Monday, March 12, 2018

New Year and I have no idea how to feel

It is another new year for the Pirates.  I had completely expected to just be ready for a horrible season that would include dumping a few more players at the trade deadline.  I was ready, braced for the bad summer.  But then the Pirates traded for Dickerson, an All-Star from the Rays, for a fairly reasonable price. 

Now, I am at a loss.  The Pirates did send away two greats, but they did pick up some pieces.  Third base has a good outlook, and McCutchen's offense is mostly replaced by Dickerson.  The Pirates have hope to replace Cole with the many young arms they have.  It was the deepest spot on the roster (with middle infield perhaps the other).  Nova and Taillon should hold the front down with Williams, Kuhl, Brault, Glasnow, Kingham, and others trying to fill the back end.  That is a lot of options. 

And Meadows has looked really good in the spring making me think his arrival could be sooner rather than later.  That would lessen the need for Polanco to be all we hoped he could be. 

I know the NL Central is loaded.  The Cubs are loaded.  The Cards are never bad.  The Brewers are trying to make a run.  But, there is a lot of talent on this team.  Unlike Pirate years in the past, where I had to convince myself that Randal Simon and Brian Bixler were going take a huge step up, I don't think a lot of convincing is needed. 

Sure, the Pirate prospects probably lack that mega-star, but they have a lot of guys that could be better than league average at almost every position.  Would we be surprised if Bell was a big home run hitter with a high OBP?  No.  Would we be surprised if Marte hit .300 with decent pop?  No, he has done it before?  Would we be surprised if Polanco took a step forward this year?  No.  Would be be surprised if Moran turned out to be a solid every day 3B?  No, not really.  Would would be surprised if Mercer hit as he has the last couple of years?  No.  Would we be surprised if Harrison hit near .290 and provided energy?  No.  Would we be surprised if Taillon became the top tier pitcher in a year without cancer?  No.  Would we be surprised if the Pirates found a 5th starter?  No.  Are we going to be surprised if The Nightmare continues to pitch great?  No.  Would we be surprised if the rebuilt bullpen is better?  No.  Would we be surprised if Frazier provided good utility work on a regular basis?  No. 

The only real holes appear to be catcher where I would be surprised if Cervelli got better or remained healthy, and pinch hitters, where I would be surprised if the bench showed power and if Sean Rodriguez did well. 

So, here I am, stressed and in the middle.  I would be surprised if a lot of these guys were good.  But I would not be surprised if someone of them weren't (Polanco, Moran, and Harrison to be exact).  I am impressed the Pirates got me here after the trades, but I might just be a fool again. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

So now it is a bit different . . . McCutchen Trade

Okay.  Everything has changed from my last post.  Gerrit Cole’s trade was not bad when the team was still structured with McCutchen.  I thought they could still compete with the new third basemen in Moran and some reasonable expectations of improvement, along with the now better pen and the depth at starting pitcher. 

But without McCutchen, it looks worse.  McCutchen’s return was another pen piece and Bryan Reynolds a decent hitting, no power, outfield prospect.  Not exactly world beating, but outfield depth is a bit of an issue for the Pirate farm system.  Reynolds was #5 in the Giants system, but won’t be in the Pirates. 

Now everything has to break their way for them to make the playoffs including injuries to the other guys’ best players.  Marte has to hit well and with power, Bell has to hit more, Polanco has to live up to expectation, rookie pitchers need to win lots of games, and Moran has to be all we want and then some.  So, better to dump people now.  Harrison is asking to be traded, and if I could get an actual person back for him, I would do it.  Judging from the value of the other two guys a warm body would be a nice return for Harrison.  He was a nice piece in a lineup where he was not the main hitter.  He brought energy, a solid bat, and okay defense at second.  But without McCutchen, his value is less to the Pirates.  He is now a solid bat in a lineup that lacks a consistent threat and power.  The Pirates have a glut in the system of middle infield, so move him now so we can start sorting the Moroff, Newman, Kramer, Tucker situation out and get people at bats. 

