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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Sept. 20, 2012

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, 2:44 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Happy sunny Thursday, o joyous citizens who have been stripped of their baseball dignity and stripped of their hockey for who-knows-how-long. At least there's Oakland coming up for the Steelers, right?Off we go ...

Casey: I used to think Hurdle was a great player manager--good for morale, motivation, team unity yada yada--and a terrible game manager. This 2nd straight collapse with a flat-looking team has lead me to question that. Surely he's looked better than John Russell in May, June, and July, but if we look at the endpoint only his impact on the team has been minimal. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Clint Hurdle has lost a handful of games for the Pirates through Collapse II, and there's no question the effort or focus haven't been there at times for his team. Anyone -- myself included -- who set foot inside PNC Park last night can attest to that. Miserable performance against a mediocre pitcher.But he's been on the job two years, and I'd still like to see him do it with a 25-man roster that doesn't include a slew of .190-hitting waste. That sound fair?Among the many variables to be considered in Collapse II: Were the Pirates only a good team before their depth exposed them?How many good decisions can a manager make when Jeff Clement is his top left-handed pinch-hitting option?When he's given Chad Qualls to fortify bullpen depth?When he's told Travis Snider, a glaring fourth outfielder who can't stay healthy and can't hit the inner half of the plate and the entire baseball industry knows it, is his new everyday guy?

Richie: Some guys around the office still don't think Ben is an elite QB. Do they not watch the games or does he get less respect because what he does doesn't show up on fantasy stat sheets.

Dejan Kovacevic: Some guys around the office are dead wrong.If you haven't seen the new Steelers Film Study page we're doing every Tuesday -- actually, obsessive football guru Mark Kaboly is doing it -- this one highlights how Ben is showing he can do it all. Scramble, pocket passer, pretty much everything but the wildcat and/or option.Looks calm out there, in total control, frighteningly accurate and, yeah, healthy. Maybe part of the reason is the new offense doesn't have him holding the ball forever, then getting creamed.

yinzer in va: Nice column Joe Starkey wrote on Steve Sabol. One of the best parts of the Super Bowl is all those highlight videos on ESPN leading up to the game. And what Steelers fan hasn't recorded the games we played. Just like Joe said, I can watch those over and over again, especially the Jack Lambert/Super Bowl X clip.

Dejan Kovacevic: Enthusiastically agreed with you on that Starkey column . I told Joe, as I was reading it, I could hear those famous NFL Fillms trumpets going off with each John Facenda highlight.A true piece of Americana.

CW: With many NHL players going to the KHL to play, is there any fear from owners that the players may find they like it there and stay? I'm thinking about Malkin and his upcoming contract year in particular.

Dejan Kovacevic: That sounds close to impossible and, to be blunt here, WAY too much is being made of who signs in Russia and who doesn't. Means absolutely nothing. When the lockout ends -- and I'll repeat for the billionth time I don't see it as lasting longer than a month -- all those guys will come back.If Sidney Crosby goes, that's another issue. I'd honestly rather see him play in Sweden, with the less physical play and maybe somewhat friendlier surroundings in that every Swede on Earth seems to know English. Above all, the SEL is just not a punishing league. (Swedes are really nice, too.)

patrick (RI): Will you be able to maintain your connection to Pittsburgh when the big boys come calling? Before his stroke, Peter Gammons was able to remain a Bostonian, but he only covered baseball. Here's hoping the digital age will permit you to work from home?

Dejan Kovacevic: I will never leave Pittsburgh. I'll dig ditches here before I leave Pittsburgh. Nothing professional for me would outweigh leaving here.

Braxon: It is obvious you want Neal Huntington out as GM of the Pirates. With that in mind, you have any GM recommendations for Nutting to consider? Being a Pittsburgh native, I would love to see Tony LaCava a native as well get the job. We need someone who has a real invested interest in this organization!

Dejan Kovacevic: First off, to clarify, what I've advocated so far -- emphatically in the Wednesday column -- is that Bob Nutting does his due diligence. He's privy to INFINITELY more information than I am. In producing that column, I learned what his top three areas of focus are in terms of making any decision and shared those with you. In turn, as I wrote in the final sentence, the answers from Huntington, Kyle Stark and Greg Smith "better be good."Independent of that, I've been on record as supporting La Cava to get a GM job somewhere, anywhere in the majors for a long time. Eminently qualified. Tough as nails. And no, I won't lie, it doesn't offend me a bit that he's a Pittsburgher, though that shouldn't be high on the list.That said, I think it's been about 3-4 years since I've even communicated with Tony, so I can't say with certainty how he feels about it now.

Kasey: With Nutting's penny pinching ways, do you really think he would let Huntington go and pay him for 2013-2014 while he is somewhere else?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ask Dave Littlefield and Jim Tracy.

