Saturday, August 30, 2008

#103: The Greater of Two Evils


It's times like these that I'm actually glad I don't have an opportunity to blog much these days.

I'm glad I don't have a post on here about how great the Pirate draft was, particularly getting Pedro Alvarez with the 2nd overall pick, and then having a post every twelve hours following the roller coaster that has followed.

Ideally, I'd wait until after the September 10th hearing before commenting on this whole fiasco, but I need to make sure I don't fall victim to ThePensBlog's 30-day elimination-from-the-blogroll quota.

This is one of the few times in recent history where I side with Pirate management, but only because the other side of the coin lies the only entity more deeply corrupt.

If you honestly don't know anything about the situation here's the Cliff's Notes version of the Cliff's Notes Version.

A week and a half after heralded draftee Pedro Alvarez verbally agrees to a minor league contract with a $6 million signing bonus, the man he hired to represent him, SuperAgent Scott Boras had a grievance filed by the MLB Player's Association, saying that the agreement was made after the midnight deadline on August 15. The Pirates dispute this. And Eric Homser, the Kansas City Royals' top pick (also a Boras client), is involved, as he agreed to his contract after Alvarez. Major League Baseball itself has forbidden the Hosmer from playing until after the September 10th hearing before an arbiter.

In one of the best baseball articles I've read this year (by the highly-underrated Jeff Passan) the relationship between Pirates President Frank Coonelly and Boras is laid out very succinctly, and without really taking sides. (Except that Passan does refer to Coonelly as having been MLB's "dark emperor". Apparently, he didn't see THIS pic. - with all proper respects to for the excellent fake).

Boras is baseball's version of Drew Rosenhaus: he is the agent who is always attached to the players who make the most money (quite often far more than they're actually worth). Coonelly is the guy who's been trying to keep payrolls down, primarily by keeping draftees who haven't proven anything yet from signing ridiculously high contracts.

Unstoppable Force, meet Immovable Object.

There's something up here. Neither guy involved is stupid and they've been at this a long time. I just have a couple of questions, and probably the most ludicrous Conspiracy Theory you've ever read in a sports blog (I don't even believe it).

Why does Boras and the MLBPA wait so long to file a grievance? Would we not be talking about this had the Pirates not patted themselves on the back in every media outlet they could for not caving to the demands of baseball's Great Satan?

Or was the grievance always in the works, and it just took that long to make sure that the legal-ese was ready for presentation and the case was made?

It's plain that the pissing contest between Coonelly and Boras is more than just over Pedro Alvarez, especially from Boras' side.

Apparently, Boras is a firm opponent of the signing deadline (because if it didn't exist he could institute a lockout-style format so that he could make his clients even more overpaid).

But he went after the Pirates here, not the Royals, who were later in their agreement with Hosmer. And my understanding is that the Royals did appeal for a deadline extension to Major League Baseball (and had it granted), but that an extension would apply to all teams, not just the Royals.

So, what's Boras and the Players Union going for here? What leg do they have to stand on?

Or, why are the Pirates, normally pretty sotto voce about their dealing, so vocal on this issue? It's a very Bush-ian "Bring it on" thing to do.

And here's where the "ludicrous Conspiracy Theory" kicks in.

While Boras may be going after the Deadline, the Pirates may be trying to invoke a players' strike.

If the arbitor rules in Baseball's favor (which I see as the likely result), how hard would the player's union take it?

Back in 1994, Major League owners, who had too much power, instituted a lockout when players wanted paid more.

Now the balance of power has shifted, by almost an equally gross amount, to the MLBPA. Could this chess match be controlled by Coonelly with the intent of trying to bring the balance of power back toward the middle?

(If you're not sure how much things have changed for teams payroll-wise, you need to look at the USA Today Salary Database, and select total payroll and watch how it grows in the mid-90's.)

As someone who thinks a salary cap is the only way to make baseball a parity league for all 30 organizations, I think I would welcome such a strike, as much as I love baseball.

Regardless, in this case, I am siding against Scott Boras and all he stands for. I would have this stance if it were the Cincinnati Reds, or even the Chicago Cubs who were standing their ground.

Boras must lose this one, for the good of the game. Then we can go back to talking about the cheapness of Pirate ownership.

Of course, this "theory" is almost certainly not where this is going. But if you're going to root for the Pirates this year (and MLB, by extension), this is the game where a fan will ally themselves with the Pirates.


One quick note that's not related to the Boras/Coonelly war, but almost as scary.

Keeping in mind that the Pirates failed to come to terms with their second pick of the draft, Tanner Scheppers:

If the Pirates somehow lose Alvarez and he goes back into the draft, then a little something I wrote for the Pittsburgh Lumber Company's June 5th Roundtable (scroll to the very bottom) is eerily prescient.

Friday, August 01, 2008

#102: The Day After

---Trying to Evaluate the Trades---

I have purposely abstained from going to any of my favorite blogs since yesterday's Jason-Bay-for-four-prospects trade; I want to make sure that my initial opinion remains unaltered.

First, I'll address the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte deal with the Yankees.