I would have been okay with trading Cervelli this off season, but not now.  Ironically, I think his value to the Pirates increased.  With younger arms in the rotation and the pen, an experienced catcher is more valuable.  He is not really blocking any break out catching prospects, so keep him and let him work with the young staff plus mentor Elias Diaz as his back up. 

I suppose the opening day outfield will now be Marte in center with Polanco and Osuna at the corners with Fraiser doing his thing bouncing around.  If all goes well in the minors, we should see Meadows, but with his history he needs to show he belongs now.  Reynolds is there in case Meadows does not pan out. 
The other part of this trade is the return of international signing money.  The Pirates put this in the trade, they had better use it.  I heard they were scouting the top catching prospect, with the extra money and what they have not spent, they need to make a bigger signing.  That would put that player as sort of a return for McCutchen.  But just hoarding signing money is not really of use.  They got extra cash, time to use it. 

It is possible that some of these bullpen guys from these last two trades get turned around at the trade deadline.  Bullpen guys seem to have a bit of increased demand at that time.  That might help some of this look better, but I am not sure the Pirates are thinking that way. 

I do think the Pirates are still not very far off.  This is not a taking it down to the foundations kind of rebuild.  The Pirates still have some good prospects and real talent on the roster.  But, this year going to be hard to watch.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Filling holes is not wrong

Gerrit Cole is gone, and I will miss him.  It would have been nice to have stock piled sure thing prospects, but that apparently was not possible.  Even in all the rumors with the Astros and Yankees top prospects were always off limits.  So, one can assume this is as good as a Cole trade gets.  Obviously the trade will be decided on three factors.

1.       How well these major league ready players turn out to be this year and next.
2.       How well Cole pitches this year and next.
3.       How well our talent pool of pitchers turns out to be this year and next.

Overall, I am happier that the Pirates appear to be trying to make a playoff push this year.  I am still of the opinion they are not that far away.  I think there is good reason to expect more from Marte this year, not to mention growth from Josh Bell.  Add that to a renewed McCutchen, and the Pirates have a real chance to compete if the pitching holds.  But it was absolutely necessary to upgrade 3B and the pen, which this trade does.

Moran was the 9th overall prospect in the Astros system, so he has acknowledged potential.  And even if he lacks the power, he will have a better average than Freese.  This will help the team.  Feliz is a solid strikeout reliever who has some walk issues.  He is not going to be counted on to be the closer, so he should have little problem finding real usage in the Pirates pen. 

Musgrove is the biggest question mark for me.  He has about the same amount of starts as appearances from the pen, and I think he is better off in the pen.  I hope they don’t just hand him a staring job as the Pirates have loads of starter talent that I think eclipses Musgrove such as Glasnow, Brault, and Kingham.  Freeing up Cole’s spot is better for one of them and using Musgrove where he has been more effective, in the pen. 

The deal also gives us one prospect, Martin, who does not really jump off the page, but does still look like he could play in the big leagues.  It is good to have a prospect in this package. 

The second component is Cole himself, who has been less than ace worthy in his last two years.  If he finds that dominance that we always thought he had and has shown glimpses of, then this trade is not enough.  If he just continues to pitch as he has, which will make him a good starter on the Astros, but not a great one, then perhaps this deal looks good in hindsight.  Cole has questions marks.  The bigger question is whether or not the Pirates have anyone who can answer the questions better than Cole did.

That is the third major part for me.  Brault, Glasnow, and Kingham could all take a step forward and be this year’s Chad Kuhl or Trevor Williams.  I am assuming Kingham probably starts the year in the minors, but there was only one spot really for Brault or Glasnow in Pittsburgh before the trade, now there maybe two. 

Look at this potential pitching combo.
Rotation: Taillon, Nova, Kuhl, Williams, Glasnow
Bullpen: Rivero, Kontos, Hudson, Feliz, Neverauskas(or Santana), Brault, and Musgrove

This is a pretty good looking pitching line up.  Strikeouts should flow freely.  If Glasnow can get it together, then this could be a playoff type pitching staff with real depth.  If Hudson continues to struggle, AAA will have the loser of the Neverauskas/Santana race ready to step in.  Clay Holmes would be available if a long reliever is needed.  As a ground ball guy, he could be a help, but is a bit like Musgrove.  And Kingham would be there if a starter went down or failed as would Brault and Musgrove.  Although in this set up Brault is the second lefty in the pen. 

