- The Pirates are one of several teams who have shown interest in reliever Daniel Hudson, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. As many as 16 teams have checked in on Hudson, including his former team in Arizona. Hudson posted a 5.22 ERA over 60 1/3 IP with the Diamondbacks last season, though advanced metrics (3.81 FIP, 4.12 xFIP, 3.84 SIERA, 8.65 K/9, 2.64 K/BB rate) hint that the hard-throwing righty had a better season than his ERA would indicate.
- Jorge De La Rosa and Doug Fister have received some “due diligence” check-ins from the Pirates, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (via Twitter). Nothing appears to be in the works between the team and either pitcher at the moment.
- The Pirates have been very successful at turning reclamation projects into successful arms in recent years, though finding such pitchers is becoming more difficult, GM Neal Huntington tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and other reporters. “There doesn’t seem to be as many (pitchers) that we’ve been able to identify,” Huntington said. “The traits we’ve liked in the past, they’ve been more difficult to acquire because teams are paying for them. They recognize we’ve had some ability to return some value on some guys coming off down years or injuries. There is a higher competition level, and supply is down, and as a result cost goes up.” Huntington hinted that the Bucs may have to acquire something other than its preferred target of a ground-ball pitcher in order to land a veteran arm, though the GM said that adding a veteran isn’t a must. “We’d be comfortable adding nobody if it’s just not there,” he said.
Fresh off their first non-playoff season since 2012, the Pirates will prioritize improving their run prevention over the winter, reports Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In 2015, when the Pirates won 98 games, they finished third in the majors in runs surrendered (596). That figure skyrocketed during a 78-win 2016 campaign for the Bucs, who allowed opposing teams to cross home plate 758 times (22nd in the league).
The better your pitching, the better your chances of stopping rivals from scoring, but general manager Neal Huntington isn’t optimistic about ameliorating the team’s staff via free agency. As Sawchik notes, the average starting pitcher deal during free agency last offseason was worth $10.02MM. Now, with so few appealing options set to hit the market, “it will be worse this year,” Huntington told Sawchik. “It is a reminder of how important it is for us to develop our own starting pitching,” the GM added.
The Pirates have one of the league’s top soon-to-be free agent rotation pieces in right-hander Ivan Nova, whom they acquired from the Yankees at this year’s trade deadline. Nova was a revelation in Pittsburgh and now looks primed to land a richer deal than anyone would have expected before he joined the Pirates. The club is trying to re-sign him, but the likelihood is he’ll hit the market, according to Sawchik.
With Nova perhaps on the brink of departing, Huntington opened up about the difficulties of working with a low payroll, saying that “every significant contract is a risk. When you look at Francisco Liriano at $13 million, when he performed well it is an affordable contract. But it’s the equivalent of $30-$40 million (per year) for the Dodgers. Percent of payroll is real. It’s not an excuse. When a contract is 13 percent of your payroll versus 4 percent, the level of risk tolerance is so very different …. How far do you stretch? It is a case-by-case situation.”
Huntington’s spending limitations played into the Pirates’ inability to re-sign left-hander J.A. Happ and add fellow southpaw Rich Hill last year. The Pirates lost out by $500K on Hill, whom the Athletics signed for $6MM.
As for Liriano, the Pirates traded him to the Blue Jays at the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline. Liriano was outstanding with Pittsburgh in 2015, the first of a three-year, $39MM deal, but that wasn’t the case this season. As a result, the payroll-challenged Bucs dealt two prospects along with Liriano in exchange for $18MM in savings and right-hander Drew Hutchison.
With none of Happ, Liriano or Hill in the picture, the Pirates unsurprisingly have rotation questions going forward. Righties Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are sure to fill two rotation spots for the club. Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams and Hutchison are among their other potential in-house rotation candidates. They’re not the most confidence-inspiring choices, which Huntington addressed.
“Some will continue to progress. The real world shows us some will regress,” he said.
