Hoping to reserve the Q&A tomorrow for reaction to the Bob Nutting interview that represented the first part of the Building Blocks series today ...
Q: I can live with the Pirates going with the same starting lineup as last season. I don't want to see a deal made just for the sake of making one.
However, there are other ways to improve, and I think they're missing one by not signing Ian Snell to an extension. Isn't this the kind of move the Pirates should make? Locking up one of their good, young players? Snell expressed a desire for a long-term deal, and, let's face it, he's not going to get cheaper.
Raymond J. Posanskey of Madera, Pa.
KOVACEVIC: If the Pirates are consistent with the pattern set by Cleveland and other teams in this regard, yes, they would lock up Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm, all with an eye toward a general savings through arbitration.
Perhaps they want to see another good season from Snell and Gorzelanny, and one complete season from Maholm. This is not the type of thing they discuss, so there is no way of knowing for sure what their reasoning is here.
Q: Dejan, you mentioned that the pitchers are getting in some hitting and fielding practice. Please tell me if they are getting some significant bunting practice.
It would be nice to see our starters help themselves and their teammates out during the season when an opportunity presents itself. Anyone should at least be able to master the fundamentals of squaring up being in position to lay one down.
Bill Momberger of Casselberry, Fla.
KOVACEVIC: It is not easy quantifying how good a team is at bunting, Bill.
The Pirates had the sixth-fewest sacrifice hits in the league at 60. But that kind of number easily can be dismissed when it is considered that the Pirates also were one of the league's worst teams at reaching base, so there surely was a below-average number of opportunities to put down a bunt. Moreover, the guy was their No. 8 hitter most of the year, Jack Wilson, had only seven sacrifice hits despite being very good at it. Why? Well, who would have asked Wilson to bunt in the final two months of last season when he was on a .400-plus rampage?
So, that leaves us with one statistical nugget of relevance -- Ian Snell had 12 sacrifice hits, tied for seventh-most among all National League batters -- and an awful lot of vague first-hand impressions. My general impressions on this matter were, one, they had few chances to bunt for the above reasons and, two, most of them were OK at bunting with the exceptions of Tom Gorzelanny and Tony Armas.
Besides, you might have missed this memo.
As for whether or not they practiced bunts at minicamp, yes, they did.
Q: Dejan, I'm confused. After all the analysis Bob Nutting did the past six months, the reason the Pirates haven't been successful the past three seasons was the management of the team. That can't be true, can it?
You've covered the team almost every day the past several years. Did people like Kevin McClatchy, Dave Littlefield, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy and all the coaches actually tell Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jose Bautista, Chris Duffy, Ryan Doumit and the rest of the hitters to take all first-ball fastballs they saw? To swing at 0-2 pitches 6 feet out of the strike zone? To run the bases poorly? To throw to the wrong bases? To have pitchers like Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, John Grabow and Damaso Marte not throw inside? To require 100 pitches to get to the fifth inning? To basically show no enthusiasm for playing the game? I can't believe they did, but I'll rely on you to tell me I'm wrong.
The other element that confounds me is that no incremental spending is required to rectify the situation. The plan, as I read it in the paper, is to stick with the same players and expect different results.
Isn't that the definition of insanity?
John Kreinbihl of Mt. Lebanon
KOVACEVIC: I will not tell you that you are wrong about the caliber and performance of the players being largely to blame for what has ailed the Pirates the past decade and a half. Ultimately, the game is played by the players and, though I disagree with some of your individual examples up there, it is incumbent upon them to do things right. That is doubly true when it comes to fundamentals.
You also are correct in identifying that Nutting's only changes came at the management and coaching staff level. But that is about as far as any owner usually goes, or (ital) should (end ital) go, for that matter. The decision to keep the 2007 roster mostly intact was made by the new management. Not by ownership.
And, from what I hear, new management is far from done reshaping that roster, at least as far as the long-term future goes. The next person from that group who tells me they are going to just cross their fingers and hope that the current group of players will somehow blossom into a World Series champion will be the first.
The best explanation for the Pirates' stance is this: They wanted to make major trades this past offseason, the kind that would put real prospects into the system and, before long, join some of the current core. Those trades did not materialize, and, rather than simply giving those players away to dump salary, they held onto them. Thus, your 2008 Pirates.
What happens next?
Chances are good, I think, that the Pirates will move one or two such pieces if an appropriate offer comes their way. And it remains to be seen if that morphs into something much greater, or if it stays within the context of building through this core. What I hear suggests it will be the latter.
Until tomorrow ...