Bill Brink: Thanks for the questions and keep them coming. Here we go...
Billy: Do you have the sense the Pirates and/or Marte knew this was coming, or was it a blindside?
Bill Brink: They knew this was coming. In cases like this, the positive test was probably conducted some time ago, possibly spring training. GM Neal Huntington said all appeals options were exhausted, meaning the team and Marte knew this would happen.
Fan: Are other Pirates players safe from PEDs?
Bill Brink: Depends. If they haven’t taken any banned substances, yes. If they have, no.
Fan: Can we use someone else, like Ngoepe for instance, than Gosselin? Right now Gosselin’s not providing anything. He’s bad at hitting and his gloves are unreliable. At least Ngoepe has excellent gloves. If both aren’t going to hit, why not just use a better defender?
Bill Brink: My read is that the Pirates want Ngoepe to take his improved approach for an extended spin in triple-A rather than give him sporadic at-bats in the majors, but in the future, when he’s got a couple months down there under his belt, that might be an option they consider.
Austin: Could this suspension make it easier for the Bucs to trade McCutchen possibly Watson at the deadline?
HB: With Marte suspended and I really did have hope for this year but does that mean we will be sellers at the deadline?
Bill Brink: Similar questions. This certainly gives them cover to move players like McCutchen and Watson, with more than seven WAR (in 2016) gone between Marte and Kang. Kang’s next court hearing isn’t until May 25. Even if he wins his appeal and immediately receives a visa (unlikely), he still needs to face live pitching, so you’re talking about the All-Star break. Marte won’t be back until after the All-Star break. If the team can hang around or thrive for that time, then maybe, but these two circumstances certainly give them reason and cover to make some unpopular moves.
Bill: Who is inclined to take Marte’s spot on the roster? Meadows perhaps?
Bill Brink: As of right now, Jose Osuna. The Pirates would like Meadows to stay in the minors before qualifying for Super Two and also to get more plate appearances there. Huntington said yesterday that Meadows is not ready. He has a .198 average and .685 OPS in his triple-A career, so more time won’t hurt.
Still a fan...I think.: What kind of impact do you think Kang’s off the field issues and Marte’s 80 game (+playoff) suspension has on the fan base?
Bill Brink: I never try to presume what the fans are thinking; in the small snapshot of feedback I get on Twitter and email, they seemed frustrated and angry with Marte. I don’t know that this will affect their outlook on the team as a whole as much as it will on one individual player, but I’ll leave that for them to decide.
Matt: Has all the drama around McCutchen impacted the clubhouse at all, in your view?
Bill Brink: Not as much as you might think, given the attention paid outside the clubhouse to the issue. He wasn’t happy about moving to right field but he did so because he was told to and because the Pirates have — had — a superior defender for center. It wasn’t like Marte staged a coup to dethrone McCutchen in CF. Reporters are not in there all the time and players are cognizant of what they say when we are, but it hasn’t seemed to create clubhouse drama.
Still a fan...I think.: It seems that the organization is always making decisions for the future. Do you have any idea when these decisions will pay off and the future will be the now?
Bill Brink: Some of their decisions paid off in 2013-15, when they made the playoffs three years in a row. This situation is a little different because it’s tough to plan for PED suspensions, and the reality of losing Marte might make planning for the future the smart play.
LGB: Did the players not know about Marte and PED? He was caught during spring training, no?
Bill Brink: They might have, if Marte told them, or if the players who work with the union (Cole, Watson, previously Hughes) heard from that side, but we don’t know for sure either way.
Andrew: Is there any chance the Pirates try and make an addition to replace Marte/Kang? Or does it look like the only two options are wait or sell?
Bill Brink: They’ve got some time before they need to make that call, so it would make sense to wait and see a bit. If the team goes on a tear and banks some victories, they might opt to add. If not they can sell.
doyle37: It seems Marte is lying. His statement looked to me as if he didn’t take the steroid on purpose. When I read that this steroid is a well known steroid how can I believe him?
Joe P.: What do you make of Marte’s statement “neglect and lack of knowledge.” Didn’t he know what he was doing?
