Monday Mop-Up Duty: Halfway home

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SOUTH HILLS – Technically we’re a game beyond the halfway point, but with the first three months of the season down, and three months to go, the Pirates have weathered a trying first half of the season with a 42-40 mark.

Given everything that has happened — that Francisco Liriano has one win, that Gerrit Cole has missed nearly a month of time, that the bullpen has blown 14 saves – it’s pretty remarkable that the Pirates are above .500. Remember this was a club that was once eight games below .500. The Pirates were below .500 when they  lost Liriano and Cole to injuries. Frankly, I’m surprised the Pirates are above water, and so is so is a key decision maker.

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Transaction analysis: is the Grilli trade the new Hanrahan trade?

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SOUTH HILLS – Some shocking news came down an hour before first pitch tonight as the Pirates traded their melt-down-prone reliever Jason Grilli for the Angles’ melt-down-prone reliever Ernesto Frieri. At first glance it appears this is a classic change-of-scenery, we’ll-give-you-our-problem-for-your-problem trade. But this trade is a clear win for the Pirates.

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That swing

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SOUTH HILLS – Gregory Polanco‘s swing has been compared to just about every great left-handed hitter of the modern era from Ken Griffey Jr. to the David Ortiz. I think you have to go back to the 1970s and 1980s to find something like it. One beautiful Polanco swing, Polanco’s first PNC Park home run, was the decisive action in the Pirates’ 5-2 win Thursday. That swing  left a sellout PNC Park crowd buzzing. And with the Mets in town, the swing invoked memories of another great left-handed bat in the PNC Park press box.

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The cornerstone that wasn’t

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SOUTH HILLS – Remember when Jose Tabata was supposed to be part of the Pirates’ future? The former Yankee farmhand and top 30 overall prospect came over in the Xavier Nady deal in 2009 and was the first player under Neal Huntington – not Andrew McCutchen – signed to an arbitration buyout deal, a six-year, $15 million deal with three club options.

On Tuesday, Tabata – not Travis Snider or Clint Barmes – was somewhat surprisingly out-righted to Triple-A, clearing irrevocable waivers and accepting the minor league assignment.

So what went wrong? And why was it Tabata who was banished?

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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Trade Pedro?

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SOUTH HILLS – One of the questions posed to the distinguished and charismatic panel on WXPI’s Final Word last night — yes I was involved — was the following: should the Pirates trade Pedro Alvarez?

It wasn’t a surprising question given the frustrating, up-and-down nature of Alvarez’s game and that we’re charged with attempting to create interesting television.

The question is made more timely now that many think Alvarez might have a legit replacement in Josh Harrison. (Though it’s still too early to evaluate whether Harrison is an everyday player, imo). So is it time to explore trading Alvarez?

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One small step for a manager, a giant leap for man(agerial)kind

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SOUTH HILLS – I would not be surprised if we see Jason Grilli relieved of closing duties, at least temporarily, after Pirates manager Clint Hurdle didn’t exactly come out in strong support of his embattled closer, following Grilli’s fourth blown save of the season Thursday. (The Pirates’ MLB-worst 14th blown save.)

Hard to believe it was the one-year anniversary of Grilli’s first blown save of 2013. Grilli opened last year with 25 consecutive saves before allowing a home run to Jay Bruce on June 19, 2013 at Great American BallPark. The Pirates had not lost a game when leading after eight innings until that point.

Asked about Grilli’s ninth-inning status: “I’ll talk to who I need to talk to: the coaches involved, Neal (Huntington),” Hurdle said. “We’ll make a decision that we feel is best for the ballclub.”

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The 25 most valuable Pirates

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SOUTH HILLS  – Back by popular demand is the Pirates’ 25 most valuable player list, which is essentially a trade value ranking.

This is not a list tied only to 2014 value, rather, it’s all-encompassing value ranking. The list takes into account present skills, future projection, age, contract (cost) and years of club control.

It contains a wide range of players from current Pirates’ regulars to prospects yet to play in Low-A ball, from ages 31 (Russell Martin) to 17 (Cole Tucker). It’s a balance between current production and future hopes.

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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Polanco-palooza

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MIAMI – I wondered in this space earlier this month if Gregory Polanco could be Yasiel Puig.

No, he’s not going to be a demonstrative, serial bat-flipper like Puig, but could Polanco be the rare type of impact rookie that helps turn around a season? Impact rookies are unusual but after observing Polanco’s first week we might just be witnessing the rare type of player who is above average – and maybe great – from his first days in the show. If you had any doubts, Polanco should have erased them. He’s special.

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Pittsburgh, we have a problem

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SOUTH HILLS – This was supposed to be a blog entry recapping the feel-good story that was Gregory Polanco Day at PNC Park. (The Polanco statue to be unveiled next week  on the river walk). Baseball Gods usually laugh at your plans, though. And while it was Polanco’s day at PNC Park, it really become the story of Francisco Liriano’s left oblique.

An injury to Liriano was about the last thing the Pirates needed to see (outside a shoulder injury to Gerrit Cole). The reality is, the Pirates might not see Liriano until late July. The reality is that puts their 2014 hopes on the brink.

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Happy Polanco Day (though it comes under gray skies)

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SOUTH HILLS – In case you retire early and rise late, Gregory Polanco will be called up today and is expected to make his major league debut against the Cubs. (Though the Cubs do have a lefty scheduled). Polanco breaking his own call-up news via Twitter …

Is he ready? That’s the key question. Will he thrive and not just survive? Not only do the Pirates need an impact player now to stay on the outskirts of the postseason race, they need to maximize the value of Polanco’s controllable years.

Continue reading Happy Polanco Day (though it comes under gray skies)

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