So first things first, yea, I know it’s been a crazy long time since I’ve updated this site. And despite my repeated claims that I am going to get better and find time to do with this site what I really want to do with this site, I know that I am too slammed with being a serial entrepreneur and doing what I do to properly commit to this, as much as I wish it weren’t the case.
Anyway…this week, the Pirates made some moves. I didn’t say anything about them being ‘good moves’, or ‘interesting moves’, and definitely not ‘promising moves’. They made some moves. The first one I will mention is the latest one to happen, the decision to non-tender Jeff Karstens. I’ve always admired Karstens for the way he pitched well in big games, games when the team needed a win, and the way he would routinely outsmart the opposition in a way that reminded me of a guy like Greg Maddux. Now I know, Maddux is a Hall of Famer… but bear with me. Maddux didn’t throw hard. But he was smart, and he could predict what a hitter was thinking. And he had incredible control. Those are traits that I always saw in Karstens. He was a bulldog who flat out battled, every time out. That guy could be on my team any day of the week. And to be non-tendered over such a small amount of money (estimated less than $4 million would have kept him), it seems criminal to have not done so.
Of course, Karstens was non-tendered so that the Pirates could add newly signed catcher Russell Martin to the roster. The Pirates signed Martin to a 2 year contract for $17 million. That comes out to $8.5 million for a catcher that has hit the last six years at .293, .280, .250, .248, .237 and then .211 this season. Yes, that means that each year since 2007, he has managed to have a worse batting average than the year before. His on base percentage has also dropped each of the last five years. Rod Barajas was run out of town after hitting .206 last year. So we’re looking at a .005 point improvement for that $17 million, if we’re lucky.
Martin is a right handed hitter that hit .191 at righty friendly Yankee Stadium this season. That’s ONE – NINETY – ONE. And now he comes to PNC with its massive left field. One would logically assume there is a pretty decent chance that he is likely to hit worse at PNC Park than he did at Yankee Stadium. Martin did have a career high 21 home runs this year. And a career high 95 K’s as well. Martin was a 1.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) guy last year. For reference, Michael McKenry was a 1.7 WAR.
So I’m sitting around thinking how likely terrible this is probably going to turn out for the Pirates. On paper, and using logic, this looks like an obscene waste of money. As a Pirates fan, I hope I am wrong and that it works out. But I hoped things would work out in August and September last year as well. I love Pirates baseball, but this feels like such a bad move on so many levels.
If only we had a young prospect that was knocking on the door ready to play the position, we wouldn’t be in this place. Then I thought immediately of Tony Sanchez, and how he must feel about this Martin signing. Yes, in 2009 we drafted a catcher 4th overall. Yep, that’s the year that Stephen Strasburg went number one, Dustin Ackley went second, and other guys like Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, and Drew Storen all went in the top 10.
Our guy has floundered in the minors, battled injuries, and is best known for his Twitter controversy with the Pirates a couple years ago moreso than anything he has done on the field. He hit .233 in Indy this year, after getting what might feel to some like an undeserved promotion from Altoona, where he hit .277 with 0 HR’s in 40 games before going to Indy.
How must Sanchez have taken the Martin signing? Well, I has that very question earlier tonight, and posted it on Twitter. I asked if the Martin signing was the Pirates admitting that Sanchez was a bust. I think that is a fair enough question.
As you can see, Sanchez retweeted it. But not only that, he retweeted it from a bar, where he was drinking a Bud Light. Now I’m not trying to come down on the man for drinking a beer at some bar. Many ballplayers and people do it all the time, and why not? Heck, I’m drinking a Stella right now while writing this tonight. But when the baseball world – not just me – sees you as someone who is at least perceived to be lacking in dedication and potential, “tweeting your haters” from a bar seems like an interesting choice. I can’t see Andrew McCutchen tweeting to his haters from a bar with a photograph like this one below.
I don’t think what I asked would qualify me as a hater. After all, is there anyone else in that top 10 list that I mentioned earlier that you wouldn’t trade straight up for Sanchez right now? Of course not. Not a knock on Sanchez, but those guys are either quality major league players already, or highly ranked prospects. Sanchez is neither at this moment. And he’s done nothing to really get you geeked about the likelihood that he becomes one of those. And he didn’t impress the Pirates so much that they just gave $17 million to a guy who hit .211 last year. Does that make the Pirates “haters” too?
And if you do have a chip on your shoulder, good. You should. But tweet something from the batting cages telling me to Sit the F Down and that you’re busting your rear to show them what you can do. Not while tweeting with a beer and some bikini bottomed girl in the background.
