Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Year in Review

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Sickels' list

John Sickels' 2007 Pirates Prospects list is up:

"The Pirates System in One Sentence: A thin system that lacks impact talent as well as depth.

I like the top three guys but after that it thins out very, very quickly. There isn't much difference between the C+ and C guys, all of them have major questions or project as spare parts and not impact guys."

NFL week 17: Steelers at Bengals

Well, I suppose it does have some "one of us" appeal. The Steelers (7-8) can drag the Bengals (8-7) down to their level with a victory.

Puzzling Tracy

Dejan Kovacevic reports some things that Tracy said to him. I am not sure how to make sense of these comments.

On the 2007 Pirates: "We're not starting over. That's the important thing. We finished with a winning second half for the first time since 1992, and we want to carry it over. And I'll tell you what: I feel really, really good about it."

Did the team tell us they were "starting over" when Tracy came on board? This explains the unspeakably horrible first half of 2006. I was under the impression that McClendon had them in position to achieve mediocrity, but the Pirates were retreating to zero and starting over.

On the goal: "I understand there are people who want to see us win 82 [games]. I appreciate that. It's been 14 years. But that's not the goal here. That's not what I signed up for. This group has a chance to be pretty good for the next several years. Let's get pretty good first, then go from there."

If 82 wins is not the goal, what is? 92? 72? This frightens me, since it appears possible that Tracy is defining "success" as something less than mediocrity. And what is "pretty good"? 82 wins is not "pretty good" in my book--unless this gets a team into the playoffs.

On the losing streak: "This group has been together 162 games, not 14 years. Let's remember that."

No problem, but if this is the mindset, let's be consistent and not brag about having "a winning second half for the first time since 1992."

On the team's reluctance to trade a starting pitcher for that coveted left-handed bat: "For us to fill a void and create a hole in the rotation ... you just can't do that. Also, you have to look around baseball at what people are paying -- maybe overpaying -- for pitching right now. And we're going to give that up? Can't do that.

Here's where I disagree with those guys. Trading one of our starting pitchers to acquire a slugging first baseman is not blowing a hole in the rotation to fix a hole in the lineup. Our starters are not that good, and they have not done enough to show that it is reasonable to expect them to be that good. I'd trade one of those starters for a player like LaRoche, and then I'd go sign a journeyman back-end starter - for whatever the market price might be - to replace the starter we lost.

There are so many reasons why this would be prudent. We could talk about injury rates for young pitchers vs. the same for young sluggers, we could talk about the scarcity of power hitters, we could talk about the wisdom of dealing from a strength to acquire the kind of player the organization has not been able to develop on its own. I'll make the long story short, though, and simply say that the coaches and the front office have an irrational attachment to these four young starters. It is good to be loved; I hope the young starters appreciate the undue respect they receive from their bosses.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Huff signs with Orioles

For 3 years and 20 million, the Baltimore Sun reports. Scratch Huff's name off the Lefty McThump list.

Friday, December 29, 2006

2007 Bucs ZiPS

Dan Szymborski of BBTF shares his 2007 ZiPS projections for the Bucs. Of all the projection systems in 2006, ZiPS fared the best for pitchers, and came in fourth for hitters.

For the hitters, ZiPS predicts significant declines for Freddy and Ronny, a slight decline for Bay, continued stagnation for Wilson and Castillo, slight improvements to near-mediocrity for Nady and Bautista, and improvements for Duffy and McLouth. ZiPS thinks Duffy will raise his game from 2006's .255/.317/.338 to .274/.326/.384 and McLouth will break out from 2006's .233/.293/.385 to .267/.325/.409. So calling either of these an "improvement" is generous.

For the pitchers, ZiPS likes Duke, Gorzelanny, Snell, and Maholm in that order. ZiPS seems to really like Duke, projecting him to pitch 216 IP with a 1.35 WHIP. Both Snell and Maholm are projected to improve from last year (Snell's 1.46 WHIP to 1.38, Maholm's 1.61 to 1.49). ZiPS projects McLeary, Youman, Wasdin, Santos, and Bullington will all outperform Chacon.

While it's painful to see a screen full of numbers predict exactly how the Bucs will lose their 15th year in a row, at least there's no Jeff Reed picture involved.

pigskin.com gone dark

This morning I see a Network Solutions takedown notice at the website of our free pick 'em pool. All hail whoever was winning!

UPDATE: Site's back up. Game On!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No gnus is good gnus

Or so Gary Gnu reports. This week will probably be quiet. Last January, IIRC, DL started the year with some free-agent signings.

I still predict that Mike Gonzalez gets traded nowhere and the Pirates sign no one of consequence before March 1. I've been wrong before, so use this comment thread to report gnus if you gnot them.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ho ho ho

Merry Christmas! I am wearing the Santa suit tonight. See you later in the week.

NFL week 16: Ravens at Steelers

One o'clock and game is on.

Jose Bautista

... is the subject of the Sunday installment of DK's Post-Gazette column. Ed Eagle has also written about him for MLB.com.

My take on the patience stuff - as DK notes, even Castillo has a good OBP this winter - is this. The pitchers down there must have serious control problems.

Still, this is a guy that I like for 2007, and when I do my first Pirates sudoku for 2007 I hope to find 500 plate appearances within easy reach for him.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Gonzo like B.J. Ryan

Dave Littlefield sees it this way in Dejan Kovacevic's latest.

He does not equate the two but says that, after Ryan, Gonzalez is as good as they come. I would agree with that.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bucs sign Einar Diaz

Why?

DK Q+A

Today's topic: Herrera and Kuwata.

"Especially in the case of Kuwata, the signing might be partly a symbolic gesture to make the Pirates' name known to other potential talent in Japan. It might seem hollow, but scouts who work abroad will tell you that this sort of thing matters."
Reminding people that the Bucs are, in fact, a MLB team, is a prerequisite to future international signings.

Also on Kuwata and Herrera:

Wilbur at OnlyBucs asks whether the Bucs are now ready to compete overseas.

Pat at WHYGAVS proposes Kuwata's tryout be marketed as a reality game show.

Pirates Roundtable #4

Now up. We sat this one out, but 12 others field two questions on DL's "good pitching beats good hitting" inanity, and what Jason Bay might fetch in a trade.

All hail spike123, Slow Country 21 and Rowdy!

For going 12-4, 11-5 and 10-6 to win weeks 15, 14, and 13, respectively, in the HW NFL pick 'em challenge. Don't short these folks just due to the lax triple hail - drink up. Just two weeks left, starting with the game tonight.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

the Cuban guy

What are your thoughts on the eighteen-month layoff recently enjoyed by Yoslan Herrera?

My hunch is he'll be rusty for a month or two, and then better than ever.

That looks like a good signing to me. I was cool to the idea of Kuwata until I learned he talks to the ball, Mark Fidrych-style. Bones and I have long advocated the use of innovative crowd-pleasing tactics. Now that Jack has asked how this will work for Kuwata in America, I'm highly interested. I'll buy tickets just to see if our American balls can understand his Japanese wisdom.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

More three-way action

The Gray Lady gets in on the fun.

I wonder: would you rather see Adam LaRoche or Melky Cabrera in a Pirates uniform? I will put my answer as the first comment.

A position of strength

Wow, you never know what you will read in Newsday.

Friday, December 15, 2006

DL defends title

Undeterred by the recent bewildering rash of pro-DL Stockholm syndrome, our guy Dave is relentlessly pulverizing Mike Flanagan and the other 28 GMs over at ESPN's GM rater. Like beer, victory tastes so good when it touches your lips.

Gonzo on block

And drawing heavy interest, Dejan reports. DL could save a lot of face if he could flip Gonzo for some talent. With six teams supposedly interested in Gonzo now, DL should be able to snag a puzzle piece.

In other news, Bucs signed 8 players to minor-league contracts. Mostly all dross to fill the voids that poor drafting has created. Allan Simpson strikes out a lot of batters and is tough on RHs, so he could conceivably contribute in the future to some ML team. Mike Edwards, younger stepson, was also signed.

New blogs

Rowdy let me monkey around with the template a bit. I added links for: new Pirates blogs A New Pirates Generation, Bucco Wire, Derek Bell Yacht Co., The Parrot, Pirates Roundtable, new Pittsburgh sports blogs The Confluence and Sportsocracy, and a new Steelers blog, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls. I added a few other links and deleted some inactive links. As always, let us know if you have any suggestions or complaints.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Webster wins

All hail one of my childhood heroes, the late Mike Webster, his family, and lawyers for winning their lawsuit against the NFL. The NFL's pension board had reclassified his brain damage disability to try to short him disability payments. Mike's life after football, detailed last year by Greg Garber at ESPN.com, was horrific to say the least. To escape the pain, Mike stunned himself to sleep with a Taser. We'll remember Iron Mike as a Champion, and the greatest center to have ever played.

