Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Buyers or Sellers?

The reasons for being a buyer are pretty simple. 

#1 You have a shot at the playoffs.  The Pirates have been fairly injured all year and Cutch has been awful, yet the Pirates are only a couple of games out of the final playoff spot.  Adding the needed pieces (mostly pitching) ought to push you over the top.

#2 You have a deep farm system.  This is always an important consideration when looking to be a buyer.  Do you have the pieces to lose?  And right now the answer may actually be yes.  Do the Pirates really need Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, and Alen Hansen?  What about Chad Kuhl, Brault, Kingham, and Williams?  Not to mention Clay Holmes in AA.  Even the wave after that already includes Hinz and Keller.  And let us not forget that we have Kramer, Tucker, and Newman all bunched together and Hayes right behind occupying third further narrowing that group.  The farm system could survive a trade or two.

The reasons for being a seller (or at least not a buyer). 

#1 You have no real shot this year.  The Pirates have an easy schedule down the stretch, some head to head with the Cardinals, and have been pretty even so far with the Mets.  It is reasonable to assume that they can be jumped if the right trades are made.  And the Marlins are playing above their heads, the last wild card spot is a real possibility.  But, that gets you a one game playoff on the road against Kershaw.  Yikes.  If you win that you get the Cubs with the new improved bullpen.  I am not sure the Pirate are cut out to win a five game set against them.  If they did they would get either Bumgardner and the Giants or Strassborg and Harper with the Nats.  Both seem to have better rotations and star players playing like star players.  That is just to get to the World Series.  Not a likely scenario at this point.

#2 You are about to lose Mark Melancon for nothing.  The Pirates are not going to resign him, and he will probably be overpaid.  But the Pirates could trade him now and get something in return.  Maybe a prospect for the pen in a year or a guy who might compete for a 5th rotation spot next year.  Maybe even a catcher to push Diaz.  He will be overvalued right now at the deadline.  This is an opportunity to get a little something to help next year. 

#3 There are too many needs to make the Pirates great again.  The Pirates need another arm in the pen to make a run.  While Watson and Hughes are regaining form, another solid late inning arm is necessary.  Four late inning guys and a ground ball guy ought to be good enough for a playoff push, but they need one more arm to get to that spot.  It doesn’t have to be a closer, but a good hard throwing strike out guy.  But what the Pirates really need is a starting pitcher.  Right now they have Cole and that is it.  Lirano is not going anywhere, but he needs to be pushed down in importance.  Let us assume for a moment that he is getting it together and Taillon is reliable into the post-season.  You don’t want to have to go with Glasnow and Kuhl or Locke and Niese as the back end for the playoffs.  And you don’t want any of them this year pitching in the playoffs.  So, assuming one of those four can hold down a fifth slot we need a guy to take the fourth slot to pitch in the playoffs.  It would actually be better if you can get a #2 or 3 guy to make the Pirates competitive.  The price for a Chris Archer or a Julio Teheran would be astronomical.  You are talking losing a Bell or Meadows plus someone like Brault plus something else (or two). 

#4 The market stinks.  We already mentioned the high priced names with control left like Teheran that will cost top 5 prospects and then some.  Even if the Pirates are just looking for a rental it will still cost a top tier prospect plus a lower minor leaguer, and the return will be bad.  That is just the market this year because there is no one.  None.  It is an ugly starting pitching market.  Seriously James Shields is the big name rental.  Oakland’s Rich Hill might be the best idea, but he just went on the DL.  And Rich Hill is not exactly a world beater that is going to change your team from pretender into contender. 

#5 Help will be here next year.  The Pirates, thanks to some bad injuries last year, are just in a weird year where their internal help is too far off.  Glasnow is not really ready.  Kingham went down.  Kuchno imploded, and it is just a stretch to bring up some bullpen arms.  Think about next year.  The starting rotation can be Cole, Lirano, Taillon, and now Kuhl.  All have experience and ready to go.  By mid June you could bring up Glasnow and Kingham or a Brault and have a good solid rotation.  Your bullpen can have Watson as the closer, Hughes, Locke (or not whatever), and a whole bunch of new guys.  You can sign a guy if you need it or bring back Schlegul.  You could have Durapau by mid season (who is dominating AA right now), and you could convert Frank Duncan to the pen to start the season.  Maybe even a September call up of Luis Heredia, who is destroying High A in the pen.  Add to that Josh Bell’s power bat, and the Pirates are a lot better next year than this year. 

