Bill Brink: Welcome to the first Pirates chat of spring training. I'm sorry it's a bit late, I was dealing with some technical difficulties. We'll start up in a few minutes when people have a chance to enter.
Bill Brink: Here we go...
Doc: ahh spring training time, the sound of snow shovels scraping macadam always brings me back. Just a hunch, do you think the Pirates get another first baseman before June 1 yes or no?
Bill Brink: I don't think they're done dealing. I bet they get someone else, either a platoon option or a full-time guy. I don't see them signing Morales both due to the draft pick and his shaky defense at first base, but Justin Smoak or Ike Davis I could see.
Absent that, they'll pick up guys who are DFA'd before the end of camp by other teams, or guys who are blocked on their current rosters.
Hunter: Outside of injury is there any chance Volquez isn't in the rotation to start the year?
Bill Brink: The only chance is if he's really terrible in spring and the Pirates thing Jeff Locke can return to his first-half form from last season. They spent $5 million on a gamble that Volquez can be salvaged and I think they'll give him all the chances they can to prove he can still pitch.
Jesse S: Have you had a chance yet to feel any of the guys muscles? If yes, who bulked up?
Bill Brink: Gaby Sanchez looks to be in good shape, as does Travis Snider. But no one really comes into camp "out of shape" anymore. These guys either all play winter ball or work out at designated facilities during the offseason.
Hunter: The bullpen is looking pretty full of guys with no options remaining. While there will probably be an injury at some point who do you think it the odd man out right now?
Bill Brink: They seem pretty set on having two long relievers, meaning Stolmy Pimentel and Jeanmar Gomez will likely join Grilli, Melancon, Watson and Wilson. After that it's between Morris and Mazzaro, and it's a toss-up at that point.
mark: How does Volquez look? Is there any hope for him?
Bill Brink: Impossible to tell right now because all they're doing is throwing bullpen sessions. He's able to get the ball to the catcher, which is a good thing. We'll know more once he starts facing hitters.
Brian: Anything jump out at you among the players yet?
Bill Brink: No, this is the worst week of spring training in the sense that you're watching batting practice and bullpen sessions, and there's nothing useful to be gleaned from either. Once games start, we'll know more, but even then, teams don't base much of their decisions on spring training performance.
At least not spring training numbers. They look at at-bats, approach, defense, pitch location, etc.
The Masked robshelb: As things stand right now, fourth OF'er when Polanco comes up ??
Bill Brink: Both Snider and Tabata are out of options, so that won't play a role. The only consideration we have at this time is that Tabata is a righty and signed to a team-friendly long-term deal, so maybe he stays, but it's possible they carry five outfielders as well.
Ricky Ricky Ricky: Lambo/Gaby platoon...For real? Percent chance that they are the plan on opening day?
Bill Brink: For real. That's their plan as of now. 56.257 percent chance we see it opening day.
JamesinNYC: Biggest mistake of offseason, not giving AJ the 14M qualifing offer or not signing say Loney as a 1B FA? I think the rest of the team is set, with too many arms in the bullpen, I can see not over paying but those were two really big holes.
Bill Brink: Equally big issues They were in on Loney and made a competitive offer, but they didn't increase it enough to counteract the lack of Florida income tax. I also don't believe they offered a third year.
Burnett, at the time, said he was going to return to Pittsburgh or retire. They didn't want to pay $14.1 million to a 37-year-old who missed time due to injury last season, but that is still below his market value and they would now own a compensatory draft pick.
Bill Brink: What other questions to we have today? Welcome to the newcomers. I had to start late because my computer picks now to crap out on me but it's up and running now, so sorry for the delay.
Bill Brink: Spring training for all of us, I guess. Found the questions. Here we go.
The Masked robshelb: Barring injuries, estimated per cent of playing time for Clint Barmes this season ??
Bill Brink: I'd say 20 percent. I bet he plays once a week, maybe twice. I should clarify, 20 percent of starts. He'll probably serve as a defensive replacement from time to time.
Guest: Who are you most excited to see that wont be on opening day roster?
Bill Brink: Taillon. I'm looking forward to seeing his stuff against major leaguers. We got a taste at the WBC of what he can do. I'm especially looking forward to seeing how the curveball and the changeup play. We know the fastball is a plus pitch.
The Masked robshelb: Any word/rumors as to what was said to anyone during their Entrance Interviews ??
