Poll Question: What do you think of the Hurdle extension? Deserved (73%) Not deserved (27%)
Guest: Since Tony Sanchez will most likely have to make it on his defense, at least that's how it's looking right now, how does he look compared to Martin and especially McKenry?
Bill Brink: That's something we will have to wait for the games to start to be able to tell. It's tough to glean much from catching live batting practice and bullpen sessions. We will get a better sense of that in the next few weeks.
Chad: Should Hurdle's contract extension speak volumes about how who would be kicked out first if the Pirates take a plunder in the standings early? Or is the contract extension just something to equal Neal's
Bill Brink: The extension was something to equal Huntington's, and it was also to remove scrutiny as the season unfolded about what the Pirates planned to do, especially if they struggled. It may help take some pressure off the players. I don't think it will prevent the Pirates from firing Hurdle if they think that's the best thing to do. Eating a year of a manager's contract is not a financial no-no.
Spike Crain: Will Jay Bell PLEASE teach this Team how to BUNT?
Bill Brink: I would hope so, right? Dude holds the franchise record for sac bunts.
robshelb: I know it's still very early in ST, and it's only batting practice. But so far, who seems to be hitting the baseball well, and who seems to be falling in the not-so-good category (if anyone).
Bill Brink: It's tough get useful information watching players hit in spring games, let alone batting practice. They're all working on stuff and facing 55 mph pitches over the plate. We'll have a better, yet still imperfect, idea of who's doing well once the games start.
Bill: So shouldn't fans have reason to be a bit more optimistic this year? I'd rather throw Liriano, Sanchez, Inge and Hawpe against the wall and see if they stick compared to Ohlendorf, Diaz, Hague, Eldred, or even Bedard like they have in years past
Bill Brink: Liriano, Sanchez and Inge are not too far removed from being productive major league players, so the chances of one of them recovering their previous form (Liriano, obviously, after his arm heals) is probably higher than the second group of players listed.
I still would caution against pinning hopes on them, as they've had significant struggles last season.
Trench Davis: Any word on what Hurdle/Searage think of Zagurski? He's been very good before and I think he's quite capable of being a valuable late inning (7th/8th) guy.
Bill Brink: None specifically on Zagurski, but Hurdle (again) wants to take two lefties on the opening day bullpen. Zagurski could be that second lefty aside from Tony Watson, though he'll have to beat out Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke and Kris Johnson. Wilson is his most likely opponent for that role.
Jeremy: where do you see Jerry Sands being on opening day?
Bill Brink: Class AAA Indianapolis. He's one of several guys fighting for three bench spots after McKenry and Gaby Sanchez. Figure Tabata, Sands, Presley, Inge, Harrison and Mercer, among others, in competition for final three, and Tabata's out of options. It's possible, but I don't see it at this point.
marty34156: IF this injury goes on to cost Karstens time, do Locke and McPherson become rotation favorites?
Bill Brink: I think so, though the organization is giving Jonathan Sanchez a hard look.
Guest: Scenario: It's June 20, Martin is hitting .211 with little power, Fort is doing better (about same as last year), and Sanchez is murdering AAA. Is there any chance at all Martin would be sent down?
Bill Brink: No chance Martin, who's making $17 million over two years, gets sent down. His track record will prevent that.
TimF: It's early days, but looking at bench options, of Harrison, Mercer and Inge, which combo of two seems likely to get spots?
Bill Brink: Betting it's Harrison and Inge. Hurdle would love a veteran like Inge, and Harrison's position versatility will help him. Plus, Hurdle trusts Harrison.
JamesinNYC: Walker getting an extension would be another nice step forward. From a baseball does it generally help the team to see commitment? I know as a fan it does.
Bill Brink: I'm sure Walker would like the safety net of an extension and the Pirates would like the cost certainty, but I don't see it happening right now. The Pirates control Walker until he's 32, so the incentive to buy out his arbitration years and some of his free agency years is lessened. Walker has three more arbitration-eligible seasons and will earn upwards of $10 million in the final year at this rate. No rush from either side.
