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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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January 17, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Unknowns mark opportunity with Kang … and a $90 million payroll?

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SOUTH HILLS – In some ways, there’s more unknown with Jung Ho Kang then any high-profile, international free agent before him.

After all, there has never been a KBO position player to be posted and transition to the major leagues. So while the Pirates’ analytics department also has statistical models for how Japanese and Cuban professional hitters’ numbers might translate to major league statistics, there’s no historical precedent to work off of regarding Kang and KBO translations.

And then there is this … Continue Reading →

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January 15, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Does Alvarez’s absence matter? And Fixing Morton

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CLARK BUILDING -Much has been made about Pedro Alvarez‘s absence from the Pirates’ January minicamp in Florida this week.

While he’s not the only regular missing, other regulars not in attendance are not in the process of learning new positions and coming off dreadful seasons.

You might think Alvarez would want to put his best foot forward, look engaged and show ownership of first base and the process of learning the position –  but on the other hand baseball is a grind, it’s a long season, and the idea of January minicamp seems like a little much to some on the outside (and I’m sure to players, too). Continue Reading →

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January 14, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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Mercer ready for Kang’s challenge

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JordyMercer2BRADENTON, Fla. — Jordy Mercer‘s Twitter feed blew up Tuesday night after free-agent infielder Jung-ho Kang fired a shot across the bow during a press conference at Incheon Airport in Seoul.
Kang is on his way to Pittsburgh to finalize a contract with the Pirates. Including the posting fee, the Pirates seem ready to commit at least $21 million for a four-year deal. For a budget-conscious club like the Pirates, that’s a lot to pay for a potential bench guy. Kang, 27, was a power-hitting shortstop for the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization. With the Pirates, he might be used at short, third base or second base. Continue Reading →

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January 12, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up: The parity myth. Burnett and aging, Kang, and more …

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SOUTH HILLS – As we near the climax of the NFL season, there is no denying the sport’s incredible popularity but there is some myth busting to do. The NFL’s hegemonic status is often cited as partly tied to competitive balance. Parity. How often do we hear a commentator note “You never know what’s going to happen on any given Sunday.” Actually, you do if we’re talking about what teams will be playing in January.

Take a look at the NFL’s final four:

The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots have made the playoffs in 12 of the last 13 seasons. The Packers have made six straight playoff appearances and the Seattle Seahawks have been in the playoffs in 9 of the last 12 seasons.

While the NFL doesn’t produce dynasties with NBA-like frequency, many of teams and faces of January are almost always familiar. If it is parity you seek, you should really be following another sport … like baseball.

Continue Reading →

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January 7, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Mr. Automatic: Jordy Mercer

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SOUTH HILLS – Jordy Mercer is probably better than you think he is.

He certainly exceeded my expectations in 2014. He was just a slightly-below-average offensive player playing shortstop, while becoming a much more consistent defender. In fact, he became one of the better defense shortstops in baseball finishing sixth in defensive runs saved (8) among shortstops. It was defense that in large part made Mercer worth 2 Wins Above Replacement.

While he has average, perhaps slightly below average range, range, he improved the reliability of his hands, and he has one remarkable tool: throwing accuracy.

Continue Reading →

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January 6, 2015
by Joe Rutter


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Rutter: Coming around on Tim Raines — my HOF ballot

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Tim Raines (Getty Images)

Tim Raines (Getty Images)

Last year, I broke form and voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

This year, I added another holdover candidate to my ballot: Tim Raines.

With previous years’ Hall of Fame discussions centering on Steroid Era players and “who used” and “who didn’t use,” I think Raines — and, specifically, the element of speed he brought to the game — was overlooked. I was as guilty about that as others.

Now, with baseball evolving back to the game of my youth — pitching, defense, an increased emphasis on base running and speed — I think it’s time for Raines to get the recognition he deserves. Raines’ 808 steals rank eighth all time. He led the NL four consecutive seasons. But he wasn’t a one-dimensional Billy Hamilton-type player. He had a four-season stretch of batting .309, .320, .334 and .330. That .334 average was enough to bring Raines his only batting title and came in his sixth of seven consecutive seasons as an NL All-Star with the Expos.

Raines’ total dipped from 52.2 percent in 2013 to 46.1 in 2014. Raines jumped to 55 percent in 2015.

As for the rest of my ballot, I voted for first-timers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Randy Johnson, plus holdovers Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza.

Joe Rutter’s ballot:

  • Pedro Martinez
  • John Smoltz
  • Randy Johnson
  • Craig Biggio
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Mike Piazza
  • Tim Raines
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens

Rob Biertempfel’s ballot (His explanation can be found here.)

  • Pedro Martinez
  • John Smoltz
  • Randy Johnson
  • Craig Biggio
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Curt Schilling
  • Lee Smith
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