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June 21, 2010

On the Beat

Monday Update

by John Perrotto

Pirates management insists it has a plan in place that will transform the downtrodden franchise from laughingstock to winner. Chairman Bob Nutting says they do and so does team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington, and manager John Russell. However, the plan certainly isn't paying dividends at the present. The Pirates are 25-44 and 13 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central. Only the Orioles, with their 19-50 record, are keeping the Pirates from having the worst record in the major leagues.

Remember, too, that losing is not just a recent trend for the Pirates. Losing baseball has long been a lifestyle where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio. The Pirates have had 17 consecutive losing seasons, a major North American professional sports record. However, with the way things have gone lately with the Pirates, it is easy to wonder if anyone in the organization knows what in the heck he is doing. And it goes just beyond the Pirates having lost 12 games in a row until notching back-to-back victories over the Indians on Saturday and Sunday.

Last Tuesday, general manager Neal Huntington was adamant that third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates' prized prospect, was not yet ready for a promotion from Triple-A Indianapolis. Huntington talked about baseball "being littered with failed prospects that were rushed to the major leagues" and insisted Alvarez would not be one of them. Yet, one night later, Alvarez was at PNC Park making his major-league debut against the White Sox.

On the same night Alvarez was making his debut in front of a crowd of just 15,281—not exactly the same kind of buzz Stephen Strasburg generated in Washington eight days earlier when he debuted against the Pirates—Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi reported on FoxSports.com that manager John Russell was in danger of being fired. That was not shocking since the Pirates had lost 10 straight games at that point and Russell was supposedly in the final year of his contract.

The next afternoon, Coonelly gathered the beat reporters who cover the Pirates in his office and told them that both Russell and Huntington had received one-year extensions that kept them under contract through 2011. The kicker there was that the extensions had been granted last October.

Major-leagues teams announce contract extensions for their GM and managers as a matter of a course. In fact, when two veteran publicity men from other major-league clubs learned of the secret extensions, both were incredulous that the Pirates had been clandestine about the matter.

Coonelly gave a lame explanation that the Pirates did not disclose the extensions because it would have created a distraction. Instead, keeping things quiet created a distraction because Huntington and Russell spent spring training and the first 2 ½ months of the season answering questions about their future from the media.

A day after the secret extensions were revealed, the Pirates showed their opposition to the concept of the freedom of speech by firing one of their racing pierogies, who compete in a between-innings competition in dumpling-shaped costumes. Andrew Kurtz got the ax after he made a post on his Facebook post that was critical of the Huntington and Russell extensions.

Things haven't been much better on the field for the Pirates this season. They are last in the major leagues with an average of 3.25 runs scored per game and next-to-last with 5.62 runs allowed, ahead of only the Diamondbacks. The Pirates are also 28th in defensive efficiency with a .672 mark, giving them an excellent chance of winning a negative team triple crown in 2010.

Three players who were expected to important pieces for the Pirates have been abject failures. Second baseman Aki Iwamura (.220 TAv) was designated for assignment when Alvarez was called up and first baseman Jeff Clement (.199) finds himself at Indianapolis along with right-hander Charlie Morton, who posted -1.5 SNLVAR in 10 starts.

The Pirates are trying to put on a happy face after promoting Alvarez from Indianapolis along with second baseman Neil Walker, left fielder Jose Tabata, and right-handed starter Brad Lincoln in the last month.

"It's an exciting time to see all these guys come to the major leagues because it's what we've been working toward over the last two years," Russell said. "I know that our record isn't good, but I really believe we're not that far away from turning this thing around."

The miserly Nutting, the man who begrudgingly signs the checks, insists he is committed to the Pirates' plan. However, he makes it clear he is not happy with the way the 2010 season is unfolding.

Nutting called himself "frustrated" and "shocked" by the team's performance in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette but also expressed confidence, albeit tepid, in Huntington and Russell.

"I believe in the process, and I believe in the future of this team," Nutting said. "And they need to deliver on that optimism, but they also need to know they can do it without having to look over their shoulders. As long as they're in those positions, we need to move forward together. I'm frustrated but also shocked. Angry. Surprised at where we are. Some of the individual performances are not what we expected, as you've seen from some of the roster moves that have been made. But there's no way to adequately express the level of frustration verbally. It's an emotionally challenging and difficult time."

---

Phillies first-base coach Davey Lopes unwittingly set off a bit of a firestorm because of a comment he made about second baseman Chase Utley in a Prospectus Q&A with David Laurila that was posted last Friday. Lopes told Laurila that Utley "has been hampered by a little bit of a knee injury."