Bill Brink: No, they keep that type of stuff private. They generally check in on progress made since the exit interview and talk about goals for the spring and the season, but we haven't heard any specifics.
Chris: What are the chances that the pirates acquire a bat before opening day?
Bill Brink: Chances are good they get another hitter, but I don't know the level of impact that hitter will have. They will probably be ready to pounce if a team parts with a right fielder or first baseman late in camp as the rosters start to contract. A trade for a first baseman remains an option, though I don't see them signing a bat.
JAL: Good to have chats back. How many truly open roster spots do the Pirates have right now?
Bill Brink: For position players, I'd say maybe one. For now, call Sanchez the starter at first and Snider the starter in right. That means the bench consists of Stewart, Tabata, Barmes and Lambo, with probably Josh Harrison as the final guy. That last spot is what's up for grabs.
Marc: Bill, have you heard anything about the Pirates extending any of their current players with long term contracts? I'd love to see them lock up players like Marte or Alvarez to deals that extend into their free agency years.
Bill Brink: I haven't heard anything, and long-term deals with those two are unlikely. Marte won't be a free agent for five more seasons and the Pirates can pay him at or near the $500,000 minimum for the next two. No rush to start paying him. Marte's agent, Peter Greenspan, is savvy and won't let him kill his earning potential by signing early.
Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, likes his players to establish their value on the open market, so unless the Pirates throw truckloads of cash at him, which I don't think they will, he won't sign anytime soon.
Guest: If Tabata and/or Snider play really well, is there any possibility of holding Polanco back in AAA for the whole season or will Pirates look to make a trade?
Bill Brink: That will depend more on Polanco's readiness than Tabata or Snider. If Polanco is ready and there's nothing left for him to accomplish in triple-A, they'll find a way to bring him up. If he's not, they'll be patient with him and take advantage of Tabata and Snider's performance.
Jon: Hey Bill, thanks for chatting. If someone like Pimentel or Wilson were being considered as a starter, would we have heard about that by now, or are all pitchers stretched out to a certain extent equally and then the starters and relievers separated?
Bill Brink: We'll know more about that in March, when they start throwing more than an inning at a time in spring games. Those two will be stretched out either way because they will be in long relief, but if they throw four or five innings or start some games we'll get the hint and ask about it.
JJ: first base, KM, good move or no?
Bill Brink: There are a lot of ways to look at Kendrys Morales, and the concerns about the draft pick and his first-base defense are good ones, but I'll offer this one for consideration. Good move. Lengthens the lineup, proves team is willing to spend money on premium free agents, increases payroll, which fans like.
The Masked robshelb: Contracts and options aside, please rank order the following five pitchers: Volquez, Pimentel, Locke, Cumpton, J. WIlson.
Bill Brink: Purely on skill/stuff? Wilson, Pimentel, Locke, Cumpton, Volquez. But I haven't seen as much of Pimentel, Cumpton and Volquez, to be fair.
Jim in VT: Seems like Boras is really pushing a Morales-Bucs marriage. What % chance do you give it of happening
Bill Brink: Boras' asking price would have to drop considerably for the Pirates to feel comfortable forfeiting a draft pick, and I think someone else signs him before that happens, so slim.
daniel b: Is Mr. Pedro looking like he didn't miss any meals or is he ready to roam third base with approximately average range again this year?
Bill Brink: Pedro looks about the same: In good shape, no trouble on the field.
Jim in VT: I am assuming that Polanco and Taillon will arrive after Super Two status passes by. is that a safe assumption for one or both?
Bill Brink: Yes, that is a safe assumption. June or July sounds about right, but they won't bring them up for the sake of bringing them up. They'll have to earn it.
Hunter: How much have you seen Lambo at 1st and if you have seen enough to judge how is he looking?
Bill Brink: I've seen him take ground balls there during infield practice. He looked good, but keep in mind these grounders are at about half speed. Once he gets in there with live pitching and a game scenario, and has to worry about double plays and bunt coverage and all that, it'll be a different story.
StrangeGlove: What are your thoughts on the offseason: Nutting being cheap again or is simply a matter of nothing coming together for the right price?
Bill Brink: More toward the latter. There wasn't much in the way of free agents that fit the Pirates' need and price range this winter. They also felt better about their current players than they had in recent years. The pitching staff probably needs more than just Volquez, and the first-base situation could use help, but I don't think it was the result of cheapness.
