Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gaby et Jules -- who knew there were this many Frenchies in Pittsburgh?

DB~ and I are devotees of Jean-Marc Chatelier's bakery in Millvale.  His macarons are divine, his cakes are works of art, and his pastries are impossible to pass up.  A few years back, a French bakery opened up in Lawrenceville named La Gourmandine.  We've never even been there because...why would we?

In the past few months, a new French bakery opened in Squirrel Hill called Gaby et Jules.  When DB~ and I were out in Squirrel Hill in the summer, they were just getting ready to open.  It looked sleek and non-bakery-y.  It kind of reminded us a little of the valhalla of bakeries that we went to in Paris, Laduree.  Or a little like Sucre in New Orleans that we also went to.  Man...when you put it all in one post, we really like going to bakeries.

We haven't been to Gaby et Jules yet, but my parents went on Monday and were raving about it.  They bought two desserts for DB~ and I to try.  I imagine that it greatly cut into my potential inheritance to buy them.  But man...just look at these.

The presentation is better than Jean-Marc, but I think the taste still resides in Millvale with Jean-Marc Chatelier.  The chocolate rose on the right had a peanut butter creme, which delighted DB~ to no end.  I'm not entirely sure what the one on the left was, but it had a slight taste of alcohol in the creme to it.  I'd like to go there and check it out for ourselves sometimes, maybe check out their macarons, too.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bistro 9101

Have you ever been to a restaurant and then it closes...and then a new one comes in, it's pretty good, and then it closes?  Location, location, location always applies, but it seems like some spaces are just cursed.

That seems to be the reasoning for the restaurant at the intersection of Perry Highway (Route 19) and Cumberland.  It's a very well-traveled area, but it seems like restaurants can never stay open.  The previous incarnation was a great neighborhood place called Ziggy's that DB~ and I liked very much.  It had a beer cheese soup that was so good we wanted to take a bath in it.

But it closed (like Magoo's before it and some others I can't remember) and now in its place is Bistro 9101 -- referring to the street address on Perry Highway.  We stopped in last night to check this scene out for ourselves, as it's been open since early February.

The interior hasn't changed much, but we did like the simple paper tablecloths that were then hand-stamped with "Bistro 9101" twice by the busboys as each table was changed.  It seemed labor-intensive; you would think it would be easier to have a bunch pre-cut (they were cut by a giant paper cutter each time) and stamped and laying in a corner somewhere, but whatever.

DB~ went with a fish dish in observance of meatless Friday, so she chose two appetizers as her meal.  One was the French Onion Soup, as DB~ is like a moth to a flame with French Onion Soup.  It had gruyere cheese and mozzarella melted on top with a very dark brown broth.  She liked this quite a bit.

Her second choice was the Crab and Lobster Cake, which she did not like as well.  It was a little bit dry and almost burnt in some places.  The remoulade sauce was artfully drizzled over the Crab and Lobster Cake, though, so it was presented quite well.

I went full carnivore and selected the Pork Soprareillo.  It was small pork medallions with onions and red/green peppers with a light paprika-based sauce.  Underneath of it was a sundried tomato risotto cake.  Both of them were quite good.

I really hope Bistro 9101 can overcome some of the recent bad luck by failed restaurants.  It's OK for the North Hills to have a quasi-fine dining restaurant.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Gerrit Cole and The Potential, Never-Going-To-Happen Extension

With Starling Marte's recent extension, talk turned to who the Pirates could lock up next in an effort to cost control their core players.  Gerrit Cole is the next logical candidate, but since Cole's agent Scott Boras is a well-known proponent of getting his star players to free agency as quickly as possible, it's very unlikely.
If Cole were to sign his extension after the 2014 season, he would have 1 year and 111 days of service time accrued.  This should put him safely outside of the dreaded Super 2 threshold, meaning the Pirates would only have to go to arbitration with him three times instead of four.  After this year, the Pirates can pay Cole approximately the major league minimum ($500,000) for 2015 and 2016.  Then from 2017-2019, he would be arbitration-eligible.  So a potential 6 year deal would buy out all five years of remaining team control, plus one free agent year.
To re-iterate -- this is very unlikely to happen because of the presence of Scott Boras.  But let's continue along.
Using the Extension Tracker on MLB Trade Rumors, I filtered the results for starting pitcher extensions between 1 and 2 years of service time.  Since 2008, eleven pitchers have signed extensions with this level of service time.  Of those pitchers, though, only two are in the same neighborhood of Cole in terms of minor league pedigree (how much hype was given) and ceiling (top of rotation pitcher).  Those two pitchers are the aforementioned Julio Teheran (6 yr/$32.4M, with 1 option year) and Madison Bumgarner (5 yr/$35M, with 2 option years).  It should also be noted that both of these pitchers are clients of the Relativity Baseball agency.
Both Teheran and Bumgarner are low-end #1's or high-end #2 pitchers, in my opinion, while I think Cole could be a pure #1 ace.  Let's look at the year-by-year breakdown for each pitcher:
2014 -- $1M signing bonus, $800K salary
2015 -- $1M
2016 -- $3.3M
2017 -- $6.3M
2018 -- $8M
2019 -- $11M
2020 -- $12M option with a $1M buyout
2013 -- $1M signing bonus, $750K
2014 -- $3.75M
2015 -- $6.75M
2016 -- $9.75M
2017 -- $11.5M
2018 -- $12M club option with a $1.5M buyout
2019 -- $12M club option with same $1.5M buyout
If you compare both of them, the year-to-year salaries (at the same point in their service time cycles) are very similar.  Their "platform season" performance prior to getting their contracts are very similar, too.  In Julio Teheran's first full year in 2013, he put up a 3.20 ERA/3.69 FIP in 185 innings with a 8.24 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9.  In Madison Bumgarner's first full year in 2011, he put up a 2.77 ERA/3.05 FIP in 204 innings, with an 8.4 K/9 and 2.02 BB/9.  The 2014 season will be Cole's first full season.  In 2013, his 3.22 ERA/2.91 FIP, 7.67 K/9, 2.15 BB/9 rates all show that he is primed for a breakout full season.
Although I've mentioned twice now that an extension is not likely with Scott Boras, it's not unprecedented.  Since 2008, Boras has negotiated multi-year extensions for eight players.  However, of those eight players only seven bought out or had an option on any free agent years.  Prince Fielder merely cost-controlled two arbitration-eligible years.  It's also worth noting that only one those players, Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, signed a deal before he reached arbitration.  He had just over two years of service time when his deal was signed.  Additionally, only one of these players, Jered Weaver of the Angels, is a starting pitcher.
Even though an extension is highly unlikely, let's assume Scott Boras is in a generous mood with the Pirates.  He'll want Gerrit Cole's contract to be precedent-setting, so he'll want to exceed the Teheran/Bumgarner deals.  Here's a potential framework:
2015 -- $2M signing bonus with a $1M salary
2016 -- $2M salary
2017 -- $4.5M
2018 -- $7.5M
2019 -- $10.5M
2020 -- $13M
2021 -- $15M option with a $2M buyout
That totals up to a 6 year/$42.5M deal with an additional option year worth $15M potentially.  Except that it most likely won't happen because (all together now) Gerrit Cole has Scott Boras as an agent.

Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 Season Prediction

All right, let's do it.  This is a much more pleasant exercise than in previous years, because the Pirates actually...won.  It's a very weird feeling predicting that the Pirates are playoff contenders in 2014.  Is this the new reality or am I still being oddly optimistic?

Mark me down for 88 wins and the Pirates claiming a wild card spot in the NL.  I think the same seven teams that were in playoff contention (Cards, Pirates, Reds, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Braves) will be the same teams in contention this year.  Perhaps if the Giants' pitching staff rebounds they can get in the mix.

I think Travis Snider will have a nice rebound year now that his big toe injury has finally been resolved.  It won't be enough to hold off mega-prospect Gregory Polanco from coming up in mid-June and claiming RF, though.  Polanco will get some fine-tuning and avoid the Super 2 deadline so that the Pirates only have to go to arbitration with him three times instead of four.

Jameson Taillon had a little setback at the end of Spring Training with his elbow, so they're going to rest him and hope the elbow inflammation dies down.  Right now they're not seeing any tears in the ligament, so that's good news.  Hopefully it won't affect his mid-June arrival time, as he should require less fine-tuning in AAA.

It's almost impossible to think McCutchen can exceed, or even replicate, his 2013 MVP season.  I would be satisfied with a season that's 85% of his 2013 season.  I would like to see Marte improve on his BB rate and keep decreasing his K rate, while increasing his HR's and maintaining his SB total.  Ideally, once Polanco comes up, Polanco will leadoff and Marte will drop down to the 5th or 6th spot.


I don't know...I'm just getting such a Mark Reynolds vibe off of him, so I'm not going to be surprised by another .230 BA, with 35 HR's and 200 K's.

Quasi-bold prediction?  I think Gerrit Cole will garner some NL Cy Young votes this year.  Not really a contender, unless Kershaw gets hurt, but some down ballot votes.

I also don't think the 1B the Pirates will end the season with is on the roster yet.  There should be adequate money left in the budget for a mid-season trade acquisition, considering they had $19M to spend in the offseason and only spent $7M of it on Volquez (dumpster fire, will be out of the rotation by July) and Barmes.

So finally, here's my guess on the NL Central Standings:
Cardinals -- 96 wins
Pirates -- 88 wins
Reds -- 83 wins
Brewers -- 75 wins
Cubs -- 74 wins

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chicken Enchiladas

On Tuesday night, I made some Chicken Enchiladas for DB~ and I.  In each tortilla, I put a base drained, rinsed black beans.  Then I topped it with shredded chicken that I cooked in a skillet with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder, and the key ingredient of cumin.  I topped them off with some shredded cheese.

Once they were rolled and tucked tightly into an 8" x 8" baking dish, I topped them with a canned, red enchilada sauce.  On top of that, I added a generous amount of chopped green chiles.  I baked them in the oven at 400 for 25 minutes, enough to melt the cheese and get them hot, but not long enough to dry the sauce out.

I bedded the enchiladas on a sleeve of yellow rice.  I wish I had some sour cream to top them with when they came out, but otherwise they were fantastic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't Extend Pedro Alvarez, Pirates

 Recently, the Atlanta Braves extended their 1B Freddie Freeman with an 8 year/$135M contract.  Freeman was just entering his first arbitration year, so this contract buys out those first three years plus five free agent years.  The cost breakdown per year is:
2014 – $5.125M (w/ $2.875M signing bonus)
2015 – $8.5M
2016 – $12.5M
2017 – $20.5M
2018 and 2019 – $21M
2020 and 2021 – $22M
He’ll finish this contract up in his age-31 season and be ready, injuries aside, to look for another 5-6 year deal probably.
Pedro Alvarez is entering his first arbitration-eligible season and negotiated a contract for $4.25M for the 2014 season.  At first blush, he and Freeman seem to be on the same salary track, so one would think that the Pirates should follow suit and think of extending their power-hitting third baseman.
But they shouldn’t.  Because Pedro Alvarez isn’t that great of an offensive player.
In fact, the Pirates should stick with Alvarez in 2014 and 2015, then re-evaluate the texture of the team.  If they are a title contender for 2016, then they should keep Alvarez and become comfortable with letting him walk after the 2016 season for draft compensation.  If they don’t think they’re a contender, then the Pirates should trade him after 2015 for a package of prospects to reload on the fly.
The thought of not having Alvarez around, a season after he hit 36 home runs, causes some fans to have panic attacks and rail against the Pirates’ for being cheap by not extending him.  Rather, it’s my contention that the Pirates would be smart to just play out the string with Alvarez and let him walk away as a free agent or trade him with one year of control left.
It’s the Linus Blanket Syndrome.  The fear of losing a security blanket, in this case all the DINGERZ that Alvarez hits, causes people to worry.  But aside from home-runs, Alvarez does not contribute much to the offense.
Let’s compare Alvarez to Freeman:
2013 StatsAlvarezFreeman
BB %7.8%10.5%
K %30.3%19.2%
wRC+ stands for Weighted Runs Created over Average.  What this means is that Alvarez created 11% more offense than an average player, while Freeman created 50% more offense than an average player.
So by raw numbers, it’s pretty obvious that Alvarez would not be worth Freeman’s contract, even though Alvarez hit 36 DINGERZ to Freeman’s 23.  There are other facets of the offensive game that Alvarez does not contribute to and, in fact, hinders thanks to his high strikeout rate.
The strange part about the Freeman deal is that I don’t think he’s worth it.  Up until the 2013 season, Freeman was just slightly above-average when it came to offense for a 1B.  His excellent 2013 season was based on a very high .371 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), where the average player is typically .300 to .310 and Freeman was a .320 career BABIP coming into 2013.  So there is some regression due to happen for Freeman, most likely, in 2014.
Also, the 2014 season will be Alvarez’s age-27 season.  The Pirates potentially control him through his age-29 season, so they may be seeing the best years he has to offer anyway, as players with 30% strikeout rates and low batting averages do not age well (Adam Dunn is Example A).
The end of the world will not occur if El Toro is not extended or if he’s allowed to leave in a few years.  Actually, it would be good business sense to not be weighted down by a potential albatross contract.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Time for Snider to go for it

There are many things that Travis Snider can do.  There are many things that people think Travis Snider can do.  What Travis Snider has done is somewhere in the middle.

Look at Snider's minor league numbers and his stocky profile and you think he's a guy capable of hitting 25 home runs every year.  Just last year he started off hot in April, hitting .300 with an 11.8% BB rate and 7 doubles in just 68 plate appearances.  Not a ton of power, but doubles are good and walks are great, especially out of your 6/7th place hitter.

But then his toe injury flared up and Snider just fell off the cliff after that.  After May 1st, he hit .182 and was a complete afterthought for Clint Hurdle, especially once Marlon Byrd rolled into town.  He only had 20 plate appearances in September and October combined.

Now here we are in 2014 and the Pirates have one opening in their outfield in RF.  It appears as if Tabata and Snider can job-share (maybe not a straight platoon) that spot in 2014.  But on the horizon looms mega-prospect Gregory Polanco.  Polanco is scheduled to get a tune-up in Triple A Indy, then wait out the Super 2 arbitration deadline, with a scheduled arrival in mid-June if everything goes well.

Snider and Tabata can delay his arrival if they come out en fuego and force GM Neal Huntington to keep Polanco on the farm.  Polanco is clearly the future, as the Pirates are practically salivating over the possibility of an OF of Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco with that power-speed combo in each of them.

But Snider can help himself be more marketable in a trade to a decent destination by performing at a decent level.  He can easily stay around for 2014 as the 5th OF and spot starter, but it's hard to see him being here beyond this year, as 2015 is his 2nd arb-eligible season.  Snider could be packaged with something else for a 1B, if that position continues to be an issue at the trade deadline in 2014.

In short, a fully healthy Snider can be an asset for the Pirates.  Both on the field and in the trade market.