If Huntington decides he’s not content with that group, he revealed that dealing position pitchers to “strengthen” his team’s rotation is a possibility. It’s unclear which players Huntington could part with, though center fielder Andrew McCutchen’s name has come up of late. While the longtime face of the franchise is a five-time All-Star and one-time NL MVP, his all-around performance drastically fell off last season and he especially hindered the Pirates’ ability to prevent runs. McCutchen’s minus-27 Defensive Runs Saved “catches your attention,” said Huntington, who attributes some of the 30-year-old’s fielding woes to the shallower alignment the team deployed this season. The Pirates are now evaluating how they’ll align their fielders in the future, per Sawchik. One thing that will remain is an emphasis on inducing ground balls.
“(The ground ball) is something that we’re going to keep as one of our cornerstones,” manager Clint Hurdle told Sawchik. “We’ve had a recipe for success and we want to follow it.”
Pittsburgh’s ground-ball percentage fell from 50.4 in 2015 to 46.9 this year, but the team still ranked third in the majors in that department. However, only nine clubs were worse at turning grounders into outs, StatCorner indicates . The Pirates ranked a far superior 12th at killing grounders the previous year, when they were a much better defensive team in general. Now, Huntington is trying to figure out how to restore the Pirates to their 2015 ways.
Here’s the latest from the Steel City…
- While J.A. Happ is enjoying a strong season with the Blue Jays, Pirates GM Neal Huntington (via Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) didn’t express too much regret over not re-signing the southpaw after his turnaround performance in Pittsburgh. “We wanted to re-sign J.A. We weren’t able to meet the financial asks, or chose not to. Toronto was aggressive and came and got him,” Huntington said. While noting that “hindsight always gives you the opportunity to wish you had done something differently,” Huntington also mentioned that Happ is still not even a full season through the first year of the three-year deal, so it could be too early to judge the signing.
- Huntington also told reporters (including MLB.com’s Adam Berry) that the Pirates are actively scouring the waiver wire for possible additions, though he cited the inherent difficulties of landing players through the unpredictable August waivers process. Some of the salary saved in the Francisco Liriano trade could help the Bucs make claims on pricier players, Huntington said, whether it’s to actually obtain the players themselves or simply block them from going to rival teams.
- If the Pirates were willing to sell low on Liriano just to get his contract off the books, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wonder if the club would consider the same with Andrew McCutchen this winter. The former NL MVP is owed $14MM in 2017, and the Bucs have a $14.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) on his services for 2018. McCutchen’s contract has long considered one of the game’s most team-friendly deals given how the outfielder emerged as a superstar after signing the extension, so while it seems wild to now consider it a financial burden, McCutchen is suffering through the worst season of his career, hitting just .241/.314/.404 with 15 homers through 443 PA. Despite these struggles, you would figure that the modest contractual commitment, McCutchen’s relative youth (he’s 29) and excellent track record would still figure to make him a sought-after trade chip if Pittsburgh indeed made him available. Highly-touted prospect Austin Meadows is also waiting in the wings for the Pirates as a possible outfield replacement.
Here’s the latest from around baseball as we move another day closer to the August 1 trade deadline…
- Red Sox GM Mike Hazen discussed his team’s recent flurry of moves with CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam in a video interview. Because the Sox had “a fairly clear need on our end…it allowed us to be focused on what we wanted to be aggressive on,” and thus Hazen said the team could act quickly to address those needs before the trade market began to thin out. Getting a controllable pitcher like Drew Pomeranz was in part a priority since there aren’t many quality starting arms available in free agency this winter. The full interview is well worth watching, as Hazen covers multiple topics about the Red Sox as they head into the second half.
- Before the Padres finally landed pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza from the Red Sox in the Pomeranz trade, San Diego team president Mike Dee tells Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune that his club made two earlier attempts at landing Espinoza’s services. The Padres also asked about the 18-year-old righty at last year’s trade deadline, and again last offseason when the Friars and Sox were negotiating the Craig Kimbrel deal. In the same interview, Dee also discusses how the organization will be more entirely focused on improving the on-field product in the coming years.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington discusses several Bucs-related topics with Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other reporters, including how the Pirates are exploring the trade market for pitching but finding very high prices. “You continue to look externally, but your bar’s set fairly high in terms of what your acquisition needs to be,” Huntington said. “That acquisition comes with an extreme acquisition cost. We will weigh, are we better going with our own guys, is there something that makes sense from the outside, and that will play out over the next couple of weeks.”
