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February 6, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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At what price is Shields right for the Pirates? And ZiPs forecasts the 2015 Pirates

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SOUTH HILLS – The last really good free agent pitcher available is of course James Shields. Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com reports he’s expected to sign by the end of the week. The Padres are reportedly the favorite.

Shields is not an ace. He’s a really good No. 2 starter who has evolved from relying less on a wiepout changeup and more on an effective cutter. It seems like he posts 220 innings every year and maybe that is the reason he’s still available. Shields turned 33 in December. He’s also thrown 1,910 innings in his career. That’s a lot of mileage. He wants a five-year deal but may have to settle for four (or less?). Still, that will take him at least through his Age 36 season.

Interesting side note I read last night: no free agent pitcher has ever received more than $50 million when signing after February 1. So what if Shields’ price really comes down from those $100 million expectations? At what point does he make sense for the Pirates who finished with the second lowest WAR among starting pitchers last year?

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February 4, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Time for MLB to expand? And beyond U.S. borders? (Also, thoughts on Lombardozzi)

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SOUTH HILLS –  In the modern era of baseball expansion, since 1961, we are in the longest period of Major League Baseball having not added a new a franchise. MLB has not added a new team since adding the Diamondbacks and Rays to the mix in 1998. So it’s been 17 years since a team was added. The previous longest gap was a 16-year expansion drought was ended with the additions of the Marlins and Rockies. (I’m not including the Expos’ relocation to Washington).

So is it time for MLB to expand?

When you think about MLB expansion you might immediately turn to familiar domestic cities mentioned like Charlotte , N.C. (which makes some sense with it being second largest banking center in the country and the Carolinas having strong passion for amateur baseball), Portland, Las Vegas and San Antonio. But new MLB commish Rob Manfred keeps saying interesting things in his first days on the job.

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February 2, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up: State of the Pirates

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SOUTH HILLS – You can argue the Pirates will be challenged to reach the playoffs again in 2015.

While the club did a nice job of scrambling this offseason, they did lose a player I voted as the team MVP in the local baseball writers awards in Russell Martin.

Will the club have enough pitching depth? Was 2014 indicative of the true talent level of Josh Harrison? Is Jordy Mercer really an above average shortstop? We all know the questions.

While there is some uncertainty about the club’s 2015 prospects I don’t think there is much debate about this: the Pirates are well positioned for the remainder of the decade. And they just might be becoming a model franchise that can consistently compete year-in and  year-out, says one prominent national writer. After a 20 consecutive losing seasons, it’s one of the more remarkable turnarounds in North American sports history.

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January 28, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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How many eggs are in Polanco’s basket? (Updated with podcast)

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SOUTH HILLS – So the Pirates were not quite done shaking up the roster this offseason, sending projected fourth outfielder Travis Snider (a ‘superhero’ as described  by Carlos Gomez) to the Orioles last night for prospect Stephen Tarpley and a prospect to be named later.

On the surface this struck many in the public as a curious move.

The Pirates are expected to contend and compete in 2015, and they traded a valuable reserve for a pitcher who spent last season in short-season ball and is not considered a top 100 prospect in the game. Is there now a risk in expecting too much of Gregory Polanco in 2015?

Pirates GM Neal Huntington doesn’t believe so. Continue Reading →

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January 28, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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Snider traded to Orioles for two prospects

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PTR-Bucs03-092414My friend Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun has sniffed out news that the Pirates may be close to dealing outfielder Travis Snider to the Orioles.
Talks between the teams for a straight-up Snider-for-Brian Matusz deal fizzled during the Winter Meetings. The Pirates are confident they have plenty of outfield depth — Corey Hart, Andrew Lambo and, yes, Jose Tabata — so discussions heated up again the past few days. Continue Reading →

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January 27, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


6 comments so far - add yours!

Thames and Cantu as Rosetta Stones?

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SOUTH HILLS – Humans are always in search of  translation tools.

Because the Rosetta Stone had text in three different scripts it became the key to understanding Egyptian language.

The film Imitation Game detailed how Alan Turing cracked the German enigma code, which undoubtedly hastened the end of WWII and saved countless lives.

While we’re just talking about a game in this Web space, baseball analysts are also very interested in code-breaking and translations and that’s what makes the signing of Jung Ho Kang the most interesting Pirates-related story of this upcoming spring. Continue Reading →

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January 26, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: The new commish said what?

