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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: March 1, 2013

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 9:09 a.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings, all, from cloudy and charcoal-grey dull Sarasota, where the Pirates and Orioles get going in a few minutes. Pardon me if I get distracted. When James McDonald pitches, I'm going to pause and watch for my coverage tomorrow.

Sorry for tardiness. Had interview in clubhouse at 12:30 p.m. for Sunday column.

Away we go. Oh, and all topics, please. Not limited to baseball by any means.

Comment From Bryant DK: Should we read Russel Martin's wish to play SS for Team Canada as him wanting to save his knees for the long season ahead or that he is not committed to being the best catcher he can be?

Dejan Kovacevic: Neither. He's hurt. Can't throw overhand at all with that shoulder. He's going to DH tomorrow at Lakeland, so that's a start. But no, all that stuff you heard about shortstop and everything else ... it's about his being hurt.

Comment From Brian: How close is Taillon to Cole in terms of stuff and maturity? Is it possible both reach the majors this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: They're off the charts in terms of both. For real. Hoping to do one of the columns down here on those guys. Not sure I'll adequately describe their personalities for you. I will try.

Regarding stuff alone, plain and simple, when they want to blow it by somebody, they do. When they want to pull the string, they do. Just a matter of consistency, situations.

Comment From yinzer in va: Dejan, A lot has been said and written recently about the leadership void created by the departure of Ward, Farrior, and Smith. Who do you think should step up now to fill that void, if they haven't already? Roethlisberger should be first, then not necessarily in this order, Clark, Taylor, Polamalu, Harrison and maybe Timmons and Pouncy.

Dejan Kovacevic: You're kind of reaching with some of those guys. I couldn't picture, for example, Lawrence Timmons leading a team even if he was the only guy on the roster. That's not a shot. Timmons had a terrific year. Just different people have different personalities.

I'm fine with Ben and Brett Keisel in those roles, but it's 53 players. Two don't get it done. I've not understood how Troy and James get by without being called leaders. Maybe that should change.

At any rate, as I was saying on NFL Network a couple mornings ago in a long discussion on this very topic, this whole leadership, locker room thing is way, way, way out of proportion with reality.

Comment From James_Pittsburgh: I enjoyed your article “In Bradenton, it's the perpetual bottom of the ninth”. However what the Pirates need are some instructors that can teach guys to take a walk. The Pirates on-base-percentage last year was terrible.

Dejan Kovacevic: Having people running the farm system with actual instructional experience would make for a fine start in that regard. Not a shot. Not even an opinion. Fact.

For what it's worth, just talking to Clint Hurdle downstairs a bit ago, plate patience — baseball people seldom refer to that as taking walks because they want the hitter to stay ready to hit — remains a big goal. We shall see.

Comment From Sammich: Gaze into your crystal ball or whatever Starbucks drink you have in front of you, and tell us what is in store for Jose Tabata in 2013.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll tell you instead what Jose told me yesterday: “Watch. You'll see.”

Comment From Guest: Will Mario Lemieux run for mayor now since Luke is not?

Dejan Kovacevic: Depends. Does the job involve public speaking?

Comment From bjm: Can the Pens make a serious run with this roster or does Ray Shero have some work to do?

Dejan Kovacevic: There can be no question that Shero has significant work to do. Not anymore. Just watch this team, and it's clear it's missing more than a little focus or strategy.

This will sound overly simplistic, but the Penguins just aren't a hard team to play against (say that phrase in a Melrose voice) anymore. They're not sealing the opponent in the attacking zone, they're not aggressive enough on D, and only James Neal consistently swings back through the neutral zone on the backcheck.

Let me put it another way: They need a couple of total $#%^%$ types.

Comment From Brian: Pitt went playground against South Florida. Is it possible that next we see them utilize the 10-man rotation to their advantage and start pressing? I think if they played 100% up tempo almost like Arkansas did in the day, the team could actually wear people down and create major havoc in the NCAA's.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, I'm still recovering from the shock of what I witnessed a couple nights ago inside the Pete, so I'm open to predicting anything. What a wonderful idea by Dixon, at least for that game. Not sure what it will do long-term, but maybe he can pick up on stuff just from the chaos he allowed.

Pitt's not a press team, though. We should stop even thinking about it.

Dejan Kovacevic: (Pausing for National Anthem)

Dejan Kovacevic: Yuck. Even here, the Baltimore fans do that “O!” thing in the middle of the Anthem.

OK, where were we?