The remark was not all that surprising because Utley was hitting .257 at the time, the lowest his batting average had ever been that late into a season. Various scouts had also questioned if Utley was suffering from some kind of leg injury.

Utley denied he had any injury issues, though he also admitted that he never reveals his hurts to the media and has a different definition of injury than most people. If nothing else, the report seemed to wake Utley's bat, as he was 6-for-14 with a double, a triple, a home run, and seven RBI in the weekend series with the Twins.

"In my opinion, an injury is something that keeps you off the field," Utley said. "When you play 162 games plus, you're going to have aches and pain. That's part of this game, it's part of bring a baseball player, it's something you have to deal with. In my opinion there is no injury whatsoever."

Utley has been on the team's daily injury report that athletic trainer Scott Sheridan provides to manager Charlie Manuel. However, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. joked, almost everyone on the injury-plagued Phillies winds up on the list these days.

When asked how he felt, Utley said: "Depends on the day. I've iced my ankles, my knees, my back— there are plenty of things that bother you. As far as pain, some days it's good, some days it's not so good."

---

Cliff Lee was the biggest name to be moved before last season's non-waiver trading deadline as he was dealt to the Phillies from the Indians. Now with the Mariners, the left-hander is likely to be on the move again this year before the July 31 deadline as the Mariners are 28-41 and 13 games out in the American League West.

There has been plenty of speculation that the Phillies could trade for Lee again, but Amaro is adamant that he will not again raid his farm system, which has been thinned by blockbuster deals in recent years. However, there figure to be plenty of others suitors for Lee, with the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, Twins, and Mets likely to be among them.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says the volume of calls on Lee has been increasing in recent days. Zduriencik, though, isn't inclined to trade Lee until at least the end of this month as he wants to see if his team can climb back into the race.

Lee, for his part, is taking it all in stride, saying, "I have no control over it, so there's no point worrying about it. I've been traded before."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: If the Twins decide that the price is too high on Lee, their next starting pitching trade target is almost certain to be Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly. … The Red Sox have some interest in Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome but only if Chicago eats a large portion of the $21 million left on his contract that runs through the end of next season. … If Carlos Guillen struggles in making the transition to second base, the Tigers' backup plan is to trade for Mariners third baseman Jose Lopez (who was shifted from second base in spring training) or the Diamondbacks' Kelly Johnson. … The Rangers figure to have the best chance of landing Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt in a trade, but only if Major League Baseball approves the sale of the club from Tom Hicks to a group led by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. … The White Sox' fallback plan at third base is to trade for the Red Sox' Mike Lowell if rookie Dayan Viciedo shows he is not ready for the job. The Rangers, Angels, Braves, and Rockies are also believed to have some level of interest in Lowell.

---

Three series to watch:

Padres (40-29) at Rays (42-27), Tuesday-Thursday June 22-24
Mat Latos vs. Wade Davis, 7:10 p.m.; Kevin Correia vs. James Shields, 7:10 p.m.; Wade LeBlanc vs. Matt Garza, 12:10 p.m.

Tigers (38-30) at Mets (39-30), Tuesday-Thursday June 22-24
Justin Verlander vs. Jonathon Niese, 7:10 p.m.; Jeremy Bonderman vs. R.A. Dickey, 7:10 p.m.; Armando Galarraga vs. Hisanori Takahashi, 7:10 p.m.

Red Sox (42-28) at Rockies (36-33), Tuesday-Thursday June 22-24
Jon Lester vs. Jhoulys Chacin, 8:40 p.m.; John Lackey vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 8:40 p.m.; Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Jason Hammel, 8:40 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

27 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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evo34

That's quite a rant against the Pirates. The secret extensions are unorthodox, but nothing else contained in the rant is remotely new. Is the sample size of Huntington's work large enough to judge yet? Is there any evidence that changing a manager on a young, bad team has any long-term beneficial effect on the franchise? These are the questions to be asking.

Jun 20, 2010 23:42 PM
rating: 2
 
amazin_mess

Exactly what has John Russell brought to the mix? Not 'what could anyone else do', what has Russell done? Hence, the problem with the extension. The Pirates have been a joke since the refused to resign Bonds.

Jun 21, 2010 02:19 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess
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The Pirates need to be moved. That ownership doesn't want to compete. Get the franchise out of there.

Jun 21, 2010 02:20 AM
rating: -9
 
gluckschmerz

Get the owner, Bob Nutting, out of there. Pittsburgh is a great sports town. Poor ownership is the problem.

