March 29, 2013

Bucn It Up, Chavez Style: Pirates Preview '013

By ROBINZON CHAVEZ    
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL, ALLEGEDLY.


The author is one of the most irresponsible employees in the history of America-Thrust, disappearing for months at a time, ignoring deadlines, missing scheduled flights, and engaging in an unprofessional amount of general asshattery. It has reached the point at which the staff is seriously considering a mutiny against the author, who also, for the time being, holds the position of editor-publisher-at-large.

Had Mr. Chavez set foot on the America-Thrust campus at any time in the last year, this mutiny most certainly would have already occurred; there is a stockpile of leather straps and a row of holding cells in the basement of the Shed Building for just such an occasion.

As it is, for the last year the author has maintained only e’mail and text message contact with headquarters, mainly with Robb Witmer Full, the man tasked with holding the whole operation together with the figurative dental-floss that Mr. Chavez has left in place of any organizational structure. This correspondence is sporadic at best, but allows Mr. Full to maintain the illusion that the author is returning to work, thus keeping the staff at manageable levels of riotousness.

Most recently, Mr. Full has been attempting to direct the author toward fulfilling an assignment he was given last year: covering the Pittsburgh Pirates. While Mr. Chavez did make the trip to Pittsburgh, and even rented an apartment within hours of arriving in the city, the America-Thrust Pittsburgh Bureau did not file one story, and even his occasional tweets had turned to the subject of football within a few weeks.

However, this season Mr. Full assigned an intern to be Mr. Chavez’s personal escort for the entire baseball season, keeping him on task as best he can, and — most importantly — keeping him away from trouble and out of police custody. The intern’s name is Preston.

The author will be rendezvousing with Preston this Sunday, the day before the season opener at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Mr. Chavez has spent the last two weeks following the team during Grapefruit League action, from his home in Pirate’s Paradise, FL, which is a short trip from Bradenton, the spring training home of the Pirates.

What follows is a selection of the correspondence between the author and Mr. Full in the lead up to Mr. Chavez’s assignment.



Robb Witmer Full:

Chavez — Looking for some baseball coverage this year. Thought of you immediately, since you still owe us last year’s Pirates articles. Get back to me ASAP. I’ve already purchased you a plane ticket. — RW


Robinzon Chavez:

Witmer! My head is still spinning from that damn monkey movie you forced into my brain-hole, and now you’re asking me to STEP ONTO AN AIRPLANE!?!?! This is no small favor you ask of me. What are you going to do in return? Some rum would seem to be in order.


RWF:

Chavez,

This is not a request. You will file a story of NO LESS than 500 words on the Pittsburgh Pirates every Friday for the entirety of the 2013 baseball season. You will do this from the America-Thrust Pittsburgh Bureau, which you yourself established less than a year ago. I have retained the services of the Wachter & Penn law firm. You do not wish to be sued by your own company, do you?

Regards,
RWF


RC:

Relax, man, I was only messing with you. You Croatians really don’t have a sense of humor. I’ll take the gig. I’ve been in contact with the fine folks at the Korner Pub and they would welcome the re-establishment of the Pittsburgh Bureau with open arms. The apartment has not been rented in the few months since I’ve been gone, and most of my belongings remain.

The next time you are in Pittsburgh, by the way, I can’t recommend enough that you spend nearly all of your time at the Korner Pub. Their slogan is, “Where the beer is cold, the atmosphere thick, and the clientele extraordinary.” It is where I will be watching nearly every game. The TV’s are small and the air is thick with smoke, which is to say that it’s the near-perfect baseball bar. The only drawback I can figure is that they don’t serve liquor; beer only. Except that slipping a flask into my pocket and bringing my own booze is actually preferable to me. And having a room upstairs from the place means any and all drug use is extremely convenient.

So yes, I’ll accept the assignment, if it keeps me in the good graces of your law firm. I assume I’ll be receiving my usual salary, plus expenses. Anything you could send in advance for travel costs would be outstanding as well.


RWF:

Chavez —

Have you been paying attention to this team at all during the off-season? Perhaps instead of intricately planning where your next booze-drink is coming from you could spend some time reading up on the Pirates. Did you happen to catch the end their season last year? Free-agent acquisitions? Injuries? Anything?

Do me a favor and drive up the coast to Bradenton and find out what’s going on. And no, we will not be sending you any money until stories are filed.

Always,
Robb


RC:

I don’t know what it is I’ve done to cause you to have so little faith in my professionalism.


RWF:

How about putting together a ‘013 preview column to start us off? Should be easy enough. Position by position, team as a whole, etc.


RC:

Witmer,

I’ve paid more attention to the Pirates than any sane man should, so a preview column should be a breeze.

I would say that by looking at this team that they have “heartbreak” written all over them yet again, except that there can’t be anybody in Pittsburgh that still has a shred of belief left in this bunch. The last time the Pirates had a winning record, the FIRST George Bush was still the president, and for a while there even Saddam Hussein was having a better go of things than the Bucs were.

And last year? I’m not sure if it’s better described as a mind-fuck or a dick-tease. As of 110 games into the season, the Pirates had sixteen more wins than losses, and all that was needed for them to finish with a winning record would be for them to avoid the greatest final-third-of-the-season collapse in MLB history.

