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Pirates Q&A Pirates Q & A with Paul Meyer

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Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Before we begin, let me say the response from you fans concerning the dropping of potential free agent first baseman Jim Thome's name into last week's Q&A generated the largest number of submissions for one day in the history of this feature - by far. The first full day that Q&A appeared, 64 people sent in something and way over half of those 64 concerned Thome and the Pirates.

Some were lengthy; some were brief (see below). These are a representative sample.

On with the show. . .

Q: I might have missed a meeting, but after reviewing your 2004 lineup I almost passed out seeing Thome's name. It would be redundant to ask if you think there is a shot the Bucs could get him, but what would his rationale be? Legitimate shot at World Series ring? No. More money than other interested parties (perhaps Boston)? Doubtful. Front row view of the pierogi race? Perhaps. Any semi-rational explanation would be greatly appreciated. Hope springs eternal.

Brad Jealous of South Bend, Ind.

Q: My question has two parts. First, I was wondering if you thought the Pirates have a legitimate chance to obtain Jim Thome. I noticed him in your 2004 prognostication and my heart skipped a beat (literally). He would be a tremendous pickup for this team. National interest and attendance would increase, etc.

Knowing this, secondly, would Giles/Kendall be willing to defer more money if it was made clear to them that if they did so, they would be very likely to acquire Thome?

Pitching and defense are needed, but the primary concern for this team is obviously the O!

Josh Keaton of Rochester, N.Y.

Q: Thome????

Gregg of London, United Kingdom

Q: I was shocked to see that you included Jim Thome as a potential starting first baseman in 2004. Are the Pirates giving any indication that they are willing to outbid the Tribe and the Phillies for him? I think it would be a great addition for them and help Giles, Ramirez and the clubhouse immeasurably.

Jeff Cain of West Chester

Q: Last week you mentioned Jim Thome in two answers (one was a possible 2004 starting lineup, the other an "if they can't afford him"). I'd love to see Thome with the Bucs. Did you mention him as wishful thinking or do you really think the the Pirates could make a legit run at him?

Ryan Patton of Mechanicsburg

Q: Thome, huh? I know this is a favorite move of yours, but I think it's a little bit out there. Like way out there. Nonetheless, if he's in the lineup, I'll buy you the beverage of your choice.

Matt Walker of Waverly, Iowa

MEYER: Matt, save your money. Doesn't appear to be any way the Pirates can afford Jim Thome - although he certainly would look good in the middle of next season's Pirate lineup. Thome, who turned 32 years old in late August, is likely to command a contract worth at least $12 to $15 million annually and be of perhaps five or six years in length.

The only way I can see the Pirates having a remote chance at acquiring Thome is if he'd be willing to play next year for much less than, say, $15 million and sign a contract that has a lot of the money spread over the final four years or so.

I don't see this happening, however. And I think the Pirates don't, either.

Thanks to all of you who responded. Sorry if this got hopes up too high.


Q: I was looking at the projected pitching staffs for the next couple of seasons and I couldn't help but notice one name missing -- Joe Beimel. He has had it rough so far in his career, but could he become a decent major league pitcher? I mean he has done well for a guy who went from Class AA directly to the majors. Do you think the Pirates will let him go completely or keep him in the system and see how he develops?

Justin Nappe of St. Marys

MEYER: My bad, Justin. I completely forgot about your homie, Joe Beimel. I should have included him somewhere on that 2004 staff, probably in the bullpen. He could be that "Some Relatively Inexpensive Left-hander" guy. He's definitely in the Pirate plans - especially if they do trade Scott Sauerbeck at some point.


Q: Why did the Pirates get rid of a good baseball guy like Tommy Sandt? The guy knows how to coach infielders (witness Pokey Reese, Jack Wilson, Carlos Garcia, Jose Lind, Jay Bell). And he is the kind of traditional, fundamental baseball man that this young team needs. Seems like a raw deal for someone who has been around our organization for so long. And it will seem weird since going back into the 1980's when I began following the Buccos not to see his distinct mustache looking down the first base line.

Brian Pandya of Ann Arbor, Mich.

MEYER: I talked to Tommy recently. He said he wasn't given a reason for his contract not being renewed and he didn't ask for a reason. My guess is, the Pirates really want to shake up their coaching staff because not much has gone right over the past 10 seasons. I think they could use new coaches with new insights and new perspectives. Perhaps one or two people from way outside the Pirate organization who either haven't been with them for quite some time or who have never been with them.

