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Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says the team is likely to start the season with three catchers, ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers writes. Having Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo all start the season with the team does limit Joe Maddon’s tactical possibilities somewhat, but Epstein says that Maddon supports having three catchers. Having three would also allow the Cubs to be somewhat more flexible in using their catchers to pinch-hit, and would give the team depth in case of an injury. Rogers notes, though, that common sense suggests the Cubs would still consider trading Castillo if the right offer came along, and that the Cubs might be trying to improve their negotiating position by giving the impression they’re not desperate to deal Castillo. Here are more notes from the National League.
- With Denard Span out with after having core muscle surgery, top Nationals prospect Michael Taylor is making a strong case to be on the team’s Opening Day roster. But there are reasons to wonder about his readiness, Nats Insider’s Mark Zuckerman writes. Taylor is hitting .324/.324/.765 in 34 plate appearances this spring, but he’s struck out 11 times without walking. Taylor exhibited similar issues in his 43 plate appearances in the big leagues last year, and he has limited experience at Triple-A, so sending him there might be best for his development.
- Reliever Arquimedes Caminero, who the Pirates acquired in a minor deal with the Marlins in February, is very likely to make the Bucs out of camp, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Caminero is out of options and has been very impressive this spring, striking out 12 batters in eight innings with a fastball that reaches into the high 90s. Caminero says the Bucs have helped him improve his delivery. “(They are) just simplifying things that were there that I didn’t notice much and now I’m noticing,” says Caminero. “I’m just going easier in my mechanics. I was trying to throw too hard. … I feel more confident. I’m hitting my target more often.”
If the Cubs keep Kris Bryant at Triple-A to begin the season, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal believes the MLBPA should file a grievance as a matter of principle. It would be a mostly symbolic gesture (“The case law overwhelmingly favors the clubs,” according to one of Rosenthal’s sources) yet it would indicate that the players’ union is serious about addressing this service-time loophole when the new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated next year. It would also be a big-picture show of strength by the union, as some player agents feel that the MLBPA has a bit too lenient on some recent issues.
Here’s more from around the NL Central…
- The Braves initially asked for Carlos Martinez when they began discussing the Jason Heyward trade with the Cardinals, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Cards refused, just as they’ve steadfastly turned down other trade offers for Martinez in recent years, yet Miklasz wonders why the club is so committed to keeping Martinez but is hesitant to give him a regular rotation job. Miklasz argues that if the Cardinals have any doubts about Martinez, they might be better served by dealing him now while his stock is still high.
- Arquimedes Caminero has been impressed scouts this spring, and the Pirates may be forced to put the out-of-options righty on the roster in order to keep him, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Keeping Caminero in the bullpen could force John Holdzkom to start the year at Triple-A, as while Holdzkom has pitched well himself in camp, he still has minor league options.
- Speaking of the Pirates‘ roster crunch, GM Neal Huntington told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that a move could possibly be made to address the Bucs’ several out-of-options players. “We have some guys who are out of options who may be of interest to other clubs,” Huntington said. “We may make a small trade … or claim somebody on waivers or lose somebody on waivers. We still have some (roster) decisions to make and are always open to improving our talent level.”
- The Reds have told veteran southpaw Paul Maholm that he won’t be earning a rotation job, though Maholm isn’t yet considering opting out of his minor league deal with the club, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. “We still have some time left in camp,” Maholm said. “I’m trying to pitch and get ready for the season. Those are decisions we have to make at the date that’s set up. Until then, I’m just going to pitch.” The Reds would have to pay Maholm $100K to retain his services if he’s not going to make their Major League roster, as per his status as an Article XX(B) player.
Reliever Craig Breslow, the Red Sox‘ representative to the MLBPA, is opposed to an international draft and would like for it to remain possible for international free agents to receive bonuses as big as Yoan Moncada‘s, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald writes. A huge deal like Moncada’s would likely be impossible with an international draft in place. “I think while, intuitively, people may look at a guy who has never played here and gets a big signing bonus and there’s potentially some envy, I think the greater membership (of players) understands that anytime we can eliminate restrictions to signing, that’s a good thing,” says Breslow. On Sunday, Breslow visited with MLBPA head Tony Clark, who has voiced skepticism about the idea of an international draft. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Jung-ho Kang, who signed this offseason for four years and $11MM plus a posting fee of around $5MM, provides the Pirates with a low-cost insurance policy throughout their infield, Newsday’s David Lennon writes. Second baseman Neil Walker and first baseman Pedro Alvarez can become free agents after 2016, while third baseman Josh Harrison will become eligible after 2017 (and can be moved around the diamond if needed). That means the Pirates could turn to Kang at one of a number of positions, perhaps getting a starter at a cost of only a few million dollars a year. “If he turns out to be a regular player, it’s a great signing for us,” says Huntington. “If he turns out to be a role player, it’s still an OK signing for us. And if we’ve missed, well, it won’t cripple us. But it will hurt us.”