Andrew: I've paid attention to every pirates game (TV, in person, gameday, twitter) and now I wish I hadn't

Dejan Kovacevic: Investing emotion into a sports franchise is the risk one takes in being a fan. And that risk is multiplied many times over when following the Pirates.People are angry. I get it. I see it. I feel it. It's not like any other out of these 20 seasons. Might not be worse, but it sure is different.

Vince: How long until the Pirates blow up this team?

Dejan Kovacevic: Blow up?What would you blow up, at least in terms of the major-league level?For better or worse, this roster's in no position for a trade-everyone-for-prospects kind of rebuild. And I'd gather the public is in no mood for same.

Matt: What do you see as the ceiling for the WVU football team? Easily the most exciting team in the region. They are only 6 miles out of PA you know.

Dejan Kovacevic: The Mountaineers are a terrific offensive football team led by a terrific all-around QB in Geno Smith. But I wonder if the alumni here that clamor for attention are on the same page as Dana Holgorsen in that he's pretty much just blowing off Western Pennsylvania at this point in terms of recruiting. Zero from the WPIAL/City in the most recent class.Feels like a cutting of the ties.

Dylan: How much does Neal Huntington make and will Nutting eat that salary for 2013-2014?

Dejan Kovacevic: Never let actual facts get in the way of a shiny, new Nutting narrative.

RELENTLESS_FORECHECK: The NHL has officially cancelled all preseason games in September and issued a statement concerning staffing adjustments. The NHLPA is sponsoring insurance for players overseas and more players are departing for Europe every day. Both sides have announced no further discussions are planned for this week. This seems like two sides preparing for trench warfare, not a quick resolution. I'd love to hear some insight to the contrary!

Dejan Kovacevic: They have no choice but to prepare that way. If they don't, the other side can call their bluff. It's all part of the posturing.I really don't see this lockout as lasting beyond October. Really don't. Makes no sense. Neither side is anywhere near as motivated as 2004, and all it takes is a couple cracks to end it. The simple fact that the sides continue to talk EVERY DAY gives this nothing in common with the last one.There will be pucks. And I WILL be making the Dec. 15 road trip.

Critter: I think you had the line about Timmons being an "impact player that never seems to make an impact". This many years in, he is what he is, an average NFL inside linebacker. Yet, he got a huge contract and those in charge seem to continue to make excuses for him, or continue to talk about his potential. Why does Teflon Timmons get a pass? Is it simply because he's Tomlin's first #1?

Dejan Kovacevic: "Why does Teflon Timmons get a pass?"You ask that in the same breath as you ask if I was the one who wrote Timmons was an "impact player who never seems to make an impact." I was .How do those two concepts dovetail?Look, Lawrence has under-performed, but he's also strayed from position the past couple seasons. The other day against the Jets was a big difference. He shot through the middle, was solid in tackling and essentially knocked Mark Sanchez out of the game with the jarring hit. That's an impact. Now, he needs to do the same against the Raiders.

Dave in Ross: Does NH fall alone or does "Teflon" Coonelly finally get touched for this mess?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's Teflon Day, everyone!If you read the Wednesday column, you'd know I raised the issue that maybe it's time for Coonelly to relinquish the baseball end of his duties. Was that Teflon enough?

Guest23: What do you think the Pirates will do about Garrett Jones this off season after the good numbers he has put up this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: They have NO CHOICE but to make every effort to keep him. And that goes for Joel Hanrahan and, to a lesser extent, Jason Grilli as well. They've got three months once the season ends to do so exclusively, and they're not in a position not to try.

Matt: Don't think that Nutting will dump Hurdle after the season because he's got another year on his contract, however, don't you think that Ritchie, possibly Searage and either Levya/Silverio go? They've got to start the shake-up somewhere.

Dejan Kovacevic: The narrative lives.Let's be clearer: Dave Littlefield and Jim Tracy was each paid MORE THAN $1 MILLION to do absolutely nothing for a calendar year. After they collected, both found new jobs.I don't think Gregg Ritchie will be back, because I don't believe he wants to be back. As our Rob Biertempfel reported a couple months ago, he's almost surely headed off to a college job in Washington.Ray Searage?Seriously?You're thinking too small here. Check the Wednesday column again. You're looking at symptoms. Nutting will be looking at causes.

Dave in Ross: Is Bob Nutting complicit in collapse in that budgetary restraints hindered trade/bench/ depth options?

Dejan Kovacevic: To the very best of my knowledge, from all concerned, he is not. That $12.2 million that was assumed by trading for Wandy Rodriguez is a fairly significant amount for what clearly was a "now" trade. And with Casey McGehee -- who seems to be coming up a lot the past two days -- the Pirates actually PAID the Yankees cash to give up McGehee and get Qualls.Good luck blaming that on the owner.Bottom line: $15.25 million utterly wasted on free agents again this year, next to nothing to show for a record $52 million spent in the past five drafts.

