Thursday, July 31, 2008

...EXCEPT SOMETHING DID HAPPEN

Dejan reports:

The Pirates traded All-Star left fielder Jason Bay to the Boston Red Sox as part of a three-team deal in their only move before Major League Baseball's 4 p.m. deadline.

Boston sent outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the deal. The Pirates will receive Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche and Avery Morris.

And then...


Nothing happened.

Nobody has any idea what is going on

Peter Gammons reported last night:

As midnight approached Wednesday night on the East Coast, officials from the Marlins and Red Sox said a deal involving Manny Ramirez was not done. Indications from Pittsburgh were that the Pirates were not satisfied with the players they were receiving in exchange for sending Jason Bay to Boston. And in California, Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, said he had been told nothing, which means nothing has been completed in terms of Ramirez's waiving his no-trade rights or in completing paperwork to send to the commissioner's office.

So, the complicated three-way deal might go down close to Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. Ramirez wants out, and is willing to go to Florida. The Marlins want him -- and what he means to their pennant chances and pursuit of a new ballpark. The Red Sox clearly are willing to finance Ramirez's exit.

If this is true, it would appear that Neal Huntington is holding this thing up. The Pirates are holding the Marlins, Red Sox and Rays hostage right now to get the deal that they want. Even if the deal doesn't get done, how freaking encouraging is this? This could go down in history as the day that our organization grew a pair. Huntington doesn't need to trade Bay, and he knows it. But he's got two teams who want to get a deal done involved, and it seems to be at the point where they need the Pirates involved if the deal is going to get done. They NEED the Pirates. But the Pirates are going to get what they want, and they're not going to be pushed around. Brilliant.

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Dejan's reports this morning seem to confirm that the Pirates are directing traffic on this deal. Same with Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Fox's Ken Rosenthal appears to have jumped on this bandwagon, too, but I'm not going to link you to his page because it just keeps crashing my web browser.

Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus reports that Marlins prospect Ryan Tucker is off the table, and that Manny has already waived his 10-5 rights.
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In a related story, intrepid Trib reporter Rob Biertempfel is making excuses:

Trib policy precludes me from publishing rumors or scenarios attributed to anonymous sources, even if those sources work for the Pirates. So as the minutes tick away up to 4 p.m., we'll deal here with firm, confirmed reports.

Yeah, ever since you guys totally blew that Steelers head coaching hire and put Russ Grimm's ugly mug on A-1, you've been forced to cease practicing journalism. Also, "...firm, confirmed..."? This is all the work you have to do today besides reloading ESPN.com every few minutes. You couldn't write a better phrase than that? It's not even worth the thirty-two seconds of effort it would take to keep "firm" from appearing in back-to-back words?

Funny. You know who only reports confirmed information? Dejan Kovacevic. And he's got a crazy amount of content on the PBC Blog, because he's really good at his job.
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This Baseball Prospectus profile of Bay seems to indicate that the Pirates might be trading him at just the right time, as a collapse could be on the horizon.
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Tailgate Crashers runs down the 20 worst MLB trades of the last 15 years. You'll recognize some names.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pirates acquire Brett Favre, send Jason Bay to Red Sox in three-team deal

Okay, so not so much. Favre doesn't really fill a need for the Bucs, but that doesn't necessarily preclude them from trading for him.

The scuttlebutt now, according to various internet sources:

The Pirates are involved in working on a three-team deal that would send Jason Bay to Boston, Manny Ramirez to the Marlins and a heapin' mess of prospects right here to Pittsburgh. The Bucs could wind up with Jed Lowrie, Mike Stanton, maybe a pitcher. Right now, it appears the commissioner's office has been notified of the deal, but the prospects changing hands remain the lone aspect still to be determined. Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus breaks it down as follows:

    Marlins get Manny Ramirez, one prospect (Red Sox), and cash (likely covering Ramirez’s remaining salary)

    Pirates get Jeremy Hermida and three prospects (two Marlins, one Red Sox)

    Red Sox get Jason Bay and John Grabow

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Different takes on the Nady/Marte deal

There's still a lot of grumbling going on about the Pirates shipping Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Dan McCutchen and Jose Tabata.

