I'll be on First Inning/Minor League Notebook Radio with Tyler Hissey and Doug Gray at about 8:20 tonight to talk about the McLouth trade and what the Pirates are looking at for the draft tonight. You can check it out live at the link or an archive tonight/tomorrow when I put it in a links post.
The Nate McLouth circus takes another ridiculous turn today as the Pirate roll into Atlanta to face McLouth's new team. In fact, both McLouth and his successor in Pittsburgh, Andrew McCutchen, are batting leadoff tonight against Zach Duke and Kenshin Kawakami, respectively. It's a weird situation for a guy to face his old teammates so quickly after the trade, but it's just the way life goes sometimes.
Jack Wilson's back in a Pirate lineup that hasn't hit a home run since before McLouth was traded, while Duke faces the team that pounded him into his worst start of 2009. We've got tons of subplots tonight; way more than we normally see from a Monday night game in early June. Enjoy it all while it lasts.
With just a day to go before the 2009 draft, it's time to start looking at what the Pirates will do. I'm not going to preview specific players; I never really pay much attention to these guys until draft season and what I know about them is limited to what I read. If you're looking for that, Tim Williams at BuccoFans.com has done a great job previewing potential picks for the Pirates and if you've got time, I'd strongly suggest checking his stuff out.
Instead, I'm going to focus more closely on strategy. What are the Pirates likely to try and do? How does this draft fit into the long-term plan? What are the Pirates building towards?
All indications so far are that the Pirates are looking to take pitching in the first round. The reasoning here is simple; behind Dustin Ackely there doesn't figure to be much high-end hitting talent in this draft and Ackley's almost certain to be off the board by the time the Pirates pick at number four. If Ackley's there, I'd expect the Pirates to pick him. I don't expect him to be there and neither does anyone else, so there's some more analysis that needs to be done.
After Steven Strasburg (all but certain to be the Washington Nationals' pick at #1, in case you've been living under a rock) and Ackely are off the board, things really open up. The Padres have the third pick, and I've seen them projected to take any one of about five players, so there's no point in concerning ourselves with what they might do. If the Pirates are looking for pitching, the college pitchers available at the fourth spot might be Aaron Crow, last year's #9 pick that failed to sign with the Nationals (and a potential target for the Padres), Alex White, a righty from UNC, Tanner Scheppers, the Pirates second round pick last year that they failed to sign due to a shoulder problem, and Mike Leake, a flamethrower from Arizona State. The high school pitchers potentially available are Jacob Turner, the guy who I think goes in the #3 slot to San Diego more than anyone, Shelby Miller, Tyler Matzek, Matt Purke, and Zach Wheeler. Kyle Gibson of Missouri, who was previously thought to be the Pirates' first round target, was recently diagnosed with a fractured elbow and won't go in the four slot unless Neal Huntington wants a riot on Federal Street.
The best way to do this may be to take what the Pirates have said about the pick; that they're looking for someone that will sign quickly and go right into the system, and work backwards. I think we can rule all the high school kids out. High school pitchers drafted high are seeing more success of late, but they're still exceedingly hard to project and I'm guessing that the Pirates will likely target high school pitchers that aren't quite as highly rated as Miller, Matzek, Purke, etc. in later rounds if they fall due to signability concerns. This is the strategy they used last year to pick Quinton Miller (who signed) and Drew Gagon (who didn't). Given the amount of growing that most high school pitchers have to do, I don't really see a problem with that approach.
Most people have used the "sign quickly" statements by the Pirates to rule out Crow as a pick. I've always thought this was a bit of a mistake, because Crow doesn't have a ton of leverage this year. He can't sit a second year out. It would be insane. Crow's set his value at $4 million. If the Pirates take him, I think that's an indication that they think he's worth close to that and I wouldn't be surprised to see a deal worked out very quickly. John Perrotto has indicated that with the money that was slated for Nate McLouth this year suddenly freed, the Pirates may well do that. That's a fine move for the Pirates, I think. Crow dominated the Big 12 last year and he's rounded himself into shape very quickly with independent Fort Worth this year. There are some that rate his as the second best arm in this draft behind Strasburg and if he did sign quickly, he could probably end the season in Altoona and be with the Pirates next year unless he gets hurt.
