-- Pirates lock up 15th consecutive losing season, begin making front office changes.
-- Steelers off to good start, as they should be.
-- Pens virtually sold out.
The only "positive" I can derive from the Pirates going over 82 losses for the 15th straight time, is that changes are starting as close to the top of the organization as fans could reasonably hope.
Still, until I see personnel moves, both on the minor and major league levels, I'll continue to believe that Frank Coonelly is just another fop to take the fall for the profit-fixated Bob Nutting.
WMBS Sports Talk Show host George Von Benko actually had a sitdown with Nutting and Coonelly last week which he aired on his show this past Saturday (10:10AM - noon). After asking each man an introductory question, George asked Nutting, pretty much point blank (paraphrasing follows):
Many Pirate fans feel that you have no incentive to put a winning product on the field. This season, you're nearing the 1.7 million mark in attendence this year, so they don't see why you would put any more effort into building a contender. How do you answer that.
Nutting, in his moderately charsimatic way, answered very slowly, very articulately (again, paraphrased):
Let me say first that I have nothing but appreciation for all the Pirates fans that have stuck with this team through the long drought. It shows loyalty and devotion that is unmatched. And I certainly appreciate that. Secondly, I want to make it clear that I want to see a winner here in Pittsburgh.
This was neither alarming nor startling. Had I been conducting the interview, I would have reasked the question, which was left unanswered.
I believe Nutting would like to see a winner in Pittsburgh, too. It would mean even more money for him. Why wouldn't he want to see a winner?
I find it hard to get up for the 2008 season because Nutting failed to commit to any statement saying he would up the payroll of the team or at least invest more into the development of the Pirates' severely-depleted farm system. He never once addressed the question, saying either, "You're right. I don't have any incentive to build a winning team," or, "I intend to increase the payroll between [insert any two numbers here]." He completely circumvented the question by talking slowly enough, and flattering the Pittsburgh fan base, then identifying with their desires.
Then, on the other side, we have new CEO Coonelly, who believes that the Pirates could contend with a $45-$50 million payroll. His logic makes some sense for the year to come, but as a long-term plan, there's no doubt he can't believe it.
Some of the Pirates' young starters are still under contract which are accounted for in the payroll for another year, maybe two. But after that, the Bucs will either need to pony up the dough (you can't keep good starting pitching for cheap anymore) or hope someone emerges out of the farm system. And, if the division stays weak for another year (what are the odds?), maybe they can catch a break. Still not likely.
So, the future, while it looks different on the outside, does not seem to be any different on the inside.
Player-wise, Jack Wilson, playing most of the season in the 8th spot in the order, has upped his batting average to be right around the .300 mark after a .266 mark a month ago, and a season low of .244 after June 6th. Now, as someone suggested at WHYGAVS, is the time to trade him. I agree. However, the Pirate faithful have been hard on potential new SS, Cesar Izturis. Brian Bixler didn't knock off many socks with his year in AAA, and I think people are trying to forget that Mt. Lebanon's native son, Don Kelly, even exists.
The free-agent market doesn't look too good, either. Only one potential free-agent shortstop is under the age of 30, and that's 28-year old Juan Uribe of the Chicago White Sox. He has a $5 million option for 2008 or a $300K buyout. David Eckstein of the Cardinals will be a free agent, but the 2006 World Series MVP will almost certainly be resigned by the Redbirds. Even so, he's coming off a 3-year, $10M+ contract and would make a reliable leadoff hitter. He's 32 years old, most Pirate fans hate him, so I don't know how well he would fit in here. And if the Cardinals didn't resign him, you can imagine there are other ballclubs in the league willing to fork over much more for his services than the Pirate organization could touch.
Back to Wilson, even if there was a plan for his backup, what would you trade him for? Middle relief? How much starting pitching could you hope to gain for him? Would you try for an established major league catcher? I like Ronny Paulino. I'm one of the few that do. You'd be foolish to say that since his fateful drop of a foul ball behind the plate (and drop of a relay throw in the same at bat) that his play has finally started to come around both at and behind the plate. Of course, he'll never be Matt Weiters should become if he stays healthy.
