Speaking of the All-Star break, I'll be heading to St. Louis with a number of my colleagues to cover the game, the State Farm Home Run Derby and all else that goes on in the Gateway City. As a result, I'll be missing the Pirates' series before and after the break to give me a moment to breathe, but you'll be in good hands. Definitely continue to look for blog updates, though, as I will be sure to post plenty of photos and content during my stay in St. Louis. And of course, I'll be documenting Freddy Sanchez's time there.
Now on to your questions, which leaned heavily on speculation leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31.
With the weak trade market expected this year, do you think the Pirates might let a guy like Adam LaRoche play out the year and pick up a compensatory pick when he leaves via free agency?
-- Jake S., Pittsburgh
That's certainly a possibility, though there is no guarantee on whether LaRoche will fall as a Type A (two compensatory picks) or Type B (one compensatory pick) free agent after the season. If LaRoche's second-half production is consistent with his first-half production, he'll likely be a Type B free agent, meaning the Pirates will get one additional Draft pick if he leaves this offseason.
Whether or not taking this route is Pittsburgh's preference might not matter, though. The interest in LaRoche -- especially considering the type of package the Pirates will seek in return -- has not picked up yet, and we sit only three weeks away from the Trade Deadline. I'm not sure if the opportunity to move him at the Deadline will be there even if the Bucs were interested in sending him out.
To follow up on my earlier question regarding Jack Wilson, if the Bucs do trade him before the deadline, would they consider moving Freddy Sanchez to short and starting Delwyn Young at second?
-- Phil H., Binghamton, N.Y.
No, the Pirates aren't going to move Sanchez to short. If they deal Wilson, they have one of two options. Either they have to make sure they get a Major League-ready shortstop to replace him, or they will have to go with an internal option. The problem is, the Pirates don't have a shortstop in their system that seems anywhere near ready to be an everyday player in Pittsburgh. As a result, acquiring a shortstop has to be a priority if Wilson is going to be moved this month or in the offseason.
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Similar to the situation with LaRoche, though, there don't seem to be teams waiting in line for Wilson right now, so I'd suspect he'll remain.
Management has said that if the Pirates are in contention at the All-Star break, they will make moves to improve the team for this year. Since they are sitting only a few games out of first place right now, what do you think management will do? Will moves be made to fill holes for this season?
-- T.J. B., Huntington, W. Va.
The Pirates sit 7 1/2 games out, which some may see as reason not to give up contention just yet. However, Pittsburgh has five teams sitting in front of it in the National League Central. No matter what is said in the clubhouse, the Bucs' chances of being competitive in the division at the end of the season are slim to none.
That said, there certainly won't be additions made over the next three weeks to try and boost a playoff push for this season. Any deals that are made will be made with 2010 and beyond in mind. As for who could be gone? As we've all seen over the past six weeks, there are no untouchables.
With Ryan Doumit's injury-prone seasons, is there any possibility of moving him to first?
-- Ryan J., Pittsburgh
Over the past month, there's probably been no more frequent a question e-mailed to me than this one. While it's certainly a possibility down the road, especially with 2009 first-round pick Tony Sanchez seen as potentially on the quick track to the Majors, there are no plans to move Doumit from behind the plate right now. He's significantly improved his defensive and receiving skills there over the last two years and is expected to be catching for the Pirates again beginning on July 17.
I know that the Pirates are using Donnie Veal in the bullpen this year to hide him as a Rule 5 pick, but is the plan next year to send him to Triple-A to develop as a starter?
-- Joseph L., San Leandro, Calif.
Yes, the Pirates see Veal as a potential starter. As you mentioned, his status as a Rule 5 guy prompted the Bucs to use him solely out of the bullpen this season. Veal won't be ready to start in the Majors this year, so I'd expect him to begin next season in the Triple-A rotation, just so Pittsburgh can at least try to see if he can be a long-term fit there.
Does Brandon Moss have any more options left for a return to Triple-A? I have not given up on him, but I think a month or so in the Minors may help his confidence.
-- Jack D., Carnegie, Pa.
No, Moss does not have any options remaining, so the Pirates cannot send him to Triple-A without risking losing him on waivers. It has become obvious that Garrett Jones is going to be an everyday outfielder along with Andrew McCutchen, which leaves Moss and Young to fight for the other starts. What is going to be interesting will be to see what the Pirates do with all their outfield options should Lastings Milledge be ready to join the team by the end of the month.
I was just wondering what the organization's plans are for Rudy Owens? This guy has flat out dominated the competition at Class A, and it sure seems time to see what he can do at the next level.
-- Jim E., Wheeling, W. Va.
Owens' results have been phenomenal, there's no question. He is 10-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 16 starts. But the Pirates do not have plans to promote him to high Class A Lynchburg anytime soon and probably not at all this season. The development team is looking at factors well beyond results, indicated by the response I got from director of player development Kyle Stark when I recently posed the same question.
"This is his first full season under the lights, so he is approaching unchartered territory in terms of competing during a season," Stark said. "Also, he is approaching innings workloads that he has never reached. Tackling both of those at a higher level may or may not be the best thing for Rudy. We feel like he can continue to develop where he is at right now, including FB angle, breaking ball development, and use of stuff."
Owens, a 2006 Draft pick, has pitched 85 2/3 innings so far this season after pitching only 58 last year.
Is there a future with the Pirates and Neil Walker? He has been playing at third base since he switched positions, but Andy LaRoche seems to have proven himself worthy of the starting spot there. So where does Neil Walker fit?
-- Tobias R., Moontownship, Pa.
That's a good question, though right now Walker is not being held back from the Majors because of the absence of a spot to play. With what he's done in two seasons in Triple-A, Walker hasn't offensively shown that he's ready for the big leagues.
Right now, Walker is working to return back from a knee injury that he sustained at the beginning of June. Once he does return to Indianapolis, Walker has plenty of work left to do. He was hitting just .239 in 51 games before getting hurt. Much like the organization is now considering with Brian Bixler, maybe Walker's chance at a big league future is as a utility player. Though still, the bat has to prove itself first.
Do the Pirates have a Twitter page?
-- Justin L., Tannersville, Pa.
Actually, I found out earlier this week that they do. The team's Twitter page is: www.twitter.com/BucsInsider.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.