Goodbye, red uniforms. Though more new alternates scares me. If they're black-on-black vests like the Rockies wear, I'm not going to be pleased. I guess nothing is worse than the McDonald's vests that we were wearing on Fridays.
Looks like the Pirates have managed to cross at least one player off of their arbitration list this year, as they agreed to a deal with Adam LaRoche last night for $7 million. There will probably be some grumbling about the $7 million figure being too much for a player that doesn't hit in April, but try to view LaRoche differently: he entered his final year of arbitration coming off of what was easily the second-best season in his career and everything is based off of his $5 million salary last year. You may not like the money, but that's not the Pirates' fault, that's a byproduct of the system.
I know I'm a bit behind the ball on this (birthday + Steelers going to the Super Bowl = significantly diminished function today), but I've been thinking today about Bob Nutting's statements in the PG today and wondering just what, exactly, he's getting at.
"There's no question that my expectation in 2009 is that we have a better team than we did last year," he said. "Even as we continue to build for the long-term success of the franchise, a real, championship-caliber organization that can compete on a sustainable basis, we have to have a better team in 2009 and better than what Pittsburgh has seen lately."
OK, so that's pretty standard stuff. Trot the owner out in January and say that the team has to be better in 2009 etc. etc. But he keeps going:
"No," he replied. "That would be a very disappointing year. As an organization, we have to continue to hold people accountable for improvement on the field at the major league level, as well as organization-wide. You saw it last year with Matt Morris. We're not going to accept an inferior performance."
The accountability must extend to the top, for any sports franchise, and Nutting and Coonelly repeatedly have stated that they are no exceptions. It surely is worth noting, then, that the Pirates again will have one of Major League Baseball's lowest payrolls, with a ceiling in the range of $54 million, and have made only one noteworthy acquisition this offseason with the free-agent signing of 32-year-old utility infielder Ramon Vazquez.
See, I never understand why teams say this stuff. "Accountability extends to the top, blah blah blah." All this does is back you into a corner. What happens when Andy LaRoche hits .180 in April? People will point to these sorts of interviews and demand that Ramon Vazquez start. What good does that do anyone?
It's weird. In the NBA, the Knicks gutted their roster and basically said, "In two years there's going to be a load of awesome free agents so we have to create roster space now and we'll convince someone to sign with us, but until then you gotta bear with us while we rip this team apart." And there's no guarantee that they'll convince LeBron James to play for them, but their fans were so scarred by the Isiah Thomas era that they've mostly accepted it. So why does Bob Nutting need to stand up in front of everyone and lie about how important it is to the long-term health of the franchise that the Pirates improve in 2009?
Maybe I just shouldn't pay attention to these things, because they're inevitably just going to make me angry. I just don't know what Nutting hopes to accomplish when statements like that are made, because in the end they just create standards that makes the ticket-buying public angry when they're not met.
With the football game running so late last night, I didn't really have time to get together any sort of substantial post for today. It's funny; the Steelers making the Super Bowl keeps most of the main population of the city from having to worry about baseball for two more weeks, but it also generated way more interest in PirateFest the last time it happened. Maybe that won't be the case next year, but I'm guessing next weekend Pittsburgh will be chomping at the bit for anything sports related and the Convention Center will be deluged with bored people in Hines Ward jerseys. PirateFest probably won't make them less bored, but it's something to do.
Anyways, I had some thoughts about the Pedro Alvarez stuff. As everyone knows by now, DK mentioned in his final mini-camp report that Alvarez showed up at mini-camp out of shape and the Pirates were generally disappointed in how he looked last week. Really, that's not something that anyone should want to hear given that Alvarez is hugely important to the theoretical turnaround this franchise is attempting and any bad news about him is bad news for the team. That said, I think that Frank Coonelly's response to this is about the right; Alvarez now knows what's expected of him and so long as he responds correctly to that, I don't think we have anything to worry about.
The one thing that I think is important to note is that mini-camp is always voluntary, especially for position players (unless minor league camp works differently, though I doubt that). So while it's lame that Alvarez came into mini-camp out of shape, at least he came in to mini-camp and seems like he wants to get into shape. Let's see how he shows up to Bradenton and how he handles himself at big league camp in February and March before we jump to any conclusions.
Given Joe Kerrigan's old association with the Red Sox and Expos this hardly comes as surprising news, but apparently the Pirates contacted Pedro Martinez today to see what's on his mind for 2009. Dejan doesn't think anythings likely to happen and he's certainly got a better handle on this than any of us, but it's always worth mentioning when the Pirates talk to a future Hall of Famer about anything.
