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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: June 3, 2014

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 2:15 p.m.
 

Kevin: If the Pens actually hire Pierre McGuire as GM, is there any reason to not jump off of a bridge? Trying to find some positives but I'm struggling ...

Dejan Kovacevic: You aren't alone. And hello, everyone.

I guess the one positive to this point is that he hasn't been hired. And if he hasn't been hired, then all this will only seem like it ever actually happened, right?

Mr. Sunny-side here.

Justin: The fact that the Pirates had a $12 million offer to Burnett means that the Bob Nutting and Co. had approved of a payroll of at least $90 million, which would put the team at about 20th ranked, which sounds about right for the Pirates, right?

Dejan Kovacevic: All A.J. had to do was say yes. That money is still there, still available to be spent. Which is as far as I'd want any owner going in dictating sports decisions.

But enough facts, Justin. Stop trolling me with your facts.

Pete: DK! Loved your column on local guys and drafting. Would you agree that we are seeing this at the amateur level here in Pittsburgh as Jamie Dixon is stockpiling his powerhouse Panthers with loads of WPIAL players after years of ignoring almost everyone from around here? Seems like Coach Dixon is ahead of the curve in recognizing local talent vs the professionals who pick talent and Pittsburgh is having a bit of a renaissance in basketball these days.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks regarding the column. First time I've really taken on that topic, but Neil Walker's surge, Brandon Saad's excellence, Aaron Donald's near-miss and now having a local pitcher look like a high pick in the baseball draft Thursday all kind of added up.

Jamie's done well locally, though I don't know if it's as much being ahead of the curve as it is just being the biggest dude on the block. Duquesne had scouted Ryan Luther out of Hampton as if he were a long-lost son. Jamie showed up, offered a scholarship to a far better program, and that was that.

Wrapping up great Western Pennsylvania players is no way to excel in hoops, nor is that true of hockey or baseball or even football. But there's something to be said for knowing the territory — that's knowing, not preferring — and reacting accordingly.

Kevin: While hiring a coach or GM, isn't it common use the process as a way to gather information about your team among interviewed candidates? Ala McGuire being interviewed ...?

Dejan Kovacevic: When I wrote late last week , based on inside information, that I really liked the process the Penguins had put in place for their GM search, some took that as tacit endorsement of the candidates. No such suggestion was made or inferred. If I wanted to say I liked the pool of candidates, I would have said I liked the pool of candidates.

The process has been much more wide-ranging than I thought it might, involving many more pieces and players than I thought it might. And what I'd heard about how it was whittled down, as well as some of the criteria involved, all sounded good to me.

Hence, I liked the process that was described.

But if that process results in a guy with close to zero qualifications getting the job for ... wow, I can't even imagine for what reason, then something went wrong with that process. Terribly wrong.

Mark: Thoughts on Pierre McGuire as GM? His extensive knowledge of junior hockey would seem to address one of Shero's glaring weaknesses, the draft.

Dejan Kovacevic: That sounds great. ‘His extensive knowledge of junior hockey.' But what does it mean? That he can rattle off hometowns of the players involved when he's doing a broadcast?

Isn't that tantamount to winning a spelling bee?

Matt: Can you avoid ALL Polanco questions for this chat? We get it. He's coming up soon. Bucs are having a good week even without him. It will be exciting while he's not here, and seemingly people won't agree on the reason he's not up yet. Either way, enough already! Let's take out the Padres and take it from there.

Dejan Kovacevic: There's no need to avoid anything. Yours is the first that turned up, actually.

If anyone wants to hear my final thoughts on the gory death of The Great Gregory Polanco Pandering Narrative of 2014, I wrote an extended blog entry about it yesterday.

SteelByDesign: What will Steelers do with the remaining cap space after rookies are signed? Worilds? Pouncey? Outside FA? Dejan Kovacevic: The extensions for Jason Worilds or Maurkice Pouncey don't need to wait for the LaMarr Woodley money to be freed. That's future commitment, not now, even if a signing bonus is weighed.

