Of Mountains and Mole Hills

Last week, there was some hand wringing and teeth gnashing in Bucco Nation over the trade of Salmon Torres to the Brewers for 2 minor league players that are marginal prospects. Matt did some analysis of the trade, which I thought was pretty spot on. But let’s take a look at some of these grievances (I guess sine it’s festivous season we need the feats of strength next) and try to debunk them:
Huntington Sold Low – Personally, I thought that he was selling high at this point in Torres’ career. This is a guy who didn’t take care of himself last off season and failed in the closer’s role. He’s talked about retirement last year and has already threatened to retire post trade to Milwaukee. Given this set of circumstances, I’m surprised that we got what we did for him.
We should have gotten PlayerX for him – This is a favorite of baseball fans everywhere when they don’t think that they got the “value” back for the player they traded. Let’s take a look at another trade that happened recently where you heard the same thing from fans, Lastings Millege for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. When this trade was announced, the anguished cries from the Mets’ fans was heard from Miami to Halifax (and believe me I know since I’m stuck in New York and hear whiny Mets’ fans all the time). “We should have gotten Haran or Bedard!” the fans screamed. But their GM sensing this backlash let everyone know that he had called both Oakland and Baltimore trying to gage interest in Milledge and there was none. In essence, this was the best deal that he could get. I think that the same thing is true in the case of the Torres trade. I would imagine that Huntington (or Ol’ Neil for you Lynyrd Skynyrd fans out there) asked around, even tried negotiating and this was the best deal available.
They should have waited for the trading deadline to trade him – Torrees isn’t a player like Jason Bay who had one bad year and trading him now wouldn’t make sense until you see what you have this coming season. We are talking about a player here who is at the end of his career and is in a decline. Waiting to see how he pitches and then trade him at the deadline could very well blow up in the Pirates’ collective faces. IMO, waiting to see how he does and hope for the best seems to be Littlefieldian logic at it’s best (or worst – depending on how you look at it).
Overall, I think that the trade was a minor trade and was of not that much consequence that we have to worry about.

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Pirates deal Torres for two minor league relievers

The Pirates traded right-handed relief pitcher Salomon Torres to the Milwaukee Brewers today for minor league relievers Marino Salas and Kevin Roberts. This ends Torres’ six-year tenure with the Bucs. The 35-year-old pitcher resurrected his career with the team in 2002 after spending four years out of baseball. He was the most dependable reliever for the Pirates the past few years, averaging about 85 appearances per season from 2004-2006. However, he struggled through injuries in 2007. He pitched in only 56 games, posting an ERA of 5.47 and a WHIP of 1.41.
Salas, 26, split 55 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A in 2007. The right-hander had an ERA of 2.77 and a WHIP of 1.20, with 54 strikeouts and 22 walks in 61.2 innings. He saved 17 games. Roberts, 23, made 45 appearances for the Brewers’ High-A team last season. Also right-handed, he stuck out 74 and walked 37 in 65.1 innings. He had an ERA of 3.44 and a WHIP of 1.35, and also saved four games. The Pirates now have one opening on the 40-man roster, a spot that could go to utility infielder Chris Gomez.
Both of these pitchers posted decent numbers last season, but were a bit old for their respective levels. Torres likely had little trade value, due to his age and struggles last season. He may have had a few decent years left in his arm, and his departure leaves a huge hole in the bullpen. But I take this as a good sign, that Huntington is looking to the future as opposed to 2008. He was able to turn an aging reliever into two young relievers that could be productive at the Major League level in a few years. Also considerations are Torres’ $3.2 million salary in 2008 and the grievance he filed against the team last year. All in all, this move is not very significant. For additional analysis, check out Brewers Bar and The Transaction Guy.

Pirates 40-man Roster

’08 Bucs: Who’s on Board, Who Walks the Plank?

