My NL MVP ballot

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Earlier today, Joey Votto snagged his first NL MVP award. I was one of the 32 voters for the award and, as I do every year, I make my full ballot public after the winner is announced. Each voter listed 10 players, in order of preference.

Not every BBWAA member votes for MVP. It’s up to each chapter president to decide which members will vote for what award. This was the second year in a row I voted for NL MVP. In previous years, I’d voted for NL rookie of the year, NL Cy Young and AL manager of the year.

My ballot was based on statistical analysis, input from other beat writers, players and coaches as well as, in some instances, my gut feeling about how well the player fits the criteria.

My 2010 NL MVP ballot:

1. Joey Votto, Reds; 2. Albert Pujols, Cardinals; 3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; 4. Ryan Howard, Phillies; 5. Adrian Gonzalez, Padres; 6. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies; 7. Brian Heyward, Braves; 8. Roy Halladay, Phillies; 9. Ryan Braun, Brewers; 10. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

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De la Rosa is Bucs’ top target

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I’ve heard from a couple sources, inside and outside of the team, that left-hander Jorge de la Rosa is atop the Pirates’ free-agent shopping list this winter.

De la Rosa, who’ll turn 30 in April, would likely be the No. 1 pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation next season. The Pirates are seeking all sorts of pitching help, but would love to retool their rotation with more-reliable arms.

He won’t come cheaply — the Pirates would have to offer a multi-year deal (de la Rosa is seeking at least a four-year contract) and will command at least $11 million a year. Also, since he’s a Type A free agent, the Pirates would give up a second-round pick in the 2011 draft.

This past season, de la Rosa went 8-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 20 starts for Colorado. He’s a power pitcher — he averaged 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings this year — something the Pirates have lacked for years.

Over three seasons with the Rockies, de la Rosa had a respectable 4.49 ERA at hitter-friendly Coors Field. However, he’s never had an ERA below 4.20 and has never pitched more than 185 innings in a season.

The Rockies, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers also are interested in him.

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Hurdle has seen both ends of it

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Clint Hurdle has been in this spot before. Earlier today, he was introduced as the Pirates’ 39th manager during a media confab at PNC Park.

“I have been on the front end of these press conferences. I have been on the back end of these press conferences,” said Hurdle, who was hired as the Rockies’ skipper in 2002 and fired early in the 2009 season.

“The guy coming in always says, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to do that.’ If you replay the tape, the guy before him said the same things. I have respect for the men who came before me. I am well aware of the history. I know where the Pirates organization has been, I know where it’s traveled, where it is now and where we want to go.”

Here are some other highlights from the presser:

»»» Hurdle has gotten inspiration from JoePa: I’ve been carrying this quote in my pocket for 12 years. It’s very appropriate today that I share it with you. It’s from a football coach from down the road. His last name is Paterno and he’s had a little bit of success. Joe said, ‘You’ve got to believe deep in yourself that you’re destined to do great things.’ Three times, I’ve been involved in the last game of the season — as a player, a coach and a manager. I’ve been a part of losing that game three times. The fourth time is what my eyes are on. Yes, it’s down the road. How far, I don’t know. But the fourth time will be a charm.”

»»» Hurdle and his family plan to buy a house in the Pittsburgh area — a strong sign he intends to be around a while. Ex-manager John Russell owns two homes, but neither is in Pennsylvania. One’s in Texas and the other is near the Pirates’ spring training site in Bradenton, Fla.

»»» Hurdle grinned — he was expecting this question — when asked whether he’ll have the authority to hire his own coaching staff or if he must retain a coach or two from Russell’s gang.

“Sometimes when guys are hired, they bring six or seven guys with them,” Hurdle said. “I don’t know what kind of message that sends to the player development staff. It’s a huge part for me to make sure there are people internally who we keep in place or look at first to promote from within. It would send a huge message to our player development personnel. It would establish some continuity (because) there’s familiarity there that I don’t have. We didn’t get any guarantees. We just talked about getting the right people in the right spots. There are a couple people I’d like to bring in who I trust and who I think would be a very good fit for the Pirates organization.”

In tomorrow’s Trib, I’ll identify three likely members of Hurdle’s staff. Only one is from outside the club.

»»» GM Neal Huntington was asked what separated Hurdle from the other job finalist, Jeff Banister: “There really was no single factor. It’s the person he is, the fit, the intelligence, the passion, the commitment to doing it the right way, the leadership, the presence, the charismatic personality, the intensity, the ability to communicate, the fact that he’s been there and done that in a market very similar to this one.”

