Spent some time with John Russell yesterday, including lunch, and came away plenty impressed. He is not exactly new to me, as I covered the team in 2005 when he was third base coach, but he was - and is - so quiet that he might as well be new in some ways.
Most of my questions were about how he would handle the clubhouse. Different managers have different approaches. Some stay out of there altogether. Some use their coaches as bad cops. And others are in everyone's faces all the time.
"I'd go nuts just sitting in my office," Russell said in beginning to describe his style. His plan is to do a combination of things, from spending some time in the clubhouse without, as he put it, "getting my own stool in the corner," to dealing with problems right on the spot to making sure he had veteran leaders who know he has their back.
One veteran leader - who no longer is employed by the club - spoke last season of the importance of that latter count. It is one thing to have players be leaders, but they need the manager's support in that regard. They needed to know that, if they addressed a matter, they were not doing so at the risk of being overruled or ignored by the manager.
Russell also spoke of doing regular "early work," whether that is extra batting, fielding or baserunning practice, or even specific sessions to shore up one player's deficiency in an area. That was a rarity for the Pirates the past two seasons.
Q: I'm glad the Cleveland deal is dead. I don't think we're getting enough for him. His value is low now, as you have stated time and again. I'm not against trading him but, if we do, let's get more than this.
We should wait on trading him. Other than Steve Pearce, Bay is not blocking anyone from the minors, and I hope they don't put Pearce on the roster just because. Make him earn it again in spring training.
Are you getting many of these annoying emails?
Rob Jacobson of Philadelphia
KOVACEVIC: Getting a bunch of emails on Bay and other potential deals, but still waiting for the first one that annoys me.
Most of the feedback to the five-player framework the Pirates and Indians had worked out, for the record, was negative. And that was largely because of the inclusion of Cliff Lee as opposed to a prospect. The consensus seemed to be that, if Lee were replaced by a genuine prospect, things would be more palatable.
As it was, it boiled down to Bay for Franklin Gutierrez, Ronny Paulino for Kelly Shoppach and an assumption of salary in the $10.5 million Lee is owed after a shaky year.
I have written again and again here that trading Bay at this point is not the sort of thing that successful teams do, unless, of course, they find a return that reflects that player at his peak. And this is what the Pirates had in mind when they passed out word that they would entertain offers only for the "2006 version of Jason Bay."
Imagine what the true 2006 version of Bay would have netted.
Oh, and a final point here: Be very, very sure that the Pirates and Indians discussed that five-player trade late Tuesday. There are things in this business that are supposition or piecing things together and stuff like that. Not this. They talked about it, and it did not come to pass.
Q: With all of the talk of trading Jason Bay and/or Xavier Nady, and possibly Damaso Marte, is the Pirates' brain trust throwing the white flag up already for another losing season? As a sign of good faith, don't we the fans deserve some kind of good faith gesture?
Herb Thomas of Woodbridge, N.J.
KOVACEVIC: What might be clearer to the Pirates after these meetings is exactly how difficult it will be to walk that tightrope between present and future.
When they talked to the White Sox regarding Bay, it was about prospects.
When they talked to the Indians, it ended up being mostly about veterans and the one prospect they sought, as we saw, might have been the one to kill the deal.
There is little middle ground to be had here, either from a baseball or business standpoint.
Q: For a couple of months, I have been mentioning to my baseball friends the irony of the apparent similarities between Nate McLouth and Andy Van Slyke. Usually, the Pirates have looked for a good player on another team who just couldn't get playing time to bring him to Pittsburgh to see what he could do full time, like Bay and Nady. Ironically, McLouth seemed like a good player - best OPS on the team, essentially -- who couldn't get playing time even on a bad team!
Well, last night I finally looked up Van Slyke's statistics from his last year with the Cards, 1986. The similarities with McLouth last season are striking, starting with the fact that they both turned 26 shortly after their respective seasons ended:
Player AB HR RBI SB CS OBP SLG AVG
Van Slyke 418 13 61 21 8 .343 .452 .270
McLouth 329 13 38 22 1 .351 .459 .258
Nate has always been labeled a "fourth outfielder" by the Pirates. Obviously, there are absolutely no guarantees concerning the foregoing statistical comparison, but how good do you think McLouth can be, or is that simply why you give someone a chance to play?
Greg Douglass of Austin, Texas
KOVACEVIC: Well, before I answer, I would be remiss in not pointing out - not that you would not already know this - but McLouth is not in Van Slyke's league defensively. Few center fielders ever have been.
How good can McLouth be? As you said, no one will know if he is not given the chance. His statistics are night and day between being a reserve and being an everyday player. But there also is a grind that accompanies daily duty, and we have yet to see that factor in play. McLouth is not a big guy. Could he wear down?
At any rate, the Pirates seem to be moving more and more in the direction of giving McLouth that chance. For now, though, they are sticking with the statement that he and Nyjer Morgan will battle for center field.
Thing No. 62 that makes Pittsburgh great: This, like the Candy-Rama rant coming tomorrow, comes a little belated, but I am increasingly intrigued by the growing crowds for Light-Up Night each year.
Make no mistake: It is a tremendous event and, unless, I am mistaken, there are no more than two or three other cities in the country that organize the turning on of every single light in every office window to create a night-time image that, especially given our skyline, is beyond breathtaking. Truth be told, it is one of my favorite days of the year, and one I embrace in every way.
But all these people ...
Again, I get it. The ice rink, the skaters ringing the tree with the candles for a half-hour before the tree is lit at 6 p.m., the reflections in the surrounding PPG buildings ... all of it is fantastic. So are the gingerbread houses donated by children and miniature trains and the free stuff given out in Market Square, the lighting of whatever they want to call the Horne's tree and, of course, the windows at Macy's. All of it is great.
But each year, no matter the weather, the crowds just keep getting bigger and bigger, thick enough to the point that you can barely move through some areas. The Downtown Partnership estimated the crowd this year at 100,000, and that sounds quite low to me.
I have no answers for this, and I certainly am not complaining. Just puzzled.
Are we turning Light-Up Night into something that is almost the level of a local holiday? Are we that much of an event town, as often accused, that we show up anywhere the group goes? Are we starved for mass gatherings in the absence of Fireworks Nights or bobbleheads?
Or is it simply that the overwhelming majority of the non-city types visiting Downtown are unaware that almost all of these festivities continue for the next six weeks, plus free parking, plus free horse-carriage rides?
I am all ears on this one.
Until tomorrow, when everyone can reflect back on the four-year anniversary of the Rule 5 Debacle ...