Pirate Notes: Taillon vs. Cole, Lambo vs. Jones, panic signings to come?

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Jameson Taillon is on track to become a great pitcher. Compared with Gerrit Cole, Taillon might have the higher long-term upside of the two – though that’s a tough statement to make after Cole’s brilliant 2013. The Pirates drafted Taillon out of high school in 2010; Cole in 2011, out of UCLA.

Taillon didn’t come equipped with the polished bells and whistles Cole did. He didn’t pitch in big collegiate contests against top hitters. The learning curve has had to be greater for Taillon at the pro game. The Pirates have worked with him extensively, insisting on fastball command and a changeup to go with an out-pitch curve.

Of course, Cole’s so-called weakest pitch is his mid-90s fastball. His 96.1 mph average heater led all major-league hurlers with at least 110 innings in 2013. How much Cole can improve remains to be seen. His game almost seems more about refining than improving.

Taillon, on the other hand, hasn’t yet clicked at any minor-league stop. Granted, the Pirates are more interested in developing the righty than checking his results. For that reason, it’s difficult to state definitively where Taillon’s game stands right now.

Listening to a prominent sports personality on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh on Saturday, he was of the opinion Taillon has to break camp with the Pirates.

There are a number of reasons why that might not be a good idea and none include holding Taillon back a season for arbitration purposes.

Major league innings and minor league innings are not created equally. A pitcher can get away with mediocrity easier against Double-A or Triple-A batters than big leaguers. The stress level increases with each level, the “heart beat” as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle calls it. Obviously, it takes much more to succeed in the majors than anywhere else. There are no mulligans. Bringing up a pitcher because of his pedigree and dismissing shortcomings can be a trap, setting that pitcher back for a year or two or longer.

Taillon hasn’t put up great numbers at any minor league stop, nor does he have much experience. He has all of 127.1 innings for Double-A Altoona and 37 IP with Triple-A Indy. His combined 2013 numbers include a 3.73 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 147.1 frames.

There’s something to be said for Taillon dominating at the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada prior to his 2012 spring training. That’s good news for the Bucs. It was an important step for the 22-year-old and had to give him a jolt of confidence. Seeing Cole come up last summer also had to get his competitive juices flowing.

But while the two pitchers might be right-handed, they come from different backgrounds and are on different courses.

It wasn’t hard to forecast success for Cole right off the bat, considering his career path. Taillon is a bit different.

He could struggle upon his initial recall, whenever that is. The Pirates would be wise to give him a chance to dominate at Indianapolis and force his way into the rotation after the Super 2 Arbitration period passes sometime in June.

A number of prospect rankings have dropped Taillon in the past year, with some calling him a potential No. 2 pitcher. It’s easy to see how these outlets might make that call, especially based upon his middling statistics.

But Taillon is not the finished, polished product Cole was and is. What you see is pretty much what you get with Cole – certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. He was a stud in September, when his pitch count was higher than perhaps it should’ve been.

But good things come to those who wait, and Taillon is worth the wait. Counting on him right off the bat might be a mistake, but in the end there’s still a chance he could be just as productive – if not more so – than his fellow Pirates first-round draft pick.

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When Garrett Jones came to the Pirates, he was 28 years of age and had 77 major-league at bats to his credit.

Last season, Jones struggled to his worst year, hitting .233 with a .708 OPS in 440 plate appearances (including 417 against righties – his perceived strength). Incidentally, it’s interesting that he played in 72 games at home and 72 on the road, hitting .233 at PNC Park and .234 away.

Here’s my point.

Andrew Lambo or whomever takes over as the left-handed platoon partner with Gaby Sanchez, will not be replacing Babe Ruth. There is pressure on Lambo, but he doesn’t have to do all that much to do better than Jones.

There’s a school of thought that Lambo is a failed prospect at age 25, but he’s actually three years younger than Jones when he made his Pittsburgh debut.

Yes, the Pirates should upgrade first base. Based on Jones’s 2013 production, it shouldn’t be hard to do.

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Pittsburgh would forfeit its first round draft pick by signing Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana or Stephen Drew. The longer they remain unsigned, it serves to reason that their asking prices drop. The Bucs could find room for any of these guys. For them to give up the 24th overall pick, here are the annual salary numbers the team should hold out for before inking any of the three: Morales — $6-7 million, Santana — $8-10 million, and Drew — $5-6 million.

Ideally, Morales would be best on a one-year deal to see how he handles first base, but giving up the pick makes a one-year contract tough to justify. Santana could flourish in the National League. He has a bit of a head-case reputation, but getting two years out of him would really help the Bucs. Drew is an injury risk any time he goes on the field. He’s still looking for $10 million-plus per year, so he’s likely out of the equation, anyhow.

What the Baltimore Orioles did made a lot of sense in the free agent market. After signing Ubaldo Jimenez and sacrificing a first-round pick, they inked Nelson Cruz. According to the rules, they didn’t have to give up another first rounder, but their next pick in the same draft after the first rounder they already gave up.

