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Monday Mop-Up Duty: a Sabathia-like road map for Taillon?


SOUTH HILLS – Let me begin with a qualifying statement: I fully expect Jameson Taillon to begin the season in Triple-A. Delaying the start of top prospect’s service-time clock makes an awful lot of sense for clubs. After all, Gerrit Cole was one of the Pirates’ best five starters last spring and he waited in Indianapolis until the middle of June to make his major league debut. We all suspect that is the same plan with Taillon.


But there are exceptions to every rule.


The Pirates are no longer a team in a development. They are a team that is expected to be competitive. And while possessing the game’s No. 1 farm system, according to Baseball America, and having a strong young core suggests the Pirates should have a strong base through the remainder of the decade, I think you can also look at 2014 and wonder if it represents something of a window.  Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli and Wandy Rodriguez will all be free agents after the 2014 season. They accounted for 9.9 Wins Above Replacement in 2013. That group includes an elite defensive catcher, a pitcher with front-of-the-rotation upside that was reached in 2013, an elite reliever (if healthy) and a mid-rotation starter (if healthy).That’s significant production to replace 2015.


So that leads me to this question: while the Pirates haven’t been willing to go all in financially in 2014, should they go all in with their internal options? Should they begin the season with Taillon in the rotation if he is one of the team’s best five starters this spring? Is he the best bet to replace Burnett’s quality innings?


(Programming note: Rob Biertempfel’s video series with Taillon was unveiled today on the Trib’s Pirates page)


“He’s got the stuff to pitch in the big leagues right now,” general manager Neal Huntington told the Trib “But there are still lessons the game teaches. He went through some of them last year at Triple-A. It will be good to see him again in major league spring training and give him the ball a little bit more. We’ve still got some work to do to refine and put him in a position to come up.”


It doesn’t sound like he’s a candidate for the Opening Day rotation.  But consider the the 2001 Cleveland Indians. In the 1990s, the Indians were the first team to try to buy out young players’ arbitration years and some free agency through club-friendly deals under friend of the program John Hart. There were very conscious of service time….more conscious than perhaps any other club.  But instead of delaying top prospect’s C.C. Sabathia‘s service time until June in 2001, manager Charlie Manuel pushed for Sabathia to break camp with the club in 2001. The Indians were contenders. They had a window of opportunity. Sabathia went 17-5 for the Indians in 2001. He was managed carefully, throwing just 180 innings, but he made 33 starts. The Indians finished 92-70 and won the AL Central.


Look, with the Pirates expected to suffer some regression, with teams like the Nationals, Giants, Padres and Brewers in store for better seasons, every win could count in a hunt for a wild card spot. So if Taillon is clearly one of the best five options come late March, if Edinson Volquez cannot harness his plus stuff, if Jeff Locke appears more like his second-half self than his first, is two-and-a-half months early in 2014 worth a year of service time that would come in 2020?   Is it worth to borrow from the future to put the best 25 on the roster in April?



9. For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’s weighted PECOTA projection only forecasts Taillon to pitch 34 innings in 2014, which I think is low regardless of when he is called up. But the three comps are interesting and encouraging: Patrick Corbin, Jarrod Parker and Brandon Mauer.

*Parker was 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA as a rookie for the A’s.

*Corbin emerged as a star in his second year in 2013, but his K rate, BB rates and GB rate were also quality in his rookie year.

*Mauer posted a 6.30 ERA as a rookie last season.


8. What we do know about Taillon is he probably could use a little more polish and ideally you don’t rush anyone to the show, but what we saw at the WBC last spring was stuff that only Cole and Liriano can rival on the staff.


7. OK, I lied.  A little more on AJ Burnett since he spoke to reporters on Sunday.

Athletes typically never say it’s about the money, or it’s about ego or pride, and Burnett didn’t say that was his motivation Sunday: “I’ll put it very simple. This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn’t about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I’m at home, and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me to make them happy.”

I don’t doubt Burnett wanted to be close to his family. I doubt he’ll be commuting from Monkton to Philadelphia. The difference between Philly and Pittsburgh, geographically, is four hours vs. two hours in the car. It matters to a degree … but the bigger difference is the Pirates offered a one-year, $12 million deal. The Phillies offered a deal worth up to $33 million over two years.


7.  Another interesting quote: “I’m a team guy. Nobody wants to have the ball taken from them. But that had no influence (on signing with the Phillies). I would’ve liked to have known ahead of time (that Cole would start), as opposed to what happened. But if it put our team in a better spot, I’m all for it. I was ready to go (in that game), if needed.”

