Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon to all on the first day of All-Star break. We'll get started in just a couple minutes ...
Matt A: Is Dotel making himself untradeable or are other teams just going to ignore the blown save stuff since they'll probably be acquiring him as a setup man anyways? (I'm just assuming he will be moved since he occupies a rare position of organizational depth and he might not even be the best option anymore at said position)
Dejan Kovacevic: In general, Matt, getting too built up over what Dotel will bring really doesn't match up with what any reliever -- even a closer -- will bring at the deadline. What might enhance Dotel's value somewhat is that he has an affordable option for 2011 at $4.5 million.
As for his performances in Milwaukee, no, that's not going to have hardly any effect. He's got 19 saves for a team that has only 30 wins.
Jim H: Is there any reason to believe that the mindless infatuation with Church has any end date?
Dejan Kovacevic: I'll repeat that this one is John Russell's call. I've tried to stress anytime it appears that a decision is coming from above, as it did with Aki Iwamura, Charlie Morton, the defensive shifts, etc. This is manager's choice.
Setting aside Lastings Milledge for the moment, Russell is of the mind that Church is due for a breakout based on Church being a .270 career hitter before this year. To date, Russell very obviously has been wrong.
As for an end date, Milledge might be taking care of that all by himself. I don't know if this came across on TV, but Milledge was looking very confident at the plate and just scorching the ball. Even his outs look good.
Chico Lind: The Pirates say they aren't looking to trade anybody, but if they do, don't you think they need to target hitting. As bad as their pitching is, it seems like there is more pitching then hitting on the horizon in the Minors
Dejan Kovacevic: What Frank Coonelly said, specifically, was that Dotel was not on the block.
As a refresher for those who don't follow the team on a daily basis, both Coonelly and Neal Huntington always say a player is not on the block, even if they are entertaining offers for the player. The reason is that they see the "block" term as being synonymous with actively seeking to dump a player's salary. I can recall that being acknowledged as the case with Adam LaRoche and no other player.
As for a target, the Pirates need to add better baseball players. Lots of them.
bhamilton: Do you get the impression that management feels Doumit is the long-term answer at Catcher? It seems he is well below-average defensively and average offensively.
Dejan Kovacevic: No, I get the impression that management regards Tony Sanchez in that capacity and Doumit as holding the position until then. I've gotten that impression since the day Sanchez was drafted, and that only strengthened once Sanchez showed -- maybe a little surprisingly -- his good offensive numbers.
tom: Hi Dejan, with regards to morale, I do not see this team getting anywhere above medicrity without a number 1 and 2 pitcher. Internally, I do not see anything on the horizon. Without increasing payroll immensely, how do we get out of this vortex?
Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure about your link between morale and pitching there, Tom. But you're undeniably correct about a 1 and 2. The Pirates right now have a lot of 3.
This, in my view, adds to the pressure for management to sign both of the top two draft picks, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, as well as the Mexican international Luis Heredia. Teams like the Pirates, as we went over last year with Miguel Sano, simply cannot let talent like that -- within their control to a degree and eminently affordable as compared to major-league salaries -- get away without their very best effort.
Sam: Many on the blog are calling for the organization to overpay of couple of quality free agents, especially for pitcher, a shortstop, and perhaps a catcher. I would like this to happen as well. Do you think that is even a possibility?
Dejan Kovacevic: Coonelly told me when I was in Houston that there will be no change to how the Pirates approach free agency this coming winter. Based on that, and the fact that he is the one making the calls, I would say no.
That said, when they had a second-base hole to fill because of the trade of Freddy Sanchez, they did pay $4.85 million to Aki Iwamura after acquiring him through trade. Kind of like a free-agent signing. And they did sign most of this bullpen that way, including Dotel.
kegger: How different will your job be this trade deadline knowing there will be minimal moves? Or do you have to be just as diligent in case something pops up?
Dejan Kovacevic: The job really doesn't change, win or lose, saves or blown saves, trades or no trades. Neither does the approach.
I could see Dotel getting moved after what I thought was a pretty strong hint from Coonelly to that effect that seemed to get lost in his "not on the block" comment. Possibly Brendan Donnelly, too. And I would be very surprised if, given Doumit's salary going up past $5 million next year, if the Pirates would not entertain offers there, too.
On the latter count, though, that might be selling at low value. Not a great idea.
Jim H: IS there anything on the way from either Indy or Altoona this year that could provide additional short term help?