The other two college pitching options at this point seem to be White and Scheppers. The Pirates won't draft Scheppers again. They didn't meet his bonus demands last year because of his injury history and while he seems fine now, I doubt the Pirates will mess with his shoulder injury with a first round pick this year. I watched White pitch on Saturday against ECU in the NCAA Super Regionals and I've got to say that despite his fine final line (8 1/3 innings, 12 strikeouts, 9 hits, 3 walks, 1 run/earned run), I wasn't all that impressed. White is supposedly the most projectible of the college pitchers, which means that he's put together a good run at UNC with good stuff despite not so great mechanics and scouts see that and say that if he fixes his mechanics, he could be great. The guy I saw threw mostly with his arm and had trouble locating his pitches early on in the game. My gut feeling (and remember, I'm not a scout and this was the first time I really watched him pitch this year) is that he's someone that's going to end up in the bullpen in the long-run. Messing with mechanics is always a difficult thing to predict. Maybe it'll unleash White's potential, and maybe it's something that will never quite "take."
But what if the Pirates don't go with a pitcher? That's not something that's talked about all that often and if Ackley's gone it's not all that likely, but what if the first three picks go Strasburg, Ackley, Crow, and the Pirates don't like any of the remaining arms? Or what if they're understandably slow to grab a pitcher early in the first? The first name that jumps out at me is USC shortstop Grant Green. Before the college season started this year, a lot of people had Green as the #2 prospect behind Strasburg after he hit .390/.438/.644 in his sophomore year. Since then, his stock has fallen quite a bit after a "disappointing" junior year in which he hit .374/.435/.579. The concern is that his power dropped off pretty considerably (9 homers his sophomore year just 4 this year) and that as a big guy (6'3") he might not be able to stay at short, which means the lack of power could hurt him. He's hit a lot of doubles and triples in his college career though, and as such a big guy, that power could be coming down the road. The USC team he played for this year wasn't great either, and lack of support could help explain some of the drop in his numbers.
Behind him as hitters are Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, who the Pirates seem interested but would be a huge overdraft, and high school third baseman Bobby Borchering, who was originally slotted as a low first-rounder with signability problems but has recently started moving way up the charts as a switch hitter with power.
Right now, the consensus seems to be moving towards us taking Crow, and I think that's a fine pick. There's nothing inherently wrong with taking a college pitcher if it's done right (look at Brad Lincoln this year and consider that he would've likely been at this point two years ago without his injury), and Crow is about as good as it gets outside of Strasburg, especially considering Scheppers' injury problems.
There is one situation in which I can see us taking someone other than Crow, but that has a lot to do with our two second round picks. I'll take a closer look at that scenario and thsose two picks tomorrow.
2. A finish line must be drawn.
It is not enough to say, as Huntington reiterated this week, that no one is untouchable. At some point, though maybe not now, the players -- as well as the manager and his staff -- will need to know that the carpet will not keep getting yanked out on an annual basis.
DK, who wrote that quoted link above, has said several times this week (and even in the same article that I've quoted!) that the players "saw" the Bay and Nady deals coming because of their contracts. That means that this McLouth trade makes it exactly one time that Huntington has pulled the carpet out from underneath anybody. Sure, there's been a ton of carpet-pulling going on, but most of it was done by Huntington's awful predecessor, Dave Littlefield. I've already spent far more words than necessary establishing that Huntington is not Littlefield and two years is not nearly enough time to clean up the mess that Littlefield left.
As for a finish line, well, I've got a rhetorical question for everyone that's in favor of Huntington drawing a "finish line." How did you feel about Cam Bonifay and Kevin McClatchy's "Five Year Plan"? I'm willing to bet that you feel the same way I do, which is to say that upon hearing the phrase "Five Year Plan," you grimace and chuckle sadly to yourself.
If you don't recall the plan, it was laid out by McClatchy and Bonifay in 1996 to get a competitive club into PNC Park when it opened in 2001. You know, the 2001 season where the Pirates went 62-100. What people always forget is that the plan actually got off to a fairly good start. Then, after the Pirates' unexpectedly contended for the 1997 NL Central title and sat at .500 on the 4th of July in 1999 when Jason Kendall destroyed his ankle, things took a turn for the worst. Buoyed by that .500 record and the near .500 finish in '97, Bonifay made a disastrous decision; he decided to build around a core of players that wasn't good enough to build around. As 2001 (or in this case, the finish line) approached, he panicked, overspent on bad free agents, handed out bad contracts, bungled the handling of Aramis Ramirez and ruined his Pirate career, built the worst Pirate team in recent memory, and was fired before the Five Year Plan ended.
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
There are two things that immediately stand out to me from today's disappointing loss in Houston. One is that the bullpen was well overdue for a bad outing. We expected the 'pen to be the worst part of a bad team when 2009 began, but they're really been pretty good, especially since Matt Capps has gotten himself together. Jesse Chavez and Steven Jackson gave up three runs (well, Jackson gave up all of them, but Chavez let all the inheriteds score) and that was the main difference in the Pirates' loss today. But I can't blame them for it, because once again (this is the second thing), we were shut down by Russ Ortiz.