- Marlins president David Samson says the team’s decisions to sign Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich arose out of their struggles in 2012, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes. That year, the Marlins prepared for the opening of their new ballpark by acquiring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano. Those big outside acquisitions didn’t work out, and the Marlins finished 69-93. “I truly felt that opening the ballpark and making splashes was the way to do it and it didn’t lead to sustainability,” says Samson. “That was a big moment for all of us in our history and I got it wrong, completely, almost in every way.” Instead of building their team around veterans, then, they’re focusing on keeping the right core players in Miami.
It may seem obvious, but a study has now shown that concussions diminish offensive performance, reports Nicholas Bakalar of the New York Times. The study appeared in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. A total of 66 position players were included in it. The group hit .249/.315/.393 in the two weeks prior to injury and .227/.287/.347. Some of the players involved never went on the disabled list. Based on the Times article, it’s unclear if more detailed analysis was performed. For example, missing time for any reason would hypothetically reduce performance some unknown amount. So it’s probably incorrect to attribute the entire decline to concussions alone.
Here’s more from around baseball:
- ESPN’s Buster Olney has “real concerns about the Red Sox,” reports Nik Beimler on WEEI.com. Olney identified problems with four of the five members of the rotation. Rick Porcello was the one guy who didn’t draw a negative comment. While Cole Hamels is often connected to the Sox, Olney thinks they should wait on any trades. “I think there will be a lot of opportunities to trade for pitching during the course of summer.” Even with inconsistent pitching, the club could still hit enough to reach the postseason.
- The Rays may need to play roster roulette while they wait for Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Alex Colome to recover, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The rotation will affect the number of NRIs the club can add. Presently, Bobby Wilson, Jake Elmore, Brandon Gomes, and Everett Teaford are battling for one or two spots (pending a trade of David DeJesus). Teaford may have a temporary advantage since he can provide long relief or a spot start.
- Pirates pitcher Clayton Richard can opt out of his contract at the end of spring training, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Per Richard, he can opt out if not on the 40-man roster. He’s the latest in a long string of reclamation projects for the Pirates. His last successful season came in 2012 when he allowed a 3.99 ERA with 4.40 K/9 and 1.73 BB/9 in 218 innings.
- Based upon interviews of rival scouts and executives, nobody believes Diamondbacks third baseman Yasmany Tomas can remain in the infield, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Most cited his thick body type, although they also said he doesn’t have the hands for the position. If Tomas moves to the outfield, it will create a roster crunch for Arizona. The current plan is to share playing time in left field between David Peralta, Ender Inciarte, and Cody Ross. Of course, the club could option Tomas to the minors too.
Raisel Iglesias is about to debut in the Reds rotation, a process that began when Reds scout Mark Snipp watched Iglesias pitch in Mexico, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports. Iglesias was taller than the Reds had heard he was, and had a good curveball and slider. The Reds were willing to commit $27MM to Iglesias because they viewed him as a starter, while other teams figured he would be a reliever. That marked the Reds’ second high-profile signing of a Cuban pitcher in recent years, the other being Aroldis Chapman. “In both cases, we probably went further (financially) than we thought we would go,” says GM Walt Jocketty. “But we have absolutely zero regrets.” Here’s more from the NL Central.
- Even if your team is rebuilding, it’s important to have the right veterans, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein tells MLB Network Radio (via the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich, who connects the Cubs’ efforts to rebuild to those of the Astros). “When you have a young team, we were the youngest team in baseball last year, and probably will be again this year, it can get really rudderless and lost in a hurry if you don’t have the right veterans around,” says Epstein. “[P]eople … mock that sometimes because it’s hard to quantify but it’s real.” Last year’s Cubs team prominently featured thirty-something players like John Baker, Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano and Edwin Jackson even though most of the season focused on trades of veterans and the development of young players.
- Outfielder Jose Tabata wouldn’t mind if the Pirates traded him, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “I want to be in the big leagues, whether it’s here or somewhere else,” says Tabata. “If somebody else gives me an opportunity and the Pirates trade me, that’s OK. I want to stay here, but we’ll see what happens.” In 2011, the Pirates signed Tabata to a long-term deal that has not worked out, and the two years and $8.75MM remaining on that deal will likely be an impediment to any trade, especially since Tabata hit a mere .282/.314/.333 in 186 plate appearances last year and is no longer even on the Pirates’ 40-man roster.
This week, Jeff covers the Quick Hits, then welcomes Marlins beat reporter Joe Frisaro to the show (1:25) to discuss the reported Christian Yelich extension and the rest of the Marlins’ busy offseason. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth then joins to consider the Pirates’ extension candidates (24:52).
