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Interesting Pirates article

Postby bucsfan04 » Thu Aug 11, 2005 1:10 am

Found this in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Talks some about the rotation for next year and beyond, plus more. Here it is:


Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Submit your question about the Pirates.

Q: Dejan, amid the constant talk of the Pirates' pitching depth, it
seems the team will enter 2006 with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the
makeup of the rotation.

As I see it, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke are the only sure things. The
Pirates have tough decisions regarding Kip Wells, Mark Redman and Josh
Fogg. Dave Williams has been a solid but not spectacular No. 5. Sean
Burnett and John Van Benschoten are returning from major surgery. Ian
Snell, Bryan Bullington and Paul Maholm are unproven. This will be a
real test of talent evaluation for Dave Littlefield and company.

At this point, who do you see in the 2006 rotation? And will Littlefield
have the courage to package some of these prospects -- at the risk of
trading the wrong ones -- for bats in the offseason?

Ted Schroeder of Point Breeze, Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: I do not see prospects being dealt for bats, unless an
exceptional bat is offered in return. This year would seem to offer some
evidence to that effect. Remember when the Pirates were trying to get
Eric Byrnes from Oakland? The Pirates offered Ian Snell and another
prospect. The Athletics wanted Mike Gonzalez. No deal, and rightly so.

I get the idea that the pitchers the Pirates would trade for offense are
at the major-league level, notably Wells and, if there were any takers,
Redman and Fogg.

As for the rotation, I think you are remiss in not including Dave
Williams in the group. As he showed again last night here in Denver,
there is more than enough reason to want to see what he can do with
another season in the rotation. People in the game, including some from
other organizations, like what they see from him. Funny thing is, if he
could only figure out how to do better at PNC Park, a lefty's paradise,
his numbers would be markedly better than they are.

So, with Perez, Duke and Williams, you are left with Wells, Redman,
Fogg, Snell, Bullington and Maholm.

Wells is likely to be traded but not until after he increases his value.
Redman's fate is a mystery. Fogg appears to be pitching his way to a
non-tender. Scratch Burnett and Van Benschoten off your list for 2006,
at least as far as contributing at the major-league level. Those
surgeries take lots of time, not just for actual recovery but also for
rediscovering how to pitch at an elite level. Bullington could be
interesting if he keeps pitching as he did again last night in going 7
2/3. Maholm could, too, although he probably would have to do something
incredible in Bradenton to justify a leap to the majors after so little
time in Class AAA.

Yeah, it has gotten messy in this area.

Q: Hi, Dejan. My question/comment is about Zach Duke: I don't think he
is getting enough credit for having good stuff.

Everyone talks about his poise, presence and maturity. It makes it sound
like he's getting these major-league hitters out by luck and guts alone.
I watched Duke throw since his very first start with the Curve, and I
could tell he was something special. His fastball seemed heavy, and his
pinpoint control had the batters hitting his pitch. He was able to keep
hitters off-balance with his changeup, while using his curveball
effectively.

I know that the intangibles are impossible to teach, and that lot of
pitchers have "a million-dollar arm and a 10-cent head," but I think
that young Mr. Duke is not getting enough credit for his talent.

Tim Mitchell of Altoona

KOVACEVIC: You know what, Tim? That is a fair criticism, and I accept
it. I can say I have not stressed enough that his fastball can hit 92
mph, which is pretty good, and that his changeup has terrific action to
it. The latter has been so effective Duke seems to even be surprising
himself with his ability to use it as a strikeout pitch.

No question, he has a major-league arm to go with major-league poise.

That said, one distinction I want to make here is that when major-league
management or players refer to a pitcher's "stuff," they are referring
exclusively to velocity for fastballs or bite on breaking pitches.
Control is not weighed. Neither are intangibles such as guile or poise.

This is important to note. I get emails from time to time asking how
Lloyd McClendon can describe Kip Wells, for instance, as having good
"stuff" in an outing in which he walked five and gave up 10 hits. The
reason is that he might have had a very live arm and great dynamics but
no semblance of command or no plan to attack batters. Ryan Vogelsong or
Ian Snell can provide further examples. They almost always go to the
mound with good "stuff," even though they rarely get good results. Or
look at Dave Williams last night: Lousy stuff, terrific results.