Dejan Kovacevic: If you mean from a position-player standpoint, it's actually pretty bleak at the top two levels at the moment. Chase d'Arnaud is having a little rebound at shortstop in Altoona, from the prospect standpoint. Brandon Moss is hitting for more power in Indianapolis, from the immediate-help standpoint. There isn't much.
Plenty of good pitching, though, especially with the Curve.
Chico Lind: Who seems to take losses the hardest on the team?
Dejan Kovacevic: 1. Doumit. 2. Church 3. Bobby Crosby 4. Donnelly
Obviously, just winging this answer. But that's my first-impression answer based on having covered most of the 58 losses so far.
Doumit does not enjoy losing.
Ryan C: Before the injury, were the Pirates eyeing Tony Sanchez for a june call up in 2011?
Dejan Kovacevic: There was no such timetable, not with all that they want Sanchez to show offensively well above the high Class A level. And one thing to remember about Sanchez and any of the various prospects to have missed time this year -- including Starling Marte -- is that they can be involved in the Instructional League and other offseason baseball. There's no need for time to be lost.
Couple years ago, Andrew McCutchen participated in Kyle Stark's outstanding Instructional League program in Bradenton, and McCutchen still credits that time with helping him take off. It's very instruction-intensive.
Kyle: Can we anticipate any upgrades to PNC Park this offseason?
Dejan Kovacevic: Keeping with the list theme: 1. Pirates Charities sign down 2. A coffee shop anywhere in or around the stadium. 3. A playoff game. No, actually, sorry, I haven't heard anything about PNC upgrading, though Dennis DaPra and his staff usually take on at least one significant project each winter. This past one, it was upgrading a couple clubs.
BenderHeel: Wait - How long til Neal implicitly admits that acquiring Dana Eveland was a mistake and releases him? I see no good to trotting him out there instead of giving that opportunity to someone else.
Dejan Kovacevic: Eveland's in Indianapolis right now. Can't imagine a more meaningful recognition of what you're describing than that.
If you're referring specifically to Eveland's short outing last night, by the way, that was cut short by an hour-plus rain delay.
bhamilton: Is Bryan Morris seen as the potential number 1 or 2 pitcher that we seem to be lacking? His strikeout numbers were very good before his promotion to Altoona. Or is he in teh same vein as our current rotation?
Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates see Morris as a top-two type, yes. So does Morris, for that matter. Pretty confident individual.
He can get strikeouts, though he's not the 8-10 per game type.
tom: Dejan, thanks for your response on the morale. To clear things up in that regard, it was to what affect it was having on the young guys. With your answer about the prospects being the high school pitchers, aren't they 3-4 years away? If so, aren't some of the other guys(McCutchen, Alvarez, etc. going to be gone because of salary issues?
Dejan Kovacevic: I filed a piece from Milwaukee about the effect on the youngsters ...
Those pitchers would be a long ways off, yes. In Heredia's case, he is only 15. But there is more starting pitching closer to Pittsburgh than the position players, notably Morris and Rudy Owens.
dschomburg: Accountability is a must! Assuming that Huntington is retained, do you forsee a shakeup in the Pirates major league scouting department? This group has made major personnel mistakes in the last couple years.
Dejan Kovacevic: I've written on the blog that I would be very surprised if there is not an exhaustive overview performed of the Pirates' ability to evaluate talent, whether through trades, free agency or even internally.
JRay03: If this team doesn't have some kind of second half turn around, no matter the extensions, are Neal and Russell is big trouble? I thought the theme of this regime was to do away with the Randa and Burnitz type signings, yet as you pointed out the other day, they wasted Matt Morris money on Iwamura and others, traded prospects away for the likes of Eveland, and wouldn't go the extra mile to get talent like Sano and Scheppers? Isn't this exactly what to old regime did??
Dejan Kovacevic: There are few comparisons, in my mind, between this management team and its predecessors. This group is much better organized, much more diligent. There are very few people around baseball who question their plan, even in the financial sense. The execution, however, has left much to be desired, and that is recognized, as well.
Are the GM and manager in trouble?
I don't see how that can be any more obvious, given the thoroughly blunt statements made recently by Coonelly and Bob Nutting about how these recent extensions mean nothing, that they could be fired at any point. Those aren't my words. Those are theirs. That's about as blunt as you get in discussing something like that publicly.
Moreover, the Pirates at the major-league level have disintegrated to the point where they now basically win one game a week.
That might not matter to some people inside the team, but I get the distinct impression it matters to those who will make the calls you are describing.
Tim: Who has the best work habits (works hardest away from the public eye) on the team?
