Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Pirates sign Josh Harrison to four-year extension

Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I'm sure Josh Harrison received many great presents on Christmas morning over the years. However, I wonder if he ever received $1 million in his stocking.

The Pirates are currently in Cincinnati to open up the 2015 MLB season against the Reds in a three-game series, so perhaps it's  fitting that Harrison's hometown is where it was announced on Wednesday that the club and its starting third baseman reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension.

Harrison, 27, first started appearing in Major League games for the Pirates in 2011, after being acquired in a 2009 trade. Harrison wasn't considered one of the brighter young prospects in the organization, as he was mainly a utility guy who could fill in at various positions.

Last year, however, when injuries plagued the team, Harrison started several positions and played so well, he was hard to keep out of the lineup. And when third baseman Pedro Alvarez failed to overcome his throwing and injury problems, Harrison found a permanent home at third.

Harrison appeared in 143 games in 2014, batting .315 for a Pirates team that made its second straight trip to the postseason. Harrison was also named to his first All-Star Game and finished ninth in NL MVP voting. As for that .315 batting average, it was good enough to finish second in the National League batting race to Justin Morneau.

A $1 million signing bonus was part of Harrison's extension that is reportedly worth $27.3 million and will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2018 season, with club options for both 2019 and 2020.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Steelers ship Timmons to Miami for 2015 first round pick

It looks like the Steelers may get their shot at a top cornerback after all.

It is being reported by various outlets that Pittsburgh has shipped starting inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to the Dolphins for Miami's first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft (14th, overall).

In-addition to the Dolphins' first round pick, Pittsburgh will also get a conditional pick in next year's draft (fourth or fifth round). Also, Miami will get the Steelers first round pick in 2015 (22nd, overall) and a third round pick in 2016. 

It is a rather bold move by an organization that normally shies away from such things as it pertains to trades and the NFL Draft, but it does open up avenues for Ryan Shazier (a first round pick in 2014), Sean Spence (a third round pick in 2012, who came back from a horrific knee injury in his rookie year to play a significant amount of time last season), and Vince Williams (a sixth round pick in 2013, who has started several games early in his career and looks to be improving). 

Here's a quote regarding the decision to trade Timmons from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin: 

"Lawrence was the first player drafted under my tenure, so it's been a little extra special to see him grow and develop on a daily basis. Since then, he's earned my utmost respect both as a player and as a person. When you consider what he's put on tape, we obviously did not make the decision to move on lightly. But we live in our hopes, not in our fears, and Vince, Sean and Ryan now have their own record on tape, we're obviously more than confident about how we stand at the inside linebacker position. Obviously, we're excited at the doors we open with this trade. I wish Lawrence nothing but the best in Miami." 

Timmons, 28, made his first Pro Bowl a year ago after being drafted in the first round out of Florida State in 2007. He's started 94 games in the NFL, many for Steelers defenses which finished first, overall. 

For the always cap compromised Steelers, Timmons's cap number is over $12.5 million for 2015, so maybe that factored in to the move. Nevertheless, now with a much more appetizing first round pick in the draft at the end of this month, Pittsburgh is making a statement and obviously looks to be a major player. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pirates should be applauded for their late-season surge to the playoffs

In politics, the media gives each side (usually republicans and democrats) equal time during such things as election campaigns.

The same thing doesn't always hold true in sports, where the awesome moments are often glossed over or just expected, while the bad moments are scrutinized, analyzed and really never forgotten.

Such is the case when it comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates and their back-to-back melt-downs at the tail-end of the 2011 and 2012 seasons that not only prevented them from making the postseason, but assured them their 19th and 20th consecutive losing campaigns.

Around mid-August of this just concluded 2014 regular season, the Pirates were in the throes of a seven-game losing streak that would ultimately leave them only two games over .500 on August 20.

Perhaps understandably, there was a palpable fear among fans that their Buccos would make it three collapses in four years and begin maybe a new string of losing seasons after having such a magical 2013.

But the Pirates righted their ship (pun intended) and stayed afloat long enough to actually go on a hot streak, a streak that included a stretch of 17 victories in 21 games that ultimately led to them clinching the top wild card in the National League, and a home date against San Francisco Wednesday night at PNC Park.

After the Pirates collapse in 2012 that was even more disappointing than the previous year, owner Bob Nutting did a complete evaluation of his franchise from top to bottom to try and figure out why this was becoming a trend.

Will he do a similar audit of his organization this year to try and determine why it was able to keep things together despite so many injuries--including stints on the disabled list for Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano--as well as the season-long problems for slugger Pedro Alvarez?

