Saturday, December 17, 2005

No interest in Branyan

Littlefield frustrates the Brew Crew, who covet left-handed bullpen help.

When the Pirates lost out to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bidding for free-agent third baseman Bill Mueller, the Brewers thought they might show some interest in Branyan. Instead, Pittsburgh has been talking to free agent Joe Randa, a Milwaukee native.

That's Tom Haudricourt reporting for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online.

The non-tender pool

Russell the Muscle and Corey Patterson might be available as FAs come Dec. 20.

Do we really expect the Pirates to offer arbitration to all eligible players? During the season, I thought it looked like some of those guys were going to get cut. But times have changed, I guess. The Pirates have money to spend and no one worth spending it on.


Who backs up Chris Duffy next year? Nate McLouth? Are they both making the opening-day roster as of right now?

Or is it Stanford grad Jody Gerut? He once hit righties pretty well. How is his left shoulder? He and Sean Casey can start Torn Left Rotator Cuff club when they finally get together.

Still on the board

For, Jim Molony reviews the more than 150 free agents who are still unsigned. He also notes the Bucs are interested in Reggie Sanders, who will command a multi-year deal.

Four free agent hitters drawing plenty of attention are Johnny Damon (with the Red Sox, Dodgers and Yankees believed to be the frontrunners), Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, Indians), Jacque Jones (Rangers, Royals) and Reggie Sanders (Mariners, Pirates, Royals).

The list of outfielders who are still looking for homes includes Jeromy Burnitz, Jeff Conine, Juan Encarnacion, Juan Gonzalez, Preston Wilson, Rondell White, Sammy Sosa, Todd Hollandsworth, Terrence Long, Kenny Lofton, Marquis Grissom, Michael Tucker and Richard Hidalgo.

As for catchers, Bengie Molina is still available, as are Mike Piazza, Eddie Perez and Einar Diaz, to name a few.

Garciaparra certainly isn't the only veteran infielder still looking for work.

Frank Thomas, J.T. Snow, Rafael Palmeiro, Travis Lee, Tino Martinez, Bret Boone, Tony Graffanino, Jose Vizcaino, Dustan Mohr, Mark Bellhorn, Miguel Cairo, Alex Gonzalez, Royce Clayton, Chris Gomez, Wes Helms and Joe Randa are still on the board.

Pick your poison.

For 3B, Tony Graffanino, Joe Randa, and Mark Bellhorn look like the obvious picks, but all three are no better than Rob Mackowiak. Graffanino hits righties the best, but he's the worst third baseman of the group. Randa hits lefties OK, so acquiring him negates any usefulness Freddy Sanchez might have. He's not a good fit. Bellhorn doesn't hit much at all. Why sign a veteran for the Noonie role? The Bucs would do better to promote a younger player and see if he develops.

The outfielders are pretty non-exciting. Burnitz and Wilson, low-OBP sluggers, will not help much since we already have a cast of low-OBP players. Juan Encarnacion is just mediocre. Juan Gonzalez is a career 900 OPS hitter, so his upside is appealing. We're already betting on one high-upside-when-healthy player, though. He made 600K for one at-bat last year. I'm not sure what shape he's in now, but if he's good to go in March, I would take a chance on him. Rondell White is Matt Lawton with less OBP and more power. He looks good on paper only until you see him play the field. Sosa has been a useless gimp. Richard Hidalgo, only 30, reminds me of Craig Wilson. He had some kind of terrible wrist injury in 2005.

Off that last, I'd take a longer look at Gonzalez and Hidalgo, but I would not jump to sign either guy. The Pirates will have to look for a more sure thing through trade.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bulimic Bucs

Derek Jacques works an extended lady-vomit metaphor in this notebook entry. first impression of this piece was, "OK." Upon further review, however, instant replay clearly shows that the following paragraph is lazy or stupid:

But excitement is somewhat beside the point here. Littlefield apparently believes that his ballclub is at the stage where it needs to be supplemented with some veteran talent to rise to the next level. Based on recent research by Nate Silver, we’d have to disagree with that assessment, since the benefits of going from a 67 win team to a 77 win team aren’t likely to make a big difference to Pittsburgh’s bottom line.

First, excitement is never beside the point. All hail excitement!