Roundtable #3

The Pirates Roundtable #3 came out yesterday. This week the topic is wild speculation on the Bucs' minor leaguers. Please feel free to suggest better answers (which shouldn't be hard for my silly uninformed answers) or even to whine about the Roundtable's mere existence.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Cota and Chacon tendered

The worst hitting player and probably the worst starter in the majors will both return, Dejan reports. Chacon's 1.72 WHIP last year would've been the worst in MLB if he qualified. The worst five were Pineiro, Maholm, Trachsel, Redman, and Fogg. Pineiro, the worst pitcher by this measure, hasn't yet been affiliated with the Bucs. That could change though, as the Trib mentions that the recently non-tendered Joel might be targeted for the Bucs' fifth starter.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pirates grub pitcher from Dodgers

The team home page announces that the Pirates claimed one Frank-ellis Osoria off waivers, bringing the 40-man roster to forty men.

DL hellbent on wrecking 2007

Dejan has news, and it's not pretty. DK confirms Perrotto's rumor of yesterday, that the Bucs are indeed talking to 38-year-old Masumi Kuwata. In 2005, Kuwata was Yomiuri's white flag: 12 games, 0-7, 7.24 ERA, 1.77 WHIP. In 2006, Kuwata was limited to 11.2 IP, but stunk those up with a 1.71 WHIP. Kuwata has nothing to offer the Bucs other than a PR mirage that the Bucs are actively scouting Japanese talent, and his appearance on the radar is as unexpected as it is absurd.

In other news, the Bucs are pretending to still be in the running for Suppan. On a related note, Chacon is now likely to be tendered. Worst news is that "the Pirates have made offers to two free-agent hitters. One player they are known to be pursuing is Trot Nixon". We already went over this terrible idea. The second I'd guess is Huff, but this could get real ugly. Lastly, the truth behind Eldred being sent home comes out: "Escogido cut him after losing all six games in which he played." Ouch.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Freddy Sanchez Q & A

David Laurila has this at Baseball Prospectus. It's premium content, so you have to subscribe to read about Jason Bay's performance in the team's fantasy football league.

Bucs to sign Kuwata, new LaRoche deal?

John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times has two earthshaking rumors:

"The Pirates are close to filling their need for a veteran right-handed starter by signing long-time Japanese League pitcher Masumi Kuwata as a free agent, baseball sources from Japan told the Times on Monday.

Kuwata, 38, most recently pitched for the legendary Tokyo Giants and has 173 wins in his career."

Huh? But wait, there's more:
"the potential is still there for a multi-player deal, including a possibility in which the Pirates would send left-handed closer Mike Gonzalez, catcher Humberto Cota, second baseman Jose Castillo and outfielder Nate McLouth to the Braves for right-hander Kyle Davies and LaRoche."
I laughed out loud at that one. Is Perrotto just making stuff up today? I sure hope not.

Pirates Roundtable

The second Pirates Roundtable is now up. Today's topic is grading DL's Winter Meeting effort, or lack thereof. D or F? You be the judge.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ryan Church

What again was the knock on Church? He's older, yah, I think 28, but to me falls into that category of cock-blocked prospects--like our main man, Ryan Shealy. He's left-handed and plays center. Is it the strikeouts? I remember reading somewhere that the Pirates were only mildly interested. Or was it the asking price?

More NFL week 14

Here's the schedule for the seven-win teams in the AFC. Bengals host Raiders (1pm), Chiefs host Ravens (1pm), Jacksonville hosts Indy (1pm), Denver at San Diego (4pm), Jets host Buffalo (4pm). The Steelers' chance of getting a wild card at 9-7 are about zero, of course, but there's no harm in rooting against the gang of teams ahead of them.

Another Gonzo story

Terry Pluto reports for the Akron Beacon Journal that the Indians asked about Gonzo. The Pirates asked for Victor Martinez and offered catching prospects (Doumit?) in addition.

It's not good news that nothing has happened, but it is good news to hear that the Pirates are negotiating from their most obvious position of strength. If you subscribe to the notion that closing is not as hard as, say, hitting for power, then naturally you deal from the top of your pile of talented young relievers.

If they stick to such an asking price, someone at some point will make that trade. But you may have to wait until some one or two of the league's closers are injured in March or April.

Eldred, Castillo, the Stepson

Dejan Kovacevic reports some stuff for the PG.

First baseman Brad Eldred is back home from the Dominican Republic after going 1 for 18 with 10 strikeouts. He is healthy, agent Gavin Kahn said, so the explanation for his early departure is unclear. The Pirates had hoped he would take 100-150 at-bats there.

Sent home after going 1 for 18 with 10 strikeouts--do we need an explanation?

Teams want Jose Castillo, who is playing well (with plate discipline) in Venezuela. And Jose Hernandez will be available for that "veteran utility infielder job" the Pirates describe as a burning need.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saturday Q+A

Dejan fields a few questions involving some undeserved defense of DL, some deserved love for Gonzo, and a bit of revelation of DL's new "plan".

Littlefield's plan, as described a couple days ago in the paper, is this: Acquire a reliable pitcher that another team might not want because of his salary. That way, the Pirates get their piece without giving up a key piece in a trade and, in all likelihood, get someone who has only another year or two on his contract.
The immediate juxtaposition of the words "Littlefield's" and "plan" are impossible for my brain to comprehend: "Littlefield's plll...? Littlefield's plaaa...? Hmmm. Typo? Aha! DL had a custard dessert - Littlefield's flan."

Yoslan

Turns out it's Yoslan Herrera, not Yuslan, and he's expected to sign a three-year contract early next week. Yoslan is supposedly only 25, so if he can shake off the rust and is the real deal, this could turn out to be a nice acquisition for the Bucs.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Empty-handed

Dejan reviews LaRochegate, claims Casey Kotchman could still be a possibility, and mentions Jon Lieber as a candidate for the veteran RH starter. There's also an audio link for an interview with DK about the winter meetings that begins with DK being asked how things went for the Bucs, what moves they made, or didn't make, and his assessment. To which DK chuckles and says "well, the moves that they made ... that would be zero." End of audio feed. Is this a technical glitch on the PG's mp3 link, or is this some kind of a cruel joke? (Update, Sat. 2 AM: mp3 link fixed, interview longer but just reiterates what's in the story.)

In other news, Yuslan Herrera is scheduled for his physical today, and could sign right afterwards. Does anyone know why this guy hasn't pitched in years?

223 yards!

Congratulations to Fast Willie Parker and his 223 yards, breaking Frenchy Fuqua's 1970 single-game rushing record. Perhaps Joey Porter, who shattered the single-game trash-talking record set by himself a few weeks ago, said it best: "Willie was out there running like his hair was on fire." All hail Willie!

... [Rowdy] Good things happen when you call 52 runs and 21 passes (71% run). That's how we roll.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NFL week 14: Browns at Steelers

Game on.

... it's December, it's about 15 degrees outside, and this Steeler team comes out. They run the ball twice for six yards, then attempt to pass five times in a row and punt. One of the balls, duh, is right on the money but clunks off the tight end. This is not a dome. Why are they passing the ball when it's 15 degrees and they are playing the Browns at home in December? Bad omen, I think.

If it was Coach Rowdy we'd be running the ball 70% of the time in this weather. It would be forecast: Pain for the Brownies.

... 51-yard touchdown to Nate Washington: despite what I just wrote, that play would be in the Coach Rowdy playbook. But I'd run the ball eight times in a row first.

Sometimes someone makes something up

Dejan passes along a typically informationless quote from a flustered DL:

"It's absolute fabrication," Littlefield said this morning of Atlanta's charge. "You just learn that rumors come from a variety of things. I know what we do for business. In regard to specifics of what other people do, I'm well aware from dealing with them what they do. Sometimes, things come up where people . . . someone's making something up."
Sounds to me like DL got punked.

Pirates make Rule 5 pick, trade for cash

Dejan reports:

The Pirates made a selection with the fourth pick of Major League Baseball's Rule 5 draft this morning, right-handed starter Sean White, but they immediately traded it to the Seattle Mariners for cash in an arranged deal.
DeCaster released to make room. This should pay for DL's plane ticket to the winter meetings.

Perrotto's version

The Beaver County Times' John Perrotto's version of the LaRoche non-trade seems consistent with young Travis Haney's:

However, when the Braves insisted on left-handed starting pitcher Paul Maholm as part of any deal, the Pirates balked at packaging him and second baseman Jose Castillo.
John also reports that today's proposal mentioned in the Trib (that DL is supposedly waiting on) has already been shot down:
The Braves turned down the Pirates' offer of Castillo and left-handed reliever John Grabow because it had a need for a left-handed starter after agreeing to a trade that would have sent Horacio Ramirez to Seattle for reliever Rafael Soriano.
Perrotto goes on to contradict Dejan again by saying efforts will now turn to Ryan Church, who could be had for "a young reliever who is ready to pitch in the major leagues and the Pirates have a surplus of pitchers who fit that description, including Freedom's Josh Sharpless, Jonah Bayliss, Brian Rogers and Jesse Chavez." I'd think Church would be worth more than one of those guys. The rest of Perrotto's story is not for the faint of heart, as it mentions both Trot Nixon and The Stepson.

