Readers ask Jake

"Salary dumps, clueless, or nobody answering?" — JT, Baltimore, MD

Your email gave me the thought for yesterday’s article so I had to post this first.

There’s no question the Pirates are being fiscally conservative with player payroll for whatever reason. Call it salary dumps, convenient culture change dumps, or anything else you want, but the fact is, they have/are dumping.

But what does that really mean? Right, nothing. Not yet, anyway. We don’t know what the Pirates short-term goals are yet, much less their long-term ones. But consider this – assuming McLouth is the opening day centerfielder, every single position player except Jose Bautista and Adam LaRoche has been mentioned in trade rumors so far this winter.

Where there is smoke there is usually fire.

So it’s not irrational to conclude the Pirates are at least listening to offers on gutting the roster. As I’ve said here many times over the last two years, that’s the route I would take.

The Pirates imported a new president and general manager who have no credibility in the industry as a team. If John Schuerholz was gutting this roster he might end up with a deal here and there, but we can’t expect that from Huntington. That’s stretching it. So we’ll have to watch and see how short Huntington has to sell, if he has to sell short at all. That’s going to be a key.

The front office is far from clueless. Coonelly is a wizard on player values, I hear. So let’s dispel that notion. As for nobody answering? It takes two to tango and pirateball.com indicated Huntington said he was selling high at the winter meetings. I think that might of been a mistake, but I’m not in the front office of a team. We’ll just have to wait and see.

"Is Neal Walker really the answer at third?" — BH, Iraq

Hello to all the guys and gals in Iraq! Good stuff following the Pirates afar.

I can’t answer your question BH – I honestly don’t know. He’s got a little pop in his bat, he seems to be an OBP machine, and he’s certainly a gamer. But is he a future corner with Shelby Ford and Brian Bixler up the middle? Not on my card he isn’t. Even if the Pirates sign Sanchez long-term, I still don’t see enough pop from Walker to justify him being at third, much less an outfield corner.

So where does that leave Walker? Good question. We’ll watch the additions to the roster in trades over the next year for our clue. In the meantime, it isn’t too far fetched to think he could be trade bait at some point, in my opinion.

"If you were me, would you renew your season tickets?" — LC, Oakland, PA

I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately. Sure, why not?

It’s hard to believe so many fans are even questioning this when you consider grandstand prices are just $6 a seat on a full season package. That’s cheap entertainment (no pun intended).

Get your tickets.. support the team. No-brainer.

"I remember an article you had about Kris Benson and Ryan Vogelsong making rounds at a children’s hospital with you in 2004. Were they allowed to do that, or were they playing hooky from Mac and John Russell? — RS, Pittsburgh, PA

Kris and Ry didn’t have formal approval of the Pirates to appear, no. I asked Kris through Anna who made the arrangements. Were they somewhere they weren’t allowed to be? No. They were both off that day and would have been back playing video games or waxing Kris’ Ferrari if not at the hospital, be my guess.

From what I gather, you seem to be going in the direction of whether or not John Russell can really make a difference in the clubhouse as a manager.

There’s no question whatsoever that Mac was run over like a steamroller by the players and John Russell was run over just as well. But were the players running over Mac and his staff, or Dave Littlefield and ownership? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

John Russell will go as far as the players will allow him to go. Don’t kid yourself. But isn’t that true of any manager in the game? Do you think Rammy runs harder down the line now that Lou is manager knowing he’ll get right in his face if he doesn’t? No.. Rammy is Rammy, Paulino will be Paulino, and Doumit will be Doumit.

Don’t expect miracles folks.

John Russell and his staff aren’t going to make much of a difference with this club. Bet on that. The players are. At some point in their marginal careers they have to wake up and tell themselves they really like what they are doing. Then things might change.

Well, at least we might win a couple more games a year, that is.

Nothing new on the trade front to report tonight. Most of the teams execs are back with their families doing Christmas shopping and drinking egg nog in their parties. Next week might be a bit active.

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