Thursday, March 05, 2015

Taillon ready to shed top prospect label

BRADENTON, Fla. — It seems Jameson Taillon has been a prospect forever.
The Pirates selected the right-hander with the second overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft following his senior year of high school in suburban Houston. Nearly five years later, he has yet to pitch in a major league game.
Compounding matters is that the player selected behind him, infielder Manny Machado, has already won an American League Gold Glove as a third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and been selected to an All-Star Game. He is just 22, eight months younger than Taillon, who turned 23 last November.
It is only natural to wonder how good an already very formidable Pirates lineup would be with Machado in it, especially with Taillon rehabbing from the Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery he underwent last April.
However, the Pirates don’t second-guess their decision and have been encouraged with how Taillon has looked this spring.
“What I’m seeing (is) that he’s feeling real good, the ball is coming out of his hand very nice,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said after a recent spring training workout. “He looks free and easy. You don’t have to watch him long to understand why he is so highly regarded.”
The Pirates signed Taillon to a $6.5 million bonus to persuade him to give up a scholarship to Rice University. Like many young pitchers, his development has not been linear, as he has gone 16-21 with a 3.72 ERA in 75 games over four minor league seasons.
Taillon made it to Class AAA Indianapolis for seven starts at the end of the 2013 season and seemed primed to make his major league debut sometime last summer. Tommy John surgery halted that timetable.
However, Taillon is getting closer to the end of his rehab. He will likely face hitters in live batting practice next week for the first time since the surgery and could be in Indianapolis’ rotation by May 1.
He is still considered a top prospect. Baseball America ranks him No. 2 in the Pirates’ strong farm system behind only fellow righty Tyler Glasnow.
“The positive about this whole process is that it’s been a learning experience,” Taillon said. “I’ve learned more about taking care of my arm and taking care of my bod. I’m going to be (a) better pitcher in the long run because of this.”
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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

El Toro holds the power in 2015

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez swings as he hits a three-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a spring training exhibition baseball game, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Dunedin, Fla. (The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette/Associated Press)

The crack of the bat was loud. The reaction on twitter was louder, and left no doubt about which player Pirates fans are most hopeful about this season.
Pedro Alvarez’s opposite-field, three-run home run yesterday, coming on his first spring training at-bat, was impressive. What was more striking was the overwhelming outpouring of cautious optimism in the form of tweets mentioning “El Toro” or daydreaming about a monster season from Alvarez.
Spring training stats are virtually meaningless to most seasoned observers. If a player already has a job, as Alvarez does, spring is the time to get settled in and not get hurt. Fans know this, too. They know how irrelevant the numbers are -- save for a rare case like Andrew Lambo’s March nosedive last season, one that seemed to cost him a spot on the opening day roster.

RELATED: Sean Rodriguez's switch presents new opportunities with Pirates


That fans reacted the way they did while still being aware of how trivial home runs are in March underscores how crucial Alvarez is to the Bucs’ success. A big year from Alvarez can do more for the Pirates than a breakout season by almost any other player. Gerrit Cole making the leap to ace could have a massive impact. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco doing their best Andrew McCutchen imitations would be enormously positive for the team as well.
No one can bring what Pedro can, though. In an era where offensive numbers are at historic lows, Alvarez represents the potential for instant offense, the ability to change a game or even a playoff series with one swing.
What makes Alvarez’s upcoming campaign so fascinating is that it represents the rare situation in which no outcome would be surprising. It is equally easy to visualize him hitting 35 home runs and playing a strong first base, or bombing at the plate and being mediocre defensively. He is a true wild card.
It seems that many fans harbor the opinion that Alvarez doesn’t work hard, doesn’t care, and should have been traded long ago. I’ve never understood that school of thought. All I’ve seen and heard suggests that Alvarez is a model teammate, a tireless worker, a thoughtful speaker, and if anything, a guy that cares too much.
To wit, Alvarez said yesterday that he takes every spring at-bat seriously, something I doubt most established players, even ones who have struggled at times, would be able to say under oath. That level of focus and care for the craft is rare, and makes him an awfully easy guy to root for.
If Alvarez takes to first base, the Pirates will get a nimble athlete whose skill set should make him overqualified for the position. If he regains a consistent home run stroke, the Pirates will get a thunderous bat that could easily lead all of baseball in home runs, and help to more than replace the lost production that Russell Martin took with him to Toronto.
If he doesn’t, Corey Hart will become far more important than the Pirates want him to be. If Pedro flames out at first base, he won’t have much purpose to the Bucs, and the team will be without a traditional middle-of-the-lineup power bat. The pressure to carry an offense that was very good without a productive Alvarez last year will ramp up even more. Polanco and Marte, as well as Josh Harrison, will all have to carry a big load.
McCutchen is the Pirates’ most irreplaceable player. That much is obvious. But he’s also a known commodity. It’s okay to pencil him in for a big season, because his track record is established.
Alvarez is the Pirates' most pivotal player. The team can win without a strong year from him, but it will be a tall order in a beefed-up National League Central.
A Pirates team featuring a ferocious, baseball-mashing menace with power to all fields and a nifty glove at first base? That’s not a fringe contender. That’s a very possible front-runner. That’s a team that can contend; not just for a division, but for a pennant and beyond.
Judging by the tweets on day one of spring training, many fans don’t need me to tell them that. They already know.
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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Pirates special instructor Tekulve taking second chance to heart