»»» Owner Bob Nutting danced around a direct answer when asked if Hurdle’s hiring came with an assurance of a significant player payroll boost: “We didn’t talk in terms of guarantees,” Nutting said. “We talked in terms of commitment, making sure he understood the direction we’re headed. We have a commitment to create a team that can compete. He understands that plan. He understands we’ve been infusing talent into the organization. And he’s enthusiastic about the core of players we have. He knows we need to bring in (more talent). Having Clint on board is a critical step, as he provides the leadership, energy and enthusiasm to help this young team jell together and fulfill their potential.”

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Russell looks to O’s for job

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Former manager John Russell could have another job before the Pirates even hire his replacement.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Russell on Friday interviewed with the Baltimore Orioles for a spot on manager Buck Showalter’s coaching staff. The Orioles need a bench coach and a third base coach. Those two coaches also could handle the duties of infield instructor and catchers coach. Russell was a catcher during his playing career.

The Pirates fired Russell on Oct. 4 and have not yet named a replacement. The two finalists are Clint Hurdle, who also has interviewed for the Mets’ manager job, and Jeff Banister.

Among the other candidates for a spot on the Orioles’ coaching staff is former Pirates coach/minor league instructor Rich Donnelly.

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Duchscherer tempting, but …

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Free agent Justin Duchscherer wants to pitch as a starter, and the Pirates have holes in their rotation. Duchscherer can be had for less than $2 million a year, and the Pirates are a, ahem, value-minded club.

A perfect fit! Draw up the contract. Schedule the press conference.

Not so fast.

The Pirates took a long look at Duchscherer last winter, but he wound up re-signing with the A’s for $1.75 million. The right-hander made five starts and went 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA, then went down with another season-ending injury.

Durability is a huge concern. Duchscherer missed most of the 2007 season with a gimpy right hip. He sat out all of 2009 while recovering from elbow surgery and  battling clinical depression. This past season, he went down with a bad left hip. Over his past two seasons as a full-time starter (2008 and ’10), Duchscherer has made a total of 27 starts and pitched just 169 innings.

Still, an injury-riddled past doesn’t necessarily mean the Pirates will rule out Duchscherer. Remember, last year they picked up Aki Iwamura (who was hampered by a bum knee) and signed free-agent pitcher Neal Cotts (who had setbacks while on the mend from Tommy John surgery and never pitched for the Pirates).

If he somehow manages to stay healthy next year, Duchscherer could end up being a bargain for some team. Duchscherer’s career splits are pretty much the same as a starter (14-11, 3.01 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 32 games/194.1 innings) or as a reliever (19-14, 3.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 192 games/260.1 innings) — solid numbers, either way.

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Minor league free agents

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Baseball America today listed all 533 minor league free agents — that is, players not on a 40-man roster by Nov. 6 who have at least six years service time while still bound by their first minor league contract.

Pirates fans should be sure to look over the list (http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/?cat=7) because one or two — or more — of those players might turn up at PNC Park next summer. Over the past couple of years, the Pirates have signed quite a few minor league FAs — as Garrett Jones proved, it’s an inexpensive way to sometimes catch lightning in a bottle. “We’re aggressive in this market and we always will be,” GM Neal Huntington said.

There are 19 players from the Pirates’ farm system on the list:

Pitchers — Derek Hankins (Double-A Altoona), Jean Machi (Triple-A Indianapolis), Dustin Molleken (Altoona), Jeremy Powell (Indianapolis), Tyler Yates (Indianapolis), Dana Eveland (Indianapolis), Corey Hamman (Indianapolis)

Catchers — Hector Gimenez (Altoona), Erik Kratz (Indianapolis), Milver Reyes (High-A Bradenton), James Skelton (Bradenton)

Infielders — Brian Myrow (Indianapolis), Rodolfo Cardona (Bradenton), Yung Chi Chen (Altoona), Jose de los Santos (Altoona), Doug Bernier (Indianapolis)

Outfielders — Mitch Jones (Indianapolis), Kevin Melillo (Indianapolis), Jonathan Van Every (Indianapolis)

Note: Outfielder Brandon Moss and pitcher Steve Jackson also are free agents. They don’t appear on BA’s list because, as Huntington explained, “They both elected free agency after their second outright, so, technically, they are a different type of free agent.”

»»» There are plenty of familiar names on the list of minor league free agents. There are former stars (Mark Prior, Dontrelle Willis) guys who’ve put in some solid time in the majors (Kaz Matsui, Willy Taveras, Jason Isringhausen, Jacque Jones, Chad Cordero, Brett Tomko) and guys who never quite lived up to their hype (Dallas McPherson, Josh Barfield).

There also are a few notable ex-Buccos: J.R. House, Chris Shelton, Brad Eldred, Robinzon Diaz, Jonah Bayliss, Ryan Vogelsong and John Van Benschoten.

»»» Eric Seidman, writing today for Baseball Prospectus, put Andrew McCutchen on his list of 16 “sneaky good” players in the NL. According to Seidman, McCutchen “legitimately deserves any accolades sent in his direction and much more publicity than he currently receives. He might be the MVP of this group.”

