Posts Tagged ‘Neal Huntington’

Rebuilding With Youth — Or Not

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

You know your team is in trouble when the title articles on its official website talk about next year as if it’s already here. So it is with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are not only mired in last place in the N.L. Central (again) — but contending for honors as the worst team in baseball with the likes of the Birds and Mariners. Hence: “Craving experience, young Bucs welcome Nats,” is actually a stand-in wink and nod to Pirates fans that means “Come to the ballpark — because we actually might be able to beat these guys.” In truth, while Pirates’ pundits go on and on about how the two teams have a lot in common (“two teams that are trying to squeeze some positives out of a marathon season”), Nationals fans can take comfort in the fact that while the Anacostia Nine are bad, they’re not as bad as this year’s version of the Stargells — who are 44-89. 44-89? That puts the Pittsburgers several games back of the Ripkins for MLB last place honors.

It’s not as if Bucs fans don’t know it. Just yesterday, Raise the Jolly Roger (the most acerbic critic of the Pirates’ front office), actually celebrated the Pirates 5-3 loss to the Cubs by noting that “at least they looked like a team that knew what it was doing.” Rum Bunter (a whiz with photoshop), is (if anything), even more outraged; he painfully chronicles the fall of the 2010 Pirates by listing the five reasons they “suck” — and (surprise, surprise) four of the five have to do with pitching. Bucs Dugout, meanwhile, notes that while the Pirates have been terrible, they actually haven’t been terrible enough. Which is to say: being next-to-last in baseball means that they’ve missed out on the very best prospects (including Stephan Strasburg), while picking up talent that hasn’t panned out. So, if you want to look at it this way, being last in baseball this year might be just what the doctor ordered for a team with nowhere to go but up.

Doesn’t anyone have anything good to say about this team? Well . . . no. But there is some hope. Pittsburgh’s bloggers are abuzz with talk about Jose Tabata, a hot-hitting left fielder and former prospect in the Yankees organization, which signed him which he was just “16.” Tabata is hitting the cover off the ball, though it took him time to get started: he only arrived in the show in early June, and had trouble stringing together a good run. But now Tabata is the talk of Pittsburgh, and being mentioned in the same breath as other N.L. rookies: Florida’s Gaby Sanchez, Washington’s Ian Desmond, Atlanta’s Jason Heyward, and Chicago duo Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro. Of course (there’s always an “of course” when it comes to the Pirates), the celebration over the arrival of the young rookie (the “centerpiece” of a trade that sent Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Empire), could be premature.

The rap on Tabata, an apparent leftover from yakkers in the Yankees’ minor league system, is that while the young Venezuelan has oodles and oodles of talent, he was lazy and had a bad attitude. That would have killed any thought of him playing in the Nats organization (Mike Rizzo hates the word “lazy”) but it didn’t matter to rehab specialist and Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington — who ignored the warnings, believing they were overstated. It appears the gamble has worked out. Tabata is now a featured sparkplug in the middle of a play-em-young-or-bust Pittsburgh philosophy. Yet. Yet, at the end of July a correspondent for Bleacher Report cited rumors circulating in Pittsburgh that the young phenom might not actually be that young. That instead of being 22 (his birthday is August 12) he might actually be all of 25 . . . or 26. Or, as BR says: “This is actually very important news as far as the Pirates and Tabata’s future development are concerned.  If Tabata turns 22 on August 12th, he’s a hell of prospect, given his past minor performance, even if he isn’t much of a major league left-fielder today. On the other hand, if Tabata turns 25 on August 12th, he isn’t much of a prospect at all.”

A controversy? A scandal? Not for Pirates’ GM and resident player therapist Neal Huntington (insert snide comment about Nyjer Morgan here), who responded to the reports by issuing a non-clarification: Huntington said he has documentation showing that Tabata was born when he says he was born (take that!), but that even if the reports are true (ahem) it doesn’t matter. Or more pertinently: “Apart from unfounded speculation, there is nothing to indicate his age any different than reported,” Huntington said. “My point is that while we have reason to doubt his reported age, it is a non-issue to us.” Roughly translated: the only number we care about is the one in the column marked “BA.” Pirates fans would undoubtedly agree, as they have had little to cheer about this year, or last … or the year before that …

We can take a closer look tonight, when the Stargells begin a three game set against your Washington Nationals in Pittsburgh.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Letters and cards pored in from all over the globe, as our millions of worldwide readers were justly irritated that they couldn’t get on the site over the last 18 hours or so. Our board of directors (you remember our board of directors — right?) “instructed” (that is, demanded) that our crack technical team (and here they are) clean us up a tad bit, and so they did. It won’t happen again (of course it will, but never mind), but apologies nonetheless.