Q: How about this for the steroids policy? If you get caught once,
you're never allowed to make more than the minimum salary in your
career, no matter what kind of stats you produce.

I think this would make players a lot more careful about what they put
into their bodies, and it would help teams that sign the players to very
expensive contracts.

Alan Borasky of Mount Washington, Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: Alan, meet Donald Fehr. Donald, this is Alan. He has an idea
for you.

I will leave you two alone for a while. Enjoy.

Q: Dejan, I was wondering what you thought about Jose Bautista.

The Pirates have had trouble with bringing up players too early in the
past, although the last one to arrive with no Class AAA experience --
Jose Castillo -- is progressing very nicely. Could Bautista be ready to
play in the majors next year? The Pirates are in serious need of someone
at third who can hit for power.

Ricky Perrotta II of Uniontown

KOVACEVIC: There is no question third base is the position of greatest
weakness at the major-league level and in the system, just as there is
no question Bautista provides the only internal possibility for that to
change. That is why, I feel, his solid production in Altoona this season
-- fueled by a leap in performance over the past two months -- has been
among the brightest developments in the organization.

Could he make the leap? I have not heard anyone discounting that. To be
sure, Bautista receives some enthusiastic backing from management. And,
as you point out, there is precedent in Castillo.

What confuses me about the Bautista situation is that the Pirates would
have been much closer to an answer for your question if they had used
him in Class AAA all season.

I understand their desire to get him at-bats and give him a consistent
place to play after his Rule 5 tour last year. That is why I have not
criticized them after the fact for failing to promote him in mid-season.
But I do not understand why a player of this pedigree, much less one who
already had experienced a full year's worth of lessons in the majors,
would not start out at Indianapolis.

I have asked this question often, and the answer I get is invariable:
They just wanted to get him at-bats.

Well, those at-bats were available in Indianapolis if many of them had
not gone instead to journeyman Jose Leon.

Remember when Ray Sadler, a member of the 40-man roster, was demoted
from Indianapolis to Altoona early in the season despite his hot start?
The reasoning given to Sadler was that the Pirates had promised
journeyman Jon Nunnally playing time if he signed with Indianapolis.

Perhaps therein lies the reasoning for Bautista.

To the kid's credit, though, he certainly has not disappointed. He is
batting .282 with 19 home runs and 74 RBIs, and Baseball America
recently tabbed him the best defensive third baseman in the Eastern
League. His future certainly appears to be bright.

Whether that will come next season remains to be seen. The Pirates have
suggested very strongly they plan to go outside the organization to fill
that position, and the decision to do that must come well before
Bautista gets a chance to win a job in spring training.

Q: Dejan, given that he's pitched so poorly, if Mark Redman remains with
the Pirates the remainder of the season, do you think he'll take the
player's option on his contract? I can't imagine the Pirates will take
the team option.

Also, while I know you're no mind reader, did you get the sense that he
was unfairly blaming his poor performance on injuries? I just found it
weird that Lloyd McClendon wouldn't even mention his injuries as a
possible reason for his poor performances.

Jamie Schachter of Atlanta

KOVACEVIC: As I wrote in my coverage of Redman's most recent start,
Jamie, that player option of $4.5 million has to be looking better and
better by the day for Redman.

As you mention, the Pirates might not exercise their team option of
$4.95 million, so that will be all that is left to him. He can decide to
try free agency, but it would seem he would have to be more motivated by
getting a longer-term deal than in increasing his 2006 salary. Even on
the open market, teams are not going to reward a performance in which a
player starts great but finishes poorly. (Unless that player is Derek
Bell, but that is another matter entirely.)

Regarding Redman's complaint of injuries after his past two starts ...