It will be interesting to see how low the prices go on Morales, Santana and Drew drop before they panic and sign on the cheap.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirate Notes: Burnett, Fregosi, Smoak-Moreland

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Silence is golden.

The most incredible part of the A.J. Burnett offseason saga, at least to me, is how he could be so silent for so long. In this age of Twitter and Instagram, Burnett’s ability to avoid the media and keep his intentions to himself was remarkable. Well played.

He also showed veteran savvy by keeping bidders on the sidelines until the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes played out.

There’s only so much to be said about most perceived leaders in baseball. Burnett had a chance to add $12 million to his $120 million career earnings to stay in Pittsburgh but decided to go with the Phillies and their $16 million offer. Burnett should thank the Bucs a hundred times over because there’s no way another team gives him that much money if it had to give up a No. 1 pick for his services.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin chose his words carefully when he spoke of Burnett’s departure. After all, Martin will be in the same unrestricted free agency boat following the 2014 campaign.

Of course, Burnett will be closer to his home now. As Peter Gammons said on the MLB Network on Friday morning, he’s got his ride from the park to his house tabbed at 107 minutes. That’s kind of cool.

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Jim Fregosi died of multiple strokes Friday. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I knew of the former baseball player and manager as a first baseman/pinch hitter in his later years with the Bucs (1977, 1978). As a big baseball card coIlector, I sorted many a Fregosi Topps card, which made it even more interesting when I ran into Mr. Fregosi at PNC Park last summer. He seemed genuinely touched that I remembered his career in Pittsburgh.

That’s a common reaction to former players and coaches I come in contact with at the park. It’s easy to put these guys on a platform, but they’re just regular folk like you and me (as cliché as that sounds).

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It makes a lot of sense that the Pirates will end up with either Justin Smoak or Mitch Moreland at first base, depending upon where free agent outfielder, Nelson Cruz, signs. Cruz, who played for Texas last year, could lessen the Rangers’ need for Moreland by re-signing with the team.

Or, Cruz could go with Seattle. Mariners outfielder, Franklin Gutierrez, announced he would miss all of 2014 with a gastro illness Thursday. That opens a spot for Cruz in Seattle. The Mariners have Corey Hart at first base. Add Logan Morrison to the mix and promising power-hitting prospect, Ji-Man Choi, in the minors and it’s easy to see Smoak with Pittsburgh.

Links

It’s amazing how many articles about A.J. Burnett signing with the Philadelphia Phillies — such as Jeff Sullivan’s A.J. Burnett finds a new, mediocre home — slip into trade deadline scenario’s with the 37-year-old getting traded to another team.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

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The Cautionary Tale of Tim Alderson

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A couple days ago I was testing my memory — and failed. No big news there, but it bugged me that I couldn’t remember the name of the pitcher Pittsburgh picked up for fan favorite Freddy Sanchez.

Do you ever have that feeling where the name is on the tip of your tongue but can’t remember it? Anyways, the following is my recollection of Tim Alderson’s journey.

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The Pirates acquired Alderson, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound righthander, for second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, in late July of 2009.

Alderson, 20 years of age at the time of the deal, was mentioned in the same breath as a prospect as fellow San Francisco pitchers, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.

How could a pitcher who was ranked twice in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects flop so badly?

Alderson, who ascended as high as 45th in Baseball America’s rankings in 2009, has never pitched in the major leagues. After parts of five years within Pittsburgh’s system, the organization traded him to Baltimore for first baseman/outfielder, Russ Canzler, last summer.

Sanchez likely held the most trade value of any Pirates player when the team looked to shed itself of veterans in 2009.

What happened?

I made the trip to Double-A Altoona to watch Alderson’s third start for the Curve. He was coming off ack-to-back wins for his new team, allowing only two earned runs in 11.2 IP with two walks and seven strikeouts. That was likely the high-water mark of his time with Pittsburgh.

He gave up five runs in 3.1 innings against the Portland Sea Dogs on Aug. 13, the night I saw him pitch. His velocity was terrible and his delivery looked like a thousand legger crawling up my wall. Alderson was sitting 86 mph with his fastball. Blair County Ballpark, as it was so named, was notorious for taking a couple of miles per hour off speed, but this was ridiculous.

Trusting Baseball America, I wondered if Alderson was simply nursing an injury because if this was the product the Pirates were getting for their top trade bait, well, it just wouldn’t work out.

Between Alderson’s funky delivery and whatever other problems beset him, his quick ascent toward the major leagues fizzled in a big way. He ended up spending parts of four years with Altoona. The righty made it to Triple-A as a reliever in 2013, where his 2.79 ERA was Alderson’s best since he was a part of the Giants system. Unfortunately, with Baltimore he compiled a 6.27 ERA in Triple-A after the trade.
Alderson’s journey serves as a cautionary tale.

Right now, the Pirates farm system is being universally lauded as one of the best, if not the best, in all of baseball.

Nationally and locally, Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco are being penciled in as major contributors after the Super 2 arbitration period passes sometime in June.

Taillon and Polanco deserve the accolades they’re receiving, but it would be unwise to forget the forgettable Tim Alderson.