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Pearce gets fourth option

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MLB granted first baseman Steve Pearce a fourth minor league option, which means he will go into the 2011 season with one remaining.

This year, ankle and knee injuries limited Pearce to just 52 games — 35 with Triple-A Indianapolis, 15 with the Pirates and two in a rehab stint with Class A Bradenton. He had season-ending surgery in August and last week was activated from the 60-day disabled list.

Pearce should be ready to go for the start of spring training, when he will battle for at least a backup/utility role. His chances of making the club would improve if either Delwyn Young is non-tendered or Garrett Jones is traded.

»»» GM Neal Huntington tells me that pitcher Kevin Hart (shoulder) and first baseman Jeff Clement (knee) “are on schedule” with their recoveries. Both should return to action sometime early on in spring training.

»»» Outfielder John Bowker, who was hampered by knee pain toward the end of the season, did not need surgery. Bowker’s knee improved with rest and rehab, and he’ll be ready for spring training.

»»» A few days ago, I errantly reported here that pitcher Sean Gallagher could become a minor league free agent this winter. In fact, Gallagher is still under the Pirates’ control, is on Indy’s roster, and will be a bullpen option in 2011.

»»» There’s been some buzz lately about the Pirates making a run at free agent Adrian Beltre. He would be a good fit in their infield and provide some sorely needed thump in the lineup. But remember that Beltre turned down a $10 million option to become a free agent, so his agent, Scott Boras, is eyeing a much bigger payday. Even if the Pirates expand their payroll into the $50 million range, would they commit 20 percent of it to one player?

I’m sure the Pirates have done their due diligence and given Boras a ring about Beltre, as they’ve already done (and will continue to do) for several other players. But it might be a stretch to expect them to become serious players when the bidding gets hot and heavy in another few weeks.

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Thomas returns, Moss likely gone

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The Pirates re-signed lefty Justin Thomas to a minor league contract for 2011. This past season, Thomas went 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in 12 relief outings.

Last week, Thomas was among five players outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis. First baseman Jeff Clement did not have enough service time to refuse the assignment, so he went to Indy. Outfielder Brandon Moss and pitchers Steven Jackson and Sean Gallagher are able to become free agents.

It’s unlikely Moss, who was one of the key pieces in the Jason Bay trade in 2008, will return to the Pirates. He lost the right field job in spring training this year and spent most of the season at Indy. Gallagher, who’s playing winter ball in Venezuela, wants to be a starter and will go elsewhere if the Pirates offer only a bullpen role.

»»» Clint Hurdle, one of two finalists for the Pirates’ manager job, will interview Tuesday with the Mets. Hurdle managed five seasons in the Mets’ farm system before jumping to the Rockies organization in 1994.

»»» Former Pirates outfielder Al Oliver and former GM Ted Simmons are among 12 candidates on the ballot for the Hall of Fame expansion era committee.

In order to be inducted into the Hall, Oliver will need support from at least 12 of the 16 voters. Voting will be conducted during MLB’s annual Winter Meetings on Dec. 6-9 in Orlando, Fla.

Oliver had a .303 batting average, 2,743 hits and 1,326 RBI in 18 seasons with the Pirates and six other major league clubs.

Simmons was hired as GM in 1992. He resigned after having a heart attack in June 1993. Saturday, he was hired as a senior advisor to Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

Also on the ballot are former players Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John and Rusty Staub; former manager Billy Martin; and executives Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner.

Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith are among the 16 voters on the committee.

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Duke battles delivery flaw

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For the second year in a row, lefty Zach Duke had a bumpy second half of the season.

Over his final 10 starts this season, Duke went 3-5 with a 6.57 ERA. In 50 2/3 innings, he allowed 70 hits and 19 walks. “There were times I got a little lost within myself, really just searching for anything on the mound,” Duke admits.

However, Duke went into the offseason knowing what he needs to fix. Ray Searge, who became pitching coach midway through the season, spotted a flaw in Duke’s delivery.

“He had too much of a pause when he made his turn,” Searge said. “He would start smooth, then stop and then have to go zero to 60. He’d be going out too quick, so his body was ahead of his arm. At least now we know what the disease was, and we have the cure.”

With his timing out of sync, Duke became even more of a contact pitcher. His batting average against this past season was .321, the second-highest mark of his career (behind .359 in 2007).

“My arm needs to be a little quicker,” Duke said. “What (the pause) did was make me easier to time. If you look at a guy like Cliff Lee, who has a very short arm action and a very quick delivery, guys just don’t seem to catch up with his fastball. I used to have a little bit of that, and that’s what we’re trying to get back to.”

»»» There’s been a time change for one of the Pirates’ spring training games. The March 18 game against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., will start at 7:05 p.m.

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