Bill Brink's Pirates baseball chat transcript: 2.25.14

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Bill Brink: Thanks for the questions, and keep them coming. Here we go ...

The Masked robshelb: I know it's early in ST, but so far, your overall biggest surprise (positive or negative). Add to that, your overall biggest pitching surprise and your overall biggest hitting surprise. Thanks.

Charles: Morning Bill....who's surprised you so far (either good or bad) in the first week?

Bill Brink: Similar questions, so I'll address them both. I'm surprised that Wandy Rodriguez appears to be progressing so well after resting his forearm during the winter. The length of time he was out last year, the PRP injection, the brief notion that he had arthritis: all bad signs. So far, though, he's been doing just fine and keeping up with the rest of the pitchers.

No biggest hitting or pitching surprises yet because today is the first time we will see these guys in a competitive environment.

Poll Question

Who is the odd man out of the bullpen?

Bryan Morris (18%)

Vin Mazzaro (14%)

Jared Hughes (32%)

Duke Welker (36%)

JJ: Is the game on radio and/or tv?

Bill Brink: Not to my knowledge. Radio broadcasts start tomorrow; I'll probably have a blog post with the radio and TV schedule tomorrow morning.

The Masked robshelb: Why let Chase go ?? A good idea, in your opinion, or not ?? And does Brent Morel really bring a lot to contribute ?? I know that Hague this year is a NRI, but is he completely out of the picture ?? Seems as if the Buccos are really worried about 3B depth.

Bill Brink: D'Arnaud struggled to hit at the high minors and his athleticism and speed never translated into baseball production there, on either side of the ball. A thumb injury last spring didn't help.

Morel has at least played a full season in the majors and received significant playing time during that season. He might or might contribute, but given that the Pirates could claim him with no repercussions, the risk is minimal.

PhillyJake: The question you probably don't have an answer for yet: Can Lambo stick at 1B ?

Bill Brink: We'll know more when he starts taking full-speed grounders, fielding bounced throws from the shortstop and third baseman, crashing the plate on bunt coverage and executing pickoff plays.

Hunter: What was the reason for dropping d'Arnaud? Injury, think he'll make it through waivers, or simply just don't think he's that good?

Bill Brink: A combination of the three, I would think. He might get through waivers, especially now when there are fewer injuries. But he's 27, struggled to hit at double-A and triple-A and his defense was never solid.

The Masked robshelb: Who do you think is the odd man out of the bullpen ?? Why do you think so ??

Bill Brink: I see it breaking down like this.

Locks: Grilli, Melancon, Watson, Wilson

Probables: Gomez, Pimentel
Up for grabs: Morris, Mazzaro, Welker, Hughes

Welker and Hughes still have options, meaning they will start in the minors except in case of injury. After that, it depends on who Hurdle trusts more between Morris and Mazzaro. I'd have to give Mazzaro the leg up right now but we'll know more as spring goes on.

Tyler: How has Cole looked so far this spring? And who appeared more ready, Cole last year or Taillon now?

Bill Brink: So far he's only thrown bullpen sessions and batting practice from behind a protective screen. Same with Taillon. When they start throwing to hitters, we can better discern how they are progressing.

The Masked robshelb: Your guess as to the probability (now) of adding a 1B-man before Opening Day. If greater than zero, who do you think has the inside track ??

Bill Brink: Greater than zero, but not by much. I can't imagine they were thrilled to hear Ike Davis concealed an oblique injury from Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson for most of last season. The Blue Jays have no incentive to give up Adam Lind. The Rangers want Mitch Moreland to spell Prince Fielder at first base because of Ron Washington's emphasis on infield defense. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison have one good knee between them so the Mariners aren't in a rush to trade Justin Smoak. Until another domino falls and someone's price drops, I don't see a deal coming together.

Guest: Do you think the Pirates are banking on Polanco, thus no movement towards a rightfielder?

Bill Brink: Yes. They are fine to let the Snider/Tabata/Decker situation play itself out until, oh, June 17 or so and then bring Polanco up to play every day. The right-field options in free agency were scarce and there aren't many good trade fits either.

PhillyJake: Vin Mazzaro and Chase d'Arnaud to the Mets for Ike! Who hangs up first ? Bill Brink: Alderson. He can get more than that.

Hunter: The depth at the middle infield positions look ok in the majors but if there is an injury AAA appears void. Do you think they'll bring someone else into camp?