When Russ Ortiz pitches 4 1/3 innings in relief, you should score runs off of him. The Pirates didn't and lost as a result. Besides the problems with Ortiz, Andrew McCutchen looked good with three singles, including an infield hit that came on what was basically a slow roller to second base. He hasn't really gotten a hold of a ball and sent it screaming into a gap yet, but through four games he certainly doesn't looked overwhelmed and that's a very good thing.
Ian Snell also turned in a pretty decent effort, holding Houston to three runs over six innings. He gave up eight hits, but his control seemed pretty good and he had some more life on his fastball. I definitely noticed the FSN gun popping at 94-96 several times and the Pitch FX has him down for an average of 93, which is better than the 91-92 he was averaging early this year. Hopefully the acquisition of Morton will scare some life into him, because the rotation has the potential to be much better if Karstens is the one being replaced and not Snell.
Regardless of Snell's good effort and McCutchen's three hits, the Pirates still lost two of three to a bad Houston team. Next up: a reunion with Nate McLouth and the Braves in Atlanta. And the draft! I've got a nice, long, two-part draft piece that's going to run Monday and Tuesday.
Ian Snell and Felipe Paulino take the mound at 2:05 today in what should be the opposite of a pitcher's duel. Of course, it's terrible pitchers that have given the Pirates the most trouble this year and Paulino certainly qualifies. It should be interesting to see how Ian Snell responds to the challenge that Charlie Morton presents to him now that he's in AAA. I'd guess that Morton will be in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later, and if Snell can't get his act together, it could be in his place.
How do I think Snell will respond? By walking hitters, giving up home runs, and blaming someone else for his struggles, of course.
After being dominated by Mike Hampton and the Astros on Friday, I was worried when Hunter Pence crushed a two-run homer in the bottom of the first last night. After a sweep of the Mets that included a nice team response to the McLouth trade on Thursday, going into a tailspin against the Astros is one of the worst things that could happen to the Pirates. And to my sanity.
The Pirates bounced right back, though, and put three runs up in the second and third innings, then held on for dear life as the Astros tried to battle back over the rest of the game. The big hit was Andrew McCutchen's only hit of the night, a two-run single in the second inning that put the Pirates in the lead for good. Maybe more importantly, each LaRoche brother reached base three times (two hit and a walk apiece) and Paul Maholm, Brandon Moss, and Jason Jaramillo took turns driving them in.
After the McLouth trade, a lot of people (myself included) said that the trade shouldn't actually make the Pirates as bad this year as people think. Of course, it's easy for us to say that, but they need more nights like last night for it to actually be true.
The third game of the post-McLouth era goes down tonight in Houston at 7:05 with Roy Oswalt and Paul Maholm on the mound. Andrew McCutchen is leading off again, with Andy LaRoche back in the lineup after missing a game because of his beaning.no comments
When I got home on Wednesday, I sat down, turned on my TV, and opened up my computer. In it was an e-mail from the FanHouse thread, timestamped just minutes before I sat down. I couldn't really process the words in it. "Nate McLouth traded to the Braves." The link was to the PG and Dejan's blog. I quickly processed that it was not a joke. I threw up a quick post with the same link here while more e-mails about the terms of the trade poured in and my gchat started popping, both with people asking me if the deal was real and with FanHousers asking me if I wanted the post on the deal.
While I was frantically typing, I was trying to process the deal at the same time. Three things quickly popped into my mind above the rest. The first was that I wasn't completely in love with the return. The value of all three players is obvious, but there is certainly room for debate, especially over a prospect like Gorkys Hernandez. The second was that regardless of what I thought of the return on the trade, Neal Huntington did not have similar doubts. All I've asked for years is a GM with the balls to pull the trigger on a move like this; attempting to sell high on a player that doesn't have to be traded because the minor leagues have to be rebuilt, regardless of how the fans will see this move. The third thing, which was actually the first thought that entered my mind when I read the e-mail, was, "Wow. People are going to be piiiiiissed."
I've gotten a couple angry e-mails about this trade. I expected that. I was invited to two separate, "The Pirates' front office sucks with vigor hitherto unseen" Facebook groups. I expected that. I read some blog entries tearing the trade apart. Expected that, too. What I didn't expect? An absolutely uninformed hit-job by the Post-Gazette's editorial board. If you haven't read it yet, save yourself the trouble and the fury that will likely ensue. It calls the trade a salary dump and panders to the PBC commentariat. It's not just poorly researched, it's unreasearched and worse, its thoughtless. It's inflammatory, and it ends with a clumsy, unfunny, and unoriginal Mark Cuban joke.