I'll say it again: I hope the Steelers go out and find one more wide receiver to challenge for the right flank. It doesn't have to be Santonio Holmes or Plaxico Burress, though neither would offend me if passing physicals and playing for close to minimum. There are others available. But I just can't see this team heading to Latrobe with Antonio Brown on one side, Lance Moore in the slot and a whole lot of crossed fingers — Darrius Heyward-Bey and all his drops, Markus Wheaton and his damaged fingers, and a raw Martavis Bryant — as their other option.

Mark: Why does everyone hate Pierre McGuire? He seems like a nice guy, sharp, witty, friendly, knows his hockey. I'll let the greatest player of all time and a business man billionare decide who is the best fit. They seem to have some history of knowing what to do.

Dejan Kovacevic: Is this the beginning of people talking themselves into this being a good idea?

God help us all.

Curt: Was Jordy Mercer's night a fluke or more of what's to come?

Dejan Kovacevic: For those who didn't stay up — or for those whose only real interest in the Pirates is discussing Nutting and Polanco — Mercer went 4 for 5 with a walk and a very, very long home run to left in a ballpark that doesn't see many such things. He also, more impressively, I thought, drove the ball the other way more than once. It had to be very encouraging for him and for Jeff Branson, who's been working with him a ton.

At the same time, it's getting dark outside. And sooner rather than later, Josh Harrison will be displaced. Harrison can play short on a limited basis. He's done it as recently as last year. He isn't great, but he isn't a train wreck, either.

As for Harrison, he can be like Chone Figgins, basically a hitter for hire at whicever position needed at the time. No crime in that. Shortstop's been the worst of all positions, and that's got to change.

Todd: Hi Dejan! Do you see Russell Martin as a “must-sign” this off-season? Or will Tony Sanchez be ready to step up full time?

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolute, positive, must-sign. Above all. Above Neil Walker. Above everyone. And if anyone needs to know why, they only need to have watch how different the Pirates look when he plays from when he doesn't.

Two years ago, when the Pirates went mega-aggressive in signing Martin — surprising even Martin, if you'll recall, with their dollar amount — I criticized them for the overpay. Well, as it turned out, the overpay was exactly the right thing to do in that situation. Sometimes, you see the player you want, and you just pony up.

Tony Romeo: DK, What reasonable steps could the Riverhounds take, now, to turn this season around and slip into a top eight position? It seems that the bankruptcy situation will dictate whatever money they would like to spend.

Dejan Kovacevic: They're just bad, Tony. Hate to say that, but it's reality. I was there Sunday to watch them take on a seriously below average Harrisburg side, and the Hounds had no attack, no creativity in the midfield, no passion defensively ... and as I heard from more than one reader afterward, couldn't even be bothered to win 50-50 balls.

I'd separate the bankruptcy from the on-field issues. It's a bad, lazy, poorly assembled, overpaid soccer team with no signs of getting better.

Derek: Seems like most Pens fans reason for not wanting Pierre is because of the things he says about the Penguins during broadcasts. Are we too conditioned from ROOT Sports broadcasts that are so pro Penguins it makes all national broadcasters seem like “Pittsburgh haters?”

Dejan Kovacevic: I can see that, but that's not even remotely an issue. The only meaningful issue with McGuire is that he's unqualified. Fantastically unqualified. For a job that doesn't lend itself to that sort of thing.

Some cite John Davidson. Well, J.D. didn't go into St. Louis as GM, any more than he's that now in Columbus. J.D. went in as kind of the grand orchestrator and hired qualified people to make it happen. With the Jackets, in particular, he went for a pure hockey evaluator in Jarmo Kekalainen with a mandate to go full-throttle at the draft and build the right way. J.D. set the vision.

This isn't comparable in any way.

Guest: Hi Dejan - What are your thoughts on the NL Central at the 2 month mark? Who is at the top by September 28th? Thanks!

Dejan Kovacevic: Here's something: The Pirates are now 18-12 since that doubleheader sweep May 1 at the hands of the Orioles. That's the best record in the Central over the past full month, one of the best in baseball. And they've done that, in all candor, while not exactly playing or certainly pitching their best. On top of that, here comes Polanco, as well as a chance to move Harrison into a spot where he can solidify another position.

