Bob Smizik: Pirates payroll projected 28th

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Nobody asked me, but . . .

• It once served as a degree of comfort to their fans that the Pirates were in a division with teams that might likely post similar payrolls, with the Chicago Cubs being the possible exception. Not any more. Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs.com is projecting the Pirates opening day payroll at $71.5 million, which is 28th and ahead of only Houston and Miami. In the NL Central, she has St. Louis at $108.5 million; Cincinnati at $106 million; Milwaukee at $100.5 million; the Cubs at $89 million. It’s not even close.

• ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both have the Steelers taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix, 6-3, 345 pounds, with their first-round pick. Sounds like a plan. Kiper has Johnny Manziel as the No. 1 overall pick; McShay has Jadeveon Clowney.

• The Penguins may lead the Eastern Conference by five points, but they have holes to fill before next Wednesday’s trade deadline if they are to become a top contender for the Stanley Cup. Does Ray Shero go after a top-six forward to play with Sidney Crosby or bolster his third and fourth lines? Considering Shero’s deadline history, probably both.

• What a coup by West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen to sign Tom Bradley to his staff. Bradley is an outstanding coach and a better recruiter. I’d be curious to know why Pitt had no spot for Bradley, who lives in suburban Pittsburgh.

• About two years after Andrew McCutchen signed a six-year contract valued at $51.5 million with the Pirates, the Yankees agreed to a deal with Brett Gardner that will pay him $52 million over four years. Among players with long-term deals, McCutchen is the biggest bargain in MLB. Kudos to the best management team in baseball.

• How does Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim explain his richly deserved double-technical, which cost his team a chance to win against Duke, to his players? It was shocking behavior, especially since the call he was wildly protesting was hardly one-sided -- more like 50-50. Coaches, especially those paid like Boeheim, need to be able to control themselves.

• Judging from the way their first-base situation has turned out, with rookie Andrew Lambo the likely starter vs. right-handed pitching, the Pirates might regret not negotiating a two-year deal with Garrett Jones similar to the one he signed with Miami or taking him to arbitration for one season.

• Larry Brown, 73, and one of the best basketball coach ever, took over an SMU team that had been 13-19 in 2012 and help raise its record to 15-17 last year. The Mustangs are 22-6 this season and ranked 23rd in the nation.

• Fans and media aren’t the only ones who believe the Pirates need an offensive upgrade. Tom Singer, who covers the Pirates for MLB.com, had the following quote from an unnamed player last week: “Now that the A.J. thing has been cleared up, I’m pretty sure we’re going to see some moves to help us on the offensive side.’’

• Classy gesture by Ryan Dempster to walk away from a $13.25 million deal with the Red Sox. He could have hung around and picked up the money. The fact he’s already earned $89 million in his MLB career makes that decision a bit easier, but the move is still impressive.

• Khem Birch, the high-end recruit who walked out on Pitt midway through his freshman season, is having a strong junior year at UNLV. Birch is averaging 11.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.8 blocks. He is fourth in the Mountain West Conference in rebounding and first in blocks. He is third in the nation in blocks. Imagine Pitt with a front court of Steven Adams, Lamar Patterson and Birch.

• This from ESPN stats on Clayton Kershaw’s curveball. Opposing hitters batted .096 against it last season with zero extra base hits, zero walks and 80 strikeouts.

• Andy Enfield was a coaching sensation last year at Florida Gulf Coast University, also known as Dunk City, but has not brought that success to USC. The Trojans were 14-18 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-12 last season under coach Kevin O’Neill. This season they are 10-17 and 1-13.

• The big toe on the left foot of Travis Snider started bothering him at the end of the 2012 season, the details of which can be read here. It got worse as the 2013 season progressed. Yet the Pirates continued to play Snider. In May he had 80 ABs with a .675 OPS; June 70 ABs with a .475 OPS; July 32 ABs with a .609 OPS. Can anyone explain why the Pirates would continue to play an injured player, who had not been particularly good when healthy (.697 OPS in 2012)? Sending out a good player at less than 100 percent might be understandable. Sending out a poor one -- in a pennant race -- is inexplicable.


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