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November 14, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Batman returns

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SOUTH HILLS –  As you are probably aware of by now, A.J Burnett returned to the Pirates on Friday, signing a one-year, $8.5 million deal. He turned down a $12.75 million option to remain with the Phillies.

The Pirates benefited from an usual market for a free agent pitcher. The Pirates were the only team Burnett told his agent to negotiate with. Said Burnett’s agent Darek Braunecker: “It’s the only place he wanted to play in 2015. He instructed me to negotiate exclusively with the Pirates and thankfully there was mutual interest.”

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November 13, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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MVP decision is done. Busy offseason looms.

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Do I harbor at least a little bit of bias against a pitcher winning the league MVP award? Yeah, I suppose I do. Position players are on the field pretty much every day, and they can influence the outcome of a game in so many ways — at the plate, in the field, on the bases, presence in the lineup.
I don’t say that to diminish the importance of a starting pitcher. I’ve included at least one pitcher on each of the half-dozen or so MVP ballots I’ve turned in over the past few seasons. But I’ve always felt it would take a truly historic, knock-my-socks-off kind of performance for a pitcher reach the top of my list. Clayton Kershaw came darn close to doing that this year, but in the end I still put Andrew McCutchen’s name in the top spot. Continue Reading →

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November 13, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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The little trade that could … save 2015

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SOUTH HILLS – Yes, the Pirates have voids in the rotation. Yes, first base is unsettled and Andrew McCutchen believes it’s a priority need. Yes, the bullpen regressed greatly in 2014. But the fact is if Russell Martin is playing elsewhere in 2015, which seems very likely, catcher was by far the biggest void for the 2015 Pirates. And if you’ve examined the free agent at catcher beyond Martin, you understand there are no other starting caliber catchers out there. There’s a Niagara Falls-like drop off.

The Pirates were likely going to have to go the trade route to improve their bolster their catching situation for next season, and they might have made a very important acquisition in acquiring Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli on Wednesday night.

It’s a big ‘if’ given his injury history, but if he remains healthy, Cervelli can be an important part of the 2015 Pirates.

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November 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Should baseball push for a franchise tag? And are the Pirates a mystery team?

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SOUTH HILLS – I’m not sure the qualifying offer is helping anyone.

The qualifying offer is now 0-for-34. None of the twelve free agents tagged with the qualifying offer – a one-year deal of the average of the top 125 salaries in the game – accepted it yesterday. That means no free agent, none of the 34 tagged with it, since its implementation have accepted it.

The QO was part of the last collective bargaining agreement. It was designed in part to give clubs  – particularly small-market clubs – compensation should they lose one of their top players in free agency. It isn’t working as planned. It isn’t really working at all.

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November 10, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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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