Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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There are other topics to discuss, obviously, as evidenced by much mail on the opener last night, as well as that really quick read Sunday about management's blueprint.

But I forecast a Sean Burnett avalanche in the most recent Q&A Friday, and you did not disappoint. So, here is what I hope is a representative sample of the views you shared, with not all that much feedback from me ...

Q: Dejan, sending Sean Burnett down makes a mockery of the whole accountability theme. It's obvious Burnett's remaining minor-league option versus Phil Dumatrait's and Franquelis Osoria's lack of minor-league options, as well as Evan Meek's Rule 5 status drove the decision more than Burnett's 0.90 ERA or inexperience as a reliever.

How are minor-leaguers in the Pirates' system and ticket-buying fans supposed to take this club seriously? At least in the case of Steve Pearce, his high strikeout total and lack of outfield experience made sense. This move is so obvious and transparent it insults the average fans' intelligence and is the kind of thing that could hit the Nuttings' (Sorry, I still think Ogden Nutting is involved) pocketbook.

Jim Maruca of Ross Township

KOVACEVIC: Uh-oh. The anger is pretty pointed when the elder Nutting starts getting invoked.

Q: Hi, Dejan, you can put this on the mountain of Sean Burnett letters: I'm really mad. This is starting to look like the same old Pirates management. Burnett should be with this team, period. He's earned it, period.

When Neal Huntington made the statement -- "We're taking our best 12 north" -- let's call it what it was: It was a lie, just like the spin the previous GM used to give all the time. This gets me sick. Huntington had better realize he has just created a major credibility problem, all on his own.

If keeping Meek over Burnett was done because of the combined circumstances of Rule 5, or Sean not being on the 40-man roster, then OK, it's a business decision. But don't lie, Neal, after all the losing, no one deserves this.

I truly hope Burnett doesn't get thrown on the scrap heap. He's just too good. Dejan.

Scott Dragan of Franklin Park

KOVACEVIC: One more on Huntington before I take that topic ...

Q: Dejan ... seems to me Burnett became a victim of the options game, rather than his actual performance. Which is fine, in my mind, if you're building for the future.

My gripe is with Huntington's comments about the cut. If you're touting all this "accountability," why dance around the issue? Why not tell it like it is?

Jay Yovanovich of Raleigh, N.C.

KOVACEVIC: Others wrote, too, to express disappointment and outright anger at Huntington's explanation, particularly the "best 12 north" part.

Without coming close to speaking for Huntington, I will throw out a couple of thoughts here, having spoken in detail with the GM about this ...

It is entirely possible, even probable, that when he said "best 12 north," he meant the 12 that were the best at this moment for the Pirates' present and future. And the reason I suggest that is that, within the same interview, he also said this of Burnett: "Candidly, nobody has outpitched him."

Now, think about that for a second: He said on one hand that Burnett was not one of the "best 12," then acknowledged that nobody pitched better.

Temporary insanity?

No, more likely, it was that, right after the "nobody has outpitched him" line, he added: "But it's not just about 12 spring training games. We're excited about Sean's progress. He's healthy. The ball is coming out of his hand great. But there are some durability, some resiliency questions."

Those could be seen - and were by some readers - as legitimate points.

Could Huntington have been clearer about the impact of Meek's Rule 5 status on the Burnett decision?

Probably, but Huntington had said from the moment Meek was drafted in Nashville that he would come with special circumstances and, if he fared well enough in the spring, he would merit a longer look. That was repeated all through spring training, anytime Meek came up.

Leave Dumatrait and Osoria out of this argument, incidentally, as they looked very solid to make the team all spring long. In Dumatrait's case, management saw something it liked in his stuff early on, and he was not going to go down.

This really was Meek vs. Burnett.

A final point here: I have not found Huntington to be the slightest bit disingenuous in my dealings with him the past few months. If anything, he has been remarkably, refreshingly candid in explaining the whys of his moves, up to and including acknowledgements of mistakes and regrets. The day Byung-Hyun Kim was cut, all I had to ask Huntington was how disappointed he was in Kim, and it was Huntington himself who broached the subject of the $300,000 "financial hit" that move would cost. No glare. No awkward silence. No acting as if the questioner was out to get him. He just answered the question, in depth and, in this case, with full accountability.

There is a lingering feeling that I detect, as I have written before, that new management somehow is responsible for the failings of the old. One reader even wrote in to complain that some of Huntington's words sounded "ominously like Littlefield-speak."

In terms of candor, if you take my word for whatever it might happen to mean to you, this GM and his predecessor are exactly 180 degrees apart.

We go to the other side of the Burnett issue ...

Q: Hi, Dejan. Count me among the few who have no problem with the Burnett demotion.

First, having Burnett in the pen would mean four lefties and would have created matchup problems. Four is simply too many.

Second, this team is planning for the future, and you simply can not give up on a power arm like Meek's.

Third, as much as Burnett may not like it, he has been a reliever for about a month. The Pirates' concerns about his durability are completely legitimate, especially with his history of arm trouble. Many people think this is an easy transition. It is not.

