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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Sept. 27, 2012

| Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, 2:54 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Great news, everyone! Steelers got picked apart by Carson Palmer, the NHL lockout threatens the start of the season, and the Pirates' management team is so solid that it has announced on its own behalf that it's coming back next year ...

MarkM: Who is the better general manager, Neal Huntington or David Littlefield?

Dejan Kovacevic: In terms of winning percentage over a five-year span, it's Littlefield. Cam Bonifay's percentage is higher than Huntington's, as well.One of the things that gets lost with the Pirates when discussing year-over-year improvements is comparing how the team stands when Littlefield left to where it is now under Huntington. In 2007 -- when Littlefield was fired in Septempber -- the Pirates finished with 68 wins. Right now, they have 76.So, it took five years to unravel everything, rebuild, all to pick up eight wins.These aren't opinions. They're facts.

everyone: what can we do, if anything, about Bob Nutting not caring about winning or the people of Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've written many times in the past, even this month , that Nutting cares about winning. How deeply he delves into studying this organization in the days and weeks ahead surely will either confirm or reject that thinking.

Hokahey: Am I over reacting to the whole "hell's angels" thing ? I thought no responsible organization could keep someone after this went public. I know I would be fired for suggesting my reports strive to be like extortionists and drug dealers. A GM is responsible for development of all players in the organization as well as the public image. So now the city I love has a team representing it that not only can't play fundamental baseball, but is being taught that today is a "good day to die". I'm embarrassed.

Dejan Kovacevic: You aren't alone. Many people inside the organization are embarrassed as well, not just publicly but also within the baseball community.It's apparently just fine with Frank Coonelly and Huntington.

everyone: are there any decent FAs that we can expect the pirates to sign in the offseason?

Dejan Kovacevic: There are decent free agents, but I guess that will depend on whoever Nutting chooses to employ as GM. Huntington had a lower batting average than Jeff Clement in securing Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes, Erik Bedard and Nate McLouth for $15.25 million last winter. And that's to say nothing of the cash wasted on Casey McGehee.People say they want Nutting to raise the payroll. I'd ask if he can trust those under him to spend them amount he already allots.

everyone: Should we have put Harison on the PUP list? it seems like we're wasting a roster spot

Dejan Kovacevic: If that were actually the case, I'd say yes. But Stevenson Sylvester is still out, so space will be needed once he's ready. And, really, who out of Chris Carter or Jason Worilds has done so well at ROLB to make you think, hey, we don't really need to wait on Harrison?Sad to say, but the Steelers need him. You could see it all day long out in Oakland.

Chris: Dejan do you believe the Pirate announcement was more of a smokescreen and Kyle Stark may be encourage to look elsewhere

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, there were two de facto announcements. First, Huntington told reporters in Houston over the weekend that there was no way he'd fire Stark or failed scouting director Greg Smith. If that came with anyone's blessing, I haven't heard of it.Then, Coonelly announced in a statement last night that Huntington, Stark and Smith would all be back and were really intelligent and all kinds of other stuff. But that, too, never mentioned the two words "Bob" and "Nutting."After that, Coonelly declined to take questions on the matter from the Trib because, well, you know, it's not that big a deal to have to explain why your management team would be returning after two historic collapses.What a circus. Honestly.

Amos Otis: i'm sick of "metrics" - are there any good old fashioned baseball men still left that can see with his own eye whethe a guy can play or not? Someone looked at Clemente and knew he could - without use of nerd numbers.....

Dejan Kovacevic: There is great value in advanced statistics and the many principles of sabremetrics. But where they can go awry is when you enter with a preconceived notion and set out to prove it. It flies in the face of the "objectivity" that's supposed to be the essence of the practice.For example, when Huntington said on his radio show that the Pirates had some of the best advanced defensive metrics in the minors, he's implying that the Pirates track all the other minor-league teams since there's NO UNIVERSAL SYSTEM ini place to do so. (A scout for another team happily pointed that out for me.) So how these numbers would have been compiled is anyone's guess.

