Bill Brink's Pirates baseball chat transcript: 5.20.14

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

Doug S: Can you see any similiarities to this year's Pirates to last years Dodgers? The Dodgers were horrible until mid-June when Puig was called up and then went something like 50-10. Can the Pirates do something similiar?

Bill Brink: Any team is capable of doing something like that, but it's hard to predict. A run like the Dodgers have takes lots of luck and health. Russell Martin's return should help the pitching staff improve, but I don't see any massive change indicating a run like that is likely. Polanco will help, but not that much.

James_Pittsburgh: Bill, with a prospect as highly rated as Polanco, do the Pirates typically like to bring these type of guys up during a stretch away from PNC Park, or would they rather have him take in the whole experience and bring him up sometime during a homestand? Or is there no preference at all do you think?

Bill Brink: I don't think there's a preference. Cole and Alvarez debuted at home, Marte debuted in Houston. They usually bring them up when they feel they're ready, regardless of where the team is.

Doug S: Starting pitchers have 5 wins - that blows my mind! Can we expect Morton/Lariano to be postive regression candidates back to near 0.500?

Bill Brink: I think they are going to start pitching better, though predicting wins or losses is impossible based on run support and such. Liriano looked much better in his previous outing, and Morton has been great save for the first inning. He and Searage are smart enough to sort that out, so I do think that both will improve.

Death or Glory: A few journalists get to extract routine, political answers from Bob Nutting before each season. Do you get a chance to follow up with Nutting during the season on classics like "our offseason additions were strong"? Volquez and Stewart, period.

Bill Brink: I'm one of them, and the late February day when we parse through the responses is always fun.

We talk to him periodically throughout the season. We ask him the questions that need to be asked, but keep in mind, he's not going to throw his front office under the bus publicly and say they didn't do enough or signed the wrong guys.

marty34156: If they continue to stink, who goes first Wandy or Volquez? How long is the leash on each?

Bill Brink: Volquez. He's making less money and continues to leave fastballs in hitters' hot zones.

Bill Brink: As far as the leash, I'd say it's decent length on both. Volquez has pitched well but his mistakes are getting hammered. He's not making a complete mess of things.

Doug S: Is GP's Super2 status really even an issue now since they will most likely sign him to a multi-year deal eventually to buy out those years?

Bill Brink: That's a good point. I've seen it raised several places and I've wondered about it myself. They are likely guarding against the possibility that Polanco and his representatives, who can see how good he will be and what good free-agent outfielders are making (Ellsbury, Choo, etc.) will wait until he hits free agency to squeeze maximum salary out of his performance.

The difference for the Pirates is still only a few million dollars, though.

marty34156: On a scale of 1-10, what are the odds the Pirates still manage a winning season?

Bill Brink: 5.613. They're seven under, which is not inescapable, but they'd have to improve from here on out.

Hunter: Wandy looked a little better last time out but how long do the Pirates stick with him or Volquez if either/both continue their overall struggles? Feels a little like the Bedard and Correia situations in recent years.

Bill Brink: Volquez has the best stuff of the four and if he can stop giving up home runs and leaving his fastball over the plate he can be effective. Rodriguez's injury history is similar to Bedard's, but I don't see them giving up on him soon due to the money he's making -- though they are only paying $7.5 million of it.

Doug S: Any thoughts on where I could find data on how frequently our pitchers are giving up runs right after we score? It seems as though they are very frequently giving runs right back.

Bill Brink: It's probably out there somewhere, but I don't know of any place to easily find it all in one spot without going game by game.

DevilInLaw: If Marte and Tabatha went on the DL, would the Pirates still continue the lunacy of holding Polanco down in AAA until June 6 (Super 2 date)?

Bill Brink: Yes. They've waited this long, I don't think they bring him up now. They will go to Jaff Decker and put Chris Dickerson on the 40-man if they have to. I don't think that will be an issue.

Bill Brink: Speaking of which...

JAL: Anything new on severity of injuries to Tabata and Marte?

Hunter: How are Tabata and Marte? Any word of roster moves?

Bill Brink: We won't know anything until we get to the ballpark and the clubhouse opens at 3:15. Jaff Decker was in the lineup for both games of Indy's doubleheader yesterday so it doesn't look like he's coming to Pittsburgh.

JamesinNYC: What if it is known yet was the final trade for Davis?

Bill Brink: It is almost certainly someone from the 2013 draft class, who cannot be traded until a year after the draft. I doubt it's Reese McGuire and probably not Austin Meadows. Shortstops Trae Arbet or Adam Frazier, 5th and 6th rounders, would make sense given the Mets' lack of shortstops in their organization.

Wayward Eer: The pitching has been very uneven across the starters and relievers. What potential moves do you see being made (besides certain starters just pitching better)?

Bill Brink: The only moves that make sense would be if Brandon Cumpton or Jeff Locke eventually replaced one of the struggling starters. They have help in relief in Phil Irwin, or they could use Casey Sadler there as well, but nothing major.