Jun 21, 2010 10:18 AM
rating: 2
 
amazin_mess

I agree. But how can you do that?

Jun 21, 2010 10:48 AM
rating: -2
 
Matt Kory

You can't. But it has nothing to do with Pittsburgh who supports all its other sports teams very well.

Jun 21, 2010 12:32 PM
rating: 1
 
HeavyHitter

Drafting Taillon and Allie says something different to me. Their first pick in 2009 is doing great. I think they are finally on the right track, but it will be 2-3 years before they are a winning team and 2-3 years after that before they are a contending team. I'd be excited if I were a Pirate fan.

Jun 21, 2010 11:19 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess
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LOL

Jun 21, 2010 13:37 PM
rating: -7
 
vtadave

Thank you for all you've brought to this thread. Truly appreciate the concise analysis and commentary.

Jun 21, 2010 14:32 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess
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Same to you.

Jun 21, 2010 17:20 PM
rating: -4
 
John Carter

It is surprising Detroit is looking at Cliff Lee and various secondbaseman, though, there's nothing wrong with being prudent.

Although Cliff Lee is certainly a huge upgrade over Armando Galarraga, anyone who can pitch a perfect game is a pretty nice fifth starter to have. The problem is Rick Porcello, of course, who was just sent to Toledo. If they can turn him around the way they have with Max Scherzer, the Tigers' rotation would be set.

Secondbase doesn't seem like a huge problem either. I figured Carlos Guillen's move there was temporary anyway - until Scott Sizemore rights himself enough to reclaim it. If Guillen stays healthy (yes, big IF) and he does adapt well - it certainly isn't bothering his hitting, his playing there is a nice plus.

No, the one gaping hole I see is over at shortstop. Ramon Santiago is a fine utility infielder, but Jim Leyland apparently doesn't think he is up-to-task for a full time job. He's going with Danny Worth. We should have faith in Leyland's decisions, but it is very difficult to see how that might possibly work out well - just as it was with Adam Everett at the start of the year.

Jun 21, 2010 03:30 AM
rating: 0
 
Wade

Is there any word on what the Rangers are going to do with Chris Davis, who is hitting over .350 for OK City? With Smoak at 1B and Young at 3B, the Rangers have no room for Davis, so it seems like he'd be good trade bait.

Jun 21, 2010 06:10 AM
rating: 0
 
ej6687

Considering your past with the organization, have you thought about not reporting on Pirates matters, John? I loved your work with PiratesReport.com, but ever since you were "let go", your Pirates reporting has become increasingly personal. You are really critizing the Pirates for firing an employee for an offense than many companies have already done for similar offenses on sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter? It's a non-story.....

Jun 21, 2010 07:16 AM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess
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That's a good point.

Jun 21, 2010 09:07 AM
rating: -4
 
ofMontreal

I don't know this is a bad thing. I thought the 'miserly Nutting...' thing was new but John hasn't been too hard on the Pirates. They have been bad for a very long time and everyone here knows the generalities about why. Throwing a skeptical eye on 'secret' extensions qualifies as actual news about the franchise since it's a bit out of the ordinary. God knows there are the same problems in KC and Clev and we wouldn't question how we got to know the same facts(?) about them. Personally, I want John reporting on the Pirates.

Jun 21, 2010 09:45 AM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

I thought the article was clear and necessary in pointing out the dysfunction that permeates the Pirate organization. If 17 losing seasons (you are what your record says you are) is not enough alone to prove that - recent events emphatically stamp that point home including: the horrible contract given to a one leg 2B, emphatically saying both Alavarez and Brad Lincoln are not Major league ready but then doing a 180 within days with MLB promotions despite the long term "strategic plan" in place, and the 'small man syndrome' firing of a Pirate fan turned part time mascot because he verbalized his frustration on Facebook? (not the same as posting drunken christmas party pics) ...

As far as the authors' potential animosity to the Pirate management? ...I will remember the words of deceased Celtic announcer Johnny Most: "They say why hate Isiah?...I say why not?"

Jun 21, 2010 09:33 AM
rating: 3
 
radroller

I'm puzzled as to why the Red Sox would have any interest in Cliff Lee. They have 4 starters under 30 including their 3 best starters (Lester, Buchholz and Beckett) and their one guy over 30 is their top FA signing last year (Lackey). That leaves Dice-K and Wakefield as 5ths which would seem to be more than adequate.

Conversely this is a team that started an OF on Friday of Daniel Nava, Bill Hall and Darnell McDonald. Cameron has an ongoing medical issue and Drew is always one sprint away from the DL. Ellsbury is now showing up on the back of milk cartons.

