Well we are almost there. The season has just 12 games more to go in it for the Rox. They have won 63 games so again they will stand as the only team to never have a 100 loss season. And after that? Not a lot left to keep watching these final 12 games.
A few things that might be of interest are….
- The Rox are currently tied with the Reds and Brewers and are one “ahead” of the Marlins in the race for the 3rd overall pick in the June draft (whether the draft is deep or not is something you have to wait til June to really know, and even then, they often get it wrong, like when they said the 2006 draft was one of the weakest at the top of the draft in many years…ops). The Phils probably have the #1 pick locked up (the Rox have never had the #1 overall pick). The Braves with just 60 wins probably are nice and safe at #2 overall (they face the Mets). The Rox are in the really poor position of really needing to lose out the rest of the way to ensure they get that #3 pick. The Reds and Brewers are, like the Rox, playing the top teams in the NL, the triple-headed beast at the top of the NL Central. This is how team’s get better quickly (as the Astros can attest). Since the slide began in 2010 the Rox have picked David Dahl (#10 overall) and Eddie Butler (Compensation pick at 46 overall for losing Mark Ellis) in 2012 (after the awful 2011 season that didn’t get bad until June), then Jon Gray (#3 overall), Ryan McMahon (42 overall, 2nd round) and Alex Balog (Competitive adjustment pick at #70) in 2013, then Kyle Freeland (#8 overall) and Forest Wall (Competitive Balance Adjustment pick at 35 overall) but also now have Jeff Hoffman (#9 overall) in 2014 and Brendan Rodgers (#3 overall), Mike Nikorak (#27 overall thanks to the Mets insanity), and Tyler Nevin (38 overall as another Competitive Balance Adjustment pick) and Peter Lambert (2nd round pick at #44 overall). These are all quality players. In comparison in 2011, the last draft following a winning Rox season they picked at #20 and got Tyler Anderson, who may yet, if he can stay healthy, be a quality starting pitcher, and at 45 overall in compensation for Octavio Dotel, Trevor Story, who is probably the Rox starting shortstop in June of 2016. The point there being that the Rox in 2006-2010 were in the hard-luck area of the draft. They were too good to get picks that actually helped them stay good, but not good enough that they played deep into October. In the June 2007 draft after a solid first half and then 2nd half fade the prior year they picked #8 overall (Casey Weather), in 2008 after the Wild Card winning season (and WS) they picked #25 Christian Friedrich, in 2009 after a disappointing but not awful 2008 they picked #11 (Tyler Matzek), and in 2010 and their 3rd Wild Card winning season they picked 26th overall (Kyle Parker).
All of this to say there is a real bonus that when your bad, your really bad. You get Grays and Rodgers. If you are only sort of bad you have to take more risk to get a quality player, and that takes us to Matzek (the risk there was he wouldn’t sign and then his wildness) or Weathers (hope that his career arc was upward after only becoming a pitcher later in his career…Tommy John ruined his career). So, lets be honest…we don’t want a lot of wins this last week.
- Will the Rox keep fighting to the end and thus save Walt Weiss’s job or not? In hindsight Clint Hurdle should not have been fired in 2009 (and certainly I think we can all agree that Jim Tracey, who did a good job much of that season taking over, was lousy as a manager of his own team). But Hurdle admits he learned a lot by being fired and by serving as the hitting instructor for the Texas Rangers. Do managers make a big difference in baseball? Not as much as in football but yes. But a bigger part is the staff they get to help, and the pitching coach in Pittsburg is one of those resurrection specialists that can make a team and its head manager look much better than otherwise. Whether or not Walt Weiss does come back, the work of Marc Wiley, Steve Foster and Darren Holmes will probably have a bigger impact. Additionally, can they find a hitting coach who can help the team to improve offensively (this has not been a good offensive team) especially with so many young players who will be here in the next few years. I would love to have the Pirates leadership here next year. But, I think the best we can do on that front is to go see the new Peter Pan movie.
- The performance of players who could have a big impact on this team next year. I think that Jon Gray and his poor performance last night isn’t a big deal. He looks tired, his velocity is down, and he is pitching at Coors in a game in late September with few fans and no passion involved in it. For him its not results that matter but learning. But for guys like Chris Rusin, these new few starts will tell the team if he can be a solid #4 or #5 starter next year. His current stats of 5-8 with a 5.11 ERA belie a pitcher who has had 21 starts this year, 12 of which are Quality Starts, 2 of those are complete games, and who has really just had 4 bad starts that blew his ERA up substantially. If he slots in next year behind De La Rosa, Gray, and Chad Bettis then a 4th starter who has more than half of his starts ending up in the quality start, might be an nice piece as they try and compete at least for a .500 record and an interesting September (Rusin is also attempting to be come Jorge De La Rosa Jr. going 4-2 with a 4.74 ERA this year).
Which is nothing like this September.
Tonight the Pirates J.A. Happ goes. Happ at one time was a highly thought-off lefty starter by the Phillies in 2007, 2008, and 2009 and was a key piece of the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010, going to Astros. In 2009, as a 26 year-old he went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 23 starts and 35 total appearances, 3 complete games, and 2 shutouts on that 2009 team that knocked out the Rox in the first round (thanks to Tracey’s decision to stick with Huston Street and not Franklin Morales) and made it to the World Series. In 13 starts in 2010 with Houston went 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA but then didn’t have a year with an ERA under 4.50 again until this year, now at 32 he struggled with Seattle, going 4-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 20 starts (21 total appearances) before becoming along with David Price (going to the Blue Jays) the best pitching acquisition at the trade deadline for the Pirates 5th round pick in 2012 June Draft, Adrian Sampson, who was 8-8 with a 3.98 ERA in Indianapolis for the Pirates AAA Team. Sampson had the exact opposite response, going 2-4 with a 7.28 ERA in 7 starts for Tacoma. I think this qualifies as a steal. Happ becomes a Free Agent in 2016 and so having his career resurrected by the Pirates Ray Searage (following in the footsteps of AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano , Jason Grilli, and some others I cannot remember). That is the benefit from a quality pitching coach. Think Happ was excited getting dealt to the Pirates? Think the Royals which they got Happ instead of Cueto at this point?
I think we agree by the way that Cutch, the Pirates excellent centerfielder is a great player. He is a Free Agent in 2018. He is currently 28.347 years old, is someone you would hold onto through his contract end. But Carlos Gonzalez, who is also a Free Agent in 2018, who is 29.340, has to be dealt before the sun sets again. I really like Cutch, great man, great player. But the Pirates window of competition is probably running out very quickly, with the issues in players retiring or heading to free agency (Walker and Burnett and Melancon as key examples) the main reason why (the Pirates are also a small market team). So, shouldn’t McCutchen be dealt this off-season, just as we are told the Rox must, absolutely, and under threat of torture, deal CarGo this offseason.
If you think the Rox are simply going to repeat 2011-2015 next year and the year after, then, okay, I can see it. But why should the Rox repeated their futility? Why should the Pirates continue to be of championship level going forward? Personally, I wouldn’t trade either player, unless they are given a king’s ransom. But we just assume that the Rox will continue to stink and that Carlos Gonzalez cannot make any difference towards a successful return to winning baseball.
Maybe we can talk the Pirates into a swap?