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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: June 10, 2012

| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 1:31 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, all. I remain caffeine-free for the moment, so I'm going to be leaning on you even more than usual.

One thing before we get going: Quite a few of you have been asking about a way to get into the blog from our new main site. It's been solved. On any of our sports pages, look across the top for my name. Just click on that.

Or bookmark this:

Away we go ...

Free Tank Carter: Since big league free agents are almost all known quantities, how do the Pirates miss so much on these guys? I can understand missing on amateur talent, but to so consistently miss on players whose production they can statistically project seems terribly wrong -- especially for an organization that embraces numbers the way the Pirates have. What do you think accounts for this?

Dejan Kovacevic: No. 1, the responsibility falls to the GM. He pulls the trigger on trades, and he does all of the first-hand negotiating with free agents. But the other part that people don't see are the special assistants. All GMs have them. They're responsible mostly for scouting the majors, developing a book on talent, character, etc.

There was a change in a few of those guys over the winter. That's all the Pirates will tell me on the topic. I've asked.

Maybe they need to change a few more.

matty: How come the Buccos insist that they can't pay a free agent $10m+ a year but have no problem spending the same amount on a collection of stiffs?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's a fair point, Matt. If you saw my Wednesday column , the Pirates have wasted $31 million on 11 free-agent hitters who have brought them a total of 20 home runs. It's just flushed-away cash.

They've fared far better with pitchers, especially relievers. But the caliber of hitter that's been brought to Pittsburgh has been embarrassing.

Chris Tamer: We all know that anything regarding Jordan Staal is speculation until they deal with the CBA. With that being said, is the organization feeling any urgency to make a move on him before he prices himself out of their range and becomes a free agent? The only way they can realistically keep him for next season without a new contract is if they are sure they will win the Cup, and no one can make that kind of prediction.

Dejan Kovacevic: The best way to describe the Penguins' urgency related to Staal -- and I'm not guessing here -- is that there is none. Zero. They know nothing can be done, as you mention, without a CBA. That CBA could swing dramatically in one direction or the other, depending on circumstances that yet to even begin forming.

Oddly, the more the players' union gets, the more the Penguins will benefit. It's usually the reverse for Pittsburgh teams, but the Penguins are a healthy, profitable outfit. They've got the cash to adjust to a higher cap or looser restrictions on pay. Many, many other teams don't.

Let's see how it plays out. Anything at all regarding Staal right now -- and I mean anything, from any city -- is wholly speculation.

Derek: Shot-blocking is lousy hockey, "small ball" is lousy baseball, and "ground and pound" is lousy football from an entertainment perspective, however I don't recall ever seeing "Entertainment Value" on the box score. I don't see why teams have any obligation to the fans to provide them with "entertainment value" in terms of how they go about their game know what I find entertaining? Winning.

Dejan Kovacevic: For those who don't know, Derek's reference is to a Twitter exchange from last night that morphed into a blog item this morning on the Wakeup Call.

I don't have an issue with shot-blocking in and of itself. Guy goes down on the PK to keep Shea Weber from firing on my goalie, hats off. Good for him. Part of the game.

The part I can't stand is the systematic, everyone-hit-the-ice shot-blocking that you see from teams such as the Rangers, Blues and an unfortunate few others. It's basically six guys packing it in around the net and lying down. That stinks. There's no skill there, and the players absolutely HATE doing it.

Does it help a team win?

We'll see. The Blues just swept out in four by a fast, skilled, exciting group of Kings. The Rangers are on the ropes. Obviously, there's no way to keep teams from doing it. The only answer is to show that it can't win a Cup.

SLCSteelersfan: Predicition: Who wins the #2 CB job in camp this year? Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen or Curtis Brown? my money is on Brown

Dejan Kovacevic: Funny thing is, the Steelers' official depth chart leaves a blank spot at left corner. Once William Gay left -- and I continue to be surprised that his departure caused as little fuss as it did -- it was left to Lewis, Allen or Brown to step up. That's obviously going to play out in Latrobe.

To an extent, anyway. Fact is, Lewis was out on the field in nickel formations. Coaches love that. I can tell you first-hand that Mike Tomlin was shouting Keenan Lewis' name all through the locker room in Kansas City in November after Lewis sealed the victory by picking off Tyler Palko. "Kee-nan Le-wis!" Tomlin was shouting to no one in particular. Coaches remember stuff like that.

That's not to suggest one play will do it. Just that coaches value who's on the field.

Mike: I was at the game last night and I think I witnessed the best 0-4 game of the year. All 4 of Pedro's opposite field fly balls seemed like they were going out of the park. How encouraged are you that Pedro is turning into the hitter everyone envisioned?

