Friday, November 20, 2009

40 Man Roster: Remember that Lefty . . .

The Pirates have set their 40 Man Roster for the Winter Meetings. And to do so today they did a lot. Some expected, some unexpected.

The Pirates made sure Evan Meek and Jose Ascino were covered and did add Brad Lincoln and Gorky Hernandez. This filled up the current spots. But the Pirates then also went and made more room by cutting by cutting Robinson Diaz, Jeff Karstens, and Justin Thomas. These three new spots on the 40 Man Roster were then filled by adding Bryan Morris and Ramon Aguero from the farm system. They then claimed Chris Jakubauskas off of waivers from the Mariners.

I guess I am not too surprised by the Pirates opening up room for Bryan Morris. I really hoped they would not bother, as I think he is not going to live up to potential, but I understand. Robinson Diaz being removed to make that room, I can also understand. The Pirates had clearly decided to go in another direction at back-up catcher. Jason Jarmillo is their guy and Diaz had to be on the 25 man roster this year or they lost him. I was hoping a trade was in the works, but I guess this means nothing was available. I expect Diaz will be with another major league team next year at the big league level.

Jeff Karstens being cut, I guess I can see. Karstens was not going to be part of the rotation mix, and he is a natural starter. But, I still think he was a good addition to the Pirates. He was a decent long guy, and was impressive in his spot starts for the Pirates. Still, being allowed to go to another team is the best thing for Jeff's career where he can try to crack the rotation. I don't know much about Ramon Aguero. He played at multiple levels this past year showing some sign of hope for his future, I guess.

The one that I do not understand is the releasing of Justin Thomas. He is the only left handed bullpen guy on the team, and I do not see the Pirates adding another by free agency and with no free spots, I do not think they will get on in Rule 5, which is unreliable anyway. The Pirate pen is back to an all righty affair (unless Dumatrait moves to the pen for good), and adding this Jakubauskas guy is crazy. He has not shown major league stuff. Too few strike outs. This guy is already 30 and will give up homeruns left and right in Wrigley and just about every place the Pirates play.

One can only hope a left handed reliever will be signed and Jakubauskas gets reassigned off of the 40 Man Roster.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Littlefield's Trades

It is time to continue the examination of the Dave Littlefield era by looking at his trading record. This seems perfect after the recent Chavez for Iwamura deal made by the new management.

In short, this was what killed the Pirates. His inability to draft real talent destroyed the Pirates future, but his trades killed their present. He also failed to add in more stock to the Pirate farm system with his trades, which is just unforgivable. Littlefield had the benefit of pretending to help the team in Pittsburgh, so at least he was fairly up front about not stock piling players for the future, but really, he just saved lots of money and made Pittsburgh look bad.

The worst trade made is easily the Armaris Ramirez deal. That deal the power hitting third base man along with crafty centerfielder Kenny Lofton, who was having a good year, were traded to the Cubs for some money, Jose Hernandez (who was already old as dirt), Matt Burback the pitcher who was immediately dropped and lost on waivers, and Bobby Hill, who ineptly played second base for a year. This disastrous trade was nothing more than a joke. An attempt to dump money, but not even a good attempt to get anything in return. Hill played at second only because he was traded for and not because he deserved it further ruining the Pirates. This is doubly insulting because this was a division foe. More should be extorted from division rivals.

Not far behind this embarrassing deal is the trading away of Jason Schmidt. Schmidt proved to be a great pitcher with the Giants and he was good with the Pirates. He regularly won double digit games and usually had a winning record. For this young talent (and John Vander Wal) the Pirates received Ryan Vogelsong and Armondo Rios. Vogelsong did take up space in the bullpen, but was never anything approaching good. Rios pitched the next season for the Pirates in the pen before being released. His career was soon over. Schmidt of course went on to great things.

Another fan favorite sent packing by Littlefield for nothing was Jason Kendall. Jason did bring in two guys, both old and not worth much. Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. Redman started but was never really good, and was way past his prime. Rhodes never really even made his presence felt with the Pirates. Both were over the hill. And while Kendall himself was no spring chicken, he could have brought something better than this.