- In another Huntington interview, he discussed the Pirates’ pitching search and other items with Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (audio link).
- Yoenis Cespedes told reporters (including ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin) that he would like to play left field for the rest of the season, based on both personal preference and a desire to avoid aggravating his quad injury. Cespedes has made 61 starts in center this season (with 13 in left) to accommodate the Mets’ roster construction, though if Cespedes is better off in left, it creates a bit of a jam for New York. Michael Conforto would be forced into right field, leaving Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza all in the center field mix (assuming Conforto hits well enough to retain a regular job). This is just my speculation, but I wonder if the Mets could explore moving Granderson, Lagares and/or De Aza at the deadline as part of a trade for more reliable center field help.
Earlier, we heard the Pirates may bat Andrew McCutchen second in an attempt to better optimize their lineup. That’s not the only optimization planned, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Slow footed John Jaso may bat first so the club can take advantage of his high OBP – especially against right-handed pitching. As manager Clint Hurdle notes, the expected effect of an optimized lineup might come out to only one or two extra wins over the course of a season. Of course, it’s also right to note that expected and actual production can diverge for numerous statistical reasons.
Here’s more out of Pittsburgh:
- Juan Nicasio’s ability to command the fastball will determine if he can have an impact as a starting pitcher, writes Sawchik. The veteran righty has pitched well this spring with 16 strikeouts, three walks, and no runs allowed in 10 innings. Nicasio is now a viable alternative to Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, or Ryan Vogelsong. However, he might be better suited for relief work since his velocity played up to 96 mph out of the Dodgers bullpen last season. He’s sat 92 to 95 mph this spring as a starter.
- While pitching coach Ray Searage gets the credit for the Pirates ample success with starting pitchers, it’s an organization-wide philosophy, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittburgh Tribune-Review. Jim Benedict, now with the Marlins, helped to develop the philosophy. Now it falls to others in the organization like Double-A pitching coach Justin Meccage to continue implementing their proven techniques. While baseball strategy is important, Searage cites communication and trust as the keys to the Pirates Way.
- The Pirates have changed their policy for pre-arbitration players after the brouhaha with Gerrit Cole, GM Neal Huntington said on MLB Network Radio. Huntington admits the policy was probably outdated before the incident with Cole. Previously, the club followed strict policies for setting pre-arbitration salaries. Teams do this to minimize the need for negotiations over relatively small amounts of money. A set policy can also help to avoid hurt feelings or disputes. Obviously, that wasn’t the case here.
Much like every other team, the Pirates are striving to adjust to a pitcher friendly era, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Pitchers have benefited greatly from the inflow of data. They’ve learned about specific hitters tendencies, strengths, and weakness in ways that weren’t available in the past. Now hitters are beginning to get more of that same information about pitchers. Per Pirates GM Neal Huntington, “So much of the advance work gave an advantage to pitchers in identifying hitters’ weaknesses…We…have worked hard to try to capitalize on how to give our hitters some advantage back.”
Here’s more from the Pirates as they gear up for free agency:
- Pittsburgh hopes to improve their offense over the offseason, writes Sawchik in a separate article. Sawchik suggests that power could be a priority. Interestingly, the club has tough decisions to make on Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker. Both players are non-tender candidates – Alvarez is projected to earn $8.1MM via arbitration while Walker is pegged for a $10.7MM payday. However, they’ve also accounted for 84 of the club’s 296 home runs in the last two seasons (28%). If power is truly a priority, then it will be hard to replace their production for less money. It’s trendy to look to the Royals as an example, but they’re probably a great model for the Pirates. Pittsburgh has focused on pure hitters in the draft rather than power, and their cavernous ball park plays similarly to Kauffman Stadium. Perhaps aggression and athleticism are better traits to target.
