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Chat: Rob Mains

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday May 10, 2017 1:00 PM ET chat session with Rob Mains.

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Rob is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Rob Mains: Hey. It's the appointed hour. Let's start chatting!

Andrew (DC): Which everyday fielder gets the fewest balls hit to them? Probably the LF for a high-K, high-GB team, right?

Rob Mains: My kind of question, Andrew! Off the top of my head, I thought RF, but then I looked at the actual numbers--this is a good idea to follow in life--and I saw that you're right. Left fielders handle the fewest chances on the diamond. And yes, a high-K, high-GB pitching staff would suppress it further. I'd add that a pitching staff with almost all RHP will suppress balls to left as well.

Dave (San Francisco): What has gotten into Yonder Alonso this season? Matching his career high in home runs by May 7th. If you're the A's, do you sell high and slide Healy over to first base, or try to lock him down on like a 3-year contract to provide a safety net for some of the weaker defenders in the A's infield?

Rob Mains: Aaron discussed him today. Key takeaway: "Alonso looks like a legitimately changed hitter." I heard him interviewed on MLB Network and he said he'd done work over the winter on his swing mechanics to make better contact. But when they asked him about getting the ball in the air more, he demurred. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, though, says he's kind of a poster child for more loft. You raise a good point about his glove, but if he continues along a 1.000 OPS trajectory, will the A's be able to sign him? Seems that they'd try to get him to a reasonably cheap extension before the ASG and if they can't, trade him by the deadline. He's 30, so even if he's a different hitter, he's on the wrong side of the aging curve.

Mike (California ): What's going on with Yadier Alvarez? Two no shows on days he's scheduled to start?

Rob Mains: Two truths and a lie: I am not a prospects guy. He was drinking expensive booze the night before one game and golfing the day before the other, and they both gave him migraines. This is exactly the type of question that you should've given Jeffrey Paternostro last Thursday.
(I checked the minor league park factors at milb.com and I would say that if I were scheduled to start in Lancaster, High Desert, or Bakersfileld-HR park factors of 1.8, 1.5, and 1.4, respectively-I might seriously consider the migraine strategy)
Sorry, not a prospects guy.

Cal Guy (Cal): Hi Rob, Assuming Bichette can stay at shortstop who is the better keeper in a dynasty league, him or Vlad Jr?

Rob Mains: OK, again, not a prospects guy, but I live in a horse town, so I'm intrigued by bloodlines. Ben Carsley and Bret Sayre ranked Guerrero 61 in their list of dynasty prospects, Bichette isn't on the list. I also checked in with our good folks at BP Toronto, and they lead Vlad as well. Bichette staying at short would change the calculus somewhat, but I don't think enough.

Buff (Colorado): Who's the better long term fantasy asset, Aledmys Diaz or Willson Contreras?

Rob Mains: Well, Diaz turns 27 in August. Contreras turns 24 on Saturday. That in and of itself probably answers the question for me, given that you said "long term." Add that offense is harder to find at catcher than shortstop, and the decision's even easier, especially if you';re in a two-catcher league.

That being said, you should ask the same question to Mike Gianella during his chat Monday, because he, unlike me, is a fantasy expert. If he says, "No, Mains is a dope, stick with Diaz," I'd go with it.

Ceej (Pittsburgh): Gleyber or Rosario in an OBP league? Rosario is more likely to stay at SS and should be up sooner. But Gleyber is a stud too and may be up in August.

Rob Mains: Ceej. Buddy. You're in Pittsburgh, home of the team I follow a lot, and you're asking me prospects stuff?

I'll give it a shot: If we're talking just this season, I'd say Rosario, for playing time reasons. He's raking at AAA while Torres is doing OK at AA. Longer term, I'd still say Rosario, though OBP does make it close, since Torres is more willing to take a walk. But again, this is a good question for Mike's chat Monday.

alcrisafulli (San Diego): My sources tell me you're a Pirates fan. Would you rather experience an 88-win Pirate team only they are transported back in time to Three Rivers Stadium, or a 78-win Pirates season that takes place at PNC, which, for my money is the best stadium in the league. To ask another way, how much value does a beautiful stadium add to fan experience and is it worth ten wins?