Bill Brink: It strains credulity. In reading sections of several books and some scholarly articles yesterday about Nandrolone, the drug is almost always injected, meaning you know what you’re doing. There are ways in which it can be found in the body via other means, but in very specific circumstances.
Leefoo: Has anyone found out why Marte made such a stupid decision? His mea culpa smacks of “I thought it would be out of my system by Spring Training”, does it not?
Bill Brink: Marte did not speak to the media in St. Louis, so we don’t know exactly. Regarding getting it out of his system, this particular drug stays in the system for a long time and is easy to test for because it has been around for so long. If you’re going to use, this gives you bang for your buck but is easily detectable.
Still a fan...I think.: In your opinion does this club have more/less talent then the playoff teams of a few years ago? From my perspective it appears to be more of a lack of confidence/attitude then a talent problem. Your thoughts?
Bill Brink: Losing Burnett and Martin and Alvarez and Walker hurts the talent pool. Same with Happ. Regarding a lack of confidence, I don’t think that’s the issue.
LGB: Assuming Cutch stays till Marte comes back, could Cutch just stay in CF?
Bill Brink: Good question. It depends on how he plays the position and if Marte is moved out of it as some sort of punitive action (which I don’t think will happen but it could). No way to know right now.
Scott: How will Marte be received by teammates and fans on his return?
Bill Brink: Another good question. Some players wear “All Me — PED Free” shirts around the clubhouse and have spoken out against those who have been caught. They’ve also accepted Cervelli and Bastardo, who were both suspended for PED use. I’m sure they’re frustrated with him but won’t shun him forever. As for the fans, who knows?
Matt: Do you think they feel more comfortable playing Frazier in the OF with his D, or will he continue moving around as a utility guy?
Bill Brink: I think it’ll depend on a combination of ballpark, opposing starter and who needs a day off that day with Frazier and the right-field options.
BIlly: What about Angel Pagan?
Bill Brink: More likely now than before, for sure.
Buccos: Why are we so bad with RISP
Bill Brink: A question I’m sure Hurdle and Branson wish they had an exact answer to. Hurdle said recently that he didn’t see too much of a bad approach with RISP. It’s tempting to call it a small sample size but it’s growing.
Leefoo: Why has nobody in the media commented on the Forbes report that Nutting profited $51-$52 million in 2016? That money could’ve been used for a good FA hitter or two? So much for the “pouring profits back into the team” approach?
Indy Fan: What an emotional week for Bucco fans. Why do you thin Osuna got the nod over say Danny Ortiz? I understand giving Meadows more time in Indy, since he just got here. Danny Ortiz had a pretty good year, power wise, last year in Indy. Did Osuna get the nod, just given his good run in Spring Training?
Bill Brink: Osuna had a great spring and has hit well throughout the minors. Ortiz had a .275 OBP and 91 Ks last year, plus a .456 OPS and no extra-base hits this year.
Mark: Because of Marte, will the DR now have to forfeit their four wins from the WBC?
Bill Brink: Interesting notion. Haven’t heard either way. Probably not unless MLB wants to publicly release the date of the test and I don’t know that it matters anyway because the DR didn’t win the tournament.
Leefoo: Now that Marte is gone, is the worst part of the on-field product, the downgrading even more of the defensive product? Who do we have, outside of JHay ar 2B and maybe Cervelli, that can be called above average. And, when you add in Freese, Bell, Frazier and even Cutch, who are all below average, will our pitchers be “pitching scared” after awhile?
Bill Brink: One of my favorite parts of “Men At Work” was the section about the Orioles’ pitching staff and how they felt with the defense behind them. Pitchers will never admit it but it factors in sometimes. I don’t think it will play as much of a role with this staff because Searage won’t let it and the defense isn’t as bad as it seems, though some improvement would help Bell and Frazier.
Still a fan...I think.: Will the Pirates keep Marte/Kang on the roster or will they try to sell in an effort to show players/fan base that their actions are not acceptable to organization?
Bill Brink: They won’t move Marte. They can’t really move Kang. He doesn’t have a visa. No team would trade for him before that is cleared up.
atown jason: Will J-Hay be the primary RF now or does Bell move out there more to allow Jaso to play. Better D at first and high OBP to help an offense not in a torrid start.