Monday, March 2, 2015, 10:06 p.m.
 
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates special instructor Kent Tekulve checks out new baseballs during practice before an intrasquad game Monday, March 2, 2015, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Kent Tekulve wasn't supposed to be in spring training camp with the Pirates this year. He wasn't supposed to be anywhere.
Tekulve, a 1979 World Series hero who will turn 68 on Thursday, had heart transplant surgery Sept. 5. The next morning, he awakened in the hospital and embraced his second chance at life.
“I'm able to look ahead again,” Tekulve said the other day while basking in Florida sunshine. “It changes everything — what's important, the way you look at things. I call this the bonus round. I am now in the bonus round because I wasn't supposed to be here. None of this was supposed to happen.”
When Tekulve's health began to deteriorate last year, he had to step away from his role as a studio analyst for Root Sports Pittsburgh. After receiving a new heart, Tekulve was surprised by how quickly his old life — especially his baseball life — returned.
“Everything that's happened to this point has been totally a shock to me,” Tekulve said. “I was out of the hospital in seven days. I was back at the ballpark in 28 days. Well in advance of spring training, I knew I was going to be ready to come back here to do this again and do all the other activities I do in Florida during the winter.”
In mid-January, Tekulve and his son eased his RV out of a snowy driveway in Pittsburgh and drove to the Gulf coast. He participated in Pirates fantasy camp. When spring training began two weeks ago, Tekulve resumed his role as a special pitching instructor.
“It's amazing,” said Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, who tutors infielders. “It's just good to see him up and around, like nothing ever happened. It's great to have him back.”
Monday morning, before the Black-Gold scrimmage at McKechnie Field, Tekulve was perched on a stool behind the right field bullpen. He peered through the screen as pitchers warmed up, offering snippets of advice.
Inside the huge, new facility at McKechnie Field is a clubhouse the High-A Bradenton team will use during the Florida State League season. For now, the room houses the Pirates' coaches and special instructors.
“Every time you get the old-timers together, there's going to be talk about the old days,” Mazeroski said.
“It's just like we've turned back the clock,” Tekulve said. “You pretty much go back to picking on each other and doing all the things you did when we were players.”
Manager Clint Hurdle believes it's important for guys like Teke and Maz, pivotal players in the franchise's glory days, to spend time with the current players.
“These guys pull for us all year long,” Hurdle said. “They're connected to the team. They want us to win as badly as they wanted to win when they wore the uniform. So it is special.”
Tekulve gives whatever he can to the guys on the field. And he takes a little something, too.
“When you're out there watching them do what you used to do when you were much younger — doing all the same drills, throwing all the same sides — it makes you think like you're still that young,” Tekulve said.
“For me, that's the biggest blessing of the whole thing. Being around baseball, I never really thought about how old I was or the aches and pains. Just like when I was 20 or 30, I've always thought, ‘What's going to happen today? What's ahead.'”
Tekulve paused and tapped his chest.
“You've got to temper it, though, and realize you're not really 20 or 30,” he said, smiling. “But you can dream.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.