While the organization should be applauded for collecting a bumper crop of prospects, Alderson shows that sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

PS – Funny thing about Tim Alderson is that he’s homered three times in 35 career at-bats and holds a .786 OPS.

Click here for a link to Tim Alderson’s career numbers.

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Pirates Notes: Can Pedro Alvarez hit .250? Cutch reach 35 HR? Liriano back-to-back?

By John Toperzer

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I’m convinced Pedro Alvarez is going to hit .250 one of these seasons. Yes, it is wishful thinking. He needs to avoid those Death Valley slumps, where he goes 1-for-two weeks. His walk rate has also dipped, from 14.9 percent in his only Triple-A year to 7.8 percent in 2013 with Pittsburgh. He did compile a 9.7 BB rate in 2012 with the Bucs, so there’s legitimate room for improvement.

Alvarez hit .256 as a rookie in 2010 (386 plate appearances), so the slugger set a precedent in the past.

His swing rate has jumped from about 43 percent to 50 percent, which might lead one to believe he basically hacks at anything coming out of the pitcher’s hand. But what’s interesting is that the pitches he swung at were inside the strike zone 70 percent of the time – a career high.

Lots of folks have pigeon-holed Pedro Alvarez as a Dave Kingman, Pete Incaviglia, all-or-nothing type and I happen to think there’s more to him than that.

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I was listening to SiriusXM radio Monday and the host discussed the pro’s and con’s of drafting Andrew McCutchen third overall in fantasy baseball. The argument was made that McCutchen might only hit 15 or 16 homers as a floor and that makes him a risk (as the No. 3 pick). Speaking from a fantasy perspective, the host said he might prefer to take another batter who has the potential to either dominate in homers or steals, that there’s no way he could see McCutchen hitting 35 dingers.

I think the tough part for McCutchen is how he reacts to being named NL MVP. Do pitchers work around him more than ever? Is there a bit of a letdown by Cutch? I don’t see that being the case, but they’re reasonable questions.

I see McCutchen belting 35 homers before he steals 35 bags. Don’t get me wrong, he could swipe 35 or more bags if he sets his mind to it, but steals don’t come naturally for McCutchen. Sometimes he goes a month or more without even an attempt. Frankly, stealing bases isn’t one of his go-to skills. McCutchen has a strong but small frame. The extra sprinting seems to take a toll on him, especially when one considers how he hustles down the first-base line on routine grounders.

I think the power game still has room to grow with McCutchen. He’s in his age 27 season and Alvarez is beginning to provide better support behind him in the lineup.

Cutch hit 31 home runs in 2012, when he actually had a better season than his MVP campaign. If I had to make a bet, I’d say his homers increase before his stolen bases.

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There’s a belief Francisco Liriano will regress from his 2013 numbers because he’s never put up strong back-to-back numbers in his eight major-league seasons. Looking over his numbers, he’s really had only three decent or better campaigns. In his last two American Leagues seasons, Liriano registered earned run averages of 5.09 and 5.34, respectively.

I think people are discounting the fact the National League is much more forgiving than the AL. The 2014 will only be his second season in the senior circuit (though he originally signed with the Giants in 2000).

If anything, the 30-year-old lefty is more of an injury risk than a performance risk. Sliders take a toll on arms and he’s got one of the best in baseball. Here’s a list of Liriano’s ailments and injuries, courtesy of RotoWire.

2006 – DUI, root canal, food poisoning, elbow/forearm, Tommy John surgery
2007 – Recovery from Tommy John
2008 –
2009 – Late to spring training, forearm, arm fatigue
2010 – Dead arm, illness (Sept.)
2011 – Shoulder, illness/sore throat, shoulder
2012 – Quad, non-pitching arm (Christmas injury)
2013 – Non-pitching arm

Liriano is much better from the windup than the stretch. If he can pitch with some control – his 3.5 BB/9 IP last year was his best mark since 2010, then he could put together another strong season.

Liriano compiled an 8-1 record, 1.47 ERA and 0.96 WHIP at PNC Park. Pitching coach Ray Searage, who worked with the lefthander and his mechanics/release point, is also back for another season.

I see the downside similar to his post All-Star break numbers – 7-5 record, 3.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

Click here for Francisco Liriano’s career statistics.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

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Pirates Notes: The Inventive Career of Edinson Volquez

by John Toperzer

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Edinson Volquez’s chances of succeeding with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s had but one good season in the major leagues, back in 2008 when he made the NL All-Star team and finished high in the rookie of the year voting as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

His 2013 campaign may have proved to the low point of his career. Volquez saw his average fastball velocity drop from 93.6 mph to 92.5 mph. Opposing hitters made contact at a 79.5 percent clip, the highest of Volquez’s nine-year career.

But the funny thing is, even after the San Diego Padres thought so little of him by designating him for assignment in August, the NL West champion Dodgers scooped him up. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Pirates were also among teams pursuing his services.

What makes the 30-year-old righthander so desirable? Why has he started Game 1 of a playoff series, made consecutive Opening Day starts for San Diego, and replaced Chris Capuano on the playoff roster for a Los Angeles team for which he pitched little more than a month?

