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Inside the apartment of GENERIC DAMAGED GOODS PLAYER WITH SIGNIFICANT POTENTIAL OF REBOUND (GDGPWSPOR). A cell phone rings. GDGPWSPOR glances at the phone and is puzzled.
GDGPWSPOR: (muttering) 412 area code? Who do I know from there?
He answers the phone. On the other end is a friendly, but strangely stilted voice.
GDGPWSPOR: Uh, h-
VOICE: This is Neal Huntington, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates!
GDGPWSPOR: Oh, uh, hi N-
VOICE: I know you probably have no interest in playing for the Pirates-
GDGPWSPOR attempts to interject with an agreement but the voice continues talking unabated.
VOICE: -but we are interested in you!
GDGPWSPOR: Am I talking to a person?
There is a pause just long enough to be uncomfortable.
GDGPWSPOR: Are you st-
VOICE: No! No! We completely understand you want to wait for better offers.
VOICE: But if it gets to be January and you don't have a job, just remember the Pittsburgh Pirates will be interested in you!
VOICE: I'm sure we'll be talking again!
There is tape that hisses on the other end of the line, a beep, and the phone hangs up.
Over at Sports Illustrated today, Baseball America's John Manuel has an article ranking the five best and worst farm systems in baseball. Honestly, I considered it kind of a victory not to see the Pirates in the bottom five, but Manuel actually ranks them in the 6-15 range with the "Best of the Rest" that are just outside of the top five.
That might not seem particularly great, but geez, two years ago we had Andrew McCutchen, Steve Pearce, Neil Walker, and Brad Lincoln was just coming off of TJ surgery and we had no idea what we had there. Today, Pearce and Walker are non-entities, McCutchen is no longer a prospect, and the system is now in the top half of baseball's, based mostly on players acquired since Neal Huntington was hired in 2007.
Seriously, this encourages me to no end. I feel like whistling through the halls right now. We've come a long way in two years.
Frank Coonelly's chat on Pirates.com, 2 December 2009: As has been noted in several newspaper reports, Rick Ankiel is a free agent who we have some interest in. Rick certainly had an off-year at the plate for the Cardinals in 2009, but we believe that the Pirates could provide Rick with an opportunity to re-establish himself. We have let Rick's representative know of our interest.
Besides a slew of recovering/undervalued pitchers, the one name that keeps coming up in relation to the Pirates during this young offseason is Rick Ankiel. As far as I can tell, he's the only position player that the Pirates really have confirmed interest in. He's certainly the only one to be mentioned in more than passing.
In a vacuum, I like Ankiel. Even though he's an old 30 (his season age in 2010 will be 30, but his 31st birthday is in July), he's only been a position player since 2005 and he's made incredible strides since then before taking a step back in 2009. That makes him somewhat of an unknown quantity, but he did manage to slug over .500 with 30+ homers in the course of about one season combined between 2007 and 2008 with the Cardinals. Throw in his phenomenal arm, good glove, poor 2009 season, and tendency to get injured and even with Scott Boras pulling the strings there's a chance we've found a guy that will be a real bargain for someone.
The problem is that the Pirates do not exist in a vacuum. Centerfield is locked down for both the immediate and forseeable future. Lastings Milledge didn't blow anyone away last year, but he did enough to earn an extended look and the Pirates can't just ignore 25 year olds with his skillset and the Pirates would be foolish not to play him at one of the two corners. At the other corner, Jose Tabata is probably a full year of Triple-A away, but the Pirates can't shelve Garrett Jones after his amazing rookie year. That means he'd have to play first base, which means that Jeff Clement, who's 26 now with a nice pedigree as a minor league hitter, would be nosed out.
I'm not here trying to argue that any or all of these guys are or will be better players than Ankiel. If Ankiel gets healthy, there's more than a good chance that he'll be a better hitter than Milledge and Clement in 2010 and it's entirely possible that that won't change. But we also don't know that and given Milledge and Clement's ages (not too young, but young enough), skillsets, and the years the Pirates control them, the team needs to find out what they have in both of them. The upgrade Ankiel would provide might be noticeable, but it wouldn't be dramatic and it certainly wouldn't be enough to push the Pirates as assembled over the top.
So why the interest in Ankiel? As a one-year placeholder for Tabata, even at the cost of playing time for Clement? With Boras as his agent, it'll be a cold day in hell before Ankiel signs a one-year deal even in this depressed market and given his dealings with Boras in the past, Neal Huntington must already know that. Any multi-year commitment to Ankiel is dangerous for a team in the Pirates' position. On one hand it might give the team leverage to trade him in July if he's hitting well, but one the other it might saddle the team with an unncessary contract in 2011 if he's injured and underperforming again. Even with the Pirates' currently low payroll, that's not a risk most small-market clubs need to be taking. It's possible the Pirates are thinking about him in this fashion, but that seems unlike mostly everything else they've done to this point.
There are really only two reasons I can see for the interest in Ankiel. The first is that Neal Huntington is about to blow our minds with his offseason and that he'll sign Duchscherer and Putz, flip Doumit, Duke, and Capps to new teams for unfathomably good returns including a starting shorstop, and sign Ankiel, and magically turn the Pirates into 2010 contenders. I like Neal Huntington a lot, but that feels like a big gamble. I mean, really big. You won't believe just how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you might think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's peanuts to this gamble. And now I'm exagerrating for the purpose of quoting Douglas Adams. Let's move along.
