Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

Pittsburgh Pirates trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Josh Harrison Out Indefinitely With Thumb Injury

2:51pm: Harrison says he’ll receive a second opinion once the swelling in his hand goes down, but for the time being, there’s no specific diagnosis or timeline on his recovery, per MLB.com’s Adam Berry (on Twitter).

2:36pm: Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison will miss the next six weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Twitter links). Harrison injured his thumb while sliding into second base on Sunday, according to Biertempfel.

Harrison will be placed on the disabled list to accommodate the club’s roster claim of Travis Ishikawa, the Pirates announced. The loss of Harrison likely means that the Pirates’ infield alignment will feature Jung Ho Kang at third base and Jordy Mercer at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Harrison will also no longer be an option to spell Gregory Polanco in right field against left-handed pitching, as he’s done on occasion this season.

The 27-year-old Harrison signed a four-year extension with the Pirates this offseason and got off to a slow start in the wake of that deal. However, he’s turned it on since the beginning of May, batting .302/.335/.391 in that time with a pair of homers and nine steals. Most of his defensive work this season has come at the hot corner, where Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved peg him at slightly below average to average, although he grades out as a plus defender there over the course of his entire career.

Harrison’s loss makes the club’s offseason acquisition of Kang that much more crucial, as Kang’s versatility will soften the blow of losing Harrison’s productivity for the next month and a half.


Central Notes: Richard, Tigers, Verlander, Royals, Cueto

The Pirates‘ trade of minor league starter Clayton Richard to the Cubs might not seem like huge news on the surface, but the move could prove to be significant if the Bucs have injuries in the rotation, Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. With Richard out of the picture and the team’s rash of injuries, the Pirates’ organizational starting depth has been compromised.  Manager Clint Hurdle is not yet terribly concerned about it, saying “I still think we are in a place where we are coveredIf something were to happen here and we lost two starters, that might change. We have lost our surplus. We had great depth at one point, now our depth isn’t as deep.”  Richard, 31, was a productive starter for the Padres before shoulder issues derailed his career. In both 2010 and 2012, he put up 200+ innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. He last appeared in the big leagues in 2013, struggling badly before ultimately going under the knife.

A few more notes from the game’s Central divisions…

  • Just one week ago, the Tigers were locks to be buyers at this year’s trade deadline, but James Schmehl of MLive.com examines the possibility that they could become sellers in the wake of Miguel Cabrera‘s injury. As Schemehl notes, the Tigers have a number of appealing trade chips in David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Rajai Davis — each of whom is set to hit free agency at season’s end. However, Schmehl also notes that the team has made a significant investment in winning this season and may be more likely to add a pair of relievers with an eye on the postseason. Asked about the possibility of becoming a deadline seller, manager Brad Ausmus replied, “That’s not really my call, but I’d be surprised.” Given the Tigers’ win-at-all-costs approach over the past few seasons, it would be a surprise to me as well to see them as deadline sellers, though perhaps they’ll take a similar route to 2014 and deal from their big league roster as a means of strengthening the current on-field product.
  • The New York Post’s Joel Sherman makes a bleak comparison for Tigers fans, writing that Justin Verlander has become Detroit’s version of CC Sabathia. Verlander is in the first year of a five-year, $140MM extension and has struggled to deliver any form of positive results over the past two seasons while dealing with injuries. He notes that GM Dave Dombrowski even talks about Verlander in the same manner that his Yankees counterpart, Brian Cashman, discusses Sabathia. Sherman quotes Dombrowski: “We don’t think you will see MVP-season Justin, but he can still be a very good pitcher and that would be really big for us. … He has just been a little inconsistent. We just need him to get more comfortable.” Verlander’s not showing quite the depleted velocity that Sabathia has, however, so perhaps there’s hope for him yet.
  • The Royals should make an aggressive play to acquire the RedsJohnny Cueto prior to the deadline, opines ESPN’s Christina Kahrl. She feels that the Royals are already strong favorites to win the AL Central, but adding Cueto gives them the rotation depth necessary to be a force in shorter playoff series. With Cueto and perhaps a returning Kris Medlen in the fold, Kahrl notes, the Royals can be shielded from the need to start Jeremy Guthrie in a pivotal postseason contest.

Pirates Claim Travis Ishikawa

The Pirates have claimed Travis Ishikawa from the Giants, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes tweets. The Bucs, in announcing the move, say that they will make a corresponding move to add Ishikawa to their 25-man roster once he joins the team.

The Giants designated Ishikawa for assignment on Friday. They initially acquired him in April 2014, signing him to a minor league deal after he briefly played for the Pirates in a separate stint. The Bucs designated him for assignment last season when they acquired Ike Davis, a fellow lefty first baseman.