When weighing something like that, it should be prioritized that no one
except the athlete really knows. An athletic trainer can perform stretch
tests and the like, but the grimace on the athlete's face -- real or
manufactured -- is all there really is to use as a measurement for pain.
No one is going to take an MRI of a stiff neck or aching back.

To be sure, it looks lousy when any athlete complains of two different
injuries after two consecutive poor performances. It looks even worse
when he is the one issuing the injury reports.

This is what I know: Before Redman's last outing, he did receive
treatment and medication from the athletic training staff. That same
staff reported to McClendon that Redman was fine to pitch. McClendon did
not mention Redman's injury to reporters after the game, but he told me
the next day that was because he was not sure if Redman wanted it public.

He apparently is fine to pitch tonight.

Q: I got my first opportunity to watch Chris Duffy at PNC Park last week
during the Padres series. Those two catches he made were amazing. The
Pirates have found their center fielder of the future.

With Jason Bay in left and Duffy in center, if the Bucs could find a
right fielder, they'd be stacked.

Could Jody Gerut be the answer there? Or would someone like Nate McLouth
be better there?

Corey Corbin of Grove City

KOVACEVIC: I appreciate your enthusiasm, Corey. There is no question
Duffy is one of those players you have to see in person to fully
appreciate. Television does not do justice to the kinds of jumps he gets
on fly balls, much less the distance he travels to track them down. For
that matter, it also does not give you an idea of how incredibly fast he
is out of the box to first base.

On the other hand, your enthusiasm might be going too far to suggest the
Pirates will be "stacked" with an outfield of Bay, Duffy and someone
else. That might be true if it is Bay, this version of Duffy who is
hitting almost .400 and an All-Star in right. But the latter two are
very much wishful thinking at this stage, if not outright unrealistic in
the immediate future.

If you ask me who will be the Pirates' right fielder next season, I
would say Craig Wilson. Even with arbitration, he is not going to get
much of a raise on his current salary of $3 million. That makes him
eminently affordable and, given his history, a good value if he can
deliver 25-30 home runs and 80 RBIs.

I see McLouth as being able to challenge for an outfield spot. But,
until he shows some power, there is no cause to believe he can be the
long-term answer at a corner spot. I see Gerut and Michael Restovich
getting chances to play. But Gerut's hobbling around on a gimpy knee
will tell the Pirates nothing this season, and he will be hard pressed
to impress that much in spring training. And, if the organization truly
felt Restovich had a chance to be something more than a spare
outfielder, it undoubtedly would be using him more than it has.

I will say, amid all that negativity, that it is a positive for the
Pirates to have Bay and Duffy looking like fixtures in those two
outfield spots. But I think the uncertainty about Duffy's bat highlights
even more the need to make every effort to have a big-time power hitter
in right field. And that is further underscored by the presence of the
Clemente Wall, which offers the team the chance to use even a
defensively deficient player if necessary, just to get that offense.

On a semi-related note, I get almost no mail about Bay. This kid is
having a terrific season. Is that already so expected of him that it is
dull?

Q: How long do the Pirates continue to go with Daryle Ward and Rob
Mackowiak and Brian Meadows? If the youth movement is on, why not go all
the way?

I can't believe it would cost any more losses, especially based on the
performance of these veterans.

Jim Mareino of Mt Lebanon

KOVACEVIC: The Pirates have the youngest team in the National League,
Jim. They are making heavy use of five players recalled in the past two
months from Class AAA and have a 24-year-old everyday second baseman. In
one game last week, all nine starters were 29 or younger.

How much further do you want them to go?

Seriously, not being glib here, but there are more important factors to
consider than simply whether or not the fan base -- including yourself,
apparently -- are tired of watching certain guys.

You want them released? That is not capitalizing on assets. In any
sport, you hang onto assets -- even ones you might not want -- until you
are dead certain they cannot bring you anything of value in return. (See
Rule 5 draft 2004 for more details.)

You want them demoted, as Bobby Hill was? That is fine, but you have to
have someone to call up in their place. And you had better be sure that
player is ready. Not just from the standpoint of the ability to face
major-league competition, but also from the standpoint of making the
best use of that player's major-league service time. If the Pirates, for
example, call up Paul Maholm and dump Josh Fogg, they start Maholm's
clock ticking on his major-league service time. That means he can be a
free agent sooner in his career.

