On the Pirates: Bay might well stay
Jason Bay -- His revitalized All-Star form, among other factors, has management thinking about keeping him.
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It has seemed a foregone conclusion, for months now, that the Pirates ultimately will trade both of their corner outfielders, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, viewing that as their best chance to secure high-end prospects aimed at building a legitimate contender.
But situations change, thinking changes and ... well, maybe Bay shouldn't sell his house in the North Hills just yet.
Management in recent weeks, while far from ruling out trades of any kind, has begun to consider the idea that Bay could remain part of the team for longer than even some in the front office had expected. And there are a half-dozen apparent reasons for that:
1. Bay is playing well.
Sure, this is an excellent reason to trade him, too, particularly since he probably represents the Pirates' best chance to land the high-end, younger talent they covet. But the primary question that had been in play about Bay -- whether his performance had sagged for two years because of his ailing knees or because he had simply lost it -- has been addressed already this year.
Bay is 29, hardly an old man. He could be more valuable to the Pirates for a good stretch by sticking around than the prospects they receive.
2. Most productive outfield.
Sounds bizarre to say that about the Pirates, but facts are facts: Bay, Nady and Nate McLouth, put together, lead all major league outfields in home runs (37) and slugging percentage (.521), and rank second in RBIs (132) and runs (140).
Not easy to walk away from.
3. He is affordable.
Bay's salary does rise from the current $6 million to $7.5 million next year, after which he can be a free agent. From there, he should make eight figures.
Sounds imposing, but consider this: If Nate McLouth and Andrew McCutchen make up the rest of the outfield, their combined salaries will be minimal. McLouth still has three arbitration years to go, and McCutchen will be paid close to major league minimum for three years once he arrives. That means Bay's pay would represent pretty much the whole outfield.
No question the Pirates can afford that.
4. Limited options in the fold.
Steve Pearce remains a top prospect despite his step backward this summer with Class AAA Indianapolis, but he is just about it. Nyjer Morgan only could be a center fielder and the Pirates have that position locked up. No other players at the top two levels -- maybe the top four -- profile as solid power-hitting corner types.
Putting all the eggs in the Pearce basket could be perilous.
Obviously, the Pirates could address this by asking for outfielders in trading Bay, but that would preclude them from addressing other, more pressing needs.
5. Nady will not stay.
Nady is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who invariably urges his clients to try free agency. Nady is eligible after 2009, and there is no reason to think he will not heed that advice.
Bay is represented by Joe Urbon, whose clientele includes the Chicago Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome. He is known as a firm, fair negotiator, but without any tendency to push his clients into the open market.
6. Bay likes it here.
Bay, a fierce competitor, has made known in the past, through comments and maybe even body language, that all the losing was beating him down. But some might argue that was a much healthier response to the environment under previous management than simply accepting it.
There can be no doubt this year that, given his overwhelmingly positive response to manager John Russell and hitting coach Don Long, much about Bay has changed.
Bay always has maintained that his preference was to stay in Pittsburgh if he could win in Pittsburgh. That has not changed.
And the draft grade is ...
The Pirates' draft was rated second-best in Major League Baseball by Scout.com, receiving the only A grade in the pool. The Detroit Tigers received the only A-plus.
"This is the year Pirates fans have been waiting for," the Web site wrote. "There is perhaps no other team that landed two more impressive talents with their top two picks. If Tanner Scheppers is indeed healthy, he and Pedro Alvarez are two of the premier talents in this draft class. ... Beyond just the elite talent at the front of the class, the depth that Pittsburgh added really is remarkable."
Two other publications that regularly evaluate drafts, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, will wait until the fall for overall grades.
Baseball America's John Manuel did weigh in with this in an online chat: "The Pirates were as aggressive as they could be for drafting college players. Alvarez might have been the top player on many draft boards, and Scheppers was a potential first-10-overall pick before his late-season shoulder injury. His Fresno State teammate, Justin Wilson, came on strong late to lead the Bulldogs into super-regional play. Robbie Grossman also had first-two-rounds aspirations, so the Pirates really went for it Thursday."
The Pirates certainly look more patient at the plate, but the numbers do little to bear it out: They rank 12th in the 16-team National League in walks after again finishing last in 2007. They see an average of 3.82 pitches per plate appearance now, which ranks seventh in the league, after seeing an average of 3.75 last year for the same ranking.
Each is a slight improvement, but nothing spectacular.
So, why the perception?
The team's hitters will attest that it is simple: They are varying their approaches depending on the pitcher.
For example, when they faced Johan Santana April 28 in New York, the plan was to make him throw as many pitches as possible so that, even if he was brilliant, he could be brilliant for just a handful of innings. And it worked: He was out after 5 2/3 despite striking out seven and walking just three, giving up two home runs along the way.
In contrast, when they faced Aaron Harang May 29 in Cincinnati, they were aware that he usually pitches as if he has somewhere to be right after the game. Thus, they swung early and often and chased him a different way, with six runs and 10 hits over four innings. Zero walks.
"You have to react, to an extent, to the pitcher you're facing," hitting coach Don Long said.
Bay ranks eighth in the league in pitches seen at 4.23, and McLouth is 16th at 4.08.
Not so tough
Ryan Doumit might have sounded pretty tough Monday when he stated after that heated victory against Arizona, "We let 'em know we weren't going to be pushed around in our own house."
He probably looked even tougher when he was the first out of the Pirates' dugout to support Doug Mientkiewicz.
But a glimpse back at another bench-clearing incident from his past shows another side:
If was four years ago, and Doumit was with Class AA Altoona when the Curve and New Britain had a spat that brought everyone onto the field. Doumit, big and burly even then, made a beeline for the biggest guy on the other team -- 6-foot-5, 240-pound pitcher Jon Pridie -- and tackled him to the ground.
When Pridie tried to battle back, Doumit, aware that Pridie was unable to pitch because of a shoulder issue, told him quietly: "Dude, stay down. You're injured. Make it look like we're fighting."
So, they did.
Today, Pridie, who would have career-ending surgery on that shoulder, is part of the Sosnick-Cobbe Sports agency that represents Doumit.
First Published June 15, 2008 12:00 am