I’ve not met Tony Sanchez in person, and from what I’ve heard he is a swell guy. He’s very active on Twitter, and I do follow him, so I see a lot of the things he posts. And because of that, I admit I do have questions about his maturity level, as well as his dedication and commitment and drive to be the best. He loves to talk about his “haters”, but I’ve yet to see him acknowledge that he’s really done nothing – NOTHING – yet to earn any sort of love either, let alone any of the $2.5 million signing bonus that he was given when he signed with the Pirates. Personally, I am not a Tony Sanchez hater. I’m the exact opposite. I am a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. If there is anyone out there that can help this baseball team win, I’m not hating anything about that. So for that reason alone, I want to see Tony Sanchez succeed beyond my own or even his own wildest dreams.
I just don’t think that is going to happen. Maybe if he were a third round pick or later, or a guy who looked like he was taking this thing seriously and working his behind off to be a Buster Posey rather than a bust, then maybe there would be a little more optimism with him. But I am not expecting it. I would not be surprised if Sanchez never plays a single game in the black and gold.
In all likelihood, this is going to be Neal Huntington’s last year as general manager of the Pirates. That almost seems like a foregone conclusion. So do you think a new G.M. is going to have any reason or loyalty to keep Sanchez around? He’s not his guy, he’s “dead weight” in that new person’s eyes, and if he can trade him for anything at all, Sanchez will be sent packing. Catcher prospects are a commodity in this league, so there is definitely some trade value for Sanchez. I don’t think Huntington would trade him, because that would be admitting failure. But the next GM would have no such hesitation. So right now, if I had to wager, I would bet money on Sanchez never playing a game for the Buccos.
Like I said, I may be completely wrong about Tony Sanchez. I’d love to talk to him and ask him these questions myself (so Tony, if you’re reading this, and I know you are, follow me @GoBuccos and DM me, we can talk and put the interview right here on this site). I’m sure you’re not a bad guy, and I’m absolutely 100% on your side and want to see your success. But when the Pirates spend that kind of money on a guy like Russell Martin, that isn’t exactly a vote of confidence. I’d love to know what Tony thinks. I already know what many of us do.
When the Pirates traded away minor leaguer Brooks Pounders, along with Diego Goris, on the eve of the Rule 5 draft last December, the initial thought was that the Pirates were losing not only one of the best named pitchers in the organization, but someone that we had hoped would be a pretty good pitcher for the Pirates someday. Anytime there is a trade when you aren’t familiar with the person coming in return, you tend to think that you are losing out on something. And when that someone was a 2nd round pick just a couple of years ago, it makes you wonder why the team is bailing on him already. After all, you can never have too many arms in the system, and although Pounders wasn’t really a power arm, he did have a K/9 rate of just under 10 last season. Plus we added in a 21 year old infielder in Goris, who had never played anywhere but the Dominican Summer League, and you start to expect to have gotten something significant back in return.
The book on Yamaico Navarro was that he is a decent offensive infielder who has glove issues. And so far in spring training, Navarro has been as advertised with the bat. He is hitting .366 with a .934 OPS through 41 at bats, with 1 HR, one triple and a double. He has only 5 strikeouts and is coming off of a four hit game yesterday against the Astros, with a 3 hit game in the books from a couple of days prior.
Defensively, he has been adequate as well, committing only 1 error so far in spring in over 84 innings of manning multiple positions, mostly second base. But Navarro has also played SS, 3B, LF and RF in the 20 games of spring training to date. He did commit 8 errors in Omaha last year after getting traded to the Royals (from Boston for Mike Aviles), but it appears that he has shown steady if not spectacular improvement in the defensive category.
Navarro is looking more and more to have a decent shot to make the Pirates opening day lineup as a utility infielder, although much depends on what happens with Pedro Alvarez and who will be needed as backup infielders. You would have to think that Josh Harrison has a pretty good shot at that spot as well, though I would like to see him play every day in Indy and not fall into the utility role as I think Harrison could be an every day player in the majors. It seems like Navarro could very well end up as an everyday player as well, and his defense, especially at shortstop, will likely determine whether or not that happens. But so far this spring, his offense brings something to the table that we haven’t seen often before, and that makes it fun to keep an eye on.
News worth staying up late for on a Sunday night, Pirates All Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen just signed a 6 year, $51.5 million deal to remain with the Pirates at least through the 2017 season, plus a club option for the 2018 season at a realistic $14.75 million.
