Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pirates in 2010

I hope that all had a Merry Christmas and are looking forward to a great 2010. The question is for us Pirate fans, what kind of 2010 can we look for?

I think it is not out of the question to expect a winning season, but I think that what is assured is that we will see lots of new faces at Pittsburgh, some long awaited.

There is no doubt that Tabata, Lincoln, and Alvarez will make major league debutes this year, but right now it looks as if Pittsburgh will keep all of them underwraps until midseason. This means that some trades will have to be made to open up spots for these guys. Expect Zack Duke to get traded before the deadline. He is really the last decent piece we have, and that will open a spot for Brad Lincoln. I do not think they will trade Andy LaRoche, and it would probably only take a demotion of someone to the minors like a Ramon Vasquez to elevate Pedro Alvarez. Who they trade to make room for Tabata is anyone's guess. Maybe it will just be as simple as finally deciding to get rid of Stephen Pierce and put Jones at Firstbase for good. Anyway, seeing these three guys come up should make the end of 2010 a nice glimpse of the future of the Pirates.

As for what we can expect on the field, we will see the Pirates break camp in all probability with 5 outfielders, a giant hole at firstbase, and one of the better outfields in the game. The pitching rotation will be young, but talented, and the bullpen will be brand new and will take some time to see if it works out.

I do think the Pirates have an outside chance to win the division. The Cubs are a walking disaster, and the Cardinals look like they are going to lose out on Matt Holliday. They might pick up Jason Bay to replace him, but they still have a hole at third base, and a pitching staff that is good but likely to get injured (Chris Carpenter). The Astros do not have anything that much better than us and the Reds are also in the same boat. It will take a lot of things falling into place such as another good year from Ross Ohlendorf and an improved year from Paul Malholm, not to mention a bullpen that can close games, but the Pirates are good enough to do it, in what just might be the worst division in baseball.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Signings and Rumors

It appears the Pirates are looking for a closer on the free agent market. Rumor has the Pirates talking to Octavio Dotel. That would add some experience. We will see if this pans out. If not it seems like a good sign the Pirates are offering contracts. There are plenty of mid level closers out there.

Also the Pirates inked another lefty to a minor league deal to make sure they have some options. Jack Taschner from the Phillies is the newest signee.

Winter Ball Stats

Just a quick link to update everyone on Winter Ball stats thanks to Jennifer Langosh. I have to say that it is mostly bad news. With the exception of Starling Marte (.333 AVG) and Jean Machi (2-0, 12 saves, 5 ER over 33IP), it is not good news. Brian Bixler and Ronny Cedano are doing okay. Bixler is hitting .300 and Cedano is .292, but one might hope for slightly higher stats especially from Cedano. Bixler’s strike outs are too high. Ronald Uviedo is not doing all that bad either (2-0, 7 ER over 21.2 IP). But some of the others are just awful. Diaz, Kratz, and Gorky Hernandez are looking pitiful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Bullpen overhaul begins

The Pirates had one of the worst bullpens in the majors last year, and they decide to completely dismantle it in the offseason. I mean tear it to pieces. They ended 09 without a lefty and they have decided to fix that problem by signing veteran Javier Lopez.

Last year's pen had seven slots filled by Matt Capps, Sean Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Jesse Chavez, Tyler Yates, and Donald Veal all of whom will not be on the opening day roster in all probability (Karstens has an outside shot). Burnett and Chavez have been traded and Capps and Yates are free agents.

The Pirates have been busy collecting a number of people who will compete for the positions, but all are questionable in their effectiveness. The Pirates claimed several players on waivers like Anthony Clagget and Chris Jakabauskas. Neither is a sure thing to make the team. Nor is Justin Thomas, a lefty, claimed on waivers, but then dropped. He still is in the system and has a shot to make the team.

The Pirates also have some internal prospects that might be ready to make the team. Namely Evan Meek, who looked good before injury, and Steven Jackson, who was called up late last year and was at least average. The Buccos have three Single A level pitchers on their 40-Man Roster right now in Bryan Morris, Ronald Uviedo, and Ramon Aguero. Don't expect them on the team.