Dejan Kovacevic: This is a lame answer, Tim, but this is a really hard-working group. If you think about it, that makes sense, as very few of them could possibly feel secure in being on a major-league roster.
The one I'd single out for people in this answer, and just because it might surprise some given his history, is Milledge. Guy never stops, never complains, just keeps working. I have no idea about the player who was in New York or D.C., but I've never seen that version.
Guest: Do you get the impression that Don Long's job may be in jeopardy (more so than the managerial staff in general)? Houston just whacked their hitting coach, and they were actually (marginally) better than the Pirates.
Dejan Kovacevic: Again, all jobs are in jeopardy. All of them.
Let me repeat: One win a week.
And specifically, the team batting average is .235, worst in the majors. The starting pitching is the worst, too. Both are the worst we've seen in Pittsburgh since 1952.
Again, that might not matter to some over there. They might see it as just a painful step along the way until those Class AA and A pitching prospects arrive. But it might matter to those making the decisions.
Pens01: Do you get a sense that things are progressing forward within the Pirates org right now, or are we stuck in the same old rut?
Dejan Kovacevic: Progress has been made -- visible and tangible -- in the areas of drafting, of signing Latin American talent, and of developing both. (The developing of the Latin American talent, specifically, has taken huge leaps under Huntington and Stark, where before a player had to hit about .700 to "get off the island," as the vernacular goes.)At the major-league level, the product has worsened.
Mark: What part of the word "rebuilding" does the media and average fan not understand? Who in the media predicted this team to be good? I heard a number of baseball people say it would take 5-8 years to rebuild this franchise when NH took over.
Dejan Kovacevic: I was writing in spring training that I thought the team could lose 100 games, that its offense would be worse than 2009 and that its pitching would be better. I was wrong on that last count, obviously.
Just as obviously, I wasn't expecting the 2010 Pirates to be good. Or even average.
But progress was expected to be seen in Pittsburgh at this point, based primarily on the nature of the trades and how they were made. Huntington acknowledged at the time that he was not being offered elite prospects in return. That was evident with other teams that were trying to trade better players, as well. So, the approach was to get volume, and most of that volume was the type closer to the majors. You can see right now how that has worked out.
As for rebuilding, as noted above, the Pirates have done well with the draft, Latin American and developing. They have not done well with major-league acquisitions.
I know it's hard for some to separate the argument into those two distinct categories, because a criticism of one is widely viewed as a broader criticism. It should not be. I write again and again and again that the drafting, international fare and developing has gone well. And I've done so in this chat probably four times already.
Ryan C: Dejan, understanding that this is your job, do you get emotional about the team as the crazies do in the blog?
Dejan Kovacevic: That's not remotely part of the job, Ryan, but there's always a human angle to any job that anyone does. I'm born and raised in Pittsburgh, and I grew up watching the Pirates. I also regularly attended games before coming onto the beat. That doesn't vanish into a black hole somewhere, and I never pretend that it does.
But as far as getting emotional or anything like that, no.
Alex K.: Dejan, with all that has been made of Karstens's calming influence in the rotation, is there any chance he sticks there for the start of next season? I like him, but he has low upside. Would the Pirates prefer to see someone like Morton or even Morris take that spot in the rotation by this time next year?
Dejan Kovacevic: If the Pirates get really good someday, Karstens would be crowded out. As it is, the Pirates and most teams, really, have someone like that on the staff.
A team always should go with the better talent, to answer your question, so long as the talent plays.
Couple more on this extended edition today (I can hear the kids screaming upstairs. Not good) ...
Chris: What are the realistic expectations for the Pirates entering the second half of the season? Are we looking at simply looking for improvement from their young players or is there a realistic belief that they can string some wins together and play near .500 the rest of the way?
Dejan Kovacevic: The view as expressed almost daily now by Russell is that the Pirates are "right there." And there are signs, if not of an actual abrupt turnaround, that the winning could take place more often than weekly. I started to see some of that in Milwaukee, in particular with Pedro Alvarez swinging well, Jose Tabata finally finding a little luck, as well as -- and I might have been negligent in not writing more about this over the weekend -- in how Milledge and Ronny Cedeno played. Cedeno looked like a different player.
But attaching a .500 record to the team, even just for the second half, there's not nearly enough precedent there over the past 6-7 weeks -- or all season, actually -- to do that.
There will be a couple Plus-only chats this week, for the first time. We'll go with topic-specific chats. I'll see if I can set one up for tomorrow, and I'll post the time with the daily Links.
Much appreciated today.