Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DFC - Dale Fried Chicken

My go-to food late at night has always been breaded chicken tenders. Lately, I've been developing this strange habit of either eating or seeing a food and wanting to make it for myself. These two factoids collided over the weekend with me eating a very substandard chicken sandwich in Shadyside at Cappy's and then watching a soul food diner segment on Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives.

So on Tuesday night I decided it was time to make my own Fried Chicken Tenders.

1/2 lb chicken tenderloins
All purpose flour
Luzienne's Cajun Seasoning (cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic)
Panko bread crumbs
1 egg

You could use a chicken breast, but you probably want to slice it into strips for easier frying later in the recipe.

First I added some Cajun seasoning to the flour in my shallow wide dish until the flour went just off-color. Very scientific, I know. Then I rolled the chicken tenderloins around in the egg and dredged them in the seasoned flour.

I then ran them through the egg a second time and dredged then in the Panko bread crumbs. Panko bread crumbs are a lighter bread crumb used in Asian cuisine, especially during tempura frying.

After the chickens were breaded, I poured some vegetable oil into a skillet and made it about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in oil. I heated the oil to medium-high heat until it just started to ripple under the surface. I added the breaded chicken to the hot oil and fried them on each side for about 2-3 minutes until golden brown.

I put the chicken in a dish with some paper towels to take off the excess oil and lightly salted and peppered them. I served this with a yellow rice and some boiled sugar peas. The chicken was crunchy on the outside and moist inside, probably because of the double breading.

I miss the classic Damon's chicken tender meal with honey mustard. I can't believe Damon's screwed up that franchise as badly as they did. When I used to be a real night owl, especially after a good night of drinking, some breaded chicken tenders always hit the matter what shanty restaurant we ended up at.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kayaking the Rivers Three

"The sea was angry that day, my friend. Like an old man sending soup back in a deli." -- George Costanza

What a great way to incorporate one of the 5 best lines from Seinfeld into a blog post. Even if I was on a river (or three).

I took the day off work today and headed down to Kayak Pittsburgh underneath the Clemente Bridge. DB~ and I had 2 Groupons (each good for 1 hour of kayaking) that needed to be used by the end of October. But they weren't good on the weekends anymore, so that kind of ruled out DB~. I politely asked if I could use both Groupons myself and get 2 free hours -- I caught the two hippies on a mellow buzz apparently, because they went for it. I was ready to bribe them, if necessary.

My goal today was to kayak on a piece of all 3 rivers. Once I pushed off from Kayak Pittsburgh on the Allegheny, I paddled down towards the Carnegie Science Center on the Ohio River. I stopped in front of the submarine docked outside the Science Center (the Requin, I think) and took this shot:

I floated a little towards the Rivers Casino. There were no semi-strange Beatles cover bands performing in full costume this afternoon. Just a few gamblers with broken dreams eating lunch outside. Wondering how the dealer was showing 16 and hit his 21 to beat the 20 on blackjack. Or why the player at poker stuck in the pot all the way to the river to hit his inside straight.

I took this shot while near the Casino looking up the West End Valley. Have you ever tried to take Route 60 through the West End Valley towards Robinson Township? It's like in the Family Circus when Jeffy has to get his mom a cup of sugar from next door, but ends up taking the most circuituous route possible.

I turned around and headed straight for the Point, being careful to not get broadsided by a speedboat, jet skier, or Gateway Clipper paddlewheeler. This is when things got a little edgy. It was pretty windy today and the rivers were not kind to me. There were whitecaps and actual waves rolling on the river. At one point on the Mon, I was going a good 2 feet up in the air riding the crest and trough of these waves. My kayak got perpendicular to the river at one point and some water from a wave crashed into the kayak, soaking me pretty good.

But it was an adventure. I did my good deed for the day while I was out. I picked up about 7 plastic bottles and jugs that were floating in the rivers and put them in a trash can when I got back. Recycling them would have earned me two gold stars, but I'll settle for one.