Sean Casey needs to be mentioned in the group of the worst trades made by Littlefield as well. Casey was a native and thus extremely popular. He was a big name free agent signing and was producing. He hit a big .296 for the Pirates when Littlefield pulled the trigged and traded him to Detroit. Detroit gave in return Brian Rogers, who with his two partial years of appearing out of the Pirate bullpen just came in under an ERA of 10. When the Pirates released him, he re-signed with Detroit.

Those are just the trades of massively popular players. This does not even cover the horrible deals for lesser players like Raja Davis for Matt Morris, who had to retire he was so bad or Chris Young, a pitching prospect, for Matt Herges, relief pitcher who was traded for in December and then released by Spring Training. Herges has since pitched in the majors for the Rockies and Indians. You just can’t trade people away for nothing. You have to get prospects. Littlefield failed in that.

Even the trades that it is hard to blame Littlefield for are really failures. Mike Gonzales, Pirate closer and All-Star, was traded for Adam LaRoche and a prospect. The prospect bombed as did LaRoche. Gonzales is consistent still, but injury prone. On paper that looked good, so in fairness one cannot be upset. Also the Brian Giles for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez actually turned out good for both teams. Giles helped the Padres make a run and Bay was popular and successful in Pittsburgh and Perez was okay. However, in that deal Littlefield wanted Xavier Nady rather than Bay. Showing that Littlefield was not thinking about the future, and the deal would have been a bust with Nady.

Littlefield does deserve credit for bringing Freddy Sanchez for Jeff Suppan. That deal was a clear win from the very beginning for the Pirates.

In the end, Littlefield further destroyed the Pirates in three ways. One, he did not fill the system with talent from other ball clubs. He traded his top talent and got no talent in return. He basically helped other teams clear dead weight off of their 40 man rosters. Add this to the inability to make good drafts and it is a recipe for a long term slide with no easy fixes. Two, he killed any hopes of immediate success (ironically in the name of immediate success) by getting rid of young talent like Ramirez, Schmidt and others. This destroyed the teams hope of building around anyone in particular. Three, he probably hurt ticket sales by trading popular players for nothing. No hope was given to the Pirate faithful despite losing players like Ramirez. No hope was provided when they traded away Jason Schmidt, consistent 10 game winner. No hope was provided when they traded away Sean Casey, the local boy. The fans had no choice but to see this moves for what they were: dumping salary and sheer incompetence.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2007 Draft Review

It is still too early to really judge the draft of 2007, but the verdict is already in. It is not so good. First, let me start by saying I am not all that down on Daniel Moskos. I think he will make the team as a bullpen pitcher probably sometime in 2011. He did give more hope to him being a starter one day this past year by adding a good sinker ball and showing his arm strength, even getting a complete game at the end of the season in Double A. However, Moskos will always be viewed as a mistake because of who the Pirates passed over to get Moskos. They passed over Matt Wieters, who is already in the major leagues playing for Baltimore and hitting .288. Now I know the Pirates are high on Ryan Doumit, but first round picks really ought to be about the best talent out there. And with the lack of bats in the Pirates system, the pick should have been a no-brainer. It is clear that Wieters was avoided because they did not want to pay his price tag.

The rest of the draft will really decide whether this draft is successful. Second round pitcher Duke Welker is really bad. He went 0-11 this year at Low A and was sent to the pen where his ERA got worse. He is now 4 – 14 with an ERA over 5.50 in two years. Not a good sign. Third round pick Brian Friday is doing well and is in the Arizona Fall League. His numbers are not stellar, but the weakness in the middle infield gives him a better than average chance of making the pros. Friday did make more errors than is allowable. Quincy Latimore played at Low A and hit .251, but he is still young at age 20. Andrew Walker (5th round) went down to Rookie league from 08 and actually hit worse. Matthew Foust (6th round) was only able to pitch in 3 games this year greatly hampering any ability to judge his potential. Juan Garcia (7th round) appears to be a washout. Two seasons at under .200 at Rookie league level is not a good sign for this young catcher. Tony Watson (9th round) missed a lot of the season, but had made the Double A team out of training. The Pirates are high enough on him that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get some more work since he missed so much of the season. Sean Giblin (10th round) has had shoulder problems and has not really pitched since 2007.

