- The Pirates will ease shortstop/third baseman Jung Ho Kang back into their lineup when he returns soon from a left knee injury, general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday (link via Adam Berry of MLB.com). That could mean starting Kang two of every three games and using him as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement when he’s not in the lineup, Huntington suggested. Kang has amassed 32 at-bats during his rehab stint with Triple-A Indianapolis, and he could rejoin the Pirates once he gets anywhere from 45 to 60.
- The Pirates have announced that righty Jared Hughes has been reinstated from the 15-day DL, and that they’ve cleared space for him on the active roster by optioning fellow Rob Scahill to Triple-A Indianapolis. Hughes had missed the entire season to this point with a lat strain. The return of the ground-ball specialist should provide a boost to a Bucs bullpen that has struggled to this point, posting a 4.48 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and an ugly 4.5 BB/9 thus far and ranking as below replacement level as a unit.
The Pirates announced on Friday that they have extended their entire coaching staff through the 2017 season. The club did not announce a new contract for skipper Clint Hurdle, though Hurdle was already signed through the 2017 season himself, whereas the coaches’ contracts ran through the end of the current campaign. The new contracts mean that bench coach Dave Jauss, pitching coach Ray Searage, hitting coach Jeff Branson, third base coach Rick Sofield, first base coach Nick Leyva, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey and bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade will all return for another season. Searage, in particular, has become particularly notable in the national media due to Pittsburgh’s success in rehabilitating pitchers that have endured recent struggles (though the Bucs did lose noted pitching specialist Jim Benedict to the Marlins’ front office this past winter).
Coming into the season, Tyler Glasnow was expected to provide a mid-season boost to the Pirates rotation, and that looks likelier by the day. As MiLB.com’s Sam Dykstra writes, the young righty has been dominant at Triple-A and currently leads the International League in strikeout rate. Though a promotion seems all but inevitable at some point, the timing remains uncertain and may be dependent upon what the club can get from its current options (as well as its estimation of where the Super Two cutoff will fall). Jeff Locke is coming off of his best start of the year after some significant early struggles, while Juan Nicasio is throwing well enough currently to hold down another slot and Ryan Vogelsong remains a factor.
- The Pirates have released outfielder Antoan Richardson from Triple-A, per a club announcement. Richardson, a speedy 32-year-old, was scuffling in limited duty. He’s been up in the majors before as a late-season option, recording six steals despite taking only 21 plate appearances. In 785 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, Richardson owns a .261/.377/.347 slash and has 56 steals while being caught only three times.
APRIL 21: Morse has been unconditionally released by the Pirates, tweets MLB.com’s Adam Berry. He’s now a free agent and can sign with any club.
APRIL 13: The Pirates announced today that they have selected the contract of right-hander A.J. Schugel and designated first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 25- and 40-man rosters.
The Pirates acquired Morse and cash considerations from the Dodgers last season in exchange for outfielder Jose Tabata and the remaining money on his contract, meaning they didn’t actually take on any additional salary in picking up Morse, who is owed $8MM in 2016 — the second season of a two-year, $16MM contract originally signed with the Marlins. The 34-year-old Morse has had one of the more interesting career arcs you’ll come across, going from third-round pick of the White Sox to failed prospect in Chicago/Seattle to breakout slugger at the age of 28 with the Nationals. Morse slugged 64 homers in 346 games for the 2010-12 Nats, posting an OPS+ of 131 before being sent back to Seattle in a trade. The 2013 season was another dreadful year for Morse, but he again revitalized his career with a huge season at the plate for the 2014 World Champion Giants. Upon signing his two-year deal with the Marlins, though, Morse’s offense again deteriorated, and he found himself involved in two salary dump trades last season.
Morse has batted a combined .247/.356/.351 in 90 plate appearances with the Pirates across the past two seasons. However, the offseason additions of Jason Rogers and David Freese left the club without a clear need for Morse, who had previously been penciled in as a right-handed platoon mate for first baseman John Jaso. It’s unlikely that any club will pick Morse up on release waivers due to his salary, so Morse is likely to clear and hit the open market, where he’ll be free to sign with any club. In that scenario, a new team would only be required to pay him the pro-rated league minimum (assuming they’re willing to give a 40-man roster spot).
