Dunk machine, Kenny Lofton, and new P’s

"Well, the Pirates haven’t scored 700 runs the last three years. With any luck, LaRoche gets you to 700, over 700, but that’s not going to make any real difference. Making a real difference depends on two things, in my opinion, which are:

  1. How Paulino develops, and
  2. Getting more than they did last year out of the center field spot."

Bill James interview with Bucco Blog, January 2007

Let’s talk about #2 first since it’s free agent time.

The Pirates combined production from center field last year was .262/.336/.403 on quick look and, as James suggested would happen, run production wasn’t significantly impacted.

For 2008, James projects Nyjer Morgan at .301/.357/.373 playing 32% of the year and Chris Duffy at .282/.340/.386 playing 53% of the year. Let’s assume for a second Duffy doesn’t make it back and Morgan gets 600 at bats producing .274/.329/.363. Some might argue that’s a low full-year projection for Morgan, but I don’t think so at all.. he’s marginal at best.

Andrew McCutchen is at least one year away, and when he comes up he’s probably going to be put in a corner slot anyway so let’s say he’s at least two years from becoming the Pirates center fielder, if not more.

Nate McLouth can’t fill that hole because, stating it bluntly, his defense is putrid, and Nady or Bay can’t shift because they are even worse than McLouth.

So the same gaping hole we had entering 2007 exists entering 2008.

Enter stage left, free agent Kenny Lofton. He’s declining faster than a rotting apple but he’s still better than Morgan will ever be. Last year he produced nearly 49 earned runs above the MLB average player (90 PA or more) playing 82% of the year and shifting around the AL. Put him back in the NL and, even considering his age, he’s probably still going to bring in 50 more earned runs than the average Joe. And he can still cover the ball defensively.

What will he cost? How about if we offer a 2/10 deal giving him a full-time job in center leading off while loading the contract with incentives on the backside based on plate appearances and productivity on the field? More importantly, what is a player like Lofton worth to instruct McCutchen when he’s brought up? That future value is priceless for the Pirates and McCutchen.

I realize a lot of fans will be saying – yuck.. no more aging vets. I agree, but Morgan’s not the answer and rushing Cutch doesn’t solve a thing either. Besides, if Huntington does deal Bay or Nady, the last thing he’s going to want in the return package is someone to play center.

Just a thought since Nutting won’t get us a prime cut.

As for James thought about Paulino developing, most fans see him as a lazy player. And he has been at times. I mentioned in my Sleepers and Foolers column last year that a sophomore jinx with receivers is a real deal – it’s not easy taking all that punishment and focusing for 150+ games the second year after being drained of every ounce of energy the year before.

Personally, I’m tickled with Paulino’s development and I think John Russell can probably take him to the next level. Now, will his bat and attitude follow? Good question. The man looks to be scared to death standing in the batter’s box but I’ll wait and see who Russell and Huntington grab as the hitting coach before making a decision whether I think Paulino can advance.

Would I sign a Barrett or go after a Torrealba? I’m hesitant to call Ryan Doumit our backup receiver because he’s a jinx behind the throne, so adding a backup in AAA wouldn’t be a bad idea. But no, if Huntington and his people believe Paulino isn’t the answer behind the plate, then they better be getting some young stock in one of their trades. I mentioned Jeff Clement last year who is now raking in the AFL, but there are other good choices around.

Paulino to the Mets rumor? Ridiculous. Who catches for the Pirates? Doumit, the guy who saw his team lose something like 80% of the games he caught exclusively last year? Puh-lease.

The Freddy Sanchez to Yankees rumor won’t die off much like the Melky Cabrera for Mike Gonzalez deal hung around for nearly a month in New York. It’s paper filler – fodder. I do find it pretty curious that Yankees fans think of Sanchez as a +4 win player but are only willing to deal junk to get him.

I see Sanchez as a +2.5 win guy on a bright sunny day and we’d be hard pressed to find another second baseman we can control for two more years so undervalued since he’s in arbitration. I doubt Sanchez is going anywhere. And no, I don’t see an Andy LaRoche for Sanchez deal in our future.

Cubs want Carl Crawford.. the Royals are all over Torii Hunter (yes, the cost-cutting ROYALS).. the Angels are in the hunt for Miguel Cabrera AND Alex Rodriguez.. the Nationals have expressed interest in Aaron Rowland.. the Astros would love Dontre Willis..

The Pirates?

We’re after Shawn Camp. But shhhhhh… someone might come in and rock his socks with a 1/2 deal before we get there.

Hey, maybe we should get the Green Acres video collection and send it to Nutting for a Christmas gift?

Looks like the Pirates are going to "P" on us next year. Come Hungry.. P.. they just don’t get it upstairs, do they?

Things I’d like to see in 2008:

1.  Coonelly, Huntington, and Russell all forced to wear rookie travel outfits picked out by the fans for one road trip;

2.  The Lady Bucs Club holding a toga party for the fans at PNC with music provided by the players and booze supplied by Doumit and Snell. Red plastic cups are optional;

3.  Bob Nutting in a baseball dunking machine for four hours so the fans can have their way with him at $5 per shot. All proceeds go to the local Boys and Girls Clubs;

4.  The Pirates ownership group sitting front row center behind the net as a complete group for just one game showing their Pride and Passion. Just one..;

5.  Instead of bobblehead giveaway day, Nutting passes out $100 savings bonds to every child under eight in attendance one Saturday afternoon. No Bob, not McClatchy bonds.