Saturday, July 22, 2006

Game 99: Pirates at Marlins

Six o'clock. Light rain at four, rain forecast all night, but this doesn't look any different than the last two days.

Kip Wells and Ricky Nolasco, a 23-year-old right-hander that lefties devour.

Randa and Burnitz off the bench

Joe Randa has been a great bench player, so the Pirates would do well to keep him. They need to practice winning if they are ever going to win, and there is no time like the present for winning.

The assumption seems to be that you don't pay bench players big money, and Randa makes big money, so of course the Pirates must trade him.

This puts the cart before the horse. Randa's contract is a done deal. Now that he's lost his starting job, it's time to find some use for him which maximizes his value. Not to get a return on the investment of his salary, but to get a contribution toward a winning team. And Randa has shown he can do this.

Perhaps you don't sign him to that salary with the intention of using him in a part-time role. I only half agree with that thinking. It's not my money so I wouldn't care; if I can get the walls for cheap, I'll spend extra on the decorative windows. The point is to make the best team you can make, and that is not the same thing as maximizing the value you get for your payroll dollars at every single position.

If I was the GM and I was put on a specific budget, I would spend that whole budget every year. I'd stock the team with as many young pre-arb guys as possible, and I'd make all these guys starters. Fatigue is not as much of an issue with them, and they stand to develop more rapidly with the playing time. Then I'd spend whatever I have left on veteran players to come off the bench and (this is important) look good doing so.

I would take two or three bench spots and make them cozy sinecures for 300 home run guys who clearly can't cut it on a daily basis any more. I would invest those positions with honor and dignity, which means a lot of money.

Look at Randa's splits. He has a 1057 OPS in 27 July at-bats. He's been a lousy pinch-hitter (2 for 11), but he's been very productive starting every third day.

As with the case of Jeromy Burnitz and Sean Casey, was this not predictable? I was impressed with the potential of rotating Burnitz, Casey, and Craig Wilson through two starting spots. Too bad I underestimated the team's capacity to screw up that potential. All three of those guys have been better in less than full time work. And does that not make sense? One is old, and one is "injury-prone" which I guess means not "a tissue problem," as Will Carroll suggests, but a fatigue problem (are injuries not more common when a player is tired?). The third is lumbering. The abilities of these players clearly diminishes once they cross a certain threshold or concentration of PT over time. Of course those guys, to a man, would disagree; if I weighed 400 pounds, I'd still insist I could run relays with a 22-year-old shortsop if I wanted to.

If I'm the GM or the manager, I don't let the players tell me when they need their PT cut back--I let their performance do that. I don't go out to the mound and say, "Pedro, you looked gassed. Can you get this guy out?" I say, "Pedro, you did good today. Now go take a shower, you smell bad." Everyone plays only with a full charge in their battery, and it is performance, not the players's piehole, which tells us how charged they are. If an older guy or a thicker guy or a distracted guy is slumping, I assume he needs some time off. And I don't mean one day game after a night game--I mean, he starts every other day for a week or two.

The Luis Gonzalez story and the better-known Shea Hillenbrand story suggest that players have this idea that it's some great insult to not start on any given day. That's just wrong. I would take that out of them. There's more than one template for a winning baseball team. If the Pirates work very hard to mainly start young, pre-arb players, they ought to be able to save enough payroll that they can pay more than anyone for bench players--and still have a lower overall payroll (if that's necessary).

The other thing that happens when you wear out the old guys, or force them into a situation where they must take all kinds of uppers on a daily basis to "get up" for another game, is that you embarrass them. Jim Tracy has humiliated Jeromy Burnitz this year. Burnitz's career might be over, he's been laid so low. And once they are embarrassed, they are in no position to provide the wise counsel or coaching or mentoring everyone expects they might impart to the younger players.

If the Pirates had hired Jeromy Burnitz for pinch-hitting in clutch situations, and for starting two or three times a week, then I have no doubt that Burnitz would be the proud owner of decent stats. And he could be playing the role of the crusty grizzled old sailor who gets off his ass only to deliver a big hit or have a big day. Instead, he's now in a position where he's clearly been a liability and a prime cause of the team's one-in-three winning percentage. He's embarrassed; he's humiliated; he's exactly what the young players do not want to be when they grow up.