James_Seattle: Some people were less than enthusiastic about hiring Todd Haley. Will he end up being a key factor to a long playoff run this January/February?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, one of those people has been the QB himself, but all has gone swimmingly so far. Even in the loss at Denver, I thought -- and wrote from out there -- the offense showed promise. The real issue, I guess, is what happens when things DON'T go as well.And, even in this lockout-stricken period, it's the Tampa Bay Lightning round. Short Qs, short answers, and hopefully a short line when I get to the Starbucks minutes afterward ...

JK: What's the bigger problem, Dejan, with the Steelers running game now: the play of the line of the play of the running backs? And, will the return of Mendenhall make a difference in the equation?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, Isaac Redman -- perhaps unwisely -- told us all there weren't many holes out there against the Jets. That's no way to participate in the Big Men's steak dinners, but I'll take his word for it. I didn't see much, either.

Suckmeter: Did Nutting handcuff Huntington at all at the trade deadline so he wasn't able to go after high priced players? Sucks if this is true.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll point you up there to my Wandy response. The proof is in the payout. Clearly, money was spent.Now, was Huntington held back in the pursuit of, say, Chase Headley? I raised that as a question in the Wednesday column, and only a question. See, Headley is due a ton of money the NEXT two seasons as a high-priced arbitration guy.I don't believe there were money restraints with the hitter, but I felt it fair to Huntington to at least bring it up.

JAMESH: When Saunders returns, how do you see it playing out personnel wise?

Dejan Kovacevic: Weslye Saunders will play, plain and simple. And the simplest adjustment Haley can make is to put back in a lot of those multiple-tight-end formations he was using a lot in camp. Those have pretty much been scrapped in these first two real games.Nothing wrong with mixing it up, as we've seen.

Guest: Dejan, would any good free agents even be willing to sign here if Nutting bumped payroll up $20million? I mean, didn't NH try last off season and guys wouldn't sign here? Plus, didn't Alfonso Soriano refuse to be traded here?

Dejan Kovacevic : The Pirates are going to have to pay a little extra to get guys like that to come here, until they prove to players and their agents that they're serious. And really, that's where stupid stuff like the skeet shoot and this Navy SEALS stuff really comes to pass. The agents who represent those kids in Bradenton represent major-leaguers. If they're mad about what's going on down there -- and believe me, they are -- think they're going to tell their big-league guys it would be awesome to go play for those baseball wizards in Pittsburgh?

Al: Why does everyone think that Paul Martin's going to have this" New Jersey Devil of old" break-out year?

Dejan Kovacevic: To me, I won't have faith that Martin could get back to being that player unless someone could produce a strength test that his surgically repaired shoulder is fine. We have no reason to believe it is. All those shots he passes up, even on the power play, there are a lot of hockey observers who feel that's why.Have a hard time seeing Martin as part of the solution.

PirateApologist: When will Charlie Morton be available to pitch again? Does his injury mean certain non-tender status?

Dejan Kovacevic: Surgery guys tend to stay put, all around baseball. They develop relationships with the rehab people and don't leave. But I haven't seen Charlie in a while to ask.

Guest: Do you ever get the impression that what you write changes the manner in which an individual speaks to you or general access to that individual? (for example, a critical piece on Huntington changing his approach toward you)

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Yes! Absolutely. It's only human that it should.But, as I say all the time, what I write isn't personal, unless it's a far more serious topic than just sports. It's about sports. It's about their profession, what they do, how they've done it.But no, the 'Clueless' column last week didn't win any friends. Didn't expect it would. Wrote what I felt was the most accurate portrayal for the Trib and my readers. I don't answer to any of the teams, coaches or athletes I cover. Just to the Trib and my readers.

Pgh Fan in NJ: Your best guess-who's the top 3 or 4 in the starting rotation next April?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll go four deep: Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Karstens and someone else.

John: How do the carries get split up when Mendenhall gets back?

Dejan Kovacevic: When Mendenhall is back, he's the feature back. Maybe not right away. As we've seen at Pitt with Ray Graham, it takes a bit for the athlete to get fully comfortable making cuts off knee surgery. But not long after that.

Ben in MS: Do people even read your responses before blaming Nutting for being cheap?

Dejan Kovacevic: NUTTING IS CHEAP!What, someone said something?

PirateApologist: Lightining Round - Who do you think the three most talented athletes that you have personally covered that have played in Pittsburgh? I will start you off 1. Mario...

Dejan Kovacevic: I hate to go with all three hockey, but facts will support me:1. Mario2. Sid3. GenoIf you'd go four deep, I'd add Jagr.Five deep, I'd add Ben.The Penguins have been so, so blessed. All four of those guys are NHL MVPs and scoring champions. Amazing.

Guest: Better Wide-out - Wallace or Brown?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes.

Guest: Tabata - no speed, no power, no average? Why does this guy even see the field?

Dejan Kovacevic: Makes contact. Bat-to-ball guy, as they say. And he's signed until the year in which the early Star Trek episodes take place.That's all I've got. The column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday. We fill in the blanks with a Tuesday radio show and this Thursday chat. And the blog ... well, go see for yourself today. Some neat stuff in the comments.Thanks, everyone.

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