Bob Smizik: Huntington has lost trade leverage

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Nobody asked me, but . . .

• With Gaby Sanchez and Travis Ishikawa as his first basemen and the season less than a week away, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington would appear to have little leverage in trade talks. Which means the Pirates might be expected to give up more than they receive if they want a first baseman. Hard to imagine Huntington -- the plan is the plan is the plan -- doing that.

• The belief of a few that Pitt coach Jamie Dixon should have bowed, scraped and been delirious with joy at the presence of Khem Birch on his roster and allowed him to play wherever he wanted and do whatever he wanted to the detriment of a decade-long building of team discipline is kinda refuted by this: Birch was named to the second team all-Mountain West Conference this month.

• The injury to Evgeni Malkin that will keep him out of the Penguins lineup for several weeks is a blessing. After playing the rigorous NHL schedule, along with the Olympics, the injury will serve as a rest prior to the playoffs for Malkin. The Penguins remaining regular-season games are virtually meaningless.

* The definition of being insane: Starting pitcher Max Scherzer turned down a six-year, $146 million contract offer from Detroit, all, of course, which was guaranteed. Scherzer’s agent is Scott Boras, also the agent for Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole.

• The Pirates are at the longest time between World Series appearance in franchise history. The previous longest was from 1927 to 1960.

• James Harden of the Houston Rockets is in his fifth season in the NBA and this after playing two years at Arizona State. Still, he is 77 days younger than Iowa State point guard DeAndre Kane.

• The presence again of coach Steve Fisher in the NCAA tournament with San Diego State brings to mind this priceless quote from Bo Schembechler. Before the conclusion of the 1989 season, Bill Frieder announced he was leaving Michigan for Arizona State, but that he would finish the season with the Wolverines. Not quite. Schembechler, the Michigan AD, announced: ''A Michigan man will coach Michigan.’’ He installed Fisher, who had been Frieder’s assistant. Michigan then won the national championship.

• How to help build a championship team: In three consecutive games in December, Florida played Connecticut (away), Kansas (home) and Memphis (neutral court).

• Justin Morneau’s homerless streak continues. In 32 at bats (seven hits) with the Colorado Rockies this spring, Morneau has yet to hit a home run. He had 101 at bats without a home run with the Pirates last year. In case you missed it, Michael McKenry will be on the Rockies opening day roster.

• This was the lead on when Archie Miller agreed to an extension at Dayton: ''That didn't take very long. After leading Dayton to the Sweet 16, head coach Archie Miller has locked up a long-term deal with the Flyers.’’ Locked up? Yeah, until he decides to leave.

• Although the Bengals released James Harrison, coach Marvin Lewis said he wished they had used him more in 2013 and added this about the former Steeler: “James was a tremendous role model and example of how you play the game. He’s a great man. He did a great job for us this last year. He really helped us immensely, helped us win the division. He made critical plays at critical moments.”

• The Steelers signing of linebacker Arthur Moats just about eliminates Harrison from rejoining the team.

• Chris Dokish does an excellent job in this article of taking on the critics of Jamie Dixon and painting a positive future for the Panthers.

• ESPN The Magazine predicts the Pirates’ record will be 80-82.

• Although he’s in the midst of a disappointing spring training -- 7-for-37 (.189) -- by most accounts it looks like Alex Presley will make the Minnesota Twins opening-day roster.

• Stats that prove I have too much time on my hands: Willie Stargell started eight games in center field in his Pirates career. Roberto Clemente started 17 in left field.

• In a moment of candor, Mike Tomlin commenting on second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who caught only six passes as a rookie. “I’m looking forward to him taking a significant step. I know that we need him to.”

• Someone needs to post this quote from Rick Pitino on Jamie Dixon’s bulletin board: '' . . . you hear the expression defense wins championships. But a lack of offense keeps you from winning a championship. All these teams can guard. And it is really, really important – we beat Michigan and Wichita State [in last year’s Final Four] and the teams before that because of our offense. We didn’t win because of our defense. Every team can play defense at this stage, so you’ve got to have great offense to win and you’ve got to really execute and make free throws, do smart things.”

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