Burnitz and Randa should be welcome the rest of the year--in roles that are reduced to the point that they are effective when summoned for duty. Sean Casey would be a better player, with better stats and, I would guess, more good influence on the younger players, if only Tracy more often started Craig Wilson at first.

No San Fran for Sean Casey

The AP reports that the Giants acquired Shea Hillenbrand to play first base.

No young relief pitchers for you

The Tribune-Review says the Pirates are giving the cold shoulder to Colorado's trade demands.

The Red Sox, late entries into the Shealy fox chase, will audition another young left-handed starter.

Maholm's .394 OBP

Wow. Read to the bottom.

Four walks in twelve innings

Who would have guessed it's ... Kip Wells.

Steroids saved baseball?

This is not right. The internet saved baseball, if it ever needed saving. All hail the internet.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Game 98: Pirates at Marlins

Paul Maholm and Scott Olsen at seven-thirty today. 95% humidity in Opa Locka, Florida. You might want to make some alternative plans for drinking-room entertainment this evening.

... Quickly, more reading material for this Friday afternoon. Wilbur has a list of potential Rule V losses here. Jason5280 comments on this piece, which suggests the Rockies would send Shealy to Boston so Boston can make a trade that helps San Diego, one of the Rockies' three rivals in the West. Kevin Blackistone of WFFA in Texas says the the Pirates are still interested in Pumpkinhead.

... still more linkage: Rosenthal embarrasses himself a little bit with this breathless oracle performance ("To beat the Mets — and really, that's what this discussion boils down to — the Cardinals need to either acquire a starting pitcher such as Lieber or a reliever such as the Pirates' Roberto Hernandez." ???) Jim Molony focusses on the Randa situation. Randa will help the team off the bench for the duration, so I'm hoping he stays. The young starters must practice their winning, and I think Randa would be a help. SI does their usual cut-n-paste. These things are good to look at. They remind us how interconnected all these trades might be. Even if the Rockies and Pirates are making moon eyes at one another, it's possible that a third (and/or a fifth and sixth) team is holding up a deal by promising a better offer once this or that other thing gets worked out. If all the Rox are doing is dealing Shealy, it could be that they wait until the deadline for some better offer from Boston that maybe never materializes. Fun story here about child-GM Jim Bowden. The Nats could hold up everyone with two players (Soriano, Livan H.) perhaps topping the wish list of contending teams. I'm not sure who this person is, but George Von Benko summarizes trade news here. are they going to get this game done tonight? I sure hope so ... five of seven has me looking forward to it.

Burnitz as PH

Jeromy Burnitz is 4-for-12 with three home runs and a walk this year, when pinch-hitting.

Craig Wilson vs. Aaron Guiel

"Yankee Insider" Jim Baumbach reports for Newsday that Littlefield wants too much prospect for Craig Wilson. Baumbach continues:

The Yankees also have to wonder how much of an upgrade Wilson would be over Aaron Guiel, who has impressed Torre with his heads-up play thus far.

Hmmm ... let's see ... Craig Wilson ... 29 years old ... 1831 career at-bats ... .269 / .361 / .489. Aaron Guiel ... 33 years old ... 902 career at-bats ... .246 / .321 / .414. Pretty close! Practically the same, in fact.

There's no difference there that is not erased by some impressive heads-up play.

Craiggers is no Alfonso Soriano or Bobby Abreu, to be sure, but he's at least as useful as Reggie Sanders at this point.

What the Rockies want

Dejan Kovacevic reports in his notebook:

Colorado's desired return for first baseman Ryan Shealy -- a player the Pirates have discussed with the Rockies -- is a young middle reliever.

So, what are we waiting for? How many days could it take to iron the letters on the back of a jersey?

If the young man does not already own a black suit with gold pinstripes, shame on him; that's no reason to hold up an announcement.

P.S. Don't call it a rumor.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bucs win

Five wins in seven games since the ASB. Not everything about the lineup makes a whole lot of sense these days, but who needs sense when you have victories.

