Bill Brink: Good morning everyone and welcome to the first chat of the 2013 season. Michael and I are three days away from heading south to Bradenton. We will start at noon, but go ahead and drop your questions in now.
Poll Question: When will Francisco Liriano first pitch for the Pirates? April 5 ( 14% ) May 11 ( 43% ) June 4 ( 0% ) Never ( 43% )
Jim in VT: What would you say is the most likely ETA for Cole?
Bill Brink: I wouldn't expect him up until after the All-Star break at the earliest. They will want him to make several starts in Indianapolis without his fastball getting flat before they feel comfortable promoting him, and once he comes up, they will want him to stay up. Realistically, I think a September call-up is reasonable, assuming he stays healthy and does not regress.
Jim in VT: If Grilli flames out or is hurt, what/who is plan B?
Bill Brink: Hope they're up by six runs entering the ninth? No, they will probably go with a closer by committee and play the match-ups with Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Mark Melancon.
Buccoboy: The most likely non roster invitee to win a bench job is?
Bill Brink: Brad Hawpe. No, seriously. I know his stats have been awful, but Hurdle has been wanting a veteran bench guy for pinch-hitting situations, and Hawpe being left-handed helps.
Ivan De Jesus would be my other pick.
Tom S: In What ways, if any, will the Pirates be an improved team from last year?
Bill Brink: I don't think the seventh and eighth spots in the batting order will be as much of a black hole. Barmes may not hit .300 but he'll be better than .197, and Martin will be an upgrade over Barajas at the plate.
Pete: Hi Bill Do you see the Pirates getting any power out of the outfield this year?
Bill Brink: Depends on how often Garrett Jones plays right field. Outside of McCutchen and his 25 or so homers, Starling Marte, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata won't give you much.
Jim in VT: Will there be a changed approach to defending against the running game this year, beyond just relying on Martin's quicker release?
Bill Brink: Yes. Look for varied release times, better slide steps and pickoff moves and things of that nature. The organization emphasized pitch quality last year and it got out of proportion.
JamesinNYC: The only question that matters...will they break the darn losing streak?
Bill Brink: Wish I knew. I could start writing my 82nd win/loss gamer now and get it out of the way.
Bizrow: Does the club have enough starting pitching depth? IMO, we have two legitimate starters and a bunch of question marks
Bill Brink: Enough depth, yes, but the question is about the quality of that depth. After Burnett and Wandy, you've got McDonald, tons of talent but an awful second half; Jeff Locke, who hasn't shown it in the majors yet; Kyle McPherson, talented but unproven; Charlie Morton, out for half the season; Jeff Karstens, solid but injury-prone. I think that's why they wanted Liriano, so at worst they could pick from the best of that bunch rather than relying on multiple question marks.
Ken: Where has Tabata been this winter? A focused, in shape 2010 version of Jose Tabata would be a great addition.
Bill Brink: Tabata spent the winter in Miami working out. The team did not want him playing winter ball and preferred that he focus on his conditioning. The difference in Tabata's play from before he went down to the minors and after he came back last season was something else: Better routes to the ball, better at-bats, fewer base-running mistakes. If he could replicate that for a whole season he could push Snider for more playing time.
Mike: How long do you think it will take for the upper brass to finally bring the hammer down on GM Neil Huntingdon?
Bill Brink: It could happen this season, especially if Martin, Melancon and Liriano don't play well (assuming Liriano signs, not a given). His poor track record with free agents may be enough that Nutting decides a change is needed. I think it also depends on how he handles the trade deadline, especially if the Pirates are in contention like last season.
If the team finishes strong and his acquisitions perform adequately, I think he's safe for the time being.
Bill L: What is Josh Harrison's contract status?
Bill Brink: He still has fewer than two years of major league service time. He won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season and won't be a free agent until after the 2017 season. He'll make about $500,000, right above the major league minimum.
Guest: Best performance from a new arrival will be from _____? any prediction? i like liriano and jonathan sanchez there.
Bill Brink: Russell Martin. A lot of the home runs he hit at Yankee Stadium will be long fly balls to the left-field warning track, but I think he hits better this season and plays a better defensive catcher than Barajas.
Jayhawk: Do you see the Pirates contending this year?
Bill Brink: I see a chance for them to break the streak and win 82, but I don't know if they will be able to contend. The Cardinals and Reds are both good, and the Dodgers, Giants and other NL teams will be in the wild card hunt.
Bill Brink: how many opening day slots are realistically at stake this spring?
Bill Brink: A good exercise:
5. McPherson (for the sake of argument)
I'd say two. You're looking at Presley vs. Tabata for that final outfield bench spot and one more utility guy, like Jordy Mercer perhaps. Jerry Sands, d'Arnaud and Clint Robinson are in the mix as well.
AJB: Besides Opening Day are their any other don't miss games this year.
Bill Brink: Whenever Cole debuts, I'd be there.
Tim: Which NL Central team has most improved over the off-season?
Bill Brink: I don't think one has made leaps and bounds over another, but if moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation and having Broxton close works, the Reds will be even more dangerous.
AJB: Whatever happened to Tony Sanchez?
Bill Brink: He's never quite been the same after breaking his jaw. He made it to Class AAA Indianapolis last year and didn't hit particularly well, but minor league stats are not too revealing. The acquisition of Martin indicates the Pirates don't think he's ready yet, but it's not time to rule him out yet.
Mike: With the Pirates taking on projects such as Liriano and possibly Sanchez, I think both may be a bust, but what do you think of the Pirates resigning Burnett, isn't this the last year of his contract?
Bill Brink: This is the last year of his contract, he'll be a free agent after the season. I'm sure they would be interested if he's healthy and wants to pitch, but they may not meet his asking price without the Yankees helping out.
He may also be better suited to be someone's No. 4 starter at age 37 rather than an ace and the highest-paid player on the roster for the Pirates.
Zack: which JMAC shows up this year?
Bill Brink: I'm interested to see how removing Barajas, a big influence on McDonald, affects him. I think Burnett, another influence, will pick up the slack. I bet we don't see the stellar first half out of him, but I think he'll avoid the string of awful starts like in July and August.
Bill Brink: Lightning round. Fire away.
Jayhawk: How is Josh Bell's rehab progressing?
Bill Brink: Last I heard he should be ready for the minor league season, but that could change.
JAL: Are the Pirates actively shopping Jones or will only be moved if some team makes a good offer for him?
Bill Brink: Right now I think they're hanging onto him. If Liriano becomes official they may take a closer look at moving him because of payroll issues.
Jim in VT: Opening day starter?
Bill Brink: Burnett
Zack: expected win this year?
Bill Brink: 77-85
Ken: "Lightning Round"--favorite game show?
Bill Brink: Does Jeopardy count? Love Jeopardy.
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