The Penguins open the playoffs tonight vs. the Islanders. How do you think they'll do?
4-0 sweep (Votes: 8%)
Win in 5 (Votes: 33%)
Win in 6 (Votes: 43%)
Win in 7 (Votes: 8%)
Lose the series (Votes: 8%)
James_Zerfoss: Will this be Jose Tabata's last year in Pittsburgh?
Jerry Micco: I think he has a very affordable contract for several years, so maybe not. But I don't expect him to make a push to be the starting right fielder. He's certainly going to be behind Marte and McCutchen, but will still get some looks in RF for Snider, perhaps as a platoon player. But if the right deal can be swung for him, I'm sure the Pirates would do it. He's not a key ingredient right now.
David Volek: I just voted in the poll, lose the series. This is playoff hockey against a young club. Talent says the Pens should win, but I say Islanders in 7 games. What say you?
Jerry Micco: I say Pens in 5, and I'd not be surprised if they did this in 4. The only thing that could stop them is if they start taking a lot of dumb penalties and give the Isles a chance on the power play. If that happens, the Islanders can win games. But if Fleury stays sharp and the Pens play how they can, they should handle the Islanders, who are a very good young team, but lack playoff experience. In a year or two, they could be very good.
James_Zerfoss: While everyone evaluates the draft, the real key to the 2013 season for the Steelers is Ben starting all 16 games. The second key would be how Le'Veon Bell performs.
Jerry Micco: You are right about Ben. He is the guy that is the difference-maker for that team. And Bell will be an integral part of the offense if he shows he can handle that in camp and the preseason. I think either Dwyer or Redman is gone because they are the same type of back, but they are good insurance if Bell falls flat.
James_Pittsburgh: I think that there may eventually be no place for Tabata on the roster and since he is out of options, the Pirates cannot keep him. If the Pirates are still in contention, I see them adding a veteran bench player and there may no longer be a spot for Jose Tabata.
Jerry Micco: Only if they are comfortable with Jones as the 5th OF, and that Sanchez can play first against all comers. If not, then Tabata fills a role as a solid defensive player and a guy who can spot start. As I said, it will not be a starring role on this team. In a way, that's too bad. I had always hoped Tabata could be a guy with some gap power who could bat lead-off. But he just doesn't seem to be consistent enough to do that.
The Chief: Jerry, Ron Cook's column the other day about how the Steeler draft took shape based on not signing Harrison. If they sign Harrison would they have taken Eifert or stuck with JJones?
Jerry Micco: I think they might have taken Eifert because they would start Harrison and use Worilds as a backup. They would have taken a couple of LBs, but maybe not in the first couple of rounds. Or, you could have seen them go with a WR in round 1 if they had kept Harrison.
The Chief: Jerry, 1st month of the season is in the books, how do you rate the Pittsburgh Baseball Club?
Jerry Micco: Solid B to B+. I'm still very concerned about their starting pitching, and if they can't get that, they are going to be in trouble in the long run. Until that comes around in a consistent manner, they aren't going to be able to keep up with the best teams in the NL.
The Chief: Some pundits have stated that Jason Collins coming out is on the same level as Jackie Robinson braking the color barrier, your thoughts?
Jerry Micco: Not even close. I admire Jason Collins for telling his story. It needs to be told and the fact that he's not a retired player means something. But Jackie Robinson went into the teeth of what was brutal, institutional segregation in our country and he had to do take it mouth closed. At least for his first year or two. After that, he was quite outspoken.
Guest: Who ultimately makes the call in the draft room if there is discussion about, say the RB Bell?
Jerry Micco: I'm not sure who has the final say, but I'm going to guess his last name is Rooney.
James_Pittsburgh: Jerry, I hope that the Pirates end their 20 year losing streak. But the reality is that they have five starting pitchers with career ERAs over 4+. Jeff Locke is the only pitcher that is likely to improve. There might be a 50% chance that Francisco Liriano can put up a 3.62 ERA like he did in 2010. But that is a big "if"!
Jerry Micco: Liriano and Charlie Morton are scheduled to return mid-May. I don't know if they'll be effective or not, but this team absolutely needs Burnett and Rodriguez to anchor the rotation. McDonald doesn't seem to be consistent and the Sanchez spot now is likely to go to one of the mid-May guys. Locke has been a pleasant surprise, but he's unproven. It is the one thing that probably keeps them out of the playoffs this year. But I will stick with my 83 wins prediction.
The Chief: You agree with some folks who say that if the penguins don't get out of the first round Coach Blysma is history!
