Thursday, September 29, 2011

Teams to target in the offseason

I've been writing about how the Pirates should be looking into shanghai'ing talent this offseason by trading for young veterans with multiple years of control left on their contracts.

Rather than discuss players like I did last year, even though I think most of those players would be good candidates to obtain this year, I thought it may be interesting to evaluate which TEAMS may be in the market to trade.

Teams with financial problems:
NY Mets
LA Dodgers
Oakland A's

The Mets and Dodgers' financial problems are well-known, but perhaps lesser known to us East Coasters are the A's problems. Owner Lew Wolff desperately wants to move the A's to San Jose and build a corporately funded stadium, to the point that he recently backed a mayoral candidate who vowed NOT to build the A's a taxpayer-funded stadium in Oakland.

Further complicating the situation is that the Giants feel that San Jose is part of their "territory" and are actively fighting against them being able to move there. If things continue to drag on, the A's will be looking to burn the whole team down, perhaps this offseason.

Teams that need to cut salary and reload/rebuild:
Chicago Cubs
Houston Astros
Baltimore Orioles
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins
Seattle Mariners

Whether or not all these teams realize they need to reload or rebuild is another story (I'm looking at you Minnesota).

Teams that may want to move salary in order to add salary:
St. Louis Cardinals
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals
San Francisco Giants
Toronto Blue Jays
Los Angeles Angels

Oddly enough, all of these teams are in the market potentially for either Pujols or Fielder. All of these teams are up against their self-imposed salary caps, so they may need to move a mid-sized contract in order to clear space for these top 2 free agents.

With the Pirates showing increased attendance and Huntington already alluding to the idea that they may explore the trade market to improve the major league club, it makes sense that these teams will be mined for potential players. Each of these teams, with perhaps the exception of the Mets, has at least one interesting player with multiple years of control that could be a trade candidate.

The offseason will be an interesting one for the Pirates.

Sunday, September 25, 2011 bad about the Pirates

On July 23rd, DB~ and I were married. A few weeks earlier, Ben Roethlisberger and I got together for lunch and decided how to handle the media pressure on both of our weddings that day. Ben was a good man and stepped up and said he would bear the brunt of the media, allowing DB~ and I to have a paparazzi-free day.

The day we were married, the Pirates were 51-47, coming off a 9-1 loss to St. Louis that night. DB~ and I stayed downtown at a hotel that night and had a celebatory drink in the lobby with some in-town St. Louis fans. They were in their baseball jerseys and shorts. We were in a tux and full length wedding dress (as per DB~ --- if I'm paying all this money for it, I'm going to get some use out of it).

At that point in the season, all pistons were firing for the Pirates, especially the pitching. The hitters weren't all that hot, but Alex Presley was the sparkplug at the top of the lineup and the Pirates were getting just enough from a different person each night to win. Every pitcher was pitching well above their standards, especially Jeff Karstens, but you just wanted it to keep going.

After that night of July 23rd, the Pirates have gone 20-40, which is a .333 winning percentage -- which equates to a 54-108 record over a full season. That's very close to the Pirates 57-105 record they posted last year. Maybe after getting married, I somehow lost my laser-like focus on the Pirates and this resulted in the Pirates free fall into 5th place from 1st place.

Today is the final home game for the Pirates and DB~ and I will be in attendance. Sorry that our blessed union is apparently the cause for the Pirates slide. We'll try harder next year.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's Alive!!

I went to a seminar today about Sustainability in design of engineering projects. I have a moderate interest in the subject, but to be honest I was mostly there to get the last few Continuing Education Units I need for my Professional Engineer's license renewal.

The seminar was at Phipps Conservatory. The final topic of the day was regarding the recent expansion effort of Phipps -- the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, also known as a Living Building.

The CSL is going for LEED Platinum certification and the highest rating for the Living Building Center's rating. One of the core tenets of the building's planning was the use of Integrated Design. The concept of Integrated Design is that all of the design team (owner, architect, mech engineer, plumbing engineer, site engineer, electrical engineer, landscape architect) gets together at the very beginning to explore the conceptual design, rather than wait for the design and then go off and work in their own vacuums.

On large buildings, it certainly makes sense. The other interesting facet of the design is the exclusion of certain products that are deemed environmentally unsound. These include PVC pipe, which is on the naughty list for the way it is fabricated. It also includes lead fire sprinklers, which is a problem because commercial-grade fire sprinklers not made of lead are few and far between.