Dejan Kovacevic: Good of you to have picked up on that, Mike. It's a really big deal for Alvarez to be going the other way. Was talking with a couple of the Pirates' players Tuesday about how everything he's done in this stretch began with that wicked lineout to left. Pitchers used to have that outer part of the plate, could do whatever they wanted there, then pound him inside. No more.

mayhay22: Does Alex Presley have a role more significant than fourth outfielder in the long-term for the Pirates? Seems like Tabata gets more leeway, and assuming Marte has a spot in 2013 or before, I'm wondering if Presley will be relegated to bench duty.

Dejan Kovacevic: You hit the nail there by mentioning Starling Marte (still no word on his hand, by the way, though I'm thinking that's a positive at this point). Marte will be in right, McCutchen will be in center, and one of Tabata or Presley in left. Tabata is signed to that cheap, long-term contract, so this won't come down to anything other than performance.

Kelly: Who else do you think might be on the trade block? Martin is a guy I think Shero will try to trade. What about Orpik? And do you think Niskanen is resigned? His last words broke my heart, "I've fallen in love with this organization." I'll never forget it

Dejan Kovacevic: Matt Niskanen's restricted. He won't go anywhere. The Penguins have to -- and I believe, will -- make significant changes to the defense. The easy one is to find someone, anyone misguided enough to take Paul Martin's contract. You're not going to move Martin AND Zbynek Michalek, but one would be fine.

Brooks Orpik's name doesn't come up much in fan circles, and that kind of surprises me. He makes enough money that moving him would have a real impact on cap room, and he has legitimate, good value. The question related to Orpik is how much management faults him -- within context -- for what happened against the Flyers.

Jon: Does the Devils quick dismissal of the Flyers cast the Pens coaching staff in an even worse light?

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely. All the Devils did was what 18,000-plus witnesses at Consol could have figured out for themselves, especially on the PK. If you let ANYONE have a clear view of the ice and stand there with the puck for seconds at a time, you're going to make them into a modern-day Adam Oates. That's what the Penguins did with Claude Giroux. They even did it with Jakub Voracek.

Didn't notice those guys as much against New Jersey, did you?

That's because they had their backs to the middle of the rink at all times.

Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato should spend a good chunk of their summer reassessing everything they did on PK.

Jon Fishman: Whats your projected starting O-line for the Steelers in September?

Dejan Kovacevic: Marcus Gilbert is moving to left tackle. That's the big move. I'd expect Willie Colon, a terrific run blocker, at right tackle. Rookie guard David DeCastro will be right next to him, making for what probably will be the favored spot for runs. (As it has been for the Steelers for a long time, anyway.) Maurkice Pouncey obviously is the center, and left guard probably will be Ramon Foster over Doug Legursky.

Anyone thinking Mike Adams is going to bump Marcus Gilbert at left tackle right out of camp is being premature. The Steelers like Gilbert a lot. He'll have his shot.

PirateApologist: Did you take part in any of the Marathon last weekend? I ran (and sometimes walked) in the Kid's Marathon with my kids.

Dejan Kovacevic: I took part in the sense that I had to drive the long way around all those detours to get to my Downtown Starbucks.

AC: Dejan: Not sure if you agree but I believe the "stack 5 guys in front of the net" defense was what allowed Montreal to oust the Caps and Pens before losing to the hated Flyers.

Dejan Kovacevic: It was. The Habs lost in the end.

tk: What's the Over/under on how many K's Strasburg gets tonight?

Dejan Kovacevic: In all seriousness, it has to be reasonable to expect 10. It won't help hitters on either side that it's pretty chilly out there, either.

He's special. For those of you who haven't seen Stephen Strasburg in person, I can promise you'll be more impressed by his breaking stuff than his heat.

Let's do the 10-minute Lightning round. Quick Qs, quick As ...

psalvatori: If Eric Bedard is out for any significant time do you move Brad Lincoln to the rotation or bring up Jeff Locke or Rudy Owens to take that spot?

Dejan Kovacevic: Owens is off to a really nice start for Indy, but the Pirates weren't happy with him at all last year. Showing up at spring training without his arm in peak shape really ticked them off. Might need to show more now.

Greg: I haven't been able to watch/stomach much of the NHL playoffs since we lost, but I have been watching the Kings a lot. Scuds is playing terrific for the Kings. Man, do we miss him.....a steady, solid defensive defenseman.

Dejan Kovacevic: Rob Scuderi is terrific at what he does, Greg, I agree. But I've also heard people making him out to be the Kings' new Rob Blake. The Penguins blew it by not keeping him, especially in light of his replacement(s), but I think we have people here who take his every pokecheck and want to make a painting out of it.

Andrew: Will Sid retire a Penguin and remain in the organization?

Dejan Kovacevic: No doubt in my mind on that one. Sid is very much taken by the idea of spending his career with one organization, meaning the Penguins.