When I was walking back to my car in the West Robinson Garage, I passed by one Mr. John Russell reporting for work. He was resplendent in an electric blue workout shirt and black shorts. He was walking stiff-legged, so Russeltron 3000 must need his joints oiled and servos lubed, I guess.

I also stopped to watch some construction workers next to the Garage. They were pouring a low slump, stiff concrete for the new subway stairs and pedestals. This is the Subway extension stop as part of the North Shore Connector project.

It was good to have an off day and no better way to spend it than kayaking on a sunny, if windy, day. Of course it probably wasn't as good as the two dudes parked next to me in the Garage in a Dodge Ram. As I was walking towards my car, their truck looked like they were filming a Cheech and Chong movie in the cab. The sweet smell of burning hippie lettuce wafted through the air. I guess we all spend our Fridays in different ways.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pirates' 2010 Offseason - An Inflection Point

The body is on the slab and it is barely cold, but it is time to put the corpse known as the 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates to rest. This season was one for the history books, but not the good kind of history. Without rehashing all of the ugly statistics and numbers, suffice it to say that this Pirates team was one of the worst of modern baseball history.

But the strange part is that I still have hope. I actually believe in the path that Neal Huntington and the front office staff have laid out for this team. Essentially, the 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates were an expansion team after the much-needed and long-overdue teardown of the team started in 2008 by Neal Huntington.

Boiled down to its barest bones, the strategy implemented by Huntington was:

1. Re-invest in Latin America
2. Re-stock heavily through the amateur draft
3. Trade veterans near the end of their contract for short/medium-term pieces to the major league team, while trying to also acquire fallen prospects

The first two bullet points have been successful to date in their execution. It will still be some time before the Latin American tree bears fruit at the major league level. The Amateur Draft tree is just starting to bud (Pedro Alvarez), with 2012 the true year it could be in full bloom for the first time (Chase d’Arnaud, Justin Wilson, Tony Sanchez, Matt Hague). The key with the draft tree is that it must be constantly watered and not fertilized with rock salt and gasoline as done by Huntington’s predecessors.

The third bullet point is the bone of contention for most fans. The vast majority of Huntington’s trades were good on the surface, especially to clear unneeded payroll and eliminate bad clubhouse presences, but the on-the-field performances of the short/medium term players acquired have been dreadful by and large. The 2010 team was not expected to challenge for the wild-card, but there was a general sentiment that small steps towards the elusive .500 mark were possible for this season. Personally, I thought this team was a 76 win team and hoped that 2011 would see the end to the losing streak.

But for that to happen some of the short/medium term pieces (Major League-ready players that were expected to be here 1-3 years) would have to break through. They broke through all right, but for most of them it was into an elevator shaft. Jeff Clement, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Akinori Iwamura, Daniel McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, and Charlie Morton all failed miserably in the majors this year. When 6 of these 7 were seeing significant playing time this year (Moss was mired in AAA nearly all year), constituting 25% of your 25-man roster and failing spectacularly, you end up with a season like this one. There is simply no way anyone, especially this front office, anticipated the abject failure of all 7 of these players at the same time.

In terms of what we received from the slew of veterans traded, albeit none were elite level talents (Bay was the closest) but still contributors, we may be left with Jose Tabata (low power for a corner OF), Ross Ohlendorf (injury prone), James McDonald (want to see a full season still), Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris (both appear to be above average regulars, but are still in the minors). Is that enough for what was traded away? It is still too early to tell on that question for sure, but when you trade an asset you would like to get 2 assets in return. Both sides need to give something up and the hope is that the short-term gain by the receiving team is equal to the long-term potential gain by the trading team. I’m not sure at this point if the wait to see the return (2-3 years for most of these trades) is worth it for 1 player from each trade, essentially. The hope by Huntington had to have been to get a solid contribution from the short/medium term piece while waiting for the long term piece to develop. If all broke correctly, the short/medium term piece would be playing with the long term piece in 2011. The problem is that the short/medium term pieces failed and may not be here to see the arrival of the long term pieces in 2011. This leaves a void that the Pirates must now attempt to fill.