But suddenly, first base is more than solid — put together Ike Davis' and Gaby Sanchez's platoon splits, and you've got the sixth-best first baseman in the game right now — and right field is about to be blessed by Polanco, and the bullpen is settling into 2013 mode.

All that's missing is the same thing I've been writing about all along: Starting pitching. More is needed. More has been needed the entire time.

Kevin: What is the likelihood we see Scuderi to NYI? Seems to me a perfect fit, hometown guy, team with perpetual cap space (NYI), a need to replace Andrew MacDonald, etc. Maybe a 3rd rounder gets it done?

Dejan Kovacevic: Scuderi can't be traded. Impossible. No one, not even Garth Snow, would pick up that contract.

Guest: What are the odds of acquiring a blue chip starting pitcher via trade this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. Now you're talking. It's funny how when you start talking about the Pirates being short in starting pitching, it almost immediately — SQUIRREL! — turns to A.J. Burnett. Because you know, he's the only other pitcher in existence.

There are tons of ways to get starters, and if I had a preference, it would be that Neal Huntington goes prospect-for-vet in this case. There's no point in having a minor-league system that has this many top-100 prospects if such things aren't at least considered. Which is why it was heartening to hear Huntington actually raise that point independently upon making the Bryan Morris trade for the comp pick.

Move a quality prospect, get a real starter in return and use the rest of that money that A.J. left on the table. And do it soon.

Dude_From_Cali: How did Wheaton hurt his finger that badly in practice? helmet to finger, broken? will it be 100% again?

Dejan Kovacevic: Our beat man Alan Robinson had an excellent — and exclusive — report on what all went wrong with Wheaton and the Steelers' doctors and a whole lot else, and it ran just last week. Check it out.

Fred: Will the new GM be given total authority?

Dejan Kovacevic: He will not. He'll ultimately answer to David Morehouse. That said, he'll make the hockey calls without consulting Morehouse, entirely on his own, except for things that are really, really huge such as, say, offering Kris Letang $58 million.

I wouldn't make too much of this.

R.Bromberg: Will Pittsburgh ever put in a serious bid to host the Summer Olympics?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, and apparently by default judging from all the cities fleeing the 2022 bid. Krakow and Stockholm bowed out, then New York and Philly.

North Versailles 2022?

Casper: Hi DK — Several weeks ago, after your sit-down with Messrs. Lemieux and Burkle, you said that you have complete trust in them and that we should too. Being that Pierre McGuire is apparently in the running for GM, has your perspective changed (and should ours as well)? And, if the unthinkable happens and he is hired, what should we expect moving forward?

Dejan Kovacevic: I pretty much answered this above in the answer about the process.

To clear one thing up, I never wrote — or thought — that you should have trust in anyone. I don't ever suggest things like that to readers. I'll share with you what I think, but I won't presume it's what you should think.

To answer your closing question there: If McGuire is hired, all bets are off.

Mattias: You mentioned on a previous “Subway Final Word” that you thought L.A. Kings have the kind of team that the Penguins should have. How do the new GM address this? What is his first line of business?

Dejan Kovacevic: Draft, draft, draft, draft, draft. Dean Lombardi deserves credit for more than that, obviously, not least of which is one of the great deadline pickups in hockey history in Marian Gaborik in light of Gabby's 12 goals to this point. Lombardi and Daryl Sutter have had a vision, they've worked together to build it through the draft, and they've taken advantage of other teams' oversights by adding Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Justin Williams and others to fill that out.

Great hockey team, top to bottom. Soon to be champs again.

Kings in three.

Fin: How far from another stanley cup do you think the penguins are?

Dejan Kovacevic: Know that sick feeling you had when watching the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, as it related to how far the Steelers were from that?

Get ready for a sequel.

BD: Thank you for saying that about Martin. I couldn't agree more that he is an absolute must sign. Do you feel the same about Liriano or that signing a pretty big pitcher of some kind is a necessity this off season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Russell is paramount. Then Neil Walker. The rest, we'll see.