Free Tank Carter: Matt Wieters has put up .300/.381/.580 so far this season.

Dejan Kovacevic: We could do that forever. Let me throw this back: If the Pirates don't TOTALLY blow it on Wieters, does Dave Littlefield get fired? Does the team feel the pressure to make all the amateur signings it has since then, no matter the cost?

Maybe some good came of it.

JamesinNYC: Biggest impact rookie outside of Decastro?

Dejan Kovacevic: I could see Sean Spence making an immediate name for himself in camp. Any inside linebacker who's a great ball-hawk is going to get noticed. And it's not like the competition at the spot next to Lawrence Timmons is off the charts. Not suggesting Spence will beat out Larry Foote. He won't, at least not right away. But saying he could make waves.

Mike A.: Kings (my pick) or Coyotes? And does Jon Quick win the Smythe?

Dejan Kovacevic: L.A. has that extra punch up front, including my new favorite player Anze Kopitar. Phoenix really only has Radim Vrbata in that sense. I'll take the Kings in the West.

Mike: Are the Pirates allowed to call up an extra pitcher when Hanrahan takes a bereavement leave for the death of his grandma?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, that's why baseball created the bereavement list. Not an obvious call as to who that might be right now, though, especially given Bedard's status. Might want to bring up two arms that are fully stretched out.

Free Tank Carter: Which Western Conference team has the laziest Russian player?

Dejan Kovacevic: They're all evil and lazy and worthless and ... actually, I can't think of a Russian on either the Kings or Coyotes off the top of my head. Anyone?

tk: Are the Steelers going to sign another RB or are they happy with what they got? With Mendenhall hurt, don't they have some inexperienced backs?

Dejan Kovacevic: You'll see them bring in another back in some form, I'm pretty sure. Might not be someone to challenge Isaac Redman. He's their guy. But depth.

Ed N.: After 30 games and a 14-16 record, do you think it's possible the Pirates might break the streak this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's possible. They're now 10-1 when they score four or more runs. That's not asking a lot, even of a lineup like this one. This team can definitely pitch.

Milo Hamilton: When should we expect that "flood of talent" from the Pirates minor league system ?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not imminently, my friend.

Do you know how much position players on the Pirates' current roster were draft picks of this management team?

Pedro Alvarez.

Do you know how many are poised to make a move up from Indy?

Just Matt Hague.

(Marte was signed under Littlefield's watch.)

Justin: Why do you think that the NHL continues to operate like a minor league organization, allowing Tortorella to act like a child to the press, inconsistency with head shots, etc... What needs to happen to make them wake-up? I guess the additional dollars from NBC Sports isn't foing to help.

Dejan Kovacevic: Because the NHL seems as scared of Tortorella as the New York media is. Both are regrettable.

Mike A.: Voinov on the Kings? But I don't find him to be lazy. Was that a shot at Radulov, perhaps?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, Slava Voynov. Fun player.

And no, Mike, the shot at the Russians was purely sarcastic, part of my long-running rant at NBC for blaming every team's ills on its Russians.

Greg: Do you have a good feeling on Pitt football being allowed to go to the ACC next year? I don't think they are ready to compete in that league, but the money is a great enticer.

Dejan Kovacevic: For $17 million, as was reported yesterday? Compared to $3 million?

Yeah, it's spectacular for Pitt. And it only makes me wonder why more schools didn't join Pitt and Syracuse in defecting. Maybe they wanted to see what other great things lay ahead in John Marinatto's stewardship. Oops.

Two more today ...

Free Tank Carter: Yamaico Navarro's not too old, and his numbers before coming to Pittsburgh are all over the map. Could we be looking at the next Abraham Nunez?

Dejan Kovacevic: Nunez couldn't hit much at all. Navarro's in the majors for his bat. Watch his swing and, at times, it looks like he's trying to put the ball up on the bridge. But I also saw a lot of versatility in his hitting in spring training over a longer look. Drives the ball to all fields. Would be nice to see him get some ABs.

Biz: My usual question, Dejan, how many lunatics here today? And how close is the blog to that nice upgrade we've been talking about?

Dejan Kovacevic: The tracker really isn't working today for a total. The blog is taking a back seat, obviously, to the far bigger issues of the main site itself. It'll get there. But thanks for asking.

Free Tank Carter: How high are the Steelers on Baron Batch as a depth guy?

Dejan Kovacevic: I wouldn't think of Batch as depth as much as I would a third-down back to take Mewelde Moore's role at some point. That's Batch's niche.

That's it for today. Tomorrow's column will be a whole slew of Stanley Cup playoff observations. I'll be on assignment in Dallas over the weekend, and the columns will remain on their usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.

Thanks to all for the participation. Really good entries today.

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