It might make you feel fuzzy for a couple of months, but it does not
help in the long run.

One other factor to consider: A team does need a veteran presence. I
know that can cause some to roll their eyes, because it is not the type
of thing that is readily apparent, but there is not one person in any
walk of the business who would deny this. A clubhouse full of kids is
conducive neither to winning nor to the development and instruction of
the young talent in there. They need someone on whom to lean and, from
time to time, someone to kick their tail.

Be sure that this particular group of Pirates is no exception.

Q: Dejan, with the Pirates having two Class A teams in Lynchburg and
Hickory, how do they determine where the players from Bradenton and
Williamsport are assigned?

Will center fielder Andrew McCutchen end up with Lynchburg because he is
playing so well?

Eugene Sinicki of Polish Hill, Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: Hickory is low Class A, and Lynchburg is a step up. As with
all personnel decisions, the Pirates place players with those teams
based on their perception of readiness.

Management has not ruled out that McCutchen could be promoted before
season's end, but neither has it been determined that he will. He
probably would have to get back to the extraordinary level of play he
exhibited in his first two weeks at Bradenton.

Q: Dejan, the question last week from Terry Brown of Monroeville
literally forced me to send this in: I wonder if the Pirates know how
dangerously in trouble they are, now that the NHL has a new deal.

Let me go back a bit. In the early 1990s, both the Penguins and Pirates
enjoyed great success. I grew up in those years, attending day baseball
games and watching night hockey games on TV. The years went on with less
success, but the Pirates and Penguins were small-market teams and that
was that.

Back to 2005. I've just gotten out of college, have a job in the city
and am pulling down a paycheck for the first time in my life. Steelers
tickets are sold out. So now, where am I going to spend my dollars? I
don't have enough to go with both the Penguins and the Pirates. Neither
team has been to the playoffs for at least three seasons. The NHL has
been out of business for a year and the Pens play in the worst facility
in the NHL, while the Pirates play in the best in MLB. So, I went to
Pirates games. I love PNC Park.

But with this new labor agreement, I know that, even if the Pens go
10-72, they had a fair chance to win from the outset. I don't think the
effect of this can be overestimated! Look at the letters to the editor
sent in to the Post-Gazette, people calling to boycott games until
management puts more money into the team. But the Pirates could add $20
million and not begin to make a dent in the unfair system that is the
MLB. That inequity is astonishing. So, my dollars go to the Penguins --
with whom I now have a 10-game ticket plan -- and I pay much less
attention to the Pirates.

But the effect of this is much more than the loss of my measly dollars!
From your days on the Pens Q&A, Dejan, you mentioned once that, when the
Pens were getting bad press, that the Pens management still loved it
because their real fear was apathy. I didn't understand that until now.
You would not believe the apathy I have seen about the Pirates in my
generation. The soon-to-be 13-season losing streak isn't making them
angry. They don't want to commiserate about how the Pirates stink or the
economics do. They are ceasing to care at all.

The excitement is about the Penguins. And I honestly believe, Dejan,
that while Sidney Crosby is a great catalyst, the excitement still would
be with the Penguins. I never thought this before, but the Pirates don't
need a winning season as much as they need a light at the end of the
tunnel, something that could prove we won't go through five years of
development with a player only to not be able to afford him, like Aramis
Ramirez.

I'm absolutely not trying to start a Pens-Pirates fight. I love both
teams. But the changes in the NHL has taken away one of the last
vestiges of Pittsburgh being labeled a small market. The inequity is
revealed in all its ugliness, and I won't support it any more.

Mathew Calland of Bethel Park

KOVACEVIC: Out of respect for the work you clearly put into that,
Mathew, I will add little beyond my appreciation. It is always good to
hear from you.

I share 100 percent your view that fixing baseball's economic system is
issue No. 1. The inequity does not excuse the poor management the
Pirates have had in these 13 years. It might even help to disguise it.
But it is high atop the list of things that have to change for
Pittsburgh to enjoy world-class baseball again.