Nick: If the Pirates had done poorly in the middle of the season and well at the end, instead of vice versa, would people be clamoring for front office change? Isn't the current record once that folks would have been satisfied with at the beginning of the season? The Pirates played over their heads and were due for regression (as seen in run differential and stated all year by folks like Keith Law). Expectations of fans were raised and when that regression came (albeit more severely than one might hope) people were disappointed. I'm not arguing against change. I'm just saying that if the first answer to that queston is "no" then maybe we should all just take a couple deep breaths...

Dejan Kovacevic: In recent columns, I've pointed to the collapse as a symptom, not a cause. The collapse happens because your starters wear down, and you don't have -- or acquire -- the depth you need to make up for that. Huntington himself said this week that he was wrong in forecasting the depth he had going into this second half.The parable that you set up there, thus, doesn't work. Falling apart late is usually the symptom of a team that doesn't have depth, and that's certainly the case here. When James McDonald fell apart, for example, there wasn't an answer despite you having heard all spring and summer about the "extraordinary" pitching depth in Indianapolis.The collapse is the symptom. The lack of depth is the cause. And that lack of depth was brought on by stunnigly shallow drafts, poor fundamental development and tens of millions wasted in free agency.

Rick: Nutting hires you today to Neal's position, what changes do you make to win in 2013?

Dejan Kovacevic: I resign immediately and hire a qualified baseball man to run the baseball operations, and by that I mean specifically someone with the track record to evaluate baseball talent.Huntington did not come from a significant scouting background at all. He was a desk guy with the Indians, fourth down in the hierarchy. Stark, as you might have seen in the Hoka Hey column, had almost ZERO baseball experience before taking this prominent role.Think about that for a second: Those are your top two guys in charge of baseball decisions.I'm not suggest the Pirates should go all-out, old-school, Hawaiian shirt untucked, baseball scout for their next GM. But a resume of finding real baseball talent should be a must.

David: Ryan Clark talked about the defense being predictable as of late. Do you think it's time to switch to the 4-3 defense which coach Tomlin have sort of mastered while being a defensive coordinator? The 3-4 defense never will work if the defensive ends don't get qb pressure.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not sure the 4-3 would make the Steelers less predictable by simple virtue of a switch. If you think back to the game in Denver, the Broncos were actually using what they call a hybrid D where they'd kind of go back and forth in an effort to better disguise Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil on the pass rush.The Steelers' defense looks to me like it's still engineered to set up big plays for Harrison and Troy Polamalu. But to work it around differently, you'd need to set it up for someone else. LaMarr Woodley had a nice game in Oakland, but I'm not sure he's that player. It's not Lawrence Timmons. It's not another DB you can bring up on the blitz.What to do?

Sheff: It seems clear that without a pass rush the Steelers defense won't be forcing many turnovers. Is there any other strategy to get people in the backfield because ovbiously the current plan is not working?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, that's the biggest thing right now. The D-line just isn't getting it done. As Ziggy Hood told me in the locker room the other night in Oakland, they "just aren't making the plays." He's right. They aren't. Mentioned this in the column out there, but they've got one total sack (Cam Heyward) and ZERO tackles for losses.Heyward played only five snaps Sunday, by the way, if you hadn't read that already in Mark Kaboly's excellent Steelers Film Study feature Tuesday.(Cheap plug for Kaboly, who's really good.)

Ron from Germany: Dejan - is this the most despairing moment in your time covering the PBC?

Dejan Kovacevic: Assuming you mean for the fans, Ron, it's not even close. This is it by a mile, if only because so many MORE people invested so much MORE emotion into the season. It's not like 2010 where the team lost 105 but it was like a tree falling in the forest.

Frenchy: You said you've been hearing some disconcerting things about the pirates or in the clubhouse as of late. Care to share?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't print things I can't substantiate as fact. I mentioned that on Twitter only because it's incumbent on Nutting to do his own homework here.And the clubhouse had nothing to do with it.

Pat4Pgh: DK, glad you are in the Burgh! Is there any hope that Nutting will override, as is his right, Frank's pronouncement yesterday?

Dejan Kovacevic: He is the man in charge, and he owns 80 percent of the franchise, and he did months of hard work to find out everything he could about Littlefield in 2007, so the possibility certainly exists.

cobra39: Is there any way possible that baseball can invoke the "best interests..." clause and make Nutting sell the team? I would imagine not, but give me a glimmer of hope that I don't have to live the rest of my life with the Nutting family owning this team.