Burnett didn’t take the news of not starting Game 5 well.While he helped young pitchers on the staff, he also showed up a teammate (Clint Barmes) and his manager last season on the field.


6. Now with that press conference behind us, I think we’re all ready to turn the page and focus on who is playing for the Pirates in 2014…. until the Pirates and Phillies meet, of course.


5. The Pirates benefited from one of the most cost-effective bullpens in 2013, Rob Biertempfel reported on Sunday: “Fourteen pitchers made at least one relief appearance. But for the seven mainstays who composed the bullpen in the playoffs, the total cost was $5.56 million.” The bullpen will still be relatively inexpensive in 2014 – less than the cost of one Craig Kimbrel – but bullpen performance has a high degree of variance from year to year. This is concern that hasn’t received much attention.


4. Should there be more concerns about Grilli this spring? He wasn’t 100 percent when he came back from injury last season. He’s 37 and he’s easing himself into spring throwing.


3. I had an agent tell me the chance of the 25th overall pick developing into an All-Star is 2 percent, according to his study. Are the Pirates being too protective with this pick when looking at some of the remaining free agents?


2. Kendrys Morales’ top three PECOTA comps: Glenn Davis. Orlando Cepeda. Rafael Palmeiro    Not bad company. Assuming the price is coming down, I’d be warming to the idea if I worked on Federal St.


1. Wanna see something frightening? Francisco Liriano‘s top three PECOTA comps:  Jonathan Sanchez, Erik Bedard, John Lackey.   Buzzkill.




“Payroll does not equal playoff,” Huntington to


STAT OF THE WEEK: $222.7 million


Dollars the Braves committed over the last two weeks to Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward despite one of the worst local TV deals in the sport. Ken Rosenthal reported the new stadium deal allows for such contracts.


NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK Started catching up on True Detective via HBOGo. Now it’s for mature audiences, of course, but wow. Matthew McConaughey deserves an Emmy. Amazing performance through five episodes.

– TS



  1. macchamp74 says:

    Tallion in April….how about Polanco also?
    Travis, I don’t think it will ever happen. Huntington’s motto is “year’s of control” No way he gives up a year for a couple months.

  2. Nate83 says:

    Although I see the reasoning of calling this year sort of a window of opportunity I am guessing the front office is actually looking at 2015-2017 as the real window of opportunity. Yes they lose all those players but they all are taking up a good chunk of the payroll. Almost all of those players are projected to be replaced by cost controlled players. The money saved can hopefully be used to bring in an actual second tier free agent or two.

    I acknowledge this window has more answers already in place and the window involving the projected core involves some prospects that are not sure bets to succeed but their is some depth behind the pitching if some should fail. Cole, Cutch, Marte, Taillon and Polanco are a pretty good starting point and all are likely to be very good players. Liriano, Wandy, Martin and Grilli are not sure bets to repeat their strong 2013 or in Wandy’s case bounce back this year.

    That being said, I’m greedy and want them to spend every last dime available this year as well to compete. Maybe not being so tied to the draft pick and getting one of the QO free agents makes sense to me more then coming out of Spring training with Taillon in the starting rotation.

  3. macchamp74 says:

    Nate, I too think this is a year that giving up the draft pick for 3 years of a pitcher like Santana would be worth it. He would help replace Wandy, Volquez and Liriano when they are gone next year.

  4. I think if you really feel Taillon is going to be a huge asset for you this year the more prudent approach is not just to keep him AAA until June, but also not to even let him throw a pitch until late April. I’m tired of concerns and questions of innings limits for young pitchers during the stretch. Getting him started a few weeks late and save gas in the tank for the end of the season. I’d rather have these guys shut down in April than in September.

  5. bq says:

    Santana has no draft pick attached to him. On top of that, there is no way he will be pitching for the next three years, and if he does, he will be pitching poorly. At best he is a non-roster invitee.

  6. Strohdave says:

    Talk about two extremes with the PECOTA comps – surely Morales isn’t nearly that good andLiriano isn’t that bad. Would definitely be a buzz kill if you put any stock in it.
    Ditto on True Detective.

  7. macchamp74 says:

    I’m talking Ervin Santana….would not give plugged nickel for Johan.

  8. Keith says:

    The thing about April is that the FO can be optimistic and there’s nonreason to think players won’t perform. That’s the beauty of June, when players can be brought up when things go south AND not cost more for it.

  9. Ghost says:

    I’m really tired of people trotting out Burnett’s heat-of-the-moment flashing of a hand at Clint Barmes. That’s supposed to be a counterpoint to the tutelage he gave young pitchers during his tenure here?