Rob Mains: You have really good sources.

I think that almost all of us reading this would answer that this way: We'll take the wins, hands down. An 88-win team plays into October, in all likelihood. A 78-win team doesn't. A nice ballpark is great--and PNC may be the nicest--but I think we--and by "we" I mean people who are taking part in this chat or hanging out at BP--go to the ballpark for the game, not the experience.

Now, if we're talking about taking a friend or family member or business associate to a game, and you're looking for a nice social experience or maybe to get your guest more interested in baseball, then a beautiful ballpark with great amenities beats out a concrete multi-sport monstrosity with sight lines better suited for the NFL. But even if I'm a season ticket holder and I go to every game, I'm still watching half the team's games on TV, and I'd rather watch a team with a shot at playing into October.

BC (Urbandale): Yes or No answer on this one... I know its not going to happen but would Dylan Cease and Candelario be enough to get Tyler Glasnow?

Rob Mains: No. But this isn't a crazy idea. I say no for two reasons.

1. The Pirates love Glasnow's stuff and have confidence that he'll eventually figure out how to command it. I'm not as sure, but he's a tantalizing guy.
2. The problem with the package you're proposing is that Cease isn't ready for the majors, and if the Pirates see a window for contention, they'll need a higher-minors pitching prospect for Glasnow. Candelario is not a great fit for a team that's got both Will Craig and Ke'Bryan Hayes on the farm (both third basemen, though Craig may not stay there).

Leslie, Dalton (70th place Urbandale, IA): What comps do you have for these 2 guys. Ian Happ looks like a zobrist to me? Eloy jimenez... to me hes a poor mans Vlad Guerrero?

Rob Mains: Y'all are really taxing me with the prospects stuff. I wasn't kidding when I tweeted that I'm better at baseball history, personal finance, and wine.

Happ: The bat could develop, but what made/makes Zobrist so valuable is that he played MANY positions, and played them WELL. I don't know that Happ qualifies for either upper-case word at this point.

Jimenez: Yeah, he could be a fun hitter, though I don't know that he's got the bad-ball hitting reputation that Guerrero earned. The BP Annual lists a Nomar Mazara comp; that sounds about right.

D Vader (KC): Rob, Thanks for the chat. Can you tell me anything about Samir Duenez?? I see him batting third in AA ball at age 20 and hitting well. Looks like he had a great 2016 as well, but he doesn't appear on any prospect lists. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Rob Mains: Geez, those thoughts aren't worth much. I'm not a prospects guy, so if he's not on a list, I'm kinda lost.

But I'd say this. I'm generally cautious about guys who break in as first basemen, since it implies a lack of athleticism. But Duenez has not only hit at every level, he's done it *at a very young age.* He's got nearly a .900 OPS in the Texas League, where he's over three years younger than the average player. Another 1B Royals prospect, Ryan O'Hearn, is hitting OK in the PCL, and if Hosmer gets re-signed, Duenez may be blocked. But his youth speaks positively.

Gard dog (Clarinda): I know they wont because theyre trying to repeat, but if Arrieta continues to struggle heavily, will the cubs try and trade him in July to a desperate team? if they did what could they potentially get back? 1 decent prospect? a package of batting gloves?

Rob Mains: Hey, before I go on, I should thank Gard Dog, D Vader, and the rest of you who submitted these questions in advance. Especially the prospects ones, I would've had no idea without prep time.

Arrieta is under contract for $15.6M in 2017, so that'll limit the market. I watched the game yesterday, and yeah, it looked bad, but consistent with something I wrote in April, it struck me as the kind of short-inning outing where he had to wear one for the team (first game of the doubleheader). He's had only two complete disaster starts, and yeah, 29% of his work, but still. And I think it's important that his DRA and FIP are considerably better than his ERA, suggestive of positive regression going forward.

I'm not answering your question...Assuming Arrieta keeps pitching like he has so far, I could see him and cash returning a reasonable, but not frontline, prospect. On the other hand, if his command looks like the chart in Emma Baccellieri's What You Need To Know this morning, his numbers are going to get worse, and the return could be pretty meager.

