Longtime readers know I am no fan of this time of year, at least as it relates to the gathering and interpretation of news about potential personnel moves. Names get floated, teams get floated, trades get proposed, and so much of it happens that it becomes impossible - even for the decision-makers themselves, in some cases - to decipher what is fiction or fantasy.
Sometimes, a source is way high up in an organization and has a track record of being accurate. This is good. This is one of those rare times when a hot-stove story can be written with full conviction, as opposed to being filled with hedging terms such as "believed to be" and "might be" and "could be." But there also are front-office types who will deliberately try to get certain scenarios made public simply to pump up their own player or prospect, as might well have happened with one national report that involved the Pirates earlier in the week.
At the same time, I also understand that the readership is hungry for every morsel it can get regarding potential personnel moves. I can promise I will try to print as much as is reasonable to confirm, but I do so with the large asterisk that these things are extremely fluid, sometimes outright fabrication on the sources' end, and that the percentage of these reported scenarios that actually reach fruition - no matter their reliability at the time of publication - is very small.
Now, back to a familiar topic ...
Q: What was the thinking in releasing Josh Phelps? I would think that his power alone would have kept him in the Pirates' plans as a bench/pinch-hitting role player. We need all the power we can get.
Marty McClintock of Corona, Calif.
KOVACEVIC: You know, I tend not to raise anew questions that already have come up here, especially so soon after the original appearance. But the mail on this matter keeps growing rather than diminishing, and here is another ...
Q: Dejan, why did the Pirates decide Josh Phelps should not be part of their 40-man roster? Phelps' comments after the season made him one of my favorite players, and his performance the last two months was absolutely brilliant. They need a veteran presence on their bench, too.
David Gill of Poland, Ohio
KOVACEVIC: A couple things before I dive in ...
One, I am thoroughly convinced Phelps would have been one of this team's leaders in 2008, as he was in 2007. To some extent, he and others wanted to wait to see what happened with management and the coaching staff before fully taking charge. Now, of course, he will not have that chance.
Two, your description of Phelps' last two months as being "brilliant" is overly generous. His August was fantastic, but he went 4 for 23 in September with 11 strikeouts. Granted, Jim Tracy gave him only two starts in the final month and allowed him to rust, but the showing was far less than brilliant.
Anyway, the way Neal Huntington explained it to me was that Phelps' strengths as a player - that being almost entirely with the bat - made him a much better fit for the American League than National. The Pirates saw in 2007 that Phelps, particularly because of his arm, was not going to cut it behind the plate. They did not, as mentioned in the above link, give him much of a chance at first base or in the outfield, so his abilities there were not nearly as evident.
Anyway, that was the Pirates' stated position, plain and simple.
It also is possible that they were leery of Phelps taking them to arbitration, but that seems a little tough to believe - even given the franchise's recent history - with Phelps having made $600,000 last season and probably in line to make no more than $1.5 million or so in 2008. But no mention of money ever came up.
This much is certain: Phelps' bat, if the Pirates had valued it just for that, was plenty big enough to give them quite a weapon coming off the bench. He batted .351 with five home runs, 19 RBIs, four doubles and two triples in 77 at-bats. Even factoring that much of that production came during a 16-for-31 August in which it seemed Phelps mashed every single pitch he saw, that is a terrific output.
One can easily make the argument that the Pirates would have benefited greatly from having a bat like that available for John Russell to summon in a key situation, one that could deliver not only a timely hit but also one that might well sail over a fence.
One could just as easily make the argument that, because the Pirates' current roster already has a good number of players with natural flexibility on defense - Jose Bautista and Ryan Doumit, for example - that there is enough there to cover emergency duty.
At any rate, like I wrote Monday, Huntington's decision to release Phelps ultimately will be measured by what kind of player he finds to replace him.
Oh, and it is worth noting that Phelps did clear waivers this week.
Q: Here's a quote from your article about the Cardinals having interest in Jack Wilson and perhaps Matt Morris:
"Moreover, St. Louis has expressed early interest in trading for shortstop Jack Wilson, who is due $14.25 million the next two seasons. The Cardinals are expected to lose their shortstop, David Eckstein, to free agency by not offering him arbitration next month. Multiple needs could result in multi-player trade talks."
Multi-player trade talks. You mean like ... A PACKAGE DEAL? But, they never happen, do they? No soup for me.
Charles Conley of Buxton, Me.
KOVACEVIC: No soup for any of us, wise guy. Same for Chris Dolnack, Brian Leery and a few other shamelessly vindictive readers who seized upon that very carefully worded sentence to pummel me.
Until Monday, when everyone meets in Nashville ...