Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

| Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, good afternoon, for everyone except the road-weary Pirates, I presume, here in town for a one-game homestand of all things. Away we go ...

BSteel: DK: David Johnson is a nice story, but he sure doesn't look like a tight end. What he looks like is the quintessential big back: 6'2, a rock-solid 260, thighs like tree trunks, and we've all seen him lower a shoulder and blow up people when running after a catch. Now, wouldn't any coach, in his right mind, want to see what Johnson can do with a couple of handoffs from the fullback position• I would, wouldn't you• Will we ever see that• Why not?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure what you mean, because we've already seen Johnson at fullback, including last season and even a couple snaps this preseason. I spent a few minutes with DJ after practice the other day, and he told me he still enjoys that role, but that nothing brings a smile to his face like leading that opening drive the way he did the other night out of the two-TE set. I'll have more on him next week.

kegger: The Reds seemed to get a lift when they brought in a veteran GM. Is a GM with a better grasp of MLB talent now necessary• Plus, it seems that a lot of payroll dollars have been wasted on underperforming players in recent years.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll stand by my position that Neal Huntington deserves to be extended for two years, matching the length of Clint Hurdle's contract. His plan is outstanding, his methodologies for drafting and developing are sound and modern, and ... well, he's just going to have to get better at major-league evaluations. For those not keeping score, three of his four major-league free agent signings this year were busts: Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay and let's not forget Scott Olsen. (I still like the Kevin Correia signing.) That's not good enough. And the list is longer than those three.

Stu: Back in June during a chat , you allocated credit for Pirates pitching success to Searage, the pitchers themselves, confidence brought by Hurdle, improved defense, and the firing of Kerrigan, in that order. Today, how would you allocate blame for the Pirates abysmal hitting, which ranks 26 out of 30 MLB teams with a .243 average?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow, great question. I'm tempted to start with the GM since his primary bids to bolster the lineup with major-league acquisitions all failed (are there exceptions?). But Clint Hurdle is a guy who talked openly all through spring training about wanting to take a hands-on role with the hitters, even as he took rookie hitting coach Gregg Ritchie under his wing. And, setting aside the team's generally poor showing at the plate, both need to accept blame for Pedro Alvarez alone. Spin Williams, the former pitching coach, once told me he knew his job was based on whether he could get the best out of Oliver Perez. (He would be right.) So, too, are these guys attached to Alvarez, in my view.

Big City: Dejan, it looks like the armistice is over and the dust is getting kicked up once again on college realignment. If the dominos do start falling, it's pretty hard to see how the Big East survives as a major conference. Do you have any insight or theories on where Pitt hopes to land or where they realistically could land?

Dejan Kovacevic: I think they'll land in the Big East. You know, one of the things that gets ignored in the Pitt/Big 12 talk is that it's not just football that moves. It's basketball, too. You want that• It's all the non-revenue sports, too, with the nearest college only four states away. You really want to travel halfway across the country for collegiate tennis• The Panthers are much better off working with the Big East to bolster the football aspect of their conference.

T Turtleneck: Have the Pirates quit• Sure looks like it from my living room.

Dejan Kovacevic: You know, I usually laugh off questions like that. I'm not going to do that after they go 11-29. They look terrible. And they look inexcusably terrible. If there is leadership in that clubhouse -- and believe me, Matt Diaz wasn't it, no matter how many violins were playing yesterday -- this is the time to show it. This team looks flat to the point of forfeiting at-bats right now.

Drew Zaborsky: The apparent suicide of Wade Belak plus the deaths of Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard all sound concussion related. Hopefully their brains are all donated to for research. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: I shared my thoughts on the NHL's three tragedies this morning on the blog . I hope you have a chance to take a look.

Chris: With NHL camps starting up soon, I took a glance at the Pens roster to see what the potential opening lineup would be. I'm seeing no room for Eric Tangradi at all. Will he simply be in the minors or is he finally going to come up and play with the big boys?

Dejan Kovacevic: Neither am I, Chris. Been saying that since development camp, to the clear distaste of some readers. I don't see roster space and, as I wrote from that camp, I don't see marked improvement in the key areas of Tangradi's game (skating, net-front). It's up to him to show the Penguins something quite a bit in camp.

Big City: If someone wakes up from a coma after the baseball season and looks at the standings, they won't be able to tell that this Pirate season went any differently then any of the past 18. That brief spell of success was nothing but a fluke and will have no impact on the future whatsoever. Agree or disagree?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd love to disagree. I really would. But I was writing even back when the team was in first place that the formula wasn't sustainable. It was several starting pitchers performing well above their career norms, and it was the defense doing likewise. The hitting, particularly among key young players, never was there. ... I'm not going to dismiss what the Pirates did. It was testament to those starting pitchers that they performed that well. But much more is still needed, obviously.

JackSplat: What's the status of Harrison's back• More serious healing process than first thought• Is Worilds (sp) at all a possibility as a replacement for first month of the season?

