Saturday, December 31, 2011

What If Andrew McCutchen was drafted by the Rays?

It's hard to believe that the Rays were at one time not The Little Franchise that could, but you have to go alllllll the way back to the year 2005 to find when they were still flailing away. At that time in 2005, they were in the midst of the final death throes of the GM Chuck LaMar/Owner Vince Namoli era.

It was June 2005 and the annual draft was upon the "Devil" Rays. The Rays were in their customary spot of picking in the Top 10 of the draft, this time in the 8th slot. There was a great amount of internal debate within the Devil Rays' front office on who to take with their first round pick. There was a faction in the front office that wanted to take Florida high school star Andrew McCutchen, but there was a larger more vocal faction that wanted to get a college player to help the team much sooner (read: try and save their jobs). If anything of these first two paragraphs sound hauntingly familiar to you, just flash forward two years to the summer of 2007 when the Pirates went "safe" and picked Danny Moskos in the draft. It's no coincidence that LaMar and Littlefield were both considered two of the worst GM's in modern years.

I thought it might be interesting to contemplate how Andrew McCutchen's career may have been different had that minority faction in the Devil Rays' front office won out.

Let's assume that McCutchen signs with the Devil Rays and at the slot amount, just as he did with the Pirates. He would probably have been assigned to Princeton of the Applachian League, as the Devil Rays don't have a Gulf/Arizona League team for HS players. The Rays are notorious for going slow with their young pitchers, but not as much with their hitters, so in 2006 let's say that McCutchen would have been assigned to the Southwest Michigan Whitecaps in the Low A Midwest League. The Midwest League is a much tougher hitting environment, especially in the early part of the year due to cold conditions, but it is safe to assume that McCutchen would still have done well.

In 2007, McCutchen would have been promoted to Vero Beach in the Florida State League. The FSL is considered to be a pitcher's league, due to the oppressive heat and humidity in the summer, plus some expansive outfields at certain parks. The Pirates aggressively promoted McCutchen to Double A Altoona Curve in 2007, but the Devil Rays would probably have taken it one rung at a time with him.

2008 would have seen McCutchen promoted to the Montgomery Biscuits in the Southern League, which skews towards a hitters league. It is easy to envision the 21 year old McCutchen doing quite well in this league. Continuing with the one level at a time theory, McCutchen would have gone to the Durham Bulls in 2009 as a 22 year old in the International League. The Devil Rays are very cost conscious and like to control their assets more than any team in the league, so it is not hard to imagine McCutchen spending all of 2009 in the IL.

What would have happened in 2010, though? At the major league level, BJ Upton was firmly entrenched in CF for the now-Rays. Carl Crawford was ensconced in LF, but would soon be leaving the Rays for free agency at the end of the year. Ben Zobrist was coming off of a huge breakout year in 2009, even though his 2010 was a down year, but he wasn't going anywhere in RF.

If the Rays were out of playoff contention, it would be conceivable that they could have traded Crawford mid-season to recoup some value in prospects. However, the Rays made a playoff push in 2010. As a result of the playoff run, plus the presence of three solid options, it seems as if McCutchen could have spent a 2nd full season in AAA.

McCutchen may not have made his major league debut until the start of the 2011 season (as a 24 year old), replacing Crawford in LF, as Upton is considered to be a high quality CF. This past season may have been McCutchen's rookie season if he were a member of the Rays, not his 3rd overall season and 2nd full season like it was with the Pirates.

As we have seen with Evan Longoria, Wade Davis, and recently Matt Moore, the Rays are not shy about locking up young talent early on in the process. The Pirates are trying to do that right now, but McCutchen may have concerns about the future of the Pirates. That may not be the case with the Rays, as they have been quite successful in recent years.

As difficult as it would be to imagine McCutchen in any other uniform, it is possible that he would have had a slower yet ultimately more rewarding career, in terms of both team success and short-term financial success, if the "Devil" Rays had made a different decision in that draft room in 2005.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Meat and Potatoes

On Saturday I was at Piratefest and near the end of it DB~ met me down at the convention center. We were joined for dinner by my friend Tim and originally intended to go to NOLA on the Square. However, when we called ahead the earliest possible reservation was 9:15 (it was 7'ish).