All in all it is pretty clear I want to be a seller.  I think you have to get something for Melancon while you can, and frankly I might trade some others if I could.  I like Jaso and I think he has a place on next year’s team, but maybe now is the time to let Bell do what he can do and get something in return.  Maybe Matt Joyce is as good as it is going to get right now.  I don’t really shop those guys, but I listen if someone came a calling. 
That being said, I also would not be upset if the Pirates just ride it out.  Keep what you have and let Melancon walk at the end of the year.  That way you are not giving up, and you might slip into the playoffs anyway. 

I suspect that the Pirates will make a real low level deal for a bullpen arm.  Maybe a Jeremy Jeffress or a David Hernandez or Andrew Bailey, but nothing too much. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

All Star Break Breakdown

As I am usually a pretty pessimistic fan, I actually find myself somewhat excited about the Pirates this year.  They are going younger, and it is working.

Yes, they currently sit on the outside looking in, but this is only by a game.  And they have done this without Cole, Cervelli, Stewart, and a bad version of Lirano and McCutchen, not to mention a suspect bullpen.  However, the bullpen has come around and even today's loss showed hope for a Jeff Locke out of the bullpen coming in the future.

We have seen Chad Kohl, and he has been better than many thought.  He deserves a shot at the eventual 5th starter role.  We have seen Glasnow, and he is going to be able to strike guys out.  Adding that change is going to make him deadly.  We have seen Taillon, and while some growth is still there, he can be dominate.  He needs the majors to grow any more, and he is going to be an addition to the team.  We have seen Adam Frazier, and he can be the super utility guy of the future or the eventual starting short stop or second baseman.  He seems to be able with the bat and in the field (although needing a little more outfield time). 

We have also just gotten a glimpse of Josh Bell.  Wow.  What a way to debut.  Bell got a pinch hit single in his first at bat off of none other than Jake Arrietta.  He came around to score the winning run.  We saw Bell's second pinch hit go for a grand slam to put the game away against the Cubs.  We saw his third plate appearance go for a walk, where he would come around to score the tying run.  Bell is 2 for 2 with a run scored in all three plate appearances.  Not bad at all.

So, the Pirates appear to be able to compete with what they have right now.  If they could clear out Niese to make room for a Kuhl or eventually a Glasnow, it would be great.  If they could get their catchers to stay healthy it would be good.  Cole will be back right after the All-Star break.  Plus, they have some prospects that could be traded for immediate help, probably in the bullpen, as they don't really need any other bats and have the young arms to pitch in the rotation.  Someone like Max Moroff, who may now be disposable with Frazier grabbing his opportunity by the horns, or even a Hansen.  Frank Duncan looks like a break out pitching prospect, perhaps he gets a trade look.  Brault could be another pitcher to go.  The Pirates have the people without having to risk someone like Meadows or Keller.

At the very least this has been a glimpse into not needing McCutchen.  He was the hope for so long and Alvarez failed to materialize as his running mate.  Now McCutchen has Marte and Polanco and maybe even Kang to cover him.  Getting a glimpse of Bell as a power bat should make everyone feel like the Pirates are set for the future.  Seeing Taillon develop to run with Cole and getting the glimpse of Glasnow only fuels the fire.  With guys like Kuhl stepping up to audition for the supporting cast is also invigorating.

The Pirate future is bright.  I do think they make the post season, they won't have to face the Cubs in a do or die, nor does it look like Bumgardner will be waiting.  It could be Kershaw, but only time will tell.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pirates in free fall

The question now is about whether or not the Pirates are going to have a winning season not whether or not they get to the postseason.  And how big a seller will the Pirates be at the deadline. 

I say this because it is hard to think the Pirates are trying much to win right now.  Today’s line up was familiar of the early 2000s.  When your line up includes Rodriguez and Kratz and Joyce, you are in big trouble.  I understand Marte went down with an injury, and it is probably a normal day off for Cutch.  But this is awful. 