- Byung-ho Park of the Nexen Heroes will be posted tomorrow, but he’s unlikely to join the Pirates, writes John Perrotto of Today’s Knuckleball. Obviously, the Pirates have already received great value from fellow KBO import Jung-ho Kang. That’s part of the reason Pittsburgh won’t win the bidding for his services. Kang provided a successful use case for transition from the KBO to the majors. Teams should be willing to bet more upon Park’s success. With Michael Morse under contract for 2016 and top prospect Josh Bell lurking at Triple-A, the club also has some solid in-house first basemen.
Barring an epic collapse, the Mets and Yankees will reach the postseason together for the first time since 2006, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. In fact, the Mets clinched the NL East just a few minutes ago. Sherman takes a look at how both New York franchises reached October baseball via important offseason and trade deadline moves. Here’s more on Sandy Alderson, Brian Cashman, and others.
- Alderson whiffed on his offseason moves for a second year in a row, per Sherman. Sean Gilmartin, a solid middle reliever, was the best acquisition. Alderson forfeited the Mets’ first round pick and a bundle of cash to sign Michael Cuddyer. That move has seemingly backfired. A lack of depth hurt the club until mid-season when he acquired Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, and Yoenis Cespedes. The promotion of Michael Conforto has also helped.
- The Yankees experiencedÃÂ the polar opposite story. Cashman’s only in-season move of note was the acquisition of Dustin Ackley. However, he spiked the offseason. Rather than invest in more expensive, old players, Cashman focused on youth. First, he gambled that closer Andrew Miller could match the production of former Yankee David Robertson for less money. Cashman was right, and he earned a compensation pick when the White Sox inked Robertson. He also did well to acquire Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi (if Eovaldi can avoid a second Tommy John surgery).
- While Alderson and Cashman have been vindicated, they won’t win the executive of the year. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos may have had the biggest impact on his roster by acquiring Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Devon Travis, David Price, and Troy Tulowitzki. However, those players were costly – both in prospects and financially.
- Royals GM Dayton Moore is another candidate for top executive. He made a couple unpopular moves that have turned out well, especially the signings of Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez. He also acquired Kris Medlen, Ryan Madson, Johnny Cueto, and Ben Zobrist. The club ran away with the AL Central after their surprising success in 2014.
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels has surged up the list. His club was treading water when he traded for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman at the July deadline. Now Texas is on the cusp of clinching the AL West. He also added Yovani Gallardo prior to the season. Sam Dyson and Mike Napoli were smaller in-season moves. While the acquisition of Hamels may have reinvigorated the club, I still wonder how history will view the trade.
- Meanwhile, Pirates GM Neal Huntington works below the radar, but his role in rostering Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Cervelli, Jung-ho Kang, Aramis Ramirez, J.A. Happ, and others should not be underestimated. The club’s depth and versatility is a big reason for their success.
- The Braves may have the second worst record in baseball, but GM John Hart did well to accept reality and rebuild. His remodeling should help the club prepare to contend in 2017 when their new stadium opens. In the process, Hart cleared dead weight off the payroll and improved the farm system dramatically. Personally, my favorite move was the creative swap for Touki Toussaint.
“The impatience of the industry” is a reason Neal Huntington feels teams have been focusing on big league-ready talent rather than prospects in trade talks, the Pirates GM tells Travis Sawchik and Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Owners and general managers have “the expectation that you can turn an organization around in a year. Rather than (targeting) the best prospect in the system that may be in A-ball, teams are starting to look for the guy in Triple-A that might have an impact in a year or two,” Huntington said. Here’s some more from Pittsburgh and elsewhere around the NL Central…
- Huntington also noted that while he hopes to upgrade the Pirates at the deadline, his roster is overall “in a good spot. There is not a glaring hole where we may vastly have to overpay.”
- In another piece from Sawchik, he looks at the many ways that the Pirates have looked to keep their players healthy this season. These innovative and old-school training methods have clearly paid off, as the Bucs have lost fewer player days to the disabled list than all but one team (the Brewers) in the National League.
- Jay Bruce’s name has only recently surfaced in trade rumors, though ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (Twitter link) that the Reds have had the outfielder “available for awhile.”