Baseball is a fickle mistress. The game returns while the world around us is in full bloom, with colors exploding, the days becoming longer and warmer. Then, just as the temperatures chill and those hues fade, fans are left with the prospect of a cold, long winter without the greatest game in the world.
Don’t worry. There will be plenty of activity between now and February (say it with me- pitchers and catchers report..)
The schedule may be complete, but as any astute baseball fan will tell you, there is no offseason. Between free agency, arbitration and the Rule V Draft, there is enough activity for a baseball junkie to survive the winter.
Today, let’s look at the status of some “on the fence” players- those who may or my not return in black and gold next season. For each player, I have provided a reason for a return (Welcome Back) and a devil’s advocate take on why the player may end up in another city (Hit the Road). In addition, the players in question have been broken into smaller groups: Trade Bait, Non-Tender Candidates, Pending Free Agents, and DFA (Designated For Assignment) Candidates.
Read the rest of this entry »

Failure to deal relievers at deadline proves costly for Pirates

When the Pirates passed on Matt Wieters and chose Daniel Moskos in the 2007 amateur draft, fans lashed out with an amount of outrage that I have never seen. It is rare in Major League Baseball for a fan base to react so passionately to a draft pick, but the choice was so absurd that even casual fans were left fuming. It did not help that the decision appeared to be financially motivated, as Wieters was expected to demand a signing bonus of nearly $10 million. On July 31, Dave Littlefield likely sealed his fate when he acquired Matt Morris. Many were dumbfounded, as the Pirates committed eight figures of salary to a declining veteran just months after passing on Weiters.
These decisions were dreadful, but there was another that has mostly flown under the radar. While Littlefield spent July 31 attempting to send Jack Wilson to Detroit and ultimately adding more frustration to the pitching staff, he neglected a more important task. On July 25, the Padres acquired three prospects for mediocre reliever Scott Linebrink. This deal illustrated the value the league placed on experienced relief pitching. Several other teams were searching for bullpen help, and the Pirates had three of the best relievers available.
Shawn Chacon was surprisingly effective early in 2007. Through July 31, he had an ERA of 3.79 and sported a record of 4-2. He was a steadying arm in what was a very shaky bullpen. Damaso Marte had been even better, as the most dominant left-handed reliever in Major League Baseball. He had an ERA of 1.38 and a WHIP of 0.95. Salomon Torres had struggled in 2007 with an ERA of 5.00 and several blown saves. However, his success in the past meant Torres could bring some value in a trade.
There is no way to be sure what offers were available to Littlefield as the trade deadline approached. However, it seems safe to assume that he had options to deal his relievers. He chose to keep each one. Chacon, Marte and Torres responded by posting ERA’s of 4.50, 4.97 and 6.48 respectively the rest of the way. The Pirates had the opportunity to sell high while Chacon and Marte were outperforming their career numbers, but instead waited as those statistics returned closer to what one would expect. Now Shawn Chacon is expected to leave as a free agent, and the Pirates will receive absolutely nothing in return.
A smart way for the Pirates to improve would be to trade veteran relievers (who are often overvalued in the league) for hitters. The performances of relievers are much more variable from year to year, and it is much easier to build a successful bullpen than a potent offense. But at this year’s deadline, Littlefield demonstrated his belief that the Pirates were close to contending. He kept his bullpen intact and added a fifth starter for 20% of the team’s payroll. Two months later, the Pirates finished another season in last place. Failing to unload even one of his relievers was a costly mistake by Littlefield.

How long will Jim Tracy manage the Pirates?

On Tuesday, the Pirates officially announced that Neal Huntington would be the team’s new general manager. Since coming on board, team president Frank Connelly has maintained that the new GM would make the decision on Jim Tracy’s future with the team. That subject was raised several times during Huntington’s first day on the job. Let us take a look at how he responded.
From the Post-Gazette:

For me to speculate on any one individual or any personnel moves or any staff changes or any player changes, I’m not ready or equipped to do that. We’re going to tirelessly gather information. We will thoroughly and fairly evaluate our personnel and how we’ve done things.

From Pirates.com:

I need to learn about the Pittsburgh Pirates — who we are, what we do, how we do it — and at this point to speculate on any one individual, personnel member, staff member, player, I’m not equipped to do that. Out of fairness to all those people, I understand that there is some instability. I understand that instability creates discomfort. It’s my duty to walk through that information gathering and evaluating process appropriately.

From the Beaver County Times:

I don’t think it would be right for me to say on the first day on the job what changes might be made. I’m in the beginning stages of evaluating the organization and I’m excited about assessing our strengths and weaknesses. Usually, changes are made when there is a switch in general managers and I’m sure there will be some changes, some that unfortunately may be quite painful. However, I want to evaluate everything before I make any decisions.

