In the middle of 18th straight losing season, Pirates planning "meaningful" payroll increase for 2011

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Craig noted this morning that the Pirates are one defeat away from their 18th straight losing season and their current 109-loss pace would be the team’s worst record during that horrendous stretch.
But fear not, Pirates fans, because today team president Frank Coonelly said the following to Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

We have the capacity to add to payroll in a meaningful way. We’ll be evaluating the trade market and free agency and, if we see a player or players we like, we’ll be aggressive in pursuing that player.

However, he also added that the Pirates “are not going to be in the market for Cliff Lee” or similarly expensive free agents because “when we bring in players at that level, they have to be the Jameson Taillon and Pedro Alvarez types through the draft.”
All of which is reasonable, because certainly other small- or -mid-market teams that have experienced success recently haven’t done so by spending a ton through free agency. Pittsburgh has the lowest payroll in baseball this season at $39 million, but Coonelly was quick to note that a “meaningful” increase for 2011 would still not get them into the same range as, say, the Reds and their $76 million payroll.
Also of interest from the interview is that Coonelly replied “nobody’s job is absolutely safe” when asked if he still had confidence in manager John Russell and general manager Neal Huntington. “I hate the vote-of-confidence questions, but I do still have confidence in Neal and JR,” Coonelly said. “But we need to figure out why we’re underperforming the way we are.”
I don’t mean to pick on poor Pirates fans, but can it really be called “underperforming” when it’s happened for 18 straight seasons? And is it really “underperforming” to have MLB’s worst record when you also have MLB’s lowest payroll? Isn’t that just “performing”?

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.