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January 5, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: In Korea, be Greedy When Others are Fearful?

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CLARK BUILDING – We’re back after the longest period of radio silence on the blog since I came to the Trib in April of 2013.  And there’s good reason for that silence that began in mid-December: unused vacation days, holidays, and the arrival of the newest Sawchik to the world. (He and Mom are doing well).

The most interesting thing to happen while I was away – and it was a pretty fascinating development – was the Pirates winning the rights to negotiate with Korean star shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. The Pirates have until Jan. 20 to negotiate with Kang. I’m late to the party, so you probably know that Kang put up ridiculous numbers in the Korean league (KBO) last season but there’s debate, and unknown, in how his power and defense will translate to the majors.

The fact that it only took $5 million to win the rights to negotiate with him suggests how much doubt there is regarding Kang’s ability to translate his bat – .354 average with 39 home runs, 115 RBIs and a 1.189 OPS in 116 games in the KBO –  to the major leagues.

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January 5, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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Seven for the Hall

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about the so-called unfairness of limiting a Hall of Fame ballot to 10 players. Many (perhaps most) of my fellow voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America want to eliminate the cap, but the HOF is not likely to alter its rules that much. So, last month the BBWAA voted to urge the Hall to expand the limit to 12 names.
The Hall of Fame has not indicated whether it will consider such a change. In the meantime, we continue to use the 10-player ballot. I’m fine with that. The cap is another filter to use when deciding who gets one of baseball’s greatest honors — keeping it a Hall of Fame instead of a Hall of Really, Really Good. This is my fourth year as a voter, and I’ve never listed 10 names. If the ballot eventually is expanded to 12 or 15 or infinity, well, I’d be OK with that too … but I’d likely continue to keep my tally in single digits.
As always, I based my ballot on numbers, personal recollections and a lot of discussion with other writers, voters and fans. And I tried to stay true to the one line of instruction the HOF gives it voters: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
My ballot this year consists of two position players (who were Houston Astros teammates for more than a decade) and five pitchers: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith and John Smoltz.
The two toughest calls were for players I eventually left off my ballot: Mike Piazza and Tim Raines. Piazza was perhaps the greatest offensive catcher ever, but his case for the Hall of hurt by his defensive shortcomings and admitted use of androstenedione. Raines was among the finest leadoff batters of all time, but his career was marred by admitted cocaine use.

— RB

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December 15, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Despite busy early offseason have the Pirates lost ground?

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SOUTH HILLS – Updated World Series odds from Bovada were released today, following the Winter Meetings and a surprisingly high volume of off-season transactions to date.

On Oct. 30., before free agency opened, the Pirates were given 20-to-1 odds to win the 2015 World Series. Those were the 12th-best odds in baseball and fifth in the National League.

Today, Bovada bookmakers have dropped the Pirates to 33-to-1 odds, 17th-best in baseball and 8th in the National League – lesser odds than the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. And this is after the Pirates spent a club record $39 million on a free agent and have already had a superior offseason compared to last year.

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December 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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NL Central just got more interesting and the rich (MLB owners) get richer

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SOUTH HILLS – This weekend there might be the fewest contentious questions ever at Pirates Fest for Pirates’ management. A day after signing Francisco Liriano and likely finishing off their starting rotation, the Pirates upgraded their remaining biggest area of need, their bullpen, in trading so-so prospect Joely Rodriguez to the Phillies for lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo.

Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News on Bastardo: “In the last 3 seasons, only 8 MLB relievers (min. 150G) had a better K rate than his 11.86 strikeouts-per-9 innings.” Bastardo isn’t perfect – he walks too many batters and allows too many flyballs – but he can miss bats. And he’s left-handed, which is critical.

Bartardo is essentially a slightly better version of Justin Wilson (though more expensive and closer to free agency). It was an important tactical acquisition as Clint Hurdle now has two late-game lefty options.