Yet another version

The Trib's Rob Biertempfel has yet another version of what went down:

Littlefield is playing a waiting game, hoping to land slugger Adam LaRoche...

The Pirates are believed to have offered the Atlanta Braves left-handed reliever John Grabow and second baseman Jose Castillo for LaRoche, a lefty-hitting first baseman.

The Braves crave Pirates reliever Mike Gonzalez, and would deal LaRoche straight-up for him. However, Littlefield is hoping he can acquire a power bat without disrupting his starting rotation ... or losing a closer.

The PG's Dejan Kovacevic sees things differently:
There is virtually no chance of resuscitating a deal for LaRoche. For one, the Braves filled their relief need and are not interested in any other available Pirates, as evidenced by no other players having come up in the talks.
Who to believe? The Trib's story runs counter to Dejan's and Ed Eagle's accounts of the Gonzo-for-LaRoche deal having been all but finalized until the mysterious final hour collapse. Why would the two mouthpieces of the Bucs (Ed and Rob) be running completely contradictory stories? Because confusing the fanbase defuses its blind rage? Who knows, but the Trib story, being the most recent and conflicting with nearly all other previous reports, seems the most suspicious to me. Dejan is probably right in that we'll never know what really happened. Anyway, so what now? Dejan rubs salt in that wound:
... another of the Pirates' potential targets, Washington Nationals outfielder Ryan Church, is no longer in their sights, a source said.
Rowdy's prediction of nothing happening is looking like a good bet.

Another version

A little of the Google suggests that Travis Haney is a twentysomething recent college grad who covers the Braves for a news service you've never heard about. So this might well be a fairy tale, but it is worth considering:

Once Soriano looked like more of a possibility, and then a virtual lock, the Braves cooled their interest for Pittsburgh closer Mike Gonzalez.

They then began to focus on Maholm, saying they wouldn’t deal LaRoche without him. Littlefield balked, though, because of his desire to maintain the young pitching nucleus of Maholm, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell.

Maholm went 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 30 starts this past season, his first full year in the majors.

Castillo was intriguing to Atlanta as a cheaper option at second than Marcus Giles, whose $5-plus million salary the Braves are trying to unload.

This strikes me as believable. Trading from a position of strength (relief pitching) for a position of weakness (first base) makes a ton of sense for the Pirates. I'm not so sure, however, that LaRoche would be worth Maholm and Castillo--mainly because I'd expect that Maholm might command more elsewhere.

If LaRoche is your man, however, then I think you have to agree to those terms. It would be a dirty trick to thus bait and switch the Pirates, who are under so much pressure to do something right and must want to emerge from the meetings with something accomplished. But you have to anticipate the dirty trick when you are working in this kind of competitive environment. So my sympathy is not necessarily forgiving. I will be looking to see if Dejan Kovacevic can confirm or refute young Haney's report.

He said, she said

Dejan Kovacevic provides some clues to the mystery of the dead deal.

... In the Q & A Kovacevic relates some more facts about how the deal did not go down. It sounds like the Braves screwed Littlefield. This is one of the many downsides to Littlefield having the reputation that he has ... it's always convenient to blame him. And it's not hard to be the guy who disappoints the loser. It reads to me like DL and the Pirates sincerely thought they had the deal done. It must be tough, especially on top of all that bad food they eat while they sit around in hotel rooms sixteen hours a day.

The Q & A also reports that Jason Bay's first child was just born. All hail the little kid! And all hail the mother too.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rule Five draft tomorrow

Maybe a half-dozen players will be taken--how many will be Pirates?

Gonzo deal dead

I blogged too soon. Dejan Kovacevic reports that deal is dead. The Braves lost patience with Littlefield and will look elsewhere for that cheap bullpen upgrade.

No surprises.

The Braves and Mike Gonzalez

Dave O'Brien reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Gonzo-LaRoche trade is "still very much alive." He explains that the Braves have so much payroll going to seven players, they must make trades like this to improve their bullpen--they cannot afford to sign free-agent stud relievers.

I’m told the Braves are just waiting for some information on the hard-throwing left-hander’s elbow, and if they’re satisfied a deal could go down soon after.

Gonzalez missed the last month of the season after having an arthrogram on his sore elbow in September, a procedure that involves injecting dye into the joint to get a clear view that reveals any tissue damage. The Pirates gave him a clean bill of health and Gonzalez said he’s been throwing without any soreness since the last week of the season, when he had several full-on bullpen sessions.

Again, I’ll add that something could happen at any time with this or other deals.

I'll believe it when I see it, of course.

Gonzo's health a "red flag"

Dejan Kovacevic reports the Braves are holding up a trade for our closer over concerns about his health.

Thank you, KPatrick, for the heads-up.

Gonzalez for LaRoche?

Finally, some encouraging news from the winter meetings. Dejan reports that the Adam LaRoche-for-Mike Gonzalez deal is still possible, and that rather than DL refusing to part with Gonzo as rumored, Schuerholz wants to wait and collect more offers for LaRoche.

I like Adam and hope DL can pull this off. Adam, 27, is the brother of Andy and son of Dave. Dave threw an eephus pitch called "La Lob", which he once used to strike out Gorman Thomas, who promptly returned to the dugout to smoke a cigarette. Anyway, Adam, who slugged just .447 for his minor league career, outperformed his projections last year, finishing at .285/.354/.561 with 32 jacks. In August, BP had a nice long profile on LaRoche, concluding that he could escape the Steve Cox, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Travis Lee comparisons. Adam hits RH much better than LH (.950/.797 OPS vs. R/L for 2006), which would complement Nady (.736/.969) and Bautista (.679/.944), neither of whom hit RH much.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Prediction

The Pirates will make no trades or free agent signings that could be described as aggressive, bold, or daring. No rumor involving a starter or the closer will come true.

Trot Nixon = Lefty McRump?

Dejan interrupts our Loney/Kotchman dream sequence with the news that DL is pursuing Trot Nixon:

It is something of a surprise, as Nixon, 32, hardly fits the Pirates' stated goal of finding a young, left-handed power bat...

The Pirates' discussions with Nixon could be taken as a sign that they are seeking a fallback if they fail to acquire a young bat such as Atlanta Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche, the name most often linked with the Pirates in the lobby yesterday...

It is possible, too, that the Pirates' eye on Nixon is a sign that they are entertaining platoon options.

How else to explain the word circulating that they were bidding for free-agent first baseman Kevin Millar before the Baltimore Orioles signed him over the weekend for one year at $2.75 million? Millar is neither young, at age 35, nor left-handed.

Sigh. Millar is safely employed with another team now, so at the risk of cerebral hemorrhage, I'm letting that go for now.

Nixon? Ugh. Nixon made $7.5 million last year, but according to Dejan, "The view from Boston: Interest in Nixon is thin, and his salary could dip." For good reason. In 2003, Trot raked in a monster career year (.306/.396/.578). It's been downhill ever since. Over the past two years, Trot has put up lines of .268/.373/.394 in 381 ABs (2006) and .275/.357/.446 in 408 ABs (2005). Since 2004, Trot has been ravaged by injuries, going on the DL six times with serious injuries including: herniated disc, strained quad, torn quad, oblique strain, sprained groin, and strained biceps. On top of that, he had knee surgery in Oct. '05. For his career, Trot is notoriously useless against LHP. Against RHP, Trot is .292/.379/.513. Against LHP, Trot turns into Abe Nunez: .213/.309/.325 for Trot, .243/.313/.318 for Noonie. Against RHP and if healthy, Trot would likely be the second best hitter on the Bucs. But overall, is a 32 year old injury-prone platoon RF part of a "plan"? Would Trot be Lefty McThump or Lefty McRump?

Bucs (not) in Latin America

Angry Q+A today, largely over Sully's Dominican academy going to the Braves, with no interest from DL and the Bucs. Dejan blames the franchise's failure on the Latin American vacuum:

I have said it before and will repeat it here: There is no single greater factor in the franchise's downfall -- not payroll, not poor trades or signings or drafting -- than the almost total vacuum of Latin American prospects over the past eight years.
I find it hard to blame DL for a failure to commit to Latin America. If the owners aren't encouraging him to do so (which they're clearly not), why should DL give a damn about signing 16-year-old Dominicans, when he's only under contract through next year, and will very likely be long gone once any signed prospects reach the majors? DL has more pressing things to worry about than the long-term future of the Bucs, like finding another job.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Where they are at, the Pirates are not interested in acquiring one of the better players ever to play the game

Asked if Barry Bonds might return to Pittsburgh to break Hank Aaron's record, Littlefield said (and John Perrotto reports):

“There are players out there who probably fit what we’re doing better than Barry,” Littlefield said. “Certainly, he’s one of the better players ever to play the game, but with where we’re at right now there are other players out there who interest us more.”

While I know what he means - I think - Littlefield's choice of words is, as usual, unfortunate.