Then there are the trades. Namely the trade with the Cubs. Jose Ascino has pitched out of the pen, and could easily do so again. The Pirates want him to be a starter, but with the starter lane getting clogged with McCutchen, Lincoln, and the emergence of Donald Veal, I would not be surprised to see Ascino moved to the pen permanently. The Pirates also have said that they may put Kevin Hart in the bullpen if he does not make the starting rotation. I doubt it, but they have said they might.

Right now only one spot is really locked down. Joel Hanrahan is on the team, and probably the default closer right now. Evan Meek and recently signed Javier Lopez are pretty solid bets. Thus, we have four spots for people who have little to no experience. I guess you would have to say that Jakabauskas has an inside track, although I am not sure how he is better at the long reliever spot starter than Karstens. Steven Jackson probably has a spot right now, or at least it is currently his to lose. That still leaves two spots open. Can Claggett claim one of those spots? Will these guys be any good?

It is worth noting that the Pirates currently have a space open on the 40-Man roster to fill. Thus, they have room to make another free agent signing. That might help clear up some of the confusion in the pen. At the very least Spring Training will be a real competition for major league spots.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Capps is Out!!!

Matt Capps and Phil Dumatrait were not offered contracts by the deadline, and are now officially free agents. The Pirates now have an open competition for the closer spot. The Pirates had been saying that Capps was still their man. But apparently that is not the case.

Zack Duke was offered a contract, and so now negotiations to avoid aribitration will begin. I believe that can go until January sometime.

I have to say that overall I don't mind this. It does put us in a little bit of a tight spot, but the bullpen last year was a mess and Capps was not very good and Dumatrait was awful and has been injury prone. The Pirates now officially have no lefty in the pen, but do have Justin Thomas in the minors. It opens up two more spots on the 40 man roster and hopefully the Pirates will be able to sign a bullpen guy. Right now I guess the bullpen has perhaps two spots sewn up. The other five are up in the air. Spring Training could be a lot of fun to watch.

The Cost of Modern Baseball

Ronny Cedano has signed and will not be arbitration eligible now. He will now make 1.125 million for next year. That is a raise from his just under 900,000 for last year, a year in which he hit a combined .208. How does hitting .208 get you a raise? And since when does a career .240 hitter with sub par fielding make a million bucks a year?

You want to know why small market teams have a hard time winning? Look no further than this deal for Cedano, which by the way is not considered unreasonable. It now costs over a million dollars to land a sub-par short stop. Bobby Crosby cost a cool million, and I have to say I think he is a better short stop than Cedano. Neither are world beaters and neither is the ticket to the World Series, but modern baseball is just that expensive. You want someone who will be very average? That will be 1 million dollars.

Anyway, Zack Duke and Matt Capps are still waiting for their contracts. Both had much better seasons than Cedano. I can't wait to see what they cost.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rule 5 Draft

The Pirates have selected John Raynor, an outfielder from the Marlins. They also picked up a player from Baltimore in the Triple A phase while losing no one.

The selection of Raynor is very interesting in that the bench is now rather crowded. There is no way camp breaks without Raynor on the team. This means there are going to be 5 outfielders on the team with McCutchen, Jones, Milledge, Young (who will not be a back up second baseman, but return to the outfield), and now Raynor. The bench then is full with the signing of Bobby Crosby becoming official and Ramon Vasquez and Jason Jarmillo already on the team. This seems to be what the Pirates are saying is the case, but I am hopeful that it points to moving Jones to firstbase.

There is no way Jeff Clement is going to be ready to play first base out of Spring Training. His defense needs work. And Pierce has shown now that he will be an offensive liability. If Jones is moved to first, then a spot is open on the bench and Raynor becomes the fourth outfield behind Young. Or Raynor stays the fifth as either Brandon Moss makes the team or Jose Tabata makes the team.

Either way you look at it the pick is bad news for Brandon Moss.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter Meetings Day 3

All is quite on the Pirate front. And that is good news as the Pirates have not traded catcher Ryan Doumit nor pitchers Zack Duke and Paul Malholm. All are needed in Pittsburgh, and Zack's trade value will probably be higher at the trading deadline when people are looking for left handed pitching.

All that happened today is that the Pirates confirmed they will offer all three of their arbitration eligible players (Duke, Capps, and Cedano) contracts.