The bullpen is equally shaky after Papelbon and Bard.

While I agree that the Red Sox will do something, chasing Lee seems to be totally illogical.

Jun 21, 2010 10:18 AM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

It would seem they have enough starters, yes, but we haven't seen Beckett in a while either so maybe the organization knows something we don't (i.e maybe we won't be seeing him anytime soon).

Also, I'm not sure as to what is available on the trade market that fits the Sox needs, but its likely that if Lee is the best player out there the Sox would have interest just based on that.

Plus if Lee comes to Boston that means he won't be in New York, LA, Tampa, or anywhere else which has value as well.

Jun 21, 2010 12:36 PM
rating: -1
 
gluckschmerz

Please John, don't stop reporting on the "dysfunction that permeates the Pirate organization".

People here in Pittsburgh are used to the lies and excuses, but BP readers might somehow think it not really that bad. Well, it is, and that is why baseball season in Pittsburgh is rather brief: it lasts from the final Penquins game in the Spring until the first day of Steelers Training Camp in the late summer.

Jun 21, 2010 12:20 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Kory

"I believe in the process, and I believe in the future of this team," Nutting said.

Nutting said the 'P' word!

Jun 21, 2010 12:37 PM
rating: 1
 
billgoofnow

Ehhh I don't agree with the notion that the pirates are not headed in the right direction. As a pirates fan of 30 years I'm actually finally watching the games with some thoughts of future success in mind.

This year's draft was a coup if they sign both of those pitchers. Their current lineup is finally one composed of youth that is likely the future core
rather than stopgap aging veterans with zero upside.

Tabata
walker
mccutchen
jones
milledge
Alvarez
doumit
Crosby (the irony of the autocorrect of my typo for Crosby to "crap" admittedly amused me)

Tony sanchez will replace doumit before long and hopefully we can acquire a better shortstop. I've been tempted to write off milledge whose complete lack of power is perplexing, but I believe his bromance with Andrew mccutchen is paying off and he's showing signs of being a player for whom the "light" might finally be going on. He's been doing the little things of late (see his glee after a successful sac bunt in the 8th last night) and has been a beast in clutch spots this year.


you've got a beef with the pirates - that's cool... And believe me I've read and enjoyed your stuff on the pirates for years, so I'm actually quite a fan of your work.

But, you are off base in some respects on this one. Huntington has things going in a good direction for the first time in about 17 years... The games are fun to watch again because there is now hope.

Jun 21, 2010 12:48 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

Must be smoking some good pot in the Steel City these days. McCutchen is a star for sure, but there's no pitching whatsoever.

Jun 21, 2010 13:39 PM
rating: -1
 
gluckschmerz

C'mon. Is there any indication the current Pirates mgmnt team has a clue how to use this current talent pool? They are such a gaggle of goofs and knuckleheads. The Steelers and Penguins know how to raise their talent. Nutting and Co. DO NOT.

When is the last time the Pirates system produced a 30 HR hitter?

Jun 21, 2010 15:48 PM
rating: -1
 
billgoofnow

2011

Jun 21, 2010 16:28 PM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Avery

What would the Braves do with Lowell? Unless Chipper retires mid-season (and he won't), I don't see a place for him with backup IFs Conrad and Infante playing very well.

Jun 21, 2010 12:51 PM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

Seems to me, Boston's interest in Cliff Lee in a trade-market full of more 'logical' pieces is akin to a team's taking the best player available in the draft.

Jun 21, 2010 15:52 PM
rating: -1
 
Tuck
(667)

Hell hath no fury like a reporter scorned. John, I always enjoy your thoughts on the Pirates but I think Huntington's distaste (distrust?) for the media may be informing your analysis here.

So what if he misled reporters about Alvarez? He had made it clear all month that Pedro would be up soon; there was no mystery there. Alvarez himself hadn't been informed yet, so why should the media? I don't think a Strasburg comparison is at all apt.

That "miserly" Bob Nutting is certainly no Steinbrenner, but he has paid out more money than any owner in the game the past two Drafts. And with Tailion and Allie coming up, that trend will continue. That at least deserves a mention.

The pierogi thing... really? I don't think it is that unreasonable. And even if it was, I don't think it sends any larger message about the organization.

The Buccos stink, clearly. But the guys running the shows aren't quite the incompetent boobs you make them out to be--at least not for the reasons you provide.

Jun 21, 2010 17:04 PM
rating: -1
 
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