Ken: Is there a player down there who you immeditely look at and say "he must have worked out hard in the offseason"?
Bill Brink: Matt Hague. Dropped 15 pounds. Boxing training helped. Tabata looks good too.
Spike Crain: How odes Gabriel Sanchez look, so far? I wondered when his production fell off, if that might not be attributable to the chaos that Ozzie brought in with him, along with the League having figured him out, of course...
Bill Brink: Real tough to tell from batting practice, but no red flags. I'm betting a full, healthy offseason and not starting the year with the Marlins will only help. He's better than he showed last year.
Hunter: It sounds like the Pirates plan to use Wilson as a reliever. Does the fact that they are determining this so early more a sign they really would like him to make the major league club or that they really don't think he can be a starter?
Bill Brink: Little of both. It's a matter of where they feel he best serves the team. They believe he can help the big league bullpen right now and therefore will move him in that direction. He could probably still start but it might take longer to develop him there and waste time when he could be helping the club.
Spike Crain: Just how "healed" is Neill Walker's back?
Bill Brink: Healed enough that he returned to normal workouts and hit from both sides over the winter. Herniated discs and back problems can reoccur, and we -- and the Pirates training staff -- will be watching closely. Until that happens, though, he's healthy.
Hunter: I cannot remember a time when Hurdle only had two players that could play SS on the MLB roster. Do you think he will change that philosophy this year or could that hamper Inge's odds of making the team?
Bill Brink: He could change it but has given no indication that he will. That's why Harrison and Mercer were both on the roster last season in addition to Barmes. I think Inge's defensive versatility elsewhere will help him enough in his race for the roster.
PhillyJake: Any future for d'Arnaud or Mercer? Seems Clint doesn't want either one of them.
Bill Brink: The problem is opportunity. They're behind Walker and Barmes (at least for one more season before Barmes is a free agent) so they don't have much opportunity to show they can do it at the major league level. They will want them to play, somewhere, so when Barmes leaves they can give them a real look.
Bill L: Pedro over/under 35 hrs?
Bill Brink: Under, but if you'd said 28.5 I would have taken the over.
Spike Crain: Is Pressley destined to be the "odd man out" here?
Bill Brink: It's looking that way. It's still early, and he can play his way onto the roster. But he has minor league options and Tabata doesn't, so he has to out-perform Tabata enough that the Pirates keep him on the roster.
By the way, of all the stats we now have, someone needs to come up with a metric that measures how much one players has to out-perform another player by to make up for the difference in minor league options. Call it VORPO: Value Of Replacement Player with Options.
Hunter: If Tabata does not play well in ST do you see a scenario where the Pirates would try to slip him through waivers? If it got to that point would they actually want him to get through?
Bill Brink: I don't think he gets through waivers. The Mets would probably kill for Tabata in their outfield right now, and enough teams would see the raw talent of a former top prospect and bite. So I bet they do all they can to make him a productive part of the major league team.
robshelb: okay, they're all working on stuff. But that being said, who so far has hit the ball the furthest in batting practice ??
Bill Brink: Gaby Sanchez. He almost put one on the balcony of Huntington's third-floor office at Pirate City. Which, if you've never been, is a significant distance.
PhillyJake: How many AL park games do we have? Who's going to be the DH?
Bill Brink: Ten road interleague games this season. Bet Jones and Sanchez DH, but could be Snider as well.
Guest: Did anyone show up noticeably out of shape this year (like Owens last year and Pedro the year before).
Bill Brink: Not sure I like the not-so-subtle dig. I went running yesterday! C'mon now.
Bill Brink: (No. No one is noticeably out of shape.)
JamesinNYC: Tabata will be my vote for a rebound year. Even his "terrible" year last year wasn't that bad. Once he got back from AAA he was servicable if nothing else. Wasn't last year his whole wife fiasco too?