Comment From JC: Love your work DK. Hockey question. What are your thoughts on the NHL realignment?? Seems to me they should address the Phoenix issue before they go down this road.

Dejan Kovacevic: Ideally, yeah, but you just can't leave Winnipeg in the Southeast, and you can't leave Detroit and Columbus hanging. They want to get it done. If it's set up so that there's an easy switch for Phoenix and, say, Quebec, that could work.

Overall, I like what I saw, especially from the Pittsburgh standpoint. Can't beat having Flyers, all the New York teams and Washington.

Comment From Tom: Dejan, While on the road, favorite restaurant in another city? Favorite in Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic: Flying Saucer in downtown Houston. Favorite in Pittsburgh is Kaya.

Comment From Tim: Is it possible that the Steelers could sign both Steve Breaston and Steven Jackson?

Dejan Kovacevic: That sounds really ambitious for a team that hasn't yet met the cap threshold. Breaston for sure is more realistic. He couldn't possibly get more than $3 million, right?

Comment From Bob A: Bigger trade deadline priority for Shero: scoring winger or shutdown defenseman?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll take the D-man and trust Beau Bennett. Subject to change, though.

Comment From Rw: Hey DK,living here in Orlando even tho it is overcast and cold could you see yourself and family finally giving in and moving here and never have to another see snow day would it be worth it?heck you could probaly move to Bradenton and keep your Pittsburgh ties.

Dejan Kovacevic: Promised myself I wouldn't spend this whole trip bashing Florida, so I'll silently pass up on this easy opportunity. Let's just say, um, no.

Comment From JamesinNYC: Aren't the teams in the east penalized by having 2 more teams then the west with the new alignment? Hate to say it but the Red Wings should be out west.

Dejan Kovacevic: Doesn't matter for long. Expansion will bring two more teams, probably Quebec and Seattle, if I had to guess.

Comment From Zack: Does Jamie Dixon ever recruit that go to scorer?

Dejan Kovacevic: Why shouldn't that player be Lamar Patterson right now?

I find that to be a more pertinent issue at the moment. Jamie's had his scoring guys ...

Sorry, just got distracted as James McDonald just gave up a bomb home run on his second pitch of the afternoon.

Jamie's had Ashton Gibbs, a pure scorer, and a couple guys inside, but your point certainly stands as it relates to being guard-heavy rather than forward-heavy.

Comment From GiveMeConvenienceOrGiveMeDeath: DK, it's well known that to approximate East Bay Ray's guitar sound, one needs a vintage Echoplex. However, those are expensive (if you can find one) and difficult to maintain. Which currently-made echo effect would you recommend, if any?

Dejan Kovacevic: I still use the Echoplex with my Fender Strat. No kidding. The thing is like 20 years old and partially rusted, but it still spews out a mean “Holiday In Cambodia” when I'm in that mood.

Comment From Shawn M: Dejan, I don't know how many Pirate personal you have talked to yet, but is there any surprises in camp so far player wise (good or bad)?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's way early, but the player mentioned by most as a surprise, if only because of the shape in which he reported, is Tabata. He's an absolute rock right now. It's actually a little jarring.

Comment From Greg in Atlanta: I agree that the Pens have a lot of holes to fill to be a true championship contender. I honestly think we also have a coaching problem. No adjustments, incessant line changes, head scratching personnel decisions, no discipline, etc. Would love to have Lindy Ruff take a shot with this team/enhanced line up.

Dejan Kovacevic: I see that the two-game losing streak has prompted more calls for Dan Bylsma to be fired among the patient set.

I'm the first to criticize Bylsma's strategy when appropriate, but this firing stuff ... come on. This is the Internet at some of its worst.

Comment From Sammich: Any sympathy for Hines Ward moping about not getting a “farewell tour” like Ray Ray got?

Dejan Kovacevic: What Ward meant in that comment is that he didn't get another year from the Steelers. To get that year, he should have played better in 2011 rather than being tackled by the first guy upon him following every catch.

Comment From Jason: Is Keisel in danger of being cut? Love him as a personality but his production is dropping. Or does his friendship with Ben mabye get him a pass?

Dejan Kovacevic: The last part of that question doesn't make sense, but my answer to the first — and I have thought about it — is that it won't happen. Doesn't mean it couldn't or even shouldn't. Keisel will make as many splash plays as he does solid plays, and that's actually not a good ratio. He's not especially strong on the run.

But being cut?

No, not seeing that happening.