If this season was good for anything, it was to embarrass the front office and ownership into accelerating and altering the master plan. There is just no way that things can move into 2011 as status quo in terms of talent level on the Major League roster. The Pirates have been a point of ridicule for the local and national media for years, but the barbs have been sharpened this year during this slow-motion train wreck.

The 2010 offseason for the Pirates is an inflection point, a determination on whether this franchise is trending up or continuing to trend down, and many diehard fans will be watching closely. The time to sort through a menagerie of discarded players at the Major League level needs to stop. The time to saddle the roster with a Rule 5 player who needs to be protected like a Faberge egg needs to end. Hoping that one season can be squeezed out of a re-tread position player or starting pitcher needs to cease.

It is time to become a legitimate Major League baseball team again.

This does not mean that I am advocating increasing the payroll by an additional $40 million this offseason or trying to sign Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth. For the most part in free agency, you are paying a player for his past glories while potentially saddling your team with a bloated salary during that player’s decline years. I don’t think the Pirates need to jump into that pool this offseason. I’m simply saying that real talent needs to be acquired and this, believe it or not, is the perfect off-season to do it. As currently constructed, the Pirates have $16.75 million dollar in committed salaries next season, not factoring in options, the 0-3 minimum scale salaries, or arbitration cases. Without getting into all of the numbers, I estimate that with the arbitration cases and the minimum scale guys, the payroll will be around $31 million dollars if left unimproved. That factors in Doumit returning and Duke being non-tendered. There is ample room, even with the modest payroll restrictions on this team, to add $9 - $15 million dollars this offseason. You can re-build through the farm system and still be respectable at the major league level. These don't need to be mutually exclusive concepts.

There are many teams in MLB that are feeling the effects of this economic downturn. Some teams are at the end of their competitive cycle and are looking to shed salaries and reload their farms systems. Some teams are simply overspending their potential market’s revenues. The Pirates are in a perfect position to utilize their farm system to prey on other teams’ financial miseries.

The Pirates’ farm system is considered middle of the pack by the national prospect sites and I would agree with that. Any good farm system needs to serve two purposes. First, it should supply the Major League team with young, cost-controlled talent. Second, it should be used to provide trade chips to acquire talent for the Major League team in the form of veterans. The Pirates’ farm system in 2010 gave us the rays of hope in the form of Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and to an extent Brad Lincoln. The system still has the types of pieces that every major league team is always seeking. There are young pitchers ready to step into a Major League rotation (Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson), young power arms for the bullpen (Daniel Moskos, Diego Moreno), defensive-minded shortstops (Argenis Diaz, Pedro Ciriaco), and outfielders with potential (Starling Marte, Robbie Grossman, Andrew Lambo). Is every one of these players, and the others not mentioned, equally desirable individually? No. But if packaged together correctly, they could fetch a player that can help the Pirates for multiple years, starting in 2011. The farm system is deep enough to withstand the trading of a few players and can still contribute players in 2011, 2012, and beyond.

With all of the trades and existing players in the system, the Pirates are starting to accumulate a critical mass of players that are very similar to each other and hitting their heads off the glass ceiling (i.e., may be unable to all be starters with the Pirates). There is a plethora of 4th OF types (John Bowker, Lastings Milledge, Gorkys Hernandez, Alex Presley, Brandon Moss), struggling 1B (Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce), and middle IF (Argenis Diaz, Pedro Ciriaco, Brian Friday, Jordy Mercer). Decisions on most of these players as it relates to the 40-man roster are looming. It is time to package some of these players together, with other bigger name prospects, and streamline the 40 man roster. We don’t need this much duplication of function.