The guy has more lives than Morris the Cat.

Pure and simple: teams are looking to catch lightning in a bottle. In six National League seasons, the Dominican Republic native never allowed more hits than innings pitched until 2013. Even after giving up 182 hits in 160 IP with the Padres, Volquez rebounded with a strong showing for the Dodgers. He allowed 25 hits in 28 innings for Los Angeles and his 26:8 K:BB ratio gave hope that he might extend his career.

Volquez is a lot like a little league pitcher. In 2013, He either struck batters out or walked them more than 30 percent of the time.

Fans attending his starts might want to set their sun dials. The righty threw more pitches per inning (17.7) than any other major-league starter last summer. Career marks including an 8.42 K/9 and 4.75 BB/9 reflect his high pitch counts.

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Volquez has overslept bullpen sessions, criticized the offense behind him and turned down lucrative multi-year deals, but the interesting thing about him is that every pitching coach thinks they can change him, get him to throw strikes.

Surprisingly, Petco Park wasn’t a match for him. Not even his manager, Bud Black, could coax a better performance out of him. Black is known throughout the baseball industry as one of the better pitching coaches around.

That said, Volquez has always seen his best success in his first season with a new organization. This is where Pirates fans need to make a leap in faith.

Volquez put together his lone all-star season in his first season with Cincinnati. His 2011 numbers with San Diego were decent. When the Padres DFA’d him last summer, he excelled with Los Angeles.

You may or may not question the signing of Volquez, but the length of the deal – one season – was astute.

His personal history reveals he does his best work early on with a new organization. Pittsburgh doesn’t need him for more than a year or perhaps even half a year. The team would likely be happy if he throws well for a two- or three-month stretch.

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Control wasn’t always an issue with Volquez. In June of 2005, he fashioned a 77:12 K:BB ratio in 66.2 innings for High-A Bakersfield.

He advanced from High-A to the major leagues later that summer, compiling a 14.21 ERA and 2.76 WHIP in 12.2 innings.

Volquez spent much of 2006 in Triple-A. Again, he wasn’t good when he reached the majors — 7.29 ERA, 2.07 WHIP in 33 innings.

It’s fair to say he was overmatched. He certainly wasn’t helping himself out with a combined 26:27 K:BB ratio in his first two foray’s into the major leagues.

In early August of 2006, Volquez was recalled from Triple-A to replace injured starter, Kip Wells. Pirates fans will recall the Kip Wells years as a hard-throwing hurler with little command or control — kind of like Volquez. Who can forget the joys of watching a five-inning, 99-pitch outing by Wells in the heat and humidity of a toasty Sunday afternoon game in July — but I bitterly digress.

Texas pitching coach, Mark Connor, said a new slider should help Volquez.

“I just don’t know if he’s ever going to command the curveball enough,” Connor said. “With his arm strength, I think he could have a really nasty slider.”

Herein lies the first tangible evidence of a pitching coach attempting to help Volquez.

The 2007 season rolled around and Volquez was set to start in Triple-A before his Connor decided it would be best to completely start over with Volquez in High-A ball.

“We’re putting him in the best position to succeed,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s still got youth on his side. He’s a good kid and a good talent, and we’re going to take him back to where he dominated the league. He’s been more than receptive about this; he’s enthusiastic about it. He wants to do it. He wants to do what he needs to do to get back to the majors.”

Volquez’s numbers were terrible at Single-A, allowing 20 walks and 27 hits in 35.1 innings. So, of course, the Rangers promoted him to Double-A.

He responded surprisingly well, going 6-0 with a 3.57 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 40.1 innings before landing on the DL with a blister.

Promoted to Triple-A in July, Volquez compiled a 3-5 record, 4.19 ERA, 139:54 K:BB over 124.2 IP, a .196 BAA and a 1.14 WHIP split between three levels before the Rangers recalled him in August.

Remember, we’re still in 2007. Volquez has spent more time traveling than captain James T. Kirk.

Texas pushed back his anticipated start because overslept and missed a side session in Triple-A. He ended up making six starts for the Rangers, registering a 4.50 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 34 innings.

That winter, he was traded with Daniel Herrera to the Cincinnati Reds for another player who’d failed to live up to expectations, Josh Hamilton.

The 2008 season brought a change of scenery and Volquez took advantage of his new environs. He crushed it at spring training.

After the game, manager Dusty Baker raved about Volquez’s stuff. “He (home plate umpire Brian O’Nora) said Volquez showed a very live arm, which makes his changeup better,” Baker said after one Grapefruit League appearance. “He has that dynamite fastball. Those umpires are seeing the ball moving. They’re seeing the hitters’ reaction to it, and a lot of times if I don’t know how a guy is throwing, I’ll go ask the umpire. They’ll tell you.”

Volquez (17-6) put up career bests across the board: Innings pitched (196), ERA (3.21), WHIP (1.327), strikeouts (206), K/BB (2.22) and interestingly, HBP (14). He made the NL All-Star squad and finished fourth in rookie of the year balloting behind Geovany Soto, Joey Votto and Jair Jurrjens.

