Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon all, on a muggy afternoon with Milwaukee in town. We will get started in a couple minutes. And, unlike the Plus-only chat that we had last week focused solely on the minors, this is wide open ...
Matthew D., Cambridge: DK, first off, I love the coverage. Lots of talk about the possible firing of JR. Whether just or not, it has to be a consideration. If this happens, what do you think the chances are of the Pirates bringing in an fan favorite with experience (i.e. Jay Bell, Phil Garner, Andy Van Slyke, etc.)?
Dejan Kovacevic: This management is not exactly the type to go the fan-favorite route, as we've seen with many examples. In the event there were a manager search at any point, I would envision that local ties or popularity will be very low on the priority list.
That said, it might bear repeating the full text of what I wrote Saturday:
Multiple sources said Friday that neither general manager Neal Huntington nor Russell is in immediate trouble, but those same sources expressed a strong sentiment that the current 10-game homestand could be influential as it relates to Russell and his staff. No specific scenarios or timetables were offered, but the sentiment was that the teaching and execution of fundamentals must improve, not just for the present but also to illustrate that the Pirates' key young players are best prepared for the future.
I have seen that interpreted many different ways since it was published, but that's the full text right there. Very obviously, the Pirates have had two really good games Saturday and Sunday, in every facet. And that seven-game losing streak does not loom nearly as large.
Sam: Hey DK! You mentioned Friday night the Pirates had a moment of silence for the passing of George Steinbrenner. Do you know if this was something mandated or highly encouraged to all MLB teams to do or was it something the Pirates decided to do on their own? I did not like it, personally. If the Pirates, did indeed, do this on their own, what are your thoughts?
Dejan Kovacevic: I don't know that, Sam, but I know that when the Rockies' president passed recently -- at a tragically young age -- the Pirates recognized him the same way. It might be a baseball thing.
Tcrack: DK, Ryan Doumit has been widely criticized this year, especially for his defense. (rightfully so) In today's PG it seemed like this was the first time Ryan has been quoted in a long time. Has Ryan been ducking the media? What is your opinion /observation of his attitude (of the field) this year.
Dejan Kovacevic: Ducking? Speaking only for myself, no, not at all. You also saw today that he was very candid about the platoon situation he's in now. I asked him that point-blank, and he answered it the same way.
Doumit doesn't take losing particularly well, which is why you might not see him quoted much after losses.
By the way, Paul Maholm gave a lot of credit to Doumit for the shutout yesterday, and I might have been remiss in not making more mention of that.
Todd: DK, What is your take on NH's response to your article concerning JR being on the hotseat. It sounded to me as if he is very frustrated this information was leaked to you and he inappropriately took it out on you. Are you concerned this will you hurt the relationship between to two of you to the point of negatively affecting future coverage?
Dejan Kovacevic: Not at all, Todd, and I'm glad you brought it up.
It's really not an unusual occurrence, actually, for people with a sports team to be upset with what is written about their team and, often, the writers themselves. Very, very much part of the business, whether covering winning or losing teams. Fact is, I hear from the Pirates on a regular daily basis -- whether front office, coaching staff or players -- about something they might not have liked or saw as flawed or inaccurate. And I not only welcome that, but I invite it.
In this case, the article regarding Russell came out very early Saturday morning. I did not hear from anyone with the team all day Saturday. It was not until Sunday afternoon, after that big win Saturday night, that Huntington made the comments on his radio show.
I'll say it again, though: This sort of interaction between a reporter and the reporter's subject matter takes place all the time. I mean, all ... the ... time. The subject matter isn't always going to like what's written.
Really, as I mentioned to readers on the blog earlier today, if the Pirates are 32-59 and they like everything I'm writing, I'm probably not painting the most accurate picture of the scene.
Dubb: Hey DK, just wondering about Neil Walker and his pre game work at 2b. Last year it seemed to wear down DY. Is Walker putting in the same work every day learning? Should we expect it to wear him down as the season goes on?
Dejan Kovacevic: Walker is not doing anything at that extraordinary level, no. But that's not to suggest Walker is doing less than he should.
The one I see out there at all hours of the afternoon is Pedro Alvarez. He might be a better point of concern in this area. Kid just never leaves the field.
Colin: Not strictly baseball related, but I noticed A LOT of trash/pollution in the river after the fireworks show. Do the Pirates do something to collect the debris afterward or does the Go Green campaign not apply to the river?
Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates and Steelers both work with the foundations that manage the riverfront areas and do regular cleanups, including of the increasingly large messes being left behind by the Canada geese.
Wow, that was not baseball at all.
