The Pirates, Andrew McCutchen and the Crocodile Arm Snap

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With the Pirates, there’s always been a reluctance to believe that they’re doing something smart without doing something foolish immediately thereafter.

It’s like feeding a crocodile—arm extended, cringing, hoping that the only thing taken is the food and not the arm up to the elbow.

In retrospect the Pirates maneuvers of perpetual housecleanings and bargain basement payrolls didn’t turn out as badly as they looked upon their completion. Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouthAdam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Octavio Dotel and Freddy Sanchez were all dealt away in recent years. Most didn’t perform up to expectations with their new clubs and the Pirates got some usable pieces for them after savage critiques in their immediate aftermath.

The deals may not have worked out as hoped for the Pirates and they probably could’ve gotten more for than they did for some of the above-listed players, but apart from Bay, most were total disappointments in their new venues in one way or another.

Of course there are the things like non-tendering Matt Capps and declining the option on Paul Maholm, but potholes of idiocy will continue to exist no matter how desperately they’re patched over.

From those trades, they have James McDonald, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and a couple of minor leaguers that might eventually be of use.

Now the Pirates have signed star center fielder Andrew McCutchen to a 6-year, $51.5 million contract to buy out his arbitration years and first two seasons of free agency—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

After the Pirates had implied that they’d be willing to listen to offers on McCutchen, the crocodile-cringe became more pronounced.

“Uh oh, the Pirates are about to do something stupid.”

The entire “we’ll listen on anyone including McCutchen” rhetoric was like something out of The Onion. “You can call and we’ll listen. Then we’ll laugh and tell you to take a hike.”

The “stupid” was ever-present, but for now it’s gone.

McCutchen is a foundational star at a hard-to-fill position and only getting better at age 25. He’s exactly the type of player a club either spends their money to keep or gives up the majority of their farm system to get.

With him onboard, the Pirates are turning their attention to signing Pittsburgh native and second baseman Neil Walker to a contract extension.

With the young stars in the fold for the long-term; Clint Hurdle—a manager who doesn’t take crap or “we’re the Pirates” as an excuse for losing; and an improved farm system, the Pirates are capable—you’re reading it here first—of a .500 season in 2012 and finishing as high as third place in their division.

Keeping McCutchen is a great decision and indicative that the Pirates’ front office is no longer content to be the big league talent mill for the bullies and are looking to follow the lead of clubs like the Rays who develop and try to win simultaneously.

The Pirates have an advantage the Rays don’t: a beautiful, fan friendly ballpark.

Believe it or not, the Pirates are on the way to getting much, much better.

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Clarifications And Rhetoric

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

Let’s start with a comment from Joe regarding yesterday’s posting.

I enjoyed this post. The one thing you could have left out was taking a shot at Dave Cameron by saying he is a stat-zombie, and is still clinging to the Moneyball-farce. Whether you think he is, is besides the point. It took away from respectually-disagreeing, which is fine. The rest of the post was really just you disagreeing with these two opinions. And was well-written and well-thought out. I would be a little concerned with his weight, and declining K rate. But I hardly think he is going to become an albatross if he doesn’t opt-out. And even if he did, this is the one organization best-suited to take that hit. Josh Beckett isn’t the same body-type. But I would feel more comfortable moving forward with Sabathia for the next five, than I would with Beckett or Lackey the next four years (And I am actually confident that Beckett and Lackey bounce back). Five years, $115 million is certainly risky for a pitcher that is going to be on the wrong side of 30, but sometimes I think it can be overblown. If this were a mid-market team, then I would hope for the opt-out to be exercised. But it isn’t a mid-market team, it’s the Yankees. However, if CC DOES opt-out, and wants an even longer deal — which he obviously will. Then I would let him walk. The deal getting even riskier, does not help the Yankees. Also, Joe Sheehan used to work for BP. So yes, he enjoys the numbers.

Joe straddles my line between remarkably useful and strangleworthy; or at least a conk on the head when he aggravates my admittedly irascible temperament.

Respectually is not a word.

Apart from that, maybe Joe’s right.

As much as the term “stat zombie” has served my purposes, perhaps it’s time to abandon it for a more inclusive discussion on what I believe and why I believe it.

In order to engage rather than immediately incite a reaction from the stat inclined to think I’m attacking them with a fighter’s stance, I’m taking a step back from the mentality of hitting first and asking questions later.