Hunter: What's your over/under date for Gregory Polanco to get called up to the Pirates this year?
Bill Brink: Bunch of questions about Polanco and Taillon's debuts, so we'll knock them out here. No earlier than June 1 for either, and I could see them both coming in mid-June to early July IF they perform well in Indy.
JAL: Is Josh Harrison one of the better bench players in the majors or is he on the team simply because the Pirates have no one else?
Bill Brink: Harrison is very good at his role, which is to play everywhere with passable defense, be ready to pinch-hit and pinch-run at all times and not press too much in his limited at-bats. I don't know how that compares to the rest of the league because I'm not in their clubhouses. His numbers will never wow you but he's a very useful player.
Ermine: Is there even an inkling that they might be looking at Drew at SS, if his price continues to fall?
Bill Brink: No inkling on Drew. They are rolling with Mercer right now with Barmes as a backup. I don't think SS is a priority at this point.
Jon: If you had to identify a NRI with the best chance of breaking camp with the team, any guesses?
Bill Brink: I'll say Travis Ishikawa, in a Brandon Inge kind of way. I don't think he'll be terribly productive but I could see them giving him a chance.
Michael Sanserino: Can you bring back some Mr. Bones BBQ sauce? I'm buying a grill soon and will cook for you. We'll have ice cream for dessert.
Bill Brink: Yes, yes and yes.
Doc: IF Polanco plays great, and both Tabata and Snider are serviceable this year , which of those two is traded?
Bill Brink: That's a lot of hypotheticals. It all depends on who other teams have more interest in.
Guest: Is there any snowballs chance in Bradenton that Taillon or Polanco impress enough to come north with the team?
Bill Brink: No. Neither one will make the opening-day roster, both due to the Pirates' desire to let their top prospects spend time in triple-A and Super 2 concerns.
Guest: I thought the Pirates were going to trade for Smoak. There was interest last offseason. Can they be waiting for Seattle to sign Morales or Cruz to approach the Mariners?
Bill Brink: Smoak has to be available for the Pirates to trade for him, and until the Morales situation settles itself and the Mariners determine they can live with Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, who between them have one healthy knee joint, Smoak's staying put.
Jon: Do Snider and Lambo have jobs to lose right now, or do guys like Decker and Dickerson have a real shot?
Bill Brink: Decker will get a look, but he has options, so he will probably start the season in Indianapolis. I think they have roster spots to lose, but not jobs to lose.
Marty: Any predictions on who can (or has the ability) to take on Burnett's role as the voice of experience? Or do you feel that won't be a factor given that this rotation is a year older/wiser?
Bill Brink: The "veteran presence" thing, or the "clubhouse leader" thing, is often overstated. It helps to have older, smarter guys who have been around enough to learn not only what to tell the younger guys but how to tell them so they'll understand and retain that information. They'll do just fine watching Liriano work his butt off between starts, then go out and mow guys down.
The Masked robshelb: What's the one best thing the Buccos can do between now and Opening Day to improve their odds of making the post-season ??
Bill Brink: Take things slowly enough with Way-Rod that he starts the season healthy, stays healthy and gives them 200 innings.
Adam T: I'm worried about the shortstop position, aren't you?
Bill Brink: Not particularly. While not as strong a defender as Barmes, Mercer can play there just fine.
Joel: Have you heard of the asking price for guys like Smoak/Davis at this point? Market has had to come down on them the closer we get to season I would assume...
Bill Brink: From what I've heard and read, neither team is hell-bent on moving their guy, so unless they receive a fantastic offer for them, they might be content to sit tight with them to start the season. They can always trade them later.
Hunter: Do you think Mercer and Barmes split time at short this year or will Mercer actually get 500 to 600 at bats?
Bill Brink: I don't know about 500 to 600, but I could see 400-450.
Cobra: With the logjam in the bullpen, do you see ant chance of Justin Wilson being shifted to a starter role. That would free up both Mazzarro and Morris to make the team.
Bill Brink: The Pirates have repeatedly said they like Wilson on the major league team in the bullpen. Hurdle likes having two lefties in relief, and Wilson, when he's right, is one of the best relievers they have. I don't see him transitioning back.