WVBurghFan: With all the talk about trades that did/didn't work out, the Milledge & Hanrahan for Morgan & Burnett deal doesn't seem to get as much credit as I think it deserves. Isn't this one clearly in the "win" column for Neal Huntington?
Dejan Kovacevic: I've cited Hanrahan in the win category often this year, but I'll take more time with Milledge. He has had a very encouraging three weeks after a lot of legitimate questions could have been raised earlier in this season about his hitting the profile of a corner outfielder.
Matt A: DK - in reading Huntingdon's comments regarding the team's expectations for this year, it appears as though he doesn't think the playoffs are still an attainable goal for this year - does this mean we are not going to be buyers at the deadline the end of this month, and if so, why is he giving up on the season so early? (seriously though - are there any tangible "goals" for the team the 2nd half, other than player development?)
Dejan Kovacevic: Well, to borrow one of Huntington's favorite phrases, that's the "reality" of the situation. The Pirates are 32-59 and, if they were to focus on the standings for the rest of the summer ... that's the kind of thinking that keeps Milledge on the bench.
No, they will not be buyers. But neither do I get the sense that they will be big sellers, either. I see Octavio Dotel as being likely to go. Maybe Brendan Donnelly. If Zach Duke shows he is fully healthy, maybe him, too. But only Dotel as likely.
Zach: DK - I remember you writing some in-depth stories around the hiring of NH and seem to remember you pointing out how he was demoted from Shapiro's eventual replacement and sent to the minors as a scout. Do you think this red flag at the time of this hiring has anything to do with his ability to scout and make deals at the major league level v. minor league level? It seems like NH's skills might be best used at the minor league level. Thoughts?
Dejan Kovacevic: Actually, that story's description of Huntington's demotion was that he was behind a desk and actually asked to get out into the field so that he could do more scouting and enhance those skills. He also became deeply involved in the development of Cleveland's complex in Arizona.
As I've written many times this year -- again, to the consternation of the Pirates -- they have made many mis-evaluations at the major-league level. They say that they look over all of their transactions and try to figure out what went right or wrong, and I will have to presume that is something that will be a priority undertaking this year.
WVBurghFan: In an item last week, you mentioned Garrett Jones as one who still has to prove himself. Does Pirates management feel that way? He's been in a little slump lately, but being on pace to drive in nearly 100 runs and hit 25 or so home runs on this team would seem to secure a starting spot.
Dejan Kovacevic: I had a rather long talk on the field Thursday with Huntington, primarily about what he hoped to see out of specific players in the second half. I mentioned Jones, Milledge and Ronny Cedeno in the same breath, and he took it further and included everyone, even the younger guys.
You are correct Jones has had a good year, and not just in the statistical offense sense. He has played well in the field, if not spectacularly (a really good pick on Cedeno's throw ended the shutout yesterday), and he has fared better against certain pitchers and pitches than might have been expected last year.
I think we might do more on this in the Q&A later this week.
Capn Jack: Why did the Pirates bring back Brian Bixler? He clearly can't handle the Major Leagues.
Dejan Kovacevic: I asked Huntington about this yesterday, in particular whether he planned to take advantage of Bixler's versatility in using him in the outfield in Indy, too.
His answer clearly displayed that he understood Bixler has struggled massively in the major leagues, but he wanted a player at that level who could play different positions and cover other spots as needed. Brian Friday was the shortstop to open the season there, and he is just about done with a rehab assignment after an ugly leg injury. When he comes back, Bixler will move around.
Not really much to this.
BurghfaninDenver: What is the time table for McCutchen's return? I saw that the MRI was negative, but I assume he is still pretty sore. Do you think he misses the whole Brewers series?
Dejan Kovacevic: There was no MRI, actually. It was an X-ray that was negative, meaning it showed no fracture. I asked McCutchen yesterday if he had an MRI scheduled, and he said he did not.
They'll check him again today at the ballpark and see what the next step is. I'll update on the blog.
Stephan: Who would be first in line to take Duke's spot if in fact he is dealt before the trade deadline?
Dejan Kovacevic: At the moment, that would appear to be Daniel McCutchen. But there's always Charlie Morton, too.
SeanE: You say the Pirates have made "many mis-evaluations at the major league level". What defines Many? Clearly they missed on Walker being an everyday player ... although one could argue the jury is still out on that one. I think LaRoche is a clear misevaluation. But what else really? Most of the other guys were prospects and it is too early to pass judgement. If we are talking about Penn and Eveland those were really minor low to no risk moves.