Maybe that person or persons from way outside has heard a lot about what could be wrong here - or has seen what could be wrong here - and can help solve that.


Q: In response to your inquiry re: all right-handed staffs, I found the following (I only included teams that made the playoffs):

1992 Oakland (Stewart, Welch, Moore, Darling, Slusarski, Downs) went 96-66, team ERA 3.73 (fourth in AL, albeit in a pitchers' park). Won division.

2001 Houston Astros (Mlicki, Reynolds, Oswalt, Miller, Elarton) went 93-69, team ERA 4.37 (10th in NL, but in a hitters' park). Won division.

From 1995-1999 the Indians never had a significant lefty starter, yet won their division each year.

I admittedly could do more research on that, but I decided then to look only at World Series champions, 1975-present. Among WS winners, I found:

1993 Blue Jays (Guzman, Hentgen, Stottlemyre, Morris, Stewart) went 95-67 and had the fifth best ERA in the AL at 4.37 (Al Leiter, a left-hander, was on the staff but only started 12 games for them).

1984 Detroit Tigers didn't have even one start by a lefty all year (first time I've seen that amongst playoff teams), yet went 104-58 with an ERA of 3.49, tops in the AL...and won the World Series.

Those are the only 2 World Series winners that had no significant lefty presence in their rotations. So we must conclude it is possible to win without a lefty starting pitcher but extremely rare. And given the dimensions of PNC Park, I'd say we'd be better off having a quality lefty or two in the rotation. Hope this helps!

Dave Glass of Clearfield


Q: I wouldn't call it one of the great rotations of all time, but the Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series (the one that ended with Joe Carter's home run off Mitch Williams) and I believe their rotation for that season was mainly right-handers Pat Hentgen, Juan Guzman, Jack Morris, Todd Stottlemyre and Dave Stewart Also, if I recall correctly, the Jays went through the playoffs that year with only one left-hander on their entire postseason pitching staff.

The 1989 Oakland A's won the AL title using mostly a four-man rotation of right-handers Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch and Storm Davis. They used lefty Curt Young as a spot starter in the fifth spot, but I don't recall him playing as large a role as the four righties.

Marc of Pittsburgh


Q: Just a clarification on the question regarding pitching rotations comprised of all righties. I believe the Dodgers went six or seven years recently without starting a lefty. They didn't win a World Series, but they were much better than the Pirates!

Todd of Cranberry

Q: You asked last week if there were any all-righty rotations that have performed well. I immediately thought of the Dodgers of the mid-1990s, and after doing some research, I found some interesting stats. From 1995-1997, the Dodgers went 256-212 (.547). In 1995 they won the NL West and the Wild Card in 1996. The pitching staff recorded ERAs of 3.66, 3.48 and 3.63 in those years.

The rotation for those seasons all featured Ramon Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdes, Tom Candiotti and either Pedro Astacio or Chan Ho Park. All right-handers. The Dodgers certainly weren't the best team in baseball over that stretch, but they made the playoffs twice and had one of the top pitching staffs in the league. This is as close as I could come to finding a dominant all-righty rotation.

Jon Shoup-Mendizabal of Alexandria, Va.

MEYER: Thanks to all of you who did my work for me! I'd agree it's possible to have some success with an all-right-handed rotation - in general - but I believe the Pirates need one or two left-handers in their rotation because of PNC Park's right field dimensions. Heck, a guy like Jim Thome would. . .uh, scratch that.

Suffice to say a left-handed starter or two would be good for the Pirates. But that lefty or two had better be able to pitch. I'd rather have a decent right-hander than just any left-hander just because you should have a lefty.


Q: Paul, I was a little surprised in last week's Q&A when you mentioned that the Pirates might be focusing more on acquiring a right fielder instead of a center fielder. Is the Pirates brain trust really that confident that Rob Mackowiak is the answer in 2003 until Tony Alvarez is ready in 2004? While I admire the job Rob did in 2002, in PNC Park's spacious center field his shortcomings defensively will stand out -- not to mention his streaky offensive production.

Looking at the center fielders available in free agency, Doug Glanville might be a good stopgap for a couple of years, but he has declined offensively the last few years, so it could be risky. Steve Finley would be an interesting solution if he could be signed to a reasonable contract in terms of money and length considering his age. He is a veteran player who's been on winning teams, so maybe he could also bring some more clubhouse leadership to the core group (Giles, Kendall, Williams, etc). In his years with Arizona he has had solid to great years of offensive production, bats left-handed and still plays well in center field defensively. Do you think the Pirates have any chance and/or interest in him? Or will some team like Texas drive up his price too high?

