Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Will Ohman disses the Pirates and other weird happenings in Bradenton

Look, I'm well aware of the many shortcomings of our local baseball club. I know they are on the verge of setting the all-time record for most consecutive losing seasons in major professional sports history. And I know how miserable that culture of losing can be for the players.

But this just seems weird to me. Will Ohman was so against signing with the Pirates he turned down a guaranteed, major-league contract with your hometown Buccos to sign with the LA Dodgers on a minor-league deal that offers him no guarantee of big-league pay or time in the majors. I know Ohman wanted to play on the West Coast, but that is a BIG difference between the two deals. Suffice it to say, I think this might have had a bit to do with the letters stitched across the front of the uniform. If, say, the World Champion Philly Phillies had come calling with the same offer the Pirates extended to Ohman, I imagine the veteran lefty would have jumped at that chance. Not to mention that Ohman left the Pirates major league deal sitting on the table for 9 whole days, despite the fact that he had no other offers whatsoever at the time. If I'm the Pirates' management, I am sooooooooo pissed right now at Ohman and his agent for embarassing them like this. Unfortunately, no embarassment from not being wanted by a below-average lefty reliever can match the embarassment of the worst run in the recorded history of sports.

I'm not sure what exactly is going on down in Bradenton or what is in the water, but there is some other weird stuff happening too, it seems. Let's take a look at some of these weird happenings:

-The Pirates open up against the Cardinals in exactly 7 days, and someone named Virgil Vasquez, who may or may not have pitched in the California Penal League last season, is still in the mix for a rotation spot. I follow the Pirates as closely as almost anyone, and I have no friggin' idea who in the world Virgil Vasquez is. I'm hoping and praying he is being used just to push Jeff Karstens and will be discarded to AAA never to be heard from again just before the season starts. If he comes north as the fifth starter, though, I'm going to have some serious concerns.

-Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson are both making pushes to stay with the Pirates for the foreseeable future. And Jumpin' Jack even approached the Pirates about an extension and it appeared that they are at least willing to listen. Oh, and on a related note, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Look, I have no problem with Jack and Freddy holding the fort down this season. They lock down important positions on the diamond for a team that is in flux. But neither one, not even the former batting champ Sanchez, is a building block for a team that's most realistic timetable to contend is 2011. Both are 31 years old (Freddy is a whopping 8 days older) and would then be 33 before the 2011 season commences. And neither one is exactly aging very well.

Look at the numbers. Jumpin' Jack has had two good seasons in his 8 with the Bucs (04 and an underrated 07), but has never had much consistency at the plate, too often going hot and cold to be seriously relied upon. And you can't possibly tell me you think he isn't about to fall off a cliff offensively. Unless of course you want to argue he already fell off that cliff last season. Then I might listen. He was never exactly Alex Rodriguez to begin with, but I think a .270/.320/.380 is the best we can hope for this year, and that is only going to go downhill from there. Folks, those are dreadful numbers. Just dreadful.

And the exact same things can be said for Freddy Sanchez. Freddy probably can put up better numbers than Jack, but I just don't see him aging well. If he hits .290/.330/.420 that's probably as good as we could hope for. Like I said, I'm fine with that as a placeholder in a rebuilding effort while guys like Shelby Ford develop. But I am not fine when he's batting .270/.300/.380 in 2012 and unable to move to his right.

And I definitely am NOT fine with ignoring proven metrics like OPS and VORP in favor of fan logic like "he won a batting title a few years back" "he's a good guy to have around" "he makes good plays in the field" and "stats don't measure all he contributes." If either one of those guys gets an extension, especially Wilson, I am going to lose a ton of faith in this management team.

-The Jose Tabata story. I'm not even remotely going to blame the kid for what happened there, as I am only a little bit older and have definitely done some dumb stuff in my life, and I have no pressure on me and live in the same city I've spent my whole life in. Quite a bit different from Jose, so I can see where the issues come from. Tabata's life has been chaotic to this point, and I was struck most by his display in the face of the turmoil. Hell, I expected some kind of immaturity from him at some point, but I thought the character he displayed was tremendous in the face of this adversity. Good for you Jose. I hope you turn out to be the tremendous player you are expected to be, for more than just my own selfish reasons now. Anyway, let's hope he learns from this. But whatever your opinion of all this, there's no denying it certainly was a weird one.

-Nyjer Morgan has probably been one of the 2 or 3 worst hitters on the entire roster this spring, yet he is still being considered for the opening day left fielder job. I thought Huntington and Coonelly were all into sending messages and stuff. If that's the case, Nyjer should be taking outfield instruction with guys like Tabata and getting ready to make the trip to Indy to open the AAA season. That said, I won't be terribly upset if he makes the opening day roster, as he's too old to be playing AAA at age 28, but if he is starting in left over Hinske and Monroe, and especially if he is leading off, my head might just explode. That would be a Littlefieldian move. And I just threw up in my mouth a little bit again.

-Brian Bixler, all of a sudden, actually has a future as a major league player it seems. After that disastrous debut last season at the ripe old age of 25 I had just about written him off as being a noteworthy prospect. Best case scenario I figured Bix would be a mediocre utility backup infielder. Nothing to get excited about. Well, he absolutely tore it up this spring by all accounts, and while spring training results can be quite deceptive at times, everyone seems quite impressed by this. That includes Neal Huntington. I still am wary of Bix as anything more than a utility infielder, but his ceiling as a potential low-end everyday player has been re-established. And when Jumpin' Jack is (hopefully) traded this summer I have no problem with Bix getting a 2+ month tryout to prove himself at shortstop.

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