 stars his performance has fallen off a cliff. Brad Lincoln took some time getting adjusted to the major league level but has put up three quality starts in a row including a seven inning, zero run performance at Chicago. This 11-32 road record has to turn around sometime. My pick is the Pirates.

In what is clearly one of the season's best pitching matchups, the Astros go with Brian Moehler (1-4, 5.20) Wednesday against Daniel McCutchen (1-3, 8.87). Really it is quite remarkable that Moehler is in a big league rotation considering his only good season was in 1998. McCutchen's ERA looks ugly but hidden in there is an 0.00 ERA, 18 K/9 career performance against the Astros in a huge sample size of one inning. My pick is the Pirates.

Thursday afternoon, the Astros go with their ace Roy Oswalt (5-10, 3.32) against Ross Ohlendorf (1-6, 4.39). Ohlendorf has been pitching well for over a month and finally got his well deserved first win against Philadelphia. Oswalt, who finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times, is again one of baseball's best pitchers and hasn't struck out so many batters since his rookie year in 2001. He'll have plenty of time to win games with the Yankees. My pick is the Pirates.

July 4, 2010

Evan Meek's Great First Half

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 4, 2010

The Pirates lack an ace starting pitcher, but that doesn't mean they don't have an ace.

This is pointing out the obvious, but Evan Meek has just been unbelievable this season. Fittingly on this day when he was named to the National League All-Star team, Evan pitched a 1-2-3 inning and was the winning pitcher.

The former Rule V pick is now 4-2 with an 0.96 ERA. In 47 innings he's allowed only 29 hits and 11 walks while strikiing out 42. Those hit totals are just absurd. 5.55 hits per nine innings? Plenty of pitchers allow more runs than Meek allows hits. He's also given up only two home runs.

While closers get all the glory, I am more impressed by Evan's stats than I would be if he put up the same numbers while closing. Rather than just facing whoever is up in the ninth, Evan Meek is intentionally brought into the most pivotal situations when the opposing team's best hitters are due up. He's also pitched two innings in ten of his appearances and has come into games as early as the fifth inning and as late as the ninth.

Against the Giants earlier this month, Evan Meek appeared in every game of the series, retiring seven batters on a total of 17 pitches.

The entire league is hitting .175/.229/.253 against him. Basically he has taken a selection of the best hitters in baseball and made them hit like a typical starting pitcher.

I've seen some articles which assume that Evan Meek is only on the All-Star team because of the rule that every team gets a representative. That is absurd. Five NL relief pitchers were selected and Meek is having the best year of them all.

Clearly, a scoreboard video for Evan Meek cannot be far away.

July 2, 2010

Trade Possibilities: D.J. Carrasco

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 2, 2010

In this post, let's look at the final player the Pirates might reasonably trade: righthanded reliever D.J. Carrasco.

For a guy the Pirates signed on the mistaken belief that he could play classic house music in the Hall of Fame Club, D.J. Carrasco has done pretty well with a 3.98 ERA in 40 innings over 35 games.

Carrasco has pitched to an ERA below 4.00 for three years in a row now. He also threw 93 innings last year so he should have a lot left in the tank for anyone who acquires him. He's also earning $950,000 this year so any team in baseball could afford his salary.

Why Trade D.J. Carrasco?
Carrasco is 33 years old and in Pittsburgh on a one year deal, so whatever he can do down the stretch will be more valuable to a contending team. He's shown enough to have value, but it's difficult to imagine him being a part of Pittsburgh's next playoff team.

The case against any of these trades, in part, is that the Pirates must maintain some level of legitimacy as a major league club if they expect to retain a fan base. It's also difficult to develop young players in a situation where there's no hope of winning. The Mariners are out of contention but recently traded for Russell Branyan, a 34-year-old slugger, in an attempt to create a winning atmosphere. I'm not sure that approach is entirely wrong.

What Would The Pirates Get?
A mid-level prospect or two mediocre prospects. Carrasco might bring a slightly worse return than Javier Lopez, since Lopez is seen as a late inning option due to his lefty arm. Yet Carrasco is not a worse pitcher than Lopez and he has the ability to throw more innings.