If Nutting doesn't do that, he should at least offer pats on the back to gm Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle because they deserve much credit for keeping things together and getting his Buccos back to the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Pirates didn't do anything at the trade deadline, but they didn't get worse

Things like NFL free agency and MLB's non-waiver trade deadline have become events, events that, well, if something doesn't happen for the home team, fans feel deflated.

I won't lie, I felt a little deflated when I turned on my car radio around 4:30 pm on Thursday to discover that the Pirates didn't acquire the services of Tampa ace David Price (I had already learned that Jon Lester would be leaving the Red Sox, but he would be going to Oakland--and not the neighborhood located in Pittsburgh, the city located in Northern California).

It's natural to want to see a result after days and days of speculation that usually accompanies baseball's trade deadline each and every late July.

My cousin texted me that he was "so frustrated." My brother texted me way too much for my tastes, telling me that the Pirates didn't get better, while the Cardinals, with their acquisitions of pitchers John Lackey and Justin Masterson; and the Brewers (the other NL Central team Pittsburgh will have to duke it out with down the stretch in 2014), with their acquisition of Gerardo outfielder with six home runs and 30 RBI, did.

Maybe St. Louis and Milwaukee did improve their respective squads with the pieces they added, but the Pirates didn't get worse simply by standing pat.

Whether it be hockey's or baseball's, I always find the trade deadline intriguing because we've become conditioned to think that if our team doesn't do something, it's a disservice to the fans.

Why is that?

If your team was good enough to make it to the trade deadline as a contender, why, suddenly, is it going to go downhill if no major moves are made?

The Pirates are still the same team that's 57-50 overall and 47-32 since early May (as of this writing).

Of course, our expectations rose over the past few days amid the rumors that Pittsburgh was suddenly a serious contender for Lester, and that a deal was believed to be imminent by many people "in the know."

But the Red Sox weren't just willing to accept a top prospect or two for Lester, a free agent at the end of the year who would be damn-near impossible for a team like the Pirates to sign to a long-term deal, they wanted a major league player........from a contending team.

You know who that major league player turned out to be? The A's Yoenis Cespedes, a 28 year old outfielder with 17 home runs and 67 RBI, and he won't be a free agent until after next season.

Now, the A's will be the team that will have no chance to re-sign Lester after this season, while Boston will certainly have the resources to lock up Cespedes AND maybe even Lester, who seemed to love playing with the Red Sox.

Can you imagine the Pirates parting ways with Starling Marte? If you can't, you shouldn't be crying that Lester didn't come to town, because there is no way he would have, otherwise.

And considering Marte is having a bit of a down year thanks to injuries, unlike Oakland, who also had to give up a draft pick, fellow outfielder Josh Bell or Austin Meadows may have also been part of a deal for Lester.

What about Pedro Alvarez? After all, he's having a down year. Forget the fact that he'll be in Pittsburgh until after the 2016 season and he hit 36 home runs last year (oh yeah, he's probably the only one in the organization with that kind of power), just throw him into a deal for Lester. After all, we gotta go for it!

It has been said that the only way for a team like the Pirates to acquire the services of a power hitter with the pedigree of an Alvarez would be to trade for him or draft him, which they did with the second overall pick in 2008.

Now that he's on the roster, you're just going to throw him into a deal for a rent-a-player simply because of a bad year?

If Alvarez can somehow get it together over these last two months, he would represent value that Pittsburgh simply couldn't bring back in any trade--at least from a hitting standpoint--and he could be the missing piece to the puzzle that gets the Pirates back to the postseason.

The A's did acquire outfielder Jonny Gomes, a 30something with only six home runs this year in the deal along with Lester, but how would that guy look in left field at PNC Park? Might as well just stick Travis Snider out there.

As for the trade of Rays' prized ace pitcher David Price to the Tigers for basically nothing note-worthy (Drew Smyly, a 25 year old starting pitcher who has made 17 starts and 23 year old infield prospect, Nick Franklin), I guess Pirates gm Neal Huntington doesn't have the fleecing chops of Detroit's gm because I'm sure had he been able to land Price, 28 and not a free agent until after next season, for, say, Jeff Locke and Jose Tabata, I'd like to think he would have driven both of them to Tampa himself.

In any event, the Pirates didn't get worse at the deadline, they just stayed the same. So far, that hasn't been too bad.

And if Gerrit Cole can also get it together down the stretch.................

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pitt finally beats a higher seed

The Pitt Men's basketball team achieved something in its second round NCAA tournament game on Thursday that it hadn't accomplished since 1981--a victory over a higher seed.