Add to this a team that includes an upgraded 3B, probable improvement in Marte and Bell (and perhaps Polanco), and has kept McCutchen.  I think this is a team that could compete for the wild card, and perhaps the division title as the Cubs pitching currently stands as borderline ugly. 

If they do make the playoffs this year, the trade has to be seen as a success.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Not Done yet . . .

So the Pirates are not goners.  They just went 6-1 on a homestand that included a four game sweep of the first place Brewers.  This helped them reach .500, leap the Cardinals, and claw to within 3 games of the Brew Crew, but don't forget the Cubs (who have already made a trade to improve) still stand between the Pirates and 1st place.

Everyone had been talking about how important the homestand was to deciding whether to be buyers or sellers.  To me that stretch was not just the homestand, but the next 3 games as well.  This is on the road against the Rockies.

Now, the Rockies are in the 2nd Wild Card spot, and thus this is another sign of whether or not we belong with teams who are thinking playoffs.  The Cards are now a below .500 team, so while it was important to beat them, I think the Rockies are the better judge.  Plus, winning on the road may be a little harder than home.  After all almost all of these wins were walk offs, which don't happen on the road.

Before I jump back on the hope train, I need to see the Pirates win against the Rockies.  I would settle for 2 out of 3.  But this will have to be done without Cole and without Taillon, who are going to go against the hapless Giants.  Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, and Nova have to bring this series home.  If they can pull this off, then I will admit they are back in the hunt.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Always Optimistic - Minor Leagues Half Way Point

As bad as the first half has been for the big league squad the minor league system is VERY encouraging.  First, it has seen the return from injury of some who could help the Pirates.  Brandon Crumpton and Casey Sadler are long shots, but they are back and that is good.  Nick Kingham is looking like his old self and that is very good. 

Indy was loaded with talent and their record shows it.  In fact, it is not as good as it ought to be because of how much the Pirates have had to raid it.  Max Moroff was on fire and is not sitting the bench in Pittsburgh.  Osuna looked good, and is looking okay in Pittsburgh.  Diaz has made several trips as have many bullpen pieces.  Some non-prospects have been hitting the cover off the ball, Bostick and Ortiz.  That always is nice.  But it is the prospects that make us happy.  Meadows had a slow start but a .300 May removed real concern.  It is the injury that worries now.  The pitching prospects are out of sight.  Glasnow has been great since his demotion.  Brault has been amazing.  Clay Holmes has good showings, and probably ought to be considered as the ground ball bullpen guy.  Drew Hutchinson is starting to look like someone who could be a major leaguer, and Edgar Santana has looked very good out of the pen. 

Prospects at Altoona have also done well.  Again Newman started slow, but has come on.  But the power of Kramer has been a revelation, and Luplow earned a promotion with his strong hitting.  Suiter is a lower type of prospect, but .313 is good.  Connor Joe is the only one that might be considered disappointing at .251.  Pitching is equally as exciting.  Austin Coley’s win-loss leaves something to be desired but his 67 Ks does not, nor does allowing fewer hits than innings.  J.T. Bruebaker is also striking out over 60 people, and Alex McCrae is not exactly failing with his 7 wins.  Yeudy Garcia has been disappointing, but hopefully a move to the pen will help him find his hard throwing way to the majors.  I am not sure how much we are supposed to be paying attention to Montana DuRapu, but he has a 1.16 WHIP with 14 saves.  Not mind blowing, but not awful.  And Tate Scioneaux has put together a good season out of the pen with a .98 WHIP. 

Bradenton has propsects showing great potential again.  Out of no where Logan Hill earned a promotion through his bat.  But the big prospects of Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes have delivered in some surprising ways.  Hayes is hitting .267 in a non-friendly hitting league, but is showing good defense at the corner.  He also has stolen 22 bases.  That would be astounding if Cole Tucker had not stolen 34.  Tucker is also hitting .292.  The other name of real interest is Will Craig, last year’s first round pick, and he is hitting .291.  Kevin Krause has been derailed off the prospect track with injuries, but his .275 AVG with 6 HRs might help his cause.  It was the pitching that was always the exciting point of this team and while Gage Hinz has showed a lot of inconsistency, he has shown enough to keep one excited about him.  Mitch Keller’s .91 WHIP in 11 starts is competing with Taylor Hearn’s 96 Ks and a 1.16 WHIP for most exciting thing.  Daniel Zamora’s bullpen ability is also something to not neglect. 