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Rutherford adds experience to defense with Cole, Lovejoy

Ian Cole #28 of the St. Louis Blues clears the puck from in front of goaltender Brian Elliott #1 of the Blues as Nick Bjugstad #27 of the Florida Panthers attempts to secure the rebound at the BB&T Center on November 1, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida.
(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America

PITTSBURGH — Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford entered Monday hoping to bolster his blue line before the NHL trade deadline passed at 3 p.m. and he did that with two separate deals.
He acquired Ian Cole from the St. Louis Blues and brought in former Penguin Ben Lovejoy, acquiring him from the Anaheim Ducks.
“When we looked at our defense, despite the fact that it’s played pretty well at this point, we were concerned about the experience,” Rutherford said. “We were looking to upgrade, add more of a veteran presence.
“We felt to have a good run in the playoffs we needed more experience and that’s why we made these two deals.”
All acquisitions come at a cost and in this case the Penguins sent defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and a 2016 seventh-round draft pick to the Blues for Cole and former first-round draft pick Simon Despres to the Ducks for Lovejoy.
The thinking coming into deadline day was that the Penguins hoped to make themselves tougher to play against, but at first glance these acquisitions might not appear to have done that.
Despres led the Penguins with 184 hits and Bortuzzo ranked fifth with 116. Each player was also willing to drop the gloves as needed and were among the first to get involved when other teams took liberties with teammates.
Rutherford isn’t worried. He feels the players he acquired are more than capable of contributing in the ways the outgoing players did and bring an even more extensive skill set to the table.
“Both guys we got are capable hitters,” Rutherford said. “Clearly, the two guys we traded were more aggressive on the fighting side than the two guys we got back. But as we go along, I don’t believe down the stretch in the regular season there will be that many games, maybe a few, that we’ll need that. We’ll have to do it as a team unit, team toughness. But when you get to the playoffs it’s not as useful.”
Cole, 26, was drafted in the first round in 2010 and is skating in just his second full NHL season. He’s played in 54 games with the Blues this season, notching nine points (4G-5A) and posting a plus-16. His plus-16 ranks second on the team behind Paul Martin (+20) among Penguins players.
“He brings good depth to our blue line,” Rutherford said. “He’s had a very good year this year and we hope that continues here.”

Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy #6 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the Colorado Avalanche during preseason action at Pepsi Center on September 18, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Ducks defeated the Avalanche 2-1.
Ben Lovejoy #6 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the Colorado Avalanche during preseason action at Pepsi Center on September 18, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Ducks defeated the Avalanche 2-1.
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)

Lovejoy, who has 11 points (one goal) in 40 games for the Ducks this season, is a player that most of the front office was very familiar with, as Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin were with the team during his previous tenure with the club.
“We had a very, very long meeting this morning and this afternoon (about Lovejoy),” Rutherford said. “Most of (the front office) were here when Ben was here before. He was a young guy still feeling his way in the league. Since he’s gone to Anaheim he’s really blossomed. He’s really developed into a solid, consistent defender. Our guys felt very strong about reacquiring this player.”
Cole for Bortuzzo seemed to upgrade the defensive core and give the team a different look, but many around the league seemed to question the re-acquisition of Lovejoy, especially at the expense for a former first round pick in Despres.
Rutherford said that his management team didn’t find it easy to part with Despres, but that his play had dropped off a bit since the beginning of the season. There were inconsistencies that popped up and they felt that Lovejoy would be a better option heading into the playoffs.
He also added that with Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin all being part of the organization, there would come a time where they just wouldn’t have room for all of them, which gave them the flexibility to move the 23-year-old.
The deals might not have made the biggest splash of the day, but the Penguins did most of their dealing earlier in the season acquiring David Perron, Max Lapierre and Daniel Winnik via trade over the past few months.
Even with the moves that rivals in New York, Washington and Montreal made, Rutherford is confident that his team is built for postseason success.
“The Penguins have as good a chance as any team in the Eastern Conference,” Rutherford said. “As the year went a long we got stronger and stronger with the additions that we’ve made and all the adversity that we had to deal with. We feel we’ve strengthened our defense after going through the process of the forwards, getting more balance up front. So this is our team.”
The New (OLD) Guys:
Ian Cole, D — Cole, 6-feet-1, 219 pounds, was drafted in the first round in 2010. He is capable of playing a shutdown role, has good size and strength and is known to play a physical style. He also has some puck-moving skills and isn’t easy to play against. He has blocked 131 shots and collected 66 hits over the past two seasons.
Ben Lovejoy, D — Lovejoy, 6-feet-1, 206 pounds, enters his second stint with the Penguins a more mature player and one that is more comfortable in his own skin. Spending most of the past two seasons on the Ducks' top defensive pairing with Cam Fowler has helped him get more comfortable possessing and moving the puck. He ranked sixth on the Ducks last season with a plus-21 rating.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Penguins win 4th straight, top reeling Blue Jackets 5-3