Drewski: How would you make baseball more competitive? Salary Cap? Salary Floor? It's crazy to see a team spend like LA and look at the standings to see they are only a few games over .500

Dejan Kovacevic: Three out of four leagues recommend salary cap.

Guest 23: Chat time is fastest time known to man. Maybe you should do these for 2 hours-sure you got nothing better to do.

Dejan Kovacevic: My fingers would look worse than Wheaton's. No thanks!

Victor: DK, is Tony Watson the future closer of the Pirates, when Grili and Melancon move on?

Dejan Kovacevic: I believe that he is, and I believe that now more than I did a couple weeks ago. It's not a unique sentiment.

cuzzinfish: Is there any reason not to like Norm Maciver as the next Pens GM? He's obviously not hired, but he has history with the Pens and Mario, not to mention being part of building those not-so-bad-Blackhawks. Talk me out of my personal favorite if you can.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not hearing MacIver come up as much now, basically just Julien Brisebois and the interim man Jason Botterill. I've learned quite a bit about both of these guys, but everyone just wanted to know about Pierre, sooooooooooo ...

Tim Tomczak: I have to say, I find the whole topic of Wheaton's finger very overblown. He's not the first WR to have mangled fingers and won't be the last. I've seen Torrey Holt's fingers in person. They're a mess. And he's probalby going to the HOF.

Dejan Kovacevic: Very fair point. Markus doesn't seem terribly concerned, either. Let's see it in Latrobe.

pghgolfgirl: Who is your biggest man crush: Olli Maatta or Anze Kopitar? ;-) Dejan Kovacevic: In hockey, it will always be Igor Larionov.

Guest 23: What's more boring to watch-football's OTA's or baseball's spring training ?

Dejan Kovacevic: I kind of enjoy OTAs and the all the dry-run, no-contact drills. Gives you a rare look at the full, intended extension of a play. All of which are supposed to result in touchdowns, as the coaches will tell you.

CK: Early thoughts on if the USMNT can make it out of the group stage in Brazil?

Dejan Kovacevic: Won't take long to find out. Ghana will run all day, and the good thing this time is the U.S. clearly will be able to run with them. The question is whether they can defend the left flank a heck of a lot better than they did against Turkey over the weekend. Overall, I love the attack. I love Jurgen Klinsmann's instant-assault mindset, and even more I love Michael Bradley's ability to make that matter. We truly haven't seen an American player like Bradley. A joy to watch.

Kay: So, what have you learned about Brisebois and Botterill? Which would you prefer as the new GM?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hey! Funny that you ask!

Brisebois' background as intensively analytical is something the Penguins could use. And no, I'm not talking about this glorified shot-charting that some are passing off as advanced stats. I'm talking about team-building, cap-constructing, age-based models related to roster maximization. The guy's just a whiz and impressive as anything in that regard.

Botterill's got a bit of everything, but what he has in hand above everyone is that he knows the territory. John Schuerholz, legendary GM of the Braves, once said that the most important talent you have to evaluate is your own. You have to know your guys above and beyond everything else. Botterill does.

I'm leaning toward the latter, open toward the former.

One more ...

Rob: Of all the Steelers would you agree that Jarvis Jones is coming into this season with the biggest question mark or the most to prove?

Dejan Kovacevic: Jarvis is up there every bit the same way as the two rookies who should start on defense. Say what you will about potential, but one sack is one sack. In a 3-4, the outside linebacker is a really easy position to evaluate.

Bill: Dejan, Do you think Josh Harrison can maintain this level of play or close to it long term? Seems like such a likable guy who has that grit that has been talked about with the Pens

Dejan Kovacevic: No point in watching a guy do all kinds of good things and wondering why he can't do them, right?

Only seems fair.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks to all for participating! My next column will run when the Penguins name a GM. I think. I'm not sure. We'll see.

At any rate, hope you can check out my TribLIVE Radio show Wednesday at 2-3 p.m. I take calls in the opening 20 minutes and would be delighted to hear from you!

 

 
 


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