Through Friday, Major League teams had spent $1,153,000,000 on free agents.
That’s $1.153 Billion.
The Pirates haven’t dropped a penny of that. Makes them one of only five teams [Orioles, Braves, Brewers, D-backs] yet to reach for the checkbook.
I like it.
I’ll pause here to let all you guys who believe in Success Through the Almighty Dollar pop some tranquilizers.
OK, are we good?
This is why I like it:
One, the Bucs aren’t being financial lemmings. That takes a lot more nerve than falling in with the overspending spurred by increased TV revenue — proof being the criticism already heaped on them for “not paying market value.” No matter how crazy that market has gotten?
Two huge exceptions here: Marlon Byrd, whom they should have and would have signed had they known where the market was headed, and Garrett Jones, a valuable team guy who would’ve remained a bargain even as an arbitration guy.
Two, and far more important, Neal Huntington is preparing to flex his muscle in this offseason market: Desired, and tradable, high-end prospects. Those are his chips, and he’s going to push some big ones in the middle of the table.
Everyone else filling needs through free agency is leaving the trade market as the playground of a relatively few. The Pirates will be huge in that arena during the Winter Meetings.
Forget waiting for the other shoe to drop. Huntington will bring down both of his feet before this is over.
A recently-posted video swung open the door to the time machine and I couldn’t enter fast enough, ready for rapture.
I wasn’t disappointed. It wasn’t so much the subject of JOVE23′s post at SB Nation as the wrapper. Witnessing the final three innings of Jim Maloney’s 10-inning no-hitter in Wrigley Field on Aug. 19, 1965 — in color, no less! — was precious. But peeking into how baseball was played, and covered, nearly a half-century ago was priceless.
Check it out for yourself: http://www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2013/11/15/5107464/video-jim-maloney-1965-no-hitter-cubs
You will not see a comparable bit of flashback anywhere, for the simple reason this was videotaped right off WGN’s telecast, complete with commercials. You could be watching it in the living room of your South Side flat, with the Loop clackety-clacking nearby.
My takeaways, the coolest then-and-now contrasts:
- The game included four future Hall-of-Famers, relatively early in their careers before they were stamped Cooperstown-bound — Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Frank Robinson — and a young Pete Rose.
- No: Batting gloves, TV replays, pitch counts.
- Cubs broadcaster Lloyd Pettit, aware of Maloney’s control issues [he ended up with 10 walks], says in the eighth, “He’s thrown quite a few pitches, 150 give-or-take.” [To Pettit's credit, he later does ask the Cubs PR staff to come up with an exact number: Maloney is at 173 pitches after nine, and winds up with 186.]
- Even though it was clearly a sweltering mid-August day in Chicago — short-sleeved crowd — pitchers Maloney and Larry Jackson both donned jackets when on base.
- Speaking of Jackson: The Cubs starter was allowed to bat in a scoreless game with two on and two out in the bottom of ninth.
- There is only one commercial during each break, and they leave you shaking your head: One promotes a contest in which you could win a boat — complete with motor and even trailer — worth $3,900; in another, you are encouraged to give All-State a call because you could save “$10 to $40″ on your car insurance.
Not a gecko or a Flo in sight.
By the 5 p.m. ET deadline on Monday, the Pirates are expected to extend A.J. Burnett a qualifying offer of $14.1 million. It would merely be a technicality — qualifying offers are made to arrange Draft-pick compensation should the free agent sign elsewhere, and Burnett has already indicated his 2014 choices are to pitch for the Pirates or to stay home with his family.
Then the negotiations would begin.
On one side of the table: Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington. On the other side: Karen Burnett and the boys, Allan Junior and Ashton .
Huntington: This is just a starting point, A.J. We’d be willing to go from here to a two-year deal, in the area of $25 million.
Karen: Being awakened on June mornings with the kids jumping on your bed is priceless.
Huntington: You’re a fixture, A.J. We need you.
Karen: I need you to re-wire that light fixture in the den. The boys can help you.
Huntington: We promise to give you the ball every five days.
Allan Junior: Hey, Dad, we’ll toss the ball to you every day, in the backyard. Then we’ll wrestle on the grass and down some lemonade.
Huntington: The guys in that clubhouse really look up to you, A.J. You don’t want to miss out on those fist-pumps from Jeff Locke with admiration in his eyes.
Karen: Hello? Hugs from Junior and Ashton with love in their eyes? You’re going to have to do better than that.
Huntington: Bringing the ring to Pittsburgh, A.J. — you can lead that drive.
Ashton: Just think, Dad — Little League Saturday mornings, you can drive us to the park.
Huntington: Walk-off wins in PNC Park, and here you come with the pie-in-the-face of the hero. You can’t replace that.
Karen: You’re right. Picking the boys up from school on a late-May afternoon, casting a line as I ignite the grill for the catch and the boys chase each other around the truck, tucking the boys in at night … Open House at school, Socials at church, front-yard sparklers on July 4. None of that compares.
Huntington: Can’t all that wait? What’s a couple more years? You’ve already done without it for 15?
A.J.: Yeah, that’s the whole point. We’ll have to get back to you on this.
