Bob Smizik: Praise for Pirates future

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Nobody asked me, but . . .

• Three experts, Buster Olney, Jim Bowden and Keith Law, ranked the 30 MLB teams in five categories -- major league roster, minor league talent, finances, management and mobility (young, cheap talent). The first two categories got full weight, the next two 2/3 and the last one 1/3. The Pirates finished fifth, trailing, in order, Boston, St. Louis, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas. One comment from the story: ''. . . rival evaluators have marveled this spring about the wealth of young talent on the cusp of the majors.’’

• Any defense of the Steelers cap management is shredded by the tepid steps the team is taking in free agency while reigning AFC powers New England and Denver made major additions to their rosters to remain the clear two best teams in the conference.

• The likely season-ending elbow injuries to Atlanta starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy and to Arizona ace Patrick Corbin are significant news in Pittsburgh. Both teams figured to be prime challengers to the Pirates for a wild-card slot and these injuries border on devastating to their chances.

• If the Penguins were fighting for a playoff spot, starting Marc-Andre Fleury in back-to-back games over the weekend might have made sense. They weren't and it doesn’t. When Fleury faltered in the 2011-12 playoffs, fatigue was cited as a contributing factor. His percentage of minutes played that season was .785. This season it is .787.

• Andrew Lambo -- 2-for-31, both singles, and 0-for-his-last-15 -- is playing himself out of the Pirates first base job vs. left-handed pitching. Unless, that is, he is the 2014 winner of the Jeff Clement Scholarship.

• Louisville was the highest-rated market for regular-season ESPN college basketball games. Greensboro, Kansas City and Raleigh-Durham were tied for second, followed by Memphis, Columbus, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Dayton and Indianapolis. It was the 12th straight year Louisville was first.

• Not exactly breaking news that Edinson Volquez will be in the Pirates starting rotation despite, thus far, an awful spring training. That was pretty much sealed when he signed a contract that will pay him $5 million.

• There will be 67 games in this year’s NCAA tournament. Based on the 14-year, $10.8 billion TV deal the NCAA has with CBS and Turner Sports, that means the NCAA will be paid $11.5 million for each game. The players share of that: Zero.

• A sad day in Pittsburgh newspaper industry. The great baseball writer and great human being Charlie Feeney died on St. Patrick’s Day at age 89. Charlie covered the Pirates from 1966-86. Any success I’ve had in the field is directly attributable to the mentoring, while working for a rival newspaper, he gave me when, 33 months in the business with a degree in education, I was thrust into the Pirates beat in 1972.

• Jerricho Cotchery was scheduled to visit the Carolina Panthers yesterday and while that’s a guarantee of nothing, the Panthers are desperate for wide receivers. They’ve lost their second, third and fourth leading receivers from last season.

• If that $770 million TV rights fee NCAA tournament receives every year were divided up evenly among the approximately 816 players in the field, that would come over $900,000 per player.

• If you’re planning to file a bracket to win the $1 billion offered by Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans, don’t hold out high hopes. In the fine print of the rules, the chances are winning are noted -- 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,808. Yep, that’s one in 9 quintillion. If all 317 million people in the U.S. filled out a bracket at random, the contest could run for 290 million years, and there’d still be a 99 percent chance no one would win.

• A good read: The story behind world-famous bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who -- I had no idea -- is associate vice president of marketing and communications for St. Joseph’s University.

• Not to defend the Travis Snider trade, but, in retrospect, you think maybe the anguish of some over trading Brad Lincoln to Toronto was a bit overstated? Lincoln is having a strong spring training, no earned runs in 7 2/3 innings, and should make the Phillies bullpen. But in real competition since the July 2012 deal, his ERA is 4.80.

• The NFL salary cap, which jumped $10 million to $133 million for 2014, is expected to leap to $140 million in 2015 and $150 million the following year.

• Florida International, Pitt’s third football opponent next season, was 1-11 last year and outscored, 444-117

• Dan Shulman, who quietly but superbly worked alongside Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale in the ACC Tournament TV coverage, is an absolute treasure as a play-by-play announcer, be it basketball or baseball. He rivals the great Doc Emrick as the best in the business.

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