Paul (DC): Alex Gordon, Curtis Granderson, Jose Bautista, Joe Mauer, and Hunter Pence. For each one of this bunch of over 30, under performing veterans, please identify which "illness" they suffer from A) undisclosed nagging injury, B) small sample size, or C) stick a fork in him, he's done.

Rob Mains: Ooh, good one.

A - Pence. He's sort of been hurt as a matter of course.
B - Gordon. He's hitting EVERYTHING on the ground, that sounds like a mechanical issue. K rate, walk rate, plate discipline all seem OK
Mauer. Too many thins just look weird for him now. Ridiculously high contact rate, ridiculously low K rate and (for him) a really low walk rate. It's like an Ichiro starter kit, and that's not really what he is. He strikes me as a good candidate for regression to the mean, though the mean for him at this point is probably a league-average bat at best.
C - Bautista. Contact rate has fallen off a table. He murdered fastballs when he was good. That's turned around. Has he become a guy who can't catch up with heat anymore?
B or C - Granderson. I'm not sure. B because he was awful in April 2014 (.468 OPS) so we've seen this before. C because he's just not hitting the ball hard; a 17% infield fly rate isn't good for a guy who hits 57% of his balls in the air. I'm just not sure.

Justin (Iowa City, Iowa): Mitch Keller. Next big time pitching prospect?

Rob Mains: Are you talking from a Pirates perspective? He'd better be. With Taillon and Glasnow in Pittsburgh, he's the only top Pirates prospect who's a pitcher. May not have Glasnow's stuff but his control's better.

If you're talking about the majors overall, I like Francis Martes more, but he's really struggled at AAA.

Jeb (Iowa): What should the Pirates do? They are a mess with all the guys either hurt or on the restricted list. Should they just blow it up and play for next year? Trade McCutchen (let Meadows play) and maybe entertain the idea of trading Cole?

Rob Mains: The problem with letting Meadows play is that he's got a .564 OPS in Indianapolis and he wasn't a lot better there last year. He should be good but he's not ready.

I wouldn't rule out trading McCutchen at the deadline (Marte comes back in July) but as a rule of thumb, you get better returns on pitchers at the deadline and position players in the offseason.

They have a problem with Cole, in that he's a Boras client so unlikely to sign an extension. But he's not a free agent until 2020, so there isn't a rush.

The Pirates also aren't in a position to do a total teardown because they don't have good but expensive veterans to trade. Cutch, yeah, but you're not going to break the bank with Freese, Jaso, and Harrison, and they can't really move Cervelli because of a lack of depth at C.

So yeah, muddle trough this year, hope for a better 2018.

ADprospectus (Atlanta): In the non-prospect, non-fantasy department, do you think Pittsburgh picks up Andrew McCutchen's team option next year, and do you think he'll finish his career as a Pirate (sometime after 2018, one presumes)?

Rob Mains: Good follow-up to the last question, AD. Yes, they'll definitely pick up his option. $14.75M isn't unreasonable. But then I think he gets traded next winter. It seems unlikely that the Pirates will sign him, and his value will erode every day of the 2018 season as free agency approaches. Hard to see him staying.

Bill Scott (Mayor): Best under the radar prospects in the Pirates organization? (Luis Escobar, Taylor Hearn)?

Rob Mains: OK, full disclosure: When I get prospects questions, I refer to the BP Annual. Luis Escobar isn't even in it. Hearn has only a Lineout. Can I answer Ke'Bryan Hayes, or is he not under the radar? Sorry, this is not my long suit.

dianagramr (VORGville): Andrew McCutchen falling off a cliff before age 31 makes me sad .... how about you.

Rob Mains: Sorry, I had to convince Windows that now would be a bad time for a restart...

Yes, of course it's sad. But I'm not prepared to bury him yet. He's got a .231 BABIP so far this year. That's hitting into bad luck. I think he'll be better.

Dusty (Colorado): What are your thoughts on the Twins Wander Javier ?