As for Schugel, the 26-year-old was an offseason waiver claim for the Pirates, who subsequently outrighted him off the 40-man roster. Schugel struggled in nine innings with the D-backs last year — his first taste of Major League action — and has had some alarming troubles at the Triple-A level as well. Schugel has dominated Double-A but owns a 7.92 ERA in 128 1/3 Triple-A innings.
- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday that he hopes first baseman/outfielder Mike Morse is able to find a major league opportunity after the team designated him for assignment earlier this week. However, he expects the Bucs would “have to take back a significant amount of money,” tweets Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Morse, 34, is owed $8MM this year and coming off a season in which he hit just .231/.313/.336 in 256 PAs. That obviously won’t cut it for a bat-only player like Morse, though he was a standout offensive performer as recently as 2014. Then a member of the Giants, he batted .279/.336/.475 with 16 homers in 482 PAs.
- Here’s an interesting tidbit: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle expects a woman to break into the major leagues as a player at some point. “I still believe firmly there is going to be a day where there is a female player in the big leagues. I got that. Where it goes, I don’t know. I don’t believe I’ll be in the dugout to see it,” he said (link via Matt Eisenberg of espnW).
Here are Sunday’s minor transactions from around baseball:
- The Diamondbacks announced that they recalled right-handed pitchers Archie Bradley and Evan Marshall and optioned righties Jake Barrett and Matt Buschmann to Triple-A. Arizona needed fresh arms after its 14-inning marathon loss to San Diego on Saturday night, when Barrett and Buschmann combined to throw 4 1/3 innings. If Bradley doesn’t pitch in relief today, the D-backs could start him Monday in place of Rubby De La Rosa, manager Chip Hale said (Twitter link via Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic). De La Rosa came out of the bullpen Saturday and got two outs before allowing a walk-off home run to Melvin Upton Jr.
- Pirates shortstop Pedro Florimon accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis, general manager Neal Huntington said (Twitter link via Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). The Pirates outrighted Florimon on Wednesday and he had 72 hours to decide whether to accept the assignment or reject it and become a free agent. The defense-first Florimon has hit a career .199/.262/.295 batting line in 717 plate appearances. He batted .245/.315/.367 for Indianapolis last season.
- The Reds have optioned right-hander Keyvius Sampson to Triple-A Louisville and activated righty Jon Moscot (intercostal) from the disabled list, according to C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link). Moscot, who owns a 3.67 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 404 1/3 minor league innings, will start the Reds’ game against the Cardinals on Sunday. He got his first taste of the big leagues with the Reds last year, allowing six earned runs in three starts (11 1/3 innings) while totaling six strikeouts and five walks. MLBPipeline.com ranks Moscot as the Reds’ No. 24 prospect. Sampson, meanwhile, got off to a rough start this season for the Reds in surrendering four hits and four earned runs in three innings. In 13 appearances (12 starts) with the Reds last season, he tossed 52 1/3 frames of 6.54 ERA ball.
- The Pirates announced that both infielder Jung Ho Kang and right-handed reliever Jared Hughes will begin rehab assignments at Triple-A Indianapolis in the upcoming week. Kang, who will play for Indy on Monday, is certainly the bigger piece of the two, having put up a 3.9-fWAR season as a rookie in 2015. After coming over from Korea, the shortstop/third baseman hit .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs before suffering torn ligaments in his knee in September. Kang is allowed 20 days on his rehab assignment, which means the latest he can return to the Pirates is May 7, tweets Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hughes, meanwhile, has exceeded 60 innings three of the last four years out of the Bucs’ bullpen, and his ERA hasn’t surpassed 2.85 in any of those seasons. Although the ground-ball pitcher owns a 2.77 ERA in 250 career innings, FIP (3.95) and xFIP (3.93) aren’t quite buying his bottom-line results.
- Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano is back to full strength after the team scratched him from his Wednesday start with a tight right hamstring, Adam Berry of MLB.com relays. Liriano, who threw a bullpen session Saturday, expects to start Tuesday in San Diego. “Everything feels normal,” Liriano said. “Ready to go on Tuesday. Everything went well today.” That’s welcome news for the Pirates, whose starting rotation isn’t particularly imposing on paper aside from Gerrit Cole and Liriano. In 11 innings this year, Liriano has posted a stellar 2.45 ERA, but his 7.36 BB/9 is unsightly and nearly twice his career number of 3.83.