That said, I don't think there's much upside to signing Martinez. Pedro's going to be 37 and he's got a lot of miles on his arm. I think that whoever signs him will probably be lucky to get 150 innings out of him in 2009 and they'll probably be lucky if those innings are league average. I mean, it's not a totally awful idea. There are a lot of similarities between Ian Snell and Martinez early in his career, from style to size to temperament, and there's probably a lot Snell could learn from Pedro. The same goes for the rest of the staff, I suppose. But are those things that Joe Kerrigan can't teach them? Would it be worth the money we'd have to pay him? Should I stop being negative and admit that watching Pedro in his prime was watching greatness personified and that means I'd still be a little stoked to see him in black and gold?
I guess we can answer all those questions if they ever actually become relevant.
Jim Sullivan is at mini-camp and today he's filed a report about Steve Pearce. In it, Neal Huntington basically says, "If Steve Pearce doesn't learn how to hit breaking pitches, he's going back to AAA and Nyjer Morgan will start."
Charlie, meanwhile, wonders how Huntington can say that Pearce needs work and Morgan doesn't. I don't think that's the message here. I think that the message is that Pearce can get better, while Morgan's as good as he's going to be. I'm just guessing here, but it seems like maybe the front office has an issue with Pearce's approach to working on his breaking ball problem or with his work ethic or something like that and they're saying, "Look, maybe you're better than Nyjer Morgan right now and maybe you're not, but there shouldn't be a question about that and until you can show us why, you're staying in AAA."
Meanwhile, Andruw Jones was released by the Dodgers yesterday and I see a lot of Pirate fans bringing him up as a free agent signing. I think that's a bad idea, but only because I'm honestly not sure how much of a bounceback he's going to have. He was struggling in Atlanta before he left for LA and he's incredibly out of shape right now. He started his career at a very young age and it seems like maybe he just peaked very early. Let me put it this way: I'd rather see Nyjer Morgan in left field than Andruw Jones and I think Morgan might be a more useful offensive player. Since most of you know how I feel about Morgan's abilities, that should be a pretty strong statement.
Finally, there's a nice piece about Brandon Moss in the PG. Sounds like his recovery is coming along a little better than initially expected, which is good to hear.
There's a lot of stuff going on this week, but most of it is kind of trivial. With the semester starting, I've had less time to blog and so I'm going to roll them all into one post tonight.
First off is Craig Monroe. Clearly, he's on the team to play the Jason Michaels role. I don't really have a problem with Monroe being a fifth outfielder. I mean, he's not very good and I realize that, but what do the Pirates need a fifth outfielder that's very good for? The big question, I suppose, is what signing Monroe means for Steve Pearce. I don't see a point in sending a guy who's going to turn 26 shortly after opening day back to AAA when we all have an idea of what he can do. If Pearce isn't going to start in left field ahead of Nyjer Morgan (which ... whatever, that's an entirely different and much angrier post that I'm sure will appear sooner or later), he should at least be starting against lefties and spelling Morgan, Moss, and LaRoche. Pearce probably won't develop into an every day player on a good baseball team, but that doesn't mean that he's can't be a useful player.
You know what's odd? For some reason, Neal Huntington seems to love signing guys with last names that start with "M" to veteranosity positions. Monroe is here to replace Michaels and this is, of course, my awkward segue into talking about Doug Mientkiewicz. There appears to be some kind of pissing contest going on between the Eye Chart and the front office, in which Mientkiewicz has been saying the Pirates don't want him back while Huntington is saying that Mientkiewicz can certainly come back, should he want to return. I know this story fires a lot of people up, but it's ultimately a non-story. Honestly, I'd be kind of happy to not have to see Mientkiewicz idoitically charging around the bases, getting thrown out by a country mile, and hearing people praise his grit or something silly like that. Still, it's pretty doubtful we'd be able to find a more useful utility player so I'm not going to exactly complain if he wants to come back.
And finally, we have mini-camp. The main article today is on Gorzelanny, who's lost some weight and apparently feeling good, working on strengthening his shoulder which "gave out" on him during last year's Grapefruit League. It's mentioned again that Gorzelanny is going to have to earn his spot in the rotation this year and he's probably fighting with three or four guys for two spots. I'll get in to this more when I do the long rotation piece on Gorzo (hopefully next week), but I wonder if all this is an indication that Huntington and the Pirates weren't pleased with Gorzelanny's conditioning last year. They've created a situation where he's going to have to perform in spring training and it should be interesting to watch.
Sometime while I was in class over the last two hours, WHYGAVS rolled up it's millionth page view. Which is to say, "holy crap." Thank you all a million times over. Don't let anyone ever, ever tell you that there's no such thing as a Pirate fan. Here's hoping the next million bring something a little more fun to watch on the field than the first million.