Rob Mains: Um, his name is cool? I have nothing worthwhile to say about a guy in rookie ball who's younger than the many high school seniors, sorry.

Dan (Wilmington, NC): Going into the season, it seemed the Reds would/should consider nearly any established player as a trade candidate. It's early, so ignoring this year for the moment, has that changed w/some of these guys (Cozart, BHam, Suarez, Duvall, Schebler)? Is there enough hope in the rotation that they might contend in the next 2 years with this core? If you're Williams, do you shop guys like this for prospects or not?

Rob Mains: General rule: If a guy isn't going to be a contributor to your next contending team, you might as well trade him. I checked in with Eric Roseberry, who's on our fantasy team but also writes for Red Reporter. He says the FO has always considered 2018-19 to be their next window of contention. You and I may question the lucidity of that.

Eric: "The only guy I think they're potentially trading from that core is Cozart. They actively shopped his last season, and I think if a team wanted him this year they'd gladly do it."

I'd add that Cozart is a FA after this year, Hamilton after 2019, Suarez after 2020, Duvall after 2021, Shebler after 2022. So if you think you can compete for the rest of the decade, you don't need to move them.

Aimee (Ankeny ): What has happened to the cubs entire pitching staff? Age? Hangover? bad luck? lester and Edwards and Wade Davis are the only ones worth a damn

Rob Mains: Well, they were pretty amazing last year, so there was going to be some regression. And it's only May 10. But there are some issues.

1. The pitching staff was helped tremendously by the defense last year. It's not as good this year. They're currently 17th in park-adjusted defensive efficiency; they were first by a mile last year.

2. Lackey has shown his age. Hendricks has been not good. Anderson's been awful. But as I noed earlier, Arreita's FIP and DRA point to better times ahead (they're not a lot worse than last year). If he and Lester are good, Hendricks and Lackey OK, and somebody starts every fifth day with an ERA below 8, they're still the class of the division.

alcrisafulli (San Diego): I'm looking for someone who can answer my prospect questions, offer fantasy advice, sprinkle in a few sizzling pop culture puns, and isn't going to bore me with a bunch of Bill James mumbo jumbo. Have I come to the right place?

Rob Mains: I'm not totally useless with fantasy.

Justin (Iowa City, Iowa): Don't listen to BC from Urbandale, he is actually from Ankeny.

Rob Mains: Duly noted.

Sol (USA): If you were to come into 500k, how would you invest it to maximize the return

Rob Mains: Thank you, Sol.

Can't really answer that in a vaccuum. First priority financially would be to pay off high-interest (credit card, etc.) debt, unless it's financing a business with a strong return. Second priority is to fully fund your 401K or 403B or whatever AND a Roth IRA. You're going to need a lot more when you retire than you think. (Not bad rule of thumb: Take the amount you'll think you need annually, add 15%-20%, and multiply by 30. That's how much you need saved.) So I'm assuming you've checked all those boxes before getting he $500K? Then I'd suggest index funds. If you're young (under 30) I'd put it all in an S&P 500 fund. The older you get, the less risk-tolerant you should be, so I'd put some in a bond index fund as well. I would not mess with individual stocks.

Ceej (Pittsburgh): Then let's get to more important Bucco talk. Polanco's shoulder is allegedly still messing with him. Is it time to be concerned long term with him?

Rob Mains: Thanks, Ceej!

The thing about Polanco: HE IS SO FREAKING YOUNG. He'll be 26 in September. He's only a few months older than Kris Bryant and Jameson Taillon. There aren't a lot of shoulder things (torn labrum may be one of them) that can't be fixed, and he's young enough to bounce back. I am really not worried about him...

...much. The only concern: His career has been a patchwork of some really great streaks and long periods of meh. Everybody is like that, of course, but it seems more pronounced with him. I'd like to see the latter shorten a bit.

Dustin (West Des Moines ): in your opinion, if Gleyber Torres becomes a perennial all-star, was it still worth it for the Cubs to get Aroldis last year?

