Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Deals that Built the Bucs

Famed author C.S. Lewis once said, “With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere.” For Pirates fans, it’s very easy to identify where they Pirates two decades of failure began (Thanks, Sid Bream). But these are the new Pirates, a group of players to whom losing a game has seemed foreign for the past two months. But as Lewis stated, these Pirates had to begin somewhere.

July 26, 2008

Pirates send Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Yankees for Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Daniel McCutchen

This was perhaps the best trade of the Huntington era in terms of total value. Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady never truly caught on in New York. Nady played admirably for the remainder of the 2008 season, while Marte starred in the 2009 playoffs, but never much beyond that.

The Pirates ended up having all four of their minor leaguers in the deal spend time with the club. Ohlendorf has moved on, and McCutchen is in AAA this year after spending most of last year in the Pirates bullpen. Tabata has had decent success as the Pirates leadoff hitter, but is struggling to regain his form.

The biggest catch of that group was perhaps the one least likely, Jeff Karstens. He has been one of pitching coach Ray Searage’s biggest successes. While not having an overpowering fastball (90-92 mph), he exhibits tremendous control over his breaking pitches. If the Pirates are going to make a run in the playoffs, you can bet that Karstens will play a key role.

June 30, 2009

Pirates send Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan

Nyjer Morgan has admittedly had more success in the major leagues than I ever thought he would. For a former hockey player with an eclectic personality, he’s done quite well for himself.

But this trade has been instrumental in the Pirates success. Milledge may have fizzled out, but Joel Hanrahan is a two-time All-Star who has become an elite closer in the majors. Back in 2009, the Pirates didn’t have to worry about that too often. Now that they’ve started their winning ways, we see how important it is to have a shutdown guy in the bottom of the 9th. Another great deal for Neal.

July 31, 2010

Pirates send Octavio Dotel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andrew Lambo and James McDonald

Given what we know now, this trade is laughable. Dotel pitched in all of 19 games for LA, and was dealt in September of 2010 to the Rockies. James McDonald, in turn, has become one of the elite pitchers in the National League. But it’s very easy to forget that he essentially was a toss-in. The one that the Pirates were particularly interested in was Lambo, who was one of the darlings of the Dodgers organization, until he got into issues with PED use. Here in Pittsburgh, he’s become a forgotten man in the Pirates minor league system. Seriously, totally forgotten. Like, I don’t know where he is. Remember that kid from The Sandlot that got really into the 60s, and no one ever saw him again? That’s Andrew Lambo.

June 13, 2011

Pirates acquire Michael McKenry from the Red Sox in exchange for a Primanti’s Capicola and Egg sandwich or something like that.

McKenry may not be tall enough to ride everything at Kennywood, but his value to this team has been beyond measure. Right now he’s averaging a home run every 15 at-bats. That’s just insane for a player like him.

July 21, 2011

Pirates sign Jason Grilli to a minor league deal.

Why the hell didn’t anybody want this guy?

February 18, 2012

Pirates trade Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno to the Yankees for A.J. Burnett

If you had to Google search Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno, you’re not alone. I still don’t know who they are. Nor do I care.

Before the season, I said I thought Burnett was a mediocre pitcher, and I think I even compared him to Matt Morris at one point. That shows you how much I know. If the Pirates 2012 season were a human body, Burnett would be the spine. Even if you excuse his outstanding performance on the mound (you shouldn’t anyways), what he’s given to the clubhouse is the knowledge of a veteran guy who has been around the block. He’s helped James McDonald reach his full potential. He keeps the guys loose. Along with Rod Barajas, he’s helped the entire team gel with one another. After Andrew McCutchen of course, Burnett should be the MVP of this team.

Above all else, Bucco fans, enjoy this. Wherever this team goes in August, September and (potentially) October; never forget where you came from. The heartbreak of the past 20 years is gone, even if it’s only temporary. Love this team as it is, right here and right now.

Even if they like crappy movies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


"And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I'll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out"
-The Avett Brothers

There's a ticket stub that sits on my nightstand. It's been there for almost a month now (Yeah, I should clean, don't judge me). It says December 5, 2011- Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins. It was an ordinary loss, an ordinary December night. Normally, those ticket stubs eventually find their spot amongst candy wrappers and apple cores in whatever landfill Waste Management deems fit.

But I just can't throw this one away. I wish I could. But I always end up asking myself, "Did I see Sidney Crosby's last game?"

For the last 367 calendar days, words like "indefinitely", "symptoms", "no timetable"; have become as routine to Penguin fans as tying their shoes. They've almost lost all meaning. Penguins fans are suffering from a rare phenomenon: being expectation-less. I'm not talking about "Dick Tarnstrom is our leading scorer," expectation-less. It's more like the feeling that things will never be the same again. As if years like 2008-09 were just a fever dream. Living without expectation isn't saying that things can't get any worse, it's not seeing how they can possibly get any better.

And that's where we are today. The talk that ensued a month and a half ago about Crosby coming back and winning the scoring title feels distant and frankly, foolish. With all due respect to the current roster, Evgeni Malkin in particular, watching Pens games has become an exercise in "concussion-like symptoms" for Pens fans. Cheer as we may, there's a very numbing quality to watching these contests, as if our own vision is blurred, our memories fogged. When I think back to recent games, I often have trouble even remembering things that happened, as if they had existed only in the abstract.

In such uncertain situations, it remains very difficult to garner any sort of perspective. In six months, we could look back at this time and think how crazy we were for thinking it was even in the realm of possibility for Sidney Crosby not to suit up again. Or we could (frightfully) look back and wonder how we could have ever been so optimistic. The only thing I know is that (and I hope I speak for all Pens fans when I say this) I'd rather see Sidney Crosby retire at 24 than not be able to recognize his family at 40. The former would be heartbreaking, but the latter would be tragic.

The lack of updates are unsettling, yet familiar. The news that leaks out is vague at best. We don't know where Sid is, or really how he is, only that his symptoms aren't as "aggressive" as a year ago. Though we've seen this song and dance before (Remember when they called it a "mild" concussion last year?), so we've learned to take words like this with a grain of salt. Any good news that we'll hear in the future about Sid will be met with a nervous optimism, not an unbridled one.

But at this point, most of us will take whatever we can get.

So how will this all end?

Our hope is that one day Crosby will awake to find his own personal clouds lifted. That he can do what he loves the same way he used to, and we can understand again what a privilege it is to watch him do it. My own hope is that I can wake up and finally have that ticket stub meet the same fate as the others, casting away with it my own personal fears and doubts. But that hope, like all else at this time, remains indefinite.