So this draft looks like it has some potential along with a few major busts. Friday might could make as could Watson. Guys deeper in the draft may also still turn out well. Eric Huber (12th round) hit .312 at Low A and was promoted to hit .262 at High A. Some other were included in trades, so the draft class has some value in that area as well.

I hope that the 2007 Draft turns out to be good, but I think it falls short of what it needed to be. Add in the obvious avoidance of spending money, and the Pirates had to fire Littlefield. He had competed his destruction their system.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is 1 for 3 bad?

Well my predictions were off, but I got one right. The Pirates did get rid of Virgil Vazquez, Eric Hacker, and Stephen Lerud. Now I had predicted Virgil's departure, and I had also thought Luis Cruz would hit the road along with Steven Jackson.

Now I have to say that I am glad that Steven Jackson is sticking around. I think he has a chance to compete for a place on the roster out of Spring Training. I have no problem with Stephen Lerud being left unprotected. He is not a great prospect, and with our last number one pick being a catcher, his future was nil. I have to admit that I did not think Eric Hacker would be left off the roster. He did not do well in his very few appearances, but then again, I didn't think that he got much of a fair shot. I am also a little worried that Luis Cruz is going to be on the team next year. Even Bixler is an improvement over him.

Still it is much more important that we get Lincoln and Hernandez protected. The Pirates are ready to add them and it also looks like they will not be protecting Shelby Ford and Jim Negyrch.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Second base hole is now plugged

The Pirates have done it again and pulled off a miracle trade. Well, at the very least this should silence the critics that think that Pirates are never playing for this year.

Akinori Iwamura, a second baseman for the Tampa Rays, was acquired for Jesse Chavez, the right handed bullpen guy. While Iwamura is now the highest paid Pirate and Chavez would be under the Pirates control for a longer time, the trade is great. Chavez is a slightly above average middle relief guy. He was not a closer, and did not appear to be able to handle set up work. The Pirates have lots of guys who can do that. Even if it means a slight drop off in the bullpen the gaping hole at Secondbase was more pressing. Iwamura fills that hole. His careers .281 batting average is 20 points higher than Dwelven Young, who was also not a natural second baseman.

Interestingly Huntington said that this returned Dwelven to a bench role. That I guess rules out Young returning to the outfield where a corner position is still open if the move Jones to first base. This trade also gives the Pirates a few more trading options. One would think with Young on the roster along with Iwamura that Andy LaRoche’s possible move to second base is no more. That means by mid-season he will be a trading piece. Or Neil Walker could be a trading piece. Also it makes Brandon Moss a possible trade option as Young is a natural outfielder. The bench spot Young occupies just might be Moss’s 4th outfielder spot.

No matter how you look at this trade, the Pirates are fixing problems with their major league roster. They have already addressed the lefty in the pen, and now the hole at second not to mention upgraded a weak offense. And we have not even gotten to the winter meetings.

40 Man Roster

The Pirates have to prepare for the Winter Meetings and have the 40 man roster set by November 20th. They have some work to do because they have to add Brad Lincoln and Gorky Hernandez before that time.

The Pirates currently have 41 (2 on the 60 DL) men on their roster and need to make room for 2 more. So three spots are needed. That gives room for Lincoln and Hernandez. I think the Pirates will leave off Bryan Morris, Jim Negrych, and Shelby Ford.

So let’s see if I can predict who will be removed. I am betting Virgil Vasquez is released. As will be Luis Cruz, the short stop. That gives us two spots without any harm done to the team or really any hard decisions. The easiest thing would be for the Pirates to trade Robinson Diaz for a person who did not have to be put on the 40 man Roster. But, I am not sure Diaz can bring that and there is a time limit on this trade happening, so let us assume that Diaz stays on the roster, although I doubt he will be on it by Spring Training.

This makes the most likely candidates Phil Dumatrait and Steven Jackson. One of these two will probably be the one released. There is an outside shot that Ronald Uviedo would be released. So, I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Pirates are not yet ready to give up on Phil Dumatrait, and that Steven Jackson will be released. That frees up the necessary third spot.

So, in recap I believe that Vasquez and Cruz are going to be dropped in order to make room for Lincoln and Hernandez, and I think Jackson will dropped to make room for Meek (and Ascino will be on the roster as well). We will see how right I am by the 20th.