Finally, from the radio broadcast of Tuesday night’s game:

I think to comment on anyone in particular at this point in time is inappropriate, but what we will do is ensure that the process is thorough, ensure that the process is fair. I respect these people as professionals, but…we do have to make some changes. Unfortunately, some good people may be put in different positions or may not continue with us.

It is often said that when a GM gives his manager a vote of confidence, his job is very much in jeopardy. Frequently, this is an accurate notion. However, I suppose that the indication is much more negative when the GM is directly asked and refuses to lend his support to the manager. It appears that Huntington is either not sure on Tracy’s future or simply not making his thoughts public. It also appears, at least by his comments, that he is leaning toward a new manager.
Up until recently, I was apathetic towards Tracy and his future. While I was not particularly enamored with many of his decisions, he did not seem to be the root of the problem. However, as the season winds down, he seems to become more and more illogical. The fact that he has started Nyjer Morgan virtually every day while Steve Pearce and Nate McLouth sit on the bench makes my head spin. Maybe that decision is coming from above, but the way Tracy speaks of Morgan makes it seem to be his choice. His affection for players such as Morgan and Cesar Izturis (and Mike Edwards, and Jose Hernandez, and…) has not helped his cause with Pirate fans. Finally, do not forget his continual insistence on forcing a one-legged Xavier Nady into the lineup during a lost season. Tracy has proven to me that he does not understand the concept of an injured hamstring.
In addition, Tracy seems to have lost much of his authority in the clubhouse. Last week, he requested that both Jack Wilson and Salomon Torres return to the team within two days of the birth of a child. To be blunt, it is insane to ask a man to disregard his family to play in a meaningless September baseball game for a last place team. These players agreed, went above Tracy seeking more time away and found a sympathetic ear. Tracy does not seem to be on the same page as management.
Pat Lackey made an interesting point, that the Pirates might as well leave Tracy alone for a year as they begin rebuilding. Once Huntington can get some talent in place, he could make his pick for manager in 2009. This seems like a decent idea, but I would be cautious that Tracy might not be the right person to lead a young, developing team. His handling of Pearce and Tom Gorzelanny this season, among many other things, has made me very skeptical that he is serving a purpose in this organization.
To conclude, let us take a look at the lineup Tracy sent out on Wednesday night. Izturis, hitting .257/.301/.315, was batting second. Jose Bautista (.259/.345/.422) and Nate McLouth (.256/.349/.457) hit fifth and sixth respectively. I simply do not understand. Neither do many other people.

2008 Pittsburgh Pirates: Salaries and roster info

A quick glance at your 2008 Pirates by salary. “Minimum” refers to a player with less than three years of major-league service time who will be making MLB’s minimum salary in 2008. “Arbitration” refers to a player with more than three years of service time (but less than six years) whose contract will be determined by MLB’s arbitration practices. All salary figures come courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Ronny Paulino – Minimum
Ryan Doumit – Minimum
Adam LaRoche – Arbitration ($3.2m in 2007)
Steve Pearce – Minimum
Freddy Sanchez – Arbitration ($2.75m in 2007)
Jack Wilson – $6.5m
Jose Bautista – Minimum
Cesar Izturis – $5.45m option ($300k buyout)
Jose Castillo – Arbitration ($1.9m in 2007)
Jason Bay – $5.75m
Xavier Nady – Arbitration ($2.15m in 2007)
Nate McLouth – Minimum
Nyjer Morgan – Minimum
Chris Duffy – Minimum
Tom Gorzelanny – Minimum
Ian Snell – Minimum
Paul Maholm – Minimum
Matt Morris – $9.5m
Zach Duke – Minimum
Tony Armas – $5m option ($500k buyout)
Salomon Torres – $3.2m
Damaso Marte – $2m
John Grabow – Arbitration ($832k in 2007)
Matt Capps – Minimum

  • If you assume the Pirates will let Shawn Chacon walk, non-tender Castillo (owing him nothing), buy out Izturis and Armas (a near-certainty), give each 0-3 player $400k as the league minimum (in actuality, the minimum is $380k but players often earn a tiny bit more) and then count up all the Pirate salaries (using 2007 figures for those arbitration eligible), then the Pirates are already on the hook for about $42 million heading into 2008.
  • Unfortunately for the Bucs, every arb-eligible player will get a raise. Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady had productive years and will be compensated as such. Frank Coonelly already expressed a desire to extend the contracts of Freddy Sanchez and Capps into the long-term. The Pirates’ payroll will be pushing $50 million before a new GM makes his first move.
  • 2008 needs (assuming the Pirates are trying to compete): A right-handed hitting center fielder who can share time with McLouth or Morgan; A starting third baseman or utilityman, whichever the Pirates determine Bautista isn’t; A backup middle infielder; A steady fifth or sixth starter; A solid right-handed reliever.