The building external cladding is going to be made of wood re-purposed from old barns throughout Western Pennsylvania. It will be a net zero power and water building by re-using discarded water for irrigation and flushing toilets. There's a whole host of other enviro-friendly nuggets with the building, which will be completed probably within 18 months.

Just another nice feature to an excellent facility at Phipps Conservatory.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Northerner making a Southern meal

DB~ and I used to love going to a restaurant on the edge of Bellevue called Mojo Bistro. Sadly it closed last year as the owners wanted to go back to New Orleans. Every dish there was fantastic and the place was always packed, but they still closed anyway.

One of the best dishes we had there were Shrimp and Grits. The grits were cheesy and had a hint of bacon flavoring. We sort of had a hankering for grits, so I thought to give it a shot making them.

I have a huge bag of yellow corn meal in the pantry, so I thought I could make the grits out of those and give a little additional flavor. I mixed 1 cup of corn meal in 1 cup of cold milk. Once they started to set, I added 1 cup of water to the sauce pan and heated them up for 5-10 minutes. I sauteed the shrimp with some Luzienne's Cajun Seasoning sprinkled on top and placed them on top of the grits. When the grits were ready to be topped, I added some honey to them for a sweet flavor addition.

The two sides were fried tomato slices -- yes, I did think of Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy from Fried Green Tomatoes...I didn't sleep well that night -- that I made by dredging them in flour, dipping them in egg, and then breading them in seasoned bread crumbs (oregano, salt, pepper).

The second side was Red Swiss Chard sauteed in onions and garlic and olive oil. Once the chard wilted down and was ready to be served, I sprinkled romano cheese on top.

All in all, it wasn't as good as Mojo Bistro, but it was still a pretty great meal.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Maybe I was just a year too early...

Going into the 2010 offseason, I wrote about how that offseason was an Inflection Point for the future of the Pirates franchise. I advocated that the Pirates make a serious attempt to improve the major league team by utilizing some of the minor league depth to trade for young veterans with multiple years of control.

Some of the same players I advocated trading for last offseason (Scott Baker of Minnesota, Gavin Floyd of the White Sox, Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins, and James Shields of the Rays) are still possibilities again this year.

The 2011 season gave us all a taste of winning baseball, like crack fiends getting that first vial for free. Now we're ready to sell all of our furniture (read: minor league system) to get another taste. I'm not saying we trade Jameson Taillon and Starling Marte to get some players, but I wouldn't rule out too many other people. Perhaps I was just a year too early in my advocating for trades to improve the major league team.

The Pirates may have been playing over their heads until the end of July, but the fact remains that they were 5 games over .500 going into the end of July series with the Phillies. At that point I felt the losing streak of 18 years would be over, even if I didn't truly believe that they were a completely legitimate playoff contender. The fact is that were contenders based on the record, but I would have been thrilled with 82 wins and getting that silly losing streak monkey off their backs.

But August smacked this team in the jaw and like a mid-1980's opponent for Mike Tyson, the Pirates could not get up from the canvas after that 10 game losing streak. It really left a bad taste in some fans' mouths on how sour this season turned.

The Pirates will again have a great deal of payroll flexibility after they decline the options for Doumit, Snyder, and probably Maholm. Even with some arbitration cases on the horizon (Hanrahan, Veras, Morton for example), they should still have around $10-$15M to potentially spend on either free agents or trades for younger veterans with multiple years of control. That doesn't even factor in the whole increased attendance and revenue they acheived in 2011, although the decrease to revenue sharing is unknown.

In short, last offseason the Pirates got Clint Hurdle and he has been a huge improvement over John Russell. Now it's time to get Andrew McCutchen some help on the field. You can't rely solely on your own prospects (but I can't wait for Starling Marte to get here in 2012!) because they flame out too often.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hey, Dad! The Food Truck is here!

While I was watching Food Truck Race 2 on Food Network tonight (salivating...eventually I had to raid the fridge), I was again frustrated by the lack of food trucks in Pittsburgh thanks to the red tape that you have to cut through to have a food truck.

Apparently you can't park for more than 1 hour in Pittsburgh and sell food, which kind of inhibits business. Normal, forward-thinking people would understand this, but Pittsburgh at times needs dragged out of the 1980's, let alone the year 2011.

Anywho, my revelation that I had was "Do you need to be downtown to have a successful food truck?" Could you use social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and the like to announce that you were going to set up in a big industrial park like an RIDC in the suburbs? Could you go to a construction site in the suburbs?