West Virginia was expected to be awful, and they are not great, but playing better than expected.  This is partly because of Ty Moore, who earned a promotion.  Carlos Munez, who started off in extended spring training, hit well.  He has cooled off as of late, but a .257 AVG is something to be happy about.  Valerio and Alemais cannot stay healthy enough to get a good read, but Valerio has looked impressive.  This leaves really only Hunter Owen as a hitting prospect.  And he has delivered with a .280 AVG and a team leading 9 HRs.  The pitching here is what really exceeds expectations.  The futures games just got a taste of Luis Escobar.  But he is not alone in showing real promise.  Cam Vieaux earned a promotion (and has yet to lose in 3 starts in Bradenton).  He ought to be climbing onto some of the larger prospect lists as at least a possible lefty-bullpen arm in the future.  Oddy Nunez and James Marvel are both pitching rather well showing strikeout ability as starters.  And Eduardo Vera has a 62/8 K/BB rate, which was done in some starts and some bullpen appearances.  Cenderlind has been a disaster, but one such disaster should not take away from the others. 

That is a really nice look to our prospects in a fairly nice system.  It is top heavy, but the emergence of Escobar, Nunez, and Vera along with the stable hitting of Cole Tucker, Hayes, and Hunter Owen makes the bottom not quite as awful as it was thought to be.  If either Valerio, Alemais, or Munez can develop into something then the Pirates system is very deep and good.  And we have yet to look at this year’s draft.  

High Hopes Dashed - Mid Way Review

The Pirates first half is an unmitigated disaster.  They are basically out of the playoff race, and will probably trade some people down the stretch.  The only question left in the Pirates season is will they trade McCutchen and/or Cole. 

If you had told me at the beginning of the season the McCutchen was going to be hitting near .300 and going back and forth for the HR lead on the team with Josh Bell, I would have said the Pirates were going to make the playoffs.  But while the questions were all answered yes, the sure things all fell to pieces. 

Bell is hitting for power, but is too streaky with his average.  Polanco is disappointing to say the least.  Frazier has cooled off considerably, Freese is what he is, and Cervelli is an offensive liability.  What is worse is the times Jaso has to play in the outfield.  He leads a bench that has had many incarnations and almost all disappointing.  Moroff is currently on the roster hitting below .100.  Nuff said. 

Of course most of that is directly related to Marte’s steroid use and Kang’s drinking problem.  Frasier and Freese would be able to be occasional bats, it would have limited Jaso, and Morroff would not need to be on the roster at all.  Even just having Marte around would drastically improve the offense by adding another power threat and a near .300 hitter.  Imagine Marte and McCutchen both clicking with Harrison’s year.  It is a picture of what could have been, but never will be now.

The Pitching has likewise been a disappointment.  Glasnow was the big question mark that was answered with a no.  He will be back, but right now he is not ready.  That experiment cost the Pirates several games.  But Cole has been so-so.  He has had some great outings, but he has had some really bad ones.  Kuhl’s expected step back was a bit larger than I thought, further hurting the team.  Taillon’s absence is probably what sunk the Pirates.  His ace level pitching probably could have saved the Pirate three to four games in the standings and kept them right in the mix.  Tony Watson’s implosion was also unexpected.  Couple that with the underwhelming performance of Daniel Hudson, and the Pirate bullpen becomes a huge weak spot.  The bullpen did not really even replace Trevor Williams with a decent arm.  Williams has done very well after the first outing in the starting spot, but the bevy of arms thrown into his spot have all failed to perform.  Both Santana and Neverauskas did little to show their potential in brief stints with the club. 