The importance of this signing cannot be understated, as getting this done sends a message to fans and other players around the league that this Pirates are finally committed to putting a winning product on the field. Now with two thirds of it’s outfield settled for the next 6 to 8 years, after Jose Tabata signed the 6 year deal with 3 club options last season, the Pirates can turn to other areas of focus for development.
All those people who joke around and ask how much longer until Cutch is a Yankee are going to have to come up with some new material.
Cutch will be in Black and Gold for a long time. And that, fellow Bucco fans, is great news tonight.
Let’s Go Bucs!
We had a chance to chat with Pirates catcher Michael McKenry last week, in advance of spring training, to talk about last season, this offseason and the upcoming 2012 Pirates season. McKenry is looking to break camp with the Pirates this year and likely backup newly acquired Rod Barajas.
The first thing I asked him about was his offseason, considering last year he started in the Colorado Rockies organization, then was traded to Boston and then in June, to the Pirates.
“I was very fortunate to be able to go down to instructs and spend a little time with the younger guys in the organization, get to know some of the coordinators, short A, low A, high A coaches, and that was really neat. So I feel even moreso part of the Pirate family, and to know more of what their mission and mindset is for the future. I’m just very excited to be a a part of it, going into my first spring training in Florida, in Bradenton… I love Bradenton, I got to go there for the mini-camp recently and I enjoyed that. And I think it’s going to be a good year for all of us. We’re going to be young, we’re going to have a lot of fun every single day, and we’re going to go out and play this game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
I’m sure it is nice to have a full offseason with the big league team that he is expected to be a contributor to, after arriving in Pittsburgh last year do to the injury situation at the catcher position in Pittsburgh last year.
“Last year, it was a whirlwind type year, being on three different teams, in three different organizations, in a short amount of time. It was a lot to go through, but it was a blessing at the end of the day. Even when I got traded to Boston, that was a blessing, to get the opportunity to go over there. It is a great organization, with a lot of tradition and then to be fortunate enough to come over here, and catch Paul Maholm in my first game in Pittsburgh, who’s a veteran and one of the guys that’d been there the longest. It was just kind of surreal, at that moment. I remember walking in, and it felt like I never sat down, like I floated around the clubhouse, and then all of a sudden after the game, we’re on our way to Houston and was like ‘wow, that just happened’. I didn’t even know it happened, it went by so fast. So you know, it was a whirlwind, but it was a blast. I really enjoyed the time when we were pushing for first place, and I hated that we fell off towards the end. But that’s part of the growing process, and I think this being a young team, I think we’re going to come a long way just with that year of experience. “
Before moving on from last year, I wanted to ask him about the 3 run home run, his first major league home run, that he hit against the Cubs on July 8, 2011 to put the Pirates up in the 8th inning and ultimately to win the game. I played the radio clip from that moment for him…
“First and foremost, I have goosebumps just hearing that. Every time I hear it, the way the fans were behind us, that was remarkable. And getting a curtain call that day, it was so surreal. And the fact that it was my first ‘shot’ in the big leagues, here I am, I hit my first homer and I’m getting a curtain call? It was amazing. And leading up to that, the whole game, we had younger guys stepping up and the veteran guys leading us along the way. Something that I remember before that, (Josh) Harrison getting that base hit to tie the game, and then I hit the home run and I come in, and Lyle Overbay gives me a hug, (Andrew) McCutchen’s at the bottom of the stairs and just bear hugs me, and if you see the video clip, Neil Walker is swinging a towel up and down. It’s just the excitement and enthusiasm on that team, it’s a special group of guys. And like I said, going down to mini-camp, we had some free agent guys there who hadn’t been a part of this clubhouse, and the way we got along, and the fellowship and the comaraderie, it is really special. So I’m really excited to see where this year takes us. “
I then brought up a little Pirates history, specifically similarities to Mike Lavalliere, and how McKenry seems to fit in as a tough, lunchpail to work, Pittsburgh kind of guy.
“Well, that’s the best compliment you can give a player, and let alone my personality, that’s the compliment I want to have. And you know, I feel part of the Pittsburgh family… hard nosed, hard working, I just want to be that guy that goes out and gives it his all every day. Don’t take a day for granted, because you don’t know if you’re going to have a tomorrow, so I just go out and play hard, and give my team a chance and be the team guy, and root on my team throughout the ups and downs of 162 games, it gets tough. It’s fun riding that roller coaster, but remembering what’s most important is that we’re out here playing a kids’ game, and that’s the way we need to play. We need to have fun, we need to smile, we need to give 110%. I believe that’s what the fans deserve too.”