If Barry didn't have all this cheating stuff hanging over his head, and if Barry wasn't loathed by so many in the Pittsburgh area, and if Barry's days in town were remembered for more than that lame throw which could not beat the speedy Sid Bream -- then I'd think he'd be a good addition for whatever he commands in a one-year deal.

Winter meetings: Day One

Day one of the winter meetings is over and not much happened, Dejan reports in today's chat. Yesterday, Dejan mentioned Loney, Church, and Kotchman as possible Lefty McThumps. Church is 28, but any one of those three would obviously be a huge upgrade. The biggest rumor of the day is that the Bucs have asked about Adam LaRoche but are unwilling to part with Mike Gonzalez in return. Maybe DL wants to hold off to see if Gonzo together with a starter or two could fetch someone like Loney or Kotchman.

Pirates Roundtable #1

Cory at A New Pirates Generation has organized a new collective Pirates blogging project, the Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable. The first installment launched today, in which 14 Bucco bloggers/fans all answer the same three questions. It's long, but well worth the read (except for the next-to-last idiot), so check it out. Thanks to Cory for inviting us to contribute and for all the work to put this together. All hail the Roundtable!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

NFL week 13: Bucs at Steelers

The 4-7 Steelers battle the mighty 3-8 Tampa Bay team at four-fifteen.

$61.5 million

Dejan does the math:

"... the Pirates will make a minimum of $61.5 million this year before a single ticket is sold for PNC Park."
Ouch. His point is we could afford Suppan, and should try to sign him. Also at the PG, Gene Collier hates on Kip, mocks Walt Jocketty, and calls the pursuit of Suppan "one of the better litmus tests of ownership interest to come along in years".

Dealing with the Pirates

The Trib's Rob Biertempfel interviews ESPN.com's baseball analyst Keith Law, who has some not-so-nice things to say:

"You can't fix this kind of team at the winter meetings. There are teams you can really help if you're aggressive in the market, at the winter meetings. The Pirates aren't that kind of team.

I don't think this is going to be a $100 million team anytime soon. So, if they're going to succeed, they have to build from within. That involves drafting well -- not something they've done -- developing well, which they've been awful at; and acquiring younger, less expensive talent in trades where you move a veteran. And that's not something they've really done, either.

If you talk to enough executives from other clubs, you'll hear a consistent theme that dealing with the Pirates is not easy, in terms of just executing a trade," Law said. "It's tough. They ask for a lot for their players, and it's tough to get them to commit to a deal."

All stuff we knew already, but strange to read this in the Trib.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Calm before storm

Any predictions for the winter meetings? Who will Lefty McThump be? Who will the veteran RH starter be? I'll guess Suppan and Ohka go to higher bidders, and DL brings home Trachsel. DL also said, of course, that he wants a utility type who can play some SS. So prepare yourself for someone on the free agent list like Miguel Cairo, Chris Gomez, Tomas Perez, Jose Vizcaino, Chris Woodward or even the Return of Stepson #1.

DL, bold-faced liar

DL lies through his teeth to Ed Eagle:

But there will be good values out there for certain players and we'll hopefully get a hold of a couple of those, like we have in the past...

You have to draft, sign and develop your own players. We do a good job of that. A very, very valuable asset.

A very, very outrageous lie. Actually, DL's team has done a remarkably terrible job of drafting, signing, and developing players.

Wounded animal

The PG's Gerry Dulac:

It is still unclear if the Steelers (4-7) will approach the home game tomorrow against the floundering Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-8) with fingers crossed or the uncompromised determination of a wounded animal.
It doesn't matter too much at this point, but I'll root for the wounded animal lashing out.

All hail Gio Marsico!

For going 12-4 and winning the week 12 HW NFL pick 'em pool trophy. Of those who've made half their picks, Psyco's Dirt has a few lengths lead (.579) over Azibuck (.546) and Lonely Cousin (.542).

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Year-After Non-Effect

David Gassko of THT tests Tom Verducci's "year-after effect" prediction that young (<26 yrs) pitchers with suddenly heavy work loads (more than 30 IP than previous year) break down the next year. Gassko's excellent analysis makes Verducci look wrong. But he seems to misread Verducci in closing with this cheap shot:

"Verducci cautions readers to watch out for big declines from Matt Cain, Gustavo Chacin, Zach Duke, Scott Kazmir, and Pat Maholm. I say draft them in your fantasy draft and get your hopes up! Except when it comes to Duke and Maholm—Pirates players are hopeless, no matter what the numbers say. "
Verducci brought Duke and Maholm up as candidates for let-downs in 2006, not 2007, and there Verducci was right: both Duke (+44.1 IP from 2004 to 2005, resulted in +2.66 ERA rise in 2006) and Maholm (+98.1 IP, +2.58 ERA rise) regressed. To me it seems just as likely that Duke and Maholm's jackification was due to the hitters knowing what to expect, rather than tired arms. Regardless, Gassko's overall analysis seems to indicate that a heavy workload on a young pitcher isn't necessarily bad. If you're wondering, Matt Capps threw 80.2 IP in 2006, and 77.2 IP in 2005, so he wasn't as overused as it might have seemed.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Game tonight

If you are in the HW pigskin.com free pick 'em pool, don't forget to make your choice in tonight's battle of the AFC North.

No excuse for low payroll?

Dejan stirs up the shitpot in today's Q+A:

Beating the poor horse to a pulp here, the Reds probably will wind up spending close to $70 million on their 2007 payroll. The Brewers could approach that, too. And the difference between these three markets, in terms of size, stadiums and just about every intangible is exactly zero, which means there remains no visible, explainable excuse for the Pirates to spend in the range of $50 million, as they are planning.
Continuing the horse-beating, there's actually an obvious visible, explainable excuse: the ownership group's unquenchable greed and disinterest in winning.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ohka

Bucs have expressed interest in RH SP Tomo Ohka, Dejan reports.

Looking at the free agent list today, the remaining RH starters (not named Clemens, Eaton, Maddux, Schmidt, Suppan, or Weaver) are Armas, Batista, Helling, Jason Johnson, Marquis, Meche, Moehler, Ohka, Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Padilla, Park, Radke, Sele, Thomson, Trachsel, Paul Wilson, and Jamey Wright.

Wow, that's an ugly list. There's a reason these guys are all free agents I guess. I'm no Ohka fan, but in this context, he doesn't seem so bad. I'd guess Batista will get big offers soon. Of everyone else, most I would never want to see in a Bucs uni. Padilla and Thomson are both slightly intriguing, but I'd rather see the money spent on a more promising long-term plan. Anyone have any suggestions for a RH starter?

Intellect-challenged stewardship

Larry Dobrow of cbs tries to throw clueless GM Littlefield off Pirates' sinking ship. A fairly superficial analysis of DL's failures, but I agree with three of the four suggestions to try to Save This Franchise.

Time to clean house

Amen to Gene Collier's column.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Righties

So Dejan Kovacevic reports Jeff Suppan would be a Pirate again. Works for me.

The Cardinals signed Kip Wells. If the current roster had any kind of plate discipline, I would look forward to facing him. They don't, however, so I'm guessing the Pirates will make Kip look good.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jose Castillo en fuego in Venezuela

Rotoworld reports 85 good 1000-OPS at-bats from the big, powerful-looking big man.

So I guess you can scotch all the trade rumors involving Castillo. Maybe he could move over to first and become the next Randall Simon for us.

Darn sure

BP's Jonah Keri writes now for the New York Times.

When rumors surfaced that the Chicago Cubs had signed Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million contract, reporters ran to General Manager Jim Hendry for confirmation. Were the Cubs really going to be that ... aggressive?

“We won 66 ballgames,” Hendry told them. “We darn sure better be aggressive.”

Why is it always "aggressive" to sign a top-quality player for a price set by the free agent market? I don't mean to sound like an agent, but good things cost good money for good reasons.

And you can't compare the "value" a team gets from players in their first six years vs. players on the free agency market. Those are two different pools. Baseball's union and ownership has created a two-tier caste system. Players have to do their time before they can make full citizenship and the salaries that come with it.

The Pirates are not going to win without good players. They do not have many good players right now. They can sit back and pooh-pooh the Cubs and Astros as being "aggressive" in an "inflated" market all they want, but they can't expect to win more games until they pay good money for good players.

A very pitiful performance

The 2006 Steelers are not very good.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pirates continue ghetto party

Dejan Kovacevic has this long report today about the Pirates' strategery for winter meetings.

I do not understand the hang-up, if genuine, about Adam Dunn's strikeouts. He has a career OBP of .380. He gets on base, so there's little reason to be concerned about the low batting average or the strikeouts. He hits for tremendous power. What's not to like?

As for the Pirates having a lot of strikeouts in 2006, the team leader was Jason Bay. Because we have Jason Bay, we can't have Adam Dunn? Uh, that can't be called "reasoning." After Bay, the strikeouts came mainly from Tweedledee (Craig Wilson), Tweedledum (Jose Bautista), and Tweedledummer (Jose Castillo). There's no indication that the Pirates are building around either one of those clowns. Paulino is here to stay, but Burnitz and Duffy, also big-time strikeouters, are gone or show little to no promise of being an asset next April. To say the Pirates already "have" lots of strikeouts is bit like saying the Pirates already have little to no hitting talent on the roster. Because we have no hitting talent, we cannot acquire hitting talent?

