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Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: the noise from PirateFest

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SOUTH HILLS – I spent some time at PirateFest this weekend. Despite the weather, the event appeared to enjoy a nice turnout. I’m sure it was refreshing for Pirates management to field mostly praise  during the Q&A session with fans. From what I understand this was the closest the event has been to a lovefest in years. It was also nice to see Charlie Morton, a good guy, rewarded for his hard work.

It has not been an easy path for Morton. He had an awful 2010 campaign and then he had hip surgery in 2011 and Tommy John Surgery in 2012.

 

So much of the focus thus far in free agency has centered around what the Pirates haven’t done. And while he was a year from free agency, the Morton signing is really deserving of some praise. Even if Morton delivers just 1.3 WAR over each of the next four seasons, the Pirates’ will still break even on the deal.

 

But if Morton stays health and/or finds another level the Pirates could enjoy millions in surplus value. Remember, Morton was just a two-pitch pitcher last season and even being just that he was still dominant at times. He starting mixing in a third pitch later in the season, a split-change, and if he can use that to neutralize lefties, look out NL batters.

 

“Rehab kind of hindered any kind of pitch-adding,” Morton said. “I think now I can look at my needs and see what my needs are … what I can do to get better against lefties.”

 

If Morton can become a three-pitch pitcher the deal could become excellent value for the club. And it’s a deal the Pirates had to make: Burnett is a free agent, Liriano is signed for one more year just like Wandy Rodriguez.  The Pirates needed cost certainty and control-able years within its starting pitcher ranks.

 

STARTING LINE THOUGHTS 

 

9. I thought the most interesting thing to come out of PirateFest was what  Frank Coonelly said on Saturday. The Pirates’ president said reports of the Pirates’ TV deal being valued at $18-$20 million at the Trib and elsewhere are not just inaccurate but Coonelly claims — without revealing contract details– that the Pirates’ local TV deal resides in the top half of all such deals in the game.

 

That was surprising given the Pirates’ market size and the fact that the Pirates signed their TV deal before the local media rights explosion.

 

Moreover, local media rights typically have a strong correlation with payroll. The Pirates ranked 27th in payroll in 2013 and  Bloomberg ranks the Pirates’ total media rights package – national TV, local TV and radio – among the poorest in the game, 28th in baseball, taking in $56 million. The Orioles ranked 15th at $80 million, representing the midpoint in baseball. The Orioles’ Opening Day payroll was $92 million in 2013 – 15th in baseball – compared to the Pirates’ $66 million mark.

 

8. Of course Pirates do have a gate-receipt gap, too, whether or not the TV-related gap exists, or the gap is as wide, as many believe. The depressed value of Pirates’ ticket prices is something the club is slowly trying to change. For instance, the Orioles took in $13 million more in gate receipts than the Pirates last season despite the Orioles drawing only 100,000 more fans last season, according to Bloomberg.

 

7. Another interesting nugget: Huntington did admit the Pirates were interested in free agent first baseman James Loney, who was reported to be atop their wishlist. Huntington said it was the years – the Pirates weren’t willing to go beyond two years – that were the deal breaker. Loney signed a three-year deal with Tampa. Loney is a fine player but I think the the Pirates made a smart call here.

 

6. The most interesting to come out of PirateFest on Sunday was Clint Hurdle’s discussion of the 2014 lineup. Hurdle said he is toying with the idea of batting catcher Rusell Martin in the No. 2 spot.

 

On the surface this doesn’t make much sense: Martin’s on-base  percentages over the last two seasons are .327 and .311.  But his walk rate is above average and his BABIP is well below his career average.

 

Dig deeper and you’ll learn that Martin sees an awful lot of pitches. He swings at just 39.5 percent of pitches, which is extremely low, and just 22 percent of pitches out of the zone.  If Martin is nearer the top of a lineup perhaps he can help inflate pitchcounts.

 

5. Hurdle said he would like for Pedro Alvarez to take hold of the cleanup spot. To do that, Alvarez must make more quality contact and have more competitive at bats. Maybe we saw some of that late last season, particularly in October.

 

4. Don’t plan on seeing Starling Marte out of the lead-off spot in 2014. Hurdle said Sunday his intention was to keep Marte in the leadoff position until a better option emerges. (Neil Walker vs. righties? Marte vs. lefties?)

 

3. Your daily A.J. Burnett update from MLB Trade Rumors.

 

Even after a report that the Orioles had interest in A.J. Burnett and had been in touch with his agent, the Pirates feel Burnett doesn’t want to play for any other team. “There’s no reason for [Burnett] not to be back,” says a Pirates official. ….

Burnett is still an option for the Pirates. “We’re working to be as patient as we can with A.J.,” Huntington said. “A.J. would be our biggest free-agent acquisition if he chooses to come back, so we’ve tried to keep that door open as long as we can.

Huntington denied the signing of Edinson Volquez will affect the team’s pursuit of Burnett. “If A.J. decides to come back and we can make it work, we’ll figure something out.

 

Since the Pirates did not land Loney, there is presumably $8-10 or so million remaining to spend on something…perhaps Burnett?

 

I think Volquez could be an interesting bullpen option but the issue is the Pirates have a loaded bullpen.

 

2. Huntington told fans on Sunday that Jose Tabata will likely be platooning with the winner of the Snider/Decker/Lambo battle on Opening Day. But is Tabata really a platoon player?

 

Tabata’s wRC+ for his career against RHP (103) is nearly identical for LHP (104).

 

1. What shouldn’t be a surprise: Huntington said the club is not pursuing free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz

 

HE SAID IT

Huntington to Charlie Wilmoth on why there’s few leaks out of the Pirates’ front office:

We don’t promote what we’re doing. I don’t call this reporter and say, ‘Can you get our name in this mix?’ We don’t want some people to know what we’re doing. We like to work in the background. I like nothing more than to surprise some people with a move, because we don’t need to announce what we’re doing.

 

HE SAID IT II

(Wilmoth was allover PirateFest)

Sorry Gaby, but I’d be shocked if you didn’t have a platoon partner on Opening Day.  Pirates are actively engaged on trade market and perhaps are in play for a free agent like Eric Chavez.

If all else fails, I think Andrew Lambo opens as Sanchez’s platoon partner. The Priates want to find out what they have in Lambo.

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Spicy tuna rolls at Little Toyko in Mt. Lebo. They never disappoint.

 

-TS

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