Jerry Micco: I'm not sure that's the case, but I'll bet he'd be on very thin ice (pun intended) if they didn't make it past the Islanders.
Gus: Jerry, got any interest in the Derby Saturday? No Baffert horses, Pletcher has 5 starters. I like Normandy Invasion. Got anybody down there covering it?
Jerry Micco: I've not paid much attention because of the draft and the Penguins starting the playoffs, but I'm sure I'll watch. I know Verrazano is a heavy favorite, I guess.
Guest: Why all the grief from people in the media about Neal H. I think he's done a great job working within the parameters he has to work with. Look at teams like the Angels/Dodgers for example and what they spend and the results
Jerry Micco: I think Huntington can take a bow on some of his moves. The bullpen, despite the last night or so, has been very dependable, especially the back end. He has consistently done a good job putting together bullpens. The Gaby Sanchez trade looks promising, as does the Russell Martin signing. Sure, he has some clunkers, but all GMs do.
James_Pittsburgh: If Neal Huntington still has a job, it will be interesting to see if he can upgrade the shortstop position. I just hope he finds a player that isn't 32+ since these types of players are usually in decline.
Jerry Micco: Pirates have some decent prospects at SS, but they are in the lower minors. If they want to upgrade that spot, he's going to have to make a trade or sign a FA. And good shortstops are kind of hard to find.
James_Pittsburgh: The Pirates should pick Chris Nelson as a utility infielder. He has played 3B/SS/2B in the majors. He has a career .279 average and is only 27. He was DFAd by Colorado.
Jerry Micco: I always take averages of guys who play for the Rockies and subtract 50 points off of them for the stadium bounce. Doesn't mean they shouldn't look at the guy, but it seems that they are married to Barmes for now. At least this is the final year of his contract.
Guest: How do you think Ben will handle the Landry Jones selection, will he be more like Brett Favre when he got handed aaron rodgers or will he try to tutor?
Jerry Micco: I don't think he'll try to tutor, but he won't be Brett Favre, either. I think if Jones asks for help, Ben will offer it, but I don't see Ben going out of his way to do that. I just hope Ben remembers that Charlie Batch was there to help him for 10 years. It's a different type of relationship because Jones is the understudy, but hopefully Ben and Jones will work together. I think Jones will need the help.
yinzer in va: Jerry, Do the Pens do to the Isles what the Senators did to us in 2007? Playoff experience beefited them and left the new guys wondering what happened, especially when it came to the physical nature of the playoffs.
Jerry Micco: There will be an element of that, I think. I like the Pens in 5 because I think they will want to prove they are not a one-and-done team again, and because they want to prove to the rest of the league that the regular season wasn't an aberration. I think the Isles have a very nice team, but the Pens should be able to handle them pretty easily.
James_Pittsburgh: Most people feel that Alen Hanson will be a second baseman if he makes it to the majors. The Pirates will likely have to sign a shortstop in free agency.
Jerry Micco: They may also take one in the draft this year since they do have a top 10 pick from the Mark Appel saga last year.
The Chief: Still don't understand the whole Shamarko Thomas thing in the draft. Is he really worth a third round pick next year?
Jerry Micco: He is if you want a guy who is one of the better safeties in the draft. And besides, the Steelers will be getting a third-round compensatory pick for the Wallace signing. I think they just gave away one of their two 3rd-round 2014 picks in that deal with Cleveland.
Guest: All the hullabalu about the jones pick in the 4th round. Tyler Bray went undrafted, did they waste that pick since they could have taken Bray for the sake of having a young QB as a backup?
Jerry Micco: I thought Bray was on their radar and would be their pick, albeit I thought in round 5. Jones is a bit of a mystery to me. I'd say of all the picks they made, he was the biggest reach. He's far from accomplished even though he played at a big school. He has much work to do, and I'm betting they could have had him much later in this draft. But we'll see.
yinzer in va: Jerry, Are you surprised Matt McGloin didn't even get a free agent contract? He really blossomed last year, enough, I thought, to be a 6th or 7th round pick. What do you think held him back?
Jerry Micco: Size and a body of work outside of last season. I understand he's been invited to the Redskins rookie camp this week, so they'll take a look at him.
James_Pittsburgh: Chris Nelson hit .257 last year on the road and .347 in Colorado. His road OPS last year was .709 which would be an upgrade over John McDonald and Clint Barmes. The only drawback is that he was mainly a shortstop in the minors, but has mainly played 2B/3B in the majors.