Let's be clear about this. The Pirates have, more or less, nothing in the hitting department. Nothing! Jason Bay and an 850-OPS third baseman who rarely strikes out. There's nothing else of much consequence or impact. Adam Dunn or any of those guys Kovacevic names are something; any one of those guys would become the team's best or second-best hitter.

So the talk about whether or not this or that hitter "matches" the team's current roster is silly. It's like the Pirates have a big empty loft with two pieces of quality furniture. The rest of the room is filled with hand-me-down junk and stuff picked up from the curb. In this setting, why cavil about whether or not Adam Dunn "matches" the existing decor? The existing decor is terrible. If the addition of Dunn or some other high-quality slugger makes the curtains look shabby, you can't blame the good stuff for that contrast.

Unless you love to live in squalor. If this is the case, you punctuate your half-baked rants on acquiring major-league hitters with a piss in the corner and a compliment for the curtains, which really aren't half bad considering they were free.

It's been Down and Out in PNC Park for many years; why should we expect change? I predict the Pirates mumble something about making some high-impact moves. And then do nothing or little. Real sluggers are expensive. Cardboard boxes are free, and they actually look good in what dirty light filters through the high-strikeout curtains.

NFL week 12: Steelers at Ravens

Time to see what makes these Ravens 8-2.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy the holiday. Pass the gravy. Go Steelers!

Roster set, Cota still on it

In case you missed it, the Bucs filled out their 40-man roster Monday night, adding OF Nyjer Morgan, LHP Dave Davidson, and RHP Romulo Sanchez, while dropping C Carlos Maldonado.

Confusion abounds throughout the blogosphere as to whether DL really f-ed up again, mistakenly thinking Wardell Starling and Jesse Chavez would not have to be protected. Initially, Ed Eagle's mlb.com story listed Starling and Chavez along with Bixler as those who, under the new CBA, don't have to be protected. Quickly (and after WTM at OnlyBucs.Net questioned that detail) an edit appeared, deleting Starling and Chavez's names. Perhaps DL intentionally left Starling and Chavez off, preferring prospects Yurendell de Caster and Marty McLeary. I have no idea. I'll admit my reaction to this story was "what? Cota is still on this team?"

The Rule 5 draft is December 7th.

All hail Lonely Cousin!

For the 10-5 week 11 HW NFL pick 'em pool victory, and a remarkable year so far. LC laughed off the improbable week 5 blanking and has clawed his way back into the running for the Grand Prize. Azibuck gets an honorable mention mini-hail for the 10-6. If your cup is still full, go ahead and hail us, too, for my week 9 (first-of-the-year) swoop* and for Rowdy's week 10 win (which he already crowed about). We're still under .500 though, so just have a tiny sip.

[*swoop: (n) a victory of 2 games or more in an NFL pick 'em pool contest; (v) to win via swoop]

Ballbug

This Ballbug "MLB buzz bot" site is growing on me. It's automatically updated every 5 minutes with links to MLB news and accompanying links to relevant blog posts, and is completely devoid of ads.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Short week

There's a number of NFL games this Thursday. Be sure to make your picks in our ATS pool early, especially if you are leaving the Internets for the annual festival of gluttony.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Other teams sign players

While Dave and G. Ogden sing:

"Rinky Tinky!
Think of that!
To be a cat
Without a hat!"

"Sing it, Scat!" said Jim.

And everyone had fun.

Browns lose

The Steelers were going to pull that win off yesterday, I just knew it. Browns fans also knew it:

As the Steelers were making that final drive -- and you just knew they would score a touchdown -- I suddenly felt really sorry for the fans. As usual, there was a sellout at Browns Stadium. The fans acted like their team was 6-3 and in contention, instead of 3-6 and going nowhere. And the Browns actually appeared ready to beat the Steelers -- until the fourth quarter. And then, you just knew they'd lose.

That's Terry Pluto reporting for the Akron Beacon Journal.

I link that not to gloat, but to say, that's how it can be with some franchises. Pirate fans are not alone in the world. It's more than bad luck; it's learned helplessness.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Week 11: Steelers at Browns

If the Browns can stop the run, they can beat the Steelers. Game starts at one.

I predict Steelers 27, Browns 14, with the Steelers pulling away in the fourth quarter.

... 4:30pm ... nice W. That was learned helplessness in action at the end. Thank you, Cleveland. Catch you again on 12/7.

April is the cruelest month

That would be my answer to Smizik's question, which is the most depressing part of the season for Pirate fans?

Fireworks and bobbleheads

Classic Smizik on the offseason depression and learned helplessness of the Pirates fan.

I don't want to see DL trade Bay or Duke only because I have no confidence in what Chief Littlefield might accept in return. Charlie's plea to trade the relievers (all of them!) seems fail-safe to me, because even if we got nothing but utility IFs in return, DL has proven himself an expert at assembling a top-notch bullpen from the scrapheap.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

And they say sports fans are strange

Hey, I'm some kind of fogey or something. I don't at all get the level of interest in the PS3 and the Wii.

About 600 people had lined up at the Toys R Us store in Times Square, waiting for a midnight launch event. No. 12 in line, Royce Reynolds from Baker, Fla., said he had been there since 4 p.m. the day before.

At the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Center, 86 people were lined up for the morning opening. Anthony Eaton, dressed in green as the character Link from the "Zelda" series of games, looked chagrined when passing girls called him "Peter Pan."

Eaton, 18, didn't really need to be in line, since his friend had pre-ordered a Wii for him that would be available for pickup the next morning.

"It's all in the spirit of gaming. Wiis only get launched once, and we gotta do this right," said Eaton, who had traveled up from Washington to be at the only U.S. store bearing the Nintendo name.

He's gotta do it right.

Eldred in the groove

Raises average to .231, mlb.com reports.

4.3%

The PG's Gerry Dulac has a simile:

But, when the people entrusted with chasing the quarterback saw that Frye has been sacked 34 times -- a pace dubious enough to chase Tim Couch's franchise record of 54 -- it was almost as though they received a floral-embossed invitation to spend some time in the Browns' backfield.
Gerry also profiles our new 255 lb. return man.

In other news, my two favorite Steelers are both ready to play. For the Browns, CB Bodden is out, and Droughns, McGinest, Cribbs, Winslow, CB Perry, LB Williams are all questionable. Collectively, this should add up to another pistol-whipping of the Browns and set the stage for the unlikely playoff surge.

Speaking of which, over at HSS, Israel stipulates the Steelers into the playoffs. A link from the comments thread over there estimates the Steelers playoff odds at 4.3%.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jovorskie Lane

Rumbling, bumbling, stumbling over on YouTube. He'll be lucky to graduate to the NFL and have one Jerome Bettis-like season. Still, he's a lot of fun to watch. It's not every day you see a 274-pound tailback. And it's easy to imagine him in the black and gold.

If the Steelers had a young back like this, they could run the ball on two out of three plays. The 50-50 run-pass ratio is not some law all teams must obey. How about 33 big guy runs, 33 Willie Parker runs, and 34 we let Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball.

Fade the Public

My against-the-spread record last week was 11-5. The strategy? Fade the public. All I did was choose the team with a minority of backers on our site, pigskin.com. The upset mood of the Tuesday election encouraged the suspicion that the experts might also be "all wrong" in the following week of NFL action.

I've also been under the superstition suspicion that the book is way due. If I had the time, I would look through the past weeks. The "public" or majority of pickers have done unusually well this season, I think; that's the impression I've been under at least. I often make the "ugly" choice, all things being equal, and that has brought me to a Littlefieldesque .430 winning percentage on the season. So I will probably continue with the strategy.

White Flag gets red spot

Reflecting the fact that his entrance either indicated or soon precipitated imminent surrender, Ryan Vogelsong came to be known this year as "the Human White Flag" or later just "White Flag".

The Trib reports that RV is set to sign with the Hanshin Tigers. (If you don't believe the Trib, which you shouldn't, Charlie found a picture.) Earlier in the Trib article:

"We have interest in some players in the Japanese market," Littlefield said. "We've had some scouting groups over there. It's an area where we're going to do more business."
Technically, DL isn't lying here, although his main interest involves selling players, not acquiring them. DL and his scouts' hard work has finally paid off. Kaching! RV was a minor league free agent, so the Nuttings don't stand to make a nickel off this deal. Back to the drawing board, Dave.

Fly on, RV.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tuesday

What's up? Bones and I are busting our asses in our day jobs. Strangely, this blog has yet to generate much in the way of advertising revenue.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Steelers win

Like I said, the problem with the Steelers is Willie Parker, who is not able to lead the team the way The Running Back must lead a Steeler team.

NFL Week 10: Saints at Steelers

Run Willie Run. Game's at four.