The area of trades that I have been focusing on and discussing in different forums has been Starting Pitching. Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays are looking to reduce payroll and find spaces for their up and coming pitchers, so James Shields may be available. The Minnesota Twins are looking at the start of the Joe Mauer contract increase and may want some flexibility, so Scott Baker could be available. The Florida Marlins are always watching the bottom line and may be willing to move Ricky Nolasco. Kenny Williams, the GM for the Chicago White Sox, operates like a fantasy baseball manager at times with all of his trades, but he may want to look to shed payroll and reload at the same time, which could free up Gavin Floyd. These are just 4 potential players that would not be seen as stop-gaps. There are many other candidates out there, including position players like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier from the divorce-ridden LA Dodgers.

A team everyone likes to point to as the model for low-revenue teams, the Tampa Bay Rays, are not made up of 25 Tampa Bay Rays draft picks. Of the top 13 players in terms of at-bats and the top 12 pitchers with innings pitched, 10 are Tampa Bay Rays draftees. An additional group of key players (Sean Rodriguez, Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist, Matt Garza, Matt Joyce, Rafael Soriano and most of the rest of the bullpen) were obtained via trades.

The point is that instead of sitting in the stream sifting through rocks looking for a gold flake, it is time for the Pirates to grab the pick ax and mine their own nugget of gold.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Offseason Trade Targets for Pitching (4 of 4 in a series)

This post will continue and end the series on potential offseason trade targets in the pitching market for the Pirates. All of the pitchers in the series (James Shields, Scott Baker, Ricky Nolasco, and Gavin Floyd) are either under contract for multiple years or under team control through arbitration for multiple years.

The last pitcher I'm thinking about is the least likely of the four, Gavin Floyd. I only selected him because of the General Manager of his team, the White Sox. Kenny Williams will trade anyone at anytime. He has emptied out his farm system in the past few years to get the players he feels the White Sox need to compete and succeed. I'm all in favor of trading prospects this offseason, but Kenny Williams takes it to the extreme.

One could make the argument that the Padres unexpectedly successful season is due to Kenny Williams. In July 2009, the Padres traded Jake Peavy to the White Sox for Clayton Richard and 3 other minor leaguers. Richard has been a dependable rotation staple for the Padres, while Peavy continued to be injury prone with a strange shoulder injury that has kept him out most of 2010. Trading Peavy's huge salary may have given the Padres the financial flexibility needed to keep Adrian Gonzalez, thus fueling this run for the postseason in 2010.

But getting back to Gavin Floyd....the White Sox are going to fall short again of the AL Central title this year. Perennially their payroll has hovered around the low $100M mark. Heading into 2011, the White Sox have salary committments of $75M already, with arb cases for Carlos Quentin and John Danks (plus whether or not to tender Bobby Jenks for maybe $10M) and a decision on free agent to be Paul Konerko. In short, the White Sox may be looking to retool and compete in 2011. Gavin Floyd's salary may help provide a little wiggle room for them.

Gavin Floyd, RHP -- age 28 in 2011 season
Contract details -- $5.0M in 2011, $7.0M in 2012, club option in 2013 for $9.5M

To date in 2010, Floyd has pitched 187 innings with a 7.20 K/9 rate, a 2.79 BB/9 rate, and has posted a 4.08 ERA and 3.48 FIP.

Floyd's arsenal includes a 92 mph fastball, 84 mph slider, 79 mph curve, and an 84 mph changeup. His slider has had the most positive results of runs saved per 100 pitches thrown.

As for the trade package, the White Sox in the draft are historically conservative. They favor the floor more than the ceiling so the Universal Trade Chip of Rudy Owens will work here. They are partial to toolsy outfielders, though, so Gorkys Hernandez may interest them. Diego Moreno with his live arm would fit nicely into their bullpen with Sergio Santos and Matt Thornton.

