PITTSBURGH -- This will be the final Inbox for 2010, though you can be sure that we'll start the new year off with another. Over the final days of December, you'll find stories on the Pirates' site that take a look back at '10 and a look ahead to '11, which the Bucs hope will involve significant on-field improvement.
Many blessings to all of you this holiday season and best wishes for the upcoming year.
I don't understand the signing of Lyle Overbay at all. I thought they wanted to get younger and get a right-handed bat. They still need a shortstop. And aside from that, Ryan Doumit is only 29, whereas Overbay is 34. Where is the upside? -- Lion S., New Martinsville, W.Va.
I will admit that the signing of Overbay caught me a bit off-guard, too, given that the Pirates had other unaddressed needs and had Garrett Jones as a left-handed option for first base. But the club has been emphasizing the need to upgrade defensively, and I have to believe this acquisition was strongly based on that.
The Pirates' defense got better at first base and in right field with this move. Overbay is a better defender than Jones at first, and a Jones/Matt Diaz platoon is a better defensive combination than Doumit/Diaz. Overbay's and Doumit's production from an offensive standpoint are fairly similar. There is one critical difference, however, and that is that Overbay has showed durability while Doumit hasn't.
Doumit's career with Pittsburgh has been plagued with injuries, and it has always been a concern that he would be off the field as much as on it. Overbay has not had similar issues and has appeared in at least 154 games in five of his last seven seasons.
Also, keep in mind that the Pirates are ready and willing to deal Doumit, so the club needed to address the void that will be created if Doumit is traded before next season. Doumit is set to make more in 2011 ($5.1 million) than Overbay ($5 million).
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With the signings of Overbay and Diaz, what are the Pirates plans with John Bowker? -- Tim S., Pittsburgh
If Doumit remains with the club, Bowker's best shot at making the Major League club will be earning a spot as the team's fifth outfielder. If Doumit is dealt before Spring Training, Bowker could be the Pirates' fourth outfielder.
While the Pirates were pleased with Bowker's showing last September, the reality is that he has never had sustained success at the Major League level. It was too risky for the club to have to count on Bowker to play in a semi-regular role given the lack of proven results above Triple-A.
Who do you see getting the closer's job in 2011? -- Steve S., Des Moines, Iowa
This was a question asked of general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle at the Winter Meetings, and both avoided tipping their hand as to which way the club is leaning. Huntington said it is a decision that should be made before Spring Training, though he added that there could be a scenario in which both Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek are used in the closer's role. Hurdle said that he would prefer to pick one defined closer.
While I can see benefits of going to either one, I'd have to guess that the Pirates are going to go with Hanrahan. He has previous experience in the role and has a particularly nasty two-pitch mix that netted him 100 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings.
The revolving door of players has upset a lot of Pirates in the past, and I'm wondering how the loss of Lastings Milledge will affect Andrew McCutchen and his relationship with the organization. McCutchen voiced displeasure when the Bucs unloaded Nyjer Morgan. It appears that he had a great relationship with Milledge as well, and I'm wondering if this will sour McCutchen on the organization and affect his signability in the future. -- Steve A., Washington, D.C.
McCutchen and Milledge were quite close. Their lockers were adjacent in the PNC Park clubhouse and they shared an apartment in Pittsburgh. Through much of Spring Training, the pair seemed inseparable.
Having covered this club for four years now, I have seen plenty of player animosity toward the organization immediately after a player is traded or cut. It's a natural reaction to be upset when a popular teammate and friend is gone with hardly the time to say goodbye. However, that doesn't mean that bitterness, disappointment and anger always linger.
Without having talked with McCutchen since Milledge was non-tendered, I am confident that McCutchen will support any move the club makes to get better. If Diaz ends up producing more than Milledge did, Huntington will win over any players that might have been initially disappointed to see Milledge go. As for McCutchen's willingness to sign here long term, that's going to depend on the offer he gets from Pittsburgh and whether he sees the organization turning things around and winning.
Now that Joe Blanton and possibly other Phillies players may be available, is Pittsburgh in the hunt? -- William L., Shelton, Conn.
I can't confirm that the Pirates have had discussions -- to any degree -- about Blanton with the Phillies, but it would certainly make sense for the club to inquire. The Pirates are still looking to add starting pitching, and the Phillies are looking to shed Blanton's two-year, $17 million contract now that they have Cliff Lee. The Pirates are believed to have enough payroll flexibility to make such an addition, and Blanton would unquestionably improve the rotation.
The question, however, is what Philadelphia would want in return. The Phillies are sure to get plenty of inquiries, so if the Pirates want to make a serious push for Blanton, they'd have to meet Philadelphia's asking price.
What are the chances the Pirates could get Jack Wilson back from Seattle? If nothing else, this would be a great PR move. -- Marion, Pittsburgh
I'm not sure what prompted this, but I got a number of similar questions about the possibility of a Pittsburgh Wilson reunion. It just doesn't make sense. Wilson has been injury-prone since the start of 2008 and isn't as sharp defensively as he once was with Pittsburgh. At this point, Ronny Cedeno has more upside on offense, too.
The Pirates aren't driven by PR, at least let's hope not. The club needs to be driven to win and should only be making moves that improve the club in the short and long term. As much as Wilson shined in Pittsburgh last decade, this wouldn't be one of those moves.
Why spend the Rule 5 Draft pick on a player you do not think is an upgrade over the player you think he will replace? That seems to be a wasted Draft pick. Do the Pirates have any shortstops in their Minor League system at all? -- David P., Spring Lake, N.C.
My question is, which player is Josh Rodriguez replacing? He's really not taking anyone's place at this point. Rodriguez is not going to compete with Cedeno for the starting shortstop job, so there is no replacement there. Rodriguez is going to try to win a spot as a backup middle infielder. And at this point, his chances of winning that job look good, since the Pirates' only other potential backup middle infielder on the roster is Pedro Ciriaco.
Huntington has not established a good track record in signing backup middle infielders out of free agency (think Luis Rivas, Chris Gomez, Ramon Vazquez). Rodriguez cost the organization only $50,000 (a small figure in the baseball world), which makes him a low-risk pick with the potential to fill a utility-role need. Also, know that the group of players available in the Rule 5 Draft this year was very shallow. The Pirates don't believe they passed over much better talent to address this deficiency. Pittsburgh does have other shortstops in its farm system, but none of them will be Major League-ready by Opening Day. That prompted the urgency to look externally for an immediate option.