Quick reminder: if you want a WHYGAVS shirt, please e-mail me by the end of the day today with the number of shirts and size you want.
For the second time this week at BP, it's suggested that the Pirates might go a little cheap with their first round pick in order to have enough money to sign Miguel Sano (this time Kevin Goldstein suggests as much in a chat, if you're not a BP subscriber and can't see the link). I'm pretty sure the Pirates are suggesting the same thing here, but I really can't wade through the Littlefield-esque language to figure out what Huntington means.
"We're not going to walk away from a guy because of his agent or financial demands only, and it's going to be a long summer," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said this week, amid preparations for the draft. "Some guys you evaluate at X, and they want X times 7, and other guys you evaluate at X, and they want X times 2. All else being equal, you go with X times 2."
It seems to me that that's what you say when you're planning on drafting a guy at least partially based on the ability to sign him.
So what does this mean, exactly? Some quick back of the envelope math says the Pirates spent about $10 million between Latin America and the draft last year; their draft hit slightly above $9 million and I don't think their Dominican and Venezuelan signings totaled up to more than $1 million (correct me if I'm wrong here). A huge chunk of that was Pedro Alvarez, who signed for about $6 million after all the legal wrangling was wrapped up, meaning the Pirates spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million on other draft picks last year.
Now, let's assume that with the fourth pick, the Pirates take Aaron Crow, who refused to sign with the Nats last year for slot money for the ninth pick ($2.15 million) and supposedly turned down an offer from the Nationals for $3.5 million, supposedly about a million less than Crow wanted. By contrast, last year's fourth overall pick, Brian Matusz, received about a $3.2 million signing bonus and pro contract, which (I think) is slightly above slot. We're all familiar with the two players taken in the four-slot the two years prior to Matusz; Danny Moskos signed for $2.5 million and Brad Lincoln signed for $2.75 million.
If we assume that picking someone like Crow, Alex White, Grant Green, or Donovan Tate (the best high school outfield prospect who also has an offer from Butch Davis to come play football in Chapel Hill) will cost $4 million or more, while drafting someone like Kyle Gibson could cost $3 million, do the Pirates make that move? I feel like that's what Huntington's setting us up for with that quote, taking a player that's rated slightly lower and saying they valued him the same as the guys who were left on the board.
Of course, there's not really any consensus at all on who the best prospects are after Strasburg and Ackley, so it'd be really hard to know that the Pirates were doing something like that. If we assume the Pirates' budget is roughly the same as last year's and we budget $4 million for Sano (and the bidding could go above that), the Pirates could have a lot less money to spend on low-round picks this year. The million dollars they could save on a first round pick could go towards signing another Quinton Miller in a late round.
Is that an acceptable path? We can certainly argue with capping the draft/Latin America budget, if that is indeed what happens. Why can't they spend a little more? Where else is the money being spent? And what happens if they do go cheap on the draft in June, only to watch Sano sign with someone else in July? That would certainly be a nightmare, both for the front office and the PR staff.
Of course, the key to remember is that we don't know what the Pirates are planning on doing right now. Since Littlefield's firing, Huntington, Coonelly, and their team have handled all of these kinds of situations properly, so why are we expecting them to screw things up now?
I asked this question about Nyjer Morgan a while back, but I think it's actually far more relevant to ask the same question about Andy LaRoche. Everyone is thrilled with the way he's hitting right now (.297/.370/.414), but a lot of is because of just how bad he looked after his debacle last year. In reality, he was the main return on Jason Bay, and his OPS is still below .800 at the end of May. I think he'll likely get over .800 this year, but exactly what does LaRoche have to do to cement himself as both a good trade return and a good long-term third baseman for the Pirates?
Let's start by comparing LaRoche's performance this year to his projections. PECOTA (subscribers only) slotted him for a .267/.358/.412 season and then basically sees him having the same season for the next six years or so with a slight increase in power. If LaRoche finishes the season with his current line, that's a pretty incredible projection (off by 12 points of OBP and 2 slugging points) given all the disparity in his big league and minor league numbers, so in that case I'll certainly defer to PECOTA on the long-range forecast.