What's wrong with the Steelers

The 2006 Steelers lack the power running game of almost every other season in recent Steeler history. Willie Parker is a slashing Tiki Barber type. I'm sorry, but that's not Steeler football. He's a great back, but the team has not been designed to support such a runner.

More specifically, the offensive line has played much worse this year than in previous years. It used to be that Jerome Bettis would inspire those guys by showing them how to hit the would-be tacklers. Last year Bettis was not an every-down player, but he did some things at pivotal moments in that Super Bowl season.

There's a cascade effect here. Parker runs funny for a Steelers number-one back. The offensive line looks confused for this, and now it's all on them to punish the D-line. The other team puts eight men in the box to stop the run. The Steelers run ineffectively. Now the quarterback must attempt more passes. This causes the o-line, built for the power running game, to work more in pass defense, which was not necessarily their strongest point last year. The quarterback is only in his third year. The wide receivers have not been so good. Everything breaks down.

And for me, it all comes from a single problem. Steeler football is when the other team knows you are going to run the ball, and still you run the ball. This team can't do that. So they can't play Steeler football. The Steelers don't win when they deviate from that formula.

It all comes down to the loss of Bettis and getting away from the power running game. That's how I see it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

John Perrotto, if the Pirates go bold

John Perrotto writes:

If the Pirates want to be bold in a trade market, there are three hitters who could be available for the right package of pitchers, most likely closer Mike Gonzalez and left-handed starter Zach Duke. They are Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira, Tampa Bay left fielder Carl Crawford and Cincinnati left fielder Adam Dunn.

Littlefield has always been reluctant to trade pitching, but he almost certainly would have to part with closer Gonzalez.

Teixeira, Crawford, or Dunn would make great additions. But I will believe Littlefield could manage such a trade when I see it.

The forecast for the Pirates before March 1 looks like this: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Bernie Williams

I wonder if Bernie would not be Littlefield's kind of free agent. He switch-hits and has won some gold gloves in the outfield. He's not expensive.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Have a beer for Jack Palance.

Years ago we had a Jack Palance festival and watched three or four of his best in row. His boxing movie or made-for-TV movie is one of the best sports films ever.

All hail Jack Palance!

Ike might start

The PG's Gerry Dulac reports:

Cowher hasn't made up his mind yet but thinks Ike just might start on Sunday. Santonio will return punts. And Hines will pay Nate's $5K fine for crashing Nate's dance party. All hail the Superfast Smooth-Dancin' Big-Hearted Deep-Pocketed Super Bowl MVP!

Ben is getting creamed.

Ben has been sacked 23 times in seven games, matching his total from last season. Nine have come in the past two games, even though teams have been rushing only three or four players and dropping the rest into coverage.

Teams have stopped blitzing Roethlisberger -- his last 12 sacks have been by defensive lineman -- and are daring him to find creases in their packed zones. Still, though, the sacks come.

"They're putting us in position to see if he can read coverages and beat them with the passing game," said receiver Hines Ward, who has 28 catches for 438 yards the past four games and has benefitted from the increased number of passes. "When you're dropping that many guys, it's hard. We got eight guys against four and we're trying to get open."

This could explain the INTs. Earlier in this same link, Dulac sounds like Rowdy, with the "training wheels" analogy:
Even though the Steelers have taken off the training wheels on their passing game, the results have not been nearly as proficient as when they clamp on their quarterback to be more judicious and conservative.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lloyd McClendon, hitting coach

I wonder if he'll manage again, ever. Story here.

Porter flaps jaw, Ike to sit

Terrified of the impending disasters that are DL's offseason moves, I haven't completely given up on the Steelers. Theoretically, they could still win out and sneak into the playoffs.

The first step is a win on Sunday vs. the Saints, which is already in the bag because Joey Porter has guaranteed victory. JPeezy has taken a lot of flak this year, accused of being overrated, inconsistent, and of having dogs that eat (tiny) horses. He might come off as a simpleton sometimes, but to me, Joey sounds pretty smart here:

"We haven't lost any hunger. We had more turnovers now than we had all of last year. We were involved in every game, but you're not going to win the game when you have four, five turnovers a game."
Or six. Moving on, HSS discusses an interesting Unsubstantiated Rumor of the Year involving Cowher, a contract, and the Rooneys. Getting back to Joey, HSS also links to MJD, who explains that Joey's $15K fine was for threatening an official. Joey angrily denies even making the comment and is hoping one of his teammates will step forward and confess.

In other Steeler news, McFadden will start on Sunday while Ike is assigned to chatting Duce up on the sideline.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rowdy Claus recommends the killer Hans doll

Best present for your little Pirate fan? I suggest one or more of these 12 inch posable Cooperstown Collection "Honus Wagner" dolls. They are just like the big eleven-inch GI Joes of my early 1970s childhood--except they play ball. Do an ebay search for honus-wagner cooperstown-collection to find more.

They retailed in the mid-90s for $30. Many people bought them and stuffed them into their closet as "collector's items." For this reason, they are easy to find in a mint, unopened box. How cool is that? All hail crazed investing!

Rowdietta and Rowdy Jr. share about six of them. Cinderella and Pocahontas hang with "Hans," "George" (the Babe), "Ty" (Cobb), "Lou" (Gehrig), and their assorted "evil twins." The one and only Cy Young has been AWOL for many months; he's probably spelunking deep inside a sofa. You can see the whole set here.

Strip these guys down and they look like Gabe Kapler; they have what looks to me like the total mid-90s 'roid aesthetic. George, who comes in two versions (New York and Boston), has an extra layer of padding to make him fat. Rowdietta calls this his "onesie." They also come with baseballs, gloves, bats, and batting helmets which you can set aside if you worry about choking hazards. Again proving he's the greatest player of all time, Hans makes, easily, the most handsome of the dolls. FWIW, Lou's head is too big for his hat. Once you remove it, it never stays on again.

While I paid an average of about $10 for the dozen or so dolls I have collected to give to various children, I would go farther and recommend the mint ones at $25-$30 a pop. (I don't know any of those people now selling them on ebay, either, in case you wonder about that.) They are that cool to have lying around with your four-year-old's Cinderella and Barbie dolls. Hans looks good in the Barbie convertible. You should not have to pay that much, however, unless this post starts some kind of pre-holiday run on them. As you can tell by doing a "completed auctions" search, they often go unsold at any price. They rock. Get some. They make great Christmas presents for your young people.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pirates showcase players in Japan

OurSportsCentral.com interviewed Indy's pentalingual hitting coach Bam Bam Meulens, who comments upon visiting Japan this summer:

"Dave (Littlefield) and his staff gave us a list of guys to watch," Meulens says. "We also took a list of players -- in our organization -- who will be available to play in Japan next year. There were a couple of our guys who we were trying to showcase and a couple of their guys who we went to look at."

The group identified many promising players during the trip, but the astronomical resources needed to acquire Japanese players can prohibit a trade.

I'd guess that DL had Meulens scouting players like the Nippon Ham Fighter's Shigeyuki Furuki, who can play all IF positions, and could conceivably be converted to a middle reliever.

Seriously, DL sends scouts to Japan to try to showcase his own players? Is this standard practice for MLB international scouts - to showcase their own players rather than focusing on trying to sign talent to improve their team?

Logos and uniforms

Pat at WHYGAVS nicely details the history of Pirates' logos and uniforms. In the comments over there, Azibuck points out the roid-enraged appearance the players take on by 1997. This occurs abruptly in 1995, as the players simultaneously sprout evil menacing faces, just in time for the black-hearted Nuttings' sinking of the team in 1996. Curiously, the home player also suddenly holds out one of his hands. Just behind him, the road player angrily grips his bat. Together they're clearly demanding money for the Nuttings, as in "Give me your freakin' wallet, sucker."

Monday, November 06, 2006

How does this end

Second-half predictions for the Steelers? I figure they are a .500 team who has squandered several wins. It's likely they will squander as many as they quietly steal in the second half, so I foresee, without looking at the schedule, a 4-4 record, meaning they finish at 6-10. That's my prediction. What's yours?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NFL Week 9: Broncos at Steelers

Game on at 4:15. If this turns sour, I recommend you click over to NHL.com and surf the Highlight Machine, which rocks very much. Use the video links on the daily scoreboard to get into it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

This stupid losing feeling

Brett Keisel, via Gerry Dulac, says it all:

"We need to get that feeling back again instead of this stupid losing feeling."
In other Steelers news, even the ACL tear in Haynes' knee isn't enough to play Duce. Instead, Najeh becomes the 3rd down back, and John Kuhn will suit up. The OL has been shuffled: Simmons will start, and Okobi replaces Harting. (BTW, Chukky would like to point out that he did NOT look like an idiot in Oakland: "But did I look like an idiot? No.") Importantly, NT Casey Hampton should return for Sunday's game.

All hail EddieHarks!

For his 8-3 ATS picks, securing the NFL week 8 HW pick 'em pool victory. Meanwhile, Rowdy and I both stunk again. Confidence is a fragile thing. Rowdy and I have no reason to be confident swamis at this point. We haven't done the things it takes to pick winning football teams.