A lot of people who seemed to think that the Pirates got ripped off when the rumored transaction included injured minor league pitchers Phil Coke and George Kontos over Karstens and McCutchen flipped when the actual transaction was announced. But there seems to still be a decently-sized camp of naysayers, including Bill Mazeroski.

From Sunday's New York Daily News:
"I can't believe it!" Mazeroski said. "We just traded two of our best players for four guys I never heard of. How could we do this?"

Metric Bill Mazeroski uses to evaluate the talent and quality of baseball players:
1) Has he heard of this guy?
1a. If the answer is "yes", the players must be good.
1b. If the answer is "no", the players must be bad.

In addition to the obvious elements that went into the Pirates deciding to make this trade -- lack of organizational pitching depth, lack of superbly talented prospects, long-term control/contract status of the players they were trading versus that of the players they were getting, let's look at some of the criteria by which Pirates GM Neal Huntington evaluates the talent and quality of baseball players:

"We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) , WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), BB%, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqAve (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating."

Any metrics noticeably absent from Neal's list? If you guessed HIHOTG (Have I Heard Of This Guy?), you're right. Give yourself a pat on the back.

But you know, Neal probably thinks he made a pretty good trade here, being the GM of the team and all. So he's biased. Let's see what someone whose job it is to write about baseball thinks. Joe Sheehan, I choose you!

Marte's return may actually put an end to an era in which the Yankees struggled to find effective lefty relievers...Since being dealt by the Yankees to Pittsburgh in 2001 -- for Enrique Wilson -- Marte has gone on to post a 3.05 ERA in 445 2/3 innings...It is possible to have a good bullpen with no left-hander -- the 2004 Angels won the AL West with two innings of left-handed relief all season -- but having a good lefty increases a club's tactical options. Marte is a good one, and a significant piece for the Yankees.

Nady, 29, is more famous but less important. He has established himself as a slightly above-average hitter, a .270 EqA guy who plays acceptable defense in the outfield corners. He's not the .380/.530 guy his current stat line shows; he's having a typical Xavier Nady season with 50 points of batting average randomly dropped in. Remember Gary Matthews Jr. in 2006? That's Nady this year. Even the established-value Nady, however, is an upgrade for a Yankees team that misses Hideki Matsui. Brett Gardner and Justin Christian have combined to bat .188/.267/.263, albeit with 8-for-9 on the bases and some pretty good defense. Nady is about a win better than that, maybe a little more, for the rest of the season. If you estimate Marte's value as about a win -- it's hard to pin down because his value is leverage-affected -- this is a two-win upgrade for the Yankees.

Two wins. Hey, two wins can be the difference when you're in the AL East. And now with Posada on the shelf for the rest of the season, the Yankees might be glad they made this trade when they did, because if they'd waited until Posada elected to have season-ending surgery, they'd have gone to the bargaining table a bit more desperate than they'd have liked.

This is the type of deal that Neal Huntington needed to make. Considering that he flipped an impending free agent (Marte) and a player having a career half, this is a very good deal for the Pirates' first-year general manager.

This is an indelicate comparison, but if you want the optimistic viewpoint, think about Hanley Ramirez, who put up a desultory 2005 season in Double-A, creating whispers similar to what we've heard about Tabata. Three years later, Ramirez is as close to untouchable as any player in the game. That's the kind of talent Huntington is trying to add to Pittsburgh's system, and if the name and the performance aren't thrilling to Pirates fans, the thought process and the approach should be.

Karstens, 25, is a fringe major leaguer who could help patch a decimated rotation. He's probably better than John Van Benschoten. Ohlendorf, who turns 26 next week, is a bit better than Karstens and may have a bit of development left. He could be a low-impact starter in the NL. McCutchen is very polished, and...he has "above-average command of an average-velocity fastball and outstanding curve." Like the other pitchers in this deal, McCutchen is older, at 25, and could upgrade the poor Pirates' staff pretty soon. Perhaps low on upside, but with a good chance of providing a dozen WARP for less than $2 million from now until 2011.

I don't know. It sounds to me like the Pirates got a pretty good deal. I don't necessarily think that anyone fleeced anyone else, which is fine. You don't have to rip another team off to get value in a trade. What do you think now, Maz?

"I can't believe it!"

For serious! It's been a while since the Pirates made a logical, even-handed trade like this to unload guys they weren't going to retain and pick up some bona fide young talent in return that will be able to help the club very soon.