Second, Littlefield has not made a lot of noise about veteran talent beyond the typical stuff. For example, on Roberto Hernandez:

"We like [closer] Mike Gonzalez a lot, but it doesn't hurt to have another option. Roberto is a veteran guy with a proven track record in late-inning situations."
And have you heard anything about veteran talent taking us to the next level? Littlefield, from the same article:
"We've made some improvements but when you're coming off a 67-95 season you've got a long way to go," he said.

So Jacques has his platitudes mixed up. Littlefield has not been indicating that the acquisiton of veterans like Hernandez will take the team to the next level. Rather, he's been repeating the humble fact that the Bucs still probably suck even with the addition of veteran insurance policies like Hernandez.

Finally, why promote Silver's analysis of the 77-win vs. 67-win team and the bottom line? It just does not follow. To get to 87 wins, the team has to get to 77 wins first.

Maybe Littlefield is worried, first and foremost, about the bottom line. But it makes no sense to criticize the Bucs for trying to get better. A 77-team may be mediocre, but it beats a 67-win team. Perhaps Jacques meant to write that BP disagrees with his assessment that some veterans will help make the team more mediocre. As it stands, though, he argues that the Pirates should not even bother trying to improve marginally, since marginal improvements are not likely to improve the bottom line. And that's just dumb.

I've long been a proponent of the theory that only winning sells tickets. Search the archives; I've said that again and again and again since we started this blog in 2003 1903. The team has to get to mediocre before they can get to good.

Craig Wilson and 2006

So what do you think of him? Azibuck had a good rant in previous comments.

He's a .268 / .363 / .488 hitter in five seasons and 1750 PAs. He's 29 in 2006. Hits lefties much better than righties. Good OBP, but it's somewhat scary: he has a 162 walks in his career and 81 HBPs.

No doubt, right now, he's a big part of any chance the Pirates have in 2006. No doubt he'll play, probably a lot, for us. But are you comfortable depending on him for full-time duty in 2006? For 600 PAs?

I'm not. I don't know how you expect a player who leans into so many pitches to finish the season healthy. He managed 600 PAs in 2004, so maybe it can happen.

The main reason I'm not, however, is his freaky streakiness. For the first two months of 2004, he was all the best of Jim Thome. Then he followed that up with a 587 OPS in June. A bad Thome month - and he has had them - is like a 780 OPS. Craiggers' post-ASB numbers were .235 / .322 / .453. That's not bad, but that won't carry a team.

The killer for me was Wilson's performance last April. He hit .234 / .388 / .250 in what was one of the most disappointing months of Pirate baseball in the last so many disappointing years. He looked like the Tommy Maddox of clean-up hitters. More or less given command of the (weak) lineup, he wilted. He's not on Jason Bay's level.

When we sit around and talk about how the Pirates need another middle-of-the-order bat to compete next year, we're not forgetting about Craig Wilson. We'd be deluding ourselves, I think, if we regarded him as the overlooked answer to the clean-up spot.

And all the talk about Pirate fans not regarding Craiggers as a full-time player is so 2003. Even if we pencil him in as an everyday player, it would not be wise to regard him as a 650 PA everyday regular. He's not a good bet to play all 162 games; I don't think he has the track record to make that prediction sound.

He's a part of the middle of the lineup. Because of his platoon split, the likelihood of beanball injury, and the way he wore down in 2004, I say he's probably best regarded as a 400-450 PA part.

He's a valuable player, but his value is not so high that this team can afford to build everything around him. If the Bucs were stronger up the middle of the field, and if the Bucs had just acquired a 1000 OPS first baseman, then there wouldn't be so much urgency to find a 900 OPS, 650 PA player for 3B or RF. It's not Craig Wilson's fault, but his inadequacies are magnified by the general inadequacy of his teammates. He'd be more valuable on any team that could better afford to ride out his slumps and replace his convalescent time.

Wilson plays 1B and RF, two positions where it's more likely that the Pirates could find a better hitter. So all the talk about trading Craig Wilson to help fetch and make room for an upgrade makes sense to me.

Will we find that upgrade? Yes. As soon as the Red Sox trade Manny to us for Zach Duke.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Third base

Dejan Kovacevic runs down some options.