A restaurant that I've had in the back of my mind is Meat and Potatoes. I liked the name, liked the logo, and liked its description as a pub. That was about all I knew about it, though, aside from it being on Penn Avenue. We walked from the Convention Center to Meat and Potatoes and were surprised that it is practically IN the O'Reilly Theater.

There's a seperate entrance, but the hostess stand is kind of in an O'Reilly-feeling lobby and is a little exposed to the elements when the door is open and closed. Those minor concerns were all that we could find wrong with Meat and Potatoes, though.

When you enter the restaurant, it's darkened to give off a relaxing mood. There's a large chalkboard to your left that show the specials of the day. Also to your left is a private "party" room that has a white farm-style sliding door with glass panels and black hardware and handles. The private room might hold 10 people tops.

There was a long wait for a table here also, but we were able to be seated immediately at the bar. DB~ and I actually prefer to eat at the bar sometimes because you get quicker service and the bartenders tend to engage you more than a typical server. It also seemed as if the granite top bar had more depth to it for your plates and drinks than the typical table here.

The bartenders wore dark colored vests and ties tucked in the vests. The one bartenders had a "chaffeurs' hat" on with his pinstriped vest, reminding us of the bartenders at the erstwhile Embury (single tear in memory of that great place). As it turns out, our bartender was actually the head bartender at Embury at the time of its closing.

He was able to mix a mean Sidecar for me. DB~ and Tim both had special craft beers -- one was a raspberry chicory stout and the other was a winter ale.

For dinner, DB~ wanted one last hurrah with her autumn beau of pumpkin, so she ordered the pumpkin ravioli. Tim ordered the pork chop. I ordered the chicken pot pie.

Unfortunately, my pictures turned out very dark (no flash on my phone), but DB~ loved her dish. It was in a brown butter and sage sauce with parmesean, but the key here were the pecans that were roasted in (I believe) nutmeg. They really finished off the dish.

Tim's pork chop looked like it came straight out of the Flintstones. I was concerned it was going to tip his plate over, just like the brontosaurus chop did to Fred's car. It was served with some baked beans and a spicy slaw that had Tim sweating a little bit.

My chicken pot pie was great. The peas were actually whole sugar snap peas, slices of carrot, slivers of celery, roasted sections of chickens. However, the star of the show here were the tiny purple Peruvian potatoes and tiny white potato halves. Quite tasty.

All 3 of us loved the restaurant and would definitely check it out again. Perhaps in conjunction with a show at the O'Reilly next time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Will they elect a fake City Council, too?

Here we sit at the tail end of 2011, with large masses of people around the country upside down on their mortgages, or worse...homeless, living in their cars or the streets. And what does one company, Pegasus Holdings, propose to do?

Build a ghost town from scratch in the desert expanse of New Mexico. Seriously. If they want to utilize a ghost town, what's wrong with Detroit? Snark.

Pegasus is proposing to construct the Center for Innovation, Testing, and Evaluation (CIT-E, get it?) in order to implement different energy-saving technologies in building and streets and then field test their performances. They may bring in some human test subjects from time to time to groundtruth the mechanisms, but for the most part the only humans will be confined in underground laboratories watching every quirk and nuance of these different experiments, ranging from surveillance to power grids to smart streets to security systems.

And this won't be some 10 city block testing lab. It will 20 square miles, consisting of an urban core, suburbs, and outlying rural areas. The infrastructure (water, sewer, electric, cable, gas) will be laid out to accomodate a potential 30,000 person population.

Coupled with PlanIT that I wrote about, the egghead community sure seemed to play as much SimCity2000 as I did growing up. But then my 2nd-tier thinking/conspiracy theorist starts kicking in....

