Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pirates Get Their Closer

The Pirates now have a closer finally closing the deal with Octavio Dotel. To make room for Dotel, Anthony Claggett was dropped from the 40-man Roster. Claggett was picked up off of waivers from the Yankees last year and is no big loss. He was a possible contender until the Pirates started signing so many veteran bullpen guys. That made Claggett expendable.

More importantly Dotel is the 9th inning guy. He is a strikeout pitcher and that is what is appealing. He has not closed for a while, but has experience doing it. And you want a guy that can get the big K, and Dotel has that ability. This is about as good as it was going to get with the Pirates. He ought to have a nice season and rounds out a very revamped and impressive bullpen. Hanrahan and Meek remain the long term options, but lots of experienced guys now surround them and Dotel anchors the back end. If the Pirates can produce the offense, the bullpen ought to hold this year.

The Pirates also signed another outfielder from waivers. Brandon Jones is the newest Pirate, but I am betting not for long. Rumors abound that the Pirates are trying to get more room on the 40-Man roster and might trade two or three players for one, probably one prospect who does not need to be on the 40-Man. Jones and Stephen Jackson who is designated for assignment will probably be a part of this. It is known that Jones was claimed by more than the Pirates, but the Pirates got him since they had the worse record. Thus, interest in Jones is out there. Stephen Jackson was another bullpen possibility being moved. He had a 3.14 ERA in 40 appearances, but his K/BB ratio was not good and pointed to possible trouble. I liked Jackson last year because he was one of the few that got results, but I can live with many of the new pitchers brought in by the Pirates.

Overall the Pirates got better today with the signing of Dotel. And I trust the trade will be made with Brandon Jones. After the Bixler trade, I am a full blown believer in this front office.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bixler traded

Brian Bixler was traded to the Cleveland Indians. He was moved to make room on the 40-man for newly signed Donnelly. In return for Bixler the Pirates get a 22 year old infielder, Jesus Brito, who played in Rookie and Single A last year with a .350 and higher average.

Bixler was getting better. He hit .227 in the majors this year and his defense showed that it was major league calibur. Both vast improvements over earlier stretches in the majors. But Bixler was 27 and had no hope of making the team. This might give him a path to actually play this year, so I hope it works out for him. But this is nothing but good news. There is no downside to this trade, and if Brito pans out to be even a back up this is a great move.

Pirates add another

Pittsburgh just signed Brenden Donnelly to the roster as another bullpen arm. The Pirates have had a busy off season, and they appear likely to add Octavio Dotel as their closer. This would make the bullpen jam packed with people. This is good because the Pirates had a really bad bullpen. Now signing a lot of arms gives them depth in case of injuries, experience, and options. This is the first year in a while they are not trying to hide a Rule 5 pick in the pen, so anyone could get the call no matter the situation.

Another upside is trading. Now the Pirates may make a run, but they may not. And it had been said that all of their big trading pieces were gone. No more Jack Wilson or Freddy Sanchez. Now, however, they have loaded up on trading options. Come Trading Deadline and the Yankees or Braves or someone is looking for experienced arms for the bullpen, they will be able to look to the Pirates. And the Pirates will be able to fill the spots with other guys because of the large number relievers signed in the off season.

Donnelly is someone who improves the pen. But I bet he does not end the season with the Pirates and that will improve the organization.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pirate Signings

It is official that the Pirates are going to pay at least 1.5 to Ryan Church. He could get up to 2.8 if all goes well in his contract. The Pirates also signed DJ Carrasco to a minor league deal. Yet another bullpen arm to compete for the spots, but still no real closer.

The Pirates off season has to be seen as very impressive. They have not sold out their internal rebuilding, but they have addressed real needs like second base with Iwamura. They have signed an almost entirely new bullpen with so many possibilities that it is not possible to tell who will make the team and who will not. This also gives them several options in the minors if things do not work out or when injuries strike.

So the bullpen improved. What else happened? Well the Pirates appear to have upgraded their bench. Church is a .270 hitter, which is about 30 points higher than Moss. Crosby is about the same as Vasquez, but a better fielder at short, although Vasquez has more flexibility. Iwamura starting at second is at least 20 points higher than Dwelven Young with more power as well. Young then moves the bench replacing Luis Cruz. Cruz was about a .215 hitter, which makes Young a 45 point upgrade. John Raynor, the Rule 5 pick, gives the Pirates more long term potential than other players on the bench last year, but what his average will be is anyone's guess at this point. But, even if Raynor flops, Tabata is in the wings. Clearly the Pirates have upgraded their bench.