I absolutely love Marlon Byrd, for what he brought to the Pirates in September. He impacted the team on so many levels in so short a time, it was easy to develop an instant appreciation of him. On the field, in the batter’s box, in the club house — the Byrd man was the man.
But I’m going to give you another reason — one that will blow you away — for digging what this guy brings and for hoping the Bucs can re-sign him.
Check out these two sets of 2013 numbers for a pair of free-agent outfielders, both of whom will be entering their age-36 seasons in 2014:
- 24 homers and 88 RBIs in 145 games and 554 at-bats, with a .296 average and an OPS of .830.
- 24 homers and 88 RBIs in 147 games and 532 at-bats, with a .291 average and an OPS of .847.
To quote Frank Sinatra …
“… And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green
And the people played their crazy game with a joy I’d never seen … “
Time to put another Pittsburgh summer behind me. Except, this is one I will never leave. And there are things I will not left unsaid. So thanks to …
… Clint Hurdle, for all the time.
… A.J. Burnett, for the fire.
… Gerrit Cole, for the candor, and for the chance to see destiny fulfilled.
… Neil Walker, for being so real.
… Francisco Liriano, for that unhittable slider.
… Pedro Alvarez, for being so stoic.
… Andrew McCutchen, for the goosebumps.
… Clint Barmes, for the daily “Wows.”
… Jeff Locke, for carrying the load for three months.
… Ray Searage, for the insight.
… Heberto Andrade, for not letting anything get lost in the translation.
… Starling Marte, for the exuberance.
… Charlie Morton, for the smarts.
… Marlon Byrd, for bringing the ‘tude.
… Josh Harrison, for the spark.
… Jared Hughes, for the friendship and the dedication.
… Jordy Mercer, for waiting for your time with class.
… Travis Snider, for the clutch.
… Russell Martin, for being so accessible.
… Garrett Jones, for the power and the selflessness.
… Jason Grilli, for being nails.
… Michael McKenry, for the grace in dealing with a bad break.
… Jose Tabata, for getting it all back.
… Mark Melancon, for the Shark Tank.
… Tony Watson, for being so icy.
… Justin Wilson, for the heat.
… Vin Mazzaro, for the bullpen bridge.
… Jeanmar Gomez, for being so spot-on, whatever the spot.
… Bryan Morris, for the old-school grit.
… Neal Huntington, for sticking to your guns.
… Jim Trdinich and Dan Hart, for help above and beyond.
… Greg Brown, Tim Neverett, Steve Blass, Bob Walk and John Wehner, for painting pictures with words.
… Pirates Nation, for the Wild Card Blackout, an unbelievable night of sound, emotion and triumph.
… Pittsburgh, for an unforgettable ride — I love you.
Same place, next spring.
“Our metrics showed him to be a good bounce-back candidate.”
Baseball GMs sure didn’t used to talk like that. But that’s Neal Huntington-speak. And the Pirates GM’s “gobbledygook” has certainly been borne out in selecting The Sporting News’ 2013 NL Comeback Player of the Year.
Have you heard? Francisco Liriano got the nod. But there’s more: Mark Melancon came in second; Marlon Byrd was third. And the voting was by an unimpeachable panel: Fellow Major Leaguers themselves.
How’s that for scoring in an area a medium-market team such as the Bucs depends on, isolating, acquiring and reviving players on the skids elsewhere?
Huntington also did it a year ago with A.J. Burnett.
And I’ve got a pretty good idea of who’s next on his bounce-back bill: Josh Johnson, another fireballer — the Pittsburgh brass loves “big arms” — who is a free agent off a miserable season.
The comparisons to Burnett and Liriano are unmistakeable: A proven track record, a flop in the American League, young enough to get it all back with proper coaching.
Johnson, who will be entering his age-30 season, led the NL with a 2.30 ERA only three years ago and was a two-time All-Star with the Marlins. He spent most of this season on the DL with triceps inflammation and a strained forearm — there’s an injury the Pirates (Wandy Rodriguez, Jason Grilli) know a lot about — and otherwise was 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA for the Blue Jays.
6.20 … where have I seen that before? Oh, yes …. that was Melancon’s ERA with the 2012 Red Sox.
Before Huntington can get serious about Johnson or anyone else, he needs to clear up Burnett’s situation: Does he intend to continue his career and, if so, in Pittsburgh?
If A.J. returns, the Bucs do not figure to be in the market for pitching, given the depth of a rotation that returns Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Liriano, and likely Rodriguez, with Jameson Taillon on the horizon.
Without Burnett, Huntington will look for a veteran fall-back such as Johnson, a low-risk, high-reward candidate. The GM seems to know a little about the type.
Here come the “What if?” stories for the Dodgers and the Tigers. “What if” they didn’t have those injuries? You know, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Miggy Cabrera, Alex Avila — apparently the only catcher ever dinged by foul tips and baserunners in the history of the tools of ignorance.
Well, forget it. You want to try that line on the Cardinals, who lose their biggest run producer [Allen Craig] just as they were turning for the stretch? How about the Red Sox, who at the end were down to their No. 3 closer? If Koji Uehara became untouchable, that’s to their credit — but Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both had to get out of the way before the ALCS MVP got the ball.
