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October 29, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


8 comments so far - add yours!

The other hot corner … And an estimate on Edinson

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SOUTH HILLS – Much of our focus here recently has centered on Russell Martin and understandably so. If we’re not talking about Martin, we’re probably discussing the potential free agent voids on the pitching staff (more on Edinson Volquez below). And yet the third most frequently discussed position of interest – first base – could be the most interesting this offseason as far as moving parts go.

While third base earns the “hot corner” moniker for the exit velocity of batted balls directed there, first base could be the other hot corner for the Pirates this hot stove season. The Pirates have a dilemma at first base where Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez are projected to combine for $12.6 million in arbitration costs, according to Charlie Wilmoth of MLBTR and BucsDugout.com.

While it seems unlikely Alvarez, Davis and Sanchez will all open the season with the Pirates. Even if the club kept Davis or Alvarez in a platoon with Sanchez, that’s still $7-8 million for 2014 replacement level production. Davis (0.0 WAR), Sanchez (-0.1 WAR) and Alvarez (-0.3 WAR) combined for negative value at the position. Fun fact: Andrew Lambo out-WARed them (0.1).

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October 27, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: talking to myself about Russell Martin

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SOUTH HILLS – I went into researching Sunday’s story on the dilemma for the Pirates that is Russell Martin’s free agency with the same position that many in the public hold: ‘The Pirates gotta sign this guy … Pay the man … He’s irreplaceable.’

Look, being around Martin nearly every day for two years, in speaking with him, his teammates and coaches, I learned to appreciate everything he brings to the table. We wrote about his hidden value, some of which became quantified (like pitch framing) but some of his other value is not measurable like pitch-sequencing, like the relationships he built with pitchers, allowing them to trust his game plans.We all witnessed the value of his bat in 2014, his throwing arm and his passion for the game. I voted him as the club’s MVP in the local BBWAA awards.

But how great will he be in, say, 2016? How will he age? Can the Pirates afford to be giving an aging catcher more dollars than Andrew McCutchen in 2017 and 2018? I hope the research got you thinking. It got me thinking. In fact, in got me talking to myself …

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October 24, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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A parade of arbys

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LEBO – While the majority of the focus entering the offseason centers on Russell Martin’s impending free agency, and to a lesser extent the free agency of starting pitchers Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez, the Pirates have another financial concern entering the offseason that’s received far less attention: arbitration.

The Pirates’ own under-club-control players are getting expensive.

Last year, the Pirates entered the offseason with nine arbitration cases and came to terms with six arbitration-eligible players. This year the Pirates have 13 players eligible for arbitration. While not all of the eligible players will be tendered contracts, the Pirates will have a significant increase in dollars tied to these players and it will impact what they can and cannot do in free agency.

Here’s a look at the arbitration-eligible cases by tiers/ranking of players most likely to receive arbitration: Continue Reading →

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October 22, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Copy a KC recipe?

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CLARK BUILDING – The Royals are an interesting team. They’re not a great team but they’ve of course played great baseball at the right time.

They do a couple things very well. They play a great outfield defense and they have an excellent back-end of the bullpen. And for those reasons, I think they are an interesting case study for the Pirates.

Why?

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October 20, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Another Wild (Card) World Series

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SOUTH HILLS – We knew before and are reminded again this October that entry to baseball’s postseason as a wild card team is not a death sentence. Ideal? No, but it’s not an impossible obstacle.

Wild cards have been in existence in baseball since 1995. And for the sixth time in 20 years since the advent of the wild card, we’re guaranteed a wild card team will win the World Series. The Royals or the Giants will join the Marlins (1997 and 2003), Angels (2002), Red Sox (2004), and Cardinals (2011) as wild-card World Series winners.

(By comparison, since 1970 when the playoffs expanded to include wild cards in the NFL, only six wild card teams have won Super Bowls – and there’s been a lot more wild cards in the NFL, a sport that prides itself on touting parity.)

Moreover , five other wild card teams have advanced to the World Series and lost and the Royals or Giants will make it a sixth. So since 1995, 12 wild card teams have at least won a league pennant.

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October 17, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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A new kind of bench coach? And a 9 percent hike

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SOUTH HILLS – You have to be happy for Jeff Banister. After spending 29 years with the Pirates, after working his way up from a 25th round draft pick who recorded only one major league at bat, after he worked his way from long-time minor league coach to major league bench coach, he was named as the Rangers’ manager on Thursday.