This time around, it’s tough to guess what Ishikawa’s role with the Bucs might be, since they already have lefty hitters at first base and right field (Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco, respectively) and a good everyday player in left (Starling Marte, although Marte left Sunday’s game with an apparent injury). It’s possible Ishikawa could simply provide the Bucs with a lefty pinch-hitting option, however.

After his heroics in the postseason last year, the 31-year-old Ishikawa has spent most of 2015 with Triple-A Sacramento, where he’s batted .271/.342/.421. He collected six plate appearances with the Giants this season.



NL Central Notes: Cards, Taillon, Stephenson

The Cardinals‘ recent firing of scouting director Chris Correa in the wake of the organization’s hacking scandal is part of a broader problem of “brain-drain,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz writes. A number of top front-office minds left the Cardinals joined Jeff Luhnow in heading to Houston several years ago, and Correa himself replaced Dan Kantrovitz, who left the Cardinals following the 2014 to rejoin the Athletics organization. The investigation into the hacking scandal continues, so the Cardinals might have to withstand other front office departures. Team chairman Bill DeWitt is in a tough position — he’ll surely want to keep what’s left of his front office mostly intact, but if he doesn’t continue punishing any other hacking offenders, he’ll be seen as “soft on baseball crime,” as Miklasz puts it. Here’s more from the NL Central.

  • Pirates starting pitching prospect Jameson Taillon will have surgery next week to fix an inguinal hernia, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Travis Sawchik tweets. Taillon will miss two months, so the injury is likely to end his season. He had already missed the entire 2014 season after having Tommy John surgery and had not pitched in 2015, so he will effectively miss two years of development. Taillon was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and his talent remains significant, but his injury problems appear to be denting his prospect status.
  • The Reds promoted top prospect Robert Stephenson to Triple-A Louisville, where he debuted Friday night, as MiLB.com’s Daren Smith notes. Stephenson pitched well for Double-A Pensacola, with a 3.68 ERA and 10.2 K/9 in 78 2/3 innings, although he walked 4.9 batters per nine. MLB.com currently rates Stephenson the Reds’ best prospect and the 18th-best prospect in baseball, praising his fastball (which can reach into the upper 90s) and excellent curveball. (Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America largely agreed on Stephenson’s place in baseball’s prospect hierarchy, ranking him 16th and 23rd, respectively, heading into the season.) At Louisville, he’ll likely need to continue working on his control. “There have been a couple things we’ve been working on, but the big problem was that I was nitpicking too much and being too fine with my pitches,” says Stephenson. “The other thing was that I was rushing it a little bit, and when I sped up my tempo, I wasn’t able to repeat my motion and throw strikes. When I slow it down, I’m able to repeat my arm slot every time.”

Pirates Outright Chris Volstad

JULY 4: The Bucs have outrighted Volstad to Triple-A Indianapolis, according to Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter).

JUNE 28: The Pirates announced that they have designated Chris Volstad for assignment.  As reported earlier, outfielder Jose Tabata has also been bumped to make room on the 40-man roster.

Volstad, 28, was called up to the big league roster just last week and pitched two innings for the Bucs against the Reds on June 24th.  The right-hander seen substantial big league time since 2012, but he was solid in 76 Triple-A frames, putting up a 3.43 ERA with 5.9 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9.  For his career, the 6’8″ hurler owns a 4.92 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.

As the MLBTR DFA Tracker shows, there are now five players in DFA limbo: Volstad, Tabata, Rafael Lopez, Erik Kratz, and Scott Atchison.


Cubs Acquire Clayton Richard From Pirates

The Cubs have acquired lefty Clayton Richard from the Pirates in exchange for cash considerations, Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald reports on Twitter. Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes on Twitter that Richard appeared to be headed to a big league roster after clearing his locker out at Triple-A Indianapolis.

The impetus for the move was an “upward mobility” clause in Richard’s contract, which created a three-day period within which the Pirates had to offer him to other clubs willing to put him on a big league roster or instead add him to their own roster. Had no team been so willing, then Richard would have remained in Triple-A.

Chicago, obviously, was prepared to give Richard an active roster spot while Pittsburgh was not. Miles adds that Richard will make a start this Saturday for the Cubs.

Richard, 31, was a productive starter for the Padres before shoulder issues derailed his career. In both 2010 and 2012, he put up 200+ innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. He last appeared in the big leagues in 2013, struggling badly before ultimately going under the knife.

Richard appeared briefly in Triple-A last year for the Diamondbacks, but has returned to form at Indianapolis this season. In ten total minor league starts, he’s racked up 62 innings of 1.89 ERA pitching, striking out 4.4 and walking 2.0 batters per nine innings.


