Will the Pirates be looking outside the organization for a left-handed relief pitcher? Also, with the recent late-inning debacles do think that general manager Neal Huntington will admit that he made a mistake in trading both John Grabow and Sean Burnett and overestimating the value of the guys that remain?
-- Douglas, K.
So far, Huntington has not backed down from his initial stance about left-handers in the bullpen -- that the left-handed specialist role is overrated and the Pirates have plenty of right-handed relievers, led by Jesse Chavez, that are capable of getting left-handed hitters out.
As we've all seen, though, not having a left-handed reliever sure seems to have hurt the Pirates recently and expect managers, as Arizona's A.J. Hinch did recently, to make calculated lineup changes late in games to further expose the absence of lefties in the bullpen.
In his pregame session with the media on Saturday, Russell did come out and state the need to look for left-handed help for this season or next. Whether that means the Pirates make a minor deal before the season ends or not, who knows? But it is a possibility, even just to bring someone into the system for next year. Otherwise, regardless of what value the Pirates' management puts on left-handed relief, I'd expect them to make it a priority to go after a left-handed arm for the 'pen this offseason. That could definitely be a stabilizer with a relatively young group.
Other than Phil Dumatriat, who is on a rehab assignment, the Pirates' Triple-A club does not have a lefty on its pitching staff, so internal options do not abound.
What is Jeff Salazar still doing in the Major Leagues? He seems to be getting a lot more patience from the team than Steve Pearce did earlier in the season when he struggled.
-- Jim B., Pittsburgh
Salazar is solely here as a role player, and that's become obvious. His situation is different than Pearce's in that the Pirates aren't looking at Salazar as a long-term piece here. He's a bench guy for the rest of the year with the ability to spell Andrew McCutchen a day of rest in center if needed. Salazar will be a free agent after the season, and I wouldn't expect the Pirates to make a run at re-signing him this winter.
The Pirates sent Pearce back down to Triple-A back in July, because they didn't want to slot him in solely as a bench player. The club is still interested in seeing if Pearce can be a long-term fit, and felt he needed to continue to get consistent at-bats -- even if that meant doing so in Indianapolis.
Given the Pirates' current offensive funk, are they near abandoning the "long look" at Pearce and getting ready to give Jeff Clement a callup to see what he can do at first? It's been said that they might wait until rosters are expanded Sept. 1 to recall Clement, but do you hear anything that might change this idea?
-- Erik W., Delware, Ohio
It's still most likely that Clement won't be here until rosters expand in September. As frustrating as the results might continue to be as the season goes on, know that management has every intention of giving this current group of players a chance to show what it can do over an extended period of time. Not to call it a tryout or anything, but what happens over these two months will go a long way in helping management begin to determine who has the upper hand at certain starting jobs next year.
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There's no question Pearce falls in this category. After a fantastic year in the Minors in 2007, he struggled in 2008. He's been OK this year, but has yet to show any consistency during his time in the Majors. Management is interested in seeing if Pearce can find that consistency late this season, and if not, then yes, Clement could very well jump him in the depth chart going into next year.
Looking ahead optimistically, what is the front office's plan for when the team gets to a playoff level and it comes time to re-sign free agents? Is it realistic to think that they will have any chance of retaining their own free agents once they command larger salaries? If not, how do they plan on avoiding falling into some of the bad habits that got us into this 17-year mess?
-- Dave D., Lexington Park, Md.
Good questions, Dave. With the absence of a salary cap, it's hard to see the Pirates being able to compete regularly in the free-agent market against large-market teams. Aware of that, the Pirates will continue to try to lock down players to long-term deals, as they did with Paul Maholm, Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit this past year, to buy out first years of free agency. That will keep the Pirates from having to compete in a bidding process with 29 other teams a little longer.
Now, it's inevitable that players will continue to be lost to free agency, notably those whose perceived value is higher than the internal value the organization puts on them. The Pirates' stated goal has been that they hope that the day comes where they can say goodbye to free agents because they have talented, capable players ready to take their place. Sustaining a solid core of young players to develop in the system will keep the Pirates from falling back to where they have fallen now.
From what I remember, when Delwyn Young was acquired, it was for a player to be named. By my estimation, the player has not been named yet. What is the situation with this acquisition?
-- Ethan H., Altoona, Pa.
The Pirates and Dodgers have completed that trade. Pittsburgh sent Minor League pitchers Eric Krebs and Harvey Garcia to Los Angeles to complete that deal. Garcia was just sent over at the start of the month.
We have lots of depth in the outfield in the Minors, but what do we have as far as middle infielders? I also would like to know more about what pitching prospects we have -- I've only heard about Brad Lincoln.
-- Josh M., South Park, Pa.
The Pirates' top middle infield prospects are in the low levels of the system: shortstop Chase D'Arnaud (high-A Lynchburg), shortstop Jordy Mercer (Lynchburg), second baseman Josh Harrison (Lynchburg). Double-A shortstop prospect Brian Friday is also considered to be a potential everyday Major Leaguer, though he probably ranks below the others above. At the start of the season, second baseman Shelby Ford was also on this list. But after being demoted to Double-A last week after hitting .188 in 86 Triple-A games, Ford has taken a number of steps back in his prospect status.
As for pitching prospects, your top group consists of Lincoln and righty Tim Alderson, whom the Pirates acquired from the Giants when they traded Freddy Sanchez. Obviously there are others as well, but those are the two guys to keep your eyes on.
Do you think Ryan Doumit projects long-term as the Pirates' starting catcher? His defense, compared to Jason Jaramillo, seems lacking. Perhaps that offsets his offensive contributions?
-- Bryant F., Bridgeport, W. Va.
For now there have been no known internal discussions about moving Doumit from behind the plate. It can't be ruled out down the road, but it's not a move I see coming in the immediate future. Plus, if the Pirates have any desire of trading Doumit (and I'm not saying that they do), his value as a switch-hitting catcher is much greater than if he moves positions.
And one last side note, for those who haven't already found me on there, I have joined the Twitter community under the alias @LangoschMLB.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.