By Will Graves
http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/teams/pit/
March 1, 2015


NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) skates with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 5-3. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston can tell a couple of shifts into a game what version of Evgeni Malkin the Penguins are going to get on a given night.

Three Stars

  1. Evgeni Malkin
    #71, Pittsburgh
    G:2
    A:1
    Pts:3
    +/-:0
    PPP:2
    SOG:6
  2. Derrick Pouliot
    #51, Pittsburgh
    G:1
    Pts:1
    +/-:-1
    PPP:1
    SOG:6
  3. Daniel Winnik
    #26, Pittsburgh
    A:1
    Pts:1
    +/-:1
    PPP:0
    SOG:0
When the dynamic if occasionally detached center is engaged, the Penguins are as explosive as any team in the league. Following a three-month funk that saw them slip off their usual perch atop the Eastern Conference, consider Pittsburgh back. The fact Malkin is leading the way is hardly a coincidence.
The former MVP scored twice and added an assist in a 5-3 win over Columbus on Sunday night as the Penguins won their fourth straight.
''You can see it early in the game with him,'' Johnston said. ''He gets out there. He's skating. He's hard on the loose pucks. He's lifting sticks. When he's engaged like that in the game, as he has been, he can be a dominant player like he was tonight.''
Malkin has five goals and six assists in his last five games, a hot streak augmented by a newly discovered backhand. Long a weakness, Malkin noticed better control with the shot after borrowing teammate Derrick Pouliot's stick.
''It's a little bit straighter and it's working,'' Malkin said. ''I like it because both sides you can shoot, and backhand looks easy, too.''
At the moment, everything does for the Penguins.
Pouliot, David Perron and Steve Downie also scored for Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby picked up two assists and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots as Pittsburgh sent the Blue Jackets to their sixth consecutive loss. The Penguins went 3 of 6 with the man advantage, scoring all three goals during a one-sided second period.
''We're more in sync with how we need to play,'' Johnston said. ''We've got some lines going.''
Curtis McElhinney made 36 saves for the Blue Jackets. James Wisniewski, Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno scored for the short-handed Blue Jackets, who had no answer when Malkin got rolling.
''We gave ourselves a good chance, but then penalties came into it and it's hard,'' Foligno said.
The Blue Jackets stunned the Penguins 2-1 on Feb. 19, with Brandon Dubinsky providing the winner late in the third period. Any momentum Columbus generated vanished almost immediately. The Blue Jackets haven't won since, a slide that has turned their disappointing season into something bordering disastrous for a club that took the Penguins to six spirited games in the opening round of the playoffs last spring.
There will be no rematch this time around. While Columbus is stumbling, the Penguins are surging.
Pittsburgh finished February by ripping off victories over St. Louis, Florida and Washington. The testy 4-3 triumph over the Capitals on the road last Wednesday seemed to ease growing anxiety about the Penguins' ability to compete with the Eastern Conference's best.
The revival didn't stop general manager Jim Rutherford from acquiring well-traveled forward Daniel Winnik from Toronto in exchange for Zach Sill and a pair of draft picks, with Rutherford not ruling out more deals before Monday's deadline. Brought in for needed depth and his penalty-killing smarts, Winnik played 13:04 in his first game in Pittsburgh, his sixth NHL stop, and picked up an assist on Downie's goal 18 seconds into the third that made it 5-1.
Yet whoever Rutherford adds, Pittsburgh's chances of making a deep playoff run will rely heavily on Crosby, Malkin and its erratic power play. At the moment, all three appear to be rounding into form. Crosby and Malkin both have 64 points - just off the league leaders - and the power play has scored in four straight.
''Our game is getting better,'' Johnston said. ''We're generating offense a little bit more.''
McElhinney made a pair of breakaway stops on Patric Hornqvist and Crosby early in the second period with the game tied at 1, but was helpless when the Blue Jackets went down two men following penalties to Wisniewski and Fedor Tyutin.
Perron banked in a shot from the goal line off Jack Johnson and by the surprised goaltender 2:34 into the second. Malkin's 24th goal of the season less than two minutes later didn't need a fortunate bounce. He pounded a one-timer by McElhinney from just inside the left circle to make it 3-1. Pouliot poured in Pittsburgh's third power-play goal of the period when the rookie defenseman pounced on a rebound off a shot by Hornqvist and the Penguins were in total control.
NOTES: Penguins D Rob Scuderi played in his 700th career game, 415 with Pittsburgh. ... Blue Jackets C Brandon Dubinsky missed his second straight game with a concussion. ... Pittsburgh scratched D Christian Ehrhoff to give him some extra time to prepare for a four-game West Coast road trip that begins Wednesday in Colorado. Ehrhoff missed almost a month with a concussion before playing 18 minutes against the Capitals. ... Columbus hosts Washington on Tuesday.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Pirates must pay for Mr. Right