The Pirates need to upgrade the rotation and immediate help will not come from the farm before June 2011. Instead of hoping and wishing for the prospects to pan out, it's time for the Pirates to acquire known, successful commodities.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Great American Food Truck Race

Over the past 6 weeks, I became addicted to the Food Network's Great American Food Truck Race. The concept was stunningly simple. Get 7 food trucks (mobile food stands the size of a FedEx truck) and have them travel to different cities selling their foods. The truck that sold the least amount of food in that city was gone.

The starting trucks were a pudding/wings truck (Nana Queens), Cajun truck (Ragin' Cajun), Crepes truck (Crepes Bonaparte), French gourmet food truck (Spencer on the Go), a pressed sandwich truck (Austin Daily Press), a burger truck (Grill Em All), and a Vietnamese hoagie truck (Nom Nom).

Some twists and challenges aside, the competition came down tonight to Grill Em All and the nigh-unstoppable Nom Nom. Nom Nom used social media and print media to give themselves advance notice at every city. They partnered with unique, cutting edge businesses and seemed to always find the hot spots.

The Grill Em All truck was nearly bounced out of the competition twice, needing to win a challenge to stay in. The next to last show they beat the Frenchies by $37 (sold literally at the last minute to a hunger customer who ordered 5 burgers).

And the winner was....Grill Em All.

The last show was in New York City and the idea was cool. The two trucks had to sell $500 of product in each of the first 4 boroughs of NYC (Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn) and then sell $1000 in Manhattan....then race to the roof of the Flatiron Building in Manhattan.

Grill Em All was just better than Nom Nom in this episode. They had lines of people waiting for them to open shop. Also, the Noms were not as optimistic as they had been. Their leader, Misa, was actually depressed right off the bat. They just faded under the pressure.

Pittsburgh has very few well-known food trucks. The most famous is The Goodie Truck that sells desserts. These ladies use Twitter and Facebook to their advantage as well. Perhaps the next frontier for Pittsburgh is to catch up to California with the mobile food truck craze.

I smell a business opportunity....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Offseason Trade Targets for Pitching (3 in a series) - Ricky Nolasco

Let's keep on trucking...we have already discussed James Shields and Scott Baker, so let's turn our attention to a slightly more volatile commodity in Ricky Nolasco.

The Marlins are always teetering on the edge of a fire sale, but last offseason's shot across the bow from the players' union about not properly spending revenue sharing forced them to raise payroll a little in 2010. The Marlins signed Josh Johnson to a big-money extension (4 yr - $39M through 2013) and already have Hanley Ramirez locked up through 2014. That's plenty of time for Hanley to keeping dogging it in the field and get a coach or two fired.

The Marlins are looking at $10M to keep Dan Uggla, if they tender him a contract of course. Once you add in their other committments and some estimated arb numbers and min wage numbers, you're looking at a $40M payroll without Nolasco, who will be entering arb-3 (he's a Super 2 so there will be an arb-4). Nolasco made $3.8M this year so a $5.8 to $6M contract in in the realm of possibility.

The other item to consider is that the Marlins farm system is drying up. A once fertile farm has started to go fallow, as Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller have been busts. Kyle Skipworth showed some signs of life this year, but not enough. Chad James from 2009's draft had a great debut, but he is years away still. Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison made their debuts this year.

The Marlins could trade Nolasco, rebuild the farm and re-load on the fly for 2011.

Ricky Nolasco 6-2/230 RHP, age 28 in 2011 season

Contract: $3.8M in 2010, going into arb-3 in 2011

I referred to Nolasco as "volatile" in the opening paragraph because unlike Shields and Baker, Nolasco is inconsistent but with better overall stuff than those two.

Nolasco throws a 91 mph fastball, an 84 mph slider, a 75 mph curveball, and a 85 mph splitter. Historically, both his slider and curve have been reliable out pitches that are above the run line.