By locating in New Mexico's deserts near Las Cruces, rife with energy and defense contractors, I highly doubt that CIT-E will be only for energy and traffic experiments. I have a feeling that the military will be field testing tactical weapons shortly after this opens -- to see how a city block reacts to different cutting edge technologies dreamed up by DARPA.

Just as long as the government powers-that-be don't set up their own Science City Zero, we should be OK, I suppose.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Now that the dust has settled....

Today marked the end of the annual Winter Meetings in Dallas that started on Monday. The Pirates weren't as busy as the Marlins or Angels, but they did churn quite a few moves up during the meetings, with some fairly interesting little moves.

Here's a summary of some of the Pirates moves:
1. They signed Nate McLouth. I guess McLouth didn't completely burn all bridges with his crying and whining after his trade in 2009. McLouth signed a 1 year, $1.75M deal with the expectation that he would be the 4th OF. McLouth may be a good reclamation project, as he readily admitted that he dug himself into a hole in Atlanta that he couldn't get out of easily.

2. The Pirates traded Brooks Pounders and Diego Goris to the Royals for Yamaico Navarro. Set aside Goris, who was a 4 year player in the DSL -- without going to the trouble of tattooing it on his forehead, you can assume Goris is not a prospect. Pounders was my personal #31 prospect, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over him. Pounders pitched out of relief this year in West Virginia (and did well), but he may lack the stamina to be a starting pitcher long term. The Pirates have a large amount of starting pitching options going to Bradenton next year, so this was a good use of trading from depth. In return the Pirates get Navarro, who will be 24 in 2012. Navarro was a well-regarded Red Sox prospect that was traded to the Royals last summer for Mike Aviles. Navarro has his warts -- he has an attitude problem and concerns about his weight -- but he should be a nice option as the utility infielder this year for the major league club.

3. The Pirates signed Erik Bedard. This was the most surprising one, to Pirate fans and the media alike. Bedard signed a 1 year, $4.5M deal with some incentive clauses. When healthy, Bedard is a legit #2 style pitcher. The problem is that he hasn't been healthy much in the last 4 years. In 2011, he pitched 129 innings, which was the most since 2007. It's too bad you can't time pitcher injuries, because if Bedard can hang in until Morton comes back from his hip surgery, then get injured, then come back and hang in until one of the AAA pitchers (Owens, Locke, McPherson) are ready....well, that would be handy.

Additionally, the Pirates cleared some space for these guys by:
1. Releasing Ross Ohlendorf. This one hurts a little because Ohlendorf seems like a real good guy that will probably do better things in his life post-baseball. Ohlendorf has had too many injuries to warrant his $2M arbitration award that he was likely to receive this year.

2. Designating for assignment Jason Jaramillo and Pedro Ciriaco. I hope Ciriaco saved all that money he accumulated by being, inexplicably, on the ML squad in 2011. He barely played, even as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, yet hung around for the better part of the year. Jaramillo is a completely fungible back up catcher that will not be missed long term.

Derrek Lee also treated the Pirates like the chubby girl at the dance by declining arbitration, in hopes of getting a gig with whoever missed out on the Pujols-Fielder sweepstakes. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs have interest in bringing him back, as they had some interest in Pujols. I can't see Fielder going there, though.

I have a feeling that the Pirates will be definitely in on Lee or Carlos Pena, as I can't buy the notion that Nick Evans and Garrett Jones will be platooning there in 2012.

The Pirates also signed Jose Morales as AAA depth at catcher. In the Rule 5 draft, the Pirates lost Brett Lorin to the Diamondbacks and picked up Gustavo Nunez from the Tigers. I just don't see where Nunez will fit in at the ML level or even at AA if they can work out a trade.

I will continue to beat the drum that the Pirates should trade some prospects for a pitcher like Ervin Santana or Gavin Floyd. The Angels need to offload some payroll to accommodate the new salaries of Pujols and Wilson. The White Sox are in the midst of a rebuild and can use every prospect they can get their hands on.