Well, guess what happened. No wait, don’t, because you don’t have to.

So anyone wearing the black and gold that’s spouting off the old “hope springs eternal” line is either pulling your leg, or on some extremely potent hallucinogenic drugs. The best anyone can honestly feel about this team is “we’ll see how it goes.”

Right now the holy grail for the Pirates franchise is a winning record, and they were only three wins away last year, so that’s certainly possible, but for two thirds of that season they were playing absolutely out of their shoes. What is more likely to be repeated in 2013? A stretch of 63-47, or a stretch of 16-36?

Money never lies, and the fine folks in Vegas and on the offshore gambling islands have set the over/under at 77 ½ wins. I wouldn’t touch the over with a ten foot dice stick, but the under could be intriguing.

The epic collapses of the last two years didn’t happen because there is some sort of spell on this team, though that can’t necessarily be ruled out. The reason this team falls apart at the end of the season is simple: not enough good players. You want a breakdown of the team? Let’s start here:

Pitching

The starting rotation starts off acceptable enough: A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are solid veterans that can sometimes be very good. Burnett had flashes of downright greatness last year. Third starter James McDonald pitched like the second coming of Dwight Gooden in the first half of the season, and looked like the second coming of Tony Armas Jr. in the second half. It’s a coin-flip from game to game with J-Mac, not exactly a quality you’re looking for in a middle of the rotation guy.

After that? Jeff Karstens is solid when he’s not on the disabled list, where he spends about half of each season, and where he’ll be at the beginning of this one. The Pirates have replaced him with Jonathan Sanchez, who was awful last season, and not much better this spring, but they don’t have any other good options. That’s not a game you want to be playing with your fourth starter.

Joining Karstens on the DL is Francisco Liriano, another roll of the dice, this one with a broken non-throwing arm. He’ll be out until May, and when he returns, who the hell knows what he gives you? So into the fifth slot goes Jeff Locke, a young arm who’s had a decent spring, but before that has looked bad in limited duty.

Goddamn, talk about a mess. The bullpen is at least as big a question mark as the rotation. Jason Grilli steps into the closer spot in place of the traded Joel Hanrahan. I actually have faith in Grilli, but after him it’s all cobbled together — which every bullpen is to some extent. What the hell, this bullpen could turn out great. Why not?

Infield

At catcher, the Bucs swooped in and snagged Russell Martin from the Yankees. Martin’s main upside is that he’s not Rod Barajas, though not being Rod Barajas is a skill that cannot be overstated.

Over at first, the platoon between Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez could turn out to be a strength. Really, I mean it. Jones has been absolutely nasty against right handed pitching the last couple of seasons, and Sanchez has a recent history of competence, last year notwithstanding. Call me crazy, but it could work out.

You could do a lot worse than Neil Walker at second, though if you talk to a Pittsburgher on the subject, you’d think he’s Roberto fuckin’ Alomar. He’s a hometown kid, and they really get off on that in those parts. Over at short, Clint Barmes continues to be one of the best defensive shortstops in the NL, but asking him to hit .250 is a lot like ordering a margarita on an airplane: not gonna happen.

At third, Pedro “Pete the Meat” Alvarez is becoming more of a known quantity: He’s going to hit 30-40 home runs, hit somewhere in the .235-.260 range, and make enough bonehead defensive plays to start envisioning a future at first base for him, but not enough to make that move necessary just yet.

Outfield

In center, Andrew McCutchen is, simply, one of the best players in baseball. To have any chance of relevance in the next ten years, the Pirates need him to continue to play at that level.

Starling Marte will be patrolling what one of the largest left fields in baseball. He’s got an absolute laser for an arm. Do not run on this man, do not take the extra base; things will not end well. As a rookie last year at the plate, he looked like, well, a rookie. He’s a classic Dominican free-swinger, and he’ll show some power along with his speed, but the Pirates have decided to have him lead off. Without going into statistics and metrics and the like, let me just say that this makes no sense.

In right field will be Travis Snider, a once-promising power-hitting prospect that has spent the last few years in a slow-motion flame-out. Theories abound as to why he was simply handed the job, but the reality is that the Pirates are loaded with corner outfielders who are just barely not good enough to deserve to be in the starting lineup every day, and Snider is simply the best choice of a bad lot. My money is on Jose Tabata being the everyday right fielder within a month or two. Tabata’s got real talent, but getting his head straight has been a long process, one that may never be completely successful. There’s definitely something screwy going on upstairs — whether it was a cause of his batshit marriage or an effect, who can say? — but if he gets his game together he can be an impact player.

Bench

The bench is John McDonald, Michael McKenry, Tabata/Snider and Josh Harrison, one of whom will be replaced by Brandon Inge when he comes off the DL — presumably Harrison. This is a gaping hole where baseball players should be, and goes a long way in telling us how much of an organizational deficit the Pirates are suffering from.

So, that’s all of it. I didn’t count the words, but it’s gotta be at least 500. You can call off the dogs, at least for now. When do I fly to Pittsburgh? I can’t wait to catch up with the guys at the Korner...

— Chavez

P.S. Will you be sending a check my way before I leave, or should I expect it when I arrive in Pittsburgh?


RWF:

That’ll do for now, Chavez.



Robinzon Chavez is the Pittsburgh Bureau Chief for America-Thrust.