Bill Brink: They’ll mix Harrison, Osuna, Jaso and Frazier out there. I think Bell stays at first for now.
BurghBall: Did anyone sign ex-Brewer Chris Carter? I recall he’s got some pop in his bat and played 1st.
Bill Brink: Signed with the Yankees.
atown jason: I read Marte is ineligible for postseason play ... Why is that if he is reinstated by the All Star break? (it was Buster Olney I think who wrote that)
Bill Brink: This was part of the rule changes in 2014 that increased a first-time offense to 80 games. It was meant as an added deterrent after Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta returned from PED suspensions and played in the playoffs.
Scott: Why is Gosselin on this roster or any other MLB roster?
Bench: How long do we have to watch a guy like Gosselin on our team, Bill? He had a terrible at-bats last night with the bases loaded and 1 out and his only hit was a bunt single. And Jaso has not even gotten a hit yet. We might have the worst bench in baseball no?
Bill Brink: He’s 1 for 13 thus far. It has not been good but it is also a small sample size. He was acquired as another infield defender with Kang stuck in Korea and now that Frazier and Harrison might play some right field, they still need infield defenders.
atown jason: Sept 1st, Pirates are out of contention — is Meadows, Frazier and Bell the outfield?
Bill Brink: Polanco will still be there, and Bell will be at first.
atown jason: is Kang being paid?
Bill Brink: Not while on the restricted list, no.
TeddyBallGame14: With news of Marte’s suspension, are the Pirates likely to trade McCutchen sooner and give Meadows and the younger guys some experience on what is now effectively a lost season?
Bill Brink: That’s a reasonable conclusion on the McCutchen front if the season goes south from here. I still don’t think Meadows comes up until after the Super Two period passes (late May, early June) and then only when the Pirates deem him ready. They like top prospects to come up and stay up so they prefer for them to marinate longer in Triple-A.
Buccos: Do you think Bell is getting better right now? Very slow start. He had 2 hits the other time but it didn’t look like good hits either.
Pens in 5: What is wrong with Josh Bell? He looks nothing like the guy from last season and he seems to not have confidence at the plate. Add him to the list of disappointing Pirates the 1st 3 weeks.
Bill Brink: Not worried about him yet. He’ll be fine.
Buccos: How is Frazier’s defense? He was originally SS in minors and if I recall correctly he was average. Is this shifting around everywhere messing him up?
Bill Brink: It’s average to below-average depending on the position. He was a shortstop at Mississippi State, too, and has played second a decent amount in the minors.
Indy Fan: So you think Hurdle will keep rolling a different lineup out there everyday, or will we eventually see a set lineup?
Bill Brink: Unless they add a player somewhere, I think you’ll see a position or two change for each game.
doyle37: Does the Marte stuff affect Hurdle’s extension?
Bill Brink: No.
Paul: We are starting too many utility players too often — Gosselin, Harrison, ... . Are there any options in AAA besides Meadows & Osuna for regular help? Anyone tearing it up? Do we have any Jake Guentzels down there?
Bill Brink: Other than Meadows, not really. Elias Diaz could be the backup catcher someday soon and Ngoepe is talented with a promising bat.
Still a fan...I think.: What would the Pirates record be today if they would have won half of the games that they lost in which their pitchers had quality starts?
Bill Brink: Good question. I’ll look it up when we’re done and maybe write a blog post about it. Or send it to Stephen for his inbox. He might get mad at me for stealing his format.
Pens in 5: Doesn’t it bother you as a Pirates beat writer that the owner won’t spend competitively sir? No one is asking for him to spend like the Dodgers but a 91-95 million payroll is ridiculous. Please be honest with us.
Bill Brink: It doesn’t bother me; my job is not to have an opinion on things one way or the other. It does ensure that I’m sensitive to payroll issues because A) they’re important, both with regard to fielding a competitive team and the revenue of the club, both local and from revenue sharing and B) because my readers care a lot about it.
Still a fan...I think.: Obviously the Pirates have struggled with RISP but what may be a bigger concern is the lack of quality outs. Bunting issues, not moving runners up, and a lack of sack flies. Your thoughts.