Very encouraging. Very.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Soon there will be no more dances in the end zone...

So to make this interesting (and easy for me)... I'll just respond to this article by just inserting my commentary, so it's like you get to read my mind while I read the news. Sounds fun, right? Here goes...

NEW YORK (AP)—The NFL is stepping up its monitoring of on-field player activities to ensure that no one is flashing the hand signals of street gangs.

Are you serious? Gang signs to whom?

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the league had hired experts What? to look at game tapes and identify players or team officials who might be using suspected gang signals. Violators would be warned and disciplined if the episodes recurred.

League officials said Tuesday that avoiding gang-related activities has long been stressed. Apparently not enough...

They said the scrutiny was intensified after the shooting death of Denver cornerback Darrent Williams in 2007 after Williams was involved in a dispute with known gang members. Anti-gang information is included in orientation literature and stressed in the annual mandatory league meeting for rookies. In the same way scholastic aptitude is stressed when these players are in college or more like "Here's millions of dollars, new young athlete. Let me show how to invest and live off this money properly so when your career is over in the next decade or so you're not living in your mom's basement." is stressed in orientation?

The NFL took further notice after Paul Pierce of the NBA’s Boston Celtics was fined $25,000 in April for what the league said was a “menacing gesture” toward the Atlanta Hawks’ bench. “I 100 percent do not in any way promote gang violence or anything close to it.” Pierce said in a statement. “I am sorry if it was misinterpreted that way at Saturday’s game.” Clearly a misinterpretation. I wish Paul Pierce would be in a gang, and I wish in that scenario I was his wife, so I could make his life the living hell he would be apparently hoping for.

The Times said that was the precipitating incident for the NFL.

“We were always suspicious that might be happening,” WTF? it quoted Mike Pereira, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, as saying of gang-related signals. “But the Paul Pierce thing is what brought it to light. When he was fined … that’s when we said we need to take a look at it and see if we need to be aware of it.” Oh to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting!

Most senior NFL officials were at a league outing Tuesday and could not immediately be reached for comment.

These people make too much money for this bullshit. For real. Between the steroids and tragically dangerous off-field/court behavior, I am just about falling out of love with supporting professional sports. It's so hard. Really. And it's not necessarily the athletes... sometimes it's the entire system. It just makes me think too much about what's really going on to enjoy the damn game!

Gang signs in the NFL? C'mon guys...

Friday, July 11, 2008

We all need to calm down

It's not like the Steelers are leaving town. They're really not.

But ever since news broke earlier this week that Dan Rooney and his son, team president Art II, have been involved in a two-year power struggle with the other Rooney brothers over control of the family's 80 percent stake in the team, everyone in the county has been going totally nuts because there's now a possibility that somebody besides the Rooneys will wind up owning the Steelers.

Brief recap:
Art Rooney, Sr. (henceforth referred to as "The Chief") owned 80 percent of the Steelers. Barney McGinley owned the other 20 percent.
The Chief died, leaving a 16 percent share of the team to each of his sons, and control of the franchise to eldest son Dan. Barney McGinley died, leaving his 20 percent stake to his family.
Dan and brother Art Jr.
Art Jr. helped engineer some absolutely ridiculous drafts and savvy personnel movement that led directly to the team winning four Super Bowls in the '70s.
Dan fired Art in 1987.

That's probably where the division begins. Now, the other Rooney brothers, who are in charge of the family's real estate, dog track, horse track and casino holdings need to divest themselves of their stake in the team to comply with NFL regulations surrounding gambling.

Dan has been trying to buy out his brothers' stakes in the team for going on two years now, and -- in a classic example of why it's bad to mix business with family -- the gradual falling out that began with Dan firing Art Jr. has led to the non-Dan brothers hiring Goldman Sachs to help place a value on the shares and begin lining up investors. Their other motivation for doing this -- and this is where it gets slightly complicated, is that should the non-active Rooney brothers (Art Jr., Tim, Patrick and John) elect for their children to inherit them, their kids would wind up paying about a 45 percent tax on the estimated value of the shares. The entire value of the franchise is estimated at between $900 million and $1.2 billion. So if you're a Rooney grandchild, getting 16% of the Steelers is certainly cooler than inheriting your grandfather's recliner, but you'd wind up having to sell most of it just to pay off the taxes anyway. And we're completely ignoring the whole "sense of entitlement" issue, but that's neither here nor there.