Jerry Micco: So why isn't he on a roster now? The last time we had this discussion, you were telling me Kelly Shobach was better than Russell Martin. OK, I needed to needle you about that. You would think if Nelson were someone they'd be interested in, that Clint Hurdle would know of him since he came up in the Rockies system.
Guest: What do you make of Vijay singh taking deer antler spray when he knew it was a banned substance, does the PGA have a drug testing policy? will singh be suspended?
Jerry Micco: I don't think they have a testing policy, and I doubt he'll be suspended. However, if you see a player commit a rules violation, feel free to call them any time from any where and they'll handle it.
James_Pittsburgh: Will anyone take a shot at Tim Tebow? I would give him a roster spot on one condition. He understands that he will not be a quarterback. If Tebow works hard he could become the next Michael Robinson who has made a career for himself as a fullback.
Jerry Micco: I don't think Tebow would do that, but you probably have the right approach as to what to do with him. He'll land somewhere because guys will get hurt and teams will always think they can do something with him. I still can't get over the fact that he torched the Steelers in the playoffs 2 years ago. That had to be a once in a lifetime thing for him.
Jeff: Zing!!! Kelly Shobach. How things change in a week
Jerry Micco: Russell Martin has always hit wherever he's been. And he's been the Pirates best player the past couple of weeks. I'm sure he'll cool off at some point, but what is understated here is his work with pitchers and his defense. Huge upgrade over last year.
Guest: Jerry what makes Blysma a great coach? How do explain hockey coaches, Bruce Boudreu is a hit in anaheim, Oates saved the Capitals. Eddie Olzyck sounds like a genius in the booth but washed out as a Coach.
Jerry Micco: I don't want to knock Dan Bylsma, but Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Jarome Iginla and Paul Martin all make Bylsma a great coach. That's an all-star team. Now, Bylsma has to navigate through all the injuries and all the egos, too. Do not discount that. Bylsma is a good X's and O's guy, but he's also good at communicating with his players. And that is so important for a coach in any sport.
James_Pittsburgh: Right now Kelly Shoppach is hitting .273 and Russell Martin is hitting .274. So you should check the numbers first before commenting. Kelly Shoppach's On-base percentage is .373 and Martin's is .344. I didn't say that Shoppach was better. I said he had better numbers in 2012. So no things have not changed. I was not wrong about my assertion that Shoppach was a better deal.
Jerry Micco: Well, you can have Shoppach, I'll take Martin. I'm going to bet most MLB teams would, too. He has exactly 1 HR and 4 RBIs in 15 games this season. Martin's power numbers and defense are far better. The other numbers are on par with one another. I still think Russell has been a huge difference-maker for this team.
Jon: Has there been any movement on the Steelers and URA in expanding the South Endzone?
Jerry Micco: Not that I know of.
Andrew from Long Island: This may seem crazy on the afternoon of the playoffs, but humor me.... The Pens have done well without crosby..... If they were to win significantly in the playoffs without him, would it be wise to entertain trade offers? Imagine the ransom Shero could get for him, while keeping and adding to the nucleus they have now... Seems like potentionaly benefical for the long term health of the franchise.... Just a thought........
Jerry Micco: And one that Ray Shero never even considers. Crosby is too valuable as the captain and to the fan base. The intangibles are off the charts. I'm not saying he'll never be traded, but he will certainly not do it this offseason. And I doubt that it ever happens, but then again, Gretzky was traded.
Andrew from Long Island: J. Sanchez wasnt the answer, is F. Liriano?
Jerry Micco: I guess we'll see. I'm not convinced because he's not pitched in the majors yet this season. His rehab starts have been OK.
Andrew from Long Island: Suprised at the Pirates start?
Jerry Micco: I did not see them winning 15 games in April. So yes, very surprised.
The Chief: You mention the need for the Pirate's starting pitching to improve if they are to have any chance of braking the .500. If Liriano, Morton and Cole fail what is the plan?
Jerry Micco: More losing seasons. I mean, you hope Burnett and Rodriguez can gain more consistency and that Locke continues to get better. But McDonald may be a lost hope, so you need one of the three guys you mentioned to come through big for them. I can't believe all 3 will wash out.
James_Pittsburgh: Kelly Shoppach is the guy to sign to platoon with Michael McKenry. He usually only catches 81 games a year. Anyway Shoppach has also throw out 40% of runners this year compared to Martin's 38%.
Jerry Micco: So you are basing this on 2 percent? And Martin will catch over 100 games this year? If you were in a platoon situation, maybe that's a better call, but the Pirates never intended McKenry as a platoon guy. I think they see him as a 50 games a year guy. Or less.