    Also, his commute to/from Monkton, MD would not be “two hours.” Certainly not his commute home. After games he probably won’t even hit the road until close to midnight. No way it takes him two hours to drive the 90 miles. At that hour, probably not that much more than one hour.

  10. cherokee23 says:

    strongly agree!

  11. Nate83 says:

    He himself has said 90 minutes for this commute. Your probably correct it would be a little shorter at that time of night. Not a fun drive but I work with guys that drive more then an hour to work everyday. It’s certainly better then 4 hours and it allows him to maybe make it to some of his kids events he may have missed otherwise. On a Sunday afternoon home game the guy gets to make it home and spend sometime with his kids. I have no issue with him making this decision even if the money was equal which it wasn’t. It’s pretty much a no-brainer when you consider a possible 33 million for 2 years.

  12. Ghost says:

    Yes. And I saw Peter Gammons interview him today and he mentioned something about a “90 minute train ride.” What I would do if I were him (and making his cool $16 mil!) is take the train in chillin’ with the headphones on in the afternoon, then pay someone to drive me home at night. In fact, even for $12 mil I think I would have picked this option over the four-hour one from Pittsburgh. You only have these quick years with your kids once, and then they’re gone. My daughter leaves for college this summer. Seems like she was loosing her baby teeth only yesterday. It’s already breaking my heart.

  13. Johnstown Russ says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that Liriano and possibly Wandy, if healthy, will be dealt at the deadline?
    I think the Pirates are counting on 2015 through 2018 as years they will compete for the division crown. Why not grab a possible first baseman or shortstop at the deadline?
    I’m also wondering about who the next long term contract guy is. Pedro? No way. Boras will never let that happen and there’s a guy who will get a hundred million dollar deal. Gotta trade him after the 2015 season. Another good return.
    Marte? I hope so. I expect him to be great. Will the Pirates sign walker long term? With Polonco and Tallion arriving soon the future looks great. And meadows and McGuire behind them. But the bucs got some scenarios coming up. I don’t expect Liriano to last all season, regardless of record.

  14. Carlos Danger says:

    Comparing Liriano to Bedard is insulting. Just the other day when I took my dog out, she just stared at me with a dumb look on her face and took a dump on the grass. That is the closest comparison to Bedard’s pitching as I have I ever seen. But Liriano is no Bedard.

  15. Yokesoverez says:

    Hey, hey, the cracks on Bedard are uncalled for. Bedard had a couple good years. He just wasn’t pitching. He was in Kindergarten and 1st grade and he could color within the lines.

  16. Yokesoverez says:

    Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I really think that if Stolmey (who is out of options) and Cumpton cannot hold onto the #5 spot in the rotation (assuming that Locke and Volquez have already failed), that the Pirates would bring Tallion up before June.

    Although, with one of these four pitchers getting an opportunity every five games, it probably would take until June to determine that none of them are the answer.

  17. tedwins says:

    Hard to imagine that Locke, volquez, and/or stolmy don’t grab the 5th spot and leaves us needing taillon to start the year. Gosh you could also include Cumpton… if one of those 4 don’t step up that would be very concerning. With that said, nice write up, interesting and fun stuff

  18. bpn8pitt says:

    Liriano has never had two strong seasons back to back in his entire career. I think the Pirates expected #4 numbers out if HM last year, not to be one of the best lefties in the NL….I fully expect a drop off with him.

  19. Foo says:

    I’m starting to feel the same way a out the phrase ‘all in’ as I am about BMTIB.


    Those PECOTA comps show why I completely ignore them.


    I agree on the 25th/2% historical All Star note. However, I think that NH just values the heck out of his draft choices, esp when it comes to overall cost. Jmho.


    Taillon and Polanco will not be up until June so that we get that extra year of control.


    Life is good,..this morn I awoke to only a dusting of snow and its supposed to be 50 for a couple of days. i may see green grass?

  20. Foo says:

    ‘A out’ should be ‘about’…..stoopid IPad keyboard.

  21. Foo says:


  22. Nate83 says:

    Agree tedwins. There are a lot of options to start the year in the #4 and #5 spots and most of them would be adequate on most major league staff. AJ definitely would have been a nice option to add but starting pitching wise this team is in better shape then the 2013 team was at the beginning of the year. I’m not sure when it became expected for a #5 to have and ERA around 4.0. It just doesn’t happen on many teams. Not even last year did we have a consistent starting 5 that gave us that level of performance.

    I honestly think Stolmy is a better version of Locke because he has some control problems but I think his stuff has higher upside. I wouldn’t be surprised if he emerges as the #5 if Volquez does bad or Wandy has a set back.

