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Old 06-24-2007, 10:37 AM   #1
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Default Inside the Pirates: Sweet-hitting catcher sought

Inside the Pirates: Sweet-hitting catcher sought
Team inquiring about Atlanta's Saltalamacchia, but price is high

Sunday, June 24, 2007
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It is not yet to the point where the Pirates need to stitch a 14-letter jersey, but they are among the teams to have inquired about trading for Atlanta's terrific catching prospect, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, according to a source directly involved in the matter.

Saltalamacchia, 22, is with the Braves after bypassing Class AAA and is batting .319 with two home runs in limited duty. He is being blocked by Brian McCann, so Atlanta management has been trying him at first base to get his potent bat into the lineup.

The Braves have been entertaining offers for him since last fall, and their asking price is thought to involve a front-line starting pitcher to bolster their run at the East Division title. As an example, they are believed to have asked the Chicago White Sox for Mark Buehrle. They probably also would want a catcher to back up McCann.

Is that a price the Pirates would pay?

With the way general manager Dave Littlefield favors pitching over offense, it seems enormously unlikely.

But then, he and the Braves' John Schuerholz stuck with the Adam LaRoche talks for half a year, so one cannot say.

Youman the man once again

If anything would push Littlefield to part with pitching, it would be seeing more pitching on the horizon.

And that is where Shane Youman could figure into this.

Youman sputtered after a strong spring, going 1-5 with a 5.50 ERA through 11 starts with Indianapolis. But he has shown encouraging signs in his past three starts: He allowed one earned run through 19 innings before an eight-run fifth Thursday night. Even with that blowup, he struck out a total of 23 and walked only three in that span.

He blamed a nagging pain in the upper back for his poor first two months, but he sounds as if he only is looking ahead now

As he put it, "I'm getting back to the way I know I can pitch."

If that continues, it presents the Pirates with yet another rotation option or continued depth from which to trade for offense.

Be quite sure, on the latter count, that plenty of other teams are watching Zach Duke in particular, figuring that a change of scenery might help him rediscover that rookie form.

Pitchers, pitchers everywhere

Want more proof of the Pirates' leaning toward pitchers?

Their 40-man roster, the one which protects all players in the system with three or more years of professional experience, currently has 25 pitchers and only 15 position players.

That count of pitchers is tied with Toronto, Florida and the New York Yankees. But the Blue Jays and Yankees include six pitchers on the disabled list among their total, and the Marlins five. The Pirates have only two.

Perhaps most striking, the Pirates have only one position players among the 15 protected who are not with the major-league team: Nyjer Morgan. By contrast, they have 13 minor-league pitchers protected.

It should be mentioned that the organization's top positional prospects - Brian Bixler, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Steve Pearce - are not experienced enough to be required to be placed on the 40-man roster. But that, general manager Dave Littlefield said, is not the main reason the roster is so pitcher-heavy.

"Really, if you look around the industry, you'll see that there is great attrition with pitchers," he said. "Look at the disabled lists. Look at how many pitchers get hurt for long periods. Our thinking is that pitching is such a valuable commodity that you just can't have enough of it."

A final note: The two teams with the fewest pitchers protected on the 40-man roster -- the Los Angeles Angels have 17, the Arizona Diamondbacks 18 -- are widely viewed throughout the industry as having the deepest and richest minor-league systems.

The ideal interleague schedule

There was a time, not that long ago, that divisions simply crossed over in interleague play, Central vs. Central and so on. That allowed for some semblance of scheduling sanity, as well as a chance for rivalries to build.


"What is the format, anyway," right fielder Xavier Nady asked.

A valid question.

The Pirates this season will play teams from all three American League divisions, one vs. the East, one vs. the Central and the current three vs. the West. And it apparently will remain that convoluted for the foreseeable future, no doubt because Major League Baseball's priority will continue to be ensuring that there are six editions of Yankees-Mets and the like.

LaRoche was asked how he might change it, if named commissioner.

"I would line it up so we play the four worst teams in the American League," he replied. "Of course."

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