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean like the Bengals?I think you'd have to find fraud or rampant ineptitude in that case. Let's give Nutting the benefit of the doubt that he's going to work hard to get answers. And by answers I don't mean asking the guys in trouble if they think it's a good idea to be fired. I mean digging.

JAL: I see Pirates considering sitting Walker down the rest of the season. Any inside info whether the back just needs rest or is something more serious that could become a chronic problem?

Dejan Kovacevic: I hope Walker does sit out the rest of the way. We've talked, and he's not in a great place with that back. Any of us who have had back issues knows that they're really annoying, slow to heal and prone to maddening, disspiriting setbacks.

DoubleM: Wasn't Kyle Stark just 30 years old when he became Director of Player Development? Shouldn't he need to put in more time and experience before getting promoted to such a position?

Dejan Kovacevic: He was 29, actually. And the answer to your question -- one that would be embraced enthusiastically by a lot of folks in the current minor-league system -- is yes.You don't lead by intimidation. You lead by inspiration. But when everyone in the room knows more about baseball than you do, it makes for a strange dynamic.

Fat Jimmy: I still believe that the Pirates relative roster/lineup stability for 2013 has contributed to Huntington et al coming back. There isn't much point in replacing the GM if the only reasonable moves (i.e. not trading everyone away) are signing a FA catcher and a few other guys. Do you agree with me that this was at least a factor in the decision to retain the FO?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's taken five years to build a lineup -- and I assume you mean at the major-league level when you talk about roster stability -- that has Andrew McCutchen (drafted by Littlefield), Walker (drafted by Littlefield), Starling Marte (signed by Littlefield and Rene Gayo), Garrett Jones (minor-league free agent signed by Huntington) and Pedro Alvarez (no-brainer draft pick by Huntington and Smith) as its four mainstays.There's your stability.This team needs a catcher, shortstop and corner outfielder at the top level, at least two more starters, and it has NONE OF THOSE position players coming at the top two levels of the farm system. The pitching, of course, is looking at Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, but A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez might be gone by the time they're ready.That's five years.

ZEB: I'm a sales professional in the real world. I am imagining my end of year evaluation with my sales manager in which I have to explain a second consecutive year in which my sales started well, perhaps above plan, but collapsed at the finish to a level unacceptablely below my sales goals. Collapsed!, not tailed off. I'd better have some good answers and a plan to satisfy my boss or I'm out of a job. Good starts only go so far.

Dejan Kovacevic: Again, it's not the collapse itself. It's what caused it.Yes, there were other factors. Clint Hurdle bungled his way through plenty of games down the stretch, maybe exasperated by looking to his left in the dugout and seeing a bunch of .190 guys as pinch-hitting options. The players not only have under-performed but at other times have looked -- fair or not -- like they punted long ago.But there's a chicken and egg here. Did Hurdle and the players run out of steam -- right or wrong -- because the lack of depth started costing them games?

NYJohn: What was the purpose of Coonelly's announcement last night? Let's assume Nutting and Coonelly did their review and are happy... with 10 games left what does this announcement buy you? Why announce this when you don't announce contract extensions for the front office? I don't get why it had to be yesterday and not 2 weeks from now. Will the players play better in the last 10 days knowing this?

Dejan Kovacevic: Maybe he was trying to get in front of all the anger that will build up around the 82nd loss.It's good, by the way, that will be at home. I've always preferred to have 82 happen in front of the paying customers as a small measure of public accountability.

Fat Jimmy: You're missing my point, Dejan. You're making the case that Huntington DESERVES to be fired (and I agree he does) based on the body of his work. But the same thing could have been said last year, too. If you are going to fire him right now, it's because you believe this team is capable of contending and you are holding him accountable for not getting them over the hump. My point is that neither Huntington nor a replacement GM is going to be able to influence the 2013 team significantly because most of the players on the 2012 team deserve to play significant roles again next year. I suspect that the higher ups are looking at the 2013 team and saying "Hey, we're going to need to bring them back anyway, what's the point of changing the GM now?"