The Marlins like boom or bust prospects and pitchers with some heat. As a result, I'm not going to use the Universal Trade Chip known as Rudy Owens in this scenario. Rather, I will sacrifice Jeff Locke, Diego Moreno, and Robbie Grossman to the Marlins.

A few folks on some other forums feel that what I'm offering in these trades is not enough, not even close. Here's what the Angels gave up for Dan Haren (signed thru 2012, with a club option in 2013), with the approximate Pirate equivalent in parentheses:

Joe Saunders (Zach Duke)
Tyler Skaggs (ZVR)
Patrick Corbin (Jeff Locke)
Rafael Rodgriguez (Steven Jackson)

Considering that Rodriguez is a total throw-in, these packages of 3 minor leaguers that I'm offering are the equivalent (or better since Saunders/Duke suck and are expensive) to the Haren package.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bistro 19 - Good thing it's on Route 19, huh?

Mt. Lebanon is a strange place. It's like living in a bubble, I imagine. The school district, unlike most others in the region, is made up of one municipality...Mt. Lebanon. And that one municipality happens to be one of the wealthiest in the region.

I'm sure there are people affected by the recession that live in Mt. Lebanon, but just a whole heck of a lot less of them than in other places.

All of this ties into the restaurant that DB~ and I went to on Friday night, Bistro 19 on Washington Road (Business 19) in Mt. Lebanon. It's an upscale place that you can wear fancywe jeans to, if you like. I chose to go engineering-casual, which was khakis and a collared golf shirt.

When you walk in, the best word to describe the decor of Bistro 19 is....soothing. The lighting is low-level, with amber shading. The pendant lamps over the bar were turned low. There were plenty of people with smart-looking glasses, expensive shoes, and perfect teeth. A few scarves were out on the slightly chilly Friday night.

Once we were seated, the rear wall of the restaurant (of beige/olive tones) reminded me of both slow moving waves rippling on a lake or of hot sand on a beach. I felt very relaxed.

None of the preceding tells you anything about the food, though, which is what everyone (all 3 of you that read this blog, probably) want to know. I had the Black Tiger Shrimp. For an engi-nerd such as myself, I delighted in the presentation of this dish. In each corner of the square plate was one shrimp, each stuffed with artichoke/feta mixture. At the midpoint of each side was a perfect portion of spinach. And in the center was an size of risotto with a sprig of basil on top. I took a picture, but because the lighting was so low it seemed too dark to put on the blog (I didn't want a repeat of the Tamari blog).

DB~ had the Almond Chicken. I thought I detected a slight hint of cherry in the sauce, but DB~ thought it was just the almonds that I was tasting. Her meal also came with risotto and a vegetable, which I don't remember at this time.

Bistro 19 is well worth checking out, especially to people watch all of the upper crust dining "casual" that night.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pork Roast in a Yuengling beer broth

On Labor Day Monday, DB~ and I invited her brother and sister over for dinner at my place. I was in the mood to use the crock pot and I had a pork roast, so I thought I was set. It was right before noon and I was all ready to crack open a can of chicken stock and get this pork party started....except I had no chicken stock in the pantry. That's inexcusable for me. I usually have 4 to 5 cans at the ready.

I semi-panicked for a second and opened up the refrigerator to see what I could cobble together to make my own broth...but that would take a while to make. And then I looked down and saw 4 bottles of Yuengling beer in my refrigerator door.

Sprechen sie deutsch? Yeah, we're going Oktoberfest with this one....

1 lb pork roast
1 medium white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
12 oz. bottle of Yuengling for the broth
2 bay leaves
butter for sauteing (optional)
6 oz of Yuengling for sauteing (optional)

Season both sides of the roast with salt and pepper. Cut roast in half.
Add 12 oz bottle of Yuengling to crock pot.
Dice half the white onion and add to beer in crock pot. Dice one clove of garlic and add to the broth.
Place both halves of the roast in the crock pot. Place the other diced clove of garlic on top of the roast. Add the 2 bay leaves to the broth.