First, Stallings is a better option than Kratz.  Hitting a whopping .050 going into today’s game should prove that.  Second, we have better options than Rodriguez right now.  Frazier or Moroff could give you all the flexibility defensively as Rodriguez (since you don’t need to cover first as Freese can do that), and probably hit better than .250 with a high strikeout potential.  Third, yesterday the Pirates started Wilfred Boscan.  Now, Glasnow has not allowed a hit in his last 12 innings in AAA.  I get it he probably does need more work on the change up and seeing multiple games without a loss of control for an inning would be nice, but the Pirates are falling out of contention for anything and Glasnow gives you a better shot than Boscan.  At some point you have to give it a go now.  You could always demote Glasnow after the game if you think Nicasio will be back for the next start.  But Boscan imploded as did the bullpen.  Would Glasnow have done that?  Was it really because Glasnow’s rest was one day off.  Probably not. 

To show you how bad it is today up 1-0 on the Giants in the 2nd inning, the Pirates had a runner at third with nobody out, but you knew he was not going to score.  Due up were Kratz, Rodriguez, and then pitcher Jon Niese.  All three struck out.  Not even a sac fly from Kratz or Rodriguez.  That is unacceptable baseball, especially when your two best players are on the bench.  The trio of Kratz, Joyce, and Rodriguez went 1 for 9 with Joyce pulling in two walks, and Rodriguez managing a meaningless hit late in the game.  Kratz ended the game with a .043.  That is also his OBP because he has not even drawn a walk. 

It is going to be fun to watch the prospects get some big league playing time this year, but it is painful to watch the Pirates tank so that becomes necessary. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016 Draft and what it says about the Pirates

There are many sites that are going to be able to give you better person by person breakdown of the picks.  For example, I still have no idea why the Pirates picked Blake Cederlind.  But, I would like to take a bird's eye view of the draft and see if we can come up with what this draft is saying about the Pirates as a whole.

#1 - The Pirates think they need left handed pitching.    It seems to me that the Pirates went after lefties a little more than normal.  3 of the first 10 picks were left handed pitchers.  And some seem a little like over drafts indicating that perhaps the Pirates think they have a need in the system of left handed pitching prospects.  And that may be fair.  You can quickly name lots of right handed pitchers in the system like Taillon, Glasnow, Keller, and Hinz not to mention some lower tier names.  But who is the big lefty prospect?  Kingham was doing well before surgery, we will see where he is now.  So maybe this is not a bad idea.

#2 - The Pirates believe they can get hitters through International signings.    The Pirates drafted a ton of pitchers.  Hitters are almost non-existent.  Will Craig is a hitting prospect.  Alemais is not a pitcher, but not a big hitting prospect.  Same with Gibbs.  Only 18 of the 41 picks are hitters, and not all of those will sign.  A lot of those 18 are late round guys who are not leaving school  Nor is 24th rounder Brodrato.  So, one has to conclude they have a comfort level with getting guys elsewhere.  Perhaps the success of a Tito Polo helps one think that the draft is more important for pitching prospects than hitting ones.  Consider that 8 of the 18 are either catchers or short stops, the two positions that defense might trump hitting. 

#3 - The Pirates value youth.   This is not just high school.  The Pirates seemed to avoid college seniors as if they had the bubbonic plague this year.  MLB has them only taking 9, but I have heard some debate about whether Vieaux is really a SR making it only 8. 

#4 - The Pirates scouted the Southern Conference a lot this year.    Really the SoCon, not the SEC.  The Southern Conference had 4 guys picked by the Pirates.  Three of those four were from East Tennessee State University and the other was from Western Carolina, the actual winner of the SoCon.  I am not even sure what to make of this, but it is a little weird, right?  I am not the only one who thinks three guys from ETSU, which didn't even finish in the top 2 in a conference that is hardly known for baseball is a little strange?  Not that I don't like some of those picks.  Brown was nasty at Western this year with some pop in the bat. 

So those are some of my thoughts about the state of the Pirate system by looking at this draft.  Other than #4, which I threw in because I grew up on the SoCon, I think the Pirates are drafting for what they can work with knowing that their International system seems to struggle to produce pitching (see Heredia), and is producing hitting. 

It is not a great draft, but it is not a bad one either.  Sometimes you wish things would have gone a little differently.  For example Tom Hatch being drafted by the Cubs right before the Pirates.  He was very good this year for OSU, and would have been a great addition to the Pirates.  I think he has a MLB future, but he was off the board. 