Seeing what has happened to the NHL only underscores that. Imagine the
day the Pirates could go out on a whim and fill their needs by signing
Manny Ramirez (Sergei Gonchar) and Vladimir Guerrero (Ziggy Palffy)
while the Yankees and Red Sox went into a panic to buy out or trade
contracts to get under the salary cap.

P>

In closing ...

I have been hit regularly in the past couple weeks with email asking if
I am going back to the hockey beat. I even had one long-time reader, Bo
Amato of England, go so far as to ask if plan on doing both the Pirates
and Penguins.

I am not, and I never had the intention of doing so. As I wrote back in
December when I decided to make this switch, it was for the long haul.
It is the first time in my 13 years at the Post-Gazette I have been the
primary writer on any beat, and I really have enjoyed it.

It would be more fun, of course, if the team were more competitive and
its games more relevant than they are now. On this job, you live for
covering the big events.

But there has been intrigue added to the equation for the rest of this
season, I think, by the recent recall of so many young players who
appear likely to have an impact in the long term. That makes the little
plays those players make -- positive and negative -- worth noticing and
highlighting. It makes the achievements of Duke and Duffy worth
appreciating. It magnifies the importance, too, of watching how well or
poorly those players are handled and taught by the coaching staff.

Beyond that, we will see how it all plays out for the club. Maybe those
young players will turn into standouts. Maybe they will not. Maybe
ownership finally will make a commitment and fill the holes by making an
investment in the actual product rather than ridiculous Disney-style
fare like SkyBlast. Maybe they will shortchange the payroll again. Maybe
baseball will produce a fairer economic system, one in which the Pirates
at least begin with the same slate as everyone else. Maybe pigs will not
fly.

Two years ago, I was writing that the Penguins were ahead of the curve
when they were dumping salaries and building with youth. When they lost
18 in a row in 2003-04, I wrote that they still were doing the right
thing by sticking with the kids. When they went 12-5-3 to end that
season, I wrote that this would bode well under a new system because
they would have fewer holes to fill. I also wrote, repeatedly, that the
system would be fixed and that the Penguins would return stronger than ever.

Feel free to call me some of the same names I was hearing back then. But
I am seeing, in a different type of way, the same confluence of events
as being at least possible for the Pirates, and I find it to be a very
interesting time for the franchise.

Whichever way the story develops, I look forward to chronicling it.

Until next week, by which point maybe someone can envision a penalty
that is sufficient to deter a player from swinging at the first pitch
with two outs when your starting pitcher just had a nine-pitch at-bat
and drove in a run, as happened last night with Tike Redman right after
Dave Williams' RBI chopper.

Oh, and please, keep it clean ...
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Postby GreenFish » Thu Aug 11, 2005 12:13 pm

Thanks for the post. It is nice to see Duffy get some credit. He has been playing so well with very little interest being paid to him (kind of like Bay?). I really like this kid McLouth. It would be nice to see a starting outfield of Bay, Duffy, & McLouth next year. Put Craig Wilson back at first and put Ward/Eldred back to the backup role they are better suited to. Better yet, trade either Ward or Eldred. I think this lineup could be pretty productive. Between all these hitters and Duke & Snell and if Burnett and Van Benschoten can come back next year there are some exciting possibilities in the Bucs future.
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Postby bucsfan04 » Thu Aug 11, 2005 8:34 pm

GreenFish wrote:Thanks for the post. It is nice to see Duffy get some credit. He has been playing so well with very little interest being paid to him (kind of like Bay?).


I agree, he has been great so far and nobody knows about him (basically the same thing all young Pirates players go through.
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Postby Mercer Boy » Fri Aug 12, 2005 12:20 am

Yeah, I'm liking Duffy right now...If nothing else, his defense is sorely needed out there. We've lost at least 2-3 games this year due to Tike Redman's poor fielding.

Long article, but good opinions in there. I'm still watching them! :-°
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