Turn the crock pot on low and let cook for 5-1/2 hours, turning the roast over once halfway through.

When the roast is done, take it out of the crock pot and leave the broth, onions, garlic, bay leaves behind. Place the roast on a serving dish to rest and wrap the serving dish with aluminum foil to keep it warm.

While the pork is resting, if you would like to saute some onions to place on top of the pork for serving....
Add the other half of the diced white onion to a skillet and saute in some butter until translucent. Add 6 oz of beer to the saute skillet and let the onion absorb the liquid. They will be a medium shade of brown. Place these onions over top of the pork when serving.

I made some snap peas with a sage butter sauce. The sage was fresh from my neighbor's garden. Also made some Uncle Ben's Wild Rice.

Everything was delicious. Even DB~, who is a borderline vegetarian, liked it a lot. And it's always great to watch her younger siblings make fun of DB~. Great night all around.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Offseason Trade Targets for Pitching (2 in a series) - Scott Baker

Continuing on in this series after I discussed James Shields, I would like to take a look at Scott Baker of the Minnesota Twins.

In 2011, the massive contract extension for Joe Mauer kicks in and takes his salary from $12.5M to $23M. The Twins also have Morneau ($15M), Joe Nathan ($11.25M) and Cuddyer ($10.5M) as big money contracts. As of now, the Twins have $72M in committments after having a payroll of $97M this year. And that doesn't include the following players either entering arbitration or in their arbitration years:
  • Matt Capps (arb-3, $3.5M in 2010)
  • Delmon Young (arb-2, $2.6M in 2010)
  • Francisco Liriano (arb-2, $1.6M in 2010)
  • Kevin Slowey (arb-1, $470K in 2010)

Plus there is a $5.25M club option for Jason Kubel.

In short, the Twins will be right up against the $100M threshold just trying to keep their existing players, let alone freeing up money for free agents. They may need to move a salary in order to find the extra cash and keep payroll flexibility. One of those players could be Scott Baker.

Scott Baker, 6-4/220, RHP, age-29 in 2011 season

Contract: $5M in 2011, $6.5M in 2012, $9.25M club option in 2013

In 2010, Baker has a 7.41 K/9, 2.13 BB/9, and a 36.6% ground ball rate, so he is a flyball pitcher. His arsenal consists of a 91 mph fastball, a 84 mph slider, and a 81 mph curve, with a 83 mph change sprinkled in. Historically, his slider has been his best out pitch.

The Twins may be the most conservative organization in baseball, especially when it comes to pitching. They value the "floor" of a prospect way more than "ceiling" and frequently select low to mid-upside college pitching early in the draft. Because of these tendencies, the Twins may find Rudy Owens very appealing in a potential trade package. Owens is pretty much assured of being able to pitch in the majors, but may not have more upside than a #3 or #4. But he will be cheap, which is a valuable commodity for the Twins in the near future.

As for the trade package, Owens, Evan Chambers, and Brian Friday may be enticing enough for the Twins to part with Baker.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A 100 lb pig roast, 18 holes of golf, and a Greek food fest

I'll take "Three things that usually don't occur within 6 hours of each other, Alex, for $400."

For the past 3 or 4 years, the Friday before Labor Day has had the pleasure of 2 of my favorite events occuring on the same day. One is a really well put together golf outing at a great course north of Pittsburgh, with the highlight being a pig roast that follows it. The second is the night that my family goes down to the Holy Trinity Greek Church on the North Side to enjoy their Greek food fest.

This basically means that I have to activate a second stomach on this day, as there is a tremendous amount of great food consumed in a short period of time.

The golf was great, but long. The round took a shade over 5 hours, which is kind of standard for a golf outing with 2 group starting on most holes. As soon as we got back to the party tent, the skies opened up and the rain came down sideways. Most importantly, the 100 lb, 4 foot long pig (with stuffing inside and a Hawaiian lei for decoration) was safe from the rain and the heavy winds.