Game 97: Pirates at Marlins

67% humidity right now on Dan Marino Blvd. Ian Snell and rookie winner Josh Johnson in an hour.

... This is half a day old, but something to talk about:


Art Pontarelli, of the Colorado Rockies was scouting the Jays last night. The Jays and Rockies have been talking about first baseman Ryan Shealy, a DH-type slugger, since before the break. Colorado turned down an offer for lefty reliever Scott Schoeneweis this week.

The Rockies are looking for young players like pitcher Brandon League.

That's Mike Rutsey and Bob Elliott for the Toronto Sun. Scott Schoeneweis!

With so many trades to make, DL has to start somewhere. If all the Rockies want is one young left-handed pitcher, and a reliever will do, they should make their choice, the two teams close the deal, and the Pirates move on and build around that deal.

Seriously, if the spastic Mike Gonzalez could play first base and could outslug our other options, who wouldn't be all about converting him to that position?

PNC Park threatens to leave Pittsburgh

Another scoop from the Onion.

PITTSBURGH—After five years of serving Pittsburgh as their state-of-the-art sporting facility, PNC Park, the home of the rundown, poorly maintained Pirates, said Tuesday it is threatening to leave Pittsburgh unless a new team can be built within the next three years.

"I love the city of Pittsburgh, but the Pirates are an old, dilapidated club built from other teams' spare parts, and its very foundation is rotting away," the stadium said to reporters assembled in its press box. "I had every intention to stay here for the duration of my career as a ballpark, but given that I haven't seen any realistic long-term plans for improving my resident team's ramshackle condition, I would be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about taking my services elsewhere."

San Antonio must be a likely suitor for our stadium.

(All hail Dan of Primer for the link.)

Another test for DL, Nuttings

The rest of the month represents another big test for Littlefield and the ownership. To what extent are Littlefield's hands tied here? Will he, as Wilbur suggests, hamper his own efforts to acquire talent by working to save the owners some money? Is he under orders to trim salary?

If the Pirates fail to acquire the talent they so badly need - this team won only one in three games before the ASB - it will be yet another reflection of the misguided and perhaps villainous priorities which have determined so much of the team's recent losing.

If the Pirates do acquire the talent they need, and if they eat salaries in the process, then would this be a cause for hope? I've long argued that GMs learn from their mistakes. Can Littlefield? Has the ownership given him broad discretion when it comes to the financial impact of potential trades?

We can only know by his actions. If they acquire talent at any cost, there will be hope. If nothing happens and all we hear is continued grumbling about the stubborn delusions of Littlefield, then we're stuck where we've been, hoping for some kind of fan revolt and political solution.

New York Daily News: Littlefield is difficult

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News writes of the difficulty the Yankees experience with Littlefield:

The Yankee high command has always kind of liked Pirates outfielder Craig Wilson (another free agent-to-be) for both his bat and versatility. But it has never had any success in dealing with Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, and apparently it's been no different recently. They would be willing to give up a middle tier prospect for the 29-year-old Wilson, even though he, too, is a rental player, but have no interest in taking on Jeromy Burnitz's big contract, which Littlefield is attempting to package with Wilson. Even though the Yankees might also have interest in Pirates setup man Roberto Hernandez, it doesn't appear as if the Yankees are ever going to be able to do business with Littlefield.

Of course the wealthy, winning Yankees are full of contempt for the "poor," losing Pirates. But is that a whine Madden reports at the end of that paragraph? Or another bad sign suggesting DL's Bonifay-like overvaluation of his own 30-60 players?

Damaso Marte

Yesterday Ken Rosenthal reported the Astros were scouting Marte. The Mackowiak for Marte trade looked good at the time, but Marte has been something of a disappointment with the shoulder woe and all those baserunners he's allowed.

the Marlins' youth movement

John Perrotto writes about the Marlins' $15M payroll.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More trade dope

This could be a long trade-dope bender we've embarked upon. David Briggs offers this bit of news for In it, he upgrades the Pirates' pursuit of Shealy to "heavy." Heavy pursuit. As in heavy-footed? Or hot and heavy? We will ... find out.