The Masked robshelb: Jay Bell. Jumped ship or pushed after last season's mixed results at the plate ?? Will turning things over to Jeff Branson make any appreciable difference ??
Bill Brink: Hitting coach to bench coach is a promotion, not a lateral move. It's like an offensive coordinator taking a head coaching job somewhere. If he wants to manage, taking that opportunity puts him one step closer.
Cobra: Why did the Pirates reaquire Welker with all the arms already in the pen?
Bill Brink: You can never have too much pitching. Welker offers depth and can start the season in the minors.
Hunter: Scouting reports have both Marte and Polanco as better center fielders than McCutchen... do you ever see a day he moves to a corner position even if it is a year or two down the line?
Bill Brink: I think we'd have to see the three of them in the outfield together for at least a season before the coaching staff would be comfortable making the move, and even then it would take a drastic difference for them to move their franchise player off his position.
JTM: Bill, what is your win-loss prediction for the buccos this year?
Bill Brink: I'll say 85-77.
Laz: Hey Bill, any word on extensions for Hurdle and NH?
Bill Brink: They're both under control for two more years, but then again they extended Hurdle in spring training last year.
Doc: Protestations by Hurdle et al. to the contrary, do you the Pirates ( management and players) grew a little tired of AJ. he is like Human Tabasco, a little goes a long way
Bill Brink: I don't think they grew tired of him. Ball players never tire of guys who strike out 200 batters. But I could see his demeanor factoring into their pursuit of him this offseason.
PhillyJake: I say Lambo makes the team, like Jeff Clement did all those years ago - let him fail as the default 1B rather than earn it. OTOH, he hit those 30+ HRs last year which should earn him a chance. Am I off base ?
Bill Brink: He'll make the team but not as the default first baseman. I think the season starts with Sanchez and Lambo in a platoon situation and they see where that goes before adjusting.
Jon: Who would you say has the next best chance of signing an extension? Marte in a year or two? Polanco? Taillon? Somebody else? Any chance at all for Cole?
Bill Brink: Couple questions about extensions for guys, so I'll get to that here: Right now, I don't see an extension as imminent. Walker would be the next logical candidate but even that doesn't seem likely right now.
Doc: Is there any chance, barring catastrophic injury , that Sanchez breaks with the big team. I mean if Stewart goes o-for spring and Sanchez tears it up AND plays great D?.
Bill Brink: No. They want Sanchez to play every day in Indy. Then, assuming Martin gets paid big money next offseason, Stewart can back up Sanchez as the everyday guy.
Guest: How about signing Ervin Santana too really solidify starting rotation?
Bill Brink: Sure would help, but he's tied to draft pick compensation and likely will cost more than what the Pirates will pay.
Michael Sanserino: Where are you on The Wire?
Bill Brink: Taking a break before starting Season 3 so I can watch the Olympics and House of Cards.
PhillyJake: Does Chase d'Arnaud have a future with this team ?
Bill Brink: A healthy season in the minors will tell us more. The physical tools are there, but they need to consistently translate into defense as well as help him at the plate.
Drew: Any idea if J. Gomez will be looked at as a potential 6 or 7 starting pitcher over Jeff Locke, Phil Irwin and Compton?
Bill Brink: I think Gomez will start as a long reliever while Locke, Irwin and Cumpton will be the starting depth, but Gomez had to join the rotation for a while last season, so anything is possible.
Bill Brink: Lightning round. Go.
Jon: I know it's super early, but there seems to be a chance the Pirates offer both Liriano and Martin QOs next year, right?
Bill Brink: Yes, they are both candidates, assuming they have similar seasons as last year.
Hunter: You have the US or the Czech Republic tomorrow in the quarters?
Bill Brink: Gimme whatever team T.J. Oshie is on.
Guest: Payroll out of bottom 5 of league someday?
Bill Brink: Someday. May need a new TV deal or record-shattering attendance.
Drew: Who do you see as the Pirates big rival in the division, Cincy or St. Louis?
Bill Brink: St. Louis. They only keep getting better and have tons of young talent.
Paul: Liriano has better or worse year statistically than '13?
Bill Brink: Probability would say worse, but not by much, I don't think.
PhillyJake: Cy Cole ?
Bill Brink: Not while Cy Kershaw is still breathing.
Bill Brink: That's it for today, thanks for the great questions and the vibrant chat. We'll do it again, same time next week.