The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.
Cardinals starter John Lackey remains interested in re-working his contract for this season, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Lackey, of course, is set to make the league minimum salary this season due to an unusual clause in the contract he signed with the Red Sox several years ago. Lackey says he would “love to hear something from the Cardinals. I’d listen to any offers. The ball is in their court.” Last month, however, GM John Mozeliak explained why any new arrangement is unlikely. The Cardinals have no reason to restructure Lackey’s contract without adding a year or more of additional control, and the 36-year-old Lackey will likely want to explore free agency after the season. Here’s more from the Central divisions.
- The Pirates appreciate outfielder Travis Snider‘s work with them in the past several seasons, Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. The Bucs faced Snider’s new team, the Orioles, in Spring Training action earlier this week. “The last three months of the season, this guy performed very, very well for us at a time it was critically needed,” says Bucs manager Clint Hurdle. “Just well-liked, well-appreciated.” The Pirates traded Snider this offseason partly to clear space in right field for the younger Gregory Polanco (and also partly because going with Andrew Lambo or someone else on their bench gives them more flexibility than did Snider, who was out of options). “I didn’t take it personally,” says Snider. “I understand the potential of Gregory Polanco.”
- Outfielder Shane Robinson has an April 2 opt-out clause in his minor-league deal with the Twins, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. He would be paid $550K at the big-league level this season. The longtime Cardinal hit .304/.380/.398 in 216 plate appearances with Triple-A Memphis last season and has had a good track record of getting on base at the Triple-A level in the past several years. He can also play all three outfield positions. Robinson has never really caught on in the big leagues, though, hitting .231/.303/.308 in parts of five seasons.
The Pirates have recently been amongst the game’s most aggressive teams in pursuing early-career extensions. Since taking the GM seat in Pittsburgh back in the fall of 2007, Neal Huntington has locked up deals with ten players for a total of 37 years and $182.9MM. Only two of those contracts went to players with four or more years of service.
Among the team’s most recent efforts were successful pacts with star outfielders Andrew McCutchen (six years, $51.5MM) and Starling Marte (six years, $31MM), with the former inking with 2.123 years of service and the latter signing with just 1.070 years to his credit. While those deals haven’t all been successful — neither Jose Tabata nor Nate McLouth, for instance, delivered value on their deals, though neither did they hamstring the club — the aggregate benefit to the organization is undeniable.
Pittsburgh, riding high on two straight postseason appearances, spent a relatively large amount through free agency this last offseason and seems in good position to stay competitive for years to come. The team has continued to explore ways to add value to its player assets through extensions: in particular, it made a long-term offer to then-untested outfielder Gregory Polanco last year, though those negotiations seemingly stalled. In spite of their relatively meager spending capacity, the Pirates appear to have plenty of future flexibility, with less than $12MM on the books for 2018 and even less thereafter.
While another run at Polanco obviously remains possible, it is fair to wonder whether the team might turn its sights elsewhere this spring. Josh Harrison remains an intriguing possibility, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams discussed last fall. Beyond that, there is one obvious potential candidate who brings immense upside — and, given the nature of his craft, risk: young ace Gerrit Cole.
Cole, 24, has done exactly what the Bucs hoped when they made him the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, reaching the bigs in 2013 and establishing himself as a quality starter off the bat. To date, he has thrown 255 1/3 big league innings with a 3.45 ERA and 8.4 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9. Advanced metrics suggest he’s been even better, as he owns a career 3.09 FIP, 3.20 xFIP, and 3.28 SIERA. Cole consistently works in the mid-90s with his fastball and has averaged a strong 49.1% groundball rate thus far. Needless to say, the outlook is positive.
If there is one red flag on Cole, it is health. First and foremost, he is a pitcher; as we are constantly reminded, any arm is at risk of injury at any time. But there is some additional cause for concern in his case, as Cole missed significant time last year owing to shoulder issues. He returned and posted good results late in the season, and does not have any significant history of problems prior to 2014. And he has reportedly worked to smooth out his mechanics and incorporated exercises to maintain his shoulder health.
With just 1.111 years of service to his name entering the 2015 season, Cole will not qualify as a Super Two and is set to hit arbitration eligibility in 2017. That means he will not reach free agency until 2020. Despite his rapid ascent to the bigs, Cole will reach the open market at age 29 — still relatively young, but not as early as some quick-to-the-bigs phenoms. Those factors, along with the risk of injury and performance, generally transfer significant leverage to a team, of course.