Dejan Kovacevic: The point is that you could begin ...1. Addressing the glaring need to upgrade free-agent signings. If I'm Nutting, I'm not giving another red cent to this GM, let alone boosting payroll. That has a huge potential impact on 2013.2. Cleaning out the military men from the minor leagues and teaching players -- correctly -- how to manage their strike zones, bunt, run the bases, all that silly baseball stuff.3. Building a North American scouting staff capable of picking better than a man off the street could do with a copy of Baseball America.No, really. If I handed my 11-year-old a copy of BA's draft preview, she'd be able to pick Alvarez, Taillon and Cole when her turn came. The real challenge is finding people outside the top two overall.That would be the point.

I've really squeezed the Tampa Bay Lightning round this week, but here goes a Martin St. Louis-sized version ...

Pepper: L. Round: The best album no one knows about is:

Dejan Kovacevic: Heritage Elementary students put their heads together for a hat fundraiser last Friday. Students paid $2 to be eligible to wear a hat in school as part of the Hats for Cancer campaign on Friday, September 22. All procees benefited the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Children's Hospital.

Franklin: Hey DK, Could Huntington's win/loss record be inferior to Littlefield's because he inherited an inferior ball club and farm system to begin with?

Dejan Kovacevic: Was it worse than the one Littlefield inherited from Bonifay?This stuff about the farm system being markedly better is predicated almost entirely on two things:1. The team -- rightly -- broke the bank to sign Alvarez, Taillon and Cole.2. Gayo has done a tremendous job of building up the Latin American signings -- those are outside the draft -- to the point that BA's Ben Badler said this week the Pirates are among the best in that area. Gayo's operation is almost completely autonomous from anything that happens with the draft guys.To prove your point, you'd have to illustrate that Bonifay left Littlefield with some great system. Be sure he did not.

Pittfan: Pitt wins the Big East and goes to the BCS bowl in their final year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yikes. That Virginia Tech game sure has changed things, huh?No, I'm not going there yet, but I'd at least consider it if Paul Chryst can continue finding a way to make his offense run-centric. No one else in the conference can match the 1-2 of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell.

WeirdoPuckHead: Cool column yesterday. Yes, it's fun to talk a little pucks. Can you find anything else to cover in Winnipeg when there's no games in December?

Dejan Kovacevic: There will be hockey. You know, one of the neater things that Sidney Crosby told me the other day for that Wednesday column was that he pretty much shared the general view that this won't get much beyond October.He did, however, cast aspersions on my Winnipeg plans for Dec. 15, I must say, noting that the schedule is sure to change if games are lost.MORE HOCKEY TALK, people! I'm getting really tired of this other nonsense, if that isn't coming across. I love baseball with all my heart. But it's no fun going over the same failures at the same positions year after year locally.

Franklin: Could Huntington's record also fall on the Littlefield administration or is NH responsible for it all?

Dejan Kovacevic: Good gravy. It's been five years.One of the offers the Pirates had for Jason Bay was Cliff Lee, Kelly Shoppach and Franklin Gutierrez from the Indians. Oh, and Ronny Paulino was to go to Cleveland.That's a pretty nice piece of the Littlefield legacy that would have been left behind.Look, I'm not coming close to backing Littlefield's tenure. It was awful. It's just nuts to be going back to 2007 to find reasons why, five years later, the team isn't much better in the majors and wouldn't be ANY better in the minors but for the high-priced picks.One more today ...

Jack Splat: I agree with the general take on Timmons. He is starting caliber in the NFL. He is not , however, a $10 million a year player.

Dejan Kovacevic: In fairness to Lawrence, as I noted in the column Monday and probably should have stressed a little more, LeBeau's schemes often had him positioned in outer space. He wasn't just dropping back into pass coverage. He was lining up like a safety.Get him to the line, let him go, see what happens. Worked against the Jets.

That's it for this week. Column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The new radio show is Tuesdays at 1 p.m. on TribLIVE Radio. This chat is Thursday. And the blog dreams like a hippie round the clock.Hoka Hey, my brothers and sisters.

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