Ron Anderson of Lincoln, Neb.

MEYER: I'm not saying the Pirates already have decided that Rob Mackowiak is their regular center fielder for 2003. I'm only saying I think he'll get a decent chance to be their regular center fielder for 2003 - for now. A lot could change over the next several months. They could trade for a center fielder. They could sign a free agent center fielder.

However, I don't think Doug Glanville is the answer. Finley is interesting because of the reasons you cite. However, he'll turn 38 years old March 12 and seems on the downside of what's been a nice career. I don't think he'd be worth the cash outlay.


Q: Ever the optimist, I think if Rios, Ramirez and Kendall complete their healing over the winter, the Bucs' lineup could do some damage in 2003. I like the idea of giving strong-arm Mackowiak a shot in center, with a lineup of: Second base Reese, catcher Kendall, leftfield Giles, third base Ramirez, first base/catcher Wilson, right field Rios, center field Mackowiak, shortstop J. Wilson. Even if Mackowiak is just adequate defensively, 20 or so home runs is pretty nice in the seven spot.

Matt Nicholas of Philadelphia

MEYER: That's probably what the Pirates think, too, Matt. I think Mackowiak would hold his own defensively in center field. I mentioned last week that he has a great arm and that he runs better than most people think. If he can somehow cut down on his strikeouts, he'll be a more productive hitter, too. I'd think a 25-home run season isn't out of the question.


Q: I was hoping you could clear something up for me. Did I read that only four Pirates' players are on an "official off-season" workout regime? If so that seems somewhat weak or is that the norm in baseball?

James Hoffman of McCandless

MEYER: I think you read that Aramis Ramirez, Jimmy Anderson, Craig Wilson and Kris Benson are players the Pirates are going to pay close attention to during the off-season as far as their health and/or weight is concerned. That doesn't mean the rest of the players are just slacking off. It just means there are four players who are on the "really watch" list.

All players do quite a bit of working out and lifting and running and throwing and hitting during the off-season. That's the norm these days.


Q: What are the plans for Adam Hyzdu for next season?

Herb McFarland of Brentwood, Calif.

MEYER: If he isn't sold to a Japanese team - as he almost was last off-season - Hyzdu will have an opportunity during spring training to win a spot on the Pirates' bench. If he does, he can help. He can spot start occasionally in the outfield and pinch-hit.


Q: I've got a prospect question. I've seen a fair amount written about some of the Pirates' minor league players, but one player I haven't seen anything written about is Chris Shelton, who played last year at Hickory. Shelton missed the early part of last season, but ended up hitting .340 with 17 home runs and 65 RBIs in 332 at-bats. Although he was frequently used as the designated hitter, he only made one error in 78 games in the field. Is Shelton considered a legitimate prospect? How old is he?

Richard Douglas of Albuquerque, N.M.

MEYER: Shelton turned 22 years old last June 26. A right-handed batter and thrower, Shelton, 6-0, 205, was the Pirates' 33rd-round pick in the 2001 draft out of the University of Utah. He had a good season for Williamsport in the New York-Penn league in 2001, batting .305 with two home runs and 33 RBIs.

The Pirates like Shelton's bat quite a bit, but there seems to be some question about his defensive ability. He's one of those players whose bat might get him to the major leagues, but it's way too early to tell for sure about that. He'll start next season at Class A Lynchburg, play some first base and catch and we'll take it from there.

If he has another productive season in 2003, we'll probably be discussing Shelton in this space again next off-season.


Q: Please tell Kevin McClatchy -- No Iron City/Giant Eagle Thunderstix Night! Those things need to be banned. I can already see the promotion now - 5,000 Thunderstixs being tossed onto the field after an error. These things are the most annoying things ever made after those horrible red foam tomahawks (in Atlanta). I know you got some pull with the big guy, Paul. Help the fans enjoy PNC Park without the annoying distractions.

Alex Rutkowski of St. Louis

MEYER: I don't have any pull with Kevin McClatchy, Alex, but I don't think we need to worry about the Pirates having a Thunderstix Night next year. I did some checking with their front office. Doesn't appear to be any kind of promotion like this on the schedule for 2003.

That's not to say that if - or when - the Pirates do play in the post-season again there won't be Thunderstix passed out to fans at that point, however.

But if you go to a game, say, in May at PNC Park, you won't have to worry about Thunderstix. Besides, the Pirates' main concern right now is to get some thunder sticks into their lineup.