Tomorrow is the Rule 5 Draft. Expect news.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Meetings - Bobby Crosby

It appears the Pirates have an agreement in principle with Bobby Crosby. They have been in serious negotiations with the Oakland Short Stop for some time. Adding Crosby would mean a possible starting position for him. It will be between Cedano and Crosby for the starting job. Both options are solid gloves and so-so bats. But overall it is good to have the depth.

It is however, bad news for Brian Bixler fans.

Winter Meetings Day 1

Day One is a positive sign for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not because they did very much, but because it looks like they will.

The Pirates did sign a right handed reliever to a minor league deal. Vinnie Chulk was signed as a minor league free agent. He played in the Indians organization and appeared 8 times with the Clevland Indians out of their bullpen. This did not take up any roster spots and gives them a shot at improving their pen. Competition is the name of the game for the Pirates.

The other good news is that Luis Cruz was claimed off of waivers by the Brewers. This is great news as it opens a spot on the 40 man roster. Cruz was awful for the Pirates and was not even the second shortstop on the roster. The Pirates actuall have two opennings now as Jeff Sues was waived and cleared waivers, so he is still in the organization, meaning he can compete for a roster spot as well.

The other bit of good news is that the Pirates appear to be interested in a short stop on the free agent market. It appears that they tried to sign Adam Everett, but he signed else where. Maybe the Pirates make a run at Bobby Crosby. These things can only be positives for the Pirates.

With two holes on the 40 man roster, I expect the Pirates to fill at least one of them in the Rule 5 Draft, in which they pick second.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

News and Notes

The Pirates have put up a report about the state of the Venezulena and Dominican Summer Leagues. The VSL team almost won a title, but fell short. It is hard to get too excited about some of these guys until they have seen action in America where the talent level of the competition is easier to evaluate, but some of these guys will be doing just that. The two that I had heard good things about prior to this report were Jonathon Barrios, who had a disappointing season statistically, and Jorge Bishop, who looks good. The Pirates are still really thin in the middle infield all throughout their organization. Thus, these leagues might produce a future middle infielder for the Pirates.

Also it appears that Jeff Karstens and Justin Thomas cleared waivers. Thus, one would think that they will be in Pittsburgh's system this upcoming year. This makes a bullpen lefty available for the Pirates in Thomas and keeps a promsing player like Karstens around.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More Top Prospects

The Fan Graphs web site has released its Top 10 Prospects for the Pirates. Not surprisingly it shows much the same as mine. Alvarez is no doubt number one and reversing the order of Lincoln and Tabata is no big deal. They are clearly the top trio in the organization. They have Alderson at 4, which is believable (I had him at 6).

They have Chase D’Anaud at 6 and Owens at 7 with Sterling Marte at 8. I had Ruby Owens at 4, D’Anaud at 5 and Marte at 7. Gorkys Hernandez sits at 9 for them, and is not on my list. They also had Quinton Miller at 10 and Jeff Locke at 5. Miller sits at 20 and Locke at 19 on my list. I did not even rank Gorky because he had such a bad season for the Pirates. I may have over reacted on that one, but I will stand by it for now.

Now, I think the Fan Graphs site is a little off on how low they put Ruby. His lack of velocity does not bother me all that much when you can still throw shut outs. But, over all I think the Fan Graphs list shows the same thing mine does: namely a real lack of hitting talent. Alvarez, Tabata, and D’Anaud are good, and I guess we can disagree on Gorkys. Marte looks hopeful, but in the end the top talent is pitching. Lincoln, Owens, Miller, Alderson, and Locke are just a small sampling of the talent. Remember that Fan Graphs did not rank any of this year’s draft choices, who were mostly pitchers. They also did not rank those who ended the year with the Pirate club, which scratches Daniel McCutchen (who I had ranked 9). Fan Graphs does mention at the beginning that you can expect to see Victor Black and Zack Van Rosenberg on the list next year. Both are top quality pitchers who were drafted this year.

More importantly the Fan Graphs list shows the utter failure of the Littlefield era. Of the top 10 prospects only Brad Lincoln and Ruby Owens are from the Littlefield era. And Owens did not really start pitching until Littlefield was long gone. Alvarez, Miller, and D’Anaud are draft choices by the new management. Marte is proof the new owner is serious about Latin American talent, and the rest are trades done by the Pirates this year or last in the case of Tabata. The Pirate system was broken before 2008. It is broken no more.