Comment From Sarah: Dejan — on the Pens D in their zone — honestly at times they look like a group that simply doesn't even know their D-zone responsibilities. There were 2-3 goals last night from deep in their zone which all looked similar — scrambles/loose pucks/failure to pick up your man near the net. In my experience — good D is a function of focus, discipline, and hard work. The Pens seem lacking in all three. Is it that simple?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sarah, no one loves to talk puck strategy more than I do, but I'm still going to take it back to my willful oversimplification: They aren't getting to enough 50/50 pucks for any of the above to matter. That's because they're just flat out not scratchy-and-clawy enough to do it.

Put some high-speed, low-class jerks in that lineup, and things might change.

Comment From Alan Gifford: Beau Bennetts upside ceiling in your opinion?

Dejan Kovacevic: Modest scorer who always will have more impressive assist totals than goals. Assuming he's put with the right combo.

Comment From Napper: Was Einstein referring to the Pirates when he said insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Am I insane if I believe this year will be different than the past 20?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hope you saw this morning's column from Bradenton, Mr. Napper. That was today's topic.

Comment From Brian: 3 NHL moves that should happen...

Dejan Kovacevic: Brandon Saad in Pittsburgh, where he should be right now, anyway. Teemu back to Winnipeg. Roberto Luongo in Toronto. John Tortorella in a soup kitchen line.

How many of those could actually happen?

Alas, just Luongo. Not sure what the Leafs are waiting for. They have a decent team only once every decade or so.

Comment From Damon: Would Tavon Austin be a reach when the Steelers are on the clock for their first pick? He would stretch the field like Wallace did, but he could also return punts and kicks.

Dejan Kovacevic: I do like Austin a lot, even as a reach-type pick in the first round. But he's no stretch-the-field guy. He's a pure possession receiver, albeit with the ability to break a short catch into a big gain. More of a rich man's Chris Rainey.

Yes, I strongly consider Austin, and not just because of his numbers at West Virginia. Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley really seemed eager to set up plays around Rainey as a wild card, but he wasn't good enough. Austin is.

Comment From Guest: The Penguins' undisciplined play all season has been alarming. Their ability to sometimes overpower lesser teams has disguised this to some degree, but this approach does not appear likely to produce success in the playoffs. Do you think management is taking note, and is it the coaching that is lacking here?

Dejan Kovacevic: The message is being pushed — relentlessly — by Bylsma, Tony Granato and Todd Reirden. That's one thing. It's another thing for it to be heeded. And it's yet another thing entirely for it to be tuned out.

Comment From Guest: Any Pirates jump out at you yet regarding conditioning?

Dejan Kovacevic: In addition to Tabata, Tony Sanchez looks great, Neil Walker looks a tiny bit thinner and Pedro Alvarez appears to have added leg strength. I'm sure there's more, but I've only been here a couple days.

McDonald, by the way, has really settled down out here. Getting good swings and misses off his curve, pounding with the fastball, and getting groundouts. No hits since the bomb.

Comment From Stanley T.: Dejan — 11,877 .....that was the average attendance at Penguin home hockey games the year before Sidney Crosby was drafted. I'm calling you out, the teeny bopper girls out and the yuppie Lexus driving couples from the North Hills out as nothing more than bandwagon jumpers. My question to you is: When was the last time you watched a non playoff, non Penguin NHL hockey game from start to finish?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ah, the old guard dies hard, doesn't it?

I'll skip the other silliness that can be pounded 30 feet deep with cold, hard facts and just tell you that it's been all of two whole days since I watched Jets-Rangers on my laptop the other night.

And I'm already feeling withdrawal.

Comment From Daquido Bazzini: It's early but I'm getting the feeling that Kevin Colbert has backed away from his promise to make changes to an 8-8 team. What's your feeling at this time?

Dejan Kovacevic: Until he does or doesn't make them, I'll withhold on that. Colbert could still blow everyone away with seismic stuff. Or he could do what I think he'll do and shave off the cap, keep most guys and let a small handful walk for bigger money elsewhere.

Dejan Kovacevic: See? I type something positive about McDonald, and he promptly gives up a two-run bomb again. It's 3-0 Orioles in the second.

Dejan Kovacevic: OK, and yet another homer. That's three for Baltimore in McDonald's first 1 2/3 innings. And these are no doubters. The Orioles have started trots right out of the box.

Comment From Andrew from Long Island: Biggest Pirate need?

Dejan Kovacevic: A new front office. Nothing else comes close for second place.