NL Central Notes: Brewers, Aramis, Alvarez, Guerra, Cards

The Brewers are being realistic about their status as sellers, pro scouting director Zack Minasian tells MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy“We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we weren’t honest with ourselves about where we’re at [in the standings],” Minasian told McCalvy. He adds that his message to his scouting team is that it’s OK to be both frustrated and angry with the team’s struggles this year, but times like this are the scouts’ chance to make an impact on the future of the club. As McCalvy notes, Adam Lind, Aramis Ramirez, Gerardo Parra and Kyle Lohse are all logical trade targets for the Crew, and if the team wanted to target a bigger deal, Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez represent more controllable options that could be dealt. Minasian tells McCalvy that when he sees scouts from other clubs on assignment, he has no qualms about being straightforward: “I don’t have a problem going up to them and asking, ‘What are you here for?’ … We are straightforward with clubs about what we can and can’t do.”

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • The Mets scouted Aramis Ramirez during the Brewers‘ recent series with the Twins but came away unimpressed with his play on both sides of the ball, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter). Sherman adds that the Mets weren’t all that interested in Ramirez even prior to that series, making a trade fit seem particularly unlikely.
  • There was once a time where Pirates fans may have feared losing Pedro Alvarez to free agency, writes Brian O’Neill of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but the Alvarez question has now shifted to whether or not he should even be tendered a contract this winter. O’Neill notes that Alvarez’s offensive profile over the past season-and-a-half is remarkably similar to that of two platoon-challenged first basemen on whom the Pirates have recently cut bait: Ike Davis and Garrett Jones. A trade of Alvarez, be it this month or this winter, wouldn’t bring much of a return without significant improvement at the plate, and giving him a raise on his $6MM salary after he’s shifted to first base and hit .236/.316/.417 over his past 694 plate appearances may not be worth it.
  • O’Neill’s colleague, Stephen J. Nesbitt, spoke with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and right-hander Deolis Guerra about Guerra’s long road to the Major Leagues. One of the key pieces in the 2008 blockbuster that sent Johan Santana from the Twins to the Mets, the now-26-year-old Guerra had never reached the Majors until this Sunday with Pittsburgh. Minnesota released him after six seasons in the organization this November, but Guerra worked with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason and refined the control of his secondary pitches at Triple-A this season. Guerra called his MLB debut “the greatest feeling,” adding that he experienced “so many emotions going on at the same time” that he couldn’t even put it into words. Hurdle said this type of debut is the type that gives veteran players and coaches alike goosebumps. “One of the biggest blasts you can have is watching a kid that’s had to fight, scratch and claw get out there, get the ball,” said Hurdle.
  • Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the upcoming outfield logjam that will face Cardinals manager Mike Matheny once Matt Holliday returns from the DL. With Holliday and Jason Heyward locked into the outfield corners, the Cards will be left to divide the center field at-bats between Randal Grichuk, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. Grichuk’s excellent power numbers and sound defense should earn him at-bats, writes Miklasz, but he also notes that Bourjos’ offensive game has improved a great deal in 2015. Bourjos is, historically, the best defender of the bunch as well. Jay’s track record with the team is the lengthiest, but as Miklasz writes, his offense hasn’t been the same since undergoing wrist surgery this offseason. Miklasz observes that Matheny is typically loyal to his players almost to a fault, which could lead to continued playing time for Jay despite his offensive struggles. He also notes that last season, when a similar situation occurred with the struggling Allen Craig, GM John Mozeliak intervened and traded Craig to Boston.
  • From my vantage point, a trade of Bourjos is at least something worth exploring for the Cardinals. A team in need of a center field upgrade could be appealed to Bourjos’ strong defensive track record and improved offensive output, and while Bourjos is highly affordable, he’s also controlled through just the 2016 season. Jay’s contract and defensive decline will make him difficult to trade, and Grichuk’s status as a cost-controlled piece with both power and defense in his skill set make him a highly appealing long-term piece for the Cardinals. If Mozeliak is looking to address some needs on his 2015 roster — fifth starter, bullpen, first base — flipping Bourjos to a contender with a hole in center could help to fill the need without dipping into his farm system (or, at least, not dipping as far as he’d have to without including an MLB-ready asset).