Point is, there's no way the Rooneys are keeping the Steelers a family-owned team, at least for very long. Even if Dan's brothers decide to give him something of a family discount, there's no way they're going to take less than market value for their stakes in the team, and nor should they. It's entirely possible that they could agree to some arrangement that would result in Dan buying part of their shares, and someone else buying another part.

But who?

Enter Stanley Druckenmiller. Stanley Druckenmiller is a billionaire hedge fund manager
who made his money working with George Soros, king of the billionaire hedge fund managers. Stanley Druckenmiller is a native Pittsburgher who, though he lives in New York, still comes back to watch the Steelers and play golf. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy who shelled out half a million bucks so that Oakmont could make the course improvements necessary to be awarded last year's U.S. Open. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy who reportedly paints his face black and gold during Steelers games. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy whose expressed interest in buying the Steelers goes back a full decade. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy who, though he hasn't made a formal offer for the Rooneys' stake in the team, has already guaranteed that if he buys it -- and he's said he wants to buy all of it -- the team will stay in Pittsburgh, and that Dan Rooney can run it for as long as he wants.

Druckenmiller could wind up buying part of four brothers' stake, but it seems more likely that he'd wind up with about 64 percent -- all four brothers' shares -- and a controlling stake. This would be the easiest way to ease the Rooneys out after Dan either dies or is no longer involved with the team. (Art II could, in theory, hang on for a little while, and he'd probably take over Dan's ownership stake, but don't expect him to maintain control of the daily operations of the team for long after Dan is out of the picture. And nor should he.)

This is a uniformly good idea. Of the 6 billion or so people on the planet, there are very few who could pull off an operation like the one Druckenmiller is attempting. There are even fewer who give a rat's ass where the team plays, as long as it makes them money. Of those who fit the first two criteria, even fewer would let someone else -- someone they didn't hire -- to continue to run the team. The Steelers can't remain in the Rooney family for ever, and if there's to be anything resembling a smooth transition from their reign to the next generation of ownership, there does not appear to be a better option than this, likely because there isn't. This guy isn't Mark Cuban. He's not George Steinbrenner. He's not putting together an ownership group or out gathering up corporate investors. He's a local boy who loves the team and wants to buy it with a suitcase full of cash that he carries with him at all times.

The Steelers are not going anywhere. And assuming this deal gets done, which it should very soon, Steelers fans should consider themselves lucky to have the strong senses of community and tradition that breed respect the kind of respect for the franchise Druckenmiller seems to acknowledge -- respect that's especially helpful when acknowledged and felt by the very, very wealthy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Why I'm a moron, #347

The Hardball Times says so.

Not going to go into an in-depth analysis, but suffice to say, a book, aptly titled The Book, argues for the legitimacy of "the second leadoff hitter theory."

Quoth the HBT:
You gain more by having a good hitter bat directly before your top hitters than you lose by giving your pitcher a few more plate appearances each year. I'm not talking about Jason Marquis or Dontrelle Willis. I'm talking about your bad-hitting pitchers. Move them up a spot. In fact, this strategic guideline argues AGAINST moving Marquis and Willis up in the order.

A couple of extra runs doesn't sound like a lot, but if you follow theses guidelines, you could gain 10-15 runs over a full season. About a win a year.

I knew it was you, Marian. You broke my heart.

A quick list of things I know:
1) The Detroit Red Wings are a very good hockey team.
2) The Pittsburgh Penguins are also a very good hockey team.
3) The Red Wings and the Penguins were the two best teams in hockey last year.
4) The Red Wings will be awesome next year because pretty much all of their players remain under contract.
5) The Penguins are at risk of losing most of their roster to unrestricted free agency.
6) The Penguins realized weeks, if not months ago that they would not be able to keep both Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa.
7) The Penguins decided to try and keep Hossa.
8) The Penguins offered Marian Hossa a five-year contract worth about $7 million a year.
9) Marian Hossa decided to test the free agent market, which is perfectly reasonable. If someone wants to offer him totally insane sums of money, he should at least entertain those offers.
10) Marian Hossa could have made a lot of money and had a chance at a Stanley Cup by staying in Pittsburgh, which...
11) Would have afforded him the opportunity to remain on a line with the best center in the game, who probably deserves some credit for changing Hossa's reputation for disappearing in the playoffs.
12) Marian Hossa signed with Detroit today. One year, $7.4. That's just $400k more than the Penguins were offering, which, when you're making $7 million to start with, is completely negligible.
13) The Steelers are so, SO screwed at guard this year.