Even in his breakout season, the righty registered a 4.60 ERA and 1.37 WHIP after the All-Star break.

Volquez’s good times unfortunately came to a screeching halt in 2009. He started only nine games, going 4-2 with a 4.35 ERA and 1.329 WHIP. Injuries plagued his season.

He was placed on the 15-day DL with back spasms in May. After a short return from the disabled list, Volquez felt tingling in his fingers. He went back on the DL with what was thought to be elbow tendinitis. He then rehabbed in June and July, only to undergo Tommy John surgery in early August.

In 2010, major-league baseball suspended Volquez for 50 games after he violated the league’s PED rules. He didn’t miss any game time, because he was on the 60-day DL rehabbing from Tommy John.

Volquez eventually returned, making 12 starts after the All-Star break. The Reds actually sent him back to Triple-A for a short stint in August as he struggled with his control. A strong September earned him Game 1 starting pitching honors. He got lit up by the Phillies (1.2 IP, 4 ER), thus ending his season.

Cincinnati offered him a four-year, $27 million deal in the offseason, similar to the one Johnny Cueto accepted. Volquez had different ideas, however.

“They were offering me a four-year contract, the same as Johnny Cueto, but I felt it wasn’t right for me,” Volquez told the Dominican publication El Caribe. “I talked to the lawyer and the general manager of the team and we all agreed on only one season.”

As of February of 2014, Volquez’s career earnings have totaled less than $11 million.

The righthander missed much of 2011 spring training because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, the Reds showed their confidence in him by starting him in the season opener. The Brewers bombed him with back-to-back home runs, starting Volquez’s disturbing trend of difficult first innings.

He allowed four first-inning runs to the Pirates in his second start and walked six batters. By May, Volquez walked 33 batters in 42.1 innings.

The righty then called out his team’s offense in late May, earning a demotion to Triple-A.

“I think everybody has to step up and start getting some runs,” Volquez said. “The last five games, we’ve scored how many runs? Thirteen in five games? (Actually 12). It’s not the way we were playing last year. We’re better than that.”

The Red recalled him in June, only to send him back to Triple-A July.

Volquez finished an injury-shortened season with a 5-7 record, 5.71 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. His peripheral numbers — such as a 20.9% HR/FB — suggest that bad luck as at least partially responsible for his struggles. His velocity was still intact, but his lack of control continues to plague him.

San Diego traded Mat Latos for Volquez and three other players in December of 2011. Padres pitching coach, Darren Balsley, said he would make it a priority for Volquez to throw more strikes.

The Padres made him their Opening Day starter in 2012. Volquez promptly walked four batters in his debut. He recovered nicely, however, and compiled a 3.51 ERA in 22 starts through July. Once again, Volquez showed how he pitches well in his first season with a new organization.

He slumped the rest of the way, fashioning a 6.26 ERA in his final 10 starts and 50.1 innings.

Pitching coach Balsley was encouraged by Volquez’s 2012 campaign.

“If Volkie hadn’t had that blister problem, I think he would have topped 200 innings and probably had a couple more wins,” Balsley said. “I know he walks a lot of hitters, but he’s also one of the toughest pitchers in the league to hit.”

He started Opening Day 2013 for San Diego. After going 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA and 1.45 WHIP at Petco Park, entered the final season of arbitration by signing a one-year, $5.725 million deal.

The Padres designated Volquez for assignment in August, primarily because of his inability to throw strikes. He compiled a 6.01 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in 142.1 frames, walking 69 batters while striking out 116.

The Dodgers snapped him up in the heat of a pennant race and used Volquez out of the bullpen. Volquez responded well with a new organization — as he always has — with a 26:8 K:BB ratio in 28 innings. His 4.18 ERA and 1.18 WHIP show he still has potential.

Amazingly, after making one relief appearance, Los Angeles inserted him into the rotation for Chris Capuano and Volquez kept the spot. In fact, he bumped Capuano off the NLCS roster for the playoffs.

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Injuries

2005
Strained oblique

2006
Triceps tendinitis
Blister

2007
Blister
Blister second time

2008
Sore knee

2009
Back spasms
Elbow tendinitis
Tommy John surgery

2010
Tommy John surgery

2011
Toe
Neck

2012
Blister

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Links

Edinson Volquez Fangraphs page.

Edinson Volquez Baseball Reference page.

Edinson Volquez Yahoo! page.

Edinson Volquez Rotowire page.

Special thanks to Rotowire for the in-season information!

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

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Pirate Notes: To Burnett or not to Burnett, that is the question

It takes a leap of faith to say the Pirates are better off without A.J. Burnett.

His age 35 and 36 seasons were phenomenal. Burnett put up back-to-back WAR’s (wins-above-replacement) of 3.0 and 4.0 in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Can you guess the last Bucs’ pitcher to better Burnett’s numbers?

That would be Kris Benson, who compiled WAR’s of 3.5 and 3.8 in 1999 and 2000.

There’s really no other way to say it – Pittsburgh got obscenely lucky with Burnett.