Dejan Kovacevic: You're right, Sean, that it's early on some of the trade acquisitions. My mis-evaluations remark carries beyond the ones you cite to include many of the trades, from Iwamura, the two pitchers from the Cubs, the Bay trade and you know the whole list by now. It's not just about Walker and Eveland.
I know this is a hot point for debate. I get mail on it all the time, in both directions. I also know, as I've written, that Bryan Morris alone can end up making the Bay trade look good. Just as the three Class A pitchers can upgrade the Pirates' take on the Seattle trade. (So can Cedeno, for that matter, if he keeps swinging like this.)
The Pirates could have done better, maybe far better, in a lot of these transactions. And no, that's not turning the 2008 Pirates into a powerhouse. It's based on a case-by-case basis of a player's given value at that time.
Kyle: Cory Giger from the Altoona Mirror is reporting that the front office is planning on keeping the Curve roster together for the most part for the remainder of the season. Do you think they would give anyone currently in Double-A a September call up over letting them play out the season in Altoona?
Dejan Kovacevic: The only players there in the outright major-league prospect mold are Morris and Rudy Owens, and Morris has struggled of late, Owens a little, too. No, I don't see any such promotion. And maybe not even to Indy, given that they probably would want to be cautious with both those pitchers.
Gorkys Hernandez should be mentioned, too, as he had a 16-game hitting streak end last night. But his spurt barely covers more than a month.
Capn Jack: How did the Pirates miss so badly with Tim Alderson?
Dejan Kovacevic: In fairness to Alderson, he is 21 and will not turn 22 until November.
Yet again, I can tell you Huntington and I discussed this in the past week, and the view on Alderson is that he needs to get out of the pressure situations and rediscover his delivery without worrying about the outcome of the at-bat. It is very hard to find fault, I think, with the Pirates' reasoning for the demotion. And it's something to keep in mind when seeing that Alderson gave up seven runs in less than two innings for Bradenton last night. Remember, he was told to focus on the delivery.
That said, what I wrote about the Freddy Sanchez trade at the time still applies, and that's that it is rare for a team to get just one prospect back in a trade involving a three-time All-Star and batting champion. I understand that the Pirates' thinking was to go for the superior prospect over volume, just as I understand that they were criticized for failing to land the superior-prospect type in the Bay trade.
But if you're getting just the one superior-prospect type, it had better be as close to a sure thing as possible. Alderson's velocity drop began before the Pirates acquired him. His delivery was a complicated mechanical structure before they acquired him.
It was a risk.
But again, the kid is 21.
Jeff N: The Pirates seem to take an inordinate number of first pitch strikes that seem quite hittable. Andrew McCutcheon and Jones seem to do it the most. Thses first pitches are often the best pitch they see. Does the organization instruct in this fashion? I really prefer baseball with aggressive hitters swing at strikes!
Dejan Kovacevic: You know, the taking and swinging at the first pitch is not always what it seems, and I'm glad you brought this up.
I wrote the other day that Cedeno had a lousy at-bat in swinging at a first pitch and grounding out to short with nobody out and a man at second. The next day -- and this goes to the spirit of what I describe above regarding Huntington's critical remarks -- hitting coach Don Long explained to me, in great detail, that Cedeno was instructed that this reliever loves to throw curveballs for his first couple pitches with a man on base. Sure enough, the curve came, Cedeno swung, and he didn't really make great contact.
This is what I'm talking about, and it's why I appreciate -- rather than shun -- getting feedback on my articles from the Pirates.
One more today ...
Mark: DK - I realize that this an awfully objective, tedious subject, but in the "talent evaluation" case of a guy like say Iwamura (who you brought up), do you ever think it's appropriate to consider it just a case of "bad luck", rather than poor evaluation? I know some looked to injuries in that case, but I don't think anyone could have predicted Iwamura to play as poorly as he did given his history. Is it unfair, at such times, to put the majority of the blame on management when a player with clearly all the right tools doesn't perform?
Dejan Kovacevic: Huntington himself has acknowledged that, in hindsight, Iwamura was more hurt than what they thought when they scouted him last fall. There are some legit bad-luck examples, and the two Chicago pitchers come to mind the most. But not Iwamura. That's a clear miss by the Pirates.
All right, just one more, and I apologize to the many, many being left out. We're doing special all-minors chats on Plus these days ...
Capn Jack: Will the Pirates at least entertain offers for Evan Meek? If they can get a Major League ready shortstop or catching prospect, wouldn't it be worth trading a set-up man?
Dejan Kovacevic: My understanding is that neither Meek nor Joel Hanrahan will be traded, barring something thoroughly unexpected.
Brewers in town tonight. Thanks for the input, as always ...