  23. Leo Walter says:

    I’ve never understood why that option is never talked about HV.

  24. Steelkings says:

    He would drive that commute after a series ender with a day off. However its all mute as we all know that 4 million dollars makes the commute a short helicopter ride just about anytime he wants.

  25. Steelkings says:

    It would take an injury, or injury’s, and not falter to move Taillon before the June deadline. You have to figure that because the Pirates think they can fix everyone, the back of the order is going to get at least 5 starts. Maybe even 6 before they give in. And at that point, being the middle of May, you eat up an option on Cumpton and others if necessary.

  26. Steelkings says:


    After watching every Reds pitcher on their staff plunk McCutchen and then not retaliating, Burnett puts a fastball between the numbers of 22’s backside.

  27. Steelkings says:

    No worries about the back of the Bullpen. A Grilli drop off would simply move Wilson to the closer role. Melancon stays right where he’s at.

  28. joel says:

    The Pirates must be wasting this year. There is no one that can replace A.J. on this team this year and the same can be said for Marlon Byrd. There will be no playoffs this year as things stand right now. With Byrd gone that leaves another hole in the lineup. Polanco cannot be expected to hit for high numbers come June. I guess we still have Tabata and Morton, ugh. Taillon and Polanco should be fine next year. It looks more and more like 3rd place ahead of the chubs.

  29. joel says:

    Watched The ML Network a few days ago and they were rating the top 10 3rd basemen. Only one guy had Pedro at # 10. The only mention about him was his HRs then he led the majors in errors 54 [ I missed the time frame] and SOs. I hope they draft a college 3rd baseman soon because his FA status is fast approaching. Sandavol [Giants] was mentioned and he is coming to camp 40 lbs. lighter. I wished Pedro watched that segment of the show.

  30. BostonsCommon says:

    “Is it worth to borrow from the future to put the best 25 on the roster in April?”

    With regard to Taillon, would you rather have an extra 10 weeks of his service as a green, developing, rookie… Or a full year of his service as a peak performing, front line starter?

    Leave him in Indy til June.

  31. Jim S. says:

    The Asst. GM guy that lives near AJ said his own commute is 1:45 minutes and AJ lives closer. AJ will most certainly be making the commute everyday he is in town. People in very large cities routinely commute over 1 hour each way, every day. When I am in town, my Chicago suburbs commute is 1 hour in the morning, and 1:10 at night – sometimes longer. It’s very do-able, and I absolutely think that is how AJ looks at it.

  32. Jim S. says:

    Marlon Byrd can’t be replaced? He had 100 ABs for this team, and they won 94 games. 95% of the heavy lifting was done w/o Marlon Byrd last year.

  33. Jim S. says:

    Cole was and is a better pitching prospect than Taillon. Cole stayed in AAA for half the season, then struggled a bit with sharpness in Pittsburgh until it all seemed to come together down the regular season homestretch. If anything, that solidified in NH’s mind that this is the path they need to take with Taillon. I don’t see him coming up until close to July. The blueprint worked too perfectly last year.

  34. Jim S. says:

    I’m one of those guys, Nate. Up to 1:30 is extremely do-able, and millions of people do it every day. Some people even enjoy it. It gives you a chance to clear your head or work through some things for the next day that you can’t do when you get home.

  35. Jim S. says:

    As good as Kimbrel is right now, I think the Braves are going to regret the 4 year extension at those kinds of dollars for a guy who pitches 60-70 innings per season.

  36. Lambo says:

    The 25th pick might only have a 2% chance of being an all star. But he will be talented, he will probably be considered a high prospect, especially with some development. Maybe he turns into a deadline trade we desperately need down the road. Not to mention Neal and his team have done a great job of drafting and development the last six years, probably one of the best jobs in the country.

    This is how this team was built. No reason to change course, especially since it’s working.

  37. BostonsCommon says:

    FWIW, I would say Morales has less than a 2% chance of being an NL All-Star 1B in the next three years. But that’s just my opinion.

  38. Nate83 says:

    Joel, for what it’s worth Pedro worked really hard on his conditioning during the 2012 off season and greatly improved his agility at 3rd. Fitness doesn’t seem to be a big issue with him like it was his first few years in the league.

    His errors are deceiving and make him look like a worse third baseman then he actually is. He makes plays that over half of the other third baseman can’t. His range is adequate and his arm strength is above average. He probably makes up for some of those errors by taking some hits away including some doubles. He’s no Manny Muchado defensively but I don’t think he belongs in the bottom 3rd of the league.

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