Not only did the righty do it on the field, but the Pirates also got New York to mostly pay for it. The Bucs paid $5 million of his $16.5 million salary in 2012 and $8 million of $16.5 million last year.

In other words, the Yankees paid Burnett a combined $19 million just to go away the last two years.

Few would argue that Pittsburgh should have extended Burnett a $14.1 million qualifying offer. That would’ve given the Bucs leverage in contract negotiations. Either Burnett would have accepted the offer or the team would’ve gained a compensation pick in the event he chose to sign with another team.

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Where has Burnett been the last couple months? Surely he could’ve quelled speculation if he wanted to. Was he waiting for the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes to end so that he could become the big guy on the market?

Sounds cynical, but it’s beginning to look that way. It’s also interesting that he waited until after Matt Garza signed with Milwaukee to leak to a source that he’s going to play in 2014. He’s now generating more buzz than any other pitcher on the free agent market.

Greg Amsinger couldn’t stop talking about him on the MLB Network on Wednesday morning. Amsinger speculated at how well Burnett would fit in as the Phillies’ No. 3 pitcher.

The man’s no dummy.

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Pirates GM Neal Huntington spoke about Burnett back in November on ESPN-970.

“You start talking, $14 million is a significant chunk of payroll,” Huntington said. “It’s very different than $150 million, $180 million, even $115 million payroll. It’s not where we value AJ Burnett, it’s how do we build a championship team in the big picture. As we look to fill some of the other gaps we have or we look to upgrade some of the other spots we’d like to upgrade and should upgrade if possible, we felt $14.1 million in one player was a bit steep for us.

“Again, the valuation, the industry valuation, the organizational valuation of a player doesn’t always align financially or logically … We’d love to have AJ come back. We felt that dollar figure was cumbersome for us to build a championship team around him and the rest of the guys.”

As Pirates fans have read and heard, ad nauseam, the Bucs have not spent money in the offseason to fill any of the gaps Huntington mentioned, other than $5 million on Edison Volquez. Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and John Buck have all signed elsewhere.

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Maybe it is best to cut ties with Burnett. His silence over the past two months has spoken volumes about where he stands.

Maybe there is bad blood between Burnett and some in management. He seems like a proud guy (#STFD) and it had to be tough to sit out the championship game in favor of a rookie. Maybe there was irreparable harm done and feelings were hurt. Maybe Burnett felt like he was disrespected.

Maybe the Pirates should let him go because he’s stinks against the team’s biggest rival – the Cardinals in St. Louis. Few would argue that he has been absolutely terrible there. His 3.30 ERA in 191 innings dips to a 2.94 ERA in 177.2 innings outside of Busch Stadium.

Is he worth, say, $14.1 million everywhere but against a huge rival?

He has been a bit of a head case throughout his career. He always had the stuff but couldn’t figure out how to use it consistently until coming to Pittsburgh.

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The situation in Pittsburgh matured him. He took to the mentoring role of young players like James McDonald and it changed Burnett. The added responsibility benefited Burnett as he grew into a leadership role while he helped McDonald (and later, Jeff Locke). Burnett and the Bucs owe a lot to each other for that opportunity.

Manager Clint Hurdle cut Burnett slack like no one else. When Burnett hand-waved the bullpen to sit down in Washington, he showed up Hurdle. The manager stuck by him, however, and didn’t criticize him even when his pitcher seemingly put himself ahead of his team.

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When the Pirates sent Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones to the Bronx for Burnett, they did so in late February – Feb. 19, 2012 to be exact.

There’s still time to let Burnett and the Pirates figure things out.

Most likely, Burnett will get whatever it is he wants.

He can up his career earnings to $130 million if he signs with Pittsburgh or somewhere around $140 million if he signs with Philly, Baltimore or the Nats. Some would argue that there’s not much difference between $130 million or $140 million.

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The Pirates need to make an organizational decision.

Is the remaining budget best spent on Burnett or on a first baseman and another player or two at the trade deadline? Even at $15 million for one season, the Pirates can afford him. Huntington said he doesn’t believe that winning teams spend more than 18 percent of total payroll on any one salary. A $15 million offer would push the Pirates’ payroll to around $90 million.

Burnett’s take would be 16.66 percent of that.

An interesting number to be sure. Stay tuned!

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirates Notes: Bucs-Yankees, A.J. Burnett, Twitter Scoops

Derek Jeter

To me, it’s not so much the Yankees go out and spend $400 million-plus on four free agents and the Pirates don’t, it’s that if New York misses it can write off half a billion dollars and no one cares.

If the Pirates miss on a free agent for more than $15 million, they’re dead in the water for the next five years. See Jason Kendall.

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I tweeted Jon Heyman to no avail after reading this tweet about A.J. Burnett.

Heyman goes out of his way to list who first reported a free agent signing or trade. I would be happy if he simply substantiated his own information. Perhaps we are to assume Heyman spoke with Burnett personally, I don’t know. The tweet seems a little irresponsible for someone who goes out of his way to tell his followers who gets credit for somebody else’s scoop all the time. It’s almost like he puts fellow journalists ahead of the public in elitist fashion.

