Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Re-Signing Russ Martin Is Important

Russ Martin has built a time machine.  Or, to be trite, has discovered the Fountain of Youth.  Either way, Martin is in the midst of his finest season since his 2007 season with the Dodgers.  That year, Martin triple slashed .293/.374/.469 with 19 HR and 21 SB.  As a catcher, mind you.

This year, he's put up a .295/.417/.416 line with 7 HR and 4 SB.  But if you're a stathead (like me) then you may be interested to know that Russ's 2007 line resulted in a 122 Weighted Runs Created Plus (22% than league average), while his 2014 line is a 142 wRC+.  How can that be?  Because back in 2007, offense was greater around the league than it is today.  So by this metric, this is Martin's career season.

Martin is a free agent after the season and it is imperative that the Pirates re-sign him.  At the start of next season, Martin will be in his age-32 season and he will have 1000+ games as a catcher under his belt.  He will start to wear down eventually, so the Pirates have to be cautious with the number of years.

2 years, I would be ecstatic, but Martin is looking for his final big payday.  3 years would be great.  4 years would make me nervous.  5 years -- good luck with your new team, Russ.

During his time with the Yankees and into his first year with the Pirates, Martin was trying to sell out for home run power.  This year, he's made a conscious effort for contact and it has resulted in the fine line you see above.  If Martin, over the course of a 3 year deal, could even bat .270/.350/400, that would be fantastic for a catcher.

Martin is a good athlete, too, so perhaps he could get a break from squatting behind the plate by playing 3B or 1B periodically.  This would keep his bat (and his on-base prowess) in the lineup.

It's also important that the Pirates re-sign him as a show of good faith to the fans.  The Pirates are in the middle of a contention window right now.  Martin's on-base skills and pitch framing are things that are not sexy, but they age better than other skills like speed and power.

With record PNC attendances and the new national TV deals, there is plenty of money floating around Federal Street.  Yes, the Pirates have a big arbitration class coming up, but even if you take their $23M of commitments and estimate $28M for arbitration, the Pirates should still be able to afford $12-13M/year for Martin.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rum Runner's Saloon

Sometimes buildings are built quickly.  Sometimes buildings are built slowly.  And sometimes things are built at a glacial pace, like Rum Runner's Saloon on Babcock Boulevard.  The offshoot of the North Park Lounge Empire seemed to take forevvvverrrrr to renovate the old Sunseri's restaurant on Babcock Boulevard.  They did add a second floor to it, but it's hard to believe that this wasn't some significant, unforeseen problem, because this place took a long time to open.

In July, it did.  Was it worth it?

At this point, you know what you're going to get with a North Park restaurant.  Solid food, big portions, lot of TV's to give you sensory overload.  By and large, Rum Runner's is cut from the same cloth.

The interior goes with the rum barrel theme, with the one wall having a series of deconstructed barrels.  It would have been very easy to run with a pirate theme or a beachy theme, but Rum Runner's showed restraint.  The main dining is small, with a series of TV's all tuned to some sporting event, but tasteful.  There's cut stone around the fireplace.  The remaining part of the main room is kind of plain, but maybe it's just that we were expecting clutter and were pleasantly surprised.

The menu is also restrained.  There are a limited number of sandwiches, salads, and dinners, but it looks like they're concentrating on doing a core number of dishes very well.  There's some creativity in the ingredients and dishes that doesn't exist at the other North Park restaurants.

There's a little bit of a New Orleans theme, as there's a Shrimp Po' Boy and some BBQ Grilled Shrimp on the menu.  Is this a nod to pirates that used to frequent New Orleans like Lafitte?  Not sure, because it's never spelled out explicitly.

For dinner, I went with the Grilled Chicken Wrap on the strength of the menu's ingredient description.  There was a Granny Smith apple slaw and bacon jam on the wrap -- not your typical lettuce, tomato, cheese, chicken wrap.

The bacon jam was the star here.  It gave it some smoky flavor to go with the sweetness of the base jam.  Rum Runner's also makes a good, crispy group of fries.

DB~ went with an appetizer of Fish Tacos, after we heard that the appetizers are all big enough for a lunch portion or a small dinner portion.  Three large tacos came out stuffed solid with a breaded cod fish covered in a corn salsa with a roasted pepper sauce, a hint of cilantro, and some cabbage slaw.  Those are ingredients you won't find at the original North Park or the North Park Clubhouse.

I was impressed by the grill marks on the tortillas, but they were still soft and pliable.  We both agreed that it was a huge appetizer, as she could only eat two of them (and a handful of my fries).  I ate the third one, of course.

For an appetizer, we would have gone with three smaller shells for perhaps $7.99.  Or two of the large tacos plus a handful of nacho chips for $8.99, rather than the current $9.99.

The upstairs was completely open with all the large windows, so perhaps we should have sat up there to check out that scene.  Maybe next time.  And there will be a next time -- Rum Runner's is a solid place to get a solid meal when you don't feel like cooking that night.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

If the Pirates don't make the playoffs, it's still a good season

The Pirates didn't improve at all at the July non-waiver deadline.  That's all right -- they were still in the thick of both the division race and the wild card chase.

Things took a decided turn for the worse on August 2nd when the neanderthal Diamondbacks retaliated for Paul Goldschmidt by plunking Andrew McCutchen in the back, which may or may not have been an aggravating factor in McCutchen tearing rib cartilage on a swing the next day.  This was on the heels of Neil Walker's back flaring up on August 1st, in the midst of his best season.

And just for added sport, Pedro Alvarez picked this time frame to become completely worthless by letting his mental weakness overcome his ability to throw from 3B to 1B.  Plus his bat has been less than stellar this year, too.

As of this writing, the Pirates are 62-55 and just lost their annual series to the Padres.  They're in possession of the 2nd wild card, but it's hard to see them fending off the Giants (and perhaps the Braves and/or Reds) without McCutchen for an extended period of time.  Getting Walker back too is vital if they want to be a legit contender.

Without getting healthy AND getting some reinforcements to the bullpen and bench, I fear that the Pirates will just miss the playoffs this year.  Perhaps by as little as one game, which will lead to an entire offseason of second guessing Huntington and Hurdle's decisions, plus lamenting all of the blown games.

If the Pirates do miss the playoffs, it's not time to rend garments and gnash teeth, though.  The Pirates will have had their 2nd winning season in a row and their outlook for 2015 is incredibly bright with more prospects headlined by Kingham and Taillon on the way.  It will be a huge disappointment if they miss, but isn't the alternative of watching a losing season even worse?

(Who am I kidding?  It would suck huge if they missed the playoffs by one game.)