That would make LaRoche a pretty average third baseman. He'd certainly be better than replacement and he'd be a pretty solid starter, but he wouldn't be an All-Star by any means. For comparison, Pedro Feliz, Bill Mueller, and Joe Crede have both started at third base for recent World Series champs and LaRoche's 110 OPS+ outstrips all of them in their World Series year, so if Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez live up to expectations and Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit hang around, LaRoche would probably be more than good enough at third base to make the Pirates an interesting team. People in Pittsburgh would probably still regard the trade as a flop, but they'd be wrong about that, because getting, say, four years of a solid starting third baseman plus whatever Moss, Hansen, and Morris contribute for one year of Bay thumping for a bad team before leaving for free agency isn't really a bad swap. It's not a great trade, but it certainly wouldn't be a bad one.
But what if he's better than that? Since April 16th, the day he recorded his first hit, LaRoche is hitting .333/.405/.465. Hi stats in those 38 games stretched out over 162 games would give him 47 doubles, 9 homers, and 90 RBIs to go with that line. One of the more interesting things I read about LaRoche when we traded for him was a comparison to him and Jason Kendall in his prime, before his thumb injury changed his career. For comparison, for anyone that doesn't remember a Kendall other than the slap-hitter we saw in his last few years in Pittsburgh or the giant black hole that he is with a bat now, in 1998, Kendall hit .327/.411/.473 with 36 doubles, 12 homers, and 75 RBIs. In 1998, 1999, and 2000, Kendall slugged over .470 with an OBP over .410. To that point in his career, Mickey Cochrane was his most comparable player and had he kept going at that rate, I'm not going to say he wouldn't have been a Hall of Famer.
Getting off my Jason Kendall tangent (man, I loved Jason Kendall) and back to the point, I'm not saying that I think Andy LaRoche is a future Hall of Famer, or even that he's equivalent to Jason Kendall in his prime. We just haven't seen enough from him to make any kind of judgment like that yet. Instead, I'm just trying to establish potential levels of performance and what they all mean. As it stands, I'd break it down about like this; if LaRoche keeps going at approximately the pace he's at right now for the full season (batting average around .300, OBP a good 70 points higher than that, OPS right around .800), then he's a nice player and a nice return for Bay. He's won't be a star, but he'll be a good Major Leaguer and one the Pirates can work with. If he gets into a crippling slump, which he's obviously been prone to in the past, and that line starts to sink at all, we're going to be looking for a third baseman. And if he really did throw a switch on April 16th and keeps hitting the way he has since then? It's probably time to shake Neal Huntington's hand.
Right now, I'm really interested in LaRoche's next 40 games. We've already seen him slump this year, and we've seen him kill the ball. Can LaRoche really be a .400 OBP guy that slugs .450, or is this just a good month for him? For now, I'm just happy that I can even entertain the thought. He's come a long way from the guy we saw last August and September.
First: if you haven't gotten your t-shirt order to me, please get it in soon. I'm placing the order on Friday afternoon. And if you've sent me an e-mail about a shirt order that asked me a question, check your e-mail, I'll be responding this morning.
Second: despite his attempts to please everyone with his Stanley Cup Final schedule, Gary Bettman has gone ahead and scheduled Game 7 for WHYGAVS Night.
/shakes fist threateningly in the general direction of Ontario
For now, we're going to keep in mind that most series don't go to seven games and proceed as if the Penguins will have the deal sealed by the 9th so we can enjoy baseball on the 12th. If that's not the case, we'll have to come up with an emergency backup plan that will probably involve moving WHYGAVS Night to Sunday afternoon, because frankly, I'm not missing a potential Red Wings/Penguins Game 7 for anything in the world and I doubt many of you will either. But until you hear otherwise, WHYGAVS Night is still Friday June 12th.
Kiley McDaniel at BP examines the Latin American market and agrees with the PG's assessment that the Pirates are the front-runners for Sano (subscriber only).
More Hardball takes a look at Jason Kendall's career. If the Pirates had moved him out from behind the plate after his ankle injury and prevented the thumb injury that sapped his power, who knows what could've happened.
In case any of my fellow Mercer Countians missed it, Kennedy Catholic alum (and teammate of mine on the 2002 Kennedy Catholic baseball team, the worst team in MCAC history) Nolan Reimold hit his fourth homer of the year for the Orioles last night, and it was a three-run, eleventh inning walkoff.
Maybe the best testament to Zach Duke's bounceback this year is a game like today's. Despite all of the evidence that shows that Duke is throwing the ball better this year, that his stats aren't really a mirage, that he really is growing into a good starting pitcher, as soon as he has an inning like the first inning today, I start waiting for the worst to happen. Today, like every other start of his this year, Duke has bore down and kept that other shoe from dropping. From what I could tell on the radio and the GameDay, he didn't have his best stuff today and his manager tried to sabotage him by playing the lead glove twins, Young and Vazquez, at second and short for no particular reason at all, and yet Duke still held the Cubs scoreless after a bad first inning. It's hard to ask for more from a starter.