Let me shoot down some cavilling objections I've heard to this pursuit of Shealy. (I like the word cavil. It works for me.)

One: he's not left-handed. Jimmykat brought this up in the consistently amusing PG Bob Smizik chat transcript. This kind of thinking got us Jeromy Burnitz. The Pirates have to be flexible; they have to make the best choices from the available options. Unless you can recommend a left-handed first baseman languishing in someone's farm system, do not raise this trivial objection. As we saw today, he can double into right-center just fine, and often. Park effects are real but tiresome in that too many people exaggerate their importance.

Two: he's gonna be expensive. Who cares? The Pirates, because they are the Pirates, should make this trade. They can not afford top-quality first-base free agents. Shealy comes with the usual, incredibly favorable rookie contract. When you really need something, you should not be ashamed to pay for it. Give the Rockies what they need and move on.

Three: the Rockies will want young players. Great! That's about all we got. The inconvenience of being stuck with Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz, and Sean Casey after the deadline pales beside the inconvenience of starting the season 30-60. If the Rockies want young relief pitchers, fine, I say, they should have them. The Pirates can replenish the bullpen with our collection of failed starters now toiling at AAA.

As for the other objections, they remain open questions. Is his nose hard enough? He has to be hard-nosed. Can he flat-out hit? It has to be flat-out. Does he play the game right? If he doesn't know the rules, that's a strike against him, of course. And last but not least, is he clutch? Today he struck out with the game on the line. Not all objections are cavilling--some are quite serious. They are edifying. They proceed deep from the principles which are the heart of Pirate baseball. I thank my fellow fans with the intelligence to note them.

More Shealy talk

OK, so who would you move for that Shealy kid? I'd empty the bullpen and call up some familiar names from Altoona. The Rockies and Pirates are made for each other at this point. They can make a trade that makes both teams happy. There's no sense waiting any longer, either. Please do it, DL, and do it now.

Game 96: Rockies at Pirates

Jason Jennings and Zach Duke today at twelve-thirty.

... Shealy in the lineup, batting fifth.

So who wants Ryan Shealy?

Raise your hand if you want Ryan Shealy. Dejan Kovacevic reports the Pirates, along with a bunch of other teams, are after him.

Shealy will surely be traded soon. For all kinds of reasons, he just must be traded this month. What happens then, is anyone's guess. He'll be 27 in August, and he can only play first. They tried him in the outfield, and he hurt his elbow hitting the cut-off man. There have been published reports speculating that Shealy can't have much trade value. He's old for a prospect, and his skills are somewhat one-dimensional and altitude-inflated. That said, when I read about a 27-year-old hitting prospect, these days I think Josh Willingham. Shealy, even though he's right handed, is surely the kind of lottery ticket the Pirates should be buying. Think of the money we'll save!

The Rockies appear to need what we have in abundance. The X factor here, however, is Josh Fogg, whose reasonably decent performance as a Rockie must have him right by the owner's ear. Who knows what twisted intelligence he will pour into their ears. Will Josh Fogg let this trade happen?

The Pirates also have to keep Shealy away from San Francisco if they hope to trade Sean Casey. For that reason alone, the Pirates would be smart to raise the bid on the Rocky Mountain man-child.

This particular Kovacevic notebook contains many other trade-dope-hound nuggets that will be on next week's test. Study up.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Casey at the deadline

Since the Pirates have reverted to Dipshittery, we'll interrupt tonight's game thread to pretend it's not happening.

In the meantime, sober Grant of McCovey Chronicles analyzes the trade market for Sean Casey for your distraction.

Game 95: Rockies at Pirates

The Pirates try to make it four of five tonight. Two in a row is nice, a win after a loss is good, but until they often win six or seven of ten, there's no hope for improving the winning percentage. The easy way to do that is to win five or six of seven. The more you win, the more you need to win. Psychologically, the tendency may be the reverse: with the Pirates we have seen a lot of "we just won some games, let's get drunk or something and go to the ballpark and play like dipshits."

Jeff Francis and Tom Gozelannyfrattare at seven.