It’s all about depth — as important as any other team attribute. And depth is all about proper planning. It’s tough to have the necessary depth when so much of your $220 million payroll is vested in a few players you have to keep playing a shortstop who can’t even take a deep breath with a fractured rib. Or, in a first baseman who can go through an entire October without driving in a single run, and has no trouble shaking it off.
Not that further testimony was needed, but the Pirates proved the value of depth. Really, their 2013 season could’ve been no different from 2011 or 2012 if it hadn’t been for the depth provided by years of sound player development. The only thing you need to know about that is a reminder that A.J. Burnett was the last man standing from their season-opening rotation.
So here’s your “What if?” What if you focused more on having a good team rather than a few great players? You get the Cardinals, that’s what. They may have ranked last on the highlight reels [13th in homers in the NL, last in steals]. But they’re still playing.
With Detroit manager Jim Leyland being all the rage today — his tossed salad lineup ignited the Tigers’ offensive breakout for a 7-3 win over Boston in Game 4 of the ALCS — Pirates fans have to be wondering:
Should that have been Clint Hurdle, in Game 5 of the NLDS?
To review: Starling Marte and Neil Walker, the top two hitters in the Pirates’ lineup, were 1-for-31 prior to the decider against the Cardinals, most recently 0-for-7 in the one-hit loss in Game 4; Hurdle kept his batting order intact and the pair added an 0-for-7 as the Bucs went down, 6-1, and out.
There are some interesting analogies. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter, normally Detroit’s 1-2 hitters, had been 4-for-27 without an RBI in the first three games against the Red Sox and went 3-for-7 and drove in four runs as No. 1 and No. 8, respectively. Leyland moved his Andrew McCutchen — Miguel Cabrera — from No. 3 to No. 2 and he went 2-for-4 with two more RBIs.
Was Hurdle wrong to stay with the identical lineup through all five games — with a one-time exception of starting Jordy Mercer over Clint Barmes at short — in his stated belief that “hitters hit. The longer they go without hitting, the more they’re due”?
Certainly a point to argue, but there was one major difference in the circumstances: The Bucs were tied after four games, and had produced 14 runs in the four games; the Tigers were down 1-2 and had scored a total of six runs.
Marte and Walker obviously had not contributed to that four-game production, had been carried by the others. In Hurdle’s view, that bought them time to get untracked. It didn’t work. Leyland’s mad-scientist approach did work.
This is an interesting NLCS. Not quite as interesting as it would’ve been with the Pirates in it but, still, intriguing.
The Dodgers have the better players — with that payroll, they should. But the Cardinals have the better team. Invariably, that spells the difference in postseason.
If you don’t know who to root for — if NL Central pride is not enough to make St. Louis your obvious choice — we’ll give you a good reason to pull for the Dodgers. It’s the same reason MLB is doubtless pulling for Don Mattingly’s crew:
A Dodgers win would create a historic World Series with major national appeal — regardless of who emerges from the ALCS, Boston or Detroit.
The Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers have been in 17 World Series — but never against either the Red Sox or the Tigers. [One disclaimer: In 1916, the Brooklyn Robins did lose to the Red Sox, but we're conveniently overlooking that alias.]
Conversely, the Cardinals met the Tigers in 2006 and the Red Sox in 2004.
So having the Dodgers in the Fall Classic would ensure something novel.
Having Carl Crawford back in the “toxic” — his word — Boston environment wouldn’t be bad theatre, either.
Two Christmases ago, Jim Banks, one of the executive editors at MLB.com, gave me a gift that was much better than a necktie.
Jim gave me the Pittsburgh Pirates.
For nearly 10 years, I had done general writing for MLB.com, features and columns and the like. I hadn’t been full-time on a team beat for nearly a quarter-century.
But Jenifer Langosch, for years the Pirates’ reporter, was going back to her roots to cover the Cardinals in St. Louis.
At MLB Advanced Media’s annual Christmas party, Jim cornered me about whether I’d be interested in doing likewise – even though my roots went a lot deeper- and taking on the Pirates?
It piqued me right away. Piqued me a lot less when my wife made it clear she had no interest in moving from Scottsdale, Arizona. I would be on my own in the summers.
Tough call. But one thing, one thought kept bringing me back to it: “If, after 20 years, the Bucs broke through and I happened to be part of it, at least as the chronicler, it would be a wonderful punctuation for a career and a treasured flashback to my youth.”
And there was one other thing: As a kid, I was convinced I brought the Bucs luck. Supersition, or supernatural?
Whatever … I did it, and now so have the Bucs. Echoing what players often say at times like these, I don’t think I’ll be able to truly appreciate a Monday night in old Wrigley Field until it’s all over, and distance will endow it with perspective.
But I already know one thing.
I haven’t really been on my own these last two years, kept company by that little kid who would spend nights in Forbes Field and wake up in the mornings to grab the Pittsburgh Press to read about the game he had seen hours earlier.
Thanks, Jim Banks. I owe you more than a necktie.