Improving in 2010

Dejan Kovacevic capped off the 2009 season with ten steps he feels will improve the team in 2010. I figured I would go through the list and add my two cents. Dejan’s steps are in bold, with my thoughts following each heading.

10. Focus on Pittsburgh.

I agree with this line of thinking to some degree. Assuming Andy LaRoche moves to second and Garrett Jones plays full-time at first, the Pirates have plenty of room to improve in right field and at shortstop, as well as third base until Pedro Alvarez‘s arrival. It will not hurt to bring players in to man those positions, assuming they do not block any young talented players. I am still wary of say, bringing in Rick Ankiel just to do a Brandon Moss impression in right. The younger, less expensive Moss can do that on his own. But if there are significant, short-term opportunities to improve, I am all for that. The days of trading major leaguers for prospects are probably behind us, for now.

9. Stick by Jones.

Jones definitely earned a starting spot in 2010 with his performance this past year. But he is due some major regression next season. In Jones’ first 19 games in Pittsburgh, he hit .342/.398/.842 with ten home runs. In the 63 games following that stretch, he hit .277/.364/.479 with 11 home runs in 275 plate appearances. Expect something closer to the latter performance next year. For a poor defender at relatively undemanding positions, that is about average production. Any additional drop-off and Jones becomes a bench player at best. He may be a decent placeholder for a year or two, but the Pirates should not be giving him an extremely long leash.

8. Evaluate the moves.

The Pirates traded a bunch of aging mediocrity for younger mediocrity with some upside. Some trades look better than others do. While looking back at the moves and evaluating the process is important, the much more significant issue is Huntington’s ability to let go of players he acquired. Someone like Brandon Moss may need to give up his roster spot at some point in the next year or two. It is important that Huntington is willing to do that, if necessary.

7. Find left-handed relief.

I would like to see some lefties added to the bullpen next year. But I think way too much has been made about this issue.

6. Bolster the middle.

Definitely. Neither Ronny Cedeno nor Delwyn Young is a starter. Moving Andy LaRoche to second should fill one hole, but adding a shortstop should be an offseason priority.

5. Fix Hart and Capps.

Capps should be better next year, as he was a victim of a high BABIP this year. However, I don’t think he should close for much longer. I would love to see someone like Evan Meek groomed for that role. Hart has looked terrible, and he is probably better suited for the bullpen. Daniel McCutchen should make the rotation over Hart. Replacing these two players in their current roles is more important than fixing them.

4. Manage emotions.

This does not seem very significant to me, nor is it very relevant for the 2010 performance.

3. Promote Alvarez, Lincoln.

Alvarez could use a bit more time in the minors, to improve his approach at the plate and his defense. And keeping him down long enough to gain an extra year of club control is very significant. This is not an issue of the Pirates being cheap; it is simply smart baseball. Teams all over the league do it. Lincoln is a bit of a different situation. He will be 25 next year, meaning the Pirates should feel more urgency in getting him to Pittsburgh. If he is ready in spring training, I would bring him north with the club. That being said, I think he will also need a few more months in Triple-A for development purposes.

2. Improve individually.

Certainly. Improvement from the players will clearly help the team perform better in the win-loss column.

1. Spend.

Absolutely not. The Pirates should not spend just to spend. One of the biggest myths in baseball is that established, expensive mediocre talent is better than young, cheap mediocre talent. Like I said, signing Ankiel to produce like Moss doesn’t help the team. It may satisfy the incensed fan base, but it doesn’t improve the team. If there is a player that can help the team improve, the Pirates clearly have the payroll flexibility to pursue him. But signing players just to raise the payroll is not an intelligent approach.

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Doumit, McLouth and the broadcasting booth

Dejan reports that the Pirates are nearing a long-term deal with Ryan Doumit, while talks with Nate McLouth have slowed to the point that his agent referred to them as “close to dead.” I have mentioned before that I feel much more comfortable giving a multi-year contract to McLouth than Doumit, so I would have preferred this news to be reversed. McLouth’s skill set is more diverse than Doumit’s, and Nate does not have an injury history like that of the Pirates’ catcher. Doumit was also one of the luckiest hitters in baseball last season, so we can expect some regression.  Nevertheless, signing Doumit through his arbitration years gives the Pirates cost certainty, and I am not opposed to that at all. I just hope they are not looking at anything much longer than that.

