July 2012

Bucs land Gaby Sanchez for bench

Clint Hurdle has the veteran presence he’s sought for his bench.

With an hour to go to the  trade deadline, the Pirates acquired Gaby Sanchez from the Marlins in exchange for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, as well as the compensation pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft recently awarded by lottery to the Bucs.

This is a swap between two offensively challenged players. The difference is that Sanchez, who was batting .202 in 55 games with Miami, has a productive past. The 28-year-old combined for 38 homers and 163 RBIs in 2010-11.

Snider reports, ready to go

Let the Travis Snider era begin. The Pirates’ late-Monday acquisition has reported to Wrigley Field, been issued uniform No. 23 — and presumably will be in right field and in the lineup for tonight’s game against the Cubs and (?)Ryan Dempster.(?)

To accomodate Snider – who comes in a trade with Toronto for Brad Lincoln — the Pirates had to make two moves:

Drew Sutton has been designated for assignment, which gives the Bucs 10 days to try to work out a deal for him. And Daniel McCutchen has been recalled from Indianapolis, to occupy the bullpen seat vacated by Lincoln.

Clint Hurdle’s lineup will be interesting. Where to slot Snider (assuming he jumps right in)? I’m thinking Walker-McCutchen-Jones-Snider, 2 through 5.

Correia still hopes for trade

Kevin Correia admitted to me this morning that he hopes he will be dealt prior to Tuesday afternoon’s Trade Deadline.

This isn’t shocking news. Correia is a starting pitcher, and he wants to reman a starting pitcher. He was removed from the Pirates’ rotation to make room for Wandy Rodriguez.

“I want to start. For me to start, I’d either have to go elsewhere, or have someone get hurt here,” Correia said. “I don’t want to see anyone to get hurt, so …”

When manager Clint Hurdle had his talk with Correia on Thursday to inform him of the staff decision to move him to the bullpen, Kevin said he did not specifically inquire about the chances of him being dealt.

“(General manager) Neal Huntington wasn’t part of that conversation, so what would have been the point? The manager doesn’t make those calls,” Correia said.

The Angels were believed a possible destination for Correia, but their acquisition of Zack Greinke pretty much cropped them out of the picture. The White Sox just acquired Francisco Liriano.

“Maybe after all the No. 1s are off the board, then teams will start looking at me,” Correia said, the hurt obvious in his eyes.

This is a very tough deal to take. Rodriguez was a good pick-up, the team’s fans concur. It resulted in an overload of solid starters. Someone had to go. For various reasons, physical limitations of others being part of them, Correia was the odd man out. But he had won six straight decisions, making the move hard to accept, even if not hard to understand.

Marte Moment Is Here

The Marte Moment has arrived.

The Pirates announced a few minutes ago that the mercurial outfielder will join the team in Houston, and is expected to be recalled in time for Thursday night’s series opener against the Astros.

To clear roster space, right-hander Evan Meek has already been optioned back to the Indians.

Earlier today, I had tweeted that the acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez would ease Marte’s eventual transition, placing another Dominican Republic native into the clubhouse. A few hours later … what do you know.

Pirates close to landing W. Rodriguez

The Pirates are focusing their quest for pitching help on left-hander Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros, MLB.com has learned.

There is no confirmation from either side of a tentative deal having been struck, but the sides are close enough to an agreement that the Bucs have for the time being pulled the plug on other prospective deals involving a left-hander.

Rodriguez may already have begun the process of undergoing the pre-requisite physical before the deal becomes official, although no announcement is expected Tuesday night.

The Cubs’ Paul Maholm, the recent member of the Pirates’ rotation, and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano had been other southpaws of interest.

Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington first inquired on Rodriguez during the offseason, when the Astros made it known he was available. Rodriguez was one of several veteran starters under consideration until the Bucs decided to sign Erik Bedard.

Rodriguez, 33, is 7-9 in 21 starts for the Astros, with a fine ERA of 3.79. He tendered a quality start Monday night against the NL Central leading Reds, holding them to three runs in six innings.

The native of the Dominican Republic has a career record of 80-84 and is in the middle of a three-year contract. He is earning $ 10 million this season and is due to earn $13 million in 2013. There also is an option for 2014 at $13 million, with a $2.5 million buyout.

A Beatles take on Trade Deadline (and it’s not Help!)

Interesting coincidence late Sunday: On opposite sides of the country, two players on two surprising contenders simultaneously made the same point. 

The Bucs’ Pedro Alvarez and the Oakland A’s Coco Crisp, on the subject of whether their respective teams needed reinforcements, both quoted The Beatles: No, not Help! Let It Be.

El Toro and Coco had the identical message: We’re confident in the players here, and any changes might affect the good chemistry.

Problem is, I don’t think there is a single GM with a degree in chemistry. So they’re always pushing the cart through the Trade Deadline market aisles.

Guys like Neal Huntington face a major dilemma. Tinker with something not broken? Or, if the season goes south, do they sit there in late September asking themselves, “What if …?”

Huntington, of course, has another dilemma, one to which he fessed up on Sunday:

“At the end of two months, we would have absolutely felt we needed a bat after two months of historically bad offense. At the end of four months, after leading baseball in offense for the last two … it’s been an interesting dynamic to work through,” Huntington said while taking a brief break from “working the phones and staying in contact with our scouts.”