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Andrew Lambo is an unproved commodity at the big league level. We get that. Chances are the Bucs will make a move to add another first baseman prior to the first pitch March 31. They should. But you look at how poorly Garrett Jones played in 2013 and the team still won 94 games, and you don’t feel quite as badly heading into 2014.

Jones dropped the bat pretty low with a .728 OPS and -0.2 WAR in 2013. That was with 382 at-bats supposedly against favorable matchups versus righthanders, compared to 21 at-bats against southpaws.

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I couldn’t help myself and tweeted Marlins beatwriter, Juan C. Rodriguez, after he put out this information.

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With first and third base coaches suffering vicious injuries from screaming foul balls, why can’t those coaches wear baseball gloves to help protect their persons? If I was Bud Selig for a day, I would make it mandatory for coaches to wear baseball gloves while standing on the field.

Don’t believe me? Click here.

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Back to Burnett.

I could care less what he chooses to do in 2014. He played a huge role in changing a culture and more importantly, snapping a 20-year losing streak. For that, I will always be thankful.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirates Notes: McCutchen, Carp, Ike, Josh Bell

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What if the Pirates extended Andrew McCutchen? Now.

Wednesday, team president Frank Coonelly said on 93.7 The Fan that the team will hand out a $100 million contract at some point. McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5 million contract extension prior to the 2012 season.

Why not add two years to make the deal worth $100.5 million?

Truth be told, doubling the extension McCutchen signed prior to 2012 spring training would still look like a tremendous bargain.

Jhonny Peralta (and his 50-game PED suspension history) signed a four-year, $53 million deal earlier in the offseason. It’s difficult to believe a player of that caliber will make double McCutchen’s take — $15.5 million to $7.25 million – in 2014.

The average New York Yankee will make over $9 million in 2014, and that was before the Japaneses pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, announcement.

It’s important to note McCutchen hasn’t complained about his contract – that’s not his style. He doesn’t seem like the type to complain about making tens of millions of dollars instead of hundreds of millions.

But the money flowing around the game has to be gnawing at the reigning NL MVP a little bit.

Putting Cutch over the $100 million mark would take some heat off of the Pirates and at the same time, reward a player with an exemplary attitude on and off the field.

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If the Pirates need to ruffle a few feathers to get a better TV deal, I’m all in favor of them doing so. The figure of $20 million was thought to be the annual amount before Mr. Coonelly said during Piratefest that the team is in the top half of TV deal revenue.

Terms of the actual television deal have never been released. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the Pirates and Root Sports agreed to a 10-year agreement worth $18 million per season. Click here for details.

If the Bucs need to act like a college basketball coach and re-do the deal, so be it. The Phillies signed a 25-year, $2.5 billion deal and the Dodgers are printing money like a South American dictatorship.

What’s wrong with re-negotiating the deal in light of what’s happening around the league?

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While ESPN writer, Paul Swydan, says the Pirates should sign Kendrys Morales, he also believes Ike Davis or Mike Carp could fill Pittsburgh’s need for a first baseman.

I’ve written about Morales here, but Carp is a name I hadn’t heard before as a possible platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez. Click here for a look at Carp’s numbers.

He’s already in the first year of arbitration, meaning the Bucs would have two additional seasons of control after 2014.

Since Swydan’s article was written, Boston signed Grady Sizemore to a guaranteed contract. Carp now might be more available than ever.

A look at his fielding ability via Fan Graphs isn’t particularly promising.

My recollection of Carp is more of a failed player with Seattle after signing with the Mets, but his acquisition cost might prove reasonable and he had a decent 2013 for the World Series champs. At least his name is different than the usual ones tossed about.

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I was surprised how few elite first basemen there are in the National League. After Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Allen Craig (OF, too) and Adrian Gonzalez, there are a lot of players who hope to be “league average” like Adam LaRoche.

One player in the Pittsburgh system worth potentially fast-tracking to the big leagues is Josh Bell, the switch-hitting outfielder who missed most of 2012 with a knee injury. The second-round pick put in a full pro season for the first time in 2013. Click here for his numbers.

Bell has greater value as an outfielder, but the Bucs might need him more at first base than in the outfield – considering Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco will be around for a while. Plus, the team has other prospects like Austin Meadows, Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez.

What the organization needs is a first base prospect and the power-hitting Bell could fill that bill. The move would help his knee and get him to the big leagues faster than if he stayed in the outfield.

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Treasure Life!
JT

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Tanaka, free agent market isn’t doing Burnett any favors

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The sloth-like speed accompanying the negotiations between Japanese star, Masahiro Tanaka, and multiple MLB teams has slowed the signing pace for other free agent pitchers.

One of the unintended benefits of Tanaka’s dealings — at least in the eyes of Pittsburgh Pirates fans — is that the spotlight has yet to shine on A.J. Burnett. In other winters, teams across the league would likely be clamoring for the services of a proven righthander like Burnett. But not in 2014.