In other news, the Pirates have hired a replacement for Lanny Frattare. Tim Neverett, formerly the Rockie’s play-by-play announcer with FSN Rocky Mountain, will be joining the broadcasting booth. Neverett has experience calling several different sports, and worked the Olympics in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. He began his career doing play-by-play for the Pirates’ Double-A affiliate 23 years ago. I don’t recall ever listening to him call a game. Is there anyone that has watched the Rockies regularly that would care to comment?

Posted in Dejan Kovacevic, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Tim Neverett. Comments Off on Doumit, McLouth and the broadcasting booth

If the Pirates kept Bay and built through free agency

In Dejan’s Q&A today, someone questioned why the Pirates do not take advantage of the current market, in which prospects are arguably overvalued while free agents are undervalued. In the subsequent discussion, Dejan endorsed the idea that the Pirates should have held onto Jason Bay and tried to build a competitive team in 2009. I am not going to go into why that would have been a bad idea, as Charlie has already done an excellent job of doing so. Be sure to read his breakdown.

I want to look at what the Pirates would have needed to do in free agency to give the team a shot at the postseason in 2009. Let’s assume that the Pirates made the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade, but decided to hold on to Bay. Below is the team’s hypothetical starting lineup to finish 2008, along with each player’s age and total value in runs. I am using Justin Inaz’s player values, which include defensive value.

Pos. Player Age Value
C Ryan Doumit 27 28.1
1B Adam LaRoche 28 16.6
2B Freddy Sanchez 30 -1.7
3B Jose Bautista 27 0.8
SS Jack Wilson 30 9.6
LF Jason Bay 29 31.6
CF Nate McLouth 26 31.7
RF Nyjer Morgan 27 7.7
Total     124.4

If we add it all together, we have a total of 124.4 runs. Now let’s assume the Pirates had an unlimited budget and could sign any free agent they wanted. Here’s a hypothetical 2009 lineup, with each player’s 2008 value.

Pos. Player Age Value
C Ryan Doumit 28 28.1
1B Mark Teixeira 29 74.2
2B Orlando Hudson 31 12.9
3B Joe Crede 31 18.4
SS Rafael Furcal 31 24.2
LF Jason Bay 30 31.6
CF Nate McLouth 27 31.7
RF Manny Ramirez 37 56.1
Total 277.2

This lineup totals 277.2 runs, an improvement of 152.8 runs over our first lineup. Now let’s do the same thing for the starting rotation. First, a 2008 rotation. Second, a hypothetical 2009 rotation.

Player Age Value
Paul Maholm 26 27.7
Zach Duke 25 19.8
Ian Snell 26 14.3
XXXXXXXXXX 15.0
Total 76.8

Player Age Value
C.C. Sabathia 28 73.8
A.J. Burnett 32 57.0
Derek Lowe 26 52.2
Paul Maholm 27 27.7
Zach Duke 26 19.8
Total 230.5

I took a few liberties with the pitchers. Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ian Snell were the only pitchers to hang in the rotation for most of the season. Since I am assuming the superior 2009 rotation will have five healthy pitchers for the entire season, I think it is fair to assume that some combination of full seasons from Jeff Karstens, Phil Dumatrait, Ross Ohlendorf, Tom Gorzelanny, et al could combine for 15 runs while filling those final two spots. This obviously is not the most precise method, but I think it works for this purpose. The 2008 rotation is worth 76.8 runs, while the theoretical 2009 rotation is worth 230.5 runs. That is an improvement of 153.7 runs.

The Pirates finished the 2008 season with 61.8 third-order wins. If we nullified the Bay trade, we can adjust that to about 63 wins. If we were to assume that each player’s value would remain the same from 2008 to 2009, we can add 306.5 runs due to our improvements to the lineup and rotation. With 10 runs roughly equaling one win, that’s about 30 additional wins. That leaves us with 93 wins. The division winning Cubs had 94.5 third-order wins in 2008.

So there you have it. The Pirates could have competed for the postseason in 2009 if they held onto Bay. They simply would have needed to sign Mark Teixeira, Orlando Hudson, Joe Crede, Rafael Furcal, Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe. And avoid any major injuries for the entire season. That’s all.