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SOUTH HILLS – Rob Manfred conducted one of his first interviews as MLB  commissioner over the weekend with ESPN.

What he said was frightening.

ESPN’s Karl Ravech interviewed Manfred and the questioning got around to adjustments he would consider to improve the game.  Manfred expressed concern about declining offense in the sport, and the slowing pace of the game. These are perfectly legitimate concerns. But his proposed solutions are, I believe, misguided. Continue Reading →

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January 22, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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The Neil Walker dilemma

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Neil Walker (Philip G. Pavely  |  Trib Total Media)

Neil Walker (Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media)

SOUTH HILLS – One of the more interesting players the Pirates will soon have to make a decision on is Neil Walker.

Not only was Walker arguably the top offensive second baseman in the NL last season, he’s of course a fan favorite, a native, one of the most amiable personalities in the clubhouse, and a worker. Of course, he’s also due to make either $8 or $9 million in arbitration and is two years away from free agency. The Pirates also appear to have middle infield depth and Plan Bs with the signing of Jung Ho Kang, and Alen Hanson reaching the upper levels of the minor leagues.

So what should the Pirates do with Walker? Continue Reading →

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January 19, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: A nice offseason but …

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates’ ownership and front office groups put forth a much more robust offseason effort than a winter earlier when the Pirates committed only $7 million combined to free agents Edinson Volquez and Clint Barmes.(Though the Pirates also signed Charlie Morton to a $21 million contract  that bought out two years of free agency).

Assuming they are done, the Pirates guaranteed $64 million to free agents this offseason, including the club-record free agent deal handed out to Francisco Liriano and the club record international contract given to Jung Ho Kang.

It’s not big-market money to be sure but it is significant increase in the commitment. The question is this: is it enough? The Pirates were hardly the only National League team to improve itself this offseason. Continue Reading →

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January 18, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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A bit more background on Kang

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Now that Jung Ho Kang is on their roster, every Pirates regular season game and also a few spring training games this year will be televised in South Korea. “Because of the time difference (Korea is 14 hours ahead of Pittsburgh), most people will be watching at their desks at work,” said Daniel Kim, a baseball analyst for Spotv Korea. I chatted with Kim this morning for his Yahoo! Sports podcast and gave me some background this morning about the Pirates’ new infielder.
— Kang is the fourth MLB player to come out of Gwangju Jeil high school. The others are Jae Weong Seo (2002-07 with Mets, Dodgers and Rays), Hee Seop Choi (2002-05 with Cubs, Marlins and Dodgers) and Byung-Hyun Kim (1999-2007 with D’backs, Red Sox, Rockies and Marlins). Kang was drafted out of high school by Hyundai of the Korea Baseball Organization. A second-round pick, Kang had to choose to either turn pro or accept a full university scholarship. “His parents left the decision up to him,” Kim said. “He was very mature for his age, so they said they’d support whatever he decided to do.”
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iox5PMOBYLA&feature=youtu.be
— Kang played in a total of only 30 games with Hyundai in 2006-07. “He didn’t have a regular position,” Kim said. “It took him a while to establish himself at the top level (of the KBO).” Kang was drafted as a catcher, but he had the strongest arm on the team so the Hyundai manager moved him to shortstop.
— Kang’s breakthrough moment came in the championship of the 2010 Asian Games, when he slugged a pair of two-run homers against defending champ Taiwan. “That’s when Kang became a national star,” Kim said. Last September, Kang again homered twice against Taiwan in the Asian Games.
— Kang is close friends with Dodgers pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu — they played on the same Junior National team in 2005, are the same age and were drafted in the KBO in the same year. They also were teammates on the 2010 Asian Games team. Kang homered in Ryu’s final KBO game before joining the Dodgers. “That was his parting gift to Ryu,” Kim said with a laugh. “They still talk about it.”
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1dPm7jbdLE&feature=youtu.be
— About three years ago, Kang’s father supposedly told his son he’d play in MLB someday. Kang, however, kept quiet about wanting to play in the United States until last year. A team source told me the Pirates have had their eye on Kang the past three or four years in case he decided to enter the posting process. Not wanting to tip their hand to other clubs, the Pirates hid their interest in Kang until their winning bid was announced.
– RB

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