Minor Moves: Tabata, Romak, Wheeler

We’ll track the day’s minor moves here:

  • The Pirates have outrighted outfielder Jose Tabata to Triple-A, per the International League transactions page. Recently designated for assignment, Tabata still has another year left on the extension he signed early in his career. It’s no surprise, then, that Tabata appears on the Triple-A Indianapolis roster (Twitter link), meaning that he’s accepted his assignment rather than sacrificing his remaining guaranteed money to become a free agent.
  • Pursuant to an upward mobility clause like the one we explained yesterday, the Diamondbacks have notified the rest of the league that infielder/outfielder Jamie Romak is available to any club that is willing to add him to its active roster, MLBTR has learned. The 29-year-old is obviously hoping for a chance at big league playing time, but has also asked the team to sell his contract to a Japanese or Korean club if an MLB job is not available. Despite a very strong recent track record at Triple-A, Romak has only received 23 big league plate appearances in his career (all coming last year with the Dodgers). Thus far in 2015, he’s slashed .299/.375/.541 with 13 home runs over 323 trips to the plate. Notably, Romak has also spent time at second base this season for the first time in his career, adding to his versatility after logging plenty of minor league innings in the corner outfield and at both first and third.
  • The Twins have released third baseman Ryan Wheeler, Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports on Twitter. Wheeler, who’ll soon turn 27, signed with Minnesota in May after being released by the Angels. He’s struggled ever since, putting up a .233/.243/.315 slash in 74 plate appearances at Triple-A. Wheeler received limited MLB playing time in each of the last three years with the Diamondbacks and Rockies. All said, he has put up a .233/.280/.335 slash in 225 turns at the plate.

Pirates Face Roster Decision On Clayton Richard

Pirates lefty Clayton Richard has a clause in his deal that provides a 72-hour window during which Pittsburgh must make him available to other clubs, Nathan Baird of JConline.com reports. That “upward mobility” provision went into effect today.

Here’s how it works, per the report: If another team is willing to put the veteran hurler on its big league roster, then the Pirates must either deal him to that club or, instead, add him to their own 25-man roster. In the event that no suitor emerges, however, then the Bucs can keep Richard at Triple-A.

Once a 200-inning starter for the Padres, the 31-year-old fell apart in 2013, struggling to a 7.01 ERA and ultimately undergoing shoulder surgery. He has not returned to the big leagues since, but is thriving this year at Triple-A Indianapolis. Over 62 frames in ten starts, Richard owns a 1.89 ERA with 4.4 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9.

Richard expressed interest in continuing his career with the Pirates, but said he is ready to do so at the major league level. “I can’t say what they see,” said Richard. “I know what I feel, and I’m to the point now where I’m ready to face big league competition.”

He also tells Baird that he’s more than willing to work from the pen to get back to the majors. Richard previously declined an opportunity to opt out of his deal at the start of the season, though this time around the decision seems to be out of his hands entirely.


Minor Moves: Mazzaro, Sizemore, Murata, Rogers

Here are today’s minor league transactions from around baseball, with the newest moves at the top of the post.  All moves were announced by the teams themselves unless otherwise cited.

  • Vin Mazzaro has elected to become a free agent, according to MLB.com’s official transactions page.  The veteran righty was designated for assignment by the Marlins earlier this week and then outrighted, giving him the option of accepting the assignment or choosing free agency.  Mazzaro has a 3.75 ERA, six strikeouts and six walks over 12 relief innings for Miami this season.
  • The Rays selected the contract of Grady Sizemore prior to today’s game, and the veteran outfielder delivered three hits in his Tampa debut.  Sizemore was released by the Phillies and signed to a minor league deal by the Rays earlier this month.  In corresponding roster moves, righty Matt Andriese was sent to Triple-A and outfielder Desmond Jennings was moved to the 60-day DL.
  • The Indians purchased the contract of right-hander Toru Murata, who is making his MLB debut in a start tonight against the Orioles.  Murata was signed as a free agent out of Japan in 2010 and he owns a 3.88 ERA, 3.01 K/BB rate and 6.8 K/9 over 489 2/3 minor league innings.  In a corresponding move, the Tribe released right-hander Scott Atchison.
  • The Yankees selected the contract of righty Esmil Rogers, who was just outrighted off the roster two weeks ago.  Rogers has a 6.27 ERA over 33 bullpen innings for New York this season, though he has been hamstrung by a .356 BABIP and a very low 56% strand rate.
  • The Pirates selected the contract of utilityman Gorkys Hernandez.  Once a top-100 prospect, Hernandez appeared in 70 MLB games with the Pirates and Marlins in 2012 and hasn’t since been back to the Show.  Hernandez has a .278/.342/.376 slash line, 33 homers and 213 steals (out of 285 chances) over 4055 career minor league plate appearances.
  • The Braves selected the contract of right-hander Ryan Kelly, who is getting his first taste of the majors after nine pro seasons.  Kelly was a 26th-round draft pick for the Pirates in 2006 and he’s compiled a 3.99 ERA, 3.10 K/BB rate and 8.2 K/9 over 462 2/3 innings (mostly as a reliever).