PITTSBURGH -- It's been a slow winter so far for the Bucs, but I'd expect that when we pick up the mailbag again in January, the news will begin to start flowing a bit quicker. There are still obvious needs for the Pirates to fill and the logjam that has defined the free agent market so far will have to tumble at some point.
But until then, I just wanted to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and much health and happiness in 2009. In the meantime, let's take a look at some of your questions in the final mailbag edition of '08.
I was disappointed the Pirates made no effort to sign Jason Michaels. What's your take?
-- Roger C., Upper St. Clair, Pa.
In my opinion, you can conclude one of two things from the Pirates' decision not to try and sign Michaels. One, the club could be looking for an even less expensive fourth outfielder to be a placeholder while highly-touted prospect Andrew McCutchen polishes a few things at the Triple-A level. Assuming he stays healthy, McCutchen will almost certainly make his debut sometime in '09.
The other option is that the Pirates are seeking a higher-profile, right-handed-hitting outfielder to add to the club. Remember, one of GM Neal Huntington's priorities this offseason was to add a right-handed bat with some power, and that right-handed hitter would fit best in the outfield since the club currently has an all left-handed-hitting trio.
While Michaels certainly won over fans with some big pinch-hits during the year, his final numbers were nothing to be overly enthused about. He hit .224 with eight homers and 53 RBIs last season. If the Pirates are willing to spend some money in the free agent market, they could end up with a better backup and bench option.
What is going to happen to Nyjer Morgan? Do they expect him to start, and if so at what position? He is just about as good as any other outfielder we have.
-- Nick M., Pa.
Morgan won't be handed a starting outfield job, but he has the upper hand at being the starting left fielder come Opening Day. As it stands now, Morgan, Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss (assuming Moss' rehab work continues to progress on schedule) are in line to be the three starters.
With Morgan in the lineup, the Pirates have a speed element that they didn't have until the end of last season. Morgan's presence would also allow manager John Russell to drop McLouth into the No. 3 hole in the order, a spot more appropriate for someone with his run-producing potential.
The wild card in all this, however, is again McCutchen. There is a short checklist of items that management wants McCutchen to still accomplish or refine at the Triple-A level, making it likely that McCutchen's season would start in Indianapolis. But he will be given the chance to wow Russell and Huntington in Spring Training, and a spot on the Pirates' Opening Day roster is always an outside possibility.
Can someone explain to me the sense in giving a contract extension to a struggling pitcher like Ian Snell? Isn't the whole point of an extension to reward good performance?
-- John C., Lawrence, Mass.
There are a few things to bring up in response to your question, John. First, you have to remember that Snell signed a multiyear deal in March, which was before his 7-12, 5.42 ERA season. Snell signed that contract when he was coming off a career-best season, so it certainly wasn't rewarding poor performance.
Second, Snell's multiyear deal is a reflection of a philosophy that this organization is going to emphasize. Snell's has two more guaranteed years followed by club options in 2011 and 2012. This deal can potentially cover all of Snell's arbitration years and his first year of free agency if each of the options is exercised. Assuming that Snell can regain his step after stumbling last year, the Pirates have put themselves in position to have cost certainty on what Snell's salary is going to be for the next few years and hold him through his first free agency year without having to bid against other clubs. This is the same thought process taken this offseason as the Pirates talk with McLouth, Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm about similar extensions.
Ideally, these players will continue to increase their stock by performing well and the Pirates will have sealed yearly salaries that are less than what the player would have been able to get through arbitration. The risk, as evidenced by Snell's down performance in 2008, is that you can't guarantee the results will be there to match the already promised salary.
I was wondering if you could give some information on the two Indian pitchers that the Pirates recently acquired and how they fit in with the team's plans.
-- Brandon H., Woodbury, Pa.
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Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh are continuing to train at the University of Southern California under USC pitching coach Tom House. The Pirates plan to move the two pitchers to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., in mid-January, where the two will then stay through Spring Training. They will then start their professional playing careers with the Gulf Coast League Pirates.
As noteworthy as it was for the two Indian pitchers to sign professional baseball contracts, remember that the chances of them ever getting to the big leagues is still quite small. The cost was minimal for the Pirates to sign both pitchers, so management didn't mind taking a chance.
Do you think Rule 5 pick Donald Veal will be tried as a starter or reliever?
-- Thomas K., Columbia, Md.
Veal will try to make the club out of Spring Training as a reliever. Though Veal has been a starter all through the Minors, the best hope of him being able to stick on the 25-man roster all season is if he pitches out of the bullpen. Huntington has said that the Pirates see Veal as having the potential to return to a starting role down the road, but with no experience above the Double-A level, Veal is not ready to start at the Major League level.
The 6-foot-4 left-hander did pitch out of the 'pen in the Arizona Fall League this year. He made 10 relief appearances and allowed 10 earned runs in nine innings. His 13 walks in those nine innings, though, is probably the biggest concern.
I am a big fan of Franquelis Osoria. I hear that the Pirates lost him to Minor League free agency. Could you please tell me what team he went to?
-- Catherine M., Uniontown, Pa.
Osoria signed a Minor League contract with the Royals that includes an invite to Major League Spring Training. On another, somewhat related note, Chris Duffy, another former Pirates Minor Leaguer, signed a Minor League contract with the Brewers last week. Duffy had been with Pittsburgh since being drafted in 2001.
I purchased a baseball card that shows that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick was on the Pirates roster in 2007-08. Is this true? If so, how did we lose him and why? Hope you can help.
-- Tom M., Reno, Nev.
Keep that card, Tom. Ludwick has never played for the Pirates and anything that lists him as doing so is likely worth at least a little bit of money.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.