The Pirates have made marginal improvements around the edges of the team, with Bedard being a nice upgrade pending good health. Not a bad Winter Meetings period, but I expect another move or two.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Salt of the Earth - Part Deux

It's rare, if ever, that I have posted about a restaurant a second time. But DB~ and I had a gift certificate to use up by the end of the year at Salt of the Earth. We asked our closest friends to join us for dinner last night (Friday). The first time we were there was in June.

My friend and his wife are casual readers of the blog (meaning that they read it once) and he had one request during dinner -- he wanted a nickname, too. He even provided his own suggestion -- Mickey Mantle's Liver.

So last night, the four of us (DBS, DB~, MML, and MML*) got to Salt of the Earth at 6:30 pm. It was packed and we were told it might be a 1 hour wait. So we had a cocktail. None of us anticipated it would be that long and it wasn't. After about 20 to 30 minutes, we were asked if we would like the kitchen-side seats. I practically blurted out "absolutely!", even as MML sort of made a face, not realizing what a great opportunity this would be to watch the artful masterpieces be created in front of us.

We strategically laid out the seating order to maximize conversation potential. It went MML*, DB~, DBS, and MML from left to right (I guess if you've been married for 9 years, you don't need to talk with each other all the time!).

As soon as we sat down, I noticed the grill master had a sleeve of tattoos on each arm, a buzz crop of blond hair, and a placid look on his face. He sure looked like Kevin Sousa, but he was not wearing his thick framed black glasses that I was familiar with. But sure enough, DB~ confirmed via her iPhone that he did not always wear his glasses.

It was fascinating to watch the kitchen staff of Salt of the Earth work together in harmony during the night. It is said, and I believe it to be true, that the demeanor of any operation starts at the top. This was true last night...Salt was very busy, yet Sousa calmly and coolly tended to the great quantities of duck and hangar steak on the grill in front of him. Each cut of meat was salted and seasoned in the same exact manner -- his hand was held at mid-chest height, with his wrist cocked, and the salt was released and gently sprinkled. Coming off the grill, each cut was plated and sliced with calm and detached efficiency.

We started our dining experience off with two appetizers. The first were Vegetable Lettuce Wraps for the girls. The chicken was a spicy Korean type of chicken with excellent flavors. Check out the great camera work by Squiggle to get Kevin Sousa in the background of the wraps picture.

The second appetizer was for the carnivores of the group. We got Gnocchi, but it was primarily a meat appetizer. The dish was tiny cubes of beef cheek, with spots of persimmon puree, small bites of sweet potato gnocchi, all served on cow tongue. Our server called it Tongue and Cheek when he presented it to us.

It goes without saying that both were excellent. Even the girls tried the paper thin tongue and liked it well enough. The beef cheek was perhaps the most tender piece of red meat we have ever had. It disintegrated in my mouth upon touching my tongue. The tongue itself was pretty neutral. It absorbed the flavors of the cooking liquids that it was braised in, plus it blowtorched for a few seconds upon plating.

For dinner, all four of us ordered something different.

MML* ordered the Mushroom. I didn't really get a good luck at it, but it had farro for the starch, some pear, and "root". Not sure what type of root that entailed.

DB~ ordered the Trout. The skin was well seasoned and slightly crispy, but tender on the inside. It was sitting in a broth known as Birch Dhani, that DB~ asked me to reverse-engineer. I'm not sure I can. There were also udon noodles, turnips, and in the words of DB~ "a nice little touch with some peeled grapes".

MML had the Duck. It was served on a puree of parsnip and served with apple butter, pomegranate, and brussel sprouts. The duck was a shade less than medium rare, but MML liked it that way. MML stated that the Duck was easily one of the top 5 dishes he has ever had in his life. Judging by the amount of duck dishes we saw being prepared at our kitchen-side seats, there were a lot of people that might be saying that today.

I had the Hangar Steak. It was served on a bed of rice porridge, a kimchi and broccoli mix, with toasted ginger on top of the steak. Kevin Sousa fermented his own kimchi for this dish. It was a new kimchi...only fermented for 4 days, instead of 3 months. My steak was done medium and it was perfectly tender. The toasted garlic was fantastic, the kimchi spicy, and the porridge gave a different texture that otherwise may have been missing.