Further, it is not as if Burnett is being singled out here. Anyone think Steve Pearce is not one of the 25 best position players? He is, but he is in Class AAA.

If Burnett pitches in Indy the way he pitched in Florida, he will be here soon enough.

Sean Epstein of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: And another ...

Q: Dejan, I think Neal Huntington deserves some kudos. His unheralded removal of Burnett from the 40-man roster in the offseason gave the Pirates the luxury of keeping all of Osoria, Dumatrait, Meek and Burnett.

There is no scenario that doesn't involve losing one of those players had that not been done. Burnett certainly would not clear waivers now. The decision to send him down was made in the interest of adding depth at a shallow position as opposed to simply having the best 25 in Atlanta on March 31.

Though unfortunate, given Burnett's feel-good story, it was the right decision for a team planning for the future. It is not a franchise-altering move, but that kind of foresight and roster management is something we haven't seen around these parts for a while. It gives me hope.

Craig Morrison of Sewickley

KOVACEVIC: While your points are valid, Craig, it bears pointing out for the full picture that Burnett was removed from the 40-man to make room for infielder Ray Olmedo, who was removed to make room for Kim.

Not a series of moves anyone would place atop a resume, as I am sure Huntington would acknowledge.

I see your point, as far as protecting pitching depth. Burnett sneaked through waivers then and, as you correctly point out, surely would not now.

One last one, from that city with the airport where I never have spent a red cent ...

Q: I understand I suppose that it makes the most sense, but it does leave a bad taste in my mouth that Sean Burnett was sent down. It seems as though you can't perform your way onto the team, only off it. Very disappointing.

Congratulations to Sean Burnett on the birth of his son and being the best spring training pitcher we had.

Russ King of Charlotte, N.C.

KOVACEVIC: The young one is doing just fine, Russ, and I suspect his father will be fine, too, once he gets back on the mound.

I will tell you a couple of things about Burnett, beyond the stuff you might already have read in the regular coverage.

One, this is a competitor who might be without peer in the Pirates' organization.

Never mind how emotional he is. Never mind his sometimes inflammatory quotes. All you need to know is that this is someone who had major elbow and shoulder surgery, then had another elbow setback, then another. But he still showed up at spring training and, as the GM put it, "outpitched" everyone.

Two, his pitching was for real.

Those who have been hanging around this forum for way too long might recall that, last spring, I was among the few not finding merits to the arguments for Burnett being on the roster, even with those 11 scoreless innings. Rather, I was pointing out, time and again, that it was Shane Youman who was pitching better all-around.


Because Burnett's stuff was nothing special, he was giving up lots of baserunners, and he basically was succeeding in damage control.

Not this time. The catchers will tell you his stuff was very sharp, good enough to get lefties and righties out, the latter with the changeup.

As a couple of you pointed out, Burnett will make it if he continues pitching like that in Indianapolis, or even just close to that.

Thing No. 83 that makes Pittsburgh great, by Jim Dilmore of Edgewood:

Hi, Dejan. I nominate the city steps. One cool thing about the steps is that they retain the name of the street of which they are a continuation. The Harding Street steps off Herron Ave. in Polish Hill even have their own street sign, which can be seen via Streetview in Google maps.

Another interesting aspect of the steps is their sheer number. In his book, "The Steps of Pittsburgh," Bob Regan states there are 712 sets in Pittsburgh with more than 4,000 individual steps. If you drive around town, you'll see them all over the hills of the city, in the Hill District from Bigelow Boulevard on the way into Downtown, in Polish Hill, and especially throughout the North Side.

According to the research by Regan, the longest set is found in the Fineview neighborhood in the North Side. The stairs run along Rising Main Avenue and ascend to near the site of the old WPXI television tower. Of course, a group of us had to go out and walk it. The steps are in good condition and easily walked - except for the fact that there are 337 of them, by our count.

Here are some photos from the trip.

KOVACEVIC: One set of steps that runs from Bigelow to the Hill is labeled 30th Street, which I find endlessly amusing. Do the Google maps search on this, and it is difficult to believe.

Those steps represent the highest-elevation point of the street, and there is about a half-mile interruption before 30th Street resumes as an actual street near Polish Hill's famous church, then is cut off - permanently -- by cement barricades at the edge of a hill because down below is the East Busway. More of 30th Street can be found down n the Strip, but that ends at the shore of the Allegheny River.

Then, the punchline: Go across the river, and you will find the little bridge that is the only connection between the Herrs Island neighborhood in the middle of the river and the rest of civilization. That bridge is called the 30th Street Bridge. And, to know why, one needs only to look over at the concrete edifice that holds up nearby Route 28, just another 100 feet farther from the river. You can still see the notches where the original 30th Street Bridge, one that spanned the entire river, used to finish.

If you and your friends want a real challenge, Jim, try walking the length of 30th Street.

Until tomorrow, when we can talk about that other stuff ...


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