Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Just a reminder as we head into the busy season here: Any entry that arrives without a full name, current city of residence and verifiable email has no chance of being read, much less published. A lot of these have been coming in lately, so the timing seemed good.

No need to fear: I am ill equipped to either spam or engage in identity-theft.

We aim to keep the discussion above board here, and there is a value, I have found, in letting everyone know who we are. This is only baseball we are talking about.

Anyway, we all feel like talking about the bullpen today, for some reason ...

Q: Dejan, I don't quite understand all the hand-wringing over the status of the bullpen for 2008. Most seasons with most teams, the bullpen fillers are a crapshoot. You never know from year to year how relief pitchers are going to perform.

What does everyone want, for the PBC go out and throw away more dollars on relief pitchers? The dollars have to go into the development of the organization. The talent pipeline has to be rebuilt.

Chasing relief pitchers is the same bad cycle we have had for 15 years.

Ken Feigert of Hubbard, Ohio

KOVACEVIC: Wait. There is more ...

Q: While I certainly would like to see the Pirates improve the bullpen, can people stop saying it's weakened from 2007? There isn't even an ounce of truth in that.

Salomon Torres might be great in 2008, but losing the guy from last year is not a loss. And while I would welcome Shawn Chacon back to pitch in the sixth or seventh inning, Matt Capps to close and Damaso Marte to set up for a whole season makes this a better bullpen.

The back end is certainly unsettled, but what are they up against? Is there anyone with an IQ over 4 who doesn't think these guys can't be better than what the team had in 2007?

What was the combined ERA of Jonah Bayliss, Marty McLeary, Josh Sharpless, Masumi Kuwata, John Wasdin, Shane Youman, etc.? They were so bad the 2008 bullpen wins pretty much unopposed.

Kyle Moylan of East Windsor, N.J.

KOVACEVIC: And another, this time with numbers ...

Q: Dejan, people are blasting the Pirates them for bringing in relievers who carried high ERAs last season. Well, some of the most efficient relief pitching for the PBC over the past five years has been through reclamation projects.

Here are four of the best examples I can find:

Rick White: 5.29 ERA with Cleveland in 2004, 3.72 with the Pirates in 2005

Shawn Chacon: 6.36 ERA with the Yankees and Pirates in 2006, 3.94 with the Pirates last season

Julian Tavarez: 5.39 ERA with the Marlins in 2002, 3.66 with the Pirates in 2003

Salomon Torres: 9.82 ERA with Mariners and Expos in 1997, 2.70 ERA with Pirates in 2002 after coming out of retirement

This is not to say the Pirates they should continue to bank on this phenomenon. But, for a small-market team, it's a cost-efficient risk worth taking. It's happened in the past. Who's to say it can't happen again?

Kevin Giarnella of Philadelphia

KOVACEVIC: If by "small-market," Kevin, you actually mean low-spending, I am with you on all counts. As I have written a bazillion times, diminishing the city to explain a low payroll tends to ring hollow when the other two teams in town sell out every single home game they play, including preseason. The Pirates' ills are not the fault of the market.

Anyway, before I again stray too far on that one, I can say definitively that the above views are very much in line with what I have heard from Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly regarding their thoughts on spending on the bullpen.

Huntington has told me time and again that all the studies he has seen or performed himself show that there is "no magic formula" in trying to predict the performance of relievers from one year to the next. Moreover, he will add, no one can really figure out why, even with all the modern advances in baseball methodology, from analytical to statistically to medical.

The Pirates' approach this offseason has included trying to get an experienced reliever, though. Make no question about that. They went after Luis Vizcaino, Ron Mahay, Jeremy Affeldt and other starter/swingman types, even though all they ended up corralling were the high-ERA types now on the spring roster.

At the same time, their approach to this was not a simple throw-it-against-the-wall variety. The pitchers they signed, they think, offer different styles, different arm slots and more power than the Pirates have had in the past, and they are hoping - yes, hoping - that a handful of them pan out with some help from the new coaching staff.

Someone needs to remind me of this little debate during the coming season, so we can, in fact, compare the 2007 and 2008 bullpens.

Q: Dejan, has new management addressed the idea of possibly moving Xavier Nady to third base? I think Jose Bautista is a better bench player rather than an everyday player. It could also help Nady cut down on injuries.

Keith Boyer of Indiana, Pa.

KOVACEVIC: Beware of labeling young players as bench guys, Keith, especially after they hit 15 home runs in their first full season in the majors. I keep saying this about Bautista, but it bears repeating: He got better as last season went along, especially from the power standpoint, after making a significant change to his approach last spring. He also established himself, by most measures, as very good defensively. And both of those happened despite a season-long ankle ailment.

It could be that Bautista winds up becoming, as Jim Tracy once envisioned him, another Jose Hernandez. His versatility certainly will be an asset in his career. But labeling him that way now is reminiscent of the Pirates' thinking when Freddy Sanchez was hitting .340 a couple years ago, and management still was insisting that Joe Randa would take back his job once he got healthy.

No, management has no plan to move Nady to third.

Until Tuesday ...


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