I asked him about the doubleheader against Milwaukee last year, when Josh Harrison got dinged up and he went out and played third base.
“I think that’s our mindset as a team in general. If we have to pick up a teammate, we’re going to do it in a heartbeat. When Clint Hurdle asked me that question, ‘Hey, can you play third base?’ I just said ‘I’ll do my best’ and I think that’s the mentality from top to bottom. Even when we brought in Derrek Lee and (Ryan) Ludwick last year and they brought in that veteran leadership, they were willing to do that. And here they are, older players who’ve been around the game a lot, and they were like ‘hey, whatever I can do to help, I’m going to help’ - hang out with the younger guys, doing what they can to be a good presence in the clubhouse. I think that’s what Pittsburgh is all about, and I think that’s going to really help us set off this year.”
Regarding his defense and the handling of the pitching staff…
“Number one thing is putting yourself second to every one of those guys. Whether they are a bullpen guy, a guy coming up from AAA, it doesn’t really matter. It’s putting yourself second and being their right hand man. Asking them, ‘what do you need?’, ‘how do you feel?’, ‘what key words do you need me to remind you?’… just some of the little things to push them over the edge. That’s all I try to do. I want the best for those guys and I try to make that known from the get go. I do my homework, I like studying video, I like studying hitters. I really like spending time with my pitching coach, Ray Searage, and my bench coach, Jeff Bannister. They pump me full of information, and I just try to relay it, being the middle man as much as possible. But the biggest thing I would have to say when I first got there, was to keep my mouth shut and my ears open, and when the opportunity came about, that’s when I spoke. I wasn’t a pushover, but at the same time, when I needed to get stern or get confident and convicted with what I say, then that’s what I’d do. I think a lot of guys built some trust, and every guy is a little bit different and you have to work with their personality. It’s a relationship, you have to fine tune some things here and you have to know the guys you can bark at a little bit and the guys you have to be a little more sensitive with. And you have to roll with the punches with them. If they are having a bad day, you have to help them out, be their helping hand or their listening ear, whatever you can be. It’s being a good friend as well as a comrade. “
On free agent acquisition, fellow catcher Rod Barajas…
“I’m ecstatic. I had an opportunity to meet Rod Barajas, he’s been in the league a long time and he’s full of information. He’s a guy I can hopefully attach myself to during spring training and grow from him. I really like the opportunity to hang out with veteran guys and let them talk to me and if they have something to say, treat it like ‘ok, cool’. Not try to be a pest, but be a fly on the wall and let them fill you full of information. That’s how you learn, you grow. I feel like every day, you have to adapt and grow a little bit more. That’s how you get better.”
On the newest member of the starting rotation,Erik Bedard:
“I’ve never caught him, but I’ve heard a lot of good things. I’ve heard he’s a competitor. I’ve heard he can pitch, and I’m excited about catching him. I’m going to spend as much time as I can during spring, getting to know him – what he likes, what he doesn’t like, and all that jazz that will build a relationship. “
On how much time he gets during the offseason to see the other guys, specifically pitchers with whom he will be catching this season…
“The Pirates do a good job with the mini-camp, we were able to see a bunch of guys. And PirateFest and Caravan, once again got to see a bunch of guys. And this team in general, a lot of guys got married this offseason. I got the opportunity to go to Charlie Morton’s wedding, and we try to keep in contact. We joke around on Twitter a lot. And I feel like our friendship and relationship continues to grow during the offseason. But if we don’t get to talk for 100 days, we’d walk into the clubhouse, give each other a hug, and it would be like we were talking every single day of the offseason. You build up a really strong relationship through 162 games, and I don’t think you could ever describe how that is.”
And finally, in light of Pujols and Fielder leaving the division, what’s it going to take for the Pirates to make a run at the Central this year?
“We just have to show up and play every single day. Take it one day at a time, do the little things, and it doesn’t really matter who is on the field. Whether Pujols is up, or if we’re facing nine Pujols’, we need to find a way to compete that day. I’m not going to say that I’m not pretty ecstatic that him and Fielder are going to be out of the division, but with that being said, it’s huge to win in our division but we also need to win outside of our division. So the biggest thing is just going out every day and competing. And if we can go out and compete, and if we lose 10 games in a row, to not let it affect us, keep going forward, keep pressing and then wait for that 10 game winning streak that we’re going to have. I think too often we panic in this game, and I think if we do a good job of just going out every single day and focusing on the day, then after it’s over, shower it off, move on, and focus on the next day. I think that will pay dividends in this year’s success.”