Comment From Sammich: How does Notre Dame And The Catholic 7 sound as a conference name? I'll let it go for just $100.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, I'll raise you that $100 and call it the Big East, which is what the plan is sounding like anymore. Good for them. The name doesn't deserve to die, if only for its basketball presence.

Comment From Jeff: Is this the common backbone of Yinzer-mentality? The Pirates can't win because they don't spend money. The Penguins can't win because the goalies are terrible. And the Steelers can't win because the NFL has it in for them.

Dejan Kovacevic: Eh. You had me with the first two, but the Steelers' complaint usually comes to how old they are.

Comment From Rob: Is this the year I can go out in public and tell people I am a Pirates fan?

Dejan Kovacevic: Go nuts, man.

Comment From GiveMeConvenienceOrGiveMeDeath: Dejan, I really enjoyed your column today about the links to the last winning Pirates teams. In previous years, Bill Virdon was also a special instructor at spring training; do you know if he is there this year? Are any other Pirates alumni present?

Dejan Kovacevic: Mr. Virdon is, indeed, here. I was remiss in leaving that out of the column, but he's such a familiar face — even into the season, where he joins the team in St. Louis driving across his native Missouri — it's kind of easy.

Comment From Shawn M: Dejan, I didn't know if you read Jim Bowden, Leith Law, and Buster Olney's article about the future of every baseball organization. Out of the 30 teams listed, the Pirates had the second worst ranking when it came to management. Only the Rockies were worse. Pittsburgh scored a 3 out of scale of 30. If you have an espn insider acct, here is the link

Dejan Kovacevic: I have not. I just ran into a small group of scouts just outside the press box here at Ed Smith Stadium who think a lot less of the Pirates' front office than that. Just like a running gag.

Comment From Jandy: Is it your belief that the Penguins coaching staff has been tuned out by the players?

Dejan Kovacevic: It isn't. I only mentioned that above because that's the worst-case scenario here. At some point, it isn't the players' fault for not listening, crazy as that sounds. It's the coaches' fault for not getting through.

I don't think we're there yet. I just think the team needs to get back to being a lot more annoying (to opponents) than it's been.

Comment From Fred in VA: Any idea as to why the Pirates keep changing uniforms and logos? It's a minor issue but, even when winning (I know it was a long time ago), the uniforms seemed to change a lot. Other teams — especially the winners — seem to stand pat.

Dejan Kovacevic: I happen to think Frank Coonelly has done a good job of respecting the uniform, traditions, colors of the franchise. The change to the logo is a minor, ancillary thing because the real logo is the P itself, and that's staying put.

There aren't many areas where I grade the Pirates over the Penguins, but respecting the franchise/city colors is one.

Comment From Dave in Ross: What is Kris Letang's game? Offensive d-man with off target shot? Or, a mix of everything with speed?

Dejan Kovacevic: Letang's game right now is to get his shots and passes blocked, or to be worried that he's going to get his shots and passes blocked. I'd sit him down in front of about an hour's worth of Erik Karlsson highlights and let him learn.

Two unattractive whiffs for Starling Marte, including one this second. Lunging outside the zone. We'll see about this leadoff thing.

Comment From Damon: I've never watched an MLS game or follow the league, but would there be enough capable players to add to a Pittsburgh expansion team? I know people are worried about expanding hockey because it would thin out the talent...

Dejan Kovacevic: No sport on the planet has a greater surplus of talent.

Comment From jzpenguin/joe: What's your over/under on the number of times the rest of the season the Pens cite “being outworked” as an excuse for losing? I for one, am tired of hearing it.

Dejan Kovacevic: I happen to agree. Eventually, you figure out that it's the makeup of the roster.

Dejan Kovacevic: BTW, Cutch singles up the middle for an RBI with two outs, and it's 4-1.

Comment From Dave in Ross: Follow up: Is Letang worth top money considering his inconsistencies?

Dejan Kovacevic: That might be the toughest question anyone asks all winter. It's one Shero has to deal with. Letang will have elite value no matter his current slump. His kind of D-man is immensely in demand around the league. The question is do you trade him and reap those rewards or do you wait — and hope — he bounces back?

My thoughts on this tend to be consistent: I don't like trading guys at low value. But I just don't see Letang's external value taking a dip because of a lousy start.

Do I think about a trade?

Absolutely. Why wouldn't you? Has to be on the table.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's all for this week. Need to go downstairs after this inning to interview McDonald. That's actually done during games in the spring, which is great for us deadline types.

Thanks for participating! Columns run Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The radio show is Tuesday, the chat usually Thursday.

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