Rob Mains: Well, flags fly forever, and going into the 2016 season, that was probably true for no franchise more than the Cubs. And one could make the case that they wouldn't have gotten the championship without him. It's not an airtight case, but if you believe that, then, yeah, it was worth it.

Personally, I think they paid too high a price, both personnel-wise and ethically. But I probably don't assign the same importance to a pennant that says "World Series Champions" than others.

ayzzya (Beez in the trap): Is checking BABIP, hard hit percentages, HR/FB ratios, etc. and comparing those to career numbers an acceptable quick and dirty way to scout the statline with major league hitters? Besides "use all information and correctly account for all context" what's the best way a regular fan can find some useful info.

Rob Mains: There's another question that touches on this in queue as well. This may be my ignorance, but I'm not completely sold on hard-hit percentages as an indicator of things at a point in time. Earlier I pointed out that McCutchen has a really low BABIP. That's been shown to be unlikely to persist, so he's likely to get better. Michael Conforto, it's great to see him finally play, but his one-of-three HR/FB is not sustainable. I'm just now sure yet of hard-hit percentages. If you hit balls a bunch of screaming liners right at fielders, yeah, it's bad luck, and it should change. But if you're hitting 105 mph into the ground, you've got a problem that's not necessarily going to get better.

So yeah, in general, looking for sharp changes from career norms are an acceptable Q&D. Just not sure about batted ball speed. As for sources, the three sites everybody uses are our stats page, Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs. All of them have a wealth of information. That's how I knew, for example, that Bautista's contact rate has fallen off a table--I looked it up. It's amazing how much is available these days.

BC (Urbandale): I work in Urbandale though. What are John Jaso's chances to make the hall at this current pace?

Rob Mains: I live relatively close to Cooperstown, and I'll be there for Tim Raines's induction. I haven't heard anything yet about a new wing for notable white guy dreds, but if I hear anything, I'll let you know.

alcrisafulli (San Diego): The Cubs appear mortal, the Giants and Mets are a mess, so how much more does the Starling Marte suspension hurt from the perspective of Pirates fans?

Rob Mains: We're still talking about a Wild Card, right? For a team that currently has the tenth-best record in the league, four games behind the second wild card? It hurts from the perspective of having a team that's better, and some of the outfield follies in his absence have been notable. But he was a 7-win player last year. Cut that in half, and assume some ineffectiveness due to rust when he returns, and the team is...what, maybe five games worse because of his suspension? He's not the reason, at this point, that October ball seems unlikely.

Hobbs (IA): Are you worried about Arrieta? His numbers look pretty good except his BABIP is high, LOB is low and GB% is low. What do you make of him so far? Think he rebounds to what he was last year?

Rob Mains: Boy, ol' Jake sure has people worried today! And yeah, today's WYNTK by Emma Baccellieri, showing where he located his pitches yesterday, is pretty bad. But let me put it this way:
2016: 3.55 FIP, 3.29 DRA, 73 DRA-
2017: 3.86 FIP, 3.79 DRA, 84 DRA-
So yeah, he's been a worse, but not 5.35 ERA worse. That, and the BABIP and strand rate, point to better times ahead, I think.

I'd be worried if I wanted 2015 Arrieta. I wouldn't if I want an above-average guy in the rotation.

PK (Houston): Mark Reynolds has the best hard contact rate he's had since 2009 but a pretty blah Average Exit Velocity (88 MPH). What gives? Does it take hard/soft contact numbers longer to normalize?

Rob Mains: Ah, PK, I wish I'd seen this when I answered the question about hard contact earlier. I'm not completely buying in to those numbers yet. And Reynolds has an insane HR/FB. Hang on...Yeah, 44%. That's crazy. I also don't know (as in I don't know, I'm ignorant; not I don't know, I'm doubtful) how playing half your game in Coors affects the hard contact numbers. And again, hard contact on the ground and had contact in the air have totally different contexts.

KC (Sunshine): Was 2016 Villar just a mirage?

Rob Mains: Not a mirage, but way, way out of line with what we would've expected. PECOTA saw .249/.318/.394 this year. The SLG might turn out to be high, but I don't think that's too out of line.