Or even better...could you drive around a neighborhood during the day, like the ice cream man from your childhood, and sell tacos to adults?

So as I'm typing this, the final part of Food Truck Race for this week in Memphis is's the elimination ceremony. Tyler Florence announces that 1 of the teams cheated by adding $2700 of their own money to the cashbox without selling the corresponding food. It's the Korilla BBQ truck, my personal favorite truck and a front-runner to win it all. They had to slink off totally embarassed and they never even gave their side of the story...I guess nothing needed to be said.

The sad part is that they didn't even need to cheat. They weren't the lowest grossing team for this city. Kind of a sad end to a great team.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Trying to recapture the Greek magic

On Friday night, DB~ and I had our close friends over. I decided for the 4 of us I would attempt to replicate some of the meals we had in Greece.

I started off with the rusk, using the best available ingredients I could find. I went with a rustic Italian-style bread and "scalped" the top of it so I could place my ingredients on top of it. I made this about 1-1/2 hours ahead of when I planned to serve it, so as to allow the olive oil and tomato juices soak in deeply. Instead of the anthotiro cheese, I went with feta, as I couldn't find the anthotiro anywhere in town (even online at Penn Mac in the Strip District). I topped the cheese with some rinsed capers and greek oregano I brought back from Athens.

The juices saturated the bread, but not as much as in Santorini. It was still great and well-received, but not the exact same as we had it.

I "cheated" and bought grape leaves at Giant Eagle's antipasta section and cut some lemon wedges to squeeze over top for each person's individual tastes.

In addition to a simple Greek salad (greens, onion slices, kalamata olives, tomatoes, and feta with a balsamic/olive oil mix), the main course was lamb kleftiko. Using my Dutch oven, I cut a lamb roast into chunks and browned it. I wedged some potatoes and drizzled them with lemon juice and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Additionally, I sauted some onions and garlic together and added them in. After all that, I topped the entire pot with tomato slices (approx. 1-1/2 tomatoes) and sprinkled some crumbled feta on top.

The lamb kleftiko was baked at 325 F for 2 hours. A nice base juice developed and the lamb was done well. It turned out well and all of us liked it, but it just wasn't quite the same. Perhaps it has something to do with not having the Parthenon in the background?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Andrew McCutchen is having a down year

Last year, I wrote about how some Pirate fans felt that 2010 was a down year for Andrew McCutchen. I attempted to refute those claims on the basis that it was his perceived defensive shortcomings that held his season's perception down.

So it is somewhat surprising that I am here to type that 2011 was a down year for Cutch-22. On the surface this seems counterintuitive as McCutchen is in the midst of a 5.3 WAR season after his first two years being 3.5 and 3.7 respectively.

The first half of the year looked like McCutchen was on the verge of becoming a legitimate superstar in the league as he went .291/.390/.505 (894 OPS) with 14 HR and 15 SB's in the 88 games prior to the All-Star break. But McCutchen came out cold from the ASB and has stayed cold in the 2nd half, with a .226/.335/.382 (717 OPS) line and 6 HR and 5 SB's in 52 games.

Contrary to last year, when McCutchen and the rest of the outfielders were subjected to the bizarre defensive alignments, Cutch-22 has a very favorable Ultimate Zone Rating for his fielding (4.8/150 versus his -12.9/150 in 2010). So last year's 3.7 WAR was held down by his poor defensive rating while his 5.3 WAR may be buoyed by his positive defensive rating. I'm becoming evermore skeptical of defensive ratings, so when I see a player greatly augmented by one, it sticks out.

My reasoning is that McCutchen's Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) has held steady from his first two years. His three wOBA's are (in order) .368, .363, and .364. Additionally, his OPS's are steady at 836, 814, and 830. So McCutchen's offensive component of his WAR rating has held steady, but his defensive rating (the part that I'm skeptical of true value) has fluctuated which has caused his high WAR total of 5.3 in 2011.

Something else to be concerned about is that his overall contact percentages have dropped this year too. As per his Fangraphs page, his contact rate within the strike zone has dropped from 90.6% to 87.9% this year. His overall contact rate for all pitches has also dropped from 84.6% to 81.0% and his swinging strike rate has increased from 5.8% to 7.6% this year.

Let me clarify something -- I am still a huge, huge McCutchen fan. I think he has another gear in him and he is capable of having a 25 HR/40 SB season, which would be monsterous. But this season is not his best one. The good news is that Cutch-22 will not turn 25 until October, which means his peak seasons of age 27-29 are still ahead of him and in line for us as Pirates fans.