Banister is a cancer survivor. He’s an inspirational figure. He gets to go home to Texas and take valuable lessons from his time with the Pirates, which integrated New School and Old School concepts as well as just about any club in recent years. (Richard Justice’s take on Banister is worth watching.)

Who will replace Banister with the Pirates? I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Clint Hurdle promoted one of his loyal lieutenants. I also wonder if this is also an opportunity to further build upon what the Pirates have already done so well in building respect and collaboration between their coaches and analytics staff.  Continue Reading →

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October 15, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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The Brain Drain … And how to fix the wild-card round

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SOUTH HILLS – Tuesday was a fascinating day in baseball and I’m not speaking of another wild ending to an NLCS game or the Royals now being one win from the World Series. Rather, how about Rays GM Andrew Friedman leaving the small-market Rays and to become the president of baseball ops for the Los Angeles Dodgers?

Friedman is regarded as one of the shrewdest GMs in the game.  The low-budget Rays have consistently been a winner in the rugged AL East under his watch. He has a Wall Street background and he’s employed many Wall St. strategies with the Rays (See: Jonah Keri’s Extra 2 %). Now it appears the Dodgers have brawn (dollars) and brains.

Friedman’s move is relevant to every well run small-market club. What if this marks the beginning of a trend, a race, a market correction, for the game’s top executives?

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October 13, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


23 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: Is Stewart an adequate plan B?

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SOUTH HILLS  - I think we all understand Russell Martin is going to be a tough sign unless he gives a discount in years or dollars to the Pirates. And discounts are usually pipedreams in free agency. In an impending free agent class bereft of catchers, Martin stands alone as the only star-level or even starting-caliber talent. The Pirates have never given more than $17 million to a free agent (really) and that free agent was Martin. Martin reportedly turned down a midseason extension offer, according to John Heyman, from the Pirates.

I don’t want to get your Monday started off on a sour note but here is the list of potential 2015 free agent catchers: John Buck, Ryan Doumit, Nick Hundley, Gerald Laird, Martin, Jeff Mathis, Wil Nieves, Ronny Paulino, A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross and Geovany Soto. All of these catchers are deeply flawed outside of Martin, and many are advancing deep into their 30s. Moreover, teams aren’t likely to give away talented catchers with reasonable contracts cheaply in trades.

The good is news is prospects Elias Diaz (ETA 2016) and perhaps Reese McGuire (ETA Mid 2017/Early 2018) are coming. Still, the Pirates need a bridge to that homegrown talent. So if Plan B doesn’t exist in the free agent market what is the Plan B internally?

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October 8, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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“Because those are our seventh-inning guys” … and ticking clocks

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SOUTH HILLS – What was perhaps more amazing than Clayton Kershaw unraveling twice in a week yesterday was that hours apart, in two one-run, elimination-game losses is neither losing manager called upon his best relief pitcher.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly didn’t use his closer – Kenley Jansen – and Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams kept his bullpen quiet in the seventh inning as a rattled rookie pitcher allowed the winning run to score with a wild pitch and the bases loaded.

Kershaw, on short rest, began to miss with location in the seventh, even the broadcasters thought he was tiring. He allowed a three-run homer on a mistake pitch. In the seventh inning in San Francisco, the Nationals’ bullpen remained quiet. Available to Williams, in the season’s pivotal moment were his best relievers Drew Store and Tyler Clippard and even his ace, Stephen Strasburg. None of those arms were summoned. None of those arms were even warming up. Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore eloquently described the vacant mounds as “monuments to convention.”

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October 6, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


10 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: Lessons from 2014

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SOUTH HILLS –  A baseball season is a funny thing. It’s something you live with on a daily basis for six months (seven-plus consecutive months if you’re a player, coach, executive, or even a sports writer) … and then it’s gone in an abrupt manner. Because it’s a daily endeavor, it’s an opportunity to learn something new each day and build a deeper and richer understanding of the sport.

And I’m not sure I’ll ever cover, or if you’ll ever watch, another season like the Pirates’ 2014 campaign.

We don’t get everything right here in this e-space, that’s for sure. My pre-season prediction for the Pirates was this: an 84-78 final record and a third-place finish in the division. The prediction was in the ballpark … but how the Pirates arrived at 88 wins and another playoff berth was surprising to me and many others.  Continue Reading →

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