I never saw the term “stat zombie” as a negative along the lines of “stat geek” which I would find a thousand times more offensive. A geek is inept, clumsy and socially clueless; a zombie is the walking undead functioning without a conscious mind.

There’s a big difference.

Mindless adherence to numbers without room for nuance is the essence of being a zombie.

I used the term occasionally in my upcoming book and I’m not changing it now. But it’s not fostering debate. It’s inspiring an immediately contentious atmosphere and while I’m essentially unbeatable in such a circumstance, I’ll step back from it in favor of less incendiary terminology.

As for Sabathia, he did have a knee problem last season; this can be viewed in a couple of ways that bolster mine and Sheehan’s positions.

Sabathia admitted that his right knee was bothering him last season and he had a “clean-up” surgery to repair it—NY Post Story.

Since it was his right knee—his landing leg—it wouldn’t be as much of a concern were it his left leg; the dominant side is far more important to a pitcher to balance in the leg lift and explode off the rubber. The left leg holds up the entire body as Sabathia loads up to throw; this would be of greater concern to me.

The pain clearly didn’t affect his performance, nor his durability. But it’s not something to dismiss. Since he’s lost weight and had the issue repaired, it’s all the more reason to discount it as a reason not to bring him back if he does opt out.

His performance in 2010 with a knee problem and the steps to ease the pressure are bigger indications that he’s going to do everything he can to live up to his salary and importance to the club independent of salary and contract length.

But Sheehan’s suggestion of knee problems is not so easily ignored.

Here’s what I would do if I were the Yankees; if Sabathia has another Cy Young Award-caliber year and opts out—I’d give him a raise and do everything I could to keep the years at five.

Hypothetically, with his current deal, a raise from 4 remaining years at $92 million to 5 years at $130 million isn’t out of line for either side. Sabathia’s not getting that money anywhere else; presumably the only way he’d leave the Yankees would be to head back to Northern California. The Athletics can’t pay him; the Giants are going to have to lock up both Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and are still under the Barry Zito albatross through 2013.

He’s got nowhere to go for a raise.

With the Yankees sudden interest in fiscal restraint, it has to be taken into consideration how much money they’ve wasted in the past. This year alone they’re paying Damaso Marte and Kei Igawa a combined $8 million and tried to bring back Carl Pavano.

Carl.

Pavano.

Are they going to explain away letting Sabathia walk over an extra year and $30 million? The Yankees?

He won’t leave whether he opts out or not. They won’t let him leave because he’s got nowhere to go and they can’t let him leave.

Finally, I received the list that Sheehan alluded to in comparing Sabathia to other pitchers of similarly grand stature.

Special shout-out to Baseball-Reference for the information.

The lists are available here for the height requirement and weight of above 260 pounds; and here for 270 pounds-plus.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday before having the lists:

But here’s what I suspect: Sheehan’s size-based argument against Sabathia was hindered by the pitchers who inhabited said list since they weren’t on a level with C.C. Sabathia; nor were they on a level with Harang or Zambrano.

If he listed them, I’m betting the prevailing response would be, “Who?!? You’re putting him in a category with Sabathia based on what? Because he’s big?”

I was right.

Here are some of the more recognizable names; you be the judge: Chris Young, Daniel Cabrera, Armando Benitez, Jon Rauch, Seth McClung, Jonathan Albaladejo, Andy Sisco…do I need to go on?

Young was an All Star; I always loved Cabrera’s talent; Benitez was a good closer; Rauch is useful; Mike Francesa had a man-crush on Sisco; but are any of the names on that list in a category with Sabathia?

No.

Not even close.

It ‘s a reflection on the twisted nature of such an argument that the names were left out. If they’d been added, the disclosure would’ve been full and while it might have watered down Sheehan’s hypothesis, at least he’d have been on the high ground and not appeared to have been hiding facts for convenience sake.

These…stat….people (there, I said it) have something to say.

If they want a debate, it works both ways. I’ve made my way to the bargaining table sans the high intensity of unrestrained rage (yet still armed with Force Lightning if anyone still wants to scrap—and lose).

If they want a meeting of the minds, I’ll listen. Attentively and with my guard still up to an acceptable level.

Joe (StatMagician on Twitter) is a peacemaker—the ambassador to the stat people.

We’ll see where this goes…