Kevin Sousa leaned over to talk to us after our meal. I asked him how his new place, Union Pig and Chicken, was coming along in the construction. He said he hoped to be open by the end of February. I asked him when he was going to go on Iron Chef and show them how it was done. He responded by saying he hadn't been invited yet (things to do -- submit Kevin Sousa to Food Network), but if he did he wanted to take on Morimoto before he was shuffled out of the Iron Chef show. Morimoto is basically a machine that never loses, so it's commendable that Sousa would want to challenge himself like that.

It was yet another fantastic meal at the best restaurant in Pittsburgh. It was only heightened by the fact that we got to interact with the chef, see the process in action, and spend the night with our great friends.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Much like any good pair of dancers, DB~ and I have found a good rhythm in the kitchen. Up until now, that relationship consisted of "I make the food and you enjoy it." It always left me feeling like she would just eat whatever I had the interest in making that day...kind of like a restaurant but with only 1 or 2 choices on the menu.

But in recent weeks, DB~ has found her niche. She is on a huge roll of finding great recipes for me to make. It started with the Cheddar Chicken Crumb recipe, moved to a Stuffed Pepper recipe (a variation on a Greek stuffed pepper recipe I've been doing) and then last Sunday came the Butternut Squash Lasagna.

I've probably mentioned this before, but DB~ with a little extra convincing could easily be a vegetarian. She doesn't like red meat very much, doesn't eat barbeque (!!!), tolerates pork, and is OK with eating chicken. So in turn, I've become a bit of a vegetarian myself. That's OK with the Moroccan tagines, and the stuffed pepper with no meat, but...lasagna? I'm used to a nice little layer of ground meat inside all that melty ricotta.

She found the recipe on this site called Design Sponge. After looking at it, I realized this needed to be a weekend meal, because it seemed time-consuming. I modified the ingredients for this post to correspond to my experience making it. This will serve 4 people.

1 medium butternut squash - peeled, cored, and sliced width-wise
6 lasagna noodles - cooked
1-1/2 cups of spinach leaves
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 stick of butter
scant 1/4 cup of flour
1-1/2 cups of 2% milk
2 cups of mozzarella
1/2 cup of parmasean cheese, shredded

Start your large stockpot of water boiling. Turn your oven on to 375 degrees Farenheit.
While the water is coming to a boil, peel and slice the squash into the wing-like shaped pieces (make sure you cut in half and remove the seeds too). Drizzle some olive oil on a baking sheet, place the squash on the sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake the squash for 15 minutes until softened.

Hopefully your water is boiling by now and you can drop your lasagna noodles in to cook fully.

While that's going on, start making your cream sauce. Take 1/4 of a stick of butter (half of your half stick) and melt it in a small saucepan on medium heat. Mix the flour in to create a roux. When this is whisked together, slowly pour in the milk and mix well. Add in the garlic and let the mixture thicken a little bit (keep stirring periodically, as the milk will cause the mix to bubble up with the flour).

Once thickened, pour this mix into a food processer and add the spinach. Process this thoroughly and add some salt and pepper to taste. There's your cream sauce.

Your lasagna should be cooked and drained by this point. Your squash should be out of the oven, too. Time to start assembling the lasagna.

Use a 9 by 13 baking dish for this. Pour some of the cream sauce in the bottom (enough to cover the bottom), then add one layer of lasagna noodles. Add some of the mozzarella cheese, some of the parm cheese, then a layer of the squash. Repeat as necessary (I did 2 layers) and end it with some parmasean cheese on top.

Bake covered in foil for 40 minutes, then take off the foil and bake for 15 minutes more. Let it rest for 10 minutes when you take it out or else it will fall apart when you cut it.

The link has a recipe for a sage-butter sauce, but we felt the lasagna stood on its own merit. And you never even notice there's no meat.