Bill Brink: The two guys I'm watching are Michael Martinez and Robert Andino. Both have played the middle infield and have position versatility, which Hurdle loves. The Pirates have shown a propensity for carrying a non-roster invitee capable of playing different positions (see Inge, Brandon) and leaving the guy with options in the minor leagues to address the very depth issue you mentioned. I could see that happening with those two.

TimF: When you watch Marte, Cutch and Polanco take batting practice back to back to back, who looks most impressive? Least?

Bill Brink: Who looks the least impressive of Marte, McCutchen and Polanco? That's like asking me my least favorite steak, strip, filet or ribeye. McCutchen is obviously the most polished, but as far as raw power, bat speed and skill, Polanco and Marte are right there.

Charles: Great minds Rob....Bill, Does mgmt (and Hurdle in particular), give you the impression that they are indeed comfortable with Lambo as a 1B option or does it feel like it is just posturing?

Bill Brink: All 30 GMs will tell the media at any given time that they are thrilled with the players they have on the roster. Sometimes they are being disingenuous, but we understand why: They need their players to know they have confidence in them, and thus have confidence in themselves.

So it's a little bit posturing, but the fact that they havent' made a trade indicates they are in reality comfortable entering the season with Lambo as a first-base option. Donny Nemchick: How does JAYHAY look as our bench guy this year? I like his hustle but would rather have a more talented player...

Bill Brink: Harrison is likely to be either the last guy on the bench -- after Barmes, Chris Stewart and whichever 1B and RF aren't starting that day -- or in Indy as depth while Martinez or Andino make the active roster.

Jim in VT: Is Snider's bat quick enough to force his way into an RF platoon?

Bill Brink: Bat speed has never been an issue with him. When he's right, he stays back on his left foot and drives the ball. At times, changeups and breaking pitches forced him out over his front foot, and the injury to his left big toe didn't help. He's healthy now and squarely in the mix for right field.

Hunter: What is going to be the long-term fallout of a player like Nelson Cruz received a good bit less than his qualifying offer? Will players actually start accepting it or will the MLBPA force a change to the system?

Bill Brink: The union will fight this hard in 2016 when the current CBA expires. Anything that artificially depresses the market value of a free agent for a nonsensical reason -- tying free agents to draft picks makes no sense -- will have the union massing troops at the border.

In the meantime, some players, like Cruz, will start accepting the offer. It made sense for Cruz, who is 33 and coming off a 50-game suspension for PEDs, to take the $14.1 million. It doesn't, though, for someone like Kendrys Morales, who had a good offseason in a tough ballpark and should be attracting more attention than he's getting.

Hunter: What is your favorite part of covering spring training?

Bill Brink: I'd say golf and the beach, but I think my editors might be reading this ...

I like the access and time we have with the players and coaches. During the season, we get roughly 25 minutes in the clubhouse before the game, and some days, 20 of those minutes are spent waiting for a player to come out of the training room to see how his strained hamstring is feeling. Not really conducive to long conversations.

Here, we have all day to talk with players and coaches, which allows me to learn things I might not otherwise stumble across and helps us create a better relationship with the player. That way, in August, if we have to ask tough questions about something, they'll know us and understand that we're just doing our jobs.

Jim in VT: How high would the Opening Day indy indians rotation rank in MLB? Stacked group

Bill Brink: Guessing it'll be Taillon, Locke, Cumpton, Irwin and Oliver, with McPherson on his way back and others in the mix. Not bad. That's probably better than at least two or three opening-day MLB rotations.

TimF: Do you sense any general feeling among the players as to how the AJ Burnett saga played out?

Bill Brink: He kept to himself this winter. The players reached out to him, but he often did not respond. Best I can tell, it played out as he said. He wasn't sure he wanted to pitch. Then he decided he did. The Phillies were interested, allowing him to be close to home.

Mike: Havent been this excited about opening day in, lets say, 20 years. Does the atmosphere appear different in spring training this season?

Bill Brink: I honestly can't discern one bit of difference in spring training this year. Players talk about playoffs and the World Series, but they did that last spring too. They're just here working.

TimF: Who wins a 40 yd dash, Cutch, Marte or Polanco?

Bill Brink: McCutchen. He was a state champion sprinter in high school and could probably start at defensive back for the Steelers, or at least as a punt returner.

JB: Know you dont draft for need but with Pedro almost certainly leaving for FA soon and no true prospect, do you see the Pirates selecting a college 3B early in the draft. Matt Chapman could be a solid pick at 24

Bill Brink: He'd have to be the best player on the board for the Pirates to pick him. That might be the case, but they won't do so because he's a 3B.

