By John Toperzer
Manager Clint Hurdle has a winning record (249-243) since taking over in 2011.
Perhaps more impressively, Hurdle has winning marks against both of Pittsburgh’s biggest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds.
Under Hurdle, the Bucs hold a 27-26 regular-season record against the Cards, including a plus-8 run differential (236-228). The Pirates have also kept Cincinnati in check, going 28-24 against the division rivals. The Reds hold a one-run run differential (189-188) over the span.
Russell Martin showed why he’s exactly what the Pirates need behind the plate in Week 1. He showed cat-like quickness on a bunt, gunning down the runner for MLB Network’s No. 4 play of the week. During a rundown as a runner between third base and home, it sure looked like he moved into the path of a Yadier Molina thrown ball. Martin got clipped on the back of his neck – a weak spot on any human being, but it didn’t seem to bother him one bit.
Sunday afternoon, he went barreling toward the first-base dugout, abruptly impacting the fence with utter disdain to his personal body. Throw in a clutch, opposite-field RBI single and it’s easy to see just how important Martin is to the Bucs. I’m convinced he’s part-certifiably crazy after the Cardinals’ series … and I mean that in the best possible way.
Prior to the start of the season, Martin said he’d like to stay in Pittsburgh past 2014, when his two-year, $17 million deal runs out. With unrestricted free agency going ballistic – Jhonny Peralta’s four-year, $53 million deal springs to mind – there’s little chance the small-market Pirates hold onto Martin.
That’s not a knock on Pittsburgh. It’s put into action a smart, cost-effective plan that has paid dividends.
Martin signed with the Bucs because, as he said at the time, they offered him the most money. With that in mind, it would be nice to see the Pirates offer him two years and $30 million. Would he take it? I doubt it.
Martin settled on two years originally because he said he wanted to re-build his negotiating power. It wouldn’t be surprising to see someone offer a three or four years in the $15-20 million per year range.
Catchers don’t age particularly well and the Canadian will be 32 years of age before the 2015 season begins.
The Pirates can’t afford a risk like that. They have Tony Sanchez and Reese McGuire (in two or three years).
In the end, Martin is a luxury Pittsburgh needs to take full advantage of in 2014. Few play the game as hard as he does.
Losing Jameson Taillon to Tommy John surgery downgrades the Pirates’ farm system fairly appreciably. I have a feeling that if Baseball America currently rated organizations, then Pittsburgh’s would fall somewhere between seventh and 10th.
But that’s okay. Rating teams is an art as much as it is a science.
Taillon’s perception was almost like the second string quarterback on the Steelers. He could do no wrong while he wasn’t playing in the big leagues. Gerrit Cole started the progression of top prospect to Pirate stud last summer and Taillon was expected to take the same path.
With Taillon out for at least 12 months with Tommy John surgery, which pitching prospect takes his place?
I don’t mean Jeff Locke or Jeanmar Gomez, but a pitcher who hasn’t made it to the big leagues but can become the next hyped hurler in the system.
A number of folks point toward Stolmy Pimentel, but he’s already too far along for the prospect comparison. I’m talking about a guy who will dominate in the minors and possibly force his way onto the Pirates’ roster.
Is there someone like that? Right now it looks like Nick Kingham could be that pitcher. He threw six shutout innings against the Erie Seawolves on Sunday. Tyler Glasnow began the season on the disabled list with a sore lower back. Casey Sadler is a third pitcher to watch, though his ceiling isn’t as high.
Pirates Prospects listed the organization’s pitching statistics herefor the first week of the season.
It’s good to see these two guys getting off to good starts.
It’s quite possible Pedro Alvarez simply has the Cards’ number, but at least he plays his best against the team Pittsburgh needs to knock off.
There has been talk about Alvarez’s future – will he remain with the team when his arbitration years expire after the 2016 campaign? It makes sense that with Scott Boras as his agent, he will test the waters. New York has been mentioned as a possible suitor by folks playing the guessing game as to where he might go.
Regardless, it’s good to see him become a productive major leaguer who more than a season left in Pittsburgh (at the very least).
I’ll leave you with the following preview from USA Today’s 2012 fantasy baseball preview. Here’s what it had to say about Alvarez.
Alvarez is on his way to becoming one of the biggest draft flops in recent memory. The Pirates game him 235 at-bats in 2011, but he couldn’t sniff a .200 batting average, showed little power and couldn’t lay off poor pitches. September 2010 (.311, five homers, 26 RBI in 103 at-bats) seems so far away. At 25, he has a shorter window than some prospects to turn it around.