Winter meetings, day 4 – Rule 5 Draft, Pirates near deal with Vazquez

The winter meetings wrap up today with the Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates are likely to select at least one player, although it is difficult to predict whom that might be. Dejan thinks it could be Matt Torra or Hainley Statia. Baseball America mentions J.D. Martin or Chuck Lofgren as possible Pittsburgh picks. John Perrotto thinks it will be Lofgren or Jordan Pratt. Cory also weighed in with some ideas for the Pirates. I would like to see them take right-handed reliever Eduardo Morlan or maybe catcher James Skelton. Morlan is a popular pick after a solid showing in Double-A last year, so he may be gone by the time the Pirates pick. Skelton has put up some impressive numbers in the low minors, but he is a left-handed hitting catcher who plays poor defense. It would be tough to keep him on the roster all season.

The draft is scheduled to start around noon. I will be back to provide some thoughts.  Here is a list of all eligible players from BA.  The Pirates have the fourth pick.

11:25 AM: Buster Olney reports that the Pirates are close to a deal with Ramon Vazquez.  Vazquez, 32, hit .290/.365/.430 in 347 plate appearances with Texas last season, and has a career line of .257/.328/.358.  He boasts excellent plate discipline and plays an average shortstop.  The deal is reportedly worth $4 million over two years.  Not a bad addition to the bench.  Hat tip to Charlie at Bucs Dugout.

11:30 AM: Dejan confirms that the Pirates are in talks with Vazquez.  He also reports that the Pirates could lose Kyle Bloom in the draft.

12:10 PM: The Pirates have selected Donald Veal.  The Tigers select Bloom.

12:15 PM: Skelton to the Diamondbacks. Morlan to the Brewers.

12:30 PM: First Pirates pick in the minor league portion of the draft is Andres Santos.

12:40 PM: Second Pirates pick in Triple-A portion is Rafael Quintero.  Third pick is Gerardo Esparza.  Pirates pass on Double-A portion of draft.

12:50 PM: Draft is complete.

1:00 PM: Dejan spoke with Vazquez’s agent.  He said that they are close to an agreement with the Pirates.  This could get done in the next day or two.  I’m taking a little break.  I’ll be back in a bit, hopefully with some more info on Veal and the new minor league additions.

2:20 PM: The Twins have resigned Nick Punto to a two-year deal, eliminating them from consideration in a potential Jack Wilson trade.

Posted in Andres Santos, Buster Olney, Dejan Kovacevic, Donald Veal, Jack Wilson, John Perrotto, Pirates News and Notes, Ramon Vazquez. Comments Off on Winter meetings, day 4 – Rule 5 Draft, Pirates near deal with Vazquez

Winter meetings, day 3 – Paulino traded to Phillies

Dejan reports that the Pirates are interested in Marlins shortstop Robert Andino.  Andino is 24, and has seen limited time with the Marlins in each season since 2005.  He never really hit well anywhere before last season, when he posted a .287/.352/.497 line in 181 at-bats at Triple-A.  Dejan speculates that the Marlins might be interested in Ronny Paulino.

12:25 PM: Here is a nice breakdown of Nate McLouth’s financial value in 2008.

1:40 PM: It looks like another team has added a shortstop that is not named Jack Wilson.  The Orioles are expected to sign Cesar Izturis.

8:10 PM: Dejan reports that the Pirates are expecting to make a trade that Neal Huntington referred to as “something small.”  This probably will be nothing exciting, but it could give us something to talk about for a change.

8:25 PM: Here’s a scary quote from John Russell:

The team we have now, we know we can play defense. With Nyjer Morgan and Brandon Moss, we can cover a little more ground on the corners in the outfield.

I think we are going to see way too much of Nyjer Morgan next season.

8:50 PM: Could the potential minor trade mentioned by Huntington be Brian Bixler to the Marlins for Andino?

9:30 PM: The Pirates have traded Paulino to the Phillies for switch-hitting catcher Jason Jaramillo.  Jaramillo is 26, and has spent the past two years in Triple-A.  He seems to have a decent approach at the plate and little power.  He is a decent defender.  A year ago, Baseball America said that “Jaramillo can become a reliable backup in the major leagues.”  He will likely compete with Robinzon Diaz as Ryan Doumit’s primary backup.