Guest: I really think Jones was good value in the draft. L. Bell was the reach IMHO. Did you hear anyone else drafting him in the second or third? Usually the earliest I heard him go was to the Steelers in 3rd.
Jerry Micco: Maybe Bell was a bit of a reach, but when the RBs all went in round 2, I thought the Steelers could not pass on him in that round. I think he would have been taken off the board before the end of the round. He's not a break-away guy, but he's got nice power and can move better than people think. Plus, he's a very good receiver.
Jon: Would Shero be fired on the spot if he told Mario he was going to trade Sid?
Jerry Micco: Not on the spot. He's done too good a job to deserve that kind of treatment, and I don't think the Pens would treat him that way.
Praveen: Greetings Jerry, Shero did the best he could for Bylsma. It's in Bylsma's hands now. Any failure will be on him and not on Shero.
Jerry Micco: I agree. Bylsma has all the parts, but you still have to go out and win what I think is professional sports toughest championship. So much can happen in a hockey game that can turn it, and then a series, around. A bad bounce, an injury and a goalie that slumps. Any of those can lose you a series.
Andrew from Long Island: Your opinion of ROOT sports leaving the Pirates game in the 8th inning to switch to the Pens the other day?
Jerry Micco: Journalistically, that's not a very good call. You leave a game that means something for one that doesn't. But it's a business decision and a very sound one. No NHL team has ratings like the Penguins. A huge driver of views to ROOT, so you go where your money is, which in this case is the Penguins.
James_Pittsburgh: Jerry, I think you missed the point. The question is whether paying $8.5 million a year for Russell Martin was worth it to the Pirates. If I am the Pirates GM and am allowed to increase payroll to $76 milliion and can add a 3rd starter for $10 million and Russell Martin for $8.5, then I go with Martin. But we are talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates. So I sign Kelly Shoppach for 1.5 million and find a quality third starter for $9.5 million. Liriano is my 4th starter and James McDonald is the 5th starter until Gerritt Cole arrives in June.
Jerry Micco: I think they rightfully saw a huge hole at catcher, and signed a guy who can hit 20 HRs, play excellent defense and work a pitching staff like true veteran. Yes, in your scenario, it all plays out perfectly. Of course, you need to find that pitcher who will come play in Pittsburgh for $9.5 million. Jackson turned down $10 mil last year to ptich here. And you still have to pitch Jonathan Sanchez until Liriano is healthy. And you still have McDonald in the rotation, except you have Shoppach with his 1 HR and 4 RBIs there behind him. I just think the Martin signing was their best deal this offseason. And he's proving it.
JamesinNYC: The Jones comment was mine, I based that on his history. He stayed in school which allowed everyone to see any blemishes he has to stand out. Like Barkley who could have been #2 or 3 last year.
Jerry Micco: Jones seems to have a problem with happy feet and not doing progressions very well. Those things will kill him in the NFL, unless he works on them. And the Steelers have the luxury of not needing him for some time, so there's that.
The Chief: Haley's offense seems to thrive on a two tight end system. With the jury out on Heath's injury and nothing really done in the draft. Where do we go from here?
Jerry Micco: I think they will wait to see how Miller progresses, but in the meantime, Matt Spaeth and Paulson are your TEs. Not exactly a stellar group, but it'll be what they have to start the season. I doubt Miller is back early on.
Jon: Do you think that the manner in which the media is covering Jason Collins, might prevent some from coming out? I'm sure they are proud of who they are, but at the same time don't want to be the center of attention.
Jerry Micco: I don't know how the coverage would affect that. I think comments people make on social media might prevent some guys from coming out. It's a very tough decision, I'm sure, and their emotions must just be in a bundle. I just hope they find peace and go on living the life they have. We all have a right to that kind of happiness.
James_Pittsburgh: Jerry, and for the record. I am pretty sure that I complained about the Russell Martin signing in February during the chat. My opinion is not based on him slumping for two weeks or getting hot for two weeks. He hit .211 last year and he was even worse in Los Angeles when it comes to power and slugging percentage.
Jerry Micco: Well, I'll give you the last word. The numbers make my argument. I'm thinking he's the best signing they've had this year.
Andrew from Long Island: Will you be at any of the pens playoff games?
Jerry Micco: I'm going tonight, but not on Friday. I try to get to as many as I can, though.
Jerry Micco: OK folks, I need to run to do some other stuff. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. I always appreciate the questions and opinions. It's what makes sports, and my job, great. I'll be back next Wednesday at noon, and I hope you can join me then. In the meantime, have a great week everybody! Follow me on Twitter: @PG_JerryMicco