- Also from Olney’s tweet, the Reds “haven’t officially” begun shopping Johnny Cueto. The free agent-to-be is expected to be one of the most sought-after pieces in this deadline period.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak indicated to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’d look to add a short-term upgrade at the deadline rather than a player or players that would impact next season’s roster. Mozeliak stressed that his club would exercise “discipline” at the deadline, pointing to a failed 2010 trade for Pedro Feliz as an example of a deal that today’s Cards wouldn’t make.
- MLBTR’s Zach Links collected more items from around the NL Central earlier today.
Collin McHugh’s recent struggles have only sharpened the Astros’ need for starting pitching help, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. McHugh has a 7.77 ERA over his last four starts, leaving ace Dallas Keuchel as the only truly reliable rotation option, as it’s asking a lot of rookies Lance McCullers and Vincent Velasquez to immediately help carry a playoff-contending team (though McCullers has been outstanding in six starts.) Here’s some more from around baseball as we head into the new week…
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells David Manel of the Bucs Dugout blog that the club will again “walk that balance between now and the future” in making any deadline additions. “We want to do everything we can to put this club in a position to make the playoffs this year, win a World Series this year. At the same time, we want to be able to be in that position as many years in the future as we can,” Huntington said. Pittsburgh will face a lot of competition in making deals only a few teams are truly out of the race at this point; as Huntington puts it, “this is absolutely a sellers market, at this point in time.”
- The rising costs of youth baseball has led to fewer young athletes choosing the game, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. The Pirates value having versatile players who are able to play multiple positions, and the best fits for this model are those who played baseball and other sports growing up, so they have a larger athletic toolbox. With more youngsters specializing only in one sport growing up, however, these well-rounded athletes are harder to find.
- Despite the Reds’ struggles, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer doesn’t think manager Bryan Price’s job is in jeopardy. “It would be hard and foolish to fire Bryan Price given all the injuries” the Reds have had to deal with, Fay writes.
- Most scouts feel that the Reds wouldn’t trade Aroldis Chapman “if push came to shove” and they became deadline sellers, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. There hasn’t been any indication that the Reds are willing to deal Chapman, though his name has at least been floated in talks with the Nationals.
- Also from Cafardo, some scouts following the Reds have mentioned Brandon Phillips, but while he’s having a good season, Cafardo feels the second baseman’s large contract is still a deterrent to a trade.
- The Padres, White Sox and Indians are three of the many clubs still relatively close to a postseason spot but unsure if they’ll be able to make a legitimate run, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (Insider subscription required). San Diego’s situation is particularly tricky given their major winter expenditures and rival evaluators doubt that the Padres would engage in any major sell-off if they continue to struggle.
- Top Phillies pitching prospect Aaron Nola has been promoted to Triple-A, the club announced earlier today. Nola, the seventh overall pick of the 2014 draft, posted a 1.88 ERA and 6.56 K/BB rate over 76 2/3 innings at Double-A this season, with the only minor red flag being a middling 6.9 K/9. At this point, Nola seems well on pace to earn a promotion to the Show late this season.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington met with the media today prior to the team completing its three-game sweep of the Brewers. Here are some excerpts courtesy of Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
- Echoing manager Clint Hurdle’s comments yesterday about how it is best for Jung-ho Kang to develop in the Majors rather than play everyday at Triple-A, Huntington said, “We believe Kang has earned opportunity to be on this club & is one of our best 25.” Huntington added, “The variables that would be added by dropping him now into Triple-A, in our minds, don’t make sense.“
- Top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon is making progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and Huntington is looking “forward to getting him against an opposition uniform sooner than later.“
- Huntington noted Taillon, the second overall selection in the 2010 amateur draft, is “continuing to make progress and continuing to check box after box,” but was mum on whether the right-hander has pitched in extended Spring Training and where he will begin his rehab assignment.
- Huntington was more forthcoming about Charlie Morton, who threw 55 pitches in a simulated game Friday. Huntington admitted Morton’s “body just didn’t function the way the body functioned before the surgery” he underwent this past offseason to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, but “we’re getting closer to where Charlie feels like he can just go compete and doesn’t have to work through making sure that he feels right.“