Sunday, March 1, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Pedro Alvarez, left, and Andrew McCutchen wait in the batting cage during a baseball spring training workout in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP / AP
Pittsburgh Pirates' Pedro Alvarez, left, and Andrew McCutchen wait in the batting cage during a spring training workout in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP
BRADENTON, Fla.
There are 12 pictures, all in black and white, that line the wall of a hallway leading from the clubhouse to the fields at Pirate City. The pictures are of Pirates Hall of Famers, beginning with Honus Wagner and ending with Bill Mazeroski.

“We're waiting on some company,” Mazeroski said. “And Andrew… oh, well, Andrew would be great.”

He's absolutely right. Let's not ignore the something that everybody has started thinking.

Andrew McCutchen could be an all-time Pirate. And $25 million a year — the annual salary the Trib's Rob Biertempfel reported last week was possible on a McCutchen extension — would be a small price for the Pirates to pay if it meant making their best player a Pirate for life.

If not McCutchen, a 28-year-old former National League MVP playing on a team coming off consecutive postseason appearances and picked by many to win their division, then who? Who will ever become the next Pirates icon? Who will get the chance to add his picture to that Wall of Fame all Pirates players walk past every spring?

No. 22, that's who becomes picture No. 13. If not McCutchen, maybe nobody ever again will go all the way with the Pirates.

“I think we all reminisce about players dating a team for a long time,” Pirates president Frank Coonelly said. “When it happens — Cal Ripken with the Orioles, Derek Jeter and the Yankees, maybe Sidney Crosby for the Penguins — it's really special.

“We'd like that to be Andrew. He's a generational player for the Pirates.”

OFF AND RUNNING

On Saturday, after about four hours of hitting, fielding and running drills, McCutchen sat through a filmed interview with the Baseball Hall of Fame and then posed for a photo shoot with ESPN The Magazine. He was tired upon waking up.

Those off-field activities capped what felt like a week of West Coast doubleheaders. On Feb. 21, McCutchen filmed game-night videos that will be shown on PNC Park's video board. The next seven days brought a lot more: “bumpers” (TV promos) for Root Sports Pittsburgh; sit-down conversations with Fox Sports 1, MLB Network, and Pittsburgh- and Florida-based broadcast crews; web videos for MLB.com; staged pictures for the Pirates and Nike; and a commercial for Sony.

That is a lot of action for a New York Yankee let alone a Pittsburgh Pirate, according to a former Yankee who would know.

“He's Derek Jeter in a different city,” said backup catcher Chris Stewart, who played two seasons with Jeter. “Andrew could do all of this in New York. That's just the type of person he is. He just happens to be in Pittsburgh.”

But he won't finish up in Pittsburgh, right? Barry Bonds didn't, and he was the best Pirate since Roberto Clemente. Money talks, and Pirates walk. We've all read this story. We're all counting down to 2018, which will mark McCutchen's last summer in Pittsburgh.

I'm not so sure.