Who Would Want Carrasco?
ALmost every team wouldn't mind adding a reliever. Even for those whose bullpens look set, someone is bound to become injured or ineffective. Here are the best candidates:

1. Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen named Carrasco as his 2009 MVP, was disappointed that he wasn't re-signed and would definitely love to have Carrasco back. Carrasco would clearly improve his old team, which is currently deploying three relievers with ERAs above 5.00 on a regular basis.

2. Apart from Arthur Rhodes, the Cincinnati Reds' bullpen is their biggest weakness. A small market team can't afford to miss a chance at a playoff run, so they're certain to make some moves. Carrasco would solidify the front end of the Reds' bullpen and could set up over Nick Masset as well.

3. The Detroit Tigers really need to do something to replace Joel Zumaya. Carrasco isn't that guy but he could cover innings that open up with everyone else moving back an inning.

The Verdict
Trade him. Carrasco has done well, but he's going to be a free agent and isn't likely to move up the Elias rankings high enough to merit draft pick compensation. Like it or not, 2010 is a lost season. Trade him, but only for a player who can help in the drive for 82-80 in 2011.

Trade Possibilities: Javier Lopez

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / July 2, 2010

In today's Trade Possibilities I present the one player who I think is most likely to be traded before the July 31 deadline, the veteran lefthanded reliever Javier Lopez.

Why Trade Javier Lopez?
Lopez is a needless luxury for this team. He's pitched quite well, with a 2.76 ERA in 36 games, 29 innings. He's pitched equally well against lefthanded and righthanded hitters and shown the ability to pitch two and three days in a row with no ill effects.

Lopez was brought in on a one year, $775,000 contract after a disaster of a 2009, when he was injured or ineffective throughout the year. In Pittsburgh he's shown that he's the same pitcher who was a valuable member of Boston's 2006-08 bullpens. Lopez is worth more to a playoff contender than he is to the last place Pirates, and any team can easily pay his low salary. I have no doubt that somebody will give up a prospect or two for him. This site supports the efficient market hypothesis.

What would the Pirates get?
One solid prospect or two marginal ones. The Pirates have needs for a starting right fielder and shortstop in 2011, but Lopez won't be enough to get either. With young players blocking the other positions, the Pirates would settle for a high minors pitching prospect.

Who Would Want Lopez?
Lopez's 9.26 ERA 2009 might be too fresh in the Red Sox' minds to make a move for him again, even though the Sox haven't deployed an effective lefty reliever all year. Literally every other contending team is a possibility, though the American League has more of a dearth of lefthanded relievers. Here are the best fits:

1. The Los Angeles Angels have no lefthanders in their bullpen other than closer Brian Fuentes. It is not the Angels' style to make a big splash at the trade deadline, but they specialize in these low-level back end moves. Mike Scioscia is fine with having only one lefty reliever, but I doubt he prefers to have zero.

2. The Detroit Tigers bullpen is in disarray after the ugly injury to setup man Joel Zumaya. Lefty Phil Coke is likely forced to a setup role, leaving an opening for Lopez as a sixth/seventh inning lefty. The Tigers appear likely to take their division race down to wire again against the Twins and would love to have an effective lefty to face Minnesota's big lefthanded bats, Morneau, Thome and Mauer, during the two team's six September games.

3. The New York Yankees took Damaso Marte off the Pirates' hands in a similar deal at the 2008 deadline and could use another lefty arm. It's hard to imagine the Yankees going into the playoffs with Marte (6.9 BB/9) this year and Boone Logan (5.9 BB/9) as their lefthanded relievers.

The Verdict
Trade him. Lopez is gone at the end of the season. He's unlikely to resign, and truthfully wouldn't have come here in the first place if not for the need to prove himself after 2009. Yet that 2009 will prevent Lopez from being worth a compensatory draft pic, so there's no reason not to cash him in on a prospect and wish him luck in the playoffs.