Dejan Kovacevic: James Harrison is having some issues with the lower back (been there, and it stinks), and he's simultaneously trying to get back into game shape. There is no separating these two, and I hope I can make this clear: The stronger you make the supporting muscles around your back, the faster the disk casing can heal. The faster the casing heals, the sooner the disk stops bumping against nearby nerves. ... Oh, yeah, and all the guy has to do between now and Baltimore is live up to his 100 ranking for hits on Madden 12. ... It's not going to be easy.

Eric: Do the Steelers keep 6 or 7 corners and does donovan warren make the 53 man roster?

Dejan Kovacevic: I like Warren. And it's a position that obviously can use some other options. But I also wonder if I like Warren mostly because I see solid tackling rather than actual pass breakups.

Jon: Who do you expect the Pirates to call up today• Any chance we see Gorkys• Matt Hague• Jeff Locke?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't know why there are so many questions about September callups coming today. That isn't how this management team has handled this previously. They'll bring up a couple guys, then wait until Indy's season is over. But yes, there's a good chance for Gorkys Hernandez and Matt Hague. Jeff Locke just go to that level, plus he'd have to be added to the 40, so I wouldn't count on him.

Guest: Do you really think Andrew M. is the person the Pirates should build around• Wouldn't they be better served to trade him for a SS, IB and a pitcher?

Dejan Kovacevic: You always want to be strong up the middle. McCutchen gives you one of the game's best center fielders, with four more years of control. Yes, he's the guy.

Eric: Do you believe that the change from Ray Horton to Carnell lake has had any significant change on the play or preparation of the steelers corners?

Dejan Kovacevic: I know there's been more of an emphasis on basics with Lake, that he's not just looking at these guys from the strategic sense but also the technical one. He's also got them very confident, and I'm guessing that comes from him. When I asked Lake last week if he felt good about his corners' chances to be real contributors this season, he just kind of tilted his head funny at me before answering. He really likes what he has. But I'm also guessing he'd feel a lot better if Bryant McFadden hadn't spent so much of camp in the trainers' room.

Ken21: Especially in light of their likely Rule 5 roster crunch, any thoughts on potential trade targets for the Pirates this offseason (i.e., players with promise who are blocked at the major league level with their current teams)?

Dejan Kovacevic: The concept of the Rule 5 roster crunch is phony. The Pirates haven't had an issue with their 40-man roster in 20 years. Look up and down that system, and tell me who needs to be protected that is some kind of untouchable.

Guest: Hey Dejan! ESPN has a new way to rate QBs, and has Big Ben at number 10 ... behind Josh Freeman! Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, the NFL has an old way of rating QBs, and it has Aaron Rodgers at No. 1 currently. I'll take Ben's two rings.

Dianne: In your opinion, how much have Pirates player injuries factored into our 2nd half slide?

Dejan Kovacevic: About as much as they should have in the first half, Dianne. If memory serves, there were even more guys hurt then. The difference is they weren't starting pitchers.

Jon: I believe Locke is on the 40-man, but you're right that he hasn't been at AAA long. I guess a better question is, then, when does Indy's season finish up and how close are they to making the playoffs• What do you think will happen with Pedro when Indy's games are finished?

Dejan Kovacevic: OK, haven't looked at that in a bit. Still don't think he'll be up. Hurdle said five pitchers are coming, and I think you can pick those out without much trouble. Indy is done Sept. 5.

Tony G: Should the Pirates call up Pedro Alvarez and risk him further losing confidence or keep him in Indy, continue to work with him, and hope he agrees to play winter ball?

Dejan Kovacevic: They should do more than hope on the latter count. Alvarez has no business rejecting that request after the kind of season he's had (lost time to injury, poor production, still developing). I'm not sure I'd bring him back at this point. He's done badly in Indy, including another 0 for 4 and K last night, and I'm not sure what coming off the bench once every two games in Pittsburgh would do. I'd think about sending home to clear his head, but with a clear mandate that he's expected to go to the Dominican eventually.

Norm: Do you see Jonathan Dwyer more this year to the running game?

Dejan Kovacevic: No, I don't. And even when the topic came up with Mike Tomlin regarding the game tonight in Charlotte, he started talking about John Clay and other options. You'll see a whole lot more of Rashard, plus Isaac Redman as maybe a legit B option, plus Mewelde Moore on third-and-long.

Big City: Of course it's early yet, but if Pedro never gets it together, how devastating would it be to the Pirates' rebuilding plan?

Dejan Kovacevic: I can't say it often enough: Alvarez is the most pivotal player at any level of their system. Not the best. Just the most pivotal. Seriously, even if something happened to Andrew McCutchen, you'd have another center fielder in Starling Marte. There are no other power-hitting prospects.

Devin: Although its always a bad idea to take away too much from preseason performances, it looks as if the Steelers will roll into week 1 hot and catch an uncertain Ravens team at a good time. How do you like the Steelers chance at starting the season off on the right foot in a crucial AFC North game.