10:25 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that Matt Joyce, a Pirates’ target in a potential Jack to Detroit trade, has been dealt to the Rays for pitcher Edwin Jackson.

Winter meetings, day 2

It does not look like much happened in Vegas after I stopped paying attention last night, at least from a Pirates perspective. Mark Loretta signed with the Dodgers, so he is no longer on the team’s radar. It is still early out west, so it’s unlikely there will be any news for at least a few hours. I will be back a bit later to check in.

12:50 PM: This just in – Jack Wilson is a jokester.

5:55 PM: The market for Jack continues to dwindle, as the Dodgers seem to have lost interest.  But Dejan confirms that the Pirates are in contact with David Eckstein’s agent, which is an indication that the team still expects to move either Wilson or Freddy Sanchez.  Eckstein has always been overrated, is on the wrong side of 30, and would be a huge defensive downgrade at short.  But he still had an on-base percentage of .343 last season, so he may not be a bad replacement option if he can be signed to an inexpensive contract.

6:20 PM: According to Dejan and John Perrotto, the Braves are inquiring about some of the Pirates’ most valuable players.  They will have to blow Neal Huntington away with an offer for anything to come of this.

7:40 PM: Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports that Neal Huntington will meet with Doug Mientkiewicz’s agent at some point during the winter meetings.  Mientkiewicz would be a nice player to have on the bench again next year, but it will be a while before he makes any decisions.  These are probably just preliminary discussions.

12:00 AM: Via the PG, here is the audio from Huntington’s meeting with the media.  One interesting comment he made is that teams are overvaluing young prospects in the current market.  We saw that at the trade deadline, as the Pirates struggled to find appropriate value for Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.  These are not good signs for a team hoping to rebuild.

Winter meetings

Folks are getting set up in Las Vegas, as the winter meetings get underway this morning. The Pirates and Tigers are expected to meet early in the week to continue discussing a possible Jack Wilson trade. Keep an eye on Dejan’s blog and MLB Trade Rumors for updates. I should be around to weigh in on any new developments during the day.

2:00 PM: The Pirates have made a minor signing, minor league pitcher Brian Slocum.  Slocum is a former second round pick of the Indians that has struggled with injuries.  Dejan reports that the Pirates are still interested in signing Mark Loretta, but the Diamondbacks have also made him an offer.

2:55 PM: It looks like the Jack Wilson to Detroit trade is off the table.  Dejan reports that the Tigers are close to signing Adam Everett to be their shortstop.  The Twins may be entering the mix as a possible partner in a trade for Jack.

5:00 PM: Ken Rosenthal notes that several teams have shown interest in David Eckstein, and mentions the Pirates as a possibility if either Jack or Freddy Sanchez is traded.  Eckstein should be an upgrade on the offensive production the Pirates received from either Freddy or Jack in 2008.  He would be a major defensive downgrade from Jack at short, but could be Freddy’s equal on the other side of the diamond.

6:00 PM: No additional news to report.  Cory has some background on Twins prospects that could be available in a potential trade.

6:45 PM: Dejan reports that Neal Huntington will meet with the media at 7:00.  According to Yahoo, the Dodgers are making progress with Rafael Furcal.  The market for Jack is shrinking rapidly.

6:48 PM: Here’s a quick comparison of Jack and Everett.  I think it overestimates Everett’s defense a bit, but it still shows how close the two probably are in value.

8:00 PM: Rotoworld notes that the Pirates are pushing Jack aggressively, but teams are not very interested.  Nothing all that new from the media session with Huntington.  Time to focus entirely on the Pens for a few hours.

9:40 PM: Here’s the audio of Huntington’s meeting with the press.  He says nothing out of the ordinary, but I am always interested when Huntington speaks.  The guy really seems to know what he’s doing.

10:00 PM: The Twins claim they are not interested in Jack, preferring to focus on attempts to resign Nick Punto.

10:11 PM: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says the Twins are kind of interested in Jack.  Yawn.

Posted in Brian Slocum, Dejan Kovacevic, Jack Wilson, Pirates News and Notes. Comments Off on Winter meetings