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MLB: Seattle Mariners at Pittsburgh Pirates

If there is one consistent thread running through the long, storied, history of Getting Blanked, it is a befuddled appreciation of A.J. Burnett. Always one of the most entertaining pitchers in the game, Burnett is now something of a marvel. Injury-prone strikeout artist dogged by overrated and “.500 pitcher” claims for years, Burnett figured it out for a while. His walk year with the Blue Jays was tremendous, working on short rest when needed (or “needed”) and putting up a career year. Then he played a central role for the World Champion Yankees in 2009.

Then he was bad (so bad) for a year. Then he was a Pirate. And he was born again! Two years in Pittsburgh, one good and one very good, leading the Pirates back to the playoffs for first time in a generation.

Now he’s a free agent. He’s also 37-years old and contemplating retirement. The Pirates want him and, frankly, need him if they hope to return to the postseason again before 2033, at which time Andrew McCutchen will be the disgraced all-time home run champ if history teaches us anything.

But with this need and a waning desire to play in more places than just Pittsburgh and near his Maryland home, Burnett gets to be choosy. Which means the Pirates need to go on something of an offensive.

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics

Despite Spring Training getting under way in mere weeks, a whole mess of starting pitchers are still sitting out there on the free agent market. The pitchers – good, bad, and indifferent – all sit in a holding pattern because of Masahiro Tanaka.

Once Tanaka signs, his contract helps define the type of deal available to those at the top of the free agent heap. From there, there is some cash to spread around for the filler-types and then minor league invites for those living below the Zito line.

But if we take stock of the long list of names still out there, how do we group them? If your team has the money, who do you hope ends up in your jersey of choice? Let us lift and separate these players in order of desirability in the proud internet tradition.

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MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks are nothing if not newsworthy. One of the most active teams over the last two offseasons, they seem to straddle the line between productivity and activity. Like sharks, in their own benign way. Trading prospects willy nilly and building the most average team an average amount of money can buy.

Now Ken Rosenthal reports that the Diamondbacks want to be players for Masahiro Tanaka, employing an “in for a penny, in for a pound” philosophy after coming up empty on the big ticket free agent market. The idea that the Snakes would go in heavy for an international player jibes with their recent attempts to grow their brand beyond the borders of the lower 48 (though adding fans beyond the borders of Chase Field would be a much more realistic start).

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Fourth place, I'm rich!

Fourth place, I’m rich!

So the Baseball Writers Association of America gives away its awards this week. The tone of most awards debates took a turn for the ugly over recent years, as the proliferation of more evaluative statistics reshaped the way these honors are considered and awarded.

Very clear lines were drawn in the sand and both “sides”, such as they are, follow the “you’re either with us or against us” diametric. It’s dumb and reached peak stupidity last year.

The Mike Trout versus Miguel Cabrera 2012 AL MVP debate put the final nails in the reasonable discourse coffin. Intelligent, reasonable back-and-forth discussion is gone and it isn’t coming back. If you want to know my feelings on that matter, read this.

All we have left is down ballot anger. Stray votes cast for inexplicable players by unrecognizable writers. Out of left field picks meant to bewilder, defended under the guise of “difference of opinion” when they’re often just straight-up homer picks. No justification necessary, just own it in a public forum.

Even though some people (guilty!) really want awards to mean more than nothing, it’s hard to imagine a time when they might be anything more than a pleasant distraction when Your Guy wins. Worse yet, the 2013 award class seems like a series of slam dunks. Other than the NL MVP, the winner of the “big” awards is all but assured.

Which makes picking these awards really easy. Doubly easy since they now publicize the three finalists for the awards. You want hard? You want a challenge? Let’s figure out who will finish fourth in the big awards voting.

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Pittsburgh Pirates' Cole pitches against Texas Rangers during their MLB interleague baseball game in Arlington

The Pirates made a bold choice when they announced Gerrit Cole as their starter for Game Five of the NLDS in St. Louis. Cole is a rookie and, as such, isn’t a Proven Playoff Performer. A.J. Burnett, the Pirates ace and nominal number one starter, is a Proven Playoff Performer. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, he is “proven” to be “mediocre” when the calender flips to October – Game Two of the 2009 World Series notwithstanding.

Cole isn’t a veteran with dozens of big league starts under his belt, but his a product of the modern baseball development pipeline. It isn’t like the old days, where a kid performed well for his high school team, blowing away future farmers and decent men’s league players. Cole attended a top baseball factory and pitched in the College World Series, pitched in countless showcase games and prospect exhibitions and the Cape Cod league and so on and so forth. He’s pitched under pressure, this isn’t new to him.

What is new is the current edition of Gerrit Cole to the St. Louis Cardinals. They saw him dominant in Game Two of this series, the vastly improved Cole from the top prospect who emerged from the minor leagues this season only to post pedestrian strikeout rates and overall results.

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Francisco Giants

Andrew McCutchen is the best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates. He might just be the best player in the National League, when awards time comes. He is the beating heart of the Pirates batting order, hitting third while posting the best numbers on the team. The right-handed center fielder lead the team in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging pecentage this year.

Already in the 2013 playoffs (five games, including the Wild Card play-in), Andrew McCutchen has reached base an astounding 12 times. In losing 2-1 to the Cardinals in Game Four, Cutch failed to reach base at all. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say as McCutchen goes, so go the Pirates.

Which is good news for Pirates fans ahead of their pivotal Game 5 against Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals tonight. Because Andrew McCutchen is very difficult matchup for the Cardinals ace.

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MLB: NLDS-St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates

You stick enough good teams into small rooms and, eventually, you’re going to get some good games. The 2013 playoffs roared through their first weekend to much acclaim, finally offering the sweet pitching and unmatched tension that only playoff baseball can deliver.

The Pirates Sunday evening triumph and Saturday’s late pitching duel for the ages highlight the weekend, with the Sonny Gray/Justin Verlander battle for the ages in as the clubhouse leader for best game of the year. Anytime the only run of the game scores on the game’s final play, you’re having a good, nail-biting time at the ballpark.

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