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December 10, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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Winter meetings day 3

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SAN DIEGO — Tony Sanchez‘s stint in the Dominican Winter League wound up being a lot shorter than he expected. After playing in just 10 games with Toros del Este, Sanchez was told by the team to go back to the United States.
“They sent me home,” Sanchez said by phone Wednesday morning. “I don’t blame them. The reason is, I did so poorly. I couldn’t hit.”
Sanchez had three hits in 30 at-bats. He also made two throwing errors.
“I felt good, I felt strong and confident behind the plate,” Sanchez said. “The errors came on short-hop throws to second base on steals. I went there to polish my defense.” Continue Reading →

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December 9, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Instant analysis: Pirates sign Liriano

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates did not retain their No. 1 offseason target in Russell Martin but they did resign their No. 2 free agent, Francisco Liriano, on Tuesday.

Liriano signed surprisingly early in the free agent process as the top free agent pitchers had not yet come to terms to set the market. And while Liriano’s market was no doubt eroded to a degree by the qualifying offer, which was wisely applied by the Pirates, a similar inconsistent pitcher tagged with a qualifying offer last offseason, Ubaldo Jimenez, waited and did get four years.

Some speculated Liriano would get four years. The Pirates were unwilling to go beyond four years with Martin and they were likely unwilling to push beyond three for Liriano. Luckily, they didn’t have to for Liriano, who signed for three years and $39 million, a price on the lower end of projections for Liriano.

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December 9, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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Winter meetings day 2

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SAN DIEGO — Good day, and welcome to day two.
If you’re still hunting stocking stuffers, the Pirates will be ready to take your cash starting 10 a.m. Friday, when single-game tickets go on sale. You can get them via the usual outlets: by clicking on pirates.com/tickets, by calling 877-893-2827, or by going old-school and standing in line at a PNC Park ticket window. The 2015 promotional schedule includes the usual mix of free t-shirts and bobbleheads, but the crown jewel of giveaway items is the Clint Hurdle garden gnome (May 7) Continue Reading →

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December 8, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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Winter meetings day 1

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workroomSAN DIEGO — 8:45 am PT First off, I vow to refrain from making any “Anchorman” jokes this week.

There was not a lot of buzz about the Pirates last night in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, but, hey, it’s early. The Pirates want to re-up Francisco Liriano, but the stumbling block could be the number of years more than the dollars. They Pirates are skittish about making a four-year offer for a 31-year-old pitcher with a spotty injury history the past couple of years. Jason Hammels reportedly just got 2/$18M from the Cubs — is Liriano worth 4/$60M? We’ll see. The fact that Liriano is tied to draft-pick compensation could help the Pirates’ cause.

— If Jon Lester makes up his mind about soon which team’s logo will be on the hefty checks he’l cash the next few years, it should trigger a wave of pitcher signings. Until then, it’s a bit of a waiting game. GM Neal Huntington doesn’t necessarily believe a delay will hurt the Pirates’ chances of re-signing either Liriano or Edinson Volquez. “We’re still awfully early in the offseason,” Huntington said a few days ago. “I don’t know that the longer it goes the worse our chances are. In some ways, it might make our chances better.” Continue Reading →

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December 8, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: hot stove scrambles trace back to summer

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SOUTH HILLS – At the Winter Meetings this week, the focus will be on dollars thrown at free agents and trade rumors whirling about the hotel lobby.

As fun as the offseason rumor mill is, and it is a lot of fun and has driven offseason interest in baseball for a century, it really hammers home the importance of player acquisition in the summer with the draft in June and international free agent signings in July.

If a club misses too often in the summer on amateur talent, chances are it will be scrambling too much in December. While no club fills every need externally, even the clubs most efficient at drafting and development have needs, the fewer the better when entering what has become a more inefficient free agent market place.

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December 2, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Pirates’ payroll obligations as the clock nears midnight

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SOUTH HILLS – The deadline to tender contracts to players without guaranteed contracts for next season is 11:59 p.m today. The key players to watch at the tender deadline are the players eligible for arbitration.

The Pirates tendered contracts to six arbitration-eligible players last year. This year that number should nearly double to 11, which will significantly drive up payroll obligations.

The following are the projected 2015 arbitration salaries for the 11-arbitration eligible players on the Pirates’ roster, according to MLB Trade Rumors. The Pirates are likely to tender all 11 players after parting ways with their two on-the-arbitration-bubble players in Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez.

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