The question still stands...what could Wilson, peaking right now, net the Pirates?
If this plan isn't well thought-out with a few options, I don't see major harm in keeping him on, perhaps signing him to a more incentive-based contract. Wilson seems like a very rational man. Then again, sports agents tend not to be.
Pittsburgh Pirates baseball: We Will (see).
Despite the potential crushing final five weeks of this season (see my season preview in post #79), the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing what they need to do to give themselves the best possible shot to get into the playoffs: win the games they should. Handy wins over hated Cleveland and struggling Buffalo are games that they should've won and, more or less, had to win. Next week is another such game as the 49ers come to town. They're a bit tighter on defense and have won a couple of gritty divisional matchups. Now they have to come most of the way across the country (following another road game, no less) to play a team that has shown more fire in two games against inferior opponents than they did at any point last season.
That said, I'm not sold on the offensive line as yet. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 5 TDs (while only being sacked twice) and Willie Parker has had two consecutive games rushing for over 100 yards. Honestly, I may not be sold on the line until they take on Denver at Invesco on October 21. All that said, they've performed better than I expected out of the gate. Whether it's enough to make them a Superbowl contender (which is what all Steeler fans want to see) is still a very hazy mystery.
All told, Mike Tomlin does seem to have the team prepared, as they're not only winning, but winning with relative ease. And it doesn't seem as though any spit showers have been necessary to get his players to perform.
I can tell you that at least two of the three Steeltown's Angels are working the words "October 5th" into every sentence they speak, write, or think.
With the home opener selling out lightning-fast, all season-ticket packages gone, and more Penguins jerseys out an about than I can remember, I don't think there's been this much hype surrounding the opening of a Penguin season since, say, 1993. Perhaps it's the new arena. The machinations of a so-far brilliant general manager. A crop of young players who define the term "up-side". Gary Roberts mentions on a certain PCNC sports call-in show.
Whatever the reason(s), I am almost left with the feeling that if the Penguins don't win the Stanley Cup, in the eyes of the faithful, they will have underachieved. I suppose you could say that about any team and any team's faithful, but I don't think the fans of, let's say, the St. Louis Blues expect hockey's Holy Grail to come to the Gateway to the West.
In my opinion, there's still one more year of growth the Penguins need before they capture the ultimate prize. Whether that growth means completely imploding under the weight of expectation this year and missing out on the field of 16, or getting to the Conference Finals, only to have their dreams crushed by a more experienced team, or, worse, a team that came into the season with absolutely no pressure on them, there is still one more step to take.
Considering where this club was three seasons ago, in the big picture, I think I'll be able to deal with it.
Kind of like a sequel.
Unfortunately, Nicole has withdrawn from the fold.
Karri and Tiffany will be allied with the lovely and Pirate-savvy Emma.
I expect Tiffany will return to the comment section once the puck drops on the Penguins' season. In the meantime, you can visit the talented angel's blog.
I guess I have to sound off on the New England Patriots getting busted for videotaping opposing teams' signals.
New England's Head Coach Bill Belichick
As if there weren't enough reasons out there to hate the Patriots organization. Bob Kraft. Belichick was a former Browns coach. Dirty defensive backs. Now it comes to light that the organization was using, essentially, spies, to give the team an edge. How much of an edge this kind of surveillance gave them, and for how long, remains murky. How many games might they have otherwise lost? Are any of their three championships truly legitimate? Or is the rest of the league just a bunch of crybabies?
I think Belichick's general brush-off of the accusations was as much an admission of guilt as you could hope for, and his further statements saying he's ready to move on adds to that. I think everything has been said that really needs to. For example, a sports talk show I am wingman for, Saturday Morning Sports Talk with Dutch Wydo, had much to say. You don't have to listen too far in for it to begin.
Right click to download, if you wish...
Or, you can just mosey on down to YouTube and find a much lighter take on it.
However, the Patriots' absolute destruction of the San Diego Chargers last night demonstrates that the talent is there in the northeast, regardless of espionage. That just makes the measures they have taken even more angering.