This blog entry is not a direct response to that. It is, instead, an alternative to the thought process that leads to the conclusion reached not just by the PG's editorial board, but by thousands upon thousands of Pirate fans. I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything, I'm simply trying to explain what I believe is happening and why I'm on board with it. I'm probably starting at the wrong place here because more than 75% of the votes in the poll on this very site indicate a favorable reaction to the trade, which is certainly skewed from the general population. Regardless, everything has to start somewhere.
The first question to ask yourself when evaluating this trade should be, "What would Dave Littlefield have done?" Littlefield, if you'll remember, spent the better part of his seven seasons on the job here doing everything in his power to finish .500. That includes, but is not limited do, moving funds from the draft and Latin America into overpriced, long-shot free agents, holding on to players with limited value past their peak value to the team rather than trading them for prospects, and trading almost all of his trade chips for spare part "Major League ready" veterans instead of building blocks. He was the most destructive force that a small-market team like the Pirates with a limited budget could have ever encountered. A small market baseball team must be managed like a chess game. Each move that's made has to be made with ten other moves in mind. Each move must be constantly building towards something greater.
Littlefield was the antithesis of this. Each move he made was made with only the present in mind with everything building towards RIGHT NOW. Ryan Howard might help the Pirates down the road, but Ty Wigginton will help us RIGHT NOW. Freddy Sanchez might be a good hitter down the road, but Joe Randa will help us RIGHT NOW. Would the man that spent his entire career attempting to finish .500 RIGHT NOW have ever traded his best player, a player signed for three years, for three prospects when the team was just four games below .500? Never in a million years.
Dave Littlefield was bad at his job because he refused to accept the restraints placed on him by Major League Baseball's economy. The Yankees can rebuild through free agency. The Pirates cannot. Littlefield got lucky in the late winter of 2003 and signed three steals on the free agency market in Kenny Lofton, Reggie Sanders, and Jeff Suppan that were only available because of some minor collusion that went on that winter. He then spent the next four off-seasons trying to replicate that feat with Jeromy Burnitz, Chris Stynes, Raul Mondesi, and Joe Randa while trying to find similar magic through trades with Sean Casey and Matt Morris.
If you're one of the people clamoring for the Pirates to spend more money, what do you expect that money to be spent on? Because a team in the Pirates' situation is going to spend that money on the players Dave Littlefield acquired. Littlefield's problem wasn't that he was bad at acquiring players, it's that he wanted to acquire those players in the first place. This off-season, where the Pirates were spurned in nearly every inquisition they made about free agents, wasn't a sign of the Pirates being unwilling to spend. It was a sign of the Pirates not being a destination on everybody's radar. Do you know where Jeromy Burnitz played after Pittsburgh? Or Chris Stynes? How many seasons did Mondesi spend in the league after the partial season he spent with the Bucs? Where's Joe Randa? How much did Neal Huntington have to pay Matt Morris to just go away? The only people willing to come to Pittsburgh right now are the people with nowhere else to turn. You want the Bucs to open up the checkbook? I'm sorry, but we tried that already. It didn't work.
Perhaps the most maddening accusation being thrown around in regards to this trade is that it was a "salary dump." Make no mistake; if the Pittsburgh Pirates can't afford Nate McLouth's three-year, $15 million contract, we might as well all pack our bags and go home now. It was a good contract and an affordable one, and that goes without mentioning the signing bonus paid up front. This trade was all about restocking the farm system, even at the cost of the Major League team's current best player. I understand frustrated fans calling the trade a salary dump, but for the editorial board of a major newspaper, and one with a very good sports department at that, to make such a baseless accusation is exactly what newspapers accuse bloggers of doing all the time. It's ridiculous, and it does nothing except add fuel to the fire of the fans that already thought that way, even though it's far from the truth
There is plenty of room for debate about the Huntington/Coonelly management team. Are they properly evaluating their assets and their returns when they're making these trades? Are they interested in the right sort of player to rebuild this organization? Is their strict player-development team the best way to bring future assets through the minors? Do they have a blueprint right now beyond acquiring as much talent as possible? These are all interesting questions that I don't know the answers to. This front office has a plan and that puts them light-years ahead of the previous front office, but all plans aren't good plans. This is what our discussion should be focused on, whether it's here, on a message board, at water coolers, or in the newspaper. But throwing up your hands, calling the trade a salary dump, and saying, "Things just never change for the Pirates," is lazy and thoughtless. It doesn't get anyone anywhere and it needs to stop.