Remove “bat” from the must-get list … and there is no list.

“Our starting pitchers continue to do well. Our bullpen continues to do very well,” Huntington said. “You can never have enough arms — but we also have a lot of guys in Triple-A we feel good about. So it’s nice that we don’t have to go get someone specific; we can pick what we want to get — and if the acquisition cost is exorbitantly high, we can stay with what we have and continue to play winning baseball.”

The Pirates are would-be buyers. So are 21 other teams within a hot week of a playoff spot, although some of those appear to be straddling the fence.

“More teams are starting to reach out with two-way,” said Huntington, canvassing the market. “They’re still looking to add — but the reality is setting in that they may need to sell.”

The Pirates approach the Trade Deadline in a situation eerily similar to a year ago — when they did acquire Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, but passed on some “bigger” names available (i.e., Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn).

“We still feel good about the passes based on the asking price and on what they’ve turned into,” Huntington said, candidly.

Pirates bring back Evan Meek

Right-hander Evan Meek, the Pirates’ All-Star setup reliever in 2010, was recalled by the club from Indianapolis on Saturday.

Meek replaces Juan Cruz, who went on the disabled list with inflammation in the right shoulder. Cruz’s disablement is retroactive to July 18, the day after he issued two walks in a 2/3-inning outing in Denver.

Meek rejoins the Bucs two months after his most recent option to Triple-A, in mid-May. In two earlier stints with the Pirates this season, he allowed 13 hits and nine runs in 10 2/3 innings, an ERA of 7.59.

Beset by multiple injuries last season, the 29-year-old righty is trying to recapture the effectiveness that made him an All-Star two years ago, when he posted a 2.14 ERA in 70 appearances.

With the Indians, Meek went 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 27 games and 36 2/3 innings. He also picked up one save.

After earning a job as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Cruz was extremely effective as the Bucs’ primary setup reliever the first couple months of the season. He had struggled of late, however, posting a 4.32 ERA in his last 10 outings. In 37 games overall, the veteran right-hander has a 2.61 ERA, with 32 strikeouts in 31 innings.

The Marte Mission

Everyone is weighing in on Starling Marte, so I thought it was time to let my feelings be known.

No. 1, I give Neal Huntington props for showing patience by not jumping Marte to the Majors at the first outcry for him, which was somewhere around the second week of the Grapefruit League season. Having someone vault from Double-A to the bigs is very risky; it can work but, if it doesn’t, the downside is very steep.

No. 2, it appears to be time.

The real Pirates offense doubtless is somewhere between the impotence of April-May and the omnipotence of June, so if the club reverts to being pitching-dependent, it needs both better defense and speed. Misplaying a single ball in right field could spell the difference between a win or a loss (as it already has).

When you talk about Marte giving the team a spark, you could also be referring to his playing style. He plays at an emotional level, and could stand out on a team where many of the players are reserved.

The longer the Bucs resist promoting Marte, the more likely a big trade, such as the one involving Justin Upton. The feeling is that, in the short-term, Marte does more in Indianapolis to enhance his trade value than he could in his Major League baptism.

One other danger with holding off on Marte: The longer you wait, the higher the expectations will become. So even if the Bucs are concerned with him facing too much immediate pressure, the earlier they make the move, the easier his transition will be.

By the way, I am a tremendous admirer of Upton. He will be a major player wherever he winds up. A classic change-of-scenery candidate. However, acquiring him will require a lot of creativity — and perhaps the involvement of a third team — because I don’t see how Huntington could fit his average $12 million salary into the Bucs’ mid-$60 million payroll.

Now and Zen, it just clicks

This whole Zoltan thing with the Pirates got me thinking. It’s great that the last letter in the alphabet is finally getting some love. Until now, it was best known for putting people to sleep. When you were tired, you had to get your Zs. Check out your old Dennis The Menace comics. That’s the sound good-old Mr. Wilson made when he nodded off on the couch.

The Bucs’ “Z” can have a long life, even after they tire of the connection with “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Even now, you can derive your own meaning from it. Make the “Z” sign and you could be referring to …

  • ZZ Top
  • “Z,” the one-letter title of a 1969 thriller by famed director Costas-Gravas.
  • Your pet zebra.
  • Richie Zisk, the Pirates’ 1978 All-Star.
  • Zappos, your favorite on-line shoe-shopping site.

If the Pirates have a good game tonight, things could get extremely confusing for the Giants’ pitcher. Barry Zito will be wondering whether they’re trying to tell him something.

Deuce or Die

Wild about deuces?

You belonged in PNC Park on Thursday night, when the swashbuckling Pirates made it eight wins in nine games, and the Houston Astros wished 2013 would hurry here so they could escape the NL Central for the AL West.

There were no Deuce Bigelow sightings, but:

  • Game-time was 2:22.
  • Right-hander Jeff Karstens won to improve his record to 2-2.
  • Joel Hanrahan worked the ninth inning to earn the save, naturally No. 22.
  • A crowd of 21,386 spent most of the night chanting “MVP! MVP!” in the direction of center fielder Andrew McCutchen, No. 22 in your program.
  • The Pirates finished off the four-game sweep of the Astros by winning 2-0.
  • Oh — a later loss by the Reds in San Diego would extend the Pirates’ lead in the Central.

To what? Have to ask? Two games.