Many Pirates fans want Burnett back. Regardless of how 2013 ended — with the veteran righty being passed over by Gerrit Cole in St. Louis for a series-deciding Game 5 start in the NLDS, Burnett’s NL-leading strikeout rate (9.8K/9) and ground ball rate (56.5 percent) show he can likely succeed in the National League another season.

January hasn’t been kind to Burnett or other available pitchers. In other offseasons, MLB Network’s Hot Stove and Ken Rosenthal would be proclaiming Burnett and his potential value. But that hasn’t happened. Between the Hall of Fame acrimony, the Alex Rodriguez debacle and Tanaka’s ongoing posting and negotiation procedures, the current dealings of baseball have taken a backseat. It appears clubs are content to sit back and see where the chips may fall.

As a result, starting pitchers like Matt Garza and Ervin Santana have been left to squirm.

Eventually those guys will get paid, perhaps not as much as Santana announced he was seeking in November ($100 million-plus for five years), but they’ll still sign for tens of millions of dollars.

But then there remain guys like Paul Maholm. Maholm is not as highly coveted as Garza or Santana, but he can still help a club. Click here for a link to free agent pitchers.

With a glut of hurlers available, what does this mean for A.J. Burnett?

Well, the Pirates are an option. Whether that means accepting an offer perhaps lower than he might receive with another organization, Burnett said in 2013 that he would either retire or play for Pittsburgh in 2014.

“I enjoy it here, and I enjoy these guys,” Burnett told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in last March. “If I was to keep playing, I wouldn’t want it to be anywhere else but Pittsburgh. My wife and I talk about it now and then. But it’s something I’ve got to put on the back burner. I’m just going to concentrate on this season, one start at a time.”

Such a contract could be loaded with incentives to increase with a lower base rate.

Or, Burnett could sit out the first couple months of 2014 and return mid-season, as has been suggested by Pirates website beat writer, Tom Singer.

He could also sign with Baltimore, close to his offseason residence. That would apparently make his wife happy. The Orioles could pay him nearer to the $16.5 million he made in 2013. Of course, that would also mean facing the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees on a regular basis.

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Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he hasn’t spoken to Burnett since November.

“Neal (Huntington) continues to have the meaningful conversations that need to be had,” Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “From my understanding, A.J. is doing everything he has done every other winter except for saying he’s coming back. He’s trying to make that decision.

“He knows how we feel. I’ve spoken to him, personally, all the way up to the middle of November. Then I felt like I was getting in the way. He needs quiet. He needs time at home.”

No one really knows what matters to Burnett except Burnett, and he isn’t talking.

Soon enough we’ll all find out which direction he wants to go.

But in the meantime, his value hasn’t soared like it might have in past winters because of the ongoing Tanaka negotiations and a host of other reasons.

That might not be good for Burnett’s bucks, but it could be good for the Bucs.

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Treasure Life!
JT

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Pirates set to sign outfielder, Chris Dickerson

Dickerson could add depth in Pittsburgh

by John Toperzer

Don’t be surprised if Chris Dickerson finds his way onto Pittsburgh’s roster in a similar manner as Felix Pie did in 2013. They’re not the same player, but their roles as a fifth outfielder are similar. Dickerson could make an appearance or two at PNC Park when injuries occur.

Dickerson is a huge specimen at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds. He hits from the left side and his versatility in the outfield – he played all three spots for the Orioles last season – gives him big league value.

He’ll be 32 years of age April 10, so the days of projecting him as a starter have likely passed.

A 16th round draft choice by the Cincinnati Reds in 2003, Dickerson has seen bits and pieces of time with four clubs, including the Reds (2008-10), Brewers (2010), Yankees (2011-12), and Orioles (2013).

With Baltimore, Dickerson hit .238/.266/.400 with four homers and five stolen bases in 105 at-bats. He saw his most extensive action in the majors since his second season with Cincinnati in 2009.
Dickerson worked his way into the starting lineup early on and hit three homers in a one-week period. As the team got healthier, however, his playing time pretty much ceased. He strained his left shoulder in July, came back for a short time and was promptly designated for assignment.

A career .352 on-base percentage had been his calling card prior to last year. The left-handed hitter also has batted well against righties. For his career, his slash line against righties is .264/.341/.423 with 15 homers and 29 steals in 537 at-bats. He’s up their hacking against righthanders, as his 61:166 BB:K ratio indicates.

Dickerson rarely faces southpaws. He’s 21-for-86 (.244/.330/.302) with zero homers and three stolen bases against left-handed pitching. Pinch-hitting hasn’t been his thing — he’s a career .196 batter (11-for-56).

Defensively, he has good speed and has been used as a late-inning replacement. He compiled a 5.1 UZR rating and 50.8 UZR/150 in 131 innings for Baltimore in 2013.

He’s also stolen at least 20 bases six times in the minors and could be good for a key steal in Pittsburgh.

Dickerson is likely looking at a Triple-A season with the chance to serve as an injury replacement with the Pirates throughout the 2014 campaign.

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Chris Dickerson Links

FanGraphs numbers

Baseball Reference

Rotowire

Twitter handle @CDickerson_PFTP

Co-founder of Players for the Planet

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