- Grove City, Pennsylvania


July 10, 2013

EXTRA INNINGS: No time to 'Neal' to change in strategy

OPINION — HOW MANY OF these names do you remember: Exicardo Cayones, Diego Moreno, Nate McLouth, Joel Hanrahan, Brock Holt, Rudy Owens, Luis Rico, Luis Santos, Gorkys Hernandez, Quincy Latimore, Colton Cain, and Robbie Grossman?

How many of these names do you recognize: Gaby Sanchez, Wandy Rodriguez, Mark Melancon, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Jeanmar Gomez, A.J. Burnett, and Vin Mazzaro?

Of the first group, only 31-year-old McLouth is playing in the majors, although his six homers and 15 runs batted in over the first half of the season have hardly blazed the way for Baltimore’s success.

The dozen in the first group is what it cost the Pirates in trades to obtain the eight players in the second group.

And while Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Neil Walker are selections made during the Dave Littlefield era, the only pitcher on the big-league staff not brought to Pittsburgh by current general manager Neal Huntington since 2008 is Tony Watson. It is true that Littlefield signed those young players; it is also true that he was their boss for less than a year and it is the current management staff that developed them.

When Littlefield was canned, Huntington took over in late 2007. The Pirates had no pitching prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100, and the major league staff had only two young starters in Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell, but neither ever approached their 2007 successes. The pitching staff was 14th in ERA in 2007 and finished last in 2008.

Huntington got rid of McLouth, Snell, Gorzelanny, Xavier Nady, Jason Bay, Sean Burnett, Nyjer Morgan, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Eric Hinske, Jack Wilson, John Grabow, Damaso Marte.

And while the return was iffy from players like Nathan Adcock, Jeff Clement, Tim Alderson, Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart, Josh Harrison, Argenis Diaz, Brandon Moss, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, Aaron Pribanic, Brett Lorin, Josh Harrison, the Pirates did get some creditable, short-term performances from Andy LaRoche, Jose Tabata, Ronnie Cedeno, Lastings Milledge, and Joel Hanrahan.

Huntington’s shrewd dealings brought Locke, Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Burnett, Rodriguez, Gomez, and Mazzaro, at little player talent cost.

Huntington also signed free agents Jason Grilli, Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin and Garrett Jones, as well others who haven’t done much, such as current players Clint Barmes and Brandon Inge.

Huntington has always had a penchant for building a bullpen, and 2013 seems to be when that acumen has extended to the starting staff. And it’s been done without breaking the bank — even that of the Pirates!

Starters Gerrit Cole, Rodriguez, Morton, Burnett, Liriano, and Gomez will cost about $26 million this season — less than one-third of what the Los Angeles Dodgers are paying for their starters, and about $2 million less than when the New York Yankees are paying Alex Rodriguez, who hasn’t played a game all year.

In addition, the Pirates’ cost per bullpen player is around the major-league minimum of $490,000, except for closer Grilli’s $2.25 million.

The Pirates’ rotation is in the top half of the National League, third in strikeout percentage, and sixth in ERA. The bullpen has been even better this season leading the league in ERA and placing third in strikeout percentage.

The biggest difference between the 2011-2012 teams and the 2013 version is that its pitching staff as a whole has been among the leaders in all of baseball. Certainly the blossoming of young stars like Marte has helped, but sub-par seasons so far for Walker, Jones, and (for him) McCutchen illustrate that solid pitching can overcome downturns in offense.

Huntington’s strength has been in his steadfastness to stick to his slow, steady plan that so irritates fans in an “I-want-it-now” society.

And the GM must not abandon that strategy just as the long-desired results seem within the team’s realistic reach.

Players like Cole, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, and Luis Heredia must remain in the organization. No realistic return is worth their cost.


Text Only
  • THE CHECKERED FLAG: Up and down week for Sodeman

    LAST FRIDAY I headed south to add I-77 Raceway Park to my track attended list, which made for 162nd track all-time.  I-77 is located south of Ripley, West Virginia just off Interstate 77.  This season, I-77 moved from the crowded Saturday night line-up to Friday night racing and teamed up with Ohio Valley Speedway.  I-77 normally runs Super Late Models, Semi-Late Models, E-Mods, Mod Lites, and 4-Cylinder Mini Stocks.  With the Sprint Cars on the schedule, I decided to make the trip and they were joined by the Super Late Models, Semi-Late Models, and E-Mods.

    July 21, 2014

  • THE CHECKERED FLAG: Blaney still running hot on area tracks

    LAST THURSDAY I headed southwest to Atomic Speedway, formerly known as KC Raceway.  The 1/3-mile high-banked dirt oval is located an hour south of Columbus, Ohio just off Route 23 near Alma.  It was my first visit in a couple years.  A big crowd turned out on Independence Day Eve as the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars were back along with the Super Late Models and E-Mods.  The Ohio Speedweek event the week before drew a huge 62-car field and Thursday’s event drew 33.
    After an astounding Speedweek winning the final three races and four of six, Dale Blaney returned to the track that he last got defeated at.  On the Speedweek show, Jac Haudenschild made the winning pass of Blaney, while Blaney finished second.  Last Thursday, even a seventh starting spot didn’t derail Blaney for long.  The Hartford, Ohio racer worked his way to the front and made the winning pass of race-long leader Tim Shaffer on lap 16.  One caution three laps from the finish was all that slowed Blaney’s run to another $5,000 payday.  It was Blaney’s fourth straight win, sixth of the season, and all-time leading 105th of his career with the All Stars.

    July 13, 2014

  • EXTRA INNINGS: Bucs fans loved Burnett, but let's leave him in Philly

    THERE IS NO no doubt that A.J. Burnett made a huge impact during his two seasons with the Pirates.
    When he arrived in the spring of 2012, so did hope for fans wearied by teams that hadn’t seen a winning record in 20 summers.
    While he certainly did not turn the tide by himself, he turned the wheel. His swagger sometimes didn’t play well with management, but even the Buc brass had to appreciate the new culture that Burnett helped his teammates create.

    July 9, 2014

  • NCAA Football: Rock 6-1 after 17-3 win over Cal U

    Slippery Rock University rode a length-of-the-field scoring drive by its offense and a goal-line stand by its No. 1-ranked defense late in the first half of action Saturday to a 17-3 win over 14th-ranked visiting California (Pa.).

    October 19, 2011

  • steez pc.jpg NFL: Steelers top Jags as Mendenhall makes return

    Mike Tomlin isn’t ready to say the Pittsburgh Steelers are back. Not after watching his team sleepwalk through the second half against Jacksonville on Sunday.

    October 19, 2011 1 Photo

  • wheldon, dan pc.jpg IndyCar Racing: Crash takes Wheldon’s life

    Every race car driver heads onto the track understanding this race could be the last and hoping it won’t be. On Sunday, IndyCar drivers got a harsh reminder when the worst happened to one of their own.

    October 19, 2011 3 Photos

  • pens pc.jpg NHL: Sabres beat Penguins 3-2

    The Buffalo Sabres have had trouble with the Pittsburgh Penguins whether Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play or not.

    October 19, 2011 1 Photo

  • canadiens logo pc.jpg NHL Quick glance: Montreal at Pittsburgh

    A breakdown of the National Hockey League game Thursday night between the Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Montreal Canadiens.

    October 19, 2011 4 Photos

  • High School Highlights: Oct. 19, 2011

    A look at the last few days in local high school fall sports action.

    October 19, 2011

  • washington, ron pc.jpg Leading Off: Oct. 19, 2011

    News and notes from the local, regional and national sports scene.

    October 19, 2011 5 Photos

Featured Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide