Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pirates Need For A Frontline Starter


Imagine it's October 1st and the Pirates are getting ready to play in the Wild Card Game.  Who do you pick to pitch?

  • Liriano, who has been inconsistent and ineffective for most of the season?
  • Cole, who has been hurt and oddly non-dominant for most of the season?
  • Morton, who is prone to one bad inning it seems every game?
  • Locke?  Volquez?  Worley?  Do you really trust any of these three in a one game playoff?
Then think of the Dodgers (Kershaw/Greinke), the Cardinals (Wainwright), the Nationals (Strasburg).  These teams all have bonafide aces to throw out there, guys who are locks for 8 innings in a crucial game.

The Pirates need a name pitcher.  I hope that Cole comes back from his rehab stint in early August and becomes that guy that we all hope he can be.  If so, that would be a bonus.  But right now, the Pirates need a horse.

Neal Huntington has been collecting prospects like they're Star Wars toys in their original packaging.  When he breaks open one and deals them one year, then I'll know that the front office and ownership both believe the Pirates are a World Series contender.  This year, if he deals Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, Bell, or Meadows, that will signal to me that they are making a run and not worrying about the future as fastidiously.

There's a lot of big names out there, but most are out of the Pirates' price range for 2015 and beyond (Price, Lee, Hamels).  I see two that are viable candidates -- Lester of the Red Sox and Kennedy of the Padres.

Lester is a low end #1/high end #2 level pitcher.  He's got about $4.3M left this year and is then a free agent.  The money this year shouldn't be a problem, since I calculate that the Pirates have $8M left from their original offseason spending pool when they were rumored to have $19M last offseason for free agents.

The Sox want one premium and one other top 10 prospect for Lester.  I'm comfortable trading Bell and someone like RHP Adrian Sampson for Lester.  The Sox had a great deal of interest in Bell during his draft year, but avoided him due to the infamous note his mother sent to all 30 teams asking them not to draft her son so he could go to University of Texas.  Bell would be a loss, but that sting should just motivate the Pirates to win more.

Kennedy is a #2 pitcher and not as flashy of a name as Lester, but he would be an upgrade for this rotation.  The Padres are said to be seeking an ML-ready starter for the rotation and a prospect for him.  Since Vance Worley is basically found money for Huntington, why not include him?  Worley has 3 more years of control and has revitalized his career.  Imagine him in Petco.  I would also use Universal Trade Chip Adrian Sampson in this scenario.

The Pirates have rebounded amazingly from their April malaise and positioned themselves well for the playoff run.  It's time to solidify it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tender

It's fun when you go to a restaurant expecting one thing and it turns out to be something completely different.  Going to Tender in Lawrenceville, we knew there would be hand-crafted cocktails.  We figured that the name Tender was a shortened version of "bartender".  To my surprise, the restaurant actually has a double meaning, as it appears to be situated in an old bank.

The floor is that marble/terrazzo look and the entrance is this enclosed little box that made me wonder if a would-be robber ever got trapped in there.  Their logo has the same font and look of legal tender U.S. money, as well.  There was even an old (original?) bank-looking clock on the wall.

Oh...yeah..right there on their website it says they occupy the old Arsenal Bank from the 1880's.  I'm dumb.

We knew that the menu was limited and would mostly be some artsy appetizers.  We were here for the drinks and atmosphere.  The drink menu is extensively extensive.  Pages and pages of cocktails, followed by a page of wine and a page of beer.

I went with Don't Give Up The Ship, a gin based drink with Fernet Blanca, vermouth, and curacao.  Strangely, the curacao didn't tint my drink blue at all, but perhaps the vermouth cancelled it out.  DB~ went with Aviation -- also a gin based drink with lemon and two other things neither of us had heard of before.

To dine, I went with two appetizers.  The first were Wild Boar Meatballs served on a bed of polenta and topped with a touch of pesto.  These could have been a little more moist, but were otherwise excellent.  The Wild Boar gave just enough punch to the meatball.


My second appetizer was a segment of Pork Belly with cherry and apricot sauce, with fennel mixed in.  It was seared on the non-fat side.  The fatty belly melted in my mouth with the fruit sauce giving a sweet base to the savory bacony taste.  It was topped with some pickled onions and fresh arugula.


DB~ went with the Tender Burger, which was interesting because she doesn't like red meat.  Oddly, she seems to be reverting BACK to being a carnivore of late.  This was a standard cheeseburger, but it was well crafted.


Since I was driving, DB~ had a second after dinner cocktail and went with Immortality Juice.  This was a sparkling wine with a pear liqueur, walnut liqueur, and apricot liqueur, squeezed with lemon.  She preferred this one slightly more.

The background music was a mix of 80's synth and 80's cheese like Phil Collins' "Sususudio" (I probably misspelled that, but I don't care enough to look it up).  I didn't quite get that part of the atmosphere.  Is that what hipsters listen to in hipster cocktail bars?  Jazz, anyone?

Tender is a great place to drink and grab a small plate, but probably not as a pure dinner destination.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Central Diner

The name is nondescript.  The location is one next to a Red Roof Inn, off of a cluttered Route 60.  It sits slightly below the road, so you don't even really notice it, unless you're looking for it.

But that would be a shame, because you would be missing out on the Central Diner in Robinson Township.  Diner carries a certain connotation, neither positive or negative in my mind, of a tiny worn down little shop with the same standard fare.  A diner is solid, dependable food, consisting of all the staples.

And then there's the Central Diner.  This gleaming chrome and wood exterior belies just how massive it is inside.  This diner, replete with a case full of tantalizing desserts, also has a well stocked bar -- if you're in the mood for something alcoholic in the morning or at late night when they're still open.

This diner is owned by a Greek family, many of whom are on staff when you walk in.  There are hints, but not overtures, of their Greek heritage on the menu.  No matter if you're Greek or red-blooded American, this is the place for you.

We went with DB~'s dad and our widgets on Father's Day.  I've been remiss to wait so long to put this up.  There will most likely be a wait when you go, but they cycle people through quickly.  We knew what we wanted before we sat down.

Little Widget was going to have a bottle of formula, house blend.  Medium Widget selected the Pancakes with Oreos inside, topped with peanut better and whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate.


They might as well have just given this to every kid who walked in the door.  DB~'s dad went with the omelette topped with sour cream and bacon, plus a side of home fries.


DB~ went with a cream cheese filled French toast, stuffed with blueberries.


I chose the Napolean French toast topped with walnuts and strawberries.



This is the kind of diner that is worth driving to go check out.  You don't even have to call it a diner, if you don't want to.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Second Tier Thinking About Tony Watson



Tony Watson is making a mockery over keeping ERA's for the rest of the pitchers in the league.  He's sporting a 0.96 ERA so far this year with 48 K's and just 10 BB in 37 innings.  In a fair and just world, he would be going to the All-Star Game.

When he comes in to the game, you can exhale and go get a sandwich.  This inning is on lockdown.  So why is Watson not the closer, but the stress-inducing Mark Melancon is?

Is it because Melancon is a grizzled veteran and Watson is a young pup?  No.  Melancon and Watson are both 29.  Melancon has one whole year more of experience in the majors than Watson.  Is it because Melancon has superior stuff and Watson is getting by on luck?  No.  Watson is sporting a mid-90's fastball from the left side, along with a slider that is patently unfair to hitters.  He toys with hitters by throwing a changeup, as well.  Melancon is getting by on a 93 mph cutter that requires pinpoint location, or else hitters can sit on it and serve the pitch to right field.

After pondering this, I'm left with two choices:
1.  Clint Hurdle is a stubborn idiot that can't change his thinking about Watson v. Melancon.
2.  Something else.

The something else that I came up with is that Hurdle has been instructed from on high to keep Melancon in the closer role and allow him to rack up saves, while keeping Watson in the setup role.  The reason?  In arbitration, saves get you paid.  Melancon has already set his salary base in arbitration at $2.6M.  He has two years of team control left.  Watson, on the other hand, is going to arb for the first time this year.  A first year dominant closer with 30 saves and a minuscule ERA would get paid cash money, son.

Now instead of Watson going to arb and getting $2M as a new closer, he may make $1M as a great setup man.  Is it dumb?  Sure it is, but that's the outdated method of arbitration.  Find a comparable player and go with it.  With a handful of saves, Watson would be in the same bin as most other setup guys.

That $1M potential difference may seem petty, but that's the base future salaries are built off of.  Now instead of a $2M/$4M/$6M path, Watson could be installed as the closer in 2015 on a $1M/$3M/$5M path.  The Pirates, always on the hunt for a good deal, may have saved $3M on the process.

Unless you want to believe in choice #1.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Afternoon with the Riverhounds


On Sunday afternoon, a small person and I attended the Pittsburgh Riverhounds match versus the Richmond Kickers.  It was my first time at Highmark Stadium, adjacent to Station Square, and I was impressed by its physical cleanliness and its cleanliness in terms of design.  The good news is that I don't have UPMC insurance, so I'll be able to come to Highmark Stadium next year after the two entities split....

We got two tickets in the Supporters' section, which is the kind term for "cheap seats behind the goal".  They were $12.50.  I was a little taken aback by the price for regular seats in the grandstand -- tickets in the center section were $27/ticket and tickets in the end sections were $21/ticket.  The Riverhounds are in the lowest classification of U.S. Professional Soccer!  I understand that the stadium cost $10M to build, but c'mon now.

And after seeing the quality of the Riverhounds in person, I can attest that the 1-7-4 was achieved through honest means.  We were barely settled in after getting a hot dog when Richmond scored the first of their 2 goals in the first 10 minutes.  The Riverhounds' full backs were atrocious and completely hung the goalkeeper out to dry.  The Riverhounds lack a cohesive style of play, especially on offense.  It felt like I was watching a basketball team play soccer at times -- the Hounds would isolate a winger who would make some moves, then pass into the center of the field where the Kickers would then collapse down on that player.  Said player wouldn't be able to do much of anything to get off a shot.  The Riverhounds lost 3-1.

What I was impressed by was the unofficial/official cheering squad of the Riverhounds, known as the Steel Army.  They were sitting just to our left and entertained both myself and the 7 year old.  Led by a hefty guy beating on a drum, the 40 person group had a wide variety of chants to amuse themselves, energize the crowd, and attempt to distract the Richmond players when they were on that side of the field.  I particularly liked the adaption of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine to "we all cheer for the yellow soccer team".

They were attempting to make it look like an English Premier League game, but that kind of bothered me in some way.  On an 85 degree day, they were wearing supporter scarves that are ever-present in the EPL and the chants were the kind you would expect to hear at a Liverpool v. Everton game.  Shouldn't we be trying to do our own thing?

The ownership of the Riverhounds have grand plans to get the Riverhounds entry to Major League Soccer within 10 years.  The same ownership that filed for bankruptcy before the season started, mind you.  To do that, Highmark Stadium would have to be greatly expanded.  It currently holds around 3,000-3,500 if I had to guesstimate it.  A typical MLS stadium, as per this Wiki stub, holds around 20,000 (San Jose is the smallest at 10,000).  I was having a hard time envisioning how they could retrofit this stadium to get there, as one side is virtually adjacent to the railroad tracks.  I suppose the northern side where the main building is could have a steep array of seats placed over top of it, the supporters' section could have a corresponding array of seats and the main section would be expanded upwards, but that's a big leap.



The Riverhounds kind of suck right now, but the 7 year old who dreams of playing with Steven Gerrard loved it, so that's all the really matters.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chicken Picatta at Aracri's



I had a business meeting in Greentree last night, so I asked my boss if he wanted to catch dinner before we headed over to the Doubletree.  When I asked where he wanted to go, he went way out of the box and suggested an old school Italian restaurant off of Greentree Road called Aracri's.

How he heard of this place, I have no idea.  He doesn't stray out of the North Hills too much, so that made it even more puzzling.

When I got to the restaurant to meet him, it felt like I was entering a time warp back to the 1980's.  On the door of the old Tutor style building was a sticker advertising KBL with the logos for the Pirates/Pens/Steelers of that era.  Not ROOT, not Fox Sports Pittsburgh, not what was before that...no...KBL.

The interior of this place probably hasn't been touched in 30 plus years, either.  Was this place really good or popular at one time?  I'm not saying I know every restaurant in Pittsburgh, especially in the South Hills, but I have never heard anyone say, "Hey, I had a great meal at Aracri's last weekend."

I ordered the Chicken Picatta, partly to see how it compared to mine.  This one was done with mushrooms, so I was assuming the mushrooms formed some type of sauce base.  I don't like mushrooms themselves, but I like mushroom-based sauce.  They're earthy and honest and build flavor for the whole dish.

When the Picatta came out, I was struck by the gnarled pieces of chicken.  It just seemed like a cheap cut, instead of a nice pair of chicken breasts.  The dish itself was very good -- the chicken was tender, the sauce was rich, but I was missing the capers and that salty flavor.

The dinner rolls were standard and the vegetable was a dish of steamed broccoli.  Nothing spectacular.  This restaurant, if it had a heyday, has passed that peak by.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Future is Now in the Outfield



Tuesday saw the long-anticipated arrival of RF Gregory Polanco.  He was called up because of the emergency appendectomy of Neil Walker, which makes me wonder how much longer he would have to wait in AAA.  No matter, he's here now and I can't envision the Pirates sending him back down (short of him struggling epically).

The Pirates now sport an OF that is the envy of all of baseball.  All three of Marte/McCutchen/Polanco were not only top 50 prospects (and higher in the case of McCutchen and Polanco), but also capable of playing CF for nearly every team in baseball.  Each of them have a combination of power and speed that makes scouts and fans alike drool.

Both Marte and McCutchen are under team control for many years to come, at far below market value rates.  McCutchen is here until 2017 with a 2018 club option.  Marte is here even longer through 2019, with two team options in 2020 and 2021.  By virtue of his callup, Polanco is under team control through 2020, before any potential extension comes into play.

The things we build don't last forever, though.  At some point, hopefully not for financial reasons, the Pirates may look to trade one of the triumvirate in order to strengthen another part of the team.  The Pirates' cupboard is stocked in the minors with OF prospects, too.  Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez, and Josh Bell (although I feel he's a future 1B) are all progressing at various speeds through the minors and have great pedigrees.

For right now, enjoy watching these three together.  I can't help but think that any short/medium term success the Pirates experience will be on the backs of their OF.