J.D., Riggleman, and Dunn’s Dinger

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

adamdunn

The Milwaukee Brewers came into Nationals’ Park the proud owner of a four game losing streak that had put them ten games behind the St Louis Cardinals in the NL East. The Brewers will not likely catch the Redbirds, but they must have been pleased to escape Friday night’s game at Nationals Park with a decisive 7-3 win. There was much to be proud of in the Nats’ play, except for the final score: J.D. Martin threw 6.2 innings, gave up eight hits and struck out four. Perhaps most important of all, he didn’t walk one Blatzman and gave the Nats’ bullpen a rest. His solid showing placed him firmly in line for future starts — and a potential place in a revamped 2010 rotation. But Martin gave up home runs to Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee, which proved decisive: and Brewers’ starter Braden Looper gave up four hits in six innings of work.

The most memorable moment of the day, of course, was Stephen Strasburg’s appearance at Nationals Park, where he was introduced by the front office and Nats’ All Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Nats’ fans packed the stands along the third base line to get a glimpse of the college phenom. Strasburg appeared genuinely complimented by the lavish attention and modest enough to admit that his journey to the big leagues was dependent on his own success — and the decision of the organization’s baseball people. This is amazing,” Strasburg said of the crowd. “To play at San Diego State, where we didn’t get many fans until this year, this is pretty special.” The Strasburg introduction was well-handled, a down payment on the promise made by the ownership at the all star break that things would get better for Nats fans. The Nats front office must believe the Strasburg investment has already started to pay dividends.

There were two other memorable events of the day, both important. The first was the light stand shot that Adam Dunn launched against the Brewers in the 1st inning. The home run, Dunn’s 32nd,  landed on the concourse just off the second deck in upper right field. My guess is that it was the longest dinger hit in Nationals Park. Ever. Dunn’s OBP is at .420 and after a late-July swoon, his batting average is .288. The second post-Strasburg event of note was interim manager Jim Riggleman’s praise of Nats’ fans in his post game comments after the loss to the Brewers. Riggleman seemed genuinely humbled by the fact that Nats fans are still showing up, night after night, to see major league baseball’s worst team. Riggleman noted that the players appreciate the support. Rigs has it right and it’s about time people noticed. Night after night, between 18,000 to 24,000 fans are showing up to see the Nats play. True: the high end numbers (some 30,000 or more) come to see the Red Sox or Cubs or Cardinals. But that hasn’t been true recently, when the Nats have faced the Rockies and Brewers.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Yankees-Red Sox tussle is over in Boston, with the final score 20-11. The Empire sealed the victory in the last minute with a field goal by Hideki Matsui. The Yankees drove the ball on the Red Sox with ease, picking apart their secondary. “This shows our character,” a Yankees player said after the game. “This was smash-mouth baseball all night. We were really able to get into their backfield. I just want to thank God for giving me this opportunity . . .” The Back Bay is burning: the Sawx are trailing New York in the NL East by 7.5, and are only one game ahead of the Rays in the wild card . . .

I mean, I can see why the Nats continue to play Ronnie Belliard instead of say, oh, Mike Morse. Can’t you? I mean, really, if we give Morse a chance you never know what might happen. Why, we could even lose some games. We wouldn’t want that to happen. Listen, Ronnie justs needs to get over the nervousness of playing in the big leagues. Like last night for instance: when he got picked off of first base for no damn good reason . . . The Centerfield Gate board of directors (by a very close vote) has instructed me to add three names to my list of underrated MLB Players: Naps’s outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, Belinski’s outfielder Kendry Morales and Ahoys’ outfielder Garrett Jones. So who the hell is Garrett Jones? Jones is the Pirates’ new right fielder, whom the Pirates got from the Twinkies  for ah . . . well, for no one at all. Jones is the guy the Ahoys signed as a free agent after the Twins released him. Will someone please, please, please, wake up the Twins. Garrett Jones has fourteen home runs in 43 games. Every time you turn on the television, there he is, plunking another one into the stands at PNC Park. Then the three people in attendance stand and cheer as one. It’s enough to shake your lack of faith in Neal Huntington . . .

