January 2013

Bucs: “We Are The World … “

In Pool D play in the fast-approaching World Baseball Classic, five Pirates players will be getting down in Phoenix as national teams from the United States, Canada, Italy and Mexico mix it up.

Punch line: None of the five will be suiting up for the Stars ‘N Stripes.

Per the provisional rosters announced yesterday, Russell Martin, Jameson Taillon and Chris Leroux are on Team Canada, Ali Solis will catch for Mexico and Jason Grilli is back on Team Italy. Other Pirates in the tourney are  Ivan De Jesus (Puerto Rico), Wandy Rodriguez (Dominican Republic) and Stefan Welch (Australia).

The Bucs’ domestic Classic shutout thus continued. They have yet to place a single played on Team USA — although the eight participating this year bring to 25 the total they have had involved in the first three Classics.

In addition to the six countries they are representing this year, Bucs have played for Venezuela, China, Taiwan, Panama and South Africa.

Stirring the melting pot, indeed.

Cole, Taillon: Next wave to hit Bradenton

Right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, firmly locked in as the Pirates’ top two prospects for a second consecutive year, both received invitations on Thursday to the club’s Major League Spring Training camp.

The Bucs also extended Spring Training invitations to a pair of freshly-signed Minor League free agents, one with extensive big-league experience. Outfielder Brad Hawpe and catcher Lucas May signed Minor League deals.

This will be a return to Pirate City for Cole, who got his professional feet wet in Bradenton last year prior to a rookie season in which he ascended from Single-A to Triple-A. The overall No. 1 choice in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft went an aggregate 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA in Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis.

Taillon, the Pirates’ top Draft choice and the overall No. 2 selection in 2010, will be attending his first big-league camp. Drafted out of high school and thus one year younger than UCLA product Cole, Taillon went 9-8 with a 3.55 ERA between Bradenton and Altoona in 2012.

Both Cole and Taillon participated in the MLB Futures Game prior to the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City.

Hawpe and May both spent the entire 2012 season in the Minors after attending the big-league Spring Training camps of the Rangers and the Mets, respectively.

Hawpe is an eight-year big-league veteran, the first six-and-a-half with the Colorado Rockies when they were helmed by current Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. With the Rockies, Hawpe batted .280 with 118 homers and 464 RBIs in 816 games.

May, no relation to former Pirates catcher Milt May (1970-73), had 37 at-bats with the Royals in 2010 but the 28-year-old receiver has toiled in the Minors for the rest of his 10-year professional career. At Triple-A Buffalo last season, he batted .215 in 75 games while throwing out 15 of 58 runners attempting to steal.

Abort: Liriano injury scratches deal

The Pirates’ agreement with left-hander Francisco Liriano, struck three weeks ago, appears to be off due to an injury suffered by the pitcher to his non-throwing right arm.

According to an MLB source, Liriano suffered the unspecified injury in late December, shortly after he and the club had come to terms on a two-year, $12.75 million contract.

The injury is serious enough to have precluded Liriano from traveling from his home in the Dominican Republic to Pittsburgh to undergo the prerequisite physical to make the agreement official.

The Pirates are believed to be in continuing talks with the Liriano camp, likely trying to negotiate new terms.

General manager Neal Huntington said the club continues “to have dialogue with Francisco’s representatives but there is nothing to announce at this time.”

The club never made any official announcement regarding the 29-year-old left-hander, thus it didn’t feel any need to backtrack upon disclosure of the injury.

“We announce and acknowledge transactions when they are official,” Huntington said. “News of any agreement never came from us.”

Liriano was expected to fill a spot in the middle of the Pirates’ rotation, behind A.J. Burnett and lefty Wandy Rodriguez, and ahead of James McDonald.

He went 6-12 in 2012, splitting the season between the Twins and the White Sox. He has a career record of 53-54, including seasons of 12-3 in 2006 and 14-10 in 2010, both with Minnesota.

HF: For me, a ballot, not a soap box

My Hall of Fame ballot included checkmarks next to Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Palmeiro, Lee Smith and Larry Walker — and Bonds and Clemens, but not McGwire and Sosa.

So obviously I didn’t vote on a steroids soap box, so let’s move on.

Jack Morris? Sorry. Don’t see how his 254 wins and 3.90 career ERA merit, when Tommy John’s ballot life expired with 288 wins and 3.34 career ERA. No one can satisfactorily explain that to me.

Yes, Morris has this aura as a postseason wizard, a difference-maker for a lot of voters. Okay. He went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in postseasons with three different teams. In the postseason, John was 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA with three different teams. So try again.

But here’s what I really don’t get:

The same people who boost Morris based on his postseason record do not hold Bonds’ against him. As noted, I voted for Bonds due to other factors, but he has to go down as one of the biggest postseason goats ever.

His one big show, in 2002, came at what we now know was the peak of his … ahem … power. And even in that World Series, his clumsy play in left field helped the Angels’ Game 6 comeback from a 5-0 deficit in the seventh inning.

But removing Bonds’ performance in the 2002 postseason — .356. with eight homers and 16 RBIs in 17 games —  leaves him with a .198 average and ONE homer with 8 RBIs in his other 31 postseason games.

In 20 playoff games with the Pirates, he was 13-for-68 (.191), with a homer and three RBIs. And, of course, he couldn’t even throw out Sid Bream running on one leg.

Clemente’s iconic No. 21 still common

Much of the world, sporting and otherwise, paused the past few days to reverently remember Roberto Clemente on the 40th anniversary of his death.

But is Major League Baseball any closer to offering the ultimate tribute, universal retirement of Clemente’s iconic No. 21?

Despite growing sentiment that Clemente was a bona fide Latin American version of Jackie Robinson, whose No. 42 remains the only uniform accorded that honor — no.

One apparent step toward the retirement of No. 21 would be a grassroots movement in which teams would simply curtail assigning the number to their current players. But a perusal of 2012 rosters shows No. 21 is in widespread use.

Only seven teams — perhaps significantly all among the original 16 franchises — did not field a No. 21: Red Sox, White Sox, Indians and Yankees in the American League, and Braves, Phillies and Giants in the National.

Interestingly, a couple of players with ties to the Pirates briefly wore No. 21 last season: Outfielder Xavier Nady, when he was with the Nationals (he switched to No. 68 after moving on to the Giants), and left-hander Hisanori Takahashi, who had No. 21 with the Angels then went to No. 41 after being claimed on waivers by the Bucs.

The Majors’ best Nos. 21? It’s a motley list overall, but I’ll go with:

  • Nick Markakis, Orioles
  • Todd Frazier, Reds
  • Allen Craig, Cardinals