Sheehan and Eldred

There's no pleasing Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus. The guy hates the Bucs for some reason. I subscribe to the site and generally enjoy it, but they are weak on the Bucs. They've been infatuated with Craig Wilson, for example, for much too long. Can they say, Jack Cust? Erubiel Durazo? They have lousy taste in slugging prospects, and they can't get over it. I'm all about Craiggers slotted into a 450-PA time-share, but I'm not about to give him the keys to the clean-up spot.

And then there's Eldred. In his November 11 "AFL Report," Sheehan wrote:

Brad Eldred: He can't play. He's huge and he hits the balls he hits a long way, but he can't play. If the Pirates give Eldred at-bats ahead of Craig Wilson, they're making a mistake. Eldred's bat is just too slow, and he doesn't recognize pitches well enough to get away with a long swing.

Now today he writes, about the Sean Casey deal:

Dan O’Brien’s good decision is David Littlefield’s bad one, as the Pirate GM blocks a prospect, spends money and doesn’t improve his team by acquiring Sean Casey from the Reds.

Which is it? Can Eldred play? Is he a prospect? Or can he not play? Is he a non-prospect?

The rest of Sheehan's paragraph is cribbed from Bob Smizik.

My point is not so much that Sheehan's wrong or that Sheehan's a lousy writer or that Sheehan's curmudgeon act with the Bucs is stale, predictable, and unoriginal. My point is there's little consistency to the BP Pirates coverage. Why call Eldred a prospect this month after calling him a non-player last month? The only explanation is there is no explanation. It's knee-jerk and unprincipled.

Steeler running backs

Ed Bouchette reports that Staley will not dress again, most likely.

Of the guys they got, I like Parker the least. He reminds me of Amos Zereoue. Shifty Steeler third-down backs have a way of making a big splash and doing little with full-time work. I think he'd be more effective as a third-down back.

Jerome Bettis is great as a pinch-runner. He can't start -- well, not if you want to use him again a week later.

Staley's the one I'd like to see healthy and getting twenty touches a game. But he won't dress.

The question I have: why not Verron Haynes? He's never had a chance to be the feature back, and I think he'd come up big if they ever gave him most of the carries. Until Staley is ready, I'd like to see him as the primary ball-carrier, Parker as the third-down back, and Bettis as the pinch-runner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mueller chooses Dodgers

Good news for the Bucs. This clears up some money to sign Manny. Provided we don't flush it instead on David Bell.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Milton Bradley to Oakland

Another Rotoworld update (via FOXSports): Milton Bradley has been traded to Oakland with Antonio Perez for "top prospect" Andre Ethier. Not many bats left out there. Will Tracy play Craig in RF?

David Bell

Rotoworld via the Philly Daily Inquirer reports that David Bell's name has come up in trade talks with the Bucs. Heh. For 4.7 million, Bell hit .248/.310/.361 in 557 ABs last year.

Either DL has gotten into the funny water again, or this is a brilliant publicity stunt to raise fan support for signing Bill Mueller.

Bettis loves the bunt

RB Jerome Bettis broke off a 39-yard run Sunday, his longest in three years, and he appeared to need oxygen afterward. "Well, I never had much gas," He said, after bullying his way to 101 yards, 100 in the second half. "My job is to get all the yards I can get and live to fight another day. ... There's a big difference between me and Willie Parker. He's the home-run guy. I'm the bunt guy -- get on base, manufacture a score."

From Joe Bendel's Tribune notebook.

In other news, the Steelers signed Ty Wigginton to the practice squad. They apparently like the plays Bones drew up for him.

Bill Mueller news

John Perrotto reports:

"It looks like something is going to happen soon," a source close to the negotiations said. "I'd say it will happen this week and it's looking pretty good for the Pirates."

I hope we get him. Sign, Bill, sign.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

19% of the Hall of Fame

Just heard that on the radio, that the Bears and the Steelers together make up 19% of the players in the NFL Hall of Fame.

New beer of choice

I like this stuff. Black beers are the shit for me these days, and this Avery New World Porter is pretty good stuff. With Iron City bankrupt, you'd think some microbrew would go for the Steelers market with a special "Joey Porter."

Pirate fans already have Big League Brew, which can come with a nice Honus Wagner four-bottle carrier. It looks good on my bookshelf. I use such things as spacers since I'm always taking down and putting up the various books.

Bears at Steelers

Still no Marvel Smith. Forecast: pain.

Ollie looks good

According to John Perrotto's paper.

Tracyball 101

Dejan Kovacevic explains.