In this case, though, there are some significant offsetting considerations. For one, Cole was signed to an $8MM deal out of college, meaning he has already secured life-changing money. For another, he is represented by agent Scott Boras. Contrary to popular opinion, Boras has overseen pre-free agent deals for his clients, many of those contracts have not sacrificed free agent seasons. And, on balance, he certainly carries a deserved reputation for bringing his players onto the open market in search of huge paydays.
To be sure, it is far from a sure thing that Cole would be receptive to contract talks at this stage. If he is, however, both sides will have plenty of precedent to work from. Looking in at recent extensions for starters with between one and two years of service, one finds a host of comparables. First on the list has to be Madison Bumgarner, who got five years and $35MM from the Giants while giving up two option years back in 2012. More recently, Julio Teheran and the Braves linked up on a six-year, $32.4MM deal that conveyed one option year to Atlanta.
The Bumgarner comp, in particular, appears to be a good one; indeed, he was perhaps slightly more accomplished — and significantly younger — at a similar point in his service timeline, and had already put up a fully healthy season of over 200 frames. Teheran signed before his age-23 season, coming off of a 185 2/3 inning season of the sort that Cole has yet to accomplish. Cole’s representatives would no doubt point to the $200MM+ contracts that have been given to free agent starters in recent years as evidence of salary growth, though Cole’s shoulder concerns and additional age would serve as counterpoints. While it is, perhaps, possible to argue that Cole possesses greater upside than Teheran, or at least more than he did at the time his deal was struck, projection systems seem to hold the two righties in approximately the same regard heading into 2015.
What is most interesting about Cole’s situation, perhaps, is what it could theoretically tell us about where pre-arb extensions are headed. Somewhat unlike other areas of the market, early-career pitching extensions have not exhibited much growth. In addition to the Bumgarner and Teheran examples, which came two years apart, extensions for pitchers with between two and three years of service have largely followed a script for some time: Gio Gonzalez (five years, $42MM, two options) holds the record in that class, but Chris Sale‘s 2013 deal (five years, $32.5MM, two options) was not substantially different from, say, the 2011 Trevor Cahill contract (five years, $30.5MM, two options).
As I explained in breaking down last year’s notable Freddie Freeman extension, and as the Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton extensions further demonstrate, the position player extension market has seemingly broken out of any molds. On the pitching side, the most significant recent deals have gone to players on the verge of free agency (Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey, for instance). Locking up Cole could require a market-resetting deal; it remains to be seen, of course, whether either team or player are willing to make that happen.
Spring Training will always involve unfortunate news of injuries, but it also represents an opportunity for players making a comeback — whether from injury or otherwise — to reestablish themselves. In addition to restoring their own career trajectories (Scott Kazmir, anyone?), such players can deliver immense value to the teams that give them another chance.
Let’s take a look at a few situations from around the league, focusing on pitchers:
- When lefty Clayton Richard signed a minor league deal with the Pirates, everyone’s first thoughts went to the hurlers whose careers have recently been revived in Pittsburgh. (A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez being the prime examples.) As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, that is essentially what Richard was thinking about, too. “I was able to talk to [Volquez] a little bit and see what he thought of the organization,” said Richard. “It was positive. Just in talking with [GM] Neal [Huntington], [manager] Clint [Hurdle], and [pitching coach] Ray [Searage], I got a good feel of what they are all about. it made sense for me that this was the place.” The non-roster invitee is said to be hitting the gun in the low-nineties, where he previously has worked, and says he is “loosening up my entire body through my delivery” after having seen his motion limited in the past by shoulder troubles.
- After good vibes at the opening of Red Sox camp, Justin Masterson had a less-than-promising outing yesterday, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. A scout called Masterson’s work “awful,” while manager John Farrell said the righty “started to flash some better stuff into the fourth inning” but lacked “late action” on his pitches from “inconsistencies and when the velocity drops.” That group of issues — i.e., mechanical struggles and waning fastball velocity — were perhaps the two most-cited underlying difficulties that led Masterson to fall from his early perch near the top of this year’s free agent class to a one-year, $9.5MM deal with Boston. Of course, there is still plenty of time for Masterson to rebound this season.
- Brandon Morrow of the Padres also signed a make-good, one-year deal but was guaranteed much less than Masterson. But he is off to a strong opening to his year, having posted nine innings with one earned run and seven strikeouts against two free passes thus far. In post-game comments today to his counterpart, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said that Morrow showed “real stuff” in his four scoreless frames, as MLB.com’s Alyson Footer tweets. It seems at this point that the fifth starter’s role is Morrow’s to lose.
- Royals reliever Luke Hochevar made his way back to competitive action today, throwing a clean inning, as Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports (Twitter links). Working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Hochevar nevertheless landed a $10MM guarantee (over two years) to return to Kansas City. He was throwing in the 92 to 93 mph range in his work today, but despite that successful first appearance still seems likely to start the regular season on the DL.