As much as it pains me, I think the Pirates have to move McCutchen.  He should bring a nice return and he can go get the ring he ought to have.  I would try to keep Cole, but there are others that might could be moved.  Watson won’t bring much, but if there is a buyer, I would be a seller.  Cervelli should also be shopped.  Catchers have a good value usually and Elias Diaz showed he may be able to handle the majors now.  One hopes that McCutchen can bring in a big prospect, and maybe some smaller pieces.  A Felipe Rivero kind of return would be nice for Cervelli, and anything for Watson would be fine. 

It would have been a good year.  Marte deserves a lot of blame for his actions that tanked the Pirates season.  I hope he cleans up and is still good without the drugs, but he will never have my full support again.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Another season and high hopes

Well another season is under way and projections on the Pirates are all over the map.  But I think this is a year that will be a good one for the Pirates.  I think they ought to be able to make the playoffs, and PERHAPS, win the central. 
I say this because the Pirates are going all in with their best talent in the rotation.  Cole, Taillon, Nova, Kuhl and Glasnow.  While Cole may not be Cy Young quality #1, he is still a #1, and 2-5 I think is better than most teams.  And if say a Kuhl cannot duplicate last year’s success or Glasnow struggles, the Pirates should not have to wait too long to bring up Nick Kingham or Brault or bring Williams out of the pen to the rotation.  That is a lot of options to sure up the back of the rotation. 
The bullpen also looks good.  Watson is set in as closer.  Rivero is a late inning guy as is Hudson, who the Pirates added in the off season.  They have Nicasio in the pen, who showed a lot of ability there last year.  Williams is up too to add long relief and serve as insurance for any starting rotation melt downs.  The decision to release Hughes, I think shows commitment to win now.  Hughes had some good years, but collapsed last year and showed no sign in pulling out.  They went with those who looked better right now. 
And the pen is a place where you can expect AAA help every year, and the Pirates have that in spades.  AJ Schugel was okay last year, and Neverauskas and new comer Pat Light all throw hard and are currently on the 40 man.  If Edgar Santana continues as he has, you can expect him to make the 40 man and the majors before the year is out.  All four are mid 90’s guys who can strike people out.  The Pirates have in the past been very high on Angel Sanchez as well, who will be in the bullpen for Indy.  And I have long thought Cody Dickson would be a good lefty bullpen guy.  This is his first year in the pen, so he may not be helpful in Pittsburgh this year, but a left throwing low 90’s with some ability to get ground balls cannot be dismissed lightly. 
The same can be said of the starting 8.  Bell is up.  Frasier is up.  Hanson is up.  I think there is a lot of potential in that line up.  And if McCutchen struggles Austin Meadows is waiting in the wings in AAA.  And let us not forget that at some point the Pirates ought to get Kang back to add in some more power to the lineup.  While middle infield help is probably more than a year away Max Moroff could be available for that.  He is right on that boarder line, and needs to take that next step.  AAA does have Eric Wood, who looked great in the Fall League, as well as Jose Osuna.  Osuna dominated Spring Training.  And I know that does not mean much, but it can’t hurt Osuna’s confidence.  The problem is he is behind Bell, but wow he looked great this spring. 
Which brings me to the next point.  The Pirates have talent to spare for trades down the stretch.  If they need another starter, and don’t want to have to rely on a rookie to pull off the playoffs, they could trade lots of people to get it.  Osuna, sadly, might be at the top of this list.  You have some guys like Clay Holmes or Steven Brault who could go as pitchers.  Position guys like Barrett Barnes and Wood in addition to Osuna could be used.  Even further down the minor league ladder like Kevin Kramer or Cole Tucker (assuming they want to run with Kevin Newman as the future short stop) or a Gage Hinz could easily help make a big deal sweet enough to happen. 
If things are looking south for the season you could see McCutchen get traded and/or Josh Harrison. Arugably those trades could improve the Pirates with the addition of Meadows and the regular playing of Frasier in addition to whatever prospect were picked up in the trades. 
The Pirates are also well equipped for minor trades to garner a backup catcher or veteran bullpen arm.  Men like Jaso could be traded for such pieces and then replaced from the farm system (hello Osuna!). 

Despite the two kind of quirky losses I am ready for this baseball season for the Pirates.  I think it should be a 90 win kind of year.