The problems that remain are first base, and power. First base could improve with Clement, but I doubt he is ready. But power on the team ought to improve with a healthy Ryan Doumit. Put his 20 homeruns at fourth get at least that many if not more from Jones. Double digits from McCutchen and Milledge, and possibly Iwamura, and the Pirates have enough to compete in the NL. They are not going to out slug Philly, but they ought to have enough to be a threat when they need to be.

I am excited to see what else develops. April cannot get here fast enough

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ryan Church is a Pirate

The Pirates have agreed to terms with Ryan Church. I have mixed feelings about this deal. So, I will list some pros and cons to the deal and then explain my mixed emotions at the end.

Overpriced – Church’s production last year was not that great and got worse after the trade. The exact dollar figure is unknown, but it will be over 2 million in all likely-hood and that seems like a lot for a guy who is not even one of the three best outfielders on the Pirate team right now.
Tabata – This move signals big trouble for Jose Tabata, who now is stuck in AAA again, and who knows for how long. With a Rule 5 outfielder and now Church, not to mention Dwelven Young, Tabata will probably spend a lot of time in the minors this year.
Lack of Power – the Pirates really needed more power, and Ryan Church is not going to provide that for them.
Injuries – Ryan Church is not exactly known to be injury free. The Pirates cannot really afford to pay guys to sit.

Consistent – Ryan Church, with the exception of going after the trade this past year, is a consistent hitter. You can expect .270 from him. The Pirates can use a little more of that on the team that right now is counting on guys duplicating last year’s great years (Ohlendorf, McCutchen, and Jones to name a few).
Jones to First Base – This could signal Garrett Jones going to first base because Steven Pierce has not shown he can play in the big leagues and Clement needs some more time in the minors at first. If this makes Jones the regular first baseman then the Pirates have improved, but delayed the arrival of Jeff Clement.
Veterans – The Pirates are at a loss for veteran leaders. Right now the leader on the team in Ramon Vasquez, who plays seldom. Your team is always in trouble if your leader is a guy who almost never plays. Church might could step into that vacuum and provide leadership.
Tradability – the one thing this Pirate team was missing was a player that they could trade without any problem mid-season. Ryan Church fills that hole. He could bring some more prospects and not hurt the long term formation of the team.

So in the end, I think this deal is a good one if Jones goes to first. Clement is not ready, and I am not sold on him anyway. Jones would have less wear and tear at First, and would plug a hole. If the Pirates are out of contention, he could be traded to add more prospects to the team. That is always a good thing as well.

However, it does not look like that is going to be the case right now. Church is being pushed as a reserve in an all ready crowded bench. This makes the bench Crosby, Jarmillo, Young, John Raynor, and Ryan Church. That is three outfielders all though Young would probably get some more time at second. Crosby would have to play short and third, and it clearly means that Jones is going to split time at First and Right again, which I think is a bad idea. Give him one spot and keep him there. It also means that Steven Pierce is probably the opening day First baseman. That is also not so good. The delay this is going to put in seeing future Pirate players like Jose Tabata and Jeff Clement is a bad thing.

The deal is the absolute end of Brandon Moss. Church is now the lefty outfielder off the bench. Moss would be lost to the Pirates since he cannot be sent to the minors again. Hopefully there is a market for Moss right now. I would like to see a trade, but I highly doubt it. I cannot say I am sorry to see Moss go. He had a good half season, but other than that, he was never a part of the future of this team. This deal could also be a really bad sign for Andy LaRoche. Where exactly is he going to go when Alvarez makes his debut with the Pirates? Raynor has to stay up all year. And Church is not going to the minors. LaRoche has to hope for a deal involving Church or one of the other bench guys to keep a place on the team. Vasquez too is in trouble because of this deal. His versitility was important, but his bat was worthless. His days are numbered despite his leadership.

I still trust Pittsburgh management, I am just not sure what they are doing with this deal.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hall of Fame snub

Hall of Fame votes are in and only Andre Dawson made it in. Bert Blylevin is ripped off again. But he is within 10 votes.