It's the type of deal I was hoping General Manager Neal Huntington would make: Trading players while their stock is high. Nady had a relatively injury-free 2008 and was in the top 10 players in the National League in batting average. And we all know how good Damaso Marte could be in those "specialty" situations.

I give Huntington a lot of credit for not being afraid to pull the trigger. The only thing I would like to know is what other possible deals were on the table that were passed on in favor of the one that took place.

Jeff Karstens, one of the new Pirates, had his first start against the Chicago Cubs today and managed to shut out a team that hung 31 runs in its previous 4 games, all against the (supposedly) challenging Milwaukee Brewers.

Using the word "effective" to describe the start would be generous, but considering the starting pitching the Bucs have been getting, 101 pitches in 6 innings is pretty good (on the curve we're forced to grade on). He walked four, but was helped out by a couple of double play balls. He allowed 5 hits, which puts his WHIP as a Pirate at 1.50, just a shade shy of his 1.52 for his (short) career. That must improve.

While Karstens does have some major league experience, he will be 26 years old by season's end. Still, if Karstens turns out to be a starter along the lines of Josh Fogg (vs. a Bryan Bullington, guys...I don't think Fogg was more than an average starter at any point), Karstens-for-Marte is pretty even-up by itself.

The other two pitchers the Bucs received, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf, had eerily similar performances in their first starts at Triple-A Indianapolis. Each gave up four runs on seven hits in six innings of work. Each walked two batters. McCutchen gave up one home run while Ohlendorf gave up two dingers (both to the same guy). But Ohlendorf struck out five vs. McCutchen's three. And they're both 0-1 with the Indians.

McCutchen starts again tonight. Ohlendorf should start again on August third. We'll find out in short order if it was just a case of adjusting to new teammates.

In any event, getting McCutchen and Karstens instead of two Double-A pitchers (George Kontos and Phil Coke) seems to be a better deal. Kontos and Coke both had WHIPs under 1.25, Kontos seems to get a lot of strikeouts (but give up a lot of hits), and Coke has a respectable ERA and a 9-4 record as of this writing.

Incidiently, Kontos had 13 strikeouts yesterday against the Altoona Curve. Should we be surprised that their prospects are striking out ours?

Finally, the Bucs received Double-A top prospect Jose Tabata. All I've heard and read is that he's been injured. I don't even know which minor league Pirate club he was assigned to as his name doesn't show up on any of the team's websites.

What disturbs me is that, while he's only 19 (visions of B.J. Upton, perhaps), Yankee nation seems to be sort of relieved to be rid of him. Various comments about how he's highly overrated and/or injury prone do not bode well. I think what bodes even worse is that the Pirates are talking him up so much.

That's never good.

My grade: C+ (You weren't going to have a better chance to trade Nady and Marte high. I have a feeling there might have been a better deal to be had.)

My grade on the "David Littlefield Curve": B+ (he'd have never gotten four prospects...)


Now to the Jason Bay trade -

Trading Bay was good for the team on more than one level. As skilled as we've seen Bay be through the years, he is still a part of the "culture of losing". He hasn't really shown anything resembling a killer instinct, though he did have three walk-off hits in May and June (the last one being a homer).

As a fan, I can tell you I'll miss the way he'd hustle to first to try to beat out an infield hit and was reasonably successful considering the caliber of play at the major league level.

Still, Pirate fans must realize that while Bay still has at least three good years left in him, by the time any of the organizations draftees would be ready, he'd be on the downside of his career. Sad as it is, the Pirates cannot win with the team they have.

The Pirates gain three players that they added to their major league roster immediately, including both of the players from Boston. Relief pitcher Craig Hansen (who has nearly as many walks as strikeouts...par for the course, I suppose) did not play today. Outfielder Brandon Moss, whose OBP is 50 points higher than his already-solid .295 batting average. While he was 0-for-3 today with a walk at the plate, he did have an outfield assist today, doubling Kosuke Fukudome off first base.

Andy LaRoche, picked up from the Dodgers, had a hit and a run scored today, as well. Those are good signs, but I'm also a bit of a believer in beginner's luck.

Still if just two of the three mentioned above are beyond "serviceable", it gives the Pirates more value for the next round of trades, if nothing else. (The fourth pick, Bryan Morris, is a 21-year old who will start his Pirate career with the Hickory Crawdads).

My grade: B (A chief complaint about this team was lack of depth. In this case, I think Huntington helped that a little. May have bolstered the bullpen and given the team another option at third base)

My grade on the "David Littlefield Curve": A (A lot of DL trades involved one major league player for one minor league player. Huntington is willing to "split the atom" a little bit. There is definitely more upside here to anything DL would have done.


One final compliment I'll throw Neal Huntington's way: By trading both Bay and Nady, he's essentially freed Pittsburgh of his predecessor's two crown jewels.

Not that I won't miss having a couple of guys who can get on base as regularly as anyone, who can occasionally go yard. It's just that the remnants of whatever dream Dave Littlefield had for the Pirates (if there was a dream outside of just being a yes-man for the Syndicate) are being sent away for something that may resemble a plan.