Dejan Kovacevic: I like it more than most, I think. The one thing that really stands out for me on the Baltimore end was allowing Todd Heap to get away. That doesn't make sense to me, and I know a handful of the Steelers happen to share that view. A team like the Ravens that repeatedly gets stomped by a singular nemesis can ill afford to lose the one guy on offense who consistently performed well in those settings.

Bruno: your work but if you knew the Pirates success wasn't sustainable, why were you calling on them to make a move to add veteran pieces• I was screaming at the top of my lungs that this was the time to sell vet pieces playing above their norm and adding more young, minor-league talent.

Dejan Kovacevic: Because, as I wrote then, that's the system and timetable in baseball, that decisions like that have to be made by what you actually see on July 31. What we saw in the final weeks of that month was that the Pirates were in first place, their starting pitching was healthy, and the group had clearly given its all, as had the public in filling the seats. If the Pirates DON'T try to make those moves, you'd create so much negativity inside and outside that clubhouse, they'd never be taken seriously again. And deservedly so. They owed it to all involved. And, as I also wrote at the time, I wanted to see them spend money and not give up prospects. That's what they did. Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick cost nothing more than dollars off the ledger. ... As for selling, wow, seriously, transport yourself back to July 25 and imagine that.

Guest: This is off topic, but do you know if Cowher got any lines in the Batman movie• Imagine if he did, and it was in 3D! The whole front row would be dodging spit!

Dejan Kovacevic: It would be even cooler if he gets to bark at punters.

DavidsonSteeler: Dejan, why do you think that the national media (by and large) continues to pick the Ravens over the Steelers without seeing the Ratbirds ever beating the Steelers in big "do-or-die" types of games (2008 AFC Champ. game, 2010 playoffs, late season games in Baltimore)• How many times do the Steelers have to prove themselves (despite an aging Ravens' Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and defense) before they reconsider taking this "hot" preseason pick seemingly every year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll say the same thing, respectfully, that I say to baseball fans who get all caught up in national stuff: Who cares• Really, any experts' opinions are going to be trumped by what you actually see in 10 days.

Dan: How good would Baron Batch have been this year if he had not hurt himself?

Dejan Kovacevic: He would have had to fight for special teams duty or beat out Moore. Both would have been tough.

Joey Bats: Who is the starting catcher next year for the Pirates?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll say Ryan Doumit. As noted in my column yesterday , he'd be happy to talk extension and stay. And it's not as if Tony Sanchez was breaking down doors this season in Altoona.

JackSplat: Legursky all-pro at RG• Seriously, do Steelers plan to try to get Miller more involved in the passing game• Fast recievers could be decoys to open up mid-middle routes for 83.

Dejan Kovacevic: Agreed. Fretting over whether or not Heath will get his catches is common sport, but the guy always ends up moving up on Ben's list of checkdowns, anyway, doesn't he• Maybe they're just saving him for Baltimore, so that all the old "Heeeeap" chants are confused with "Heeeeeath." ... Couple more today ...

P Salvatori: Could you see the Big East making significant additions (football schools) and fighting off the potential raids coming their way?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's the goal I'd set. Seems to me the Big East, with its phenomenal situation in basketball, would be better off being the raider rather than the raid-ee, if you will. Start knocking on some Big 12 doors, and ask them how much they'd like to join TCU.

Rob: Any market out there for the Pens to trade Paul Martin?

Dejan Kovacevic: None. Not for those dollars. Not for that production. Maybe if he ever gets back to shooting the puck again, but not now.

cj: Any chance we will see 5 wideout in the field this year.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, there is. Bruce Arians has brought that out before, even when he might not have had five legitimate wides. Now, he most certainly does. Imagine the five-WR set followed right away by the two-TE set.

Paul: What's your stance on the recent deaths of enforcers in the NHL• Personally, I don't think it can be attributed solely to fighting and their role as a "goon." Many fans are saying that it lies on the NHL to do something, but I'm of the mind that it probably had a lot to do with their personal lives. It is tragic that it happened; I just feel like its giving the NHL some undeserved flak from non-hockey fans.

Dejan Kovacevic: Again, Paul, please check the answer above for the blog link. Wrote about it this morning. Hope you have a chance to visit regularly!

Nick: Love the Column DK!!! How quickly do you see Cole or Bell making an impact on the Major League level?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks! Not as quickly as if they would have signed around the draft. And I'm not just talking about the two months lost. Look at it another way: Bell was just assigned to State College to basically watch the Spikes for a week. Now, his first pro ball doesn't come until next summer. Cole is a college kid. If he signs right away (or if the stupid deadline is moved up), he could have gotten his feet wet this summer because his arm wouldn't have gone cold so long after the UCLA season. That out of the way, he legitimately would have had a chance to pitch in Altoona next year. I'm not guessing at that, either. THAT is your fast track. And that's yet another reason the two-month gap between the draft and the signing deadline is ... well, stupid.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks to all for participating today. My column days in the Trib are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The Wakeup Call on the blog runs every morning Monday-Friday. My weekly appearance on TribLIVE radio is Monday at 11:30 a.m. And the chat is here every Thursday at noon. ... See you at the ballpark today for a live blog.

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