Friday, November 03, 2006

HW salutes: Steve Peeler

Exasperated over 14 years of losing baseball? Disappointed in a 2-5 football team? Too lazy to fill out the Penguins' bandwagon application? Yet desperately seeking a hero? Meet PNC head groundskeeper Steve Peeler, who's been busting his ass. For some reason in April, perhaps due to lack of other heart-lifting stories about the Bucs, mlb.com caught up with Peeler. The 14 hour days were taking its toll:

"Honestly, it feels like a piano on your back come Opening Day," Peeler said...

"We've rebuilt this field over the winter, so parts of the season, especially in the first month, there's going to be adjustments that will need to be made for the players' satisfaction, Jim Tracy's satisfaction, and also Dave Littlefield's satisfaction." ...

"My health has gone downhill quite a bit. I try to remain a healthy person, but over the past few years, I've had some anxiety problems and I think it all stems from this. You can have the best stadium, the best players, but if you don't have a good field, there's nothing. It's definitely a young man's game. The older you get, it really wears you thin. I know it's worn me thin. Sometimes you ask yourself, 'Is it really worth all this?' "

Don't answer that one, Steve. During the ASB, USAT also caught up with Steve:
"Because his hours are so long and can be erratic, Peeler has a small "apartment" in the park for his overnight stays — a windowless room with a pullout couch, desk, television and computer."
Despite the unimportant on-field baseball product, one tireless man works himself into the ground. For the field, for the players, for Tracy, for DL, and for you, loyal Pirates fan. All hail Steve Peeler!

Randa retires

The Joker is done:

"I pretty much made up my mind before last season started that it would be my last."
Have fun with your kids and your $4,000,000, Joe. (link via Bucs Dugout).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pirates close to signing Cuban right-hander

Baseball America's John Manuel reports. Some relevant clips:

Herrera, 25, has finalized a deal on a major league contract with the Pirates, though the deal is not official pending Herrera passing a physical. . . .

Herrera has had success in Cuba, with a career 18-7, 3.72 record. Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said nothing was official with Herrera, though [his agent Jaime] Torres said the physical is the only legal obstacle to the signing. He confirmed the organization's interest in Herrera, saying the Pirates have "seen him a few times in the Dominican. I know there's interest from other clubs. I just don't want to comment until it's really official."

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander, who is still working out in Santo Domingo in the Dominican, has shown command of a fringy fastball and what Torres termed an above-average curveball, and one scout liked him a lot.

"He's got an above-average split-finger (fastball) and was 88-92," the scout said after seeing Herrera pitch in a workout in August. "I could see his velocity jumping up to 90-94 once he gets into a system and he could very easily be a No. 4 starter in the big leagues."

He's young.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

One of us! One of us!

Raiders to Steelers: "We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!" No doubt there's gobbling in Cleveland tonight as well. What a turkey this season turned out to be. Kinda reminds me of the season turned in by another local professional team . . .

NFL week 8: Steelers at Raiders

The 2-4 Steelers go west to face the 1-5 Raiders. If the Steelers hand over another one, they'll be tied with the Raiders in the wins column.

We get an extra hour to prepare for this one. All hail the end of daylight savings time! Game on at 5:15 4:15.

Bouchette's weekly miscellany

Ed Bouchette wrote some good stuff here.

I agree that the NFL could do us all some favors by putting the MLB to shame. The NFL could have put Jacksonville at Houston on Sunday night and outdrawn the World Series. Such a move would force the MLB to make their playoffs more compelling.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Making MLB better, again

After further thought, it boils down to one thing for me: the season is much too damn long. It has to end at least three weeks earlier. They can start it sooner or they can shorten the playoffs.

I'd favor eight divisions of four teams who play each other a lot, and the extra round of playoffs is needed for that. So I'd suggest they start it sooner and trim the schedule to 154 games.

83 wins

So MLB has gone and made a schedule and a playoff schedule that results in an 83-win team taking the championship. I've long argued that just about any team can win 82 games, my baseline expectation for just about every team (including the Pirates) year after year.

Far be it from me to question the business judgment of MLB's owners, who are selling plenty of tickets and making money hand over fist, but the game has lost some of its appeal as a game for hardcore fans. Perhaps they are fine with that. The circus sells plenty of tickets and hardly anyone identifies themselves as a loyal circus fan.

To improve the quality of competition, which may have nothing to do with ticket sales, the league should do these things: (1) reorganize the leagues and divisions into even, geographically-tight groups, (2) shorten the season, and (3) adopt a playoff structure that more heavily favors the teams with the most wins during the regular season. I won't hold my breath; the league is happy, I think, to sacrifice anything for the sake of their bottom line. That may even be the best long-term strategy.

Congratulations, St. Louis. All championships are equally awesome. Enjoy the offseason.

Ben to start

Barring another injury on the trip to Oakland, Ben will start on Sunday, Dulac reports. Hampton will join Duce on the sideline, but Haggans and Porter will both start.

Marino prediction

Also from Dulac's notebook is this Dan Marino quote from this week's edition of HBO's "Inside the NFL":

"The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-4 with five division games left. They are going to win that division."
To think I used to hate Marino. All hail winning the division!

Rooney fined $25,000

Dan Rooney doesn't care.

But Rooney apparently had no qualms about speaking out, or about suffering the consequences that came down Friday. "I don't care. They need to know," Rooney said.

In fact, just to make sure he drove his point home, Rooney handed Goodell a copy of the Post-Gazette, including his quotes, at a league meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday.

Is a bigass fine an appropriate way to thank someone for getting you a job? Shame on you, Roger Goodell.

All hail BIGFISH!

For going 9-4 to bring home the Week 7 HW NFL pick 'em pool shout-out. Do Rowdy and I just suck this year? Or are we getting unlucky? Or has someone stolen our mojo? Not understanding why, we continue our Littlefieldian freefall.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hall of Fame

Carnell Lake, Dermontti Dawson, Kevin Greene, and Donnie Shell nominated.

Hines proud of Hines superhuman speed

Gerry Dulac has Hines quotes: "I'm the only receiver since I've been here to take a skinny route all the way and I've done it twice. I did it last year against New England and I did it this year against supposedly the fastest man in the league. I like to call it running scared."

I like to call it losing, as the Steelers lost both of these games. Hines Ward "Superfast Hines". He's got smooth dance moves too.

Ben

Cowher will wait til Sunday morning to announce if Ben or Batch is starting.

Off the field, Ben has had a busy week, getting teased by the Onion, Sportspickle, and Deadspin.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Burnitz bought out

Ed Eagle reports. No surprise here. Burnitz gets 700K to just go away. Now DL wants to look at anybody else:

"When we originally signed Burnitz, we felt that we wanted to sign someone to a one-year contract -- in his case with a club option -- with the idea of giving some other players time to see how they developed. Right now, our feeling is that we're going to look in another direction, whether that's internal or through a trade or maybe through another free agent."
Which is to say, those other players were either given away by Chief Littlefield, didn't develop quite as hoped, or maybe never even existed in the first place.

In hindsight, DL should've read the writing on the wall. There was no reason to think Burnitz would bounce back from his lousy 2005 .258/.322/.435 year. BBTF's Dan Szymborski wrote this upon the JB signing:

"Horrible, horrible move by Dave Littlefield. If the jury's still out on Littlefield, it's only because the jury asked for their Chinese food to be poisoned so that they wouldn't have to watch this team. I strongly suggest that Pirate fans really make an effort to do what I do with the Orioles - vote with your wallet. Say no to David Littlefield and his Tall Fetid Devil Id. OK, I couldn't think of a better anagram."

At the time, DL rationalized the cockblocking of CW:

"Whether it's media or fans, everybody has to realize that, if we are going to get better, part of it is having better backups," Littlefield said. "Through ownership, we've been able to increase payroll, so you're going to have the opportunity to have quality backups."

(Sounds familiar...) Tracy played it safe with the "We are a different team with Jeromy Burnitz" quote.

Not too surprisingly and despite DL's hopes, JB crashed and burned with a disappointing .238/.289/.422 line. For these struggles he came to epitomize everything that was wrong with the organization and invoked the hatred of the fanbase, culminating in "Buck Furnitz" shirts. At times I felt bad for JB, the 2006 whipping boy, as he took beatings that the front office deserved. He took it all in stride, though, as one would expect from a $6,000,000 man. My favorite JB quote was the one Billy called JB's reflection on the essential inscrutability of reality:

"I realized a while back that the world doesn't make a lot of sense, so trying to understand it doesn't make sense," Burnitz said. "I'm not judging it. It just is what it is."
Best of luck, JB, to you, your family, and your Maltese named Fluffy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Duce is Jim Brown reincarnated

Ed Bouchette gets silly in today's chat. Ed relates that Ben might practice tomorrow, James Harrison will miss Sunday's game, and Troy won't drink Gatorade.

