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August 14, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Challenges for baseball’s next commissioner

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SOUTH HILLS – I’m a little concerned about where baseball is headed.

Yes, baseball has grown from a $1 billion to a nearly $9 billion industry of the last 20 years. But the explosive revenue growth is not unique to baseball. Every other major sport has enjoyed dramatic revenue growth tied mostly to what I suspect is large part due to the right-place, right-time phenomenon: advent of the internet, fracturing of cable audiences placing a premium on live events, new technology/advertising platforms and the stadium boom.

Bud Selig has touted growing revenues under his leadership (though his responsibility for those is highly debatable). He has touted parity (though that has much to do with the devaluation of free agency in a Post-PED era when the game has trended younger). Selig’s greatest accomplishment, for me, is labor peace, which has been an important development.

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August 13, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Building trust?

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SOUTH HILLS – There has been a two-way trust issue in Pittsburgh regarding its baseball club: the city doesn’t trust the ownership to spend, and ownership doesn’t trust the city to show up at the ballpark. It had been this way for a while. It’s sort of a chicken-or-egg dilemma, though I’d argue that to whom much is given/purchased (a baseball club) more is expected.

Well, the city is doing its part this season as the Pirates have a chance to break their single-season attendance record of 2,436,139 set in 2001, the opening year of PNC Park. A year after the Pirates’ drew 2.26 million fans, the Pirates have drawn 1.8 million through 62 home dates, an average of 29,069 per game. The Pirates are out-drawing many of their small-market peers.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly predicted 2.5 million in 2014 attendance last year and told the Trib’s Karen Price that he’s optimistic the Pirates will set an attendance record this season.

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August 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: finding the unconscious Pedro … and enjoy Russell Martin, Pittsburgh

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PNC PARK – Many things have been said, many things have been written about Pedro Alvarez. I tried my best to explain what has happened to his throwing in Sunday’s paper.

We know Alvarez is taking reps at first base but here’s what I think is important to remember:

*Alvarez is not a clear upgrade at first base. Ike Davis has better career numbers and similar 2014 value vs. right-handed pitching (career wRC+ 127 vs. RHP vs. Alvarez’s 116 mark). You can argue Alvarez has more upside … but that is based mostly on faith and hope. So unless you believe he will be more relaxed and freed up to perform at first base, which is plausible, he does not provide an upgrade there.

*Alvarez is most valuable to the Pirates – and his future earnings will be greatest – if he can stay at third.

*Alvarez has actually improved in every area as a defender except one key area: making the routine throw. He’s getting to more groundballs and has made only one non-throwing error. Continue Reading →

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August 9, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Pedro on the move … across the diamond. And about that bullpen surplus

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PNC PARK – Today during batting practice, many of you got what you’ve been waiting for: Pedro Alvarez took groundballs at first base.  It should be noted he started at his usual third base position but then moved on to first. Clint Hurdle declined to address whether the club had plans to move Alvarez earlier this week. Well, the club is at the very least very curious about entertaining the idea of a position change.

Here’s the Bigfoot-like photographic evidence:

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August 6, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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A season on the brink (again)

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have been resilient in 2014.

They’ve clawed back from an eight-game-under-.500 hole when many left them for dead. I thought they were cooked when they lost Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole to injury late in the spring. They have somehow become a much worse run prevention team than they were a year ago, added few impact bats, seen home run champ Pedro Alvarez regress his way out of the lineup, and yet have again place themselves in a pennant race.

They’ve kept coming back, but that resiliency is about to be tested.

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August 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Finding a home for Pedro? Not as easy as you might think

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SOUTH HILLS – Pedro Alvarez‘s time at third base might be coming to an end.

Alvarez has started only three of the club’s last 11 games. While the Pirates have faced some left-handed pitching, he has also become too much of a liability to be throwing across the diamond in the middle of a pennant race. If you’ve lost track, the throwing error count is at 23, 10 more than the second-worst in MLB (Josh Donaldson).

Josh Harrison should be the starting third baseman going forward, and it sounds like he will be. He’s out-performing Alvarez in every way and it’s no longer a small sample as it’s August 4. Most important, he can throw the ball across the infield. Where does that leave Alvarez, the former No. 2 overall pick? It’s not an easy question.

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July 31, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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All’s quiet at the deadline. And the interesting thing that did happen.

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SOUTH HILLS – So much for that non-waiver trade deadline being too early, eh? In one of the most eventful and deadline days in recent memory, the Pirates were conspicuously quiet among the contenders.

Neal Huntington spoke with the media at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and said a lot of things you’d expect a GM to say that did not make a trade:

“We were engaged on a ton of fronts… We wanted to add to this club, we like this club…We stretched beyond comfort level… At end of the day we weren’t able to push any across line.” …

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July 30, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Could Lester be to the Pirates what Sabathia was to 2008 Brewers?

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SOUTH HILLS – With the Jon Lester trade rumors buzzing I asked a MLB talent evaluator this morning what a sensible price for Lester would be for the Pirates. His answer?

Josh Bell

Nick Kingham

and

Jacoby Jones

He said that would be “very reasonable.” Would it? For two months of Lester, in a vacuum, it is an awful lot. Too much. But we’re not operating in a vacuum. We’re operating in a seller’s market, which will be the new normal with the second wild cards, unless the trade deadline is pushed back. We’re talking about an ace (see price for Jeff Samardzija). We’re not operating in a vacuum because a piece like Lester could tilt the balance toward the Pirates in a very winnable NL Central. And in case you’re not aware, the Pirates haven’t often been in contention entering August very often.

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July 30, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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At what price does Jon Lester make sense for the Pirates?

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have emerged as a dark horse to land Red Sox ace Jon Lesteraccording to Yahoo!

The Red Sox are still asking a king’s ransom for what amounts to a two-month rental of Lester, who is a free agent after the season and would like to remain with the Red Sox. The Trib’s Rob Biertempfel reported Tuesday the Pirates have reached out to the Red Sox regarding Lester and that the Red Sox are seeking two top 10 prospects for Lester. Josh Bell is believed to be at the center of talks and the Red Sox might also be demanding Tyler Glasnow be included.

Lester is the type of player who could tip the balance in a closely-contested NL Central race. But at what cost is he worth acquiring?

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July 28, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: what the Pirates should target before the deadline

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DENVER –  History suggests that Neal Huntington will make a trade prior to  Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline, or prior to the Aug. 31 deadline.

In 2011, he picked up Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick before the deadline.

In 2012, he acquired Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez before the deadline.

Last season, he netted Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd before the Aug. 31 deadline.

Now, some of those moves worked better than others, but the point is each year the Pirates were competitive at the deadline, and Huntington attempted to bolster the roster. Will he again? (Yes, a severe seller’s market complicates continuing this trend).  If he does, this year’s acquisition might look very different.

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