When is it time to lock up Starling Marte? …. Yesterday

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – On Monday the Cubs locked up their young, talented first baseman Anthony Rizzo with a seven-year, $41 million deal, a contract that includes a couple club options. While it’s life-changing money for a 23-year-old, it’s probably going to be a mega bargain for the Cubs.

 

In the early 1990s, then Cleveland GM John Hart began the trend of signing  young, core players to long-term contracts, buying out arbitration years and in some cases several years of free agency. It was smart business for the small-market Indians, allowing the Tribe to keep their core together through the mid ’90s.

 

Most recently Tampa Bay has been the most aggressive in locking up young talent, most famously signing Evan Longoria to a six-year $17.5 million deal six days after he was called up in 2008. In total the deal will be worth $44 million over nine years, as it included three club options which were incorporated into his recent 10-year contract extension.

 

It’s widely regarded as the most club-friendly deal in modern history. Continue reading When is it time to lock up Starling Marte? …. Yesterday

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Monday mop-up duty: mighty Mercer back in a holding pattern … should he be?

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PNC PARK – If all things were equal, Jordy Mercer would be on the Pirates’ 25-man roster. Mercer was mostly impressive during his nine games with the Pirates while Neil Walker’s hand laceration healed.

 

Mercer hit a pedestrian .258, but he provided punch with three home runs, including two Saturday in New York. In nine games, Mercer made just one error. He’s clearly a more dynamic player than veteran utility man John McDonald.

 

But when Walker was activated from the DL prior to today’s game, Mercer was sent down to Triple-A because he still had options. Other veterans did not. It can be debated, but the Pirates want to keep as many assets as possible.

Continue reading Monday mop-up duty: mighty Mercer back in a holding pattern … should he be?

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Everyone loves Grilled Cheese but what of his shelf life? … Scott Kazmir’s Thursday start offers a glimpse of Francisco Liriano’s upside … And Baseball America’s mock draft No. 1

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Relievers are the most volatile players in the game. I believe it was the Cleveland Indians’ front office conducted a study a few years back that revealed relievers’ year-to-year performance varied more than any other position in the game.

 

There are a number of theories as to why this is true: relievers pitch fewer innings than starters, so their numbers are subject to the volatility inherent in smaller sample sizes; relief pitchers are often more max-effort type guys, which perhaps makes them more injury prone; relief pitchers often lack a third pitch or repeatable delivery, making them subject to decline.

 

This is why some GMs – most famously the A’s Bill Beane – have often traded closers at their peak value. The A’s traded Andrew Bailey to Boston for Josh Reddick before the 2012 season, and with Bailey’s subsequent injury struggles it’s been a clear win for Beane.

 

Continue reading Everyone loves Grilled Cheese but what of his shelf life? … Scott Kazmir’s Thursday start offers a glimpse of Francisco Liriano’s upside … And Baseball America’s mock draft No. 1

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Umpires and accountability … Should we have a playoff? … And Pedro Alvarez is not progressing to the mean

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – On Sunday at PNC Park we saw Bryce Harper ejected from the game by John Hirschbeck after the 20-year-old phenom disagreed with a check-swing third strike call.

 

Harper raised his arms in disbelief and tossed his batting helmet, but he didn’t demonstratively slam the helmet against the ground.

 

To many  observers it seemed Hirschbeck did not show enough discretion. In fact, it appeared, if anything, Hirschbeck was the aggressor, walking toward Harper, and throwing him out from 120 feet way. Hirschbeck needs to consider this: the 26,000 on hand  paid in part to see the 20-year-old Harper play, not to see Hirschbeck umpire from third base. You be the judge.

Continue reading Umpires and accountability … Should we have a playoff? … And Pedro Alvarez is not progressing to the mean

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A ‘scary’ outfield … and perhaps together as early as 2014. And who has the best 1-2 young arm combo in baseball?

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER  – When we first offered up the ‘Cobra 2.0′ moniker for Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco, it seemed just a bit soaking in hyperbole.

 

After all, the original Cobra, Dave Parker, was the 1978 NL MVP and a six-time All-Star. That’s some rarefied air.

 

But with each passing game Polanco’s prospect star rises, the dream becomes a little clearer, a little bolder. And if you really want to dream big, Pirates fan, start thinking about June 2014.

 

Continue reading A ‘scary’ outfield … and perhaps together as early as 2014. And who has the best 1-2 young arm combo in baseball?

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Monday morning mop-up duty: is Marte already a superstar?

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HIGH ATOP MT. LEBO – Howdy, folks. Included below in this missive are some thoughts and observations from the week that was…. (A shameless, truncated borrowing from Peter King’s MMQB column).

 

Yes, back-to-back series loses for the Buccos is not a great way to begin May. But the good news is the Mariners are coming to town – although King Felix is pitching Wednesday – and the Pirates have only three road series in May after holding their head above water on a daunting 10-game road trip. The Pirates need a big month.

 

But first, about last week …

Continue reading Monday morning mop-up duty: is Marte already a superstar?

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What might make Bryce Harper, Bryce Harper…Will batters strike back against defensive shifts?…And is Mercer the future at SS?

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PNC PARK – If you really like Rock and Roll and you were around for the 1960s, you’d probably have loved to watch The Beatles during a sound check, or in a recording studio. Better yet, if you studied music, you’d have loved to watch The Beatles become The Beatles in their early years as they performed hour after hour at various clubs in Hamburg.

 

If you like baseball and wanted to see a similar once-in-a-generation talent early in his career, and you live in Pittsburgh, you probably should have come to PNC Park to watch the great Bryce Harper this weekend. (Yes, at 20, he’s already great). If you bought a ticket for Sunday’s game – Harper was thrown out after his first at bat for arguing a call – Bryce sends his apologizes.

 

This weekend was my first chance to see Harper up close. This is what struck me….

 

Continue reading What might make Bryce Harper, Bryce Harper…Will batters strike back against defensive shifts?…And is Mercer the future at SS?

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Should Starling Marte be leading off? Liriano impresses scouts, and the Bryce is (all) Right

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HIGH ATOP MT. LEBO – Pirates outfielder Starling Marte has saved his best for first this season.

 

But should the Pirates save him for later in the batting order?

 

Marte enters today’s series with Washington (buy a ticket this weekend, folks) with an MLB-best .609 average in the first-inning. I wouldn’t suggest moving Marte out of the lead off spot while he’s on such a first-inning tear. But I do wonder in the medium-, to long-term if it’s the best place for the Pirates’ burgeoning 24-year-old star in a lineup.

Continue reading Should Starling Marte be leading off? Liriano impresses scouts, and the Bryce is (all) Right

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Why is Miller Park a house of horrors for the Pirates? … Ground-ball pitchers, anyone? … and Liriano is throwing strikes

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MILWAUKEE – The Pirates entered Wednesday’s series finale at Miller Park having won just seven of their last 53 games played in the building. The run dates back to 2007.

 

Crazy, right?

 

I can think of only one other similar house of horrors in major sport. Clemson, which I previously covered before joining the Trib, has never won a men’s basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C. Never. I believe the streak stands at 0 for 55 now. So, it could be worse #BUCN.

 

But getting back on point, it really is a dramatic run of futility. So what is it about Miller Park?

Continue reading Why is Miller Park a house of horrors for the Pirates? … Ground-ball pitchers, anyone? … and Liriano is throwing strikes

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