Ben's injury not severe

Ben's agent thinks Ben seems fine, otherwise Ben would've stayed in Atlanta or not waited a full day to see the UPMC neurosurgery experts, EB reports. Lucky for Ben, UPMC knows concussions, and has found NFL players are typically fine "within a week or so" after suffering one. Meanwhile, the Carbolic Smoke Ball breaks the terrific news of a Big Ben miracle.

Monday, October 23, 2006

All is not well with Ben's head

Concussions are like timeouts--you can't have many in a short period of time.

Get well, Ben.

Shame on Dan Rooney

I disagree with Bones on this one. The Steelers lost that game fair and square. The Steelers have no business pointing fingers at the officials. Yes, they beat up the Falcons good. The defense was great. But the team, especially the offense and the special teams, utterly failed to do the simple things--e.g., protect the ball--required to translate that beat-up into victory. As with the Cincinnati game, the Steelers let this one get away and they have only themselves to blame for it.

The officiating was inconsistent, sure, but the refs are human. We know that going into the game.

The top story on Ballbug this morning is the piece of crap that maybe was or maybe wasn't on Kenny Rogers' hand for one inning. So he forgot to wash his hands after using the bathroom. That's no way to summarize the game.

What's gotten into so many sports fans? The city of Seattle leads the way when it comes to public reactions to sporting disappointment. The country has gone nuts with all this working of the refs. Why such outrage, such suspicion, such disrespect for the rule of zebras? Next thing you know, people will be hollering about "purity of elections." If we can't practice civility as sports fans, there's no hope for us as citizens. What if, some day, (knock on wood), we are shaken from our prosperous slumber to debate real-world emergencies such as a war, a coup, or an environmental disaster?

There can be no sports of any kind without referees. And there can be no long-term enjoyment of the game if people don't respect fundamental rules of sportsmanship. Unless the zebras screw up as terribly as they did with Polamalu's interception in the 2005 Steelers-Colts playoff game, there's no reason to do anything but hold your tongue and sublimate that anger into any more worthwhile activity.

Ridiculous calls

Of course the fumbles had more to do with the loss than the officiating, but the zebras were suspect enough to make Dan Rooney call them out:

"These officials should be ashamed of themselves," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said. "That last call, you don't call that kind of call."

Rooney did not limit his criticism of referee Ron Winter's crew to that one call, either. He made reference to "ridiculous calls," including one in which Reed was penalized for tripping Falcons return man Allen Rossum near the end of the first half.

"They said he tripped him," Rooney said. "He got beat out, the guy dodged him, he got faked. He didn't trip him, he [Rossum] ran over him and fell."

Shame on you, officials.

Did you feel bad icing a 62-year-old kicker?

Mondesi's house has some questions for coach Cowher.

Labor agreement

MLB players and owners have tentatively reached a labor agreement.

"Everybody's pretty happy with the industry. In baseball, everybody's making out pretty well," Cardinals reliever Jason Isringhausen said.
Speak for yourself, Izzy.

Beer

Despite the Bucs losing for 14 years straight and the Steelers sitting at 2-4, we still have beer. This Full Sail Wassail Winter Ale lives up to its billing as "ridiculously tasty" (6.5% alcohol). It's no Jubelale, but it's damn good. Any other beer suggestions?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Worst game ever

That was the worst football game I've ever seen. It was a nightmare from start to end. A long nightmare. If all the games were like that, there would be no football fans.

Ben hurt, Steelers lose

Happy freaking Sunday.

NFL week 7: Steelers at Falcons

What's the over/under on number of Steeler fans in the Georgia Dome? I'll take the over.

Watch for the option draw.

Ben does not love Heath

Ed Bouchette's daily answer suggests they are not getting the damn ball to Heath Miller because Ben is not looking his way.

Michael Vick = Kordell Stewart

For years, Steeler fans have been saying they've seen this Vick thing before and know how it turns out. Ed Bouchette does his version.

While Vick has been superior to Stewart in some aspects of the running quarterback game, Bouchette's right that still, star wideouts want to start for Atlanta as much as star outfielders want to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the way Vick mouths off to the media, you have to acknowledge that Stewart was the superior team leader.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Najeh Davenport, free spirit

A few days ago, I came across this picture of Najeh Getting his Freak On with a high school girls dance team during a charity basketball game.

Today, Gerry Dulac profiles happy Najeh.

"Green Bay, you really had to treat it like a job, like a job-job, like working at Taco Bell, not like a career job. Here, I don't see that. I don't get that feeling. You're here to play football and you're doing something that you love...

In Green Bay, you get fined for every little thing. That feeling they install in you, you don't get the ability, the freedom, to cut loose."

When I look at Najeh now, I don't see a troubled soul. I see a young man in love with life - a free spirit who can't be restrained by such mundane conventions as dress codes, weight limits, power-back-labels, and flush toilets. Just give him the ball.

All hail Azibuck, BIGFISH, and Puzzleman!

For the Week 6 three-way 8-5 tie in the HW NFL pick 'em pool. Like Rod Scurry in '83, I tanked with a 4-9. Rowdy turned things around with a 7-6.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Human Highlight Reel

Gerry Dulac reports some great news on the offensive line. When can we order our Chris Kemoeatu jerseys?

"Strong '06 finish has Littlefield thinking"

Reads a headline at the official Pirates page, referring to Ed Eagle's interview with DL. Bucs Dugout has already poked fun at DL's nihilistic answers. Other than a lefty slugger and a veteran RHP starter, DL is thinking about, of course, his pathological obsessions: a mop-up man, a righty reliever and a utility infielder. Look out, 2007 Cardinals - our bullpen and utility IFs will slay you.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

NLCS Game 7: Cardinals vs. ex-Pirate

This might be a good one. What's the over/under on first-inning baserunners?

I'll take the under if it's three.

Dave Wannstedt a Steeler?

Profootballtalk.com speculates that a no-playoffs season for your 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers would result in a new coach. The candidates, they guess, would be Grimm, Whisenhunt, Wannstedt, and the obligatory "Rooney Rule" minority candidate. FWIW.

Ollie to start tonight

It's hard not to root for Oliver Perez as he starts Game 7 of the NLCS for the Mets tonight. Wow, and good luck with that.

Cut blocks

On Sunday the Steelers D will not only have to chase Ron Mexico around, but will have to do so while avoiding those dirty dangerous cut blocks. The NYT has a recent story on the Falcons and their unusual run-blocking plan. Whatever consultant Alex Gibbs has been teaching the OL, it's been working, as the Falcons lead the NFL with an obscene average team rushing of 232 yds/game. Starting G Matt Lehr was just suspended for steroids, so Tyson Clabo will make his NFL debut. This after Vick was sacked 7 times last week, so expect our fearless Samoan warrior to chop some heads.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Week 7 underdogs

I'm in a SU pool that requires 3+ underdogs each week. So I hunt them down. Today I like Carolina. Cincinnati should not be favored in that one. That team looked terrible--I mean bad--on Sunday, and I don't see how they turn that around in time for Carolina.

But what do I know? I'm hitting a buck-fifty or something.

Any other dogs to recommend?

No slots for the Nutting family

Bill Toland reports for the Post-Gazette. Here's another story link, from a ski site, with pictures.

The quick summary is the Nuttings could not waltz around the various laws conspiring to prohibit a MLB team owner from owning a casino in Pennsylvania. So the Nuttings just made a potentially bad financial gamble. So now they depend, perhaps, more heavily on the profits taken from the operation of the baseball club.

Season recap: marketing

The on-field product was never a priority for the 2006 Bucs. So why should reviewing the players' mostly sorry performances be our priority, especially in another 95 loss year in which Ryan Vogelsong led the team in OPS? Instead the recaps begin with the most important facet of Pirates baseball: the marketing department.

The unveiling of the utterly meaningless "We will" was met with immediate mockery. "We will ... what?," we all asked. We will ... lose 95 games again? embarass ourselves and our fan base again? get lucky in the second half? make money hand over fist? pocket the revenue sharing? inexplicably extend DL's contract? I never would have guessed the answers were "persevere", "entertain", and "have fun", so this goes down as a big whiff for marketing in my book.

Moving on, we have the musician commercials. We were promised a KISS commercial. I never heard or saw one, so I'm provisionally marking this down as a lie. We will NOT lick it up. Despite this whiff, Rowdy and I both thought the John Lee Hooker ad kicked ass.

Moving on (and quickly, before I vomit again), the All-Star Game ballot box stuffing and poetry reading of Brownie were positively nauseating. Some didn't like the punk band.

Most importantly, I blame the marketing department for my personal low point of the season. This came when listening to the KDKA broadcast of a second half game at work with my headphones on. Lanny was plugging Pup Night to outrageous lengths. "For 20 dollars, you and your dog can watch the Pirates battle the Cubs!" In this context, he began summarizing all of the players' dogs and at one point delivered this haymaker to my eardrums: "Jeromy Burnitz has a Maltese named Fluffy. Jose Hernandez has a bulldog named Brad Pitt." Blood immediately began pouring out of all five of my cranial orifices, as I tore off my headphones, rent my garments, clutched my head, and reeled from the sickening pain.

Marketing department grade = F.