The other option is just that the Pirates legitimately like Ankiel as a long-term option. I guess that's possible, but given his injury history it feels a little unlikely. It's just that there's no real logical way to play Ankiel without taking at-bats away from someone that, from where we stand today, should have them in 2010. Ankiel is an interesting player and I understand his appeal, but I just don't see this team as being at a point in this rebuilding process where we can safely say, "This guy might not have what we need, let's go outside the organization and get someone who does." We might be there in a year, but I just don't think we're there yet.
Let's keep the damaged goods theme going! DK reports the Pirates are interested in Noah Lowry while Jerry Crasnick says they're intersted in JJ Putz (via MLB Trade Rumors, because Crasnick's link is Insider). Lowry is in the Duchscherer mold; he was a promising young pitcher but he's had all kinds of arm trouble and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2007, plus there's some ugliness over a misdiagnosis of the injury (alleged by his agent). He's probably not as good as Duchscherer and I have some reservations about a guy that hasn't pitched in such a long time, but if he's really healthy he might be worth a shot. Putz is coming off of elbow problems and an ugly season with the Mets. He probably wants to close, which means that he's pretty unlikely to end up here unless Matt Capps and Joel Hanrahan go elsewhere.
Whether or not these guys or Wright or Duchscherer end up in Pittsburgh in 2010 (I'm leaning towards "not" at this point; I don't see anyone signing with the Pirates until after the New Year and closer to spring training unless we make some kind of silly money offer), it's pretty clear that the Pirates are looking to upgrade their pitching staff for 2010.
Also, the Blue Jays are interested in Ryan Doumit, but that doesnt' fit with the rest of the post.
One of my favorite time killers on the internet is Sporcle. Because I think everyone should have the same procrastination addiction as me, I've started making Pirate-related quizzes. The first one is to name every player that appeared in a game for the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates. Share your score in the comments, though avoid them if you haven't taken the quiz yet and don't want to be spoiled. If this is well-received, I can make it a regular feature.
In the past 24 hours or so, Dejan at the Post-Gazette has reported that the Pirates are interested in Justin Duchscherer, while the Kansas City Star is reporting that the Pirates are interested in Jamey Wright.
Duchscherer would be a great pickup for the Pirates if he's physically healthy and all of his lingering injury and depression issues coupled with the potentially slow market could mean that he's a little more realistic than some of our past offseason targets. That will be dictated by who else is interested in him, but if there are no obvious choices for him and we have to pay a little extra to go out and get him, that's something the Pirates have the ability to do this winter with their low payroll. So long as we don't make him a Jeff Suppan offer, I'd be OK with that.
Wright is considerably less interesting in his own right, but when combined with Duchscherer we can get an insight into what Neal Huntington is looking to do this offseason. Wright has been a pretty extreme groundball pitcher the last four seasons with his worst GB/FB ratio being 1.96 with the Rangers in 2007, while the other three were 2.45 or better. With Duchscherer's strength being an incredible arsenal of pitches that keeps hitters off balance rather than a power arm and a lot of strikeouts, that makes two pitchers who don't fit the "power arm, unreliable command" mold that Huntington's so clearly favored in the past.
Instead, both Wright and Duchscherer are guys that have some intrinsic value that has the potential to be overlooked, meaning that they may be available to the Pirates. Wright has a poor career ERA mostly because he spent a large amount of his career as a back-end starter. Since moving to the bullpen, his groundball tendency has been much more pronounced and with a decent defense behind him, he's probably not a bad long-relief option. Duchscherer's struggle with clinical depression last year probably scares more people off than his recurring hip and shoulder injuries.
The one question? If the Pirates really are interested in someone like Duchscherer, are they planning on keeping the current rotation intact and simply see a guy they feel like they have to go after, or are they planning on moving someone that's currently in the rotation and looking for depth?
After Donnie Veal followed up his nightmare Rule 5 season with a sparkling performance in the AFL, the reviews of his AFL season ran the gamut from people saying things like he looked as good as he did when he was a top prospect with the Cubs circa 2006/2007 and people saying that despite his stellar performance, it would be hard to really change the trajectory of his career after the huge steps backwards he's taken in 2008 and 2009.
Luckily for us, MLB installed PitchFX cameras in two AFL stadiums (Peoria and Surprise) this year, so we have at least some data on Veal to compare to his big league season. It's not really a whole lot; only three of Veal's starts were in Peoria and Surprise and for some reason one of them didn't register any data. That means we've got a whopping thirty-six Donnie Veal AFL pitches to look at, compared to 364 regular season pitches. It's not a lot, and it's not nearly enough to really draw any firm conclusions from, but I found some things that I think we can at least qualify under "interesting" and "worth thinking about."
Follow along after the jump for the breakdowns. As always, PitchFX data was pulled from the invaluable BrooksBaseball.net.
If I know my math, Akinori Iwamura + Wilfredo Ledezma = Championship.
OK, that's being glib. The Pirates signed Ledezma to a minor league deal, and he's a nice pickup to come in and vie for a bullpen spot. He'll be 29 in January and he's shown some decent control in the minors to go with his big strikeout rate, though that hasn't really transferred to the majors at this point. He's probably just pitching depth, but I guess there's an outside chance he could be the lefty the bullpen needs. No harm in bringing him to camp to find out.
Side note: thanks for all the help with the glossary. I made a few of the suggested changes and went ahead and put it in the menu bar. It's going to be a constantly changing thing, so any time you see something you think needs added, just mention it in the comments.
The I'm not doing a new post UPDATE: Karstens and Thomas outrighted to Triple-A, Diaz released.