Hunter: It appears Polanco will be coming up in a few weeks so who is the odd man out at this point?

Bill Brink: I don't have any more of a solid idea now than I did the last time, but I think Travis Snider. Tabata is right-handed and under contract. Snider has two more years of arbitration.

Death or Glory: Have you had a chance to ask Neal Huntington why Chris Dickerson, who has a .918 OPS this year in AAA, does not deserve a spot on the 40-man roster but the likes of Jaff Decker does? Seems like a small issue unless you consider how many close games the Bucs have lost & how many innings have ended with guys on base.

Bill Brink: I haven't, but I can guess. The Pirates operate with a focus on retention of assets. If they add Dickerson to the 40-man, that means possibly losing the guy you kick off. The obvious response to that is, who cares if you lose Decker, Morel, McGuiness, etc., but that is how they operate. It can be to a fault if it prevents the best players from being able to help the team.

Mike: While everyone is blaming the Pirates for holding back Polanco, isn't the Players's Union mainly responsible? Do you think they will change that system next contract?

Bill Brink: It's the CBA. The CBA rewards teams financially for holding back top prospects, and the union is somewhat responsible because they negotiated the CBA. I bet this is something that is brought up during the next round of collective bargaining.

TedNeverWins: Just in an attempt to keep annoying you, as the one crazy Stolmy fan, do you have an update for me so I can sleep well tonight having my fix in Singapore :)

Bill Brink: Pimentel was to throw a bullpen session yesterday and head to Florida for a rehab assignment. Hurdle didn't specify if that was the GCL Pirates, Bradenton or working at Pirate City, but he's heading south.

Barry: Could Stolmy Pimentel get stretched out enough in his rehab to be a starter when he comes back?

Bill Brink: They see him long-term as a rotation candidate but I don't think they try to stretch him out to start after he comes off the DL because of a shoulder issue.

marty34156: I know Russ said over the weekend he felt he'd be ready to be activated today, serve his suspension tonight, and then play tomorrow. Any idea this'll happen?

Bill Brink: That was what he wanted to do, but that doesn't mean the Pirates will agree to it. They hadn't finalized it as of Sunday.

Death or Glory: Have you had a chance to read Sports Illustrated's new piece on Carlos Gomez and discuss it with the Pirates? Their data shows that teams who swing at the first pitch are owning the majors this year, while the Pirates' M.O. as an organization seems to be letting the first pitch go right down the middle. With K machines like Marte & Alvarez, even going 0-1 is often obviously fatal.

Bill Brink: I have not read the piece yet. That strategy usually works for a while before opposing pitchers start burying sliders on the first pitch. It all evens out.

The Chief: Bill, have you ever received an explanation as to what the Pirates saw in Volquez to give him $5 Million?

Bill Brink: Many times, from Huntington and Hurdle. They saw strong off-speed offerings that would play in the majors with improved fastball command and they saw tweaks to be made in his delivery that would improve that fastball command.

BobbyToledo: "When they're ready" financially on on the field? Does Polanco have to lead every category in the IL for the Pirates to decide he's ready? It's getting ridiculous. He leads the IL in hits by 13.

Bill Brink: It's been ridiculous from Day 1, as evidenced by the contract offer in spring training, but they're operating within the current rules of the system.

TimF: Any chance we'll see Dickerson is he keeps raking AAA? If so, who goes off the 40?

Bill Brink: They'll have to think about that if they lose an outfielder any time soon. I'd have to think Decker, Morel or McGuiness would come off the 40-man.

Guest: to add on to Doug S question -- it's a given the Pirates will want to extend/buy out arb years. Are they concerned with advancing his clock that the leverage shits to the player/agent in negotiating a deal?

Bill Brink: After a fashion, yes. The closer a star player gets to arbitration, the more leverage he has, but that isn't the main concern with Polanco at this point.

JAL: Have you heard any concern that Marte may be one those players who only plays about 120 to 130 games a season because of injuries?

Bill Brink: No one has mentioned that to me. I'd be more worried about this season's injuries than last year. I don't like to penalize players for contact injuries, such as the one Marte sustained in August.

Death or Glory: Could the Pirates use a president of baseball operations, like the Diamondbacks are apparently doing with LaRussa, instead of continuing to give "President for Life" status to a man whose only previous experience was as an attorney? It seems a CEO with baseball knowledge/experience would, you know, make sure decisions were being made based on things like winning games.

Bill Brink: I don't know that that would solve anything. I'm interested to see how it plays out in Arizona. Installing a boss above the GM who looks over his shoulder all the time can only inspire second-guessing. Coonelly's experience as a lawyer, it should be noted, came while assisting MLB in labor negotiations and working with teams during arbitration, so while he might not be a scout or former manager, he has an intimate knowledge of the financial inner workings of baseball and that is important. The Pirates had a pretty good idea that the draft spending loopholes would be closed and took advantage of them while they could.