Bill Brink: It was pretty bad before he came back from Indy. Once he got back, his focus completely changed. He took better routes to the balls in the outfield, he had better at-bats and paid attention on the bases. If he can do that for a full season, and stay healthy (both big ifs) he will be productive.
The issues with his wife took place a few years back.
Hunter: Any concern over Karstens injury because of who he is or is it really just a precaution?
Bill Brink: Given his history last year, any sign of injury is cause for concern. Biceps tightness is minor and may set him back mere days, but the team has to be careful and we have to be skeptical.
Phil: What old Bucs will be coaching this spring? Maz? Sangy? Teke?
Bill Brink: Yes, Yes and Yes. Mike LaValliere and Bill Virdon out here too.
Hunter: Most surprising player to make the 25 man roster will be...?
Bill Brink: Bold prediction: Jonathan Sanchez. He could pass Locke and McPherson to earn the final spot.
JamesinNYC: Are interleague games for the Pirates normal this year? Who would be our "rival" team?
Bill Brink: We play the Tigers in a home-and-home, so that might be the closest to a rival.
Spike Crain: How cold is it there - and won't that contribute to injuries and general soreness? (...Jeff Karstens)
Bill Brink: It was 41 degrees Sunday morning but it's in the 70s now. And sure, that could have everyone a little stiff, but they have sweaters and active warm-ups to prevent that.
PhillyPoke: Your thoughts on the busy winter that Marte had? Will it impact his performance this season positively or negatively?
Bill Brink: Positively. He needed to see major league quality pitching, or as close as he could get, to improve his plate discipline and pitch selection. It can only help him. He's in as good of shape as anyone on the team, may be the best conditioned player, so the extra playing won't hurt him.
marty34156: What happens if come late June/early July Snider is looking a breakout player, Sands is crushing AAA, but Jones and/or Sanchez are struggling. Do they move one of them to make room for Sands?
Bill Brink: Depends on their record. I think this year above all we could see moves aimed at winning now rather than years of control. And if Jones is struggling, it will be tougher to move him. Other GMs could see last season as a fluke and figure he's on the decline.
Hunter: Can Russell Martin really hold his own at short stop in the World Baseball Classic?
Bill Brink: Haven't seen him field more than slow grounders, but he looks good. I bet he'll do well. I know I'll be watching.
Guest: So much focus has been given to the changes the Bucs have made on the pitching staff. What is being done to improve hitting, especially at the bottom half of the lineup?
MakaBirdie: What are the Bucs doing to improve hitting, especially at the bottom half of the lineup?
Bill Brink: Hoping Martin hits better than Barajas, to start.
Jay Bell is slowly learning these guys and working within their preferences to maximize what they can do. It sounds like he's taking it slow, rather than storming in and correcting everything at once. Barmes will hit better this year and I think Martin will improve, though his power will drop in PNC Park.
robshelb: Is there any chance we'll be seeing Marte in CF and McCutchen in LF during some of the Spring Training games??
Bill Brink: Never say never, but no. Marte still needs to perfect his left-field defense.
MakaBirdie: Bill, are there any serious injuries coming into spring training that weren't expected?
Bill Brink: Outside of Liriano and Charlie Morton, everyone was healthy until Karstens had some biceps tightness in recent days.
Bill Brink: Lightning round. Go.
MakaBirdie: Who's the best golfer on the team?
Bill Brink: Used to be Hanrahan and Correia. Maholm before that. Don't know, to be honest. Charity tourney is coming up soon so we should find out.
Spike Crain: Win-Loss...?
Bill Brink: 75-87.
Phil: Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?
Bill Brink: Connery. Like Craig as an actor, but Connery will always be Bond.
robshelb: McDonald's 2013 ERA??
Bill Brink: 3.54
PhillyJake: Shaken or Stirred?
Bill Brink: Whiskey neat
Spike Crain: Opening Day Pitcher?
Bill Brink: A.J. Burnett and that crowd will go bonkers.
PhillyJake: Does Jonathan Sanchez have an out clause in his contract?
Bill Brink: Yes, sometime in late March.
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