Kovacevic: Hands off Pirates' young arms

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 10:34 p.m.

Brief and to the Point ...

Apropos of nothing else related to the Pirates' rather blah loss Thursday, I generously offer the following groundbreaking observation: Gerrit Cole is really, really talented.

Yeah, you're welcome.

But look, maybe it's worth repeating until it fully resonates that the Pirates absolutely, positively must not trade any elite starting pitching prospect. Not Jameson Taillon, and not anyone in his class they might find in the future.

It's silly that the topic gets raised even amid real playoff contention. Have you watched all or most of Cole's five starts?

Did you watch Thursday?

Forget his ordinary line, forget the 6-4 loss to the Phillies, and focus on a single at-bat in the third inning: Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate with runners at second and third and two outs.

Pitch 1: Changeup, fouled off.

Pitch 2: 97-mph fastball, somehow fouled off.

Pitch 3: 98-mph heat upstairs, spine-cracking swing, see ya.

If you were there, you know what I'm talking about. It was goosebump territory. Starters who can do that are the sport's most precious and, yeah, most expensive commodity. And to put it kindly, the Pirates have only one way to acquire it, and that's exactly how it happened: Draft really, really high.

Cole cost an $8 million signing bonus as a No. 1 overall pick, but he can now play for three years at the major-league minimum in the range of $500,000, plus another three years of having his rights controlled through arbitration.

Taillon, a No. 2 overall pick, cost a $6.5 million bonus but falls within all the same parameters. Combine Cole and Taillon, and you're looking at about $50 million for a dozen full seasons of these kids in their prime, an incredible bargain if they pitch like they're capable.Acquire pitching like that through trades or free agency, and you're talking about $15 million salaries. For two such guys over the same six-year span as Cole and Taillon, you're talking $180 million.

Next, picture the next time you think the Pirates will have the first or second overall picks in the draft.

Trade someone else.

• Friday fun trivia: The Pirates are on a healthy pace to end their 20-year losing streak, longest in pro sports history. Name the team in each of the other major sports with the longest current losing streak.

• Had the chance to ask Dan Bylsma a couple days ago if he watched what the Blackhawks did to the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final that the Penguins clearly couldn't do.

Which is to say the Penguins couldn't score, in large part because they couldn't — or wouldn't — go near Tuukka Rask.

“You know, a few of our players were still around here to watch Games 1 and 2 of the Final, and there were some guys who were upset that we didn't get, say, a goal off Andrew Ference's skate.”

As Chicago did in Game 1.

“We were, like, ‘Where was our break?' We weren't able to get that. Just one goal, that thing that changes the game.”

I'll agree the Penguins had close to zero luck.

But what of crashing the crease, hardly a luck issue?

“No question, Chicago got a lot of goals around the net, even behind Rask. We've looked at that as a staff. We've looked at things we need to do better. But we had scoring chances, and it's not like all of them were clean shots.”

Not all, but far too many.

• Has there been another month in which the Steelers were this far off the local sporting radar?

I'm sure that'll change come July 27 at Latrobe, but for now … wow, not even on the talk shows.

• Given the NFL's many messes this year, here's guessing Mike Tomlin doesn't much mind.

• Also buried amid all the baseball: Jamie Dixon's newest recruit at Pitt, Detrick Mostella, is a four-star — gasp — shooting guard. And I'm told the kid's not coming to sit. He's athletic, he can shoot as well as anyone the Panthers have had in a while, and he'll play as a freshman, maybe as much as James Robinson did.

• Remember back when Jarome Iginla's acquisition set the town ablaze? Does anyone even care that he became a free agent at midnight with no chance of returning?

• In order, the Pirates most likely to be selected for the All-Star Game: 1. Andrew McCutchen. 2. Jason Grilli. 3. Pedro Alvarez. 4. Jeff Locke. 5. Mark Melancon.

Don't overthink it. Name recognition is huge with the managers and players determining the reserves.

• Loved this pitching-coach-esque platitude from Ray Searage, on Russell Martin: “We have data, video, all that. But Russ is behind the plate reading swings and adjusting his game-calling pitch to pitch. As much preparation as he does with all the information we have, so much is by feel. He's in total control.”

• Trivia answer: The Buffalo Bills (eight seasons), Edmonton Oilers (four) and Minnesota Timberwolves (eight) will be the new torch-bearers.

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