Stock of Sanchez, Wilson is rising in Pittsburgh

About a month ago, I tried to create an organizational depth chart of sorts using a tiering system that’s popular at fantasy sports sites like Seamless Baseball and Bruno Boys. In separating the Pirates into distinct levels, you can get a feel of how I think players are (or should be) regarded by the Pirates. The result is basically a “who’s who” of our roster as of the moment the post publishes.
The first edition (published on 8/14) was received fairly well, so I’m back for a second round. Previous rankings are in brackets: Something like [1-2] would correspond to a player ranked in the first tier, second overall. Last time there were only five tiers—this time there are six. Players in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Altoona were considered in the rankings.
A lot has changed since August…
Tier 1
1. [1-1] Jason Bay, MLB, lf
2. [1-2] Tom Gorzelanny, MLB, sp
3. [1-3] Andrew McCutchen, AAA, cf
4. [2-6] Freddy Sanchez, MLB, 2b
5. [1-4] Ian Snell, MLB, sp
The biggest mover is Freddy Sanchez, who’s hitting .327/.377/.533 since the All-Star break. Ten of his 11 home runs came in July and August. He’s come back to earth a bit in September—hitting only .304—but his steady bat and glove have earned the respect of new team president Frank Coonelly, who said a top priority this off-season will be inking Freddy to a multi-year deal.
Jason Bay has an OPS of just .756, but without a doubt he’s still the most valuable Pirate. In a down year he’ll hit close to 25 HR and 90 RBI. He’s been miserable since May, but he has a proven track record, is on the right side of 30 and is still under the team’s control for two more years.
Tom Gorzelanny‘s push for 15 wins has been well documented—Jim Tracy went so far as to say with more run support and a better bullpen, Gorzelanny would be under consideration for a Cy Young award.
Andrew McCutchen earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis and is a lock to be the Indians’ opening day center fielder in 2008. Even after a slow start to 2008, McCutchen is still the Pirates’ top prospect by a fair margin.
Ian Snell‘s second-half numbers (2-7, 5.40 ERA) pale in comparison to those from his first half (7-5, 2.93), but he’s a key piece of the Pirates’ staff and would be in the upper half of any MLB team’s rotation.
Tier 2
6. [2-8] Adam LaRoche, MLB, 1b
7. [2-9] Xavier Nady, MLB, of
8. [2-5] Steve Pearce, MLB, 1b/of
9. [2-10] Matt Capps, MLB, rp
10. [2-7] Neil Walker, AAA, 3b
11. [2-11] Paul Maholm, MLB, sp
12. [3-17] Jack Wilson, MLB, ss
The second tier got a lot more interesting with the continued success of LaRoche, Nady and Pearce, the promotion of Neil Walker to Indy and the unreal hot streak of Jack Wilson.
Management will have a decision to make, as Pearce is pushing for playing time in 2008. There are four players—Bay, LaRoche, Nady and Pearce—competing for three starting jobs.
Matt Capps is still the quiet workhorse he proved to be in 2006. Through 72 games and 75 innings, he’s struck out 59, walked 15 and compiled an ERA of 2.04. In the second half, his ERA is 1.40.
Wilson is hitting .357/.408/.573 since the All-Star break. His average for the season is .295. If he’s traded, the Pirates are conceding 2008—you can’t convince me that Brian Bixler or Cesar Izturis will give you anywhere near his production. Wilson’s contract seems affordable at this point.
Tier 3
13. [3-16] Jose Bautista, MLB, 3b
14. [3-18] Ronny Paulino, MLB, c
15. [3-14] Matt Morris, MLB, sp
16. [3-15] Damaso Marte, MLB, rp
17. [4-32] Nate McLouth, MLB, of
18. [2-12] Zach Duke, MLB, sp
19. [4-28] Nyjer Morgan, MLB, cf