So at 4 pm, I had:
A generous helping of pig
A generous helping of stuffing
1 breaded chicken drumstick
1 helping of scalloped potatoes
1 bowl of fruit salad

I bid farewell to the large contigent of people I came with and drove home to pick up DB~ to head downtown (after getting a quick shower and change of clothes). We got to Holy Trinity at 6 pm and by 6:30 pm, I was dining on:
1 order of moussaka
1 order of spanokopita
1 order of rice pilaf

We all got dessert, but took it home with us (but not after a bunch of us split a baklava Blizzard from a Dairy Queen stand set up there).

Oh, and as always, the place was packed on a Friday at dinnertime. If you go, and I recommend you do, pick an off-peak time to go. When they start playing the Greek music inside, it gets really loud and is tough to talk. Plus, it's difficult to find a table during the dinner time on Friday and Saturday.

The Greek fest goes until Sunday, so check it out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Offseason Trade Targets for Pitching (1 in a series) - James Shields

It's pretty obvious that the Pirates need help in a lot of areas. You don't come by a 44-89 record by accident. And while the offense has been horrendous at times, you hope there is some natural progression from Tabata, Walker, Alvarez, and McCutchen.

If this season was good for anything, it was to embarass the ownership and front office into spending more money this offseason to hasten the rebuilding process. There are some nice pieces percolating on the farm, but the ones that may help in 2011 are not "wow" players. It is more likely that the Pirates try to improve a pitching staff that has been dreadful for the vast majority of the season.

But I'm not advocating the free agency route. For the most part, you are buying players moving into the decline phase of their careers and are expending large quantities of cash for declining assets. Rather, I'm suggesting that the Pirates take advantage of the decent number of teams who will be trying to shed payroll this offseason. Some teams are moving into rebuilding phases, but others are up against their own internal "salary caps".

One of those teams will be the Tampa Bay Rays. This year their payroll was at an all-time Opening Day high of $72.8M. Their owner has already said that they will reduce payroll this offseason, maybe into the $50M range.

The Pirates must act like a buzzard circling a kill and zero in on teams like these. And from the Rays, the target could very well be James Shields.

James Shields, 6'-4"/220 lbs, RHP, 29 during 2011 season
Contract - $4.25M in 2011, $7M option in 2012, $9M in 2013, $12M in 2014

Shields' arsenal is a 91 mph fastball, 86 mph cutter, 77 mph curve, and his killer pitch is his 83 mph changeup. His changeup has consistently been his best rated pitch through his career, rating at a +1.6 runs above average.

This year his K/9 is 8.46 (career high), his BB/9 is 2.21, but his HR/9 spiked to 1.52 -- well above his career average. He is also a flyball pitcher as his ground ball percentage is at 40.6% this year. But none of that should matter. He would instantly be the best Pirates' pitcher, especially getting the bump from the AL East to the NL Central.

The question would be "What would it take to get him?" Tampa Bay is notoriously tough to trade with, as Pirates fans may remember from the Jason Bay talks in 2008. But judging on the limited packages received for Dan Haren and Cliff Lee in 2010, I would say something with a Top 10 prospect, a Top 20 prospect, and a lower tier player may get it done.

Tampa has a pretty loaded system, especially with pitching, but you can never have enough cost-controlled pitching. Perhaps Rudy Owens, Quinton Miller, and Brock Holt may interest them. The most important thing to remember is that other teams are desperate to shed payroll and it is a buyer's market right now. Trades right now do not involve blue-chip prospects and young major leaguers. Recent deals are involving more quantity than quality, which the Pirates have.

This will be a very telling off-season for this front office. They have the payroll space to take on salary (especially if they non-tender Duke) and the type of prospects teams are always looking to stockpile.