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November 10, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


12 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: McCutchen speaks his mind

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SOUTH HILLS – Few have doubted Andrew McCutchen‘s comfort level on the field as a player who enters the week vying for a second straight MVP. He has already secured a third straight, top-three MVP finish.

However, it appears McCutchen is becoming more comfortable off the field, specifically in speaking his mind off of the field as he spoke to the Trib’s Rob Biertempfel in a Sunday Q & A. Typically when interviewed, McCutchen is approachable but offers few newsworthy sound bites. This was different as McCutchen spoke candidly on a number of issues.

It’s one thing when a blogger, radio talk show host, or message board poster shares an opinion – it’s quite different when the face of the franchise opines.

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November 7, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


15 comments so far - add yours!

A missed opportunity?

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SOUTH HILLS – I was asked in the office the other day about who was really most responsible for the Pirates’ ability to rehab starting pitchers: Ray Searage (and Jim Benedict) or Russell Martin‘s framing and other intangibles?

It’s a great question and it’s difficult to know. Both played a role for sure, Searage’s ability to communicate and fix mechanics and Martin’s ability to swing the probability of counts in a pitcher’s favor. I think Searage is slightly more responsible but I’d  guess it’s close,  60/40.

So this lead me to wonder if the Pirates should have been serious players for Hank Conger.

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November 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


23 comments so far - add yours!

A pivot in spending? And an offer that Martin can’t (as easily) refuse

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates had never made a qualifying offer to a player. They made two on Monday, extending qualifying offers to Russell Martin - a no-brainer – and a tougher call, but what many analysts believe is a correct one, in QOing Francisco Liriano. 

Extending Liriano a QO was a smart play for several reasons: No. 1 he will not walk away without the Pirates receiving compensation for a pitcher they rehabbed, No. 2 it could potentially reduce his market and pave the way to his return to the Pirates at a discounted price (Though, that’s unlikely), and No. 3, maybe Liriano accepts the deal believing he can get a bigger pay day next year with a completely healthy season. One-year deals for left-handers who have wicked sliders and touch 96 mph is never a bad thing.

Still, no qualifying offer – all 22 issued in history – has ever been accepted by a player, though there’s some speculation that Michael Cuddyer or Liriano could become the first to accept the one-year offer of the average of the top 125 contracts in the game ($15.3 million).

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November 3, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


7 comments so far - add yours!

Monday Mop-Up Duty: As free agency opens, Spread Option or Stretch Option?

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SOUTH HILLS – No, we’re not discussing football strategy or vernacular today. Rather, we’re analyzing shopping lists as we ready for free agency, which opens Tuesday.

Of course the trajectory and narrative of the offseason begins with Russell Martin. We’ve sung his praises and hidden value as much as anyone, I voted him as team MVP in the local  BBWAA awards. But on the last two Sundays we’ve also analyzed the risk involved with Martin in regard to the catching aging curve, and that almost all successful teams spread risk, not allocating too much of payroll to one player. And the Pirates would be pushing those limits in re-signing Martin.

What’s also important to also consider with Martin is this as we enter free agency: opportunity cost. If the Pirates opt not to spend $55-65 million on Martin, there should be other options with which to target. This offseason shouldn’t be framed as Martin or nothing, it should be weighing Martin vs. Plan B Spending.

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October 31, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


10 comments so far - add yours!

Scary thought: How good can Cubs be with Joe Maddon?

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SOUTH HILLS – Game 7 was a thrill for all baseball fans but for the Pirates a more important event occurred earlier in the day when Jon Heyman reported former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon will be the Cubs’ new manager. One of the most promising organizations in the game has apparently become better.

Maddon is regarded as the best manager in the game. He makes smart decisions in real time. He’s not only one of the game’s best tacticians, allowing many data-based strategies to flow to the field, but he’s also credited for his ability to build clubhouse culture. You probably already know all of this.

Maddon made a shrewd move in joining Chicago, I believe. The Cubs have a historic amount of impact-level prospect bats in Kris Byrant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler,  and Albert Almora. And we’ve seen young bats have a much better chance of staying healthy compared to young arms. I think I’m going as Bryant for Halloween just to scare people with that 80-power grade. The Cubs also have a smart front office and the financial resources to fill in voids in their starting rotation and bullpen (and perhaps at catcher). Maddon sees what many see: the Cubs could very well be a force in the very near future.

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October 29, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


16 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


24 comments so far - add yours!

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


22 comments so far - add yours!

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


6 comments so far - add yours!

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


2 comments so far - add yours!

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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