This will be an interesting one to take a look at in a couple of years. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Draft 2016

Day 1 of the draft saw three draft picks, and all were overdrafts by all accounts.  But, after seeing how Cole Tucker has performed, I think the Pirates have earned a bit of a break here.

Yes, it could be also that all of these will sign for under slot and give the Pirates some money to throw at harder signs today or even a Gage Hinz type offer in Rounds 11-13 which we will see tomorrow, so the book is hardly closed on the draft.

Will Craig is a big hitting 3B from Wake Forest.  College Hitters are usually a safe thing, and Craig will probably anchor the Black Bears offense.  We have not really seen a lot of these college hitters work out lately for the Pirates, so this one will have a lot of pressure.

Nick Lodolo is a high school lefty with a lot of height.  He is projectable and that fits with what the Pirates had been doing, but seemed to leave behind.  The Pirate farm system is littered with failed tall projectable types, so Lodolo will probably face increase criticism.  Although I do think the farm system is short on lefty pitching, which makes Lodolo valuable.

Travis Macgregor is a sort of tall high school right handed pitcher who was apparently moving up draft charts, which is an encouraging note.  He already sits in the 90's which should ease comparisons to previous high school failures who shall remain unnamed.  His secondary stuff may also be above what one would expect as well. 

It is unclear whether either of those two guys will pitch much in short season ball. 

Day 1 produces the hype, but I think day 2 makes or breaks the draft, so this is the day I am interested in.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Justin Masterson . . . finally

Justin Masterson has finally signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and for a minor league deal too.  It makes you think his rehab has not gone as well as hoped. 

He will now try to regain some former form, or at least consistent ground balls with the side of strike out.  The Pirates did leave open the possibility for Masterson as a reliever, which right now looks like the bigger need.  Although he is going to begin as a starter.  Nicasio has been pretty good and Locke is not awful, so he has some work to do to break the rotation.  But the bullpen . . .

The bullpen has struggled and already used several different guys.  Masterson would give a nice long man piece or even just a flex guy.  Although replacing Voglesong with someone would make me feel a little better.  Without Hughes the pen lacks a consistent fourth man.  Watson and Melancon are solid.  Feliz looks decent enough so far.  But other than that the group really looks bad.  Schugel and Scahill are emergency replacements and look like it.  Vogelsong is the long guy with declining skills.  Lobstein is inconsistent and Caminero has shown flashes of greatness, but has also been lit up.  The bullpen desperately needs Hughes back. 

Hughes can help calm the mess being a pitcher who can be trusted in high stress situations.  This can move Caminero back to lower stress situations, and perhaps more rest in-between outings, hopefully improving his consistency.  It will drop one of the emergency guys back to AAA as well.  But it still leaves some upgradeable slots that Masterson would upgrade.  If Vogelsong is untouchable, it at least pushes the other emergency guy back to AAA or perhaps removes the need for Lobstein with a more tried MLB pitcher. 

I for one am very hopeful that Masterson can perform at AAA and get into the Pirate bullpen. 

And maybe just maybe we can make it to that moment when you see Taillon take the mound . . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

That was fast . . .

I fully expected Michael Morse to get dropped from the team this year.  I figured it would be when Josh Bell got a call up in June.  Morse will probably stay with the team because I believe the Pirates will still have to pay his salary if he stays in their system.  No one is going to pay him anything near that.  But I did not expect Morse to get dropped after only 8 at bats. 

I think it is the product of two things.  One, clearly it has a little to do with the need for another bullpen arm.  A.J. Schugel pitched tonight, fairly well by the way.  With Lirano missing a start, the long guys taxed from yesterday, and Vogelsong getting the spot start, another fresh arm was needed. 

But mostly I think it is the sign that the Pirates are pleased with Jaso.  Jaso has been great so far this year.  His patient approach has drawn walks and produced hits.  Jaso will not have to platoon now.  Obviously at some point Schugel or one of the other long relievers will get dropped for a fifth bench bat, but not until Lirano is good to go.  Who they bring up then will be interesting, but money should be on Jason Rogers.  If he gets to platoon with Jaso may very well depend on how well Jaso does these next few days. 

The Pirates record may not be where we want it, but having Jaso be the outright first baseman is a problem worth having.