Mets Pirates Baseball

On Baseball Tonight on Friday night, Tim Kurkjian said that the Cubs might be done. What? C’mon, really? There’s forty games left. Are you sure?

Yup.

Nats Sink Pirates

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Collin Balester pitched five-and-two-thirds innings of five hit ball and Josh Willingham homered and doubled, as the Nats took the third game of a four game set in Pittsburgh by a score of 5-3. The game gave Jim Riggleman a chance to try out a new infield set, playing Ronnie Belliard at first in place of the traded Nick Johnson. The eleven year veteran responded by going 2-4. Prior to the game, Riggleman had told Belliard he would be playing because he always hit well against Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm. Nats fans can expect to see more of Belliard at first, even though he has only played 46 of his 1278 games at the position. On Saturday, Riggleman featured a new Nats’ outfield, switching Willingham back to left, his regular position, and putting recently recalled Elijah Dukes in right. Dukes was in right again on Sunday. Since returning from Syracuse, Dukes is 1-7. While Willingham was the hero of the Sunday match-up, Balester’s solid outing solidified his place in the rotation — at least for the time being. Balester threw 85 pitches, 55 for strikes. He walked two and struck out three.

Josh Willingham celebrates with teammate Ryan Zimmerman after hitting a two-run homer of Paul Maholm in Pittsburgh(Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Willingham hits a two-run homer in Pittsburgh (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

What The Hell Is A Pierogi? Okay, for those of you who are wondering, a Pierogi is a dish of slavic origin consisting of boiled dough stuffed with various ingredients. You would know that if you were from Bulgaria, I assume, or Serbia, but for all the rest of us the PNC Park “Great Pierogi Race” is confusing. We all know who Tom and George and Abe and Teddy are, but a pierogi? The Curse of Bonds — a Pittsburgh Pirates blog — suggests that the PNC Park “Great Pierogi Race” is not so great, though it’s immensely popular. His reasoning is that a lot of Pirates’ fans leave the game right after the race because they really come to PNC to see the pierogies, and not the team. Besides, he says, by the time of the race the Pirates are already losing.

For those of you who are wondering, eastern Pennsylvania was the chosen destination (think about that for a minute) for eastern Europeans in the late 19th century. They brought their traditions with them — including their little sacks of dough filled with . . . whatever. There are four kinds of pierogies in the PNC race: green-hatted Jalapeño Hannah, Cheese Chester (in yellow), Sauerkraut Saul (in red) and Oliver Onion, in purple. Potato Pete, a once popular pierogi, is now out of the race. The Pierogies (the plural of pierogi is not pierogae) come into the game from right field and race to the visiting dugout. At the end of the year the wins and losses are tallied and a champion is declared.

Pirates fans might love the pierogies, but Pirates bloggers are much more concerned about the avalanche of trades launched by Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington over the last two years. Surprisingly, considering the depth of talent that Huntington has unloaded, Matt Bandi of “Pittsburgh Lumber” likes the deals: “I am champing at the bit to start looking at the potential 2011 and 2012 teams,” he says. But Jake over at Bucco Blog is despondent. His take on the Huntington and the Pirates reflects the impatient fanbase — which is tired of the front offices’ endless rebuilding efforts. He has a point. The Pirates haven’t won anything of consequence since 1992, the last time they were in the NLCS. Over the last two years, the Pirates have dealt the following players: Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, John Grabow and Tom Gorzalanny, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, Ian Snell, Adam LaRouche, Damaso Marte, Ronny Paulino, and Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez — among others. That’s an entire outfield, one of the best double play combinations in baseball, a starting catcher, four solid relievers, a major league starter and a first baseman.

Yikes.

Pirates GM Neal “the deal” Huntington has taken a lot of heat for the trades, and for continuing the Pittsburgh tradition of tearing down without really allowing the team to mature. The average age of those traded is 28 — just when major leaguers are starting to get their spurs. Huntington’s defense, issued after the Wilson and Sanchez “twin killings,” is that Pirates’ fans don’t want to come out to cheer for one or two good players. They want a good team. Most recently, Huntington has not taken the criticism well — he has sounded dismissive, defensive and angry. That’s probably understandable: he’s under a lot of pressure to produce. And he knows it. “We are making these difficult and unpopular decisions because we are trying to create a winner,” he said. “We don’t feel like we’ve broken up the 1927 Yankees.”

Yeah, right. And Jason Bay isn’t Babe Ruth. But the Red Sox will take him anyway.

Jason Bay