20. [5-UR] John Grabow, MLB, rp
21. [5-UR] Romulo Sanchez, MLB, rp
22. [3-21] Jesse Chavez, AAA, rp
This is where the tiering starts to get a little messy: I generally classified this group as those players who should contribute in 2008, but not in a significant way. Bautista and Paulino would be serviceable as starters but fantastic backups; Morris and Duke, if pitching as they know how, would form a nice tandem at the back of the rotation.
I’m comfortable with neither Nate McLouth nor Nyjer Morgan in center field every day if the Pirates are looking to compete in 2008. A fourth outfielder who can play all three positions and who can hit from the right side of the plate would be a nice complementary piece to add to the mix.
Marte, Grabow, Sanchez and Chavez should be in next year’s bullpen. If you add a strong right-handed setup main (such as Salomon Torres circa 2006), the Pirates’ relief corps could be a strength of the team.
Tier 4
23. [3-13] Ryan Doumit, MLB, utility
24. [3-20] Brian Bixler, AAA, ss
25. [3-19] Salomon Torres, MLB, rp
26. [3-22] Jason Delaney, AA, 1b/of
27. [4-23] Josh Phelps, MLB, utility
28. [4-36] Franquelis Osoria, MLB, rp
29. [4-24] Shane Youman, MLB, rp
30. [4-25] John Van Benschoten, MLB, sp
31. [5-UR] Juan Perez, AAA, rp
32. [4-26] Bryan Bullington, MLB, sp
Bixler tanked in the second half of the season with Indy. If I’m in charge, he’s repeating Triple-A, with a mid-season call-up a strong possibility.
Salomon Torres needs to prove he can stay healthy. If he can’t separate himself from the pack, he’s competing with Sanchez, Chavez and Osoria for three spots in my bullpen. I might go with the kids just to save a buck.
The emergence of Pearce has caused a significant drop in the playing time given to Josh Phelps. This winter needs to be spent learning a new position—third base or left field—and mastering catcher and first base if he wants to stick with the Pirates. Doing so would give Phelps two edges over Doumit: more defensive versatility and an ability to stay healthy.
Tier 5
33. [5-UR] Brian Rogers, AAA, rp
34. [5-UR] Josh Sharpless, AAA, rp
35. [5-UR] Jonah Bayliss, AAA, rp
36. [4-29] Chris Duffy, MLB-DL, cf
37. [4-34] Cesar Izturis, MLB, utility
38. [5-UR] Shawn Chacon, MLB, rp
39. [4-30] Sean Burnett, AAA, sp
40. [4-33] Jose Castillo, MLB, utility
41. [4-35] Brad Eldred, AAA, 1b/of
42. [5-UR] Dave Davidson, MLB, rp
43. [new] Carlos Maldonado, MLB, c
44. [new] Matt Kata, MLB, utility
The fact that Rogers, Sharpless and Bayliss are not with the Pirates right now speaks volumes about how they’re regarded by Jim Tracy and Brian Graham. Duffy, Izturis and Castillo could win bench spots with the Pirates, but the more likely scenario has them opening 2008 wearing different uniforms. No one here is worth much, but there’s one commonality: All have spent time in the show but are fighting to get re-established.
Tier 6
45. [new] Matt Peterson, AA, rp
46. [4-31] Todd Redmond, AA, sp
47. [4-27] Yoslan Herrera, AA, sp
48. [new] Brad Corley, AA, of
49. [new] Jamie Romak, AA, of
50. [4-37] Justin Vaclavik, AA, rp
51. [5-UR] Josh Shortslef, AA, sp
52. [5-UR] Tony Armas, MLB, sp
The late-season call-ups robbed Altoona of its impressive core, but quasi-prospects Redmond, Corley and Romak were given a chance to show what they can do. We’ll know more about them after winter ball and a couple month’s of play next season.
Peterson‘s old, but he dominated as the Curve’s closer. That he only spent a few innings with Indianapolis is a cause for concern.
Tony Armas is a certainty to be bought out at year’s end, so he’s fallen to the bottom of the chart. By next edition, he’ll be off it completely.