On Saturday, I caught myself wondering whether McCutchen might be developing a kindred spirit with the greatest Pirate, Roberto Clemente, who appreciated that his stardom could be used for a greater good.

McCutchen and I talked about his contribution to The Players' Tribune, an online site that affords athletes the chance to work with professional writers and tell their own story. McCutchen's “Left Out” dropped in January, and I explained to him my theory that the piece took Pittsburgh's best baseball player and turned him into something much bigger, somebody who was more than a collection of awesome statistics.

“The influence,” McCutchen said.

The best part of superstardom, McCutchen said, are the opportunities it provides “to get my name out there, to get opportunities to give attention” to things he believes in.

He believes baseball can deliver hope and help to poor people.

McCutchen could have written about being a standout black player in a sport that has lost a generation of black athletes to basketball and football. That's what everybody was expecting. But people of all colors are impoverished, he said. Families of all colors face tough choices, he said.
“Left Out” referenced black baseball players once, in the 14th of 18 paragraphs.

We would all do well to remember that what makes McCutchen “Cutch” is his penchant to defy expectations. He's never pigeonholed. He's always becoming something more. The leadoff hitter turns into the middle-of-the-order MVP. The next-Pirate-to-leave turns into the Pirate-who-stayed. The potential voice of black baseball becomes an example for low-income people of any color.

“I feel I have the voice to be able to speak,” McCutchen said, seeming as if he soon will start speaking on a lot more.

“Earlier, I feel like people would have been, like, ‘Who's this guy?' ”

I suspect we're just getting to that answer. And I wonder if the comparison no Pirate player would ever want — the next Clemente ­— is one McCutchen can run down, if only ownership permits him the opportunity.

COST OF HISTORY

There are reasonable guesses. McCutchen is close to his representatives, who want him in New York or Los Angeles. He dearly loves his wife, who is from DuBois. There are other possibilities, but there isn't a clear answer to a question that will determine the future of the Pirates on and off the field, not to mention the perception of them in Pittsburgh and around baseball.

Who makes the call on “Cutch”?

If McCutchen isn't the next Clemente, he's at least the next Bonds. And let's hope history doesn't repeat itself.

The lesson to be remembered from Bonds' epic tenure — yeah, it was epic: he won two MVPs and produced three division titles — is to not let the franchise player reach free agency. Bonds did, left for San Francisco, and the Pirates didn't win again for 20 seasons.

The franchise went on life support. The fans went into a collective coma. Only the tax-payer-funded construction of PNC Park prevented the ship from sinking, or at least moving on.

History will show McCutchen pulled the Pirates from the depths, and so will the bank statements (if we ever could get them).

“I don't think you can quantify his value with any hard numbers like jersey sales, tickets, etc.,” Coonelly said.

I don't think anybody can quantify the damage that would be done by McCutchen not forever playing as a Pirate. His departure would devastate every young fan to have found baseball the past three years. His leaving would forever lose the faith of the public and private sectors.

Signing McCutchen to an extension he deserves (at least $22 million annually) would be a huge risk to a franchise with an on-field budget, but it also is the cost of doing business for a franchise that finally found its footing among the other beloved teams in a City of Champions.

The Pirates are nowhere near a high-payroll team, having cracked $90 million for the first time. Their regional TV deal is nowhere near the $75 million the Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly will receive annually. Their attendance was around 2.4 million last season, but that is nowhere near the 3 million that really makes for great baseball towns.

Owner Bob Nutting probably does “love seeing (McCutchen) in a Pirates uniform.” However, even a game-changing, system-bucking, creative contract for McCutchen probably wouldn't allow the Pirates to keep him and still have the means to build a winner around him.

Yet, over the past three days at Pirate City, I keep looking at that wall and those 12 pictures. When my gaze isn't stuck there, it's locked on Mazeroski walking around the four baseball fields and batting cages.

“I see what you're saying,” said Neil Walker, the Pirate from Pine-Richland who like the rest of us has been waiting a long time for a Next One. “There's no next guy.”

McCutchen might just be the last player to have what it takes to become the 13th picture on that wall.
That makes him priceless, and it leaves the Pirates with no choice but to pay him.

Think about the future, Mr. Nutting. Yours. Ours. And all those players who will keep looking to that wall at Pirate City.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.


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