Unfortunately, Duke was about all we had going for us today. Delwyn Young's mysterious start at second base over the white-hot Freddy Sanchez produced three strikeouts and an 0-for-4. In fact, outside of Ramon Vazquez, the Pirates only had five hits and they only managed an earned run and an unearned one when Nyjer Morgan sprinted home on a wild pitch and barely snuck around Carlos Zambrano, prompting one of the great player tantrums of the season and possibly the decade. That tirade got the Big Z ejected and it'll likely get him suspended, but it fired the Cubs up and they rallied for three runs against Jesse Chavez and Sean Burnett (two guys who the other shoe did fall for tonight) to put away the win in the eighth.
So the ten-game road, two-city road trip ends at 5-5, but only a 2-4 slide over the last six games. The .500 run is good enough to keep them sniffing around .500, but really all we learned from this road trip is that the Pirates are better than the Nationals, and not good enough to take a series from anyone in the city of Chicago. Hopefully the Bucs will enjoy their off-day tomorrow, because they end May and open up June with 17 straight games against the Astros, Mets, Braves, and Tigers. By the end of that stretch, we'll know a lot more about this club than we do now.
The Pirates close up their longest road trip of the year at 2:20 this afternoon against the Cubs. With Zach Duke on the mound, they're hoping that they can win both this series and as a result, the road trip (they're currently 5-4, but a loss today means they lose both non-National-related series). Of course, to win today they'll have to overcome John Russell's obsession with making sure that all of his professional athletes are fully rested at all times, and today Freddy Sanchez's scorching hot bat is benched in favor of Delwyn Young. This is not a ploy to keep Freddy under a certain number of plate appearances. Russell has rested Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss already in the past week. He simply hates hot streaks. That's a logical conclusion to come to, right?
I'm fed up with this dude. From today's recap in the PG:
"Bad pitches, walks and bad pitch selection," Snell said of this start. "It's going to happen. It won't be the last time. But I'll bounce back. I'm not too worried about it."
He was asked to clarify what he meant by the pitch selection.
"We just kept doubling up on certain pitches we shouldn't have thrown. Instead of throwing in, we threw away. Just being stupid. It cost us. That's it."
Oh, please, Ian. Try not to sound like you care so much. Could you possibly throw Robinzon Diaz under the bus any harder?
Sorry for the late recap again; it was a late night working on FanHouse stuff and somehow, writing up the Pirates' rain-shortened 6-1 loss wasn't high on the priority list.
In a lot of ways, it seems appropriate that the Pirates would lose 6-1 in a short gameon the night that the Penguins clinch their second straight berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. Baseball season in Pittsburgh used to run from April until late July when the Steelers' training camp begins. Now, their season has been shortened from whenever the Penguins finish playing, which is June of late, to late July. This is entirely deserved, of course, because the Penguins are young and exciting and good, while the Pirates are pretty young, but not consistently exciting and definitely not good yet. It just seemed fitting to me that when the Penguins' game ended, I looked to flip back to the Pirates and their game was unexpectedly over for all intents and purposes.
Before it did end, Freddy Sanchez picked up two hits and Andy LaRoche added a hit to extend his hitting streak to 11. Both of those things are good. Ian Snell gave up three runs in the first three innings, all crossing the plate with two outs. Then he did away with all of those pretenses and gave up three more in the fifth without recording any outs at all. Neither of those things are very good and let's face it, neither is Snell.
After last night's game, which I mostly missed but saw described in all over the place as "sloppy" and all different kinds of bad, Ian Snell and Sean Marshall get tasked with cleaning up the for the tired bullpens tonight. The Cubs have now dropped eight in a row and will (horror of horrors!) be tied with the Pirates with another loss to the Bucs tonight.
The Pirates will meanwhile hope that their bats stay hot. Freddy Sanchez has raised his average 26 points (from .294 to .320) by collecting eight hits in his last 11 at-bats while Andy LaRoche is now hitting .298 and has his OPS+ up to 110 (which is better than average, if you're unfamiliar with the stat) with a scorching .447 mark during his ten game hitting streak. The Bucs might not have much power, but they're certainly finding ways to score.