There is a ton of recency bias when we look at breakout players. If a player's established a pattern over several years, and the most recent year's an outlier, there's a rush to assume the most recent year is the new normal. The most recent year should inform our outlook, not replace it.

Neal Huntington (Pittsburgh): What the hell should I do with this team over the next year?

Rob Mains: Well, you're screwed for this year, right? Your best player's suspended, your second-best pitcher is out indefinitely with a really serious health issue, and one of your best players, if one reads between the lines of official actions, is such a jackass that two countries have had it with him. So that in and of itself means this is not a year for the Clint Hurdle Invitational.

So I'd focus on seeing whether Searage can make something of the last two spots in the rotation (assuming Taillon comes back and is fine), groom a replacement for Mercer (FA after next year), find a place for Frazier's bat (I put that next to the Mercer sentence on purpose), and hope like hell that Meadows remembers how to hit again.

Things aren't as bad as they seem right now. Other than Cubs, you play in a division full of pretty flawed teams.

James (Balt): Why is it that the Orioles refuse to spend any money on pitching or International signees?

Rob Mains: I used to work for a company based in Baltimore. I have a lot of friends who are Orioles fans. And man, that team would drive me nuts, for the reasons you cite. The thing about pitching is that I'd say big contracts aren't Angelos's thing, but Chris Davis. Ubaldo'd once, twice cautious? And tbh, the strategy of giving Buck a bunch of good bullpen arms and letting him sort out the mess has worked.

So I'd be less upset about the rotation--not a lot of talent available this year anyway--and hope that the new international signing rules help get the O's more in the game.

Jef (Milwaukee): With the new 10-Day DL, should fantasy owners be begging their league managers to add one or two more DL Spots?

Rob Mains: I just checked--I have 8 guys on the DL in one of my leagues.

I have always been in favor of more DL slots, but that's because I play in pretty deep leagues. I'd be less in favor of it in other leagues. But you should ask Mike in his chat Monday.

ssimon (Pelham, N.Y.): How much sediment is too much in a bottle of wine? Is it personal taste or is there a general standard?

Rob Mains: GOD BLESS YOU SSIMON

All these damn prospects questions, finally something up my alley.

Sediment, particularly in an older bottle of wine, is fine. I mean, you don't want to drink it, but it's not a flaw, unless the wine's turned to sludge. I recommend decanting most red wines anyway (i.e., pouring them into a larger container to expose the wine to air), and if you do that slowly, you can leave most of the sediment in the bottle.

I'm talking about the dark-colored sediment in red wines. You might get small crystals in your wine, usually in reds but sometimes in whites, and they're harmless.

dianagramr (VORGville): Who is one the Pittsburgh sports version of Mount Rushmore .... Lemieux, Bradshaw, Clemente, Roethlisberger .... some of those? others?

Rob Mains: OK, truth is, I am not a yinzer, nor am I much of a fan of other sports, but I would lobby hard for Pops instead of Big Ben. Let's leave it at that.

BC (Urbandale): We've decided Arrieta has regressed, that's fine. but have you ever seen a better Texan from Missouri?

Rob Mains: Well, he did grow up in the Lone Star State. Went to high school in Plano. He strikes me as more of a "don't mess with" kind of guy than a "show me" kind of guy. In fact, BC, I would be hesitant to ask your question to his face.

Mike (PA): After multiple DL stints last year, Gerrit Cole is off to a great start this season. How are you feeling about him long-term at this point?

Rob Mains: I know there were a lot of worries about him this spring but I didn't really buy into them. Maybe I'm a pollyanna, but nothing screamed of "chronic health problems" last year. He's a big, well-conditioned guy with stuff and command. His DRA so far (2.90) is lower than his ERA (3.14). This could be the real deal. The biggest long-term concerns are, of course, health in general (solely because he's a pitcher) and the near-certainty that he won't be wearing a Pirates uniform once he gets through arbitration (or maybe even before, since he's going to get expensive).

bob (pa): What are your thoughts on Ian Happ? How good can he be and where and when do you see him fitting in with the Cubs? thx.