In fairness, it was only a victory over an eight seed, as the Panthers, seeded ninth in the South region, easily disposed of Colorado, 77-48, in a game that Pitt was favored to win by six points.

But for a program that hasn't had much to hang its hat on with regards to the Big Dance, at least it was something. And that 29 point victory also marked the largest tournament win in program history. (A fairly remarkable and surprising feat, when you consider the many high seeds the basketball program has enjoyed since I started following it back in 1987 as a 14 year old.)

The impressive win sets up a date with Florida Saturday afternoon at 12:15 ET. The Gators aren't just the number one seed in the South bracket, they're the number one seed, overall, so, obviously, Pitt will have its hands full.

Can the Panthers win? This remains to be seen, but they've been on the other side of this kind of equation many times over the years and failed.

Why not Pitt? Why not now?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Maybe we've been too hard on Pitt for its failure to reach the Final Four

Like a lot of Pitt basketball fans, I've had many dreams over the years of watching my favorite team cut down the nets in some gym somewhere after reaching the Promised Land of collegiate basketball--the Final Four.

 Unfortunately, despite making it to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the previous 12 seasons, dating back to the 2001/2002 campaign, the closest the Panthers have come is the Elite 8, which they lost in agonizing fashion to Scottie Reynolds and Villanova.

 Speaking of which, the Wildcats obviously advanced to the Final Four after dispatching Pitt, and as it turns out, that occurrence wasn't exactly the exception to the rule.

 Six of the 11 teams that knocked the Panthers out of the tournament since 2002 actually went on to reach the Final Four.

 In 2003, behind future NBA legend Dwyane Wade, Marquette defeated the Panthers in the regional semi-finals before reaching the Final Four.

 A season later, Oklahoma St. did the exact same thing and then went on to defeat St. Joseph's in the regional finals to reach the Final Four.

 Three seasons later, Jamie Dixon's Panthers faced off against the team with the coach that resurrected the program in the early 00s--Ben Howland--who led his new team--UCLA--to the Final Four after knocking off his old team in the, you guessed it, regional semi-finals.

 Then there was the aforementioned agony in 2009.

 After that, came a loss to Butler in the round of 32 in 2011, which Pitt entered as a number one seed. Butler then went on to make its second straight appearance in the National Championship game (and suffer its second straight loss), falling to Connecticut.

 And finally, a season ago, the Panthers, a number eight seed, were simply dismantled by number nine seed Wichita St., who then went on to, again, you guessed it, reach the Final Four.

 Kind of amazing when you think about it. Maybe the Panthers just need to get a better draw.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pitt gets No. 9 seed and will face No. 8 Colorado on Thursday afternoon in Orlando

What a difference a Newkirk makes. It wasn't long ago that I, along with many other Panthers fans, expressed angst and worry that the team's chances of making the NCAA tournament were quickly dwindling away.

And there was good reason for such concern.

After starting the year 18-2, and after starting out 6-1 in its first year in the ACC, Pitt stumbled, starting with a bad home loss to the Blue Devils in late-January, and lost six of 10 games.

At 22-8, following an improbable home loss to NC State, the Panthers RPI was a very dreadful 53; for a team hoping for an at-large bid, that ranking didn't bode well.

With only one regular season game remaining at Clemson, it was time to put up or shut up. And just when it looked like Pitt would be shut up, once and for all, the team erased a five point deficit in the final 2.4 seconds and tied the game on a Josh Newkirk buzzer beater following a turnover by the Tigers while trying to inbound the basketball.

Pitt would go on to win, 83-78, in overtime, and the consensus was that it would be enough to secure the at-large bid.

I don't know if that was the case or not, but the Panthers put any remaining fears to rest by advancing to the semi-finals of their first ACC tournament after impressive victories over Wake Forest and North Carolina.

The latest RPI rankings had Pitt at 38, and true to form they earned the number nine seed in the South region and will face the eighth seeded Buffaloes of Colorado this Thursday afternoon in Orlando, Fla.

The Panthers have never defeated a higher seeded team in the NCAA tournament, so a win over Colorado would at least be a milestone moment for the program. Unfortunately, after that, it will most likely be a match-up against Florida, the number one over all seed, in its own backyard.

Seems like an impossible task, but the Panthers did almost knock off Syracuse twice and Virginia twice, so it wouldn't totally shock me if Pitt at least made a game of it against the Gators.

I guess we'll soon find out. At any rate, the Panthers are going dancing.