Q: Paul, in reference to the question from the reader about Thunderstix, I thought I'd share some firsthand experience with them.

When the Penguins played the Capitals in the 2000/01 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, I was lucky enough to get tickets to all three games at the MCI Center. (Keep in mind that this was the year when infamous Caps owner Ted Leonsis tweaked the Caps Website so that fans with a Pittsburgh area code couldn't buy tickets for the games online. There weren't many Pens fans in the building for these games.)

Anyway, they distributed Thunderstix to fans as they entered the building for the first game -- although in an act of blatant discrimination, they didn't give me any since I was wearing my No. 66 jersey. The building was full, and the noise level those things created when the crowd got fired up was incredible. I would say that, if used correctly, their noise is comparable to a snare drum -- echoing 15,000 times over.

The most annoying thing, however, is that fans tend to hold them up over their heads, which makes it even tougher to see the game than, say, newly installed safety netting. Of course, lucky for me and any other persons intent on keeping their hearing and watching the game, there wasn't that much for Caps fans to get excited about, since we beat them on the road in two out of three games and gave up a total of only three goals.

Wait a minute -- this is the Pirates Q&A, not the Penguins. Shoot, my mistake. OK, my two relevant cents. Good move on the Bucs part to keep Lloyd McClendon. He obviously deserves another year to try and keep things moving in the right direction.

Greg of Washington, D.C.

MEYER: Cute 'n at, Greg.


Q: No question, just a comment on the lack of respect for (Bill Mazeroski's) home run in the "100 greatest moments" poll. I suspect one big reason isn't Pittsburgh but rather the lack of color TV footage (or at least a better angle on the shot). Bobby Thomson's home run to win the Giants the pennant in 1951 isn't getting any votes, either. And that was a New York team.

Tim Maher of Bethel Park

MEYER: Good point about the lack of color footage of the home runs by Mazeroski and Thomson, Tim, although I like those old grainy black and white pictures. It's surprising Thomson's "Shot heard 'round the world" isn't getting more support - just as it's surprising Maz's home run isn't, either.


Q: Just a quick note to let Mark Whited of Reston, Va., know that he is not alone in being tired of Pittsburgh being overlooked in sports such as MLB's greatest moments not including Maz's 1960 home run in the top 10 greatest moments ever.

I could submit a comment weekly on things that bother me about New York getting over publicized and Pittsburgh being under publicized, but I get tired of talking about it after a while and just let it go. Mark, you are 100 percent right -- if a Yankee had done the same thing to the Pirates as Maz did to them, it would now be known as not only the greatest moment in MLB history but as the greatest moment in all of sports!

Jeff Malone of Burgettstown

MEYER: Probably right up there with Bucky Dent's home run in Boston in 1978, Jeff.


Q: This is in response to the question regarding Bill Mazeroski's World Series home run not being voted into the Top Ten Great Moments of Baseball. Having lived in New York City the past 23 years, I've come to the realization that New Yorkers are not the most knowledgeable sports fans that they're made out to be. Oh, they know their hometown sports and know how to brag about all their great hometown teams that money can buy, but as far as knowing a great moment or two outside of their territory, fahget'bout it!

Having grown up in Pittsburgh and living through the times of Maz and the championship team that would follow, the seventh game walk-off home run against the Yankees will forever be the "Eternal Thorn" in their side. Need we rub it any deeper?

Fred Carroll of Pittsburgh

MEYER: Probably not.


Q: I enjoy reading Q&A each week. It's a good way to stay plugged in for those of us destined to forever be out of Pittsburgh. My question is when is the Bucs' spring training schedule going to be out? I can't find it on the Pirates Website. We are thinking of avoiding some of the Mardi Gras madness this year and enjoying the Bucs in Florida as they prepare for the 2003 campaign.

Bill Van Cleave of New Orleans, La.

MEYER: You can expect to see the Pirates' spring training schedule sometime in early or mid-November. As a rule of thumb, though, if you want to begin planning your trip, Bill, during March the Pirates play a game in Bradenton every other day on the average.

Say you arrived in Bradenton - or thereabouts - on a Sunday afternoon and stayed through the following Saturday. During that week, the Pirates would play three or four games at McKechnie Field - and perhaps another one or two in nearby Sarasota or St. Petersburg.

However, they could play a game or two in Fort Myers that week. Don't go down there. Too far to drive. Take a day off from ball and go to the beach.

Remember to pack the sun screen 'n at! Oh, yeah. And the Sharpies.

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