Rob Mains: Touched on him earlier. I think he'll be fine, but I'm not a prospects guy. The earlier question suggested he's a Zobrist play-all-over-the-place guy but I'm not sure he has the glove for it. Playing second and the corners will provide playing time, but speaking of Zobrist, there may not be room for him until Zobrist leaves. Again, though, I'm not a prospects guy.

JQ (NY): McKenzie, Keller, Sixto... rank please

Rob Mains: I'm over my limit with prospects, questions, JQ. Heading into the my third hour, I've run out of gas for guys whose names I have to look up in the Annual. There are lots of people here who'll be able to answer that, though!

I'm a Dumbass (South Korea): When do I, if ever, get to play for the Pirates again?

Rob Mains: I don't have a good read on this, but it almost feels as if the Pirates, and, by extension, MLB are not really leaning on the State Department to grant him a visa. I forget when his appeal gets heard in South Korea, but it seems that if his sentence isn't reduced, he definitely won't be here this year. The Freese signing last year, which seemed weird, now makes a lot of sense. I wonder whether the Pirates FO could see his legal issues becoming overwhelming.

Jeb (Iowa): When the hell is there going to be a salary cap in this sport? I get so sick of small market teams having awesome players and then when their 6-8 years are up the big market jackasses come in with their millions upon millions of dollars and just buy themselves wins. It's so stupid.

Rob Mains: You mean, like a salary cap so the owners can make even more money by suppressing wages? I'll pass.

Jeb, I don't mean to be flippant. Read the answer to the next question. I'm going to expand on that.

Jim Nantz (Augusta): When do you think, realistically, is the next 3-4 year window, when the Pirates will be a playoff team again? I really hope it isn't another 20 years.

Rob Mains: Oh gosh no. They're not in bad shape. Here's what the Pirates did very, very smart, that should be a blueprint for other small market/limited payroll clubs: They signed their best young players to extensions when they were young. They didn't hit on all of them--Jose Tabata, anyone?--but they had McCutchen under contract for the best years of his career, ditto in all likelihood Marte, ditto in all likelihood Polanco. Yes, they lost Walker, but on the downside of his career. Same will happen to Mercer. Russell Martin, yeah, but they replaced him with another cheap Yankee pitch framer. So the core's intact. They'll lose Cole, but their hit rate has been pretty good.

And, unlike those terrible Bucs teams, they're not signing horrible FA contracts, they're not blowing up the farm system, and they have a really smart FO.

And if you look below the Cubs, does anybody in the division resemble a juggernaut? They all have pretty big holes. The confluence of the Taillon and Marte issues this year, plus the (not really surprising) failure of Kuhl and Glasnow to really develop as planned (so far), don't necessarily cast a shadow on the future. It's hard to see this club becoming terrible, which isn't really what you want to hear, but if you're at your core an 82-win team, all you need is a half-dozen game variation and you're playing into October.

thegreg7 (Cleveland): Daniel Norris: this this hittable #4 starter with bad command all her is, or is there some untapped upside I'm missing?

Rob Mains: Hey, I was just talking Pirates, a No. 4 with a 4.55 ERA sounds pretty good...

Actually, a No. 4 with a 4.55 ERA is attractive to a lot of clubs, particularly when that 4.55 ERA comes with a 3.62 FIP and 3.98 DRA (88 DRA-), indicating that he's pitched better than his ERA indicates. And he just turned only 24.

So there's hope. The K/BB has never been his long suit--hell, he walks too many guys and strikes out too few, it's not just the ratio--but he's OK as a No. 4. I think Tigers fans may be expecting more, and that may be pushing it. A starter with a 4.00 ERA has value, though.

Buddy (Peoria, IL): I thought Thames had a chance to be pretty good this year, but wow!

Rob Mains: Best story of the season so far as I'm concerned. But, just to be a wet blanket, he's hit .256/.360/.442 over the past two weeks, so while the shiny April will remain in our memories, the merely competent and better-than-expected reality is what we're going to live with. Which is still fine!

Rob Mains: OK, that exhausts the queue. Thanks for hanging out with me. We'll do it again!


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