Jayson Stark cast his vote for his Hall of So-So Players, and posted it on-line at ESPN. He voted for 10 guys. All 10 that he was allowed to vote for. That is crazy. I am not sure what Jayson was thinking.

It appears that Stark thinks you just have to be better than the others at your position during your time to make the Hall of Fame. Clearly that is his main criteria, which confuses the Hall of Fame with the All Star game. And not surprisingly All Star Games and Silver Slugger awards become the standard Stark uses to put people in the Hall. Alomar is a maybe in my mind, but Larkin should be out. Stark’s big argument for Larkin is Silver Slugger awards. What? So what that only A-Rod has more Silver Slugger awards. They didn’t give out Silver Slugger awards during the days of players like Honus Wagner, who surely would have more. That is a false way to make it look like Larkin compares favorably to those guys in history. McGriff is also a no. Stark admits he misses the numbers that most consider as numbers that put you in the Hall, and fails to mention how long McGriff played to try and get those numbers. The numbers are inflated because of expansion and because of his extra time where people did everything they could to get him those extra 7 home runs to hit 500. But he didn’t, and it does matter that he didn’t. When you think back on the 90’s do you think of McGriff as a dominate first baseman? No. Edgar Martinez is a DH. Plain and simple that means he is out. He gets zero benefit for the field. And as a DH who did not have to go into the field, his hitting numbers should be higher than other HOF candidates. They are not. Thus, he is out. Dale Murphy is on his list again the only reason is that Dale Murphy was a power hitter during his time. Murphy is shy of 400 homeruns and his other numbers are good, but not great. Stark’s defense. “It is the numbers in their time that we are supposed to be looking at.” That is not true. You are supposed to decide if that person is an all time great or not. Dale Murphy was one of the most fearted right fielders of his time. But not of all time. Jack Morris too was good, but not good enough. A career ERA of almost 4 is too high. The only one on his list that belongs is Bert Blyleven and perhaps Andre Dawson. I would like some more time to think about Tim Raines and Roberto Alomar.

Let us just look at one major example of how Stark’s view of best in his own time backfires (other than it requires people to get in the Hall from every position for every generation) and is not good. We will use his favorite: Barry Larkin.

Let us look at Larkin compared to Ernie Banks. Both played 19 seasons, but Banks played almost 400 more games than Larkin. Which brings up a legitimate concern about Larkin, he was constantly hurt. Larkin has a higher AVG than Banks and a higher OBP, but a lower OPS. How can that be? Well, as much as Stark wants us to think that Larkin’s power and Silver Slugger awards changed the position, he did not garner nearly as many bases as Banks. Thus, why not say that Banks changed the position? His 500 HRs are why he is in the Hall. Larkin for all his slugger awards only hit 198.

But Stark wants us to examine Larkin only in regards to his own age. So let us do just that. Without names of course.

Player 1 = 1963 hits, 195 homeruns, 1123 runs, 860 RBIs, .265 AVG, .330 OBP, .759 OPS
Player 2 = 2340 hits, 198 homeruns, 1329 runs, 960 RBIs, .295 AVG, .371 OBP, .815 OPS
Player 3 = 2365 hits, 185 homeruns, 1231 runs, 1003 RBIs, .285 AVG, .352 OBP, .767 OPS
Player 4 = 2586 hits, 173 homeruns, 1285 runs, 1194 RBIs, .298 AVG, .365 OBP, .782 OPS

Which one is the sure fire Hall of Famer that Stark wants in? Can we find Larkin? Does he stand out from this group of contemporaries? Player 1 is Jay Bell who played fewer games and seasons than Larkin. Player 2 is Larkin himself. Player 3 is Alan Trammell and Player 4 is Julio Franco. Larkin does not really stand above any of them. Not a one of these players deserves the HOF. They were all good and did good work. They were all above average, but they are not HOFers. Add to that the fact that Trammell, Bell, and Franco all led the league in a category at least once in their careers even if that category was sacrifice hits. Larkin never led in any category ever. Not even sacrifices. Larkin fails even by Starks standards. Hall of Fame Players are supposed to be great, not just a little better than the other guys during his life span.

I know Bert would probably go in as a Twin and not a Pirate, but that is okay. Bert is great. 60 shutouts is amazing. 6th all time in strikeouts is clearly Hall material. Add low ERA and two World titles, and what more do you need?