Hunter: If one or two of these injuries in the OF do cause someone to be out long-term do you think Hurdle view Harrison as a legitimate option to fill in until the Super 2 date hits? Are you surprised how much Hurdle has leaned on him on the OF considering his limited history at the position?

Bill Brink: If need be, yes. They can make do with some combination of Harrison, Snider and Decker in the corner outfield spots until the first week of June.

Death or Glory: Have you had a chance to ask agents, players or prospects how the Pirates blatant pennies-obsessed holding back of Polanco might affect free agents' and/or draft picks' willingness to sign with Pittsburgh in the near future?

Bill Brink: I've chatted with some industry people about it and they all realize that this is how the system is set up: It punishes talented players by financially benefiting teams who keep them in the minors. They may not be happy about it but the Pirates aren't the only team that does it. Polanco's situation -- the contract offer and the fact that he's absolutely raking -- bring it into stark relief.

BobbyToledo: When is the last time the Pirates have had a player dominate AAA like Polanco has this season? Certainly not anyone on the current roster.

Bill Brink: Not sure about triple-A, but it brings to mind what Marte did in double-A in 2011.

TimF: Any word on when Lambo will be back on the roster in Indy?

Bill Brink: No, but it's on my list of things to find out this week.

Death or Glory: Notice what Morneau's doing for the Rockies? OPS over .900, lots of big home runs. Same salary as Volquez for 2014. How dumb was not going after Morneau at all, and how bad a signing was Volquez, for $5 million, considering the Bucs were willing to pay Burnett $12 million and Volquez $5 million, but refused to offer Burnett $15 million? Cumpton was a better option than Volquez for a fraction of the price.

Bill Brink: Looking at what Morneau did from 2011-13, no front office could have thought he'd be this productive. Coors Field certainly helps. Also remember that Burnett entered this season at 37 years old and missed a month last year due to an injury. In hindsight, letting both go seem gruesome mistakes, but at the time it made more sense.

With Volquez, they took a shot and they might have missed. The key is, if it doesn't get better, how quickly they cut the cord.

TedNeverWins: How do you personally rank Jacoby Jones as a prospect, seems to being making positive strides but also read that his upside is a decent hitter, average SS. Any insight? thx

Bill Brink: I've never seen him play in person, but it looks like he's having a productive season at West Virginia in his first year of full-season ball. Prospects with a .348 OBP are always good.

marty34156: When he comes back, does Grilli go to closer? Would rather it stay Melancon or be Watson, would put Wilson ahead of Grilli too.

Bill Brink: Hurdle said he doesn't like people to lose their jobs due to injuries, so I think Grilli gets the role back, but maybe not right away. He might pitch the seventh or eighth a few times.

Wayward Eer: Is there any trade value for Snider or Tabata? I am thinking best case would be a Single A guy of even an upper level person who was a prospect that may need a change of scenery after stalling.

Bill Brink: Not much for either, even with Tabata's team-friendly contract.

James_Pittsburgh: Whats the word on Russell Martin and Jason Grilli? Got to be coming back soon I would think for both.

Bill Brink: Grilli is expected to pitch on consecutive days today and tomorrow. They won't bring him back right away because he will not be ready to pitch, but if that goes well, he could be back by the weekend.

Bill Brink: Martin should be back any time now unless the Pirates send him on a rehab assignment.

CT: Chances we see another SS besides Mercer/Barmes (i.e Drew or other) in the lineup this year?

Bill Brink: They might consider Stephen Drew once the draft passes, but I think Mercer and Barmes are going to be the guys, barring injury.

Wingding: Tony Sanchez has been pretty credible with the bat while he's been up. What do you think the Pirates long term plans are for him?

Bill Brink: The Pirates want him to be ready to start in 2015, after Martin presumably signs a big contract elsewhere. He has hit well, but his throwing needs improvement.

JAL: Which reliever (counting a health Grilli) has the best set of quality pitches

Bill Brink: Wilson. It's all pure filth, from a 99 mph fastball to a 72 mph curve to a two-seamer and a cutter.

TimF: Any chance Pedro moves down in the order considering his lack of production when batting 4th over his career and the much better numbers he puts up in the 5th or 6th spots.

Bill Brink: Probably not. Hurdle likes him there, wants him to stick there. He has moved him in and out of that spot a few times and we're at the point where Hurdle wants him to figure it out in the cleanup spot.

JB: Why has the team been so down on Gabby Sanchez? Guy shows up in great shape in spring training. Loses at bats to a career triple A guy and now sits the majority of time behind Davis. What does he have to do to merit more at bats>

Bill Brink: Play more left-handed pitchers, which unfortunately for him the Pirates don't do. They traded for Davis to play the majority of the time, so it's a little bit of tough luck for Sanchez.

Bill Brink: That's it for today, thanks for all the questions. Sorry to cut it short but I need to get going to the park. There were a lot of good ones that I didn't get to, so how about this: Send them to me at with your name and hometown, and I'll post them on the Pirates blog as a mailbag-type feature.

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