Here's what I don't get: If Hossa just wanted a short-term deal that would allow him to play for a contending team and maybe increase his free-market value for next year, why not re-up with Pittsburgh? I mean, maybe I'm just spewing sour grapes here, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And unless another team -- Boston, Edmonton, whatever -- was going to dig deep into pocket to pay this guy $8.5 a year, why the hell would he leave?

I guess the short answer is that the Wings are still the better team, and they have less on the line this off-season, whereas the Penguins, with or without him, could wind up in a temporary state of rebuilding.

Whatever. I'm completely flabbergasted by this. But Ray Shero, to his credit, managed to lock up Malkin and Dupuis, and even added another goon (goodbye, Georges?). If they can lock up Brooks Orpik, this thing won't be totally broken, but they'll be back to about where they were before the start of last season from a personnel standpoint.

Worth noting:

Joe Buck hates sports. Colin Cowherd loves Joe Buck.
Everyone with half a brain hates both Joe Buck and Colin Cowherd.

Sean Avery is a vile human being.
Non-Penguins fans tell me I'd hate Jarkko Ruutu if he didn't play for my team. I don't know if that's true, but even if he winds up going somewhere else, I'll never stop liking Jarkko Ruutu. He's a neat little player with some legitimate and entertaining hockey skills, and he roughs guys up. He's a thorn in a lot of sides, but he's our thorn. And even when he's giving the Penguins fits next year or in two or three years, I'll always love the guy. Same with guys like Darius Kasparitis. That said, Sean Avery is someone I would never ever want on my hockey team under any circumstances. Ever. He belongs in a Flyers uniform.

Pirates manager John Russell really likes the idea of hitting the pitcher in the No. 8 spot of the batting order!
If hitting his insistence at Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Luis Rivas, Nyjer Morgan, Tracy Morgan, J.P. Morgan, John Hunt Morgan, Harry Morgan and anyone but Nate McLouth in the leadoff spot wasn't enough, now Johnny LaRussella is working to find new ways to stifle his own offense, presumably with the hope that it will make the pitching look less awful by comparison. What the hell kind of game does he think this is? Does he know that pitchers aren't especially good hitters, and that in one league, pitchers don't even bat? Has anyone in the organization bothered to tell him that there's no remotely reasonable argument based in fact or logic to suggest that it's even close to a good idea? Does he think Tom Gorzelanny is Old Hoss Radbourn? Do you think anyone told him that Old Hoss Radbourn died 111 years ago, which is the last time, other than during Babe Ruth's career, that it made sense for any pitcher to hit higher in the order than ninth? I'm now convinced that the Pirates are as good as they are despite John Russell's attempts to cripple the offense like a corrupt hedge fund executive. Even if you're of the opinion that a manager has little to no impact on the performance of a team -- and most right-thinking baseball people are -- how can anyone with two-thirds of a brain and at least six weeks of a fourth-grade education not be totally infuriated by this?

Sorry. I got a little worked up there. I just need to take my medicine. Where is my medicine?

(Side note: Here is a photo of the 1886 Boston Beaneaters. See that guy, top row left, giving you the finger? That's Old Hoss Radbourn. And he's giving you the finger because you do really dumb shit like hitting the pitcher in the eighth slot of the batting order.)

Happy 145th anniversary to Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, who, on this day in 1863, executed an unorthodox and risky left-wing, right-wheel bayonet charge on Little Round Top at Gettysburg, preserving the left flank of the Union army. It was the decisive skirmish in the decisive battle of the war whose influence we feel even to this day.

On a side note, if the Battle of Gettysburg had been a regulation hockey game, the Three Stars would almost certainly look like this:
3) Brig. Gen. John Buford
2) Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren
1) Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I leave you with The Beardown, which today brings us pictures of hot girls who are also athletes. Enjoy.