Bill Brink: Jordy Mercer’s bunt, up 2-1 in the count, that he popped out on last homestand jumped out at me then and it still does. But this is nothing some quality hitting (or facing the Braves again) can’t fix.
PhillyJake: Stewart catching Cole today! Think Cole throws a No-No?
Bill Brink: Never rule it out with Cole.
JamesinNYC: Marte is not allowed in postseason is that right?
Bill Brink: That is right.
leefoo: Sorry, Bill...on the $51-$52 million profit. You reported the facts, which was nice. But nobody (like Zeise) has reported how BS this is and how much of a slap in the face to Bucco fans this is? Why not? There’s a lot more pi$$ed Bucco fans now because of this.
Bill Brink: The Forbes estimate does not necessarily mean the Pirates have $51 million more to spend on payroll than they did previously, same as the $1.25 billion franchise valuation is inexact. This story I wrote two years ago might help with the complexities of revenue streams. The larger point, though, is not $51 million as an exact number but that the franchise is healthy financially and could field a higher payroll, and that is something worth paying attention to from my perspective.
PhillyJake: Did you notice anything different about Marte in spring training this year?
Bill Brink: I did not. He’s always been ripped, so it’s not like he came in looking extra jacked this year. And when players use these things they do it in private, so it wasn’t like there was evidence laying around the LECOM Park clubhouse.
John: Will we DFA Bastardo and call up Santana?
Bill Brink: Maybe someday. Santana has had a nice start after a good 2016.
John: Would you think Kuhl and Nova’s stats will normalize? Like no more QS+ and more like 4 ERA pitchers?
Bill Brink: Nova looks legit. Kuhl has looked good in his past two starts, and I wouldn’t bet against him. His numbers might decrease as he sees lineups for a second and third time, but I wouldn’t expect a huge dropoff. Maybe an ERA in the mid-threes?
Pens in 5: What does Mercer bring to the plate? He has little power and isn’t clutch and doesn’t drive in runs. Are we stuck with this guy for a lot more years?
Bill Brink: He’s under contract until 2019 and plays good defense at shortstop. The Pirates have Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker in the pipeline.
Jordan: Why do you think extensions are not done with Hurdle/Huntington making them lame ducks essentially?
Bill Brink:Ron Cook wrote a good column about this. Hurdle surprises me. It makes sense to at least pick up the option, if not agree on an extension. It’s something I’ve been watching and asking people about since spring training. Huntington doesn’t surprise me as much.
doyle37: Hermedia ? What ever happened to that phenom ?
Bill Brink: Luis Heredia remains in extended spring training in his third season after transitioning to relief.
Pens in 5: Was it Jim Benedict that really turned these Pirates pitchers around and made them better? It seems to me Cole was pitching better when Benedict was with us.
Bill Brink: Benedict and Searage worked really well together, and Benedict had a large impact on Cole’s development.
Bill Brink: Lightning round. Go.
Pens in 5: How did Nova agree to such a team friendly contract? You mean to tell me there weren’t a few teams that would have paid him a lot more money than the Pirates? He was probably the steal of the offseason.
Bill Brink: Either they weren’t, or the difference was not enough to force Nova to leave Pittsburgh, where he liked his teammates, catcher and pitching coach.
BobbyToledo: Do you sense Cutch is playing with something to prove this season?
Bill Brink: When he came out and told USA Today during the WBC that he was going to have a monster year, I got that impression.
John: Uh so why doesn’t Huntington extension not surprise you? I think he’s a brilliant GM
Jordan: Interesting you mention not surprising about Huntington extension. Do you think he wants out to a team that will spend more?
Bill Brink: Not in the sense that he or they don’t want an extension, just in the sense that I think it can get done easily and relatively quickly.
If the Pirates knew about Marte getting popped in spring, and they obviously knew Kang’s situation, it sure seems they didn’t account for it very well.
Guest: The key to the Pirates somehow contending for a playoff spot is.....
Bill Brink: Run prevention. Good production from Kuhl, Glasnow and the bullpen, and solid defense that leads to run prevention.
Bill Brink: That’s it for today. Good chat, thanks for all the good questions. We’ll do this again next Wednesday. If you have more in-depth questions, e-mail them to email@example.com for his mailbag. Thanks again!
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