JamesT: Now that Burnette is gone, what will the rotation look like on Opening Day?

Bill Brink: Best guess right now is: Liriano Cole Morton Way-Rod Volquez

DNY: What about Tony Sanchez led the FO to sign Stewart to backup Russell Martin?

Bill Brink: It had less to do with Tony Sanchez and more to do with the front office wanting a competent defensive backup that would allow Sanchez to spend another year playing every day in the minors. They're aware that if Martin has another season like he did last year, he's going to get paid. That leaves Sanchez with the chance to win the starting job next spring and Stewart as the backup.

JJ: Is Tabata the starting right fielder on March 31 against the cubbies?

Bill Brink: Assuming Samardzija isn't traded and starts for the Cubs, it'll be the left-handed Snider. That's how I see it playing out early: a platoon

JJ: What is your predition on the pirates this season? Record, playoff yes/no???

Bill Brink: 87-75, no playoffs.

JJ: What is the Super 2 rule? I never figured out what that was!

Bill Brink: The Super 2 rule is a subset of arbitration that was initially intended to prevent teams from keeping their top prospects in the minors, when they could help the major league team on the field, so as not to start their so-called "service clock."

Players are under team control for six seasons, the first three of which at a salary at or near the major league minimum. This year, that's $500,000. In years four through six, salaries are determined by arbitration and increase.

Teams can easily tell when a player will hit three years of service time and can keep him down to delay that day by an extra year, thus saving themselves money in the short term. Super 2 status grants arbitration eligibility to the top 22 percent of players with at least two years of service time, creating a floating service time number that is harder to quantify.

Now, teams have complex formulas that allow for them to determine Super 2 dates anyway, so the impact is lessened. This is why you hear of top prospects, like Cole, coming up in June: it prevents them from being eligible for Super 2 arbitration in their third major league season, delaying it until their fourth year.

Dr. Ace Boogie: What portion of the Pirates schedule is the most/least favorable? Will that affect the Polanco and Taillon call-ups?

Bill Brink: Haven't looked at the schedule in depth yet, but it won't affect call-ups. JJ: Russell coming back after this season?

Bill Brink: Not if he does what he did last season. He'll get that paper.

TimF: Any sense that if Tabata/Snider are blowing chunks or hurt (knock on wood) early on and Polanco is ripping up AAA pitching, that the Bucs might bite the bullet and bring him up before mid-June, making him super 2 eligible?

Bill Brink: I highly doubt it. Avoiding Super 2 eligibility receives a lot of scorn from fans because it makes the team look cheap, but it's good business practice and the best way to manipulate the current rules.

JJ: Cutch winning MVP again? Does cole have the stuff to win the Cy young?

Bill Brink: He'll be in the conversation with the usual suspects: Votto, Goldschmidt, Posey, etc. One to watch: Andrelton Simmons. Dark horse.

PhillyJake: Let's say Snider has the kind of year we always though he'd have. How does that affect Polanco coming up?

Bill Brink: In 2009, the Pirates traded Nate McLouth, clearing a path for McCutchen. Not to say Snider will be McLouth, but if he performs, they could move him when his value is high. Polanco's call-up will be almost entirely independent of need at the major league level, though.

Hunter: Is there even a one percent chance the Pirates say the heck with Super 2 status and call up Polanco as soon as they know they won't lose a year of control?

Bill Brink: This brings up a good point: The Pirates will ensure another year of control prior to free agency if they keep Polanco in the minors for the first two weeks or so of the season. I can't imagine them throwing Super 2 to the wind, though.

Bill Brink: Game starts in 12 minutes. Lightning round. Go.

JJ: Is the bullpen going to survive this season?

Bill Brink: Maybe not as elite as last year, but a top 10 unit still.

John: Has he Alvarez will move to first base ship sailed? Who would even play third if he did?

Bill Brink: There never even was a ship. That was an external notion.

Paul: lambo or sanchez @ 1st on opening day?

Bill Brink: Sanchez, I would think, as the more experienced guy.

TimF: Waffle taco? Good idea?

Bill Brink: Pure brilliance.

Jeff: From the photos you've tweeted, I need to say this: Polanco is enourmous.

Bill Brink: Kid's put on 15-ish pounds of muscle since I saw him at the Futures game last July, most of it in upper body. Dude is strong.

Greg: will Grilli finish the season as the closer?

Bill Brink: No reason now to say "no," but it does give me some pause.

Bill Brink: That's it for today, thanks for all the great questions. We'll do it again next week, where Jenn Menendez will make her spring training chat debut.


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