Casey wants to stay; Shealy might play

John Perrotto writes about Casey's answer to the stay-or-go question. He did the same thing yesterday for Jack Wilson.

I understand why a reporter would ask such a question, but I don't see how it's news when they answer the question this way. It would only be news if the player put his foot in his mouth. And said something that made his agent smack a horrible slice from the fourth tee.

Perrotto also notes, in agreement with nearly all published reports, that the Pirates have yet to approach Casey about an extension.

The Rockies, who are in Pittsburgh, on a losing streak, and in some pretty desperate need of a shot of adrenaline, recalled first-base prospect Ryan Shealy last night. The Pirates should take a long look at this guy. Asked about this roster move, Hurdle said perhaps he'd give Helton a night off.

Here's to hoping Shealy gets an audition tonight. Do it, Clint, do it.

Burnitz a burden

The Yankees want Roberto Hernandez. The Staten Island Advance reports this much about the talks:

An official with one of the teams involved said the Yankees were in "very serious" discussions with the Pittsburgh Pirates about relief pitcher Roberto Hernandez. The official, who requested anonymity because he didn't want to jeopardize the discussions, said the Yankees and Pirates had spoken several times in the past few days and that he believed Hernandez to be the Yankees' top relief-pitching target right now.

The Yankees, who had a scout at the Pirates' series over the weekend, have spoken with the Pirates about several players, including infielder/outfielder Craig Wilson and reliever Solomon Torres. But it's the 41-year-old Hernandez in whom they appear most interested.

Hernandez posted a 2.58 ERA in 67 relief appearances last year for the Mets. When he became a free agent in the off-season, the Yankees tried to sign him, but he went instead to Pittsburgh on a one-year, $2.75 million deal. The Pirates are out of the race now and looking to dump some salary. It's unclear what the Yankees would have to send back in return, but they rejected the Pirates initial request that they take outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, who's making $6.7 million this year, as a condition of a Hernandez deal.

Burnitz is hitting .227 / .275 / .414 so far this season. Dan Szymborski was right; these numbers nearly match his .237 / .309 / .415 projection.

Making the Squad

So it's porn in July from the NFL network?

And did you see they will broadcast eight consecutive Thursday night games, beginning with Thanksgiving? Huh. So we gotta get the NFL network to watch the Browns-Steelers game this year?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Game 94: Rockies at Pirates

Kim and Wells. DK chat transcript (link here) has some interesting stuff, including, "The veterans want out, no question." May this be the first off-season in which Littlefield does not hire a bunch of veterans.

Pirates to talk to Casey

Amid many articles, in the PG (Dejan's) and on the AP wire, suggesting a contract for Casey was more and more unlikely, Rob Rossi reports for the Tribune-Review that the team will talk to Casey's agent this week.

They ought to talk, for sure. I'd suggest Casey accept a job as a player/coach. He can play first base three or four nights a week and coach first base the other nights. And duh since he'd be a coach I'd expect him to work for reasonable wages.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Littlefield speaks truth

In this AP story on maybe trading Sean Casey, Littlefield is quoted as saying:

"We've got a lot of interest in a lot of players," Littlefield said. "I don't want to undermine the fact we've got a lousy record. But, as far as pieces go, we've got good individual pieces -- now we've got to turn that into a better record and a more complete performance on the field."

If by "undermine" he means "ignore," as the context suggests, then he's speaking the truth. If he means "excavate the earth beneath," then I'm less sure. And if he was misquoted on that part, then who knows, perhaps he was misquoted throughout.

I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. The Pirates have a lousy record. A spectacularly lousy record. A suspiciously lousy record. With some good individual pieces. Ergo, Littlefield speaks the truth there. If the Reds can be 49-44 right now, I say this Pirate team could be right there around .500 as well.

Game 93: Nationals at Pirates

Livan Hernandez and Paul Maholm at one thirty. The Pirates are feeling good and look for their third win in a row.

Trading Jack Wilson

An infield of Castillo - Sanchez - Bautista looks pretty strong. DK reports the